Sunday, April 24, 2016

Never Hit the Panic Button

As we approach the end of week three in the major league baseball season, it is incredibly common for fantasy participants to begin reaching for that ever so present panic button.


    What panic button you may ask?


    It's not a physical button per say. This panic button represents the emotional state of panic one finds themselves in when their fantasy teams are pooping the proverbial bed early on in the baseball season. Whether it's your whole team or particular players you thought would start out red-hot, we've all experienced it before.
   How many times have you had what you thought was THE best draft in the history of fantasy drafts only to witness an absolute collapse in the first month? I think it's happened to all of us more often than we want to admit.


    However the best advice, says multiple fantasy baseball champion Todd Brown is, "Be patient and rely on stats to help ease the pain."

Brown is one of the most regarded owners in the PFL having won back-to-back league titles in 2013 and 2014, and 1st-runner up in 2015. To put it simple, the guy knows what heck he's doing.

   
    Last season was our first year as co-owners in a separate, highly competitive 20-team mixed league. Brown and I had what we felt was an incredible draft in 2015. Our team, the Lemont Mud Turtles  -  please, don't ask the origin of this name  -  was "poised to make some noise" because after all, (with sarcasm) "Brown and I were PFL league veterans with over 30+ years of experience."


    Well, our team finished well short of the playoffs. We healed our emotional wounds and headed into this 2016 with renewed energy. We had what we thought was an even better draft than the year before and held the feeling that we positioned ourselves to run roughshod over the league.


    At press time, the Mud Turtles rank 17th out of 20 teams.


    But yet, panic hasn't set in. We aren't posting all of our players on the trade block. We aren't blowing our entire waiver wire budget. Why?


    "Because we have good players and we trust the cyclical nature of the game," says Brown.


    "All good, but slumping, players eventually come around," said Brown.

    For example, Todd and I drafted St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright. Heading into 2016, Wainwright was coming off a 2015 campaign where he missed all but three weeks of the season due to a torn left Achilles.

"It was a non-throwing-related injury, so his arm was healthy," said Brown.


   
    Brown also added that Wainwright's injury happened so early last season that the Cardinals ace looked to be a great draft target. Someone who could help bolster a Mud Turtles pitching staff that struggled from the very start last season.

    Best laid plans right? Wainwright's first three starts of 2016:  0-2, 9 walks, 7 strikeouts, an 8.27 ERA and 1.90 WHIP.

    Not what you'd expect from a staff ace of a perennial playoff team in the National League. Yet, Brown refuses to panic.

    "Wainwright's 3-year-averages tell me not to panic. You have to trust the numbers," Brown said.
Over his career, Wainwright averages a 16-9 win/loss record along with a 3.02 ERA and 1.17 WHIP per season.

    Brown concluded that trusting a player to come around isn't as difficult as trusting yourself not to panic.

    "You have to allow things to play out" Brown said. "There's a reason players who are sitting on the waiver wire are there and not on fantasy rosters: because rostered players are generally better. Despite our team struggling, There's no need to panic. We'll come around."

Fun at the Ballpark

When fans decide to go to a baseball game, nothing is more frustrating than long ticket lines, uncertainty over food options and slow traffic. Here are a few tips to make game day much more enjoyable.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Season has Officially Begun

     Since my last official blog post, a lot has happened. First, I hit a milestone.

     This season marks my 20th season as an owner in my NL-only fantasy keeper league, the Pennsylvania Furnace League. Just like having children, time sure does fly. But thankfully every year when I sit around the table with all my fellow league mates, the fun only grows, as do the sharing of memories. The good natured ribbing never stops. And as bountiful as the baseball knowledge is in that room, the personalities are even bigger and I wouldn't want it any other way. The PFL isn't a league, it's a fraternity.

     Secondly, I played my first round of golf in I can't remember how long with two of my league mates (Jim, my writing partner at UTRMinors, and our newest league member Dan) and a very close friend of mine Brennan. We hit the links on what was a very volatile, wet, cold and extremely windy day on links. When I got home, a friend who knew I was playing asked how things went. My answer...

     "There are fewer shanks in a maximum security prison. I played 18 holes. No need to elaborate any further."

     Thirdly, after the draft's conclusion Saturday afternoon, I had a compelling conversation with Brennan. Despite the small level of success Jim and I have had with UTRMinors, we're always thinking ahead. What's the next phase of our work and where will new technology and techniques take us. What I've learned in Online Media Writing has me anxious to share and implement new ideas with my writing partner. Adding visual and audio aspects to our work. Exciting stuff.
     My discussion with Brennan was not only a rehashing of an old idea, but a vision into the possibility of the heights Jim and I could possibly reach.
     Brennan currently works for an international software corporation, so the guy knows his way around software storage, manipulation and organization. So, my inquisition and enterprising self took over and I asked, "Is there a possibility we could ever create a draft software template?" His answer?
   
     "Anything is possible."

     The fantasy drafting software I've used over the last several years is quite possibly the most customizable software on the market. The one thing that sets it apart, I feel, are the position vectors.
     If you aren't sure what a position vector is, here is an example of last years World Series champion Kansas City Royals. Inside the software, each major league team has it's own tab.
   
     Inside each team screen is an empty position vector as well as a list of current players and highly notable minor leaguers. All the user has to do is click and drag a player and drop them where they belong on the vector. It's that simple, especially for hardcore fantasy players who keep up with injuries, daily transactions and follow minor league activity. It's almost customizable to a fault. The only drawback to the software are player updates and player pool. I'm not so sure the administrator keeps up with current 40-man rosters or current 25-man rosters. The player database needs constant attention as well as each major league organizations top prospect lists, and beyond.

     The idea Jim and I had was to create a position vector template similar to the draft software I use. We'd keep up with both major and minor league transactions as well as shuffle the vectors around as each day of the season occurs. Sure it sounds simple, but as Brennan said, anything is possible. Then once fantasy baseball drafting season comes along, each team vector is ready, all their minor leaguers are listed, all without any leftovers or holes in the process.

     So, with our baseball acumen, Brennan's tech knowledge and savvy, anything IS possible. You just have to look hard, even stumble upon the right tools and take advantage of the possibilities.




Saturday, April 9, 2016

PAG/APPA: An Invention of Sorts - Part II

     In "An Invention of Sorts - Part I" I introduced PAG, my Points Average per Game scoring method, and explained how this creation is a measure to help find statistical equals amongst hitters in the minor leagues, not just magnify the industries top prospects.

     This week my focus is the extension of PAG called APPA, which stands for "Average Points per Plate Appearance." Basically, what PAG does for games, APPA does for plate appearances.

     Make no mistake, PAG works. After years of research, however, I loosely concluded that PAG hadn't created the vast diversity amongst hitters I was looking (and hoping) for. As I've pointed out, each defensive position carries its own offense calling card, but PAG scores, collectively, regardless of position, over the last several seasons, appeared to be stretched as far as they could go. Extreme PAG scores appeared to be reserved only for small sample sizes of limited at-bats in a season. Therefore, PAG juxtaposition with fundamental stats no longer seemed to be enough. So, to the drawing board I went again.

     I wanted to test the theory of micromanaging PAG. It occurred to me that by breaking PAG down, I might find the wider statistical variance I was originally anticipating. So, I started by looking at the amount of plate appearances, not at-bats, per game for players who posted a seasonal 3.50 PAG score or above. With PAG, a total score (TS) is created which is divided by games played. With APPA, TS is divided by plate appearances. I first tested APPA during the 2014 off-season.

     I was running stats for the Texas Rangers and ironically, at the same time, a former fantasy league mate asked for my thoughts on Rangers star 3B prospect Joey Gallo, and how he matched up to former Cubs top prospect Kris Bryant. Bryant is lauded for his power, but the 6'5" - 235 pound Gallo's mammoth home runs are near immortal and entice giggles of amazement amongst both baseball purists and stat-heads alike

     His light-tower power is reaching near legendary proportions. One absurd long-ball in particular is humorously dissected here by CBSSports.com's David Brown.

