Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

2013 Fantasy Baseball post-mortem

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Verlander just killed me this year.  Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

Verlander just killed me this year. Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

My standard disclaimer; this is a whole huge post kvetching about my 2013 Fantasy Baseball team.  If you don’t play fantasy, feel free to skip this 3,000 word missive.  I’ll insert a “jump” line here so that RSS readers don’t have to see this whole massive post :-)

My fantasy team was god-awful this year.  Just everything went wrong that could have gone wrong.  Even though the season isn’t over, for me it is; i’m in 9th place out of 12 teams and 13 games out of 6th place in a league where playoffs only extend to the first 6 finishers.  And i’ve exhausted my season limit on transactions.

In April I posted a review of my drafted Fantasy team.  My personal summary was that I had a ton of pitching, a weak infield, and that I had missed on a few guys that I really coveted pre-draft.

Lets take a look position by position at who I drafted and how they did.  Later on I’ll review who I cycled through over the course of 65 transactions during the season, and who I ended up with after hitting the league-limit on transactions (trust me, I would have kept cycling if I could).

(Any stats or Yahoo rankings are as of Late August 2013 and may have changed slightly by the time you read this.  If you read this … in fact, I’m probably the ONLY person who’s going to read this post, so I consider it a completely cathartic expulsion of all the bad vibes this year’s fantasy baseball experience has brought).

