Be A Contrarian… Zag

In this post I am going to share with you one of the simplest and most effective fantasy baseball strategies you can implement.  You’re already aware of the strategy, but I’m going to dive a little deeper and dissect it into two components.  One to apply during the off-season and one for during the season.

Teach A Man To Fish…

“The fishing is the best where the fewest go…” ~ Timothy Ferriss

I cherry picked this quote from Timothy Ferriss’ book, “The 4-Hour Work Week”.  I read the book for some ideas on how to improve this blog.  And while it has nothing to do with fantasy baseball, this particular quote does a phenomenal job of illustrating this simple strategy I want to share with you.

We all know fantasy baseball is a competition.  It’s all about gaining an advantage and differentiating yourself from your opponents.

It is impossible to differentiate yourself if you’re following the crowd.  If you’re doing the same things as everyone else, you’ll get the same results.  If you’re fishing in the crowded fishing holes, you’re battling for the same school of fish.

To separate yourself from the pack you have to think differently.  You have to be different.  

If you’re reading the same fantasy baseball advice and commentary as the rest of the competition, you’ll be battling for the same players, you’ll be employing the same strategies, and winning might just come down to luck, timing, or random variations.  I hate luck!

OK.  How Do I Apply This?

The easiest way to execute this strategy is to be a contrarian.  To zag when everyone else is zigging.  To fish where no one else is fishing.  

Think to yourself about what everyone else is doing and what you can do to be and think differently.

You can implement this thinking on two levels:

  1. Behavior and preparation
  2. Player valuation

Let’s take a look.

1.  Behavior and Preparation

This is the part of the strategy to focus on during the off-season.  It is all about out working, out smarting, and “out learning” your opponents.  Do things they’re not.  Zag.

Read (shameless plug – I’ll give you two free e-books).  Get strategies and suggestions from respected experts.  Listen to podcasts.  Don’t just show up to the draft with a token cheat sheet.  Create your own rankings.

You might not be able to do all of these things.  Not all at once and not all in one off-season.  I’m sure you have a life outside of playing fake baseball games.

But if you can study up on two or three new statistics each off-season, you are developing skills and building knowledge that will help you long-term.  Think about the knowledge you can accumulate after three, five, or ten years.  Think about the competitive advantage you can create for yourself.

Most guys won’t be doing this.  They’ll be doing mock drafts, perusing a draft guide, and reading a few sleeper articles.  The same thing year-after-year.  You can take advantage of this.

I’m a firm believer that to be the best at this game you have to make your own decisions.  Only you can be the best manager of your fantasy team.  No expert can make educated decisions for your team.  By reading and studying strategy, you are building skills that will push you in that direction.

You’re off to a good start by reading this blog.  I’m not here to make decisions for your team.  Or to tell you who to pickup or trade for.  I’m here to share important resources you can use and help you develop the skills to give you a competitive advantage.

But how can you zag when it comes to specific player-related decisions?

2.  Player Valuation

This part of the strategy that applies most in-season.  And despite what you might think, it has little to do with Sabermetrics.  You don’t need great skill in Excel.  It has very little to do with data and player analysis.  This is more an exercise in economics than it is baseball statistics.

More specifically, recognizing the optimal time to buy or sell players AND acting during those times.   “Arbitrage” is another word for this, as Jonah Keri discusses in his book “The Extra 2 Percent”.

Everyone Knows Buy Low, Sell High.  You’re Not Telling Me Anything New.

I agree everyone knows this.  But all that “buy low, sell high” advice is in terms of player performance.

To take this strategy to the next level (more…)

Case Study - Weighted Average Probabilities and Ryan Braun

Case Study – Weighted Average Probabilities and Ryan Braun

Hindsight is 20-20.  We all know this.  And now that Ryan Braun has been suspended for his association in the Biogenesis scandal, it’s easy to to say that we overvalued Braun in our draft preparation.  But let’s look back to what we knew in the preseason and use this as a learning opportunity to apply a lesson in weighted average probability and expected results.