     My casual breakdown turned into instant pressure, as my former league mate wanted an answer. I ran Gallo and Bryant's APPA numbers on the fly. Much to his delight, I chose Bryant. Not because he's a die-hard Cubs fan, but because Bryant outscored Gallo in both PAG and the newly tested APPA.  Bryant posted a 138 game PAG score of 4.74 with an APPA of 1.10, while Gallo's 4.50 PAG in 126 games equated to a 1.06 APPA. This was the proof I needed.

     I wouldn't call it being legitimized. But yet, I can no longer take away from the fact that writing partner Brown and I have created new metrics (that sit side-by-side with fundamental stats) that help us make conscience choices for fans and readers of UTRMinors. Have Brown and I gotten lucky with some of our past prospect predictions? Of course. But we are improving each year as we work on our intellectual inventions, and that's the direction we've been working toward from the very beginning.





Monday, March 28, 2016

Three Months on the Field equals Twelve Months of Preparation.


When fans head to the ballpark to watch a minor league baseball game, they see the players,  coaches, they eat incredible food and drink a tasty beverage. But, have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes? I recently sat down with Batavia Muckdogs' assistant general manager Josh Swan to discuss commitment it takes to field a sucessful team and make fans happy. 


MARC:
Can you hear that? It's the sound of silence, which is usually what you hear standing outside of Batavia, New York's Dwyer Stadium during the month of March. Since 1973, the Class-A Batavia Muckdogs have called Dwyer Stadium home, but just because the Muckdogs play from mid-June until early-September doesn't mean the organization is idle for the rest of the calendar year. Muckdogs Director of Ticket Operations and Assistant General Manager Josh Swan says getting this Short Season minor league baseball team on the field takes a full 12 months of hard work.


SWAN:
For most of our day-to day operations, it consists of me, my boss, who is the General Manager of the team; we take a look at our big board over here. This is what helps set us up.

MARC:
The big board Swan is referring to is a 4 x 8 foot white board sectioned off in categories: picnics, promotions, giveaways and special appearances. The goal? To have every slot on what the front office calls "the mother board" filled.

SWAN:
We are owned by the Genesee County Baseball Club, so it's mainly funded through boosters, through them, but it's our job to help bring in more revenue to keep the team in Batavia, to make sure we get these guys on the field.

SWAN
So, our day-to-day operations consist of reaching out to many local businesses through Batavia, Rochester, Buffalo area, and we have, we sell program ads, we sell radio commercial advertisements, we sell signage throughout the concourse, all the signs throughout the stadium, all the signs on the outfield wall. Everything that we do with that helps bring in all sort of revenue for us, that makes it able to [help] fund a team to be able to stay on the field. And then other, other aspects besides just advertising and marketing that we try to do is we offer group picnic outings that we do, and that's one of my main details as Director of Ticket Operations is I reach out to local businesses that have large number of employees and try to offer them an incentive to be able to come out to a picnic outing that sponsors their group and it's their own night at the ballpark.

MARC:
Swan says with the help of the Rochester Redwings and their management of the Muckdog's concession dollars, revenue is then filtered back into the organization.

SWAN:
It does filter through the organization itself 'cause our concessions are actually owned by the Rochester Redwings and they take care of most of our concessions management money, so all of our revenue we develop through marketing and advertising kind of develops [some] stuff that goes around the stadium. Helps pay for the signs to be put up, helps pay for the new jerseys for the guys to wear every year, all the equipment, all the merchandise for the fans, [that] helps bring them to the games, makes the atmosphere more electric.

MARC:
In addition to the support the Muckdogs receive from the Redwings and local business's, Swan says the Batavia community also plays a tremendous part.

SWAN:
The city of Batavia does most of the work to be able to keep these guys here. Because we actually have a lot of homeowners that rent out their homes to the players and allow them to stay with them. It's great to see a small community like that be able to come in, support their baseball team not by just coming to the games, but be able to help feed the players, drive these guys everywhere they need to go. Most of these guys don't even have vehicles yet. I mean, on their rookie level contracts, they can't even afford them.

