Author Archive

Curiosity Shop: The Birchwood Brothers’ 10 Bold Predictions

We’ve been stat geeks virtually since the moment of our respective conceptions, and we were thrilled by both the stat revolution ushered in by Bill James and the analytics revolution ushered in by we’re not sure who. (We view “statistics” and “analytics” as two separate but related disciplines, and someday we’ll get around to explaining why, but not today.) But we feel as if we’ve come about a quarter-circle away from our initial position and now, in designing our baseball drafts, have moved significantly in the direction of what you might call the anecdotal.

Don’t get us wrong. We haven’t regressed to the time when a player’s announcing he was coming to spring training in the best shape of his life mattered to anyone but  his agent, or when “pitching coach” was a synonym for “manager’s drinking buddy” rather than “kinesiologist.” We’re perfectly comfortable with au courant things like Heat Maps and Tunnels, even if they do sound more like driving directions than baseball statistics. We admire enormously, and often learn from, the folks who write deep-dive two-thousand-word articles exploring, for example, every possible aspect of Michael Wacha’s pitch tunneling. But in identifying the players we think might outperform the Fantasy market’s expectations, we frequently rely on some isolated and intriguing piece of information or cluster of information, sometimes narrative, sometimes statistical, sometimes a hybrid. In other words, oddities. Anomalies. Curiosities.
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Reviving the Quadrinity–The Hitters, With An Actual Mostly-Quadrinity Draft

Let’s return without delay to the second half of our exploration of the Quadrinity: players who satisfy certain statistical criteria and, we have found, do better in the aggregate than the market thinks they will. Last week, we looked at pitchers, who were the species on which this experiment was first conducted. But we have found over the years that it works well with hitters, too. We are, as you might imagine, looking for hitters whose achievement is the opposite of that of the qualifying pitchers: guys whose walk percentage and hard-hit percentage are above-average, while their strikeout percentage and soft-hit percentage are below-average.

There are usually about twenty such guys. This year, there’s a bumper crop of 26, although one of them, Brendan Rodgers, blew out his shoulder earlier this month and is likely out for the season. So let’s wish Rodgers a speedy recovery and name the other twenty-five, divided according to position, along with their average auction prices in auctions conducted under the auspices of the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. One of the oddities of the Hitter Quadrinity is that we’re usually able to construct a full 14-man Roto roster from among them—as we would have been this year as well, but for Rodgers’s misfortune : Read the rest of this entry »

Reviving The Quadrinity–The Pitchers

Let’s shift now from Lucky/Unlucky, where we’ve been for the last three installments, to another gimmicky approach that has proven surprisingly useful over the seasons. We refer to the Quadrinity. Brief history lesson: long ago, Bret Sayre, then of Baseball Prospectus, posited that “the three skills that are most important to the art of pitching [are] getting strikeouts, reducing walks, and keeping the ball on the ground,” and that pitchers who can do those three things, as betokened by their above-average numbers in those categories, are worth the attention of those of us who care about such matters. He called this approach The Holy Trinity. And it made sense to us.

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Who’s Been Unlucky–The Hitters

Join us now on our third and final sojourn among the players upon whom Fortune smiled or frowned in 2022, and whom He/She/It figures to treat differently in 2023. Our method is simple: We look  for players whose underlying stats are significantly better or worse than their overlying ones, and who therefore figure to do better (if unlucky) or worse (if lucky) than the market and/or the projection systems think they will. For hitters, we invert the approach we took in the two preceding installments for pitchers: the lucky guys are the ones whose BABIP and HR/FB% was high while their Hard-Hit Percentage was low, and the unlucky guys are the ones with a high HH% but low BABIP and HR/FB%. It’s simple, and it’s not infallible, but by and large it works.

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Who’s Been (Un)lucky–The Relief Pitchers

Back to our search for players whose granular stats suggest that last season’s fantasy-relevant stats make it appear that they were having better (or worse) seasons than they actually had. In our search for unlucky pitchers, we look for guys who had high BABIPs and HR/FB percentages but low Hard-Hit percentages. To find lucky pitchers, we look for the opposite. The idea, as we explained last week, is that those stats are out of alignment with each other, that the misalignment is a consequence of luck, and that, luck good or bad tending as it does to disappear, the pitchers in question will do better (or worse) this season. Last week, we did starting pitchers; this week, relievers.

