March 28, 2005
The hardest thing to do, in just about any endeavor, is to repeat one's
especially against a highly competitive field. Last year,
I won AL Tout Wars against possibly the most competitive field of
baseball experts ever assembled. Except for one new owner, this
league is exactly the same. So to repeat as league champ, I will
have to overcome three major obstacles.
The first is that any strategic edge
is immediately blunted for the champ the following year. In any
highly competitive environment, the competition always closely analyzes
the reasons why one team won and they didn't. Then they either
aspects of the winning strategy into their own, or they adopt it
entirely. To repeat, the winner must either modify his/her strategy to
incorparate a new wrinkle or execute the old one better than anyone
else. Either way, the margin for error grows smaller. Or
they can anticipate the new market environment and try to optimize
their strategy to take advantage. The downside is guessing wrong
and being left up the proverbial creek.
The second factor is expectations. Either self-imposed or imposed
expections can be a dangerous thing if they breed a mindset of
complacency or hubris.
I was asked a number of times this winter, "so now that you won,
you worried that the target is now on you?" And my answer was
"Baby, I'm Joey Bishop. I'm in. I've won and now I'm
forever in the
Rat Pack of Tout Wars roto-champions. From here on out, it
doesn't matter what do, I'm in the club. It's
the other guys who now have the pressure to win." The only
thing I have to concern myself with this year is knowing the talent
pool. If I know that and it doesn't really matter what anyone's
expectations are. However, if I don't and think that what I knew
last year is good enough for this year, then I'm sunk already.
Hubris has no place in an expert's league. Well, technically it
does... it's called last place.
The third factor is luck. Like it or not, when it comes to
human endeavors, there are always intangible and/or unpredictable
that can radically change the outcome. Given our culture's
current mentality and political climate, I know I should say, "oh yeah,
I had everything under control.
I knew I was gonna win because of my strategy", but that would be
lie. Last year, I had a good strategy for what the draft offered,
but I also had a little bit of luck working both ways during the
season: good luck on my end and my closest
competitors having a bit of bad luck. That may happen again, or
not. In 2003, I was the one who had some bad luck and I lost out
winning my first Tout championship by a couple of points.
However, had I been
more astute that year I might have won regardless. Luck is so
hard to quantify that my position is that the less you depend on it,
the better off you are.
This Year's Draft
Going in, I figured that other owners would either adopt my mid-level
strategy from last year or at the very least try to prevent
me from executing it. So I went in with a back-up plan just in
case. The problem is that drafts are unpredictable and it's very
easy to get lost in the flow and not figure out where the value is
going to be until it's too late to implement the back-up. The
earlier I could figure out what everyone else was doing, the better.
Fortunately, I had the perfect player to open the draft with as a
Johan Santana. It's no secret that he's one of my favorite
players. Nor is it a secret that he was a significant reason why
I won last year. He's worth
about as much as any player in the game and, given his workload and
performance to date, he's about as low risk and dependable as any star
in the game. So by throwing him out first, I could find out where
people were going to spend their money.
By most counts, he's worth between $35
and $40 in an AL only 5x5 league. I nominated him at $30 to
see how people reacted. If they chased his salary up to his
value, I would know that the majority would be pursuing players at
value, regardless if they were stars or not, and that I could go ahead
and strive to fill my roster with the mid-level
players that I usually do. If they didn't chase, then I would
get him at the bargain price of $30 or someone else would get him at a
great price, and I
would know that the value in the draft was going to be with star
(who would go for less than their value) and with $1 end game
players. True, letting Santana go especially at a bargain price
would be a big sacrifice. But if it meant gaining $15-$20 worth
of value in the middle rounds for a cost of $3-8 on Santana, it would
be worth it.
Just as vital is the price I nominated him at. Had I thrown out a
lower number, I doubt I could ascertain as much information. For
one, $30 seems to be a kind of magic number reserved for only the elite
players in the game. There seems to be a gulf of perception
between a $29 player and a $30 player. I'm not sure why, but in
just about every auction I've ever participated or attended, people
seem to react to $30 whereas $29 is just another number.
