Jan 26, 2015

The Search For Narco | 2015 Sleeper Pitchers

Finding the ultimate fantasy sleepers each year is a tricky business but it's a vital part of winning championships. On top of that, finding a sleeper pitcher is even more tricky than just finding an undervalued hitter. Most leagues are only starting five or so pitchers so it's a bit harder to find a pitcher that is completely under-the-radar prior to your draft. That being said, we can certainly find pitchers who have the potential to deliver elite performances but are not being drafted among the top-shelf talent. While my search for deep sleepers on this site originated as a search to find the best sleeper hitters, I expanded the search in recent years to find those potential hidden gem pitchers too. I previewed the potential narco hitters last week so now let's explore the pitching world.


For those that are are new here, I use the term "narcos" to refer to sleepers that are so sleepy that they are practically narcoleptic. While I had looked for sleeper hitters in all six years of my site, I didn't start trying to crack the code for sleeper pitchers until 2013 here. Much like my sleeper hitter system, I wanted to be able to find appropriate benchmarks that would generate a list of people who met the criteria without human intervention or subjectivity getting involved.

There are many factors that can affect a pitcher's success but the things that a pitcher has the most control over is creating strikes and avoiding walks. After the ball hits the bat, there are a myriad of different results that are sometimes out of the pitcher's control so I tried to make my benchmarks specifically focus on finding pitchers who could dominate in the areas that they do have control over. In the first year of the the system, you were told to draft Matt Harvey and Marco Estrada prior to good years by both of them. In the second year, the system was tweaked a bit and Sonny Gray became one of the top names on the list. And, now, we enter the third year and hope to find even more success.


As I stated above, the idea behind this system is to create appropriate benchmarks that can deliver a solid list of pitchers who can generate strikes and avoid walks. The hope is that these pitchers will be least prone to bad luck because of their strike zone dominance. Based on my research, these are the parameters that I created to generate a list of elite pitchers who are poised for a big year:

  • Swinging Strike % Above 8.5
  • Contact % Under 82.5%
  • Strikes/Balls Above 1.65
  • K-BB Diff Above 17.5%
  • Under 30 years old

The first three stats here are focused on pitch-by-pitch success. Swinging Strike Percentage shows the percentage of pitches in which the pitcher was able to make the batter not only swing but miss. Contact percentage isn't much different than the name suggests as it measures how often the pitcher allows the batter to make contact. Strikes/Balls is a stat that I invented which shows the ratio of strikes thrown compared to balls thrown by the pitcher. It shows how well the pitcher commands the strike zone and correlates well with current and future walk rates. The final stat here focuses on results. K-BB Differential is another custom stat and is a pitcher's BB% subtracted from their K%. And, finally, I've found that pitchers over 30 are a bit less reliable in becoming a "sleeper" so I narrow the list to only pitchers under 30.

Of course, if you generate this list yourself, you'll see most of the top pitchers in the game like Clayton Kershaw and company. So, I make sure to eliminate all pitchers who might already be drafted among the top pitchers and try to focus on pitchers who meet this criteria but are being drafted later in the drafts currently.

The 2015 Sleepers

So, after all of that number crunching and seeing who met this criteria, my list was generated. While the pitchers here should be pitchers that you've already heard of, they all are pitchers who have the potential to be among the elite pitchers in the league this year despite not being drafted until later in your drafts. I'll write profiles on some of these pitchers later on in the preseason to focus in on why some of these pitchers may just be the key to your draft success in 2015. But, until then, without further ado, here is your list of 2015 narco pitchers:

