My Final 2019 Results: It Could Have Been Worse …

… but not by much for teams I just owned …

My 2019 fantasy season did not live up to my standards with most of the struggles being self-inflicted. Here are some overarching themes I spotted with each league plus some additional points at the end.

Horrible FAAB management

I ran out of money in almost every league and spent too much FAAB on worthless assets. Looking back over the leagues, the root cause was chasing week-only plays. From my work writing “The Process”, I found out how valuable it is to grind out each week. Additionally, I ran the weekly FAAB projections here so I knew around what it would take to get each. Initially, I got the players and but dropped them a week or two later for better options with little to show for the FAAB spent

I need to set a FAAB limit for chasing week-only plays and just accept it’s fine to miss out on a few players. A week’s advantage is worth the same in week 1 or the final week. The rest of my FAAB can be used for chasing long term improvements. Some players may straddle the long-term and weekly play so the FAAB may come from both the weekly and long term pools. I need to have a plan and stick to it.

Not following my research

I dove into too many players during the offseason and found guys who may have an advantage such as the Voit/Muncy list, pitchers with good pERA, rookies outperforming their projections, and just my preseason evaluations. When it came to drafting teams, I threw too much of the work out the window and relied on projections.

In my preseason evaluation of Jose Altuve, I saw too many warning signs of a speed decline but still made him an anchor an NFBC team. I saw Max Kepler take huge sustainable steps forward in 2018 and got zero shares. Using pERA, I saw the potential in Domingo German as a top-20 starting pitcher. I got just one share and I had to trade for it. In both my AL-only leagues, I ignored Dan Vogelbach even though he was on my Voit/Muncy list. So much wasted work.

Drafting rookies too early

I’ve found rookies to be a great draft day investment with many owners not wanting to take on the risk. One issue with rookies is their call-up date making their playing time suspect, especially to start the season. This year I jumped in the rookie pool too early with several shares of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Nick Senzel. While both disappointed, I’m not changing my approach because of their production.

Instead, I liked other rookies later in the draft but I could only afford to carry 1-2 here and there. There are only so many bench slots for rookies and their suspect playing time. Instead, I’m going to focus on known commodities early on and wait for the double-digit rounds before I start grabbing rookies.

Not carrying three catchers

Several times I was streaming catchers trying to find a reasonable permanent option, I went with the weekly option over who ended up being the more productive player.  I wish I had kept the other option (see Austin Nola) to see how the next two weeks played out. While I would feel dirty about it, carrying a backup catcher might be the best option when scavenging at the bottom of the barrel.

Ruthlessly cut players

After the 2018 season, I noticed I was holding onto players too long and not moving onto new options. I decided to go to the extreme and ruthlessly cut players who were taking up bench spots with little chance of helping my team. I remember early in the season, I was one of three NFBC Main Event teams to cut Justin Upton after he was going to miss half the season. I was going to get nothing from him for a few months and I didn’t know how much when he returned so he was gone. Looking back it was a good move. But I also held Giancarlo Stanton into September because of the upside. Not a good move.

In NFBC style leagues (seven bench spots, no IL), I came up with an approach of just holding two players who I hoped would contribute in the future which could be rookies or injured players. While sometimes the number bloated to four, I kept cutting and I felt it helped me grind the waiver for contributing assets.

Saves handled

As a whole, I nailed Saves this year. My plan was to grab one reliable closer (usually Roberto Osuna) and then bottom feed with several picks. I just needed one to hit (Kirby Yates and Will Smith) but I had my failures (Mychal Givens and Brad Boxberger). It was nice not grinding for Saves for once.

Individual Leagues

With the overall themes out of the way, here is a quick look at my teams from ugly to acceptable.

NFBC Auction: 14th of 15

Two points on this league. First, of all the leagues I was in this year including the onlys, the waiver wire was bare of any semi-talented players. Congrats to the other owners for identifying and acquiring talent. Second, I left the room with Rick Porcello as my #2 starter. I deserved to get my ass kicked and just set my $1400 entry on fire.

LABR AL-only: 10th of 12

I hadn’t played in a $100 FAAB league with no $0 bids and it showed. My team got devastated with injuries and demotions and at one point within the first month, I had close to $120 of my auctioned players in the minors or on the IL. I was scrambling to fill slots with bench bats. No matter how much I need to fill a slot, I should have only spent $1 on these guys who could be demoted the very next week.

Even with the early losses, I was able to grind up to 4th place but the trade deadline gutted my team and I had no resources to get any players coming over for NL.

NFBC Main Event: 11th of 15

I had a decent team for a while with a chance at finishing in the money until my top two picks, Chris Sale and Javier Baez, were lost for the season.

During the draft, I really debated taking Justin Verlander with the Sale pick and the choice came down to the last second. I should not be making that decision at the table and cleaned up my draft order after that instance.

My FAAB spending killed any chance of me coming back in this league especially with 1/4 of my FAAB wasted on Corbin Martin.