What Did We Know?

News surfaced in early 2013 that Ryan Braun and numerous other players were associated with Biogenesis.  Documents were obtained that showed an official link between the players and the clinic.   There was speculation that the players involved could face suspensions during the season.

We didn’t know much more than this.  Would players miss 50 games?  100 games? Would the suspensions come down during the 2013 season?  Or after?  Could MLB even uncover enough evidence to support suspensions?

What Could Happen?

For Braun, we could reasonably assume he’d be the target of a 100-game suspension. He was nearly the recipient of a 50-game suspension in the fall of 2012, but managed to avoid it on a technicality.  So new evidence could push him from a first-time offender to a second-time offender (and a 100-game penalty).

Let’s Start A Basic Projection For Braun’s 2013 Season

If we are to build a projection for Braun’s 2013 season, a reasonable place to start would be to look at career averages.  Braun played a partial season in 2007 and played at least 150 games in 2008-2012.  So let’s use these last five years of “full seasons” and figure out the average production as our baseline estimate:


These average to 154 games, 672 plate appearances, 34 home runs, 105 runs, 109 RBI, and 22 SB.

But What If This Isn’t An Average Season?

We know Braun was nearly caught as a PED user in 2012. So what if he was scared into stopping his use of PEDs?  Can we build this into our estimate?

We don’t have any scientific data to understand the exact effect of PEDs.  So let’s throw out a rough guess and say we think the effect of stopping the use of PEDs would slightly decrease his production.  We’ll say his numbers would remain at 154 games and 672 plate appearances, but he drops to 25 HR, 90 R, 90 RBI, and 20 SB.

To summarize our two scenarios:


How Likely Are These Scenarios To Occur?

You might have your own beliefs about the likelihood of each, but for the sake of example let’s say we think Braun is 90% likely to have another year in line with his past five seasons and 10% likely to experience a year where the effect of no PEDs drags his performance down some.


And What If He Gets Suspended?

Again, for the sake of illustrating a simple example, assume a 50% chance Braun does not get suspended during the year and a 50% chance Braun misses half the season.

These 50-50 alternatives are subsets of our previous two scenarios.  So the 90% chance Braun has another average year now becomes a 45% chance (90% * 50%) he has a career average year and does not get suspended and a 45% chance he has a career average year and does get suspended.

Likewise, the 10% chance he sees a drop in productivity due to coming off PEDs is split into a 5% bucket of not being suspended and a 5% bucket of being suspended.

Regardless of the scenarios we lay out, we must remain at 100% total probability for all the possible outcomes.  Something has to happen.  And with 45, 45, 5, and 5, we’re still at 100%.


Weighted Average Probability, Expected Results

Once you have probabilities for each possible outcome, it’s easy to calculate the total expected result.  We simply multiply the expected statistics for each scenario by the likelihood of that scenario.  This is the “weighting”.

Look at the 5 Year Avg – No Suspension example.  We have determined this scenario has a 45% chance of occurring.  45% multiplied by 672 plate appearances is 302.40.  45% multiplied by 34 home runs is 15.3.  And so on.

Here are the weighted averages of all scenarios:


Our overall or actual expectation is the sum of each different weighted scenario.  You can see this total at the bottom of the table above.  After taking all possible scenarios and their probabilities into account, we estimated Braun for 25 HR, 78 R, 80 RBI, and 16 SB.

The Bigger Point

This approach of calculating weighted average probabilities can be used in many different scenarios.  Do you think there’s a 25% chance Troy Tulowitzki plays a full season, a 50% chance he plays 120 games, and a 25% chance he plays 80 games?  Do you think a rookie has a 25% chance of being called up in May, 25% in June, and 50% in July?  Do you think there’s a 50% chance a player will bat leadoff during the year and a 50% chance he’ll bat 9th?  Is there a 25% chance a rookie call-up will break onto the scene and be very productive, a 50% chance he’ll be an average player, and a 25% chance he’ll be sent back to the minors?