  1. 1st round (#8 overall): Matt Kemp OF-LAD.  Yahoo ranked #5, rank for the 2013 season: 720.   720!!  Just a huge disappointment.  I traded him mid-season for Zach Greinke and Alex Gordon to a guy in the league who was trying a very specialized strategy focusing on specific categories.  I feel like I fleeced him in this trade, given that Kemp has spent most of the season on the D/L while Greinke and Gordon have given decent value since the trade.  This is now the 2nd year in a row that Kemp has destroyed my fantasy team after having me pick him in the first round (he was 1-1 last year) and it will not happen again.
  2. 2nd round (#17 overall): Justin Verlander SP-Det.  Yahoo ranked #13, rank for the 2013 season: 218.  For the second year running, I managed to draft a fantasy stud starter the year he completely crashed (last year it was Tim Lincecum).  Verlander has been rocked over and over.  On draft day I debated back and forth between Verlander and Clayton Kershaw at this pick, and selected Verlander with the thinking that Detroit was an improved team that would win more games and get Verlander close to his 24 win season two years ago.  Didn’t happen.  Meanwhile Kershaw if possible has overperformed and is currently Yahoo #3 on the season.  What kills me is that I went away from my own oft-repeated strategy: always get an NL pitcher over an AL pitcher (pitching against other pitchers batting is worth at least half an ERA point and at least 30K’s a year).
  3. 3rd round (#32 overall): Yoenis Cespedes OF-Oak.  Yahoo ranked #27, rank for 2013 season: 197.  His flashy appearance in the Home Run Derby has basically derailed his season; he was injured for a while and has been hitting about at the Mendoza line the whole 2nd half.
  4. 4th Round (#41 overall): Jason Heyward OF-ATL.  Yahoo ranked #30, rank for 2013 season: #277.  But 277 doesn’t even come close to describing this guy; he was ranked in the 800s for basically the first 12 weeks of the season.  He hit .121 in April and .178 in May.   So I frigging dropped him; Atlanta fan-boy Joe in our league picks him up and amazingly he started hitting.  The moment I dropped him Heyward started hitting: .312 in June.  He was down in July and hot again in August before the scary HBP ended his season.  Basically I got below replacement level performance out of my 4th round pick while others got the benefits of his few weeks of good performance.
  5. 5th Round (#56 overall): Yu Darvish SP-TEX.  Yahoo ranked #46, current 2013 season rank: #14.  Welcome to the SOLE player on my entire fantasy team drafted in the top 10 rounds who over-performed as compared to his ranking coming into the season.  The sole guy.  Darvish has been great all year, not much else to be said.
  6. 6th round (#65 overall): R.A. Dickey SP-TOR.  Yahoo ranked #54.  2013 seasonal rank 369.  Dickey proved to be an unbelievable waste of a 6th round pick.   His K’s were down, his ERA up, his losses up.  He got routinely pounded night after night, ballooning my team ERA.  I dropped him, picked him back up after a couple of decent starts in July, promptly got burned again, and dumped him for good.  He sits on waivers as we speak.
  7. 7th round (#80 overall): Kris Medlen SP-ATL.  Yahoo ranked #68.  2013 season rank 266.  Another guy who didn’t come close to replicating his 2012 performance.  I thought I was getting a steal with Medlen in the 7th round.  Instead I dropped him for a bit, only to bring him back after a couple of decent starts.  He finishes the season on my team but was awful from a fantasy perspective all year.
  8. 8th Round (#89 overall): Carlos Santana C/1B-CLE.  Yahoo ranked #75, 2013 rank 168.  Santana has been more or less a disappointment, having flashes of brilliance while mostly being a mediocre catcher.  I did some waiver wire diving for catchers here and there but end the season with Santana, my original drafted catcher.
  9. 9th Round (#104): Ike Davis 1B-NYM.  This is comical: Yahoo ranked #85, 2013 rank #951.  He’s ranked lower then a lot of players who literally did not play a game this year.  Davis spent half the season in the minors and is hitting .205 on the year.  Great pick.   Inexplicably one of the other guys in the league picked him up and has carried him the whole season.
  10. 10th Round (#113): David Freese 3B-STL.  Yahoo ranked #95, 2013 rank #413.  Freese hit .163 in April and then an empty .299 in May and I dropped him, looking for more production (which I found in spades; see below for the team I ended up with).  Still, a severe disappointment for this guy.   His 2013 OPS is fully 120 points lower than it was last year.
  11. 11th Round (#128): Sergio Romo RP-SF.  Yahoo ranked #136, 2013 rank #86.   Great value here from Romo, who solidified his role as the Giants’ closer and at the time of this writing has 31 saves.
  12. 12th Round (#137): Rickie Weeks 2b-MIL.  Yahoo ranked 105.  2013 season rank: 894.    Yeah, to say that Weeks has bottomed out would be an understatement.  He’s gone from being a top 4 round fantasy player to being season-long waiver wire material in 2 years.  His OPS has now dropped 5 consecutive years.  In my own defense, this was a complete flier and I wasn’t expecting Weeks to be the next coming of Hank Aaron, but I was hoping for some production.
  13. 13th Round (#152): Casey Jannsen RP-TOR.  Yahoo ranked #231, 2013 rank #140.  This has turned into a pretty good pick; I got lucky on two closers this year and Jannsen was one of them.
  14. 14th Round (#161): Danny Espinosa 2B/SS-WAS.  Yahoo ranked #154, 2013 rank #1233.  You read that right: Twelve Hundred and Thirty three.   The lowest ranked player I could find for the year was 1411.   That is how poorly Espinosa played this year.  As Nats fans know, the team finally pulled the plug on him, sent him to Syracuse where by all accounts (especially from David Huzzard‘s column today about Syracuse and how hopeless Espinosa looks) Espinosa is closer to an outright release than he is to regaining a MLB spot.  Sad.
  15. 15th Round (#176): Jarrod Parker SP-OAK.  Yahoo ranked #178, 2013 rank #179.  Parker is performing right where he was expected to perform … but not for me.   He had a 7.36 ERA through his first 6 starts in April and I dumped him.   Since then?  He’s been pretty good.  Of course.   He’s like the 5th player so far that I sat there and awful April performances only to watch him turn it around for someone else on a waiver wire pickup.
  16. 16th Round (#185): Brandon League RP-LAD.  Yahoo ranked #220, 2013 rank #412.  League was a shot-in-the-dark stab at picking the Dodger’s closer from a muddied pre-season situation, and for a while he was the closer.  But a 5.48 ERA eventually got him demoted out of the closer spot.  I dropped him at that point and he is now a mediocre middle reliever, basically useless in fantasy.  Meanwhile someone else had been carrying LA’s new closer so I lost out.
  17. 17th round (#200): Edinson Volquez SP-SD.  Yahoo ranked #1135, 2013 rank #1369.  I picked Volquez because he was the #1/opening day starter for San Diego despite his poor ranking.  In my defense, I dropped Volquez before the season even started for Paul Maholm once it became clear how poor Volquez had become.  For his part, Volquez was 9-10 with a 6.01 ERA in San Diego’s cavernous stadium and was DFA’d and eventually flat out released this month.  Has an opening day starter ever been released before the season was over?  Probably; but its got to be rare.  Maholm ended up being a very good starter for a while; I dropped him after he tailed off performance wise and he remains on waivers after a D/L stint with mediocre numbers on the year.
  18. 18th Round (#209): Alexi Ogando SP/RP-Tex.  Yahoo ranked #254, 2013 rank #362.  Ah Alexi.  The injury plagued starter looked great in April, hurt himself in Mid-May, and then got 5 more starts in late July/early August before getting shelved for the year.  I carried him through his first D/L stint but dropped him when he only got one June start in.  Someone else beat me back to him for his last 5 starts but no matter; by that point he was clearly ailing and wasn’t the Ogando we remember.  Hard to complain about 18th round pick-ups; any production is good.
  19. 19th Round (#224): Brandon Belt 1B-SF.  Yahoo ranked #184, 2013 rank #137.  Slow start, barely played, hit .235 for April and I dumped him for the hot-hitting John Buck.  Belt was dropped and pickedup a couple times, especially when he’d get really hot.  A very streaky hitter, he’s got an OPS of 1.100 in August and someone just grabbed him for a stretch run.  Its hard to deal with part time/streaky players and I’m not calling my losing out on Belt’s performance a mistake, considering the production I got from his waiver wire replacements.
  20. 20th Round (#233): Wade Miley SP-Ari.  Yahoo ranked #233, 2013 rank #265.   His seasonal numbers look good, but they hide an ugly month to month split on Miley.  In May he was 1-5 with a 7.34 ERA and I dumped him.  In July he was 4-1 with a 1.59 ERA and I grabbed him back.
  21. 21st Round (#248): Vinnie Pestano RP-CLE.  Yahoo ranked #263, 2013 rank #491.  I took a last round flier on Pestano because the Cleveland closer situation was unsettled; Pestano lost out and was the setup guy, so I dumped him the first week of the season.  He was eventually demoted to AAA and remains there now.