A word about luck and relievers generally before we get started: as usual, the list of luckies is far more interesting to us fantasy baseball owners than the list of unluckies. That’s because we’re unduly interested in saves, and it doesn’t do us that much good to know that, say, the 6th best pitcher in a team’s bullpen is in reality the 4th best. So, while the group of unlucky relievers always yields some astonishments, they’re not going to do you much good unless it looks like they’ve got a shot at saves, like Brooks Raley 레일리 last season, or they might wind up in somebody’s starting rotation, like Austin Voth last season. So we’ll just mention four relief pitchers who were certainly unlucky last season, and whom you can expect to do better this season, but who don’t look like candidates to close games for their respective teams. These are: Jake Diekman (although it’s not inconceivable he gets some saves), Tommy Nance, Joel Payamps, and Victor Arano. If your draft is deep enough, by all means go after one of them. Otherwise:
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Who’s Been (Un)lucky–The Starting Pitchers

Time now for our annual spin through players whose luck in 2022 was worse (or better) than their fortune deserved. Our premise is that their bad (or good) fortune disguises the true valence of their performance, and that their luck, being luck, will regress to the mean, and their outcomes will regress along with the luck.

Our method is absurdly simple yet strangely effective. (Although, we hasten to note, not infallible. Last year we warned you away from Kevin Gausman.) To find unlucky pitchers, we look for guys who had high BABIPs and HR/FB% but low Hard-Hit percentages. To find lucky ones, we look for the the opposite. (For lucky/unlucky hitters, whom we’ll get around to in a week or two, we do the opposites of the opposites, if you see what we mean.) We assume our reasoning is self-evident. If not, ask about it in the Comments section below, and we’ll do our best to answer. Starting Pitchers this week, Relievers next: Read the rest of this entry »

A Forensic Inquiry: How Much Should You Spend For Pitchers?

A few years ago, a guy named Jabari Blash streaked across the Fantasy Baseball firmament like a doomed comet. He had tremendous raw power, but was a three-true-outcomes guy with a vengeance, and most of those outcomes were strikeouts. His plate discipline, his glove, and his baserunning skills were such that he had to hit a lot of home runs to keep a major league job, and when he didn’t, first the Padres and then the Angels kicked him to the curb. We ourselves didn’t expect Blash to succeed, but we nonetheless took him in various deep drafts out of our sentimental recollection of a story we heard in our youths.

The tale goes like this: A young man’s fantastically wealthy grandfather dies. He leaves his entire estate to charity. To the young man, he leaves only some words of wisdom and advice. The key to success and happiness, says Grandpa, can be stated in a single word: BLASH. But to find out what the word means, the young man must do as the grandfather did in his own youth and seek out a certain guru who lives as a hermit at the top of a remote Tibetan mountain.  After much travail, distress, danger, and expense, the young man scales the mountain and finds the guru. “Guru,” he says. “I have come from far across the sea to acquire the wisdom that you alone possess. What is the meaning of BLASH?” And the guru says, “Buy Low And Sell High.” Read the rest of this entry »

Understudies, Standbys, and Swings: Reserve-Round Targets, Part 3

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s get right back to our odyssey around MLB in search of the underestimated and the overlooked. This week, the final  installment, covering the NL Central and the NL West. Numbers in parentheses are the Average Draft Positions of the players in question, derived from draft results in National Fantasy Baseball Championship Draft Champions leagues since the start of the year. Read the rest of this entry »

Understudies, Standbys, and Swings: Reserve-Round Targets, Part 2

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s continue our reconnaissance through MLB in search of reserve-round picks—the more camouflaged the better–whom we expect to outperform the market’s expectations. This week: AL West and NL East. The numbers in parentheses are the average draft positions in the 68 National Fantasy Baseball Champions Draft Champions (15 teams, 50 players a team, no FAABs) completed since the start of the year.

Angels: Jared Walsh (350) is to 2023 as Christian Walker was to 2022: a power hitter with a doctor’s note. Through June 21st last season, Walsh hit .265 with 13 home runs in 266 plate appearances. Thereafter: 188 PAs, 2 home runs, .144, until he packed it in for the season in late August. He then had surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, and while he’s still a bit under the weather, he says he’ll be fine by opening day. We envision a Walkeresque season of 30 or so home runs and a .260 BA.
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Understudies, Standbys, and Swings: Reserve-Round Targets, Part 1

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Time to begin our sweep through the major leagues, looking for reserve-round players who might be good enough to grab in a deep draft like NFBC’s Draft Champions (50 rounds, no FAABs). Some of these guys probably won’t play unless someone gets injured, but someone always does. Some of them are next in line behind shaky frontliners. Some of them had apparently-bad records last season that we think mask actually-good records. And some of them are starters whom, we think, the market just disrespects. So let’s have a look. This week, it’s the AL East and the AL Central on which we lavish our attention. The numbers in parentheses are the Average Draft Positions in the 53 completed Draft Champions drafts since the start of the year:

: We don’t see how a genuine contending team can keep Yusei Kikuchi in its rotation for a whole season. People seem to think that his replacement will be Nate Pearson, who is indeed a promising pitcher, but very delicate. His arm probably can’t take a lot of five-inning outings before it falls off. So our candidate is Yosver Zulueta (748). His control deserted him in the minors last season, but he was coming off a three-year hiatus (TJ/pandemic/knee surgery) and still did pretty well.

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