Author Archive

TGFBI Draft Annotated: Buyers’ Remorse

Now let’s have a look at the team we drafted in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational. The background: In 2018, our Fangraphs colleague Justin Mason was divinely inspired to organize a competition for members of what is amusingly called the Fantasy Baseball “industry”—a term that invariably induces in us visions of our fellow stat geeks wearing coveralls and carrying lunch pails as they troop into factories belching smoke (the factories, that is, not the fellow nerds). That first season, which we missed, there were 195 teams. Last year there were 315, and now there are 390, with owners drawn from corners of the internet both proximate and remote. We’re divided into 26 15-team leagues, each of which plays a season using NFBC Main Event rules: snake draft, standard 5×5 Rotisserie, 23-man starting lineups, 7-player reserve roster, weekly pitcher substitutions, twice-weekly hitter substitutions, weekly in-season FAABs. The goal isn’t so much to win your own league as to finish at or near the top overall.

Last year—as we lose no opportunity to remind our readers—we did pretty well, winning our league and finishing either 7th or 9th overall, depending on which set of results you’re looking at. So, having come that close to immortality in our first crack at it, this year we have set our sights squarely on Valhalla. Read the rest of this entry »


Who’s Been (Un)lucky: The Hitters

Now let’s try to identify hitters who in 2019 were lucky or unlucky, and consider what to do about them in 2020. We use the same factors we discussed last week in our look at lucky and unlucky pitchers, but we invert them. Thus, a lucky hitter is one with a high 2019 BABIP and a high HR/FB ratio but a low hard-hit percentage, while an unlucky one had a low BABIP and a low HR/FB ratio but a high hard-hit percentage. This method didn’t cover itself with glory last season—it got the unlucky guys mostly right, but was 0 for 3 on the lucky ones—but It’s had better success in the past. Let’s take it out for one more spin: Read the rest of this entry »


Who’s Been (Un)lucky: The Pitchers

Time now for our ever-popular annual effort to identify players—pitchers this week, hitters next—upon whom Fortune smiled or rained pigs last season. Our theory is that this season, as is her wont, Fortune will aim her slings and arrows at other players than last year’s star-crossed guys, whereas last year’s lucky guys will need industrial-strength umbrellas. We further theorize that the Fantasy Baseball draft market fails to accord luck the respect it demands in this, as in all other, human affairs, and undervalues the unfortunate and overestimates…you get the idea.

And how do we ascertain who was lucky and unlucky? Quite simply, in fact. For lucky pitchers, we try to find guys who had high BABIPs and high HR/FB Ratios but low Hard-Hit Percentages. Then we flip that over to find the unlucky guys. Uncomplicated as this approach is, it steers you in the right direction more often than you might expect. Thus, last year it steered you towards Stephen Strasburg (we know you already knew he was good, but we were suggesting he’d be even better, and he was) and away from Jose Alvarado (who quickly blew up as Tampa Bay’s closer). Read the rest of this entry »


Resurfacing: Deep-Draft Targets, Part 3

And now let’s finish our team-by-team plunge among the disregarded and forgotten—the guys who should be available for $1 or in the reserve rounds, the later the better as far as we’re concerned:

Milwaukee. Eric Lauer in Colorado, 2019: 18 IP, No Wins, 38 Hits, 8 Walks, 21 Earned Runs, 11 Strikeouts. Eric Lauer, everywhere but Colorado, 2019: 137 2/3 IP, 8 Wins, 120 Hits, 43 Walks, 53 Earned Runs, 127 Strikeouts. You do the math; Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell, who has a college degree in Accounting, certainly will, and respond accordingly. Read the rest of this entry »


Still Underwater: Deep-Draft Targets, Part 2

Let’s resume our sweep through MLB in search of deep-draft value without our customary throat-clearing. This week, we’ll finish the AL and start the NL, with the remaining NL coming next week.

Angels. The Angels starter who’s being kind of ignored is Dylan Bundy (NFBC Average Draft Position 308), who’s worth a buck, maybe two if that’s what it takes. He gets plenty of strikeouts, and last season became a ground ball pitcher. Unfortunately, he did this while pitching for the Orioles and their ultra-porous infield. Now we get to see him with an infield of Fletcher-Simmons-Rendon behind him, and if we get our wish, Tommy La Stella plays first base. If not, leaving the position vacant would be an improvement over having it occupied by Albert Pujols. Read the rest of this entry »


The Abyss Stares Back: Deep-Draft Targets, Part 1

As a rule, we’re not Science Guys, but we’re suckers for the kind of real-life story wherein a crew of geeks takes a submersible to the Abyssopelagic zone and discovers a giant squid big enough to swallow Yankee Stadium whole or a new species of sea slug shaped like a double helix. And that’s how we think of ourselves—geeks in the Fantasy Baseball abyss. Except what we’re looking for is exotic deep-draft specimens—at the very least, guys whose NFBC Average Draft is above 330, thus making them no more expensive than $1 players. Better still, we want players who figure to go in the 40th round or later. And best of all, we want the equivalent of new species—players we actually do like, but who have been taken by nobody else.

