Joe Camp won his league, probably because he reads us and listens to our podcasts here, I dunno, but that’s my guess, totally not because he’s an Associate Professor of electrical engineering. Anyway, he won his league, and his leaguemates started chirping about a couple trades he made that year that may have appeared lopsided at the time — my personal opinion is that vetoes suck, and are a dampener on league activity, and we should all be active and talking to each other as much as possible, so if you were on it, you would have made that lopsided trade first — and so Mr. Camp set out to prove he would have won the league anyway.
The way he did it? He took the worst team in the league and replaced everyone on the team with the best free agent pickups of the year. He then compared that team with everyone’s originally drafted teams. The free agents easily won — 96 points to 87 for the best drafted team.
Here is your best undrafted team in a 12-team, 25-man roster league:
|C||Yadier Molina||SP||Rick Porcello|
|1B||Mike Napoli||SP||Rich Hill|
|2B||Jonathan Villar||RP||Seung Hwan Oh|
|SS||Jose Ramirez||RP||Tyler Thornburg|
|3B||Eduardo Nunez||P||Tanner Roark|
|OF||Jackie Bradley Jr.||P||J.A. Happ|
|OF||Carlos Beltran||P||Aaron Sanchez|
|OF||Adam Duvall||P||Christopher Devenski|
|UT||Chris Carter||BN||Brad Brach|
|UT||Jake Lamb||BN||Danny Duffy|
|BN||Yasmany Tomas||BN||Addison Reed|
|BN||Trevor Story||BN||Drew Pomeranz|
He moved the guys with the best innings pitched and at-bat totals into the starting lineups of the drafted teams, since that usually meant most value. And this is assuming no trades or pickups from the better drafted teams, so it’s not realistic in terms of most league situations. Nobody will end up with an all drafted team or an all free agent team, and that’s mostly good for a healthy league.
There are a few lessons here. One is that no draft is a nail in the coffin. Every team is salvageable through trades and pickups. Apologies to the NFBC people, since that’s draft and follow, but even then you’ve got the waiver wire to help you improve.
The hidden quandary inside *that* lesson is that you have to know when to hold them and know when to fold them. Take the rather uninspiring case of Yadier Molina, who hit .307, yes, but only hit eight homers, stole three bases, and had barely more than 100 runs and RBI added together. That particular player may not be available every year, but that sort of value, especially at catcher, seems fairly replacement level. It’s usually out there, maybe as a .250 hitter with 20 homers, or a base-stealing catcher, or something of the sort.
He ended up the eighth-best catcher in baseball by Yahoo’s rankings. What if you had Brian McCann all year? You ended up short of Molina. Salvador Perez? Ditto. Batting average matters, and if you’ve got a bad one, you have to be Yasmani Grandal to be worth it (27 homers, seventh by yahoo). And, even if you have a quibble with the ranking system, how long would you have held on to Stephen Vogt before deciding it wasn’t his year, and making the switch? The longer you waited, the less value you got out of the catcher position.
Of course, you can’t move too fast. Evan Gattis hit 32 homers and ended up the fourth-best catcher by Yahoo, but he also spent April hitting .239 with one homer, and even finished May with a batting average under .240 and five total homers. He was dropped wholesale and would have made for a great pickup for, say, Matt Wieters owners. He’s a reason I usually don’t spend much on catchers in twelve-team leagues, but he’s also a cautionary tale for dropping a guy too early.
The choice between dropping a guy with a track record and holding on to him until he bounces back is perhaps the defining characteristic of a fantasy manager. It’s a nexus of skill and luck, and if someone tells you they know exactly what they are doing, they’re a huckster. I dropped Gattis this year. I didn’t pick up Jonathan Villar early enough.
We were on top of more than a few of these, of course. Aaron Sanchez was a favorite around here, Jake Lamb, Trevor Story, and Adam Duvall were on my “must draft” lists, and our writers and podcasters loved Villar, Jose Ramirez, and Danny Duffy in different places.
So there’s value in our approach, especially when it comes to the drop/don’t drop decision. In the effort to find actionable numbers in smaller samples, we’ve worked on using batted ball distance, launch angle, exit velocity, spin rates, velocity, and arsenal changes to spot sustainable performance quicker.
Add to it your feel if you like, but that’s how we’ll attack the problem. And that’s why, over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking back at some of the biggest surprises of the year to try and figure out what we saw and what we missed. It’s worth looking back before you look forward.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.