In any of these situations, calculate an estimated outcome and weight it using the probability of that outcome occurring.

Be Smart

Thanks for reading and continue to make smart choices.

Reader Question: I Only Have Several Hours A Week To Devote, What Resources Should I Use?

I recently received a great question from one of the SFBB readers.  So great, that I thought I’d answer in the form of a blog post:

We hit the waiver wire only once a week in our league.  You certainly have given me great tools, but if you have my three or four hours a week to devote, with what and who do you suggest I spend this time? For instance since reading your thoughts, I really believe Olney is a must read.

~ Eddie

This seemingly simple question became complicated for me to answer.  I wasn’t sure if Eddie just wanted to know who my most trusted resources are.  Or if he wanted an outline of a specific process and prioritization I would use to fill three hours a week.

So I’ll take a stab at both.  If you’re looking for my list of most trusted fantasy baseball resources, skip down to the bottom of this post.  If you’re curious about the specific process I would employ to get the most “bang for your buck” by making the most of those three hours each week, keep moving along.

A lot of the thoughts below are just common sense.  This is certainly not the most technical article I’ve ever written.  But hopefully breaking down the process will make us all think more critically about how we conduct player research and how we could more efficiently use our time.

Eye Opening

I didn’t have an immediate answer to Eddie’s question.  At first I laughed, thinking to myself that Eddie only has a few precious hours each week and here I sit posting 20 minute videos and 1,000 word blog posts, sucking up his valuable time.  My next realization was that I don’t even have my own formal system of prioritization in place.  I fly by the seat of my pants, but that’s certainly not “smart”.  Maybe it’s time to think about one.

To design an effective process one must understand the exact problem.  If I had to simplify the fantasy baseball problems I’m trying to address, I would summarize them as “Understanding My Team”, “Identifying Talent”, and “Learning”.

UnderStanding My Team

Before I can reap any benefit from an expert’s advice, I’ve got to have a strong understanding of my team and its place in the standings.  This means:

  1. Assessing my team’s weaknesses and strengths (by roto category)
  2. Assessing my team’s position in the standings and those teams around me
  3. Determining players that are expendable, that I can consider dropping

Items one and two above don’t need to be done every week.  They’re not really time consuming chores, but they must be done to give context to your player research.  I can quickly filter through expert recommendations of sneaky stolen base specialists if I already lead that category.

I probably give a thorough look over the league standings once every two weeks or so.  The standings don’t change rapidly at this point in the season, and it’s going to take time to chisel away at a 20 RBI deficit.  So every couple of weeks I’ll give a good look over my situation and identify areas for improvement.  Then that analysis sticks with me for the next several weeks and becomes the focus of any transactions I’ll make and the player research I’ll conduct.

Item three can’t be done in isolation.  I need to have potential free agents in mind in order to conclude on who is expendable, but I always like to have an idea of who my most expendable player is.  Whether it’s the least talented player on my roster or someone that is talented but simply doesn’t fit current needs, it always helps to know who’s droppable.

Identifying Talent / Player Research

The exercise above of understanding your situation and knowing the approximate value of the player I can drop will allow me to more efficiently conduct player research (and make better use of the few hours I have so I can get back to writing blog posts).   To illustrate, let’s assume I’m looking to gain standings points in home runs and RBI.  After looking over my roster I conclude the player I’m most likely to drop is a struggling corner infielder expected to finish the season with 20 HR and 75 RBI.

