The 2015 season humbled me. In 2014, I reached the playoffs in all four of my leagues and won two of them. I cleaned up at each draft and I cleaned up on the waiver wire. I felt unstoppable. I felt like I had it all figured out.
Then 2015 happened. I botched my first (and most important) draft (“LOWV,” henceforth). Then I botched then next one. Then I botched the two snake drafts, as I always do. I botched the Birchwood Brothers‘ Birchwood Derby midseason draft as well. Botched. Botchy botch botched.
Right. So I learned some things. You’re never too old, nor too wise, to learn. Conveniently, I’m neither old nor wise, so I still have plenty of learning to do. And when Major League Baseball turns in a season as unpredictable as this one, well, everyone learns a thing or two.
1. Sometimes, you have to trust your gut.
In limited playing time in 2014, A.J. Pollock hit .302, smacked seven home runs and stole 14 bases in 287 plate appearances. His 2014 line, prorated to 600 PAs, looks like a budding star: .302/.353/.498 with 15 home runs, 86 runs, 50 RBI and 29 stolen bases. Even his partial 2013 line looked marginally enticing and somewhat validated his 2014 accomplishments
I told myself this entering the LOWV draft. A.J. Pollock’s a sleeper. He’s worth a flyer. (Aside: I felt the same about Adam Eaton, too, upon whom I man-crushed HARD prior to his very homer-less 2014 campaign.)
Too many bargains, perhaps. With money on the table, I felt obligated to blow it on a guy I deemed my sleeper for the season: Khris Davis, for $13. A dozen or so picks later, there went Pollock to the eventual second-place team… for $1. Granted, Pollock’s price was suppressed compared to average drafts, but not by much: ESPN pegged him for 41st among all outfielders (behind… wait for it… Alex Rios) at $4.30 and roughly 165th overall. I can’t chalk it up to circumstance, either, as I failed to reel in Pollock (get it? get it?) in any of my drafts.
Trust your gut. Form your own (informed) opinions. It’s not like there weren’t fantasy experts who were high on Pollock — our own Michael Barr picked him as his sleeper for the year. But when said informed opinion aligns with the experts, well, you should listen to yourself.
2. Sometimes, you have to trust the hype.
Because I didn’t have a lot of faith in J.D. Martinez. But a lot of people did; experts smarter than me, not excluding those who right here at FanGraphs, were sold on the strides Martinez made after being cut by the Astros.
It was a perfect collision of unpredictable improvement and unfavorable circumstances (the lowly Astros cut a 27-year-old Martinez — cut!) that made his fairytale ending worth selling, not buying. And bought owners did not: Martinez went for roughly $6.60 and 37th among outfielders overall on average in ESPN drafts. (I know, I know: you can’t trust your gut and someone else’s gut. If I knew how to strike that balance perfectly, I’d tell you.)
Former top prospects, however, taught us much more about trusting the hype than ever before. Bryce Harper broke out (after already breaking out, in a sense). So did Nolan Arenado. And Manny Machado. Xander Bogaerts. Chris Archer. Gerrit Cole (kind of).
None of them ever dominated the way they did this year, regardless of professional level. The projection systems couldn’t predict it. The scouts would say they could, but they couldn’t tell you win. When can you expect a breakout from a 24-year-old or even a 22-year-old? After two or three years of never fully meeting the hype, can you ever expect it at all?
Unfounded opinion: Mike Trout make fantasy baseball owners care more about Minor League prospects. But I don’t know if it’s fully causal — there are simply so many good young players emerging that you’re forced to take notice. So the spotlight bears down on young prospects.
Sometimes, they wilt. There’s always that possibility. But the best prospects? Harper, Arenado, Machado, Bogaerts and Archer showed us why scouts once loved them so much. Sometimes, you can’t rely on just numbers (as I am wont to do). Sometimes, the qualitative supersedes the quantitative.
Experts and projections largely rely on numbers and evidence, and I think you should, too. But sometimes, there are stories to be written that numbers can’t yet tell. There are sleepers, predicated upon observed improvements in prior seasons, and then there are true upside plays — “hype” plays — guys whose prospect pedigrees potentially forecast big, seemingly unpredictable things. Sometimes, they’re worth the gamble.
3. It’s not always your fault.
Awwwww. That’s sweet. And remarkably predictable, coming from someone who botched 80 percent of the leagues in which he competed this year.
But it’s true. I drafted horribly in my primary league. I left money on the table — it was only $3, but I drafted Khris Davis (who, during the part of the season I owned him, stunk) as my last pick for $13. And I drafted the All Underachievers Team, so that was nice.
Underachievement aside, you can’t control injuries. You can draft a juggernaut of a team, but unless you can see the future, you won’t know who the injury bug will bite. Or sting. Or club in the shins.
Hisashi Iwakuma followed him. Then Ben Zobrist followed him. So did Adam Wainwright. And Brandon Morrow. George Springer. Victor Martinez. Sean Doolittle (again). Adrian Beltre. Jorge Soler. Matt Holliday. Dustin Pedroia. Byron Buxton. Springer (again). Steven Souza. Clay Buchholz. Pedroia (again). Souza (again). I think there are three I’m missing.
It’s not a sob story. Like I said, my team was already fated to be pretty bad. But imagine if what happened to me happened to a good team. A team of perpetually hurt Bryce Harpers and Giancarlo Stantons. It’s hard to recover from repeated knicks and dings, especially if your league employs a free agent auction budget (FAAB) or charges per transaction. There’s only so much you can do, and the rest is outside your control.
Enjoy the postseason and (try to enjoy your) offseason, folks. Build up those dynasties and whatnot. Find your diamond in the rough and dream for six months about how you’ll swipe him in the third-to-last round. Revel in your own make-believe glory, and look forward to a potentially injury-less 2016 season. I know I will.
Currently investigating the relationship between pitcher effectiveness and beard density. Two-time FSWA award winner, including 2018 Baseball Writer of the Year, and 5-time award finalist. Featured in Lindy's Sports' Fantasy Baseball magazine (2018, 2019). Tout Wars competitor. Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant.