Author Archive

Oblique House: Desperation Waiver Wire, Hitter Edition

A quiz for you: What do Brandon Drury, Brad Miller, J.T. Realmuto, Tyler Flowers, Ian Kinsler, Justin Turner, and Delino DeShields have in common? Yes, that’s right—they are (or were until yesterday, when Kinsler showed up for work) all on the disabled list. And they are also all members of the Concupiscent Curds, a team we acquired in an auction in February, when the preseason was young. We purchased 18 hitters that day—14 starters and 4 (of a total of 7) reserves. And here we are, two weeks into the season, and one-third of them are hors de combat—a casualty rate that compares unfavorably to that of Commonwealth infantry on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

We do not mention this as a plea for sympathy. The Lord sendeth oblique strains on the just and the unjust alike. Rather, we raise the issue in recognition of the fact that this kind of thing is happening all over. In the narrow universe that we, and probably you, usually inhabit, “oblique,” “groin,” and “hamstring” are terms as ominous as West Nile Virus or Botulism are in the one we’re occasionally obliged to return to. Our problem, and probably yours, is what to do about injuries when they befall you in deep leagues. Among the various bodies that remain, are there any that are even lukewarm? Or are they all ready for embalming? Read the rest of this entry »

The Birchwood Brothers’ 10 Bold Predictions: Garage Sale Gourmets

Time again to join us as we shop for bargains where others see only discards and dreck. Our specialty—or shtick, if you prefer—is finding $1 and reserve round bargains who figure to do better than the market says they will. You wouldn’t want to assemble a team full of these guys, except as an entertaining academic exercise. But there’s no denying that the 2017-model Scott Schebler, Delino DeShields, Jimmy Nelson, or Aaron Altherr, all of whom we touted in last year’s installment, would have toned up your roster right nice. So let’s pretend it’s an early-Spring Saturday morning in the ‘burbs, hop in the SUV, drop the kids off at lacrosse practice, tour the local yard sales, and see if we can unearth some rare 78s buried among the old Jethro Tull albums. As before, we offer you ten players that everyone’s ignoring, plus one pricier guy who still looks undervalued to us. In no particular order: Read the rest of this entry »

Assembling The $80 Pitching Staff: Reviving The Quadrinity, Starting Pitcher Edition

According to the novelist Rick Moody, the purpose of literature is “to cast in language the nature of being.” And sure enough, that’s the Birchwood Brothers’ purpose, too–well, that and to recommend underpriced starting pitchers for your Fantasy Baseball draft or auction. To that end, we hereby cast in language the 2018 Trinity and Quadrinity, Starting Pitcher Edition. Read the rest of this entry »

Reviving The Quadrinity: From Stephen Hawking to Tucker Barnhart In Six Paragraphs

The death of the incomparable Stephen Hawking inspires us to reach for analogies from physics, even though we know even less about the subject than we do about, say, restoring antiques or Masters curling. Bear with us for another two paragraphs and we’ll get to the stuff you’re here for.

Thus: It seems to us that baseball stats can be divided and subdivided into particles. Blender stats like WAR, Win Shares, and our new Fangraphs colleague Jay Jaffe’s JAWS can be seen as molecules. In the right hands, these numbers are interesting and illuminating. But they are useless for our present purpose, which is to identify players who might do better than the Fantasy market expects them to.

These molecules are made up of atoms: the often-Fantasy-relevant outcome stats (ERA, Batting Average, and so on) that comprise the statistical lingua franca of baseball, known and (usually) acknowledged as meaningful by both stat geeks and non-geek fans. Hadrons, in this scheme, are the kinds of stats that reflect the things that most immediately produce the on-field events on which the outcome stats depend: hard-hit balls, “zone swings,” fly-ball distance, and so on. And at the quark level you find the stats that make up the hadrons, and that nobody could even measure until recently: barrels, tunnels, spin rate, things that we’ve probably never heard of.

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Reviving the Quadrinity, Relief Pitcher Edition: The Next Anthony Swarzak, Only Better

Once a preseason, it appears, we decide we like a pitcher, don’t trust our own affinities, and neither write about him nor draft him ourselves. In 2016, it was Rick Porcello, who won the Cy Young award. Last year, less catastrophically, it was Anthony Swarzak. For reasons we’ll detail below, we liked Swarzak going into the 2017 season. What, after all, was there not to like about a 31-year-old middle reliever coming off a season in which he’d had an ERA of 5.52 and an even higher FIP, and spent a month on the DL and two months in Triple-A? Even for us, connoisseurs of the preposterous, this was too preposterous, and we paid no attention to Swarzak in Fangraphs or in our myriad drafts and auctions.

You know the sequel. Swarzak was magnificent in 2017, with a 2.33 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP, more than 10 strikeouts per 9 innings, and no earned runs relinquished in 18 of his first 19 appearances. According to Baseball HQ, he earned $12 in 5×5 Rotisserie—the same as Gerrit Cole and Dylan Bundy, and more than Trevor Bauer, Zach Davies, Masahiro Tanaka, and dozens of others. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Got (Un)lucky, Hitter Edition

We now complete our lucky/unlucky trilogy by looking at hitters. For those of you just joining the symposium: we ‘ve had some success identifying players who have, we posit, been unduly favored or disfavored by fortune, and for whom the wheel accordingly figures to make a 180-degree turn. With pitchers, we look for (1) lucky guys who’ve been hit hard (as measured by, duh, Hard-Hit Percentage) but have managed to contain the damage, as measured by Batting Average on Balls in Play and Home Run Percentage, and (2) unlucky guys who’ve done the opposite.