With this in mind I can do my own basic research or I begin looking for expert advice on possible pickups.  To do my own research, I start with simple sorting of the free agent list to look for the following:

  • Best overall players available (best preseason rank but struggling)
  • Best categorical players available, year-to-date (which corner infielders have the most HR and RBI)
  • Best categorical players available, last month (which corner infielders have the most HR and RBI in the last month, this might turn up players getting more playing time in the last month than earlier in the season)
  • Which corner infielders are getting at bats over the last two weeks and which of them offer HR and RBI
  • Which corner infielders are most frequently picked up (most major fantasy providers have ways of researching the hottest pickups)

With those results in mind, I can turn to the “experts”.  I can pull up the SFBB Fantasy Baseball Expert Twitter List and scroll through the many “Weekly Pickup” columns that will surely be available.  But now that I’m armed with a sense of my team, the league, and the free agents available, I’ll be able to quickly hone in on the advice and player names that make sense for my team.  If an article clearly misses the mark of addressing my needs or is not consistent with the free agents available in my league, I can move along to the next piece.

I don’t have any “appointment reading” where I visit specific websites daily or weekly.  I let Twitter accumulate the listings of fantasy baseball advice and I’ll scroll through the feed looking for articles that pique my interest.  Similarly, podcasts are a favorite medium of mine, because I too have limited time to devote to research.  But podcasts let me make productive use of time in the car or when I’m going for a jog.


One of my main goals is to learn along the way and gain exposure to new ideas, new strategies, and new lines of thinking.  The benefit here is twofold.  First, the more I learn, the more likely I am to win and be competitive.  Second, learning is a way for me to garner enjoyment from fake baseball even if I’m not winning.

Allocating Time Between the Categories

The allocation between these three categories will fluctuate throughout the season.  If you haven’t done a thorough review of your team and the league standings in a few weeks, you’ve got to allocate time to this exercise.  I haven’t analyzed this, but I think it’s a safe bet that player research early in the season is more important than later in the season because acquisitions have the opportunity to affect your team for longer and accumulate more stats.  It’s also the time when we know the least about playing time and batting orders.  As the season progresses, if you happen to find yourself out of the running, more time can be devoted to learning about new ideas and new strategies to employ, or for expanding the horizon of your player research (looking more long-term if you’re in keeper/dynasty leagues).

My Most Trusted Fantasy BaseBall Resources

These are my personal favorites.  This is not to suggest there aren’t loads of other great, or maybe even superior, analysts out there.  But based upon their analytic mindsets, their ability to work strategy into their discussions, their insight, and my personal experience with them (they nailed a couple of players that really helped me out), these are the individuals I have grown to trust the most.  I also find many of them funny and pleasant.  I’m not a big fan of brash over-confident fantasy guy.  And they’re out there.

I’m certain you won’t enjoy all of these folks.  Or they just won’t “click” with you.  But maybe there are one or two here that you will connect with.

Name Twitter ID Description
Todd Zola Zola regularly states he would rather teach you something than manage your team for you. That’s a rarity.  I love his stuff.
Jason Collette
Paul Sporer

I group these two together because while a lot of their fantasy work is done independent of each other, I mostly consume their advice via the Baseball Prospectus “Towers of Power Fantasy Hour” podcast these two do weekly.  It’s my favorite fantasy baseball podcast.
Tristan Cockroft A lot of the content on ESPN is targeted for the masses.  Advanced statistics, tables, and deep analysis scare the masses.  But Tristan puts a lot of deep analysis and number crunching into his work.
Buster Olney He’s not a fantasy writer.  But I really enjoy his work and it’s important to think about regular baseball at times and not just focus on fake baseball.  He is on top of everything that happens in the game.  And a lot of what happens has a fantasy impact but won’t necessarily be written about by the fantasy community.
Stephania Bell ESPN’s injury expert.  I don’t track her success rate, but it seems high. If she’s worried about a player, despite the positive news from the team or player, she’s usually right.  If I have an injured player or I’m considering acquiring one, I want to know her thoughts.
Corey Schwartz Corey is a cohost of the Fantasy 411’s podcast.  He works a lot of great strategy talk into the podcast.
Eric Karabell Karabell has an analytical approach to the game and a very conservative approach to his play/advice (give me the solid aging veteran over the sexy rookie hype machine).  I like his work.
Mike Podhorzer Mike hosts Fangraphs’ podcast “The Sleeper and The Bust” and is very active elsewhere in the fantasy baseball world.  He uses a lot of advanced statistics and other metrics, like batted ball distance, to identify potential value.
Ron Shandler He’s one of the legends of the industry.  Perhaps the father of the analytical approach to this game.  He doesn’t do much player analysis, but when he speaks, it’s worth listening to.