Secondly, nominating him at a lower starting point is too obvious a
bargain so I really wouldn't be able to differentiate between what was
strategy and what was just a default bid on a grossly underpriced
player. Once the bidding started, it would be impossible to
differentiate strategy from passion bidding ("heck, I was willing to go
$32, might as well go $34"). Starting at $30 meant that anyone
who outbid me had a conscious committment to bidding on stars to full
value. Those who didn't were either the ones who never pay more
than $30 for a pitcher, or they were saving their money for mid-level
players. Going in I already knew who hated to pay top dollar for
star pitching, so that left me with answers for the rest of the league.
a non-dairy topping, I decided to give a little intro speech before
nominating him, pretty much telling everyone that I wasn't feeling any
that the pressure was actually on them to beat me and that if people
what I was going to do with Santana, they wouldn't have to wait long to
out. I doubt it had much impact, but if it made people more
to stop me from doing what I did last year, all the better.
When the bidding ended at $31, I had my answers. True
to my prediction, a good number of star players went for well below
I had them pegged at and a large number of mid-level players went for
or higher. For example, I got Vlad Guerrero and Vernon Wells
for $3-5 less than what I had them pegged at and although I didn't get
Curt Schilling, Mariano Rivera or Gary Sheffield, they went went for $5
Conversely, Melvin Mora, Michael Young, Edgar Renteria, Angel
Alfonso Soriano, Mark Kotsay, Rich Harden and Jeremy Bonderman were
among the most notable
examples of players who went for at least $5 over what I had them
at. For the first thirteen rounds, I felt pretty good.
One day I hope to execute a draft without a blunder. This one
wasn't it. Things were going fairly smoothly until Juan Cruz'
name came up.
Normally, he's the kind of high upside pitcher I'll pay an extra dollar
or two to grab. But that's a luxury of the mid-level game I
usually play. With a large chunk of my budget allocated by the
middle rounds, penurious use of the remaining dollars was important in
order to get the best possible talent with the end game bargains.
The difference between a $1 player and a $2 player at that point can be
huge. But for some reason I lost sight of that and obsessed on
getting Cruz. It cost
me $7. Don't get me wrong, I love the guy's talent and I'm pretty
he can earn $7 even if he doesn't get a save this year. But at
point I acquired him, I would have been much better off letting him go
spending that extra $6 on outfielders. Instead of BJ Surhoff and
Borchard - two guys I'm not overly confident will get over 250 at bats
season - I could have picked up Gary Matthews, Grady Sizemore,
Gross or Jay Payton, all guys I like a lot more. The blunder also
me to look for outfield help in the reserve round rather than pursue
pitching help. It also cost me BJ Upton in the opening
round of the reserve draft. I ended up with Delmon Young, so it
certainly wasn't a wasted pick as I think he'll see some time this year
in the D-Rays outfield, but Upton is closer to making an impact in the
majors and would have been very nice insurance in the infield.
It's hard to gauge how much a mistake costs
you when it happens, but it was very clear to me at the end of the
that it was costly. Maybe fate will smile on me again and Cruz
end up with the closer's job by mid-season so I have some extra to
Or maybe my team will get off fast and I can trade on the bonus
Regardless, I will have to spend the first couple of months
over the rough spots on the roster rather than cherry-picking
depth. I'm not too concerned as I've had some experience with
this the last three years and it's worked out ok for the last two.
One interesting note is that in looking at past winners, particularly
Jason Grey who won the previous two years before I did, that a change
in the way one plays the game from year to year isn't as daunting nor
is it the impediment to repeating as it
might seem. In 2002, Grey won using a mid-level player strategy,
filling his roster with solid but unspectacular everyday players just
as I did last year. The following year, mid-level players were at
a premium so he gathered up bargains on the high end and in the end
game. Why do I think this important? Because it shows that
strategies only win if they are applied in an environment to take
advantage of where the value is. If people are paying for the
stars, then mid-level player is the way to go. If they aren't and
are overpaying for the mid-level guys, then the value is in grabbing
stars and filling in the rest of the roster with end game picks.
It's all about finding where the value is. Hope you found some
here and in your drafts.