NFBC Online Championship: 5th of 12

I feel OK about this team considering where I started. I lost Giancarlo Stanton for the season and my offense was so bad that of the 1000+ teams in the overall, I was dead last in offense over a week into the season with a team batting average under .100.

In the end, only 9.5 points separated the second and seventh place team with teams jumping up and down in the standings each day.

Tout Wars 15-team mixed auction: 4th of 15

Two items kept me from winning the league. First and foremost, Bret Sayre and Scott Swanay rostered two devastating teams with Bret pulling off a three-point win. Second, Jose Ramirez was my hitting anchor. I was middle of the pack for a couple of months but once he heated up, I pulled within five points of the lead. The second injury just tanked my team with Freddy Galvis being his replacement.

Home AL-only (keeper): 2nd of 9

I lost my entire pitching staff to free agency that helped me to two straight championships with Marcus Stroman being my ace coming into the auction. I rebuilt the staff enough and my hitting carried me an unexpected second-place finish.

… yet the three jointly owned teams shoved.

Besides my individually owned leagues, I was asked to help with three other teams. In the others, two teams won and the other came in second with my combined share of the winnings at ~$2500. The other owners won a lot more. Here are four points I took from these winners.

  1. In one league, we adhered to setting aside a certain amount for weekly FAAB. We were in contention for most of the season but normally in second place with one team well ahead of us. The other team used up all their FAAB with three weeks left in the season but still had a decent lead. We kept grinding and took a huge chance in the last week to move up. On the last day, we passed him for the win. Without the FAAB to focus on our needs, we would not have won.
  2. At the trade deadline, especially in an only league, allocated twice the amount of time normally spent picking up players. There are so many moving pieces that it’s not just the big names but those filling the voids who have value. Our team went from middle-of-the-pack to just barely not winning because of this one FAAB period.
  3. Position flexibility can be king. In each league, a premium was placed on position flexibility and it allowed the best players to be started, no matter the position.
  4. Finally and most importantly, in each league, it was a team effort. If someone had real life in the way or just wanted a break, the rest of the team stepped up. Obvious mistakes could be pointed out. Multiple sets of eyes could dig for uncovered gems. I feel two teams were saved from bad performance by the group effort. The other team just shoved as soon as the draft was over to an easy win. It helped that I was able to mesh with the other owners making the leagues enjoyable. While having multiple owners might not always work, when it does, these teams have a considerable edge.

It’s time to learn from these errors and start the 2020 grind.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR twice, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Jonathan Sher
3 years ago

First, have to applaud you for owning up to the struggles you had in the leagues in which you went at it alone. We often can learn more from failings than from successes, whether they be our own or someone else’s, and I have had some doozies over the years.

Second, while injuries do not strike fantasy teams evenly, from what you describe, it doesn’t seem that you were unduly hit, though the brevity of the article means you may not have included all the details. To compete well, you need to bet and win on some upside and be nimble in FAAB and trades to offset injuries, demotion and subpar play.

In my A.L.-only auction league with 12 owners and 40 man rosters, I anchored my pitching staff to Chris Sale, Carlos Carrasco and Justin Verlander, all players that were part of my 15-man keeper list from the previous year at $35, $28 and $30. I also kept at $1 McHugh. But while Carrasco and Sale ate up 1/4 of my $260 budget, and three of my starting pitchers were lost to illness or injury and were sub-optimal when pitching, and while my closer Brad Hand imploded after the all-star break, I was able to offset that by getting Giolito, Duffy and Thornton (I spot started the latter two) for free in the reserve, targeting top-end set up men on the cheap like Ottavino, Castillo and Green, and winning in FAAB Urquidy and picking up in trades German and Kennedy; I ended up with 55 points in the five pitching categories, finishing 1st in ERA, WHIP and Ks, 3rd in wins and 4th in saves. What knocked me down from 1st to second were injuries to my hitters, especially down the stretch, when I lost Trout, Upton, Moncada, Kipnis, Rengifo, Bruce and Kiermaier to injury, and Nate Lowe to a loss of playing time after the Rays traded for Aguilar and Diaz returned from the DL .

On FAAB, in any deep league, even good rosters will have a hole or two most of the season, so I find it helpful to resist spending a lot on short-term patches and focusing instead on how the intersection of talent and opportunity creates the potential for certain free agents to contribute over the long haul; when I picked up Urquidy, for example, it was at the start of July, long before the midnight deadline trade deal that brought Greinke to Houston. Other players I targeted included Solak and Arraez at the start of June. That approach is even more true in keeper leagues like mine.

I think you are correct that you need to trust your own research and not be governed as much by projection systems. The latter guides the masses; to do well, we need to spot the market inefficiencies in which the crowd is wrong, and you have done too much good work not to use it.

In auctions, which is the format I greatly prefer, there is a risk with trying to do too much, because that can take so much focus that you lose sight of the dynamics of the marketplace. Like poker, you have to read the room. That, combined with identifying potential gems missed by projection models, is how to secure enough under-valued talent to offset injuries and other unfortunate occurrences.