So, for those of you reading along, you may have noticed that a lot of my initial drafted players underperformed.  Here’s my original drafted team with their Yahoo O-rank (Yahoo’s pre-season draft ranking) and their actual performance to date: Red means they underperformed, Blue means they overperformed, and bolded players are those who spent the entire season on my roster:

Round/#overall Player/Team Yahoo 2013 o-rank Yahoo Actual 2013 rank
1st round (#8 overall)  Matt Kemp OF-LAD 5 720
2nd round (#17 overall)  Justin Verlander SP-Det 13 218
3rd round (#32 overall)  Yoenis Cespedes OF-Oak 27 197
4th Round (#41 overall)  Jason Heyward OF-ATL 30 277
5th Round (#56 overall)  Yu Darvish SP-TEX 46 14
6th round (#65 overall)  R.A. Dickey SP-TOR 54 369
7th round (#80 overall)  Kris Medlen SP-ATL 68 266
8th Round (#89 overall)  Carlos Santana C/1B-CLE 75 168
9th Round (#104)  Ike Davis 1B-NYM 85 951
10th Round (#113)  David Freese 3B-STL 95 413
11th Round (#128)  Sergio Romo RP-SF 136 86
12th Round (#137)  Rickie Weeks 2b-MIL 105 894
13th Round (#152)  Casey Jannsen RP-TOR 231 140
14th Round (#161)  Danny Espinosa 2B/SS-WAS 154 1233
15th Round (#176)  Jarrod Parker SP-OAK 178 179
16th Round (#185)  Brandon League RP-LAD 220 412
17th round (#200)  Edinson Volquez SP-SD 1135 1369
18th Round (#209)  Alexi Ogando SP/RP-Tex 254 362
19th Round (#224)  Brandon Belt 1B-SF 184 137
20th Round (#233)  Wade Miley SP-Ari 233 265
21st Round (#248)  Vinnie Pestano RP-CLE 263 491

That’s right; exactly four (4) of the 21 players I drafted out-performed their Yahoo rank.  FOUR!  And most of these guys badly, badly underperformed.

You might see where this is going: with all these underperforming guys, I churned and burned on the waiver wire extensively.  Only 6 of the 21 original drafted players spent the whole season on my team (another two were drafted, dropped and picked back up).

Lets look at who I cycled through by position through the course of trying to improve upon my awful draft:

  • Catchers: John Buck, Carlos Ruiz, Jason Castro, Jarrod Saltalamacchia: Buck I grabbed during April while he was just fantastically hot, dropped him right at the right time when he cooled off, and he’s stayed on the waiver wire ever since.  I grabbed Ruiz right as he came off his PED suspension but he just never got it going this year so I dropped him quickly.  The other two guys had hot weeks and were quickly dismissed.  Eventually I just stopped chasing Catchers and rode out Santana.
  • First Base: Chris Johnson, Brandon Moss,  Chris Carter, James Loney, Mitch Moreland, Adam LaRoche: Most of these were trying to grab the hot hand, especially Moss, Carter and LaRoche.  Moreland was good for a while but was felled by injury, else I would have kept him.
  • Second Base: Jedd Gyorko, Howie Kendrick, Kelly Johnson, Brian Dozier, Brad Miller, Nick Franklin: I especially liked Gyorko’s potential but he struggled for a while.  Most of these guys were just hot-week pickups.
  • Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta, Brandon Crawford, Dee Gordon, Jimmy Rollins: Gordon got demoted, Rollins just hasn’t performed this year.  Peralta was my SS for a while but I replaced him when he took his season-ending suspension.  There was so little on the SS waiver wire that for several weeks I played without a shortstop whatsoever.
  • Third Base: Yuniesky Betancourt, Nolan Arenado: I tried to play Arenado, the big-time Colorado prospect, when he came up but he wasn’t performing.  There’s fewer transactions here because I eventually settled on a long-term excellent 3rd baseman who finished the season for me (see the last section).
  • Outfield: Lorenzo Cain, Matt Joyce, Will Venable, Geraldo Parra, Rajai Davis, Leonys Martin, Cody Ross, Alejandro De Aza, Robbie Grossman: Lots of hot-hand waiver wire plays here.  Joyce was a fantasy stud recently but did very little this year.  Ross was going great but suffered a season-ending hip dislocation.  De Aza was streaky.  Davis wasn’t the greatest hitter but got a ton of steals.
  • Starters: Paul Maholm, AJ Griffen, Matt Garza, Kevin Gausman, Jason Vargas, Michael Wacha, Tyler Lyons, Tyler Skaggs, Jacob Turner, Gerrit Cole, Zack Wheeler, Scott Kazmir: as discussed above I got Maholm before the season started.  I tried to stay way ahead of the curve on big-name prospect callups (Gausman, Wacha, Lyons, Skaggs, Turner, Cole and Wheeler) to a lot of inconsistency.  Gausman’s fastball was amazing but he got pounded.  I hung onto Cole and Wheeler a long time and they’ve pitched well, but not “well” in a fantasy perspective.  My biggest mistake here was giving up way too early on Garza; his first 3 starts were bad, I dumped him and suddenly he turned into a top performer.
  • Relivers: Trevor Rosenthal, JJ Putz: both of these guys I picked up during closer transition times for their teams and in both cases I chose the wrong guy and quickly dropped them.

So, who did I end up with after so many transactions?  Here’s my final team:

  • C: Carlos Santana
  • 1B: Eric Hosmer
  • 1B: Justin Smoak
  • 2B: Brian Dozier
  • SS: Erik Aybar
  • 3B: Pedro Alvarez
  • OF: Wil Myers
  • OF: Yoenis Cespedes
  • OF: Alex Gordon
  • OF: Carlos Gomez
  • OF: Nate Schierholz
  • SP: Justin Verlander
  • SP: Yu Darvish
  • SP: Zack Greinke
  • SP: Corey Kluber
  • SP: Tony Cingrani
  • SP: Chris Archer
  • SP: Wade Miley
  • SP: Kris Medlen
  • SP: Alex Wood
  • RP: Sergio Romo
  • RP: Casey Janssen

Pedro Alvarez and Carlos Gomez have turned out to be my two best players by Yahoo ranking on the year; both waiver pickups.  Though I will freely admit that the incredibly streaky Gomez drove me crazy, to the point where I asked Jamos (the league manager) to relax the “can’t cut” list so I could drop him.  Alvarez is leading the league in homers, so that’s been great.  Eric Hosmer and Justin Smoak are former highly touted prospects who have struggled but really broke out this year.  I targeted Wil Myers before the season and grabbed him a couple weeks before the super-2 deadline hit to ensure I got him and have not been disappointed.

Greinke and Gordon came over via the Matt Kemp trade and have done decently; Gordon struggled for a while but got hot as of late, and Grienke has come around after missing time early in the season.

On the pitchers, i was well aware of who Tony Cingrani was but let him pass when it seemed like it was a spot-start.  Unfortunately for me, he then stuck around to cover for the injured Johnny Cueto and I missed a ton of high-K starts.  I’m skeptical that Alex Wood can keep it up, but so far so good.

Biggest waiver wire mistake; I was sitting there at my computer staring at Yasiel Puig when he got called up and decided not to spend a transaction on him.  Super, big mistake.

 


My overall poor team offense led to my downfall; I only maintained a winning record head-to-head in one offensive category (Homers).  Week after week my team batting average was in the .220s; it remains .236 for the year, just a ridiculously low average for a fantasy team.  On the pitching side I was dominant in Wins and Ks as expected with so many starters, maintained a winning record in saves despite only having 2 closers, but otherwise was mostly sub-near .500 in the other categories.   This is where the poor outings from my drafted starters really hurt.

I finished the year winning 4 straight weeks, including a weekly win over the dominant #1 team, so this final team isn’t half bad.  Too late though to mean much.

Overall thoughts/Strategy for next year: my draft was part unlucky and part poor.  I over-drafted starters and outfielders, which led me to be too thin at other positions too early.   I’d like to get better closers for next  year, but that’s tough with a 12-team league and so much churn of closers over the course of a year.  There’s such great value in finding starters later in the draft; in my successful years I drafted nearly every position player first, then got starters and closers the entire second half of the draft.  I think I will return to this strategy.  I need to go back to NL-only pitcher focus.

 

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