Read the rest of this entry »


Birchwood Brothers 6.1: Antipasto Salad

Hello again. We are the Birchwood Brothers, back for our sixth season at the old stand. We’re still real-life siblings, still geriatric, still tireless seekers after the Fantasy Baseball dispensation, still reporters, via Rotographs, on the progress of our quest, and still the top finishers among Fangraphs writers (and 7th overall of 315 teams) in last season’s Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational, where the elite meet to tweet and compete. It’s been a tough few months on the sidelines, as we have struggled unsuccessfully to care the tiniest bit about Bang on a Can or the Jeter Apostasy (though we’d like to know the apostate’s rationale, if [s]he had one). But now it’s time to contemplate truly important matters, like who will comprise the Dodgers’ eight-man starting rotation or who will play right field for the Mariners.

If you’ve joined us in the past, you know that we are the detritivores among Fantasy Baseball pundits. Where others concern themselves with, say, whether the Blake Snell of 2020 will be the Blake Snell of 2018 or the Blake Snell of 2019, or whether Aristides Aquino should go in the 5th, the 8th, the 11th, or the 14th round, we trawl contentedly on the bottom, among the 4th outfielders, backup catchers, 6th starters, utility infielders, and setup guys—the ones who’ve drifted down to or near the reserve rounds, and who—if we’re right about them—will pay fantasy dividends in excess of what, for example, Jose Abreu will be worth if he hits 40 home runs rather than the 30 everyone projects for him. Sometimes we’re right about our guys, sometimes we’re not, and some seasons we’re righter than others, but it’s a harmless pursuit, and we amuse ourselves, and occasionally our readers, doing it.

In the next couple of weeks, we’ll do a sweep through all of MLB, trying to identify at least one cheap player per team who has a shot at paying lavish dividends. But for the moment, let’s concentrate on a new but already-familiar baseball phenomenon—the opener, or, as we Italian-Americans prefer to call him, the antipasto. As we wandered, lonely as clouds, through the roster of the Detroit Tigers—who, by the way, are a very interesting team, though they may be just as bad this year as they were last—the perennially-disappointing Daniel Norris caught our eye. For most of the season, Norris was dreadful, but take a look at his last eight “starts.” In each of them, he pitched exactly three innings. Obviously, he got no wins or saves, but his other stats were excellent: 24 IP, 16 Hits, 3 Walks, 6 Earned Runs, 23 Strikeouts.

This got us wondering: suppose you projected an antipasto to do over the course of a full season what Norris did for the last six weeks or so of 2019. Would you rather have that guy in your day-to-day lineup than a sixth starter? The answer is, decisively, yes. As we calculate it, using the Birchwood Brothers’ top-secret valuator–which is essentially indistinguishable from everyone else’s top-secret valuator—Norris times four would have earned about as much as Jake Odorizzi or Mike Minor. That’s as in Mike Minor, the guy who attracted four votes in the Cy Young balloting.

Or let’s approach the math from a different angle. The question before the bar is whether your starting lineup is better off with an antipasto who has Norris’s stats than it is with a typical sixth (or, a fortiori, seventh) starting pitcher. Using the current NFBC Average Draft Positions for Draft Champions (i.e. 15-team, 50-round) leagues, we identified the 76th- through 90th-ranked starting pitchers. We took the 2020 stats foreseen for those guys by Ariel Cohen’s nonpareil ATC projections, and averaged them. We found that the typical SP6 is projected to pitch about 140 innings and get about 8 wins with 135 strikeouts, an ERA of 4.40, and a WHIP of 1.32. It appears to us that substituting Norris for that guy on an average Draft Champions team will cost you 3 standings points in wins and one point in strikeouts—but will lower your ERA enough to gain you three points and lower your WHIP enough to get you another three or four. In other words, you’re better off with Norris, and you haven’t had to use a pre-reserve round pick to get him.

We know what you’re saying, which is something like “if we knew ex ante that Norris or someone else would have a full season like that, we’d draft him in the 16th round or so. But we don’t.” True, and we’re not suggesting that you draft [insert name here] in the 16th round, or before the reserve round. What we’re suggesting is that, if you play in a deep league, along about the 25th or 30th round, Insert Name might be a more useful selection than, say, Kevin Gausman or Jordan Lyles.