  • Danny Salazar, 25, Indians - While I liked Salazar last year and he struggled enough to get demoted to Triple-A, the good news is that he's still got the same potential and will be a bargain in your drafts as a result. After his demotion, Salazar became much closer to the pitcher we initially expected and the hope is that he can be that 3.50 ERA, 9.5 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 pitcher for a full season in 2015.
  • Jake Arrieta, 29, Cubs - It's easy to look at last year and say it was a fluke for Arrieta given that his career ERA still sits at 4.48 despite a 2.53 ERA last season. But, looking closer at his stats and we see that his season was fairly spectacular and not luck-driven at all. Arrieta may be a bit of a late bloomer but he might also be a great draft day bargain this year.
  • Alex Wood, 24, Braves - Wood was already one of my favorite young arms and last year's performance only moved him up the ranks. His first half was good but not great and then he finished the year with a 1.99 ERA in August and September. For some reason, the hype train hasn't rolled in for him so you may still be able to get him relatively cheap.
  • Collin McHugh, 27, Astros - He was a relative journeyman pitcher until his breakout last season and it seems like it was a legitimate breakout. Given the fact that he's still a relative unknown (partly due to playing in Houston), you may be able to get him fairly cheap this season.
  • Jacob deGrom, 26, Mets - It's hard to say just how much hype will be affiliated with deGrom because of the fact that he won Rookie Of The Year. From the early rankings, it looks like you might be able to get him as an SP3 for your team and he very well might be one of the better options for you there.
  • Matt Shoemaker, 28, Angels - Despite his 16-4 season last year, Shoemaker isn't really ranked very high on most lists. With a very low walk rate and good strikeout capability, this might be one of the better draft bargains at this point.
  • Carlos Carrasco, 27, Indians - Carrasco represents one of the only remnants of the trade that sent Cliff Lee to Philadelphia and his early career was looking pretty shaky until it all came together last year. While last year was the first year we saw him live up to his potential, the hope is that the trend will continue in 2015 and make Carrasco a great sleeper pitcher.
  • Michael Pineda, 26, Yankees - Pineda had a nice little return at the end of the season. He was known as a fireballer early in his career and had huge strikeout numbers. While his strikeout numbers weren't great in his 76 IP last year, his 0.89 BB/9 was excellent and certainly a good sign. Since he hasn't really pitched much since 2011, this might be the time to get Pineda at a huge bargain.
  • Mike Fiers, 29, Brewers - While the 2.13 ERA he had last year may not be sustainable, he still had great strikeout and walk numbers similar to his 2012 season. You should be able to get him relatively cheap given he hasn't pitched much the past couple seasons and he should be able to deliver very nice numbers with a 3.00-ish ERA and good strikeout numbers.
Be sure to keep checking back here to read more about these potential sleeper candidates and much more. What do you think about this list of pitchers? Do any of them stand out to you as potential aces or major risks this season?

Jan 23, 2015

When Batting Average Lies: Finding 2015's Sleepers And Busts

The first step in going from fantasy newbie to becoming an advanced fantasy baseball player is to realize that last year's stats cannot be fully trusted. When you come to recognize that luck is a part of the game of baseball, you unearth a whole different side of the game and unlock all of the fun statistics that can help you realize how lucky or unlucky a player was in a given year. Earlier this week, I looked at where luck may have played a role in some home run totals from 2014 but now let's look some of the fluky batting averages from last year.

As we know, AVG is determined by the number of times a batter gets a hit when they're at the plate. A player can end up having a lot of lucky hits throughout a year which can pad that stat and, thus, Batting Average On Balls In Play (BABIP) is a stat that was created to help determine who is getting lucky by creating more hits than normal. The journey of finding out whether a player got a lot of lucky hits doesn't stop there though. Let's look at the three main statistics that can help us out in this department:

  • BABIP - This is a player's batting average on all balls hit into the field of play. The league average BABIP is typically around .290 so the assumption is that players who have a higher BABIP than .290 are getting more hits on balls in play than they should be getting.
  • xBABIP - However, a player can control his BABIP by the types of balls he hits (line drives create more hits for example) and how speedy he is (faster players generate more hits on batted balls). Their expected BABIP may be quite different than the league average of .290. We can calculate a player's expected BABIP by looking at their batted ball profile.
  • xAVG - Taking that player's xBABIP, we can then calculate their expected AVG in a season. Comparing this to their actual AVG lets us know exactly how lucky each batter was. 
If you're interested in learning more about these stats, I've got a more thorough write-up in an old post of mine here. But, without further ado, let's see some of the more glaring differences between AVG and xAVG to see guys who had an uncharacteristic year last season.

