Monday, November 15, 2010

On the Unpredictability of Fantasy Baseball

Inevitably, when engrossed in a season of fantasy baseball, you'll receive a terrible offer or two that you'll quickly turn down, you'll offer trades that are promptly rejected, and you'll drop players who are never heard from again.   But then there are times, of course, when you successfully work out a trade and it winds up as a great deal for you, or times when it completely backfires.  And then, sometimes, another manager goes ahead and saves you from yourself.

Rewind to April 20, when Stephen Drew was hitting .314 with 2 homers, 7 RBIs, and a stolen base.  Considering his very strong 2008 season, his age (27), and his very solid start, I figured Drew was a valuable commodity.  And, with Ben Zobrist at shortstop, I also was ready to deal him.  At that time, I was offered Paul Konerko straight up for Drew.  To me, this was an obvious sell-high offer (and it probably was in the other manager's mind, too), as Konerko had slugged 5 home runs in his first 13 games.  Konerko was on the wrong side of thirty and had averaged just 68 runs, 27 homers, and 80 RBIs to go along with a .260 average over the last three seasons.  Given Drew's 2008 season, I thought there was a good chance Drew would outpace Konerko in raw totals even before you considered the positional adjustment.

So I rejected it.  And you know how the story went from there.  Konerko never slowed down, clocking 34 homers, driving in 101 RBIs, scoring 82 runs, and maintaining an average of .317 after April 20.  In the meantime, Drew found himself floundering in the free agent pool after a poor stretch in the summer, and even after a late-season resurgence was never picked up.  Does the other manager deserve credit for seeing Konerko's potential, or was he just lucky that I (and others) saved him from himself?

Fast forward to July 1, when I was in trade discussions with the same manager.  I had a glut of outfielders and was trying to move one for a first basemen (too bad I didn't have Konerko, huh?).  I proposed a swap of Carlos Gonzalez and Ryan Howard, since I also could afford to part with some stolen bases.  At first glance, it seemed completely unfair, but a look at their 2010 numbers to that point showed them to be pretty similar: .299/47/12/46/11 for Gonzalez versus .295/52/15/55/0 for Howard.  He rejected, citing Howard's track record against Gonzalez lack thereof, and countered with Gonzalez and Victor Martinez for Howard.  That was an easy decision for me, as it was clearly too much, but I did respond with a proposal of those two for Howard and Lance Berkman.

And this time, it was he who saved me from myself.  As you know, Gonzalez did not slow down; in fact, he hit even better after June 1 (.369/64/22/71/14) on his way to being the #1 rated player in Yahoo leagues.  Victor Martinez, who was injured at the time, came back strong with a line of .316/28/11/41/0 to finish the season.  On the other hand, Howard struggled through injury and relative ineffectiveness, hitting just .254 with 35 runs, 16 homers, and 53 RBIs the rest of the way.  Berkman was even worse, however, as he accumulated just 22 runs, 7 homers, and 23 RBIs and hit only .246 over the final four months.  Gonzalez vastly outperformed Howard in every category, while Martinez did the same to Berkman from the catcher position.

The point here is a larger one about the unpredictability of fantasy sports.  As much as it is about knowledge and research, it's about luck.  I don't think anyone would blame me for either of those offers for Howard (especially the one-for-one trade of Gonzalez), but either of those trades would have significantly hampered my team.

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