Do Share

Who are your most trusted resources?  Do you have a formal strategy of how to manage your time?  I had never formally thought about it, but I guess there’s some semblance of thought in my practices.

Thanks.  Make smart choices.

Does It Make Sense To Carry Three Catchers?

Does It Make Sense To Carry Three Catchers?

Yahoo! Games Played Tracker does a great job of projecting your games played by position

I play in a couple mixed leagues that use the standard rotisserie lineup configuration (if there is such a “standard” any longer) of 2 C, 1B, 3B, CI, 2B, SS, MI, 5 OF, and one UTIL/DH.  In these two catcher leagues, I perpetually leave games played on the table because no catcher plays 162 games in a season.  But in a league with games played limits, you’re given 324 games to be played by catchers during the season (162 games * 2 catchers).

2012 Catcher leaders in games played courtesy of Fangraphs. Click the image to view this information at

If  you only carry two catchers all year, by the time you reach the end of the season you could easily be looking at coming up 60+ games short of the allotted 324.  To illustrate, look at the catcher leaders in games played for 2012 (Note:  these are not necessarily the top 24 fantasy catchers, just MLB games played leaders).

Some of the top fantasy options like Buster Posey and Joe Mauer play a lot of games (approaching 150).  But when you start to account for the fact that 24 catchers must be started in a 12-team two-catcher league, you can see how many games will be left on the table (many don’t even get to 120 games).  And each one of those games is a missed opportunity for counting stats like runs, home runs, and RBI.

I hate the idea of using a coveted bench spot to hold the 25th best catcher.  What kind of stat line does such a player have?  But missing out on 60-80 games played seems like a huge missed opportunity.  So let’s get to the bottom of this. (more…)

Max Scherzer Anecdotes and Analysis

Max Scherzer Anecdotes and Analysis

A couple weeks back the Detroit Tigers and the Texas Rangers squared off in ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball .  You might recall this game because Miguel Cabrera went 4-4 with three home runs and five RBI, the first of four straight games with a HR.

During his time with the Tigers, Buster Olney sat down with Max Scherzer for an in-depth conversation.  Much of the discussion was included in the May 20th edition of the ESPN Baseball Tonight podcast that Olney produces each week day.

Link to ESPN: Baseball Tonight with Buster Olney podcastUS iTunes, App Store, iBookstore, and Mac App Store

In the conversation Olney asked Scherzer about his curveball and here’s what Max had to say:

I’ve been tinkering with the curveball since last year, the second half.  I’ve been trying to find a pitch that slows down everybody.  It’s 15 mph off my fastball.  I feel like everything else is kind of hard and it doesn’t change the hitters timing.  I was able to throw it but the consistency on it wasn’t quite where it needed to be…  By doing that it allows me to have a fourth pitch and a pitch that really slows down and disrupts the hitters timing.  That pitch by itself can help play up every other pitch that I have.

~ Max Scherzer on 5/20/13 Baseball Tonight Podcast

There are a number of very interesting things buried in the comments.  When hearing about Scherzer’s increased use of the curve ball, his ability to more effectively locate the pitch, and the timing problems it might create for hitters, I realized the opportunity to join these anecdotes with data analysis.  If the data supports these comments, we could be looking at a pitcher with the ability to take a gigantic step forward.

1.  I’ve Been Tinkering With The Curve Ball Since Last Year, The Second Half

This is true. In looking at Scherzer’s PITCH f/x data (more…)