But whose Name do you Insert? You will not be stunned to learn that we have some thoughts. We found three starting pitchers who last season (1) were way better their first two times through the batting order than their third, and (2) were good enough those first two times, and got enough strikeouts, to make drafting them a possibility on the chance that they’ll be used as multi-inning antipasti. Those pitchers are:

Elieser Hernandez, Marlins, NFBC Average Draft Position 543. (FTTO/STTO: 10.4 K/9; 1.11 WHIP; 4.08 ERA. TTTO: 3.5 K/9; 1.55 WHIP; 7.84 ERA). Hernandez is an extreme fly ball pitcher, and he’s always going to give up home runs. He’ll probably give up more this season, what with the fence retraction in Miami. The question is whether he gives up anything else. He succeeds, when he does, by striking out the guys who don’t hit home runs, and apparently, when he doesn’t strike them out, they get hits. His hard-hit percentage stays about the same no matter how many times through the order he goes, but his BABIP goes from .240 to .316.

Vince Velasquez, Phillies, NFBC ADP 507. (10.3/1.16/4.18 vs. 5.1/2.76/10.95). With Velasquez, you can account for the different outcomes readily enough. First two times through, he’s hard-hit 44.2% of the time with a BABIP of .271; Third time through, it’s 60% and .417. Whether this is because of a decline in velocity, a change in pitch mix, a question of familiarity’s breeding contempt, or something else, it’s happening, and (we posit) won’t happen if you stop him after he pitches three innings.

Tyler Mahle, Reds, NFBC ADP 377. (9.6/1.20/3.58 vs. 5.8/1.85/12.88). When Mahle is on, he throws a split-fingered fastball and a curve that induce ground balls in great profusion, plus a respectable fastball that can strike guys out. When he’s off, he doesn’t and doesn’t.

We know what else you’re saying: How do I know these guys will be succulent antipasti rather than overcooked linguine? In other words, even if I think they’re projectible to Norris-like seasons, how do I know they’ll be used as three-inning openers rather than dollar-short starters? You don’t, of course. That’s why they’re reserve-round picks, and why you’re not counting on them for anything. But their upside is significant, especially when you consider that they’re all still young and that they (or anyway Mahle and Velasquez) were, within living memory, elite prospects. Maybe it will turn out that they can do for five innings whatever they’ve been doing right for three. And wouldn’t you rather take a chance on them rather than suffering through another season of the uninspired and uninspiring chicken parm that is Rick Porcello or Zach Davies?


The Birchwood Brothers’ Ten Bold Predictions In Review

How was your season? Ours was pretty good—a Draft Champions win, some in-the-money finishes, and our proudest achievement: 7th overall (and first in our 15-team league and among Fangraphs scribes after a bitter struggle for preeminence with Shelly Verougstraete) in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational, where the elite meet to tweet and compete.

Our Bold Predictions, however, weren’t so great. That’s how it is when you confine yourself, as we do and did, to players who will cost no more than a dollar. We wonder, as we always do, how our results would compare to anyone else’s ten-cheap-player picks. We like to think we’d be competitive, but who knows? Let’s do the post-mortem: Read the rest of this entry »


Deadline Day: Is That All There Is?

Now that’s entertainment, right? Deadline Day was, in its way, at least as much fun as NBA Free Agent Day. But, unlike Free Agent Day, it doesn’t look like it produced much in the way of a shakeup in the standings. The teams that were expected to sell sold, the teams that were expected to buy bought, the rich got richer, the poor got prospects.

But a bigger disappointment, as far as we’re concerned, is how few deals produced unexpected Fantasy upside for those of us in redraft leagues. Downside, sure. If you were hoping that Hunter Strickland would become Seattle’s closer, we share your pain. And there was a lot of rearranging of deck chairs, whether the chairs wound up on the Titanic or the Love Boat. We were hoping that Tony Kemp would land an everyday job someplace, but with the Castellanosful Cubs he figures not to play a lot more than he did while he was DFA’d. Likewise, Shane Greene and Zack Greinke are probably marginally more attractive with their new teams than they were with their old ones, but not so’s you’d notice, even if there’s a redraft league out there somewhere where they’re available. Read the rest of this entry »


Subprime Day 2: The Birchwood Brothers Ten Bold Second-Half Predictions (Hitters)

Let’s finish what we started yesterday and look at some hitters. We’ll assume that, like us, you’re the brawny, rugged type who likes two-catcher leagues rather than the effete sort who prefers the monocatcher variety. If so, you’re always looking for a catcher who will be an improvement on a dead roster spot, and—unless your league somehow factors defense in—what with injuries, there aren’t enough of those to go around. Thus, our next two Bold Predictees. First, and more obviously, there’s Kevan Smith. He’s spent about four weeks this season dealing first with a possible concussion and then with a sprained metacarpal, but when he’s been healthy—for about 100 plate appearances–he’s done exactly what we, you, and everyone else expected, which is a .286 batting average, high on-base percentage, little power, no speed, and a slightly higher runs-plus-rbis per at-bat than is the norm for catchers. In other words, he’s worth something, and because he’s freshly off the DL and nobody carries more catchers than absolutely necessary, he’s freely available. Read the rest of this entry »