We’ve already reviewed the results of this exercise for both starters and relievers. With hitters, we do essentially the same thing. We find guys who hit the ball hard but didn’t get hits, and guys who didn’t but did. Last year this approach would have pointed you towards Marcell Ozuna and Chris Iannetta and away from Ian Desmond. Of course, it would also have steered you away from Jonathan Schoop, who, in what is not among our finest moments, we suggested would be outperformed by Ben Zobrist and Logan Forsythe. So how do you tell the Schoops from the goats? Beats us. Read the rest of this entry »

Lutheran Drafts: Which Draft Position Do You Want, And How Do You Get It?

Most Fantasy drafts embody a sort of Calvinist view of the world: your draft position is a matter of predestination, where you wind up is arbitrarily determined, and there’s nothing you can do to alter the outcome. But drafts in the National Fantasy Baseball League are more Lutheran: there are things you can do to affect your position. To determine draft order in snake drafts, the NFBC uses what it calls the Kentucky Derby System, because it resembles the way post positions get chosen for the Derby. NFBC owners can indicate their draft position preferences beforehand by ranking them. If the owner doesn’t bother, the default ranking for that team is what you’d expect: 1 through Whatever. The NFBC computer then randomly picks the order in which each owner’s preferences are consulted. The first owner gets her first choice, the second owner gets his first choice unless it’s already gone, in which case the computer moves on to the next owner and doesn’t come back to Owner Number Two until everyone else’s first preferences have been consulted. And so it proceeds with second preferences, third preferences, and so on. Thus, it’s theoretically possible that the last owner in the KDS sequence gets the first draft choice.

The question is, does she want it? And that’s what we decided to find out: are there any differences at all, this year, among draft positions? If so, how big are the differences and which positions are best? And how can you go about getting those positions? Read the rest of this entry »

NFBC Slow Draft, Part I: Rotisserie Chickens

It’s time to review the first half of our NFBC slow draft. We’re not certain why we’re bothering. Sure, we enjoy reading about expert drafts as much as the next lunatic who’s ignoring his real-world responsibilities. But assuming we’re experts because we write for Fangraphs and you probably don’t is like assuming that Justin Bieber has talent because he has a recording contract and you probably don’t.

And anyway, decisions in drafts, unlike decisions in auctions—or at least less than decisions in auctions—are always deeply contextual, and thus not very useful in thinking about valuation in a different draft. In an auction, you’re usually going to be able to pay an above-market price to get guys you really want. Whether that’s a good strategy or not is beside the point; at least you’re going to be able to do it. In a draft, especially if you draft in a middle position, you’re frequently going to be a helpless bystander as players you like, and were prepared to take a round or two before you thought the market would, get grabbed by other owners with the same idea. Of course, occasionally a player you like and thought you had no chance of getting falls to you. Either way, you’re constantly readjusting as the draft develops, players you wanted to get disappear, and players you didn’t especially want wind up on your roster because, say, there was a run on closers and you were left with a choice among Fernando Rodney, Joakim Soria, and Brad Ziegler. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Got (Un)lucky, Starting Pitcher Edition

We’d hoped to discuss the first half of our NFBC slow draft this week, but it’s moving with the Thialfian swiftness of Bartolo Colon trying to leg out a triple. So instead we’re back with another installment in our lucky/unlucky series, wherein we attempt to disentangle bad fortune from disappointment and good fortune from success.

For newcomers to our world: our theory, which seems to be borne out in practice, is that pitchers who aren’t hit hard but give up a lot of hits and a lot of home runs are simply unlucky, and pitchers who are but don’t and don’t are merely lucky. We posit that the unlucky guys outperformed their numbers last year, and will accordingly be undervalued in this year’s drafts and auctions, while the lucky guys will be overpriced and should be avoided. And we deduce who these guys might be by looking at 2017’s Hard-Hit Percentage, Batting Average on Balls in Play, and Home Run to Fly Ball Ratio.

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Who Got (Un)lucky, Relief Pitcher Edition

Here in Fantasyland, relief pitchers come in three varieties: Closers, Guys Who Aren’t But Might Become Closers, and Everbody Else. Fantasy fortunes are made and broken on the basis of these distinctions. If, say, you were sharp enough to acquire Hector Neris, Felipe Rivero, and Brad Hand on draft day, you won a category and spent essentially nothing to do it. If, conversely, you started the season with Seung Hwan Oh and Francisco Rodriguez as your closers, then you were probably waiting till next year by the All-Star break.

We like unanticipated delight as much as anyone, but for Fantasy players, avoidance of hearbreak seems to us even more essential. And to that end, we reintroduce to you our Who Got Lucky report. The back story: In the middle of the 2015 season, we stumbled upon a simple approach that enabled us to avoid trading for Danny Salazar—an excellent move, although it didn’t help us much. We wondered: which pitchers who’d given up a lot of hard-hit balls had emerged unscarred by virtue of having low BABIPs and HR/FB percentages? We figured those guys had gotten lucky, and that their luck would change. It worked so well in identifying Salazar, and—in the other direction, as a guy who’d been unlucky—Carlos Rodon, that before last season we ran the numbers for both starters and relievers, and even for hitters, on the theory that anomalies in the same categories would once again right themselves.

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