MARC:
Swan says the whole community has to come together to help fund and keep the team on the field. Part of that is fans showing up every night. Another is the involvement of the Major League front office.

SWAN:
I wouldn't say so much throughout our daily operations. It's more of like a weekly operations. We try to get in contact to the Marlins about our players. Our roster isn't set in stone until April when these guys actually come here. So, once we kind of get a hold of those guys and we find out who the players are, then we get in contact the coaches and get ready for the upcoming season.

MARC:
The sights and sounds of the New York-Penn League begin Friday June 17th where the Muckdogs open the season on the road versus the Auburn Doubledays. The Muckdogs home opener is Wednesday June 22nd versus the State College Spikes.













Thursday, March 24, 2016

PAG/APPA: An Invention of Sorts - Part I

     Ever since I was a child, I've been fascinated by life's simplest inventions. Those ubiquitous things we seem to take for granted every day. 
     
     Don't get me wrong. I'm extremely thankful to Steve Jobs for the iPhone, Karl Benz for the automobile and Ben Franklin for inventing the stove. But where would we be without all those little things like the paper clip, the door hinge, the couch cushion or the split key ring. After all, how many times have we looked at a paper clip and said, "Why didn't I think of that?"
When we look at these things, of course we see the physical object. 

     For me, though, I don't see just a door hinge. I immediately find myself envisioning the thought process behind creating the invention itself. The fact that a Hatti native sat over 3500 years ago pondering how a door hinge would make entering and exiting his hut easier - that progressive mind even in the most primitive of times - fascinates me.

     Well, I'm proud to welcome you to my invention (of sorts) that's designed to help make your fantasy baseball life easier: PAG/APPA. 

     Sure, saying 'PAG/APPA' may not roll off the tongue as easy as 'key ring,' but wanting to create a process that makes sifting through professional baseball hitters easier for fantasy players was.
Much like last week's post about writing partner Jim Brown's TPS scoring system, PAG has also gone through it's own set of phases beginning in 2009.  
     
     Each day of the minor league regular season, Brown and I scan through every box score, then chart the top performers at our parent site UTRMinors.com. From day one, this has never changed. What's different in my new method of tracking, however, is the filtering process, which is now APPA. 
PAG stands for Points Average per Game. As TPS's similarity to Bill James' Game Score, PAG parallels 'total bases', and is designed to follow fantasy-based H2H scoring. 

     PAG began when I looked over my fantasy team in frustration and asked myself, "What does every hitter on my team need to score each day in order for me to keep pace with and surpass the best teams in the league?" That's when I got to work, focusing on the minor leagues because that's where I believe you win dynasty leagues. 

     My idea was to create a parallel plain in which top prospects and “notspects” (as Brown and I call them) could be measured. Regardless of whether you’re Twins OF phenom Byron Buxton or the last hitter chosen in the Major League draft, PAG grades players on daily performance. 

     No more, no less. Draft status? Doesn't matter. Pedigree? Doesn't matter. Statistical production matters.

     The PAG scoring system isn't as regimented as TPS. With PAG, I focus on players who score a seasonal average of 3.00 or above. In my daily tracking, hitters who score 8.00 or above will generally make my UTR Hitters of the Day list. Any hitter in the 3.50-4.00 seasonal range garners increased attention. Hitters with a seasonal PAG average of 4.00 or above are considered 'must-watch' prospects. 

     Where PAG becomes unique is when it's applied to defensive positions, as each carries its own offensive calling card. 

     For example, a catcher is scouted based on a descending "tool" order of: fielding, hitting, arm strength, power and speed. So, if a catcher displays power and speed, his PAG score will be higher than a catcher who matches the prototypical catcher profile. 
However, if this catcher moves to a position where power and speed are expected, suddenly his PAG number becomes pedestrian. 

     Despite surveying the PAG landscape over the past several years, and relying on it primarily, I wanted more. I forced myself to look deeper; to challenge myself to make something that was very useful even better. 

     In Part II next week, I'll breakdown the extension of PAG, which I developed last off season called APPA.