Players Due For A Decline In AVG

Of the 10 decliners I named in last year's blog post, 9 of them declined (damn you, Michael Cuddyer, for ruining my perfect ten!) with many of them coming eerily close to that xAVG statistic I had laid out for them. Let's take a look at some of the players who should be taking a step back in the AVG department in 2015 and hope for the same success:

  • Adam Lind (.321 AVG, .256 xAVG) - Lind has had a fairly long career and had been a .269 career hitter going into last season so it shouldn't be a complete shock that his .321 AVG is going to be taking a major drop next year.
  • Casey McGehee (.287 AVG, .227 xAVG) - McGehee had two previous seasons of hitting much closer to that .227 xAVG number and, yeah, he'll be going back to that number in 2015 unless he can find some secret luck potion to maintain last year's success.
  • J.D. Martinez (.315 AVG, .267 xAVG) - I actually liked Martinez as a bit of a breakout player this past season and was hoping that success would continue but it looks like luck was on his side so don't target him as a 2015 sleeper.
  • Drew Stubbs (.289 AVG, .248 xAVG) - Stubby had a nice little 15 HR, 20 SB year in limited time and a had a nice AVG on top of that too. But, yeah, history reminds us that he's still a .246 career hitter even after that fluky year and his xAVG reinforces that fact. Sorry but a sudden career breakout for Stubbs isn't happening here.
  • Michael Morse (.279 AVG, .243 xAVG) - We're in quite a pickle now because I told you in the HR article earlier this week that Morse was unlucky in the HR department and now I'm telling you that he was lucky in the AVG department. Despite his fluky AVG compared to his xAVG, he's still a .281 career hitter so it'll be interesting to see if his AVG truly will be on the decline. 
  • Conor Gillaspie (.282 AVG, .249 xAVG) - Gillaspie is an interesting fantasy player as he's a medium-power hitter (10-15 HR) without any speed and hasn't shown an ability to hit for much AVG. So, he has no great fantasy skills except for the fact that he had a decent AVG last year but, um, yeah... you know why he's on this list... So, yeah, he's totally not a fantasy player you should really have on your roster.
  • Jose Altuve (.341 AVG, .308 xAVG) - Altuve carried a couple of my fantasy teams last year with his tremendous season. Expecting him to hit .341 again is a bit far-fetched but, really, if he falls back to his .308 xAVG number instead then that's certainly not bad.
  • Matt Joyce (.254 AVG, .221 xAVG) - Matt Joyce always seems to end up on a roster or two of mine for a couple weeks during the year. It'll probably happen again despite him being kind of a hot mess in the AVG department
  • Giancarlo Stanton (.288 AVG, .256 xAVG) - Stanton had a monster year last year after a somewhat disappointing 2013 season but unfortunately he may be due to at least take a small step back next year (as far as AVG is concerned at least). Keep this in mind when you're weighing your early draft options.
  • Danny Santana (.319 AVG, .288 xAVG) - Like Altuve, Santana helped a couple of my teams as a nice mid-season pickup last year. Alas, it looks like he'll have to rely on Lady Luck to be able to repeat that surprise performance. He's still a cheap source of SB's and if he regresses to a .288 AVG then that's not really so bad depending on his price tag.

Players Due For An Increase In AVG

Despite how successful I was at picking players who would have a drop in AVG last year, picking those that are due to have an increase in AVG proved to be much tougher. Last year's picks were a mixed bag with some rising up to the expected levels but others not quite as lucky. As a result, I'm going to limit my list here to less players but those that seem to be more of a sure thing for a bit of a rebound.

  • Chris Davis (.196 AVG, .241 xAVG) - Oh, last year was quite disappointing for Chris Davis fans. His AVG and power numbers took quite a fall. He had hit .270 and .286 in his previous seasons but then dropped to .196 last year. While he should definitely rebound a bit from that, it may not reach those previous levels as his xAVG still only had him at .241. So, expect a bit of a comeback but don't expect 2013 Chris Davis again.
  • Brian McCann (.232 AVG, .276 xAVG) - Sure, McCann is no longer a .300 hitter at this point in his career but we can at least be happy that he's not quite the .232 hitter we saw last year either. His power was still there, which is good, and we should see a rebound in his AVG so he might be a good buy-low candidate in 2015.
  • Jean Segura (.246 AVG, .285 xAVG) - Segura was a bit of a letdown last year (understatement, I know) but he should be in store for a rebound performance. If he can hit closer to his xAVG then we should also see more SB opportunities and Runs from him. Once again, here's a nice buy-low candidate.
  • Allen Craig (.215 AVG, .251 xAVG) - The best fantasy skill that Craig had from 2011 to 2013 was his ability to hit for a high AVG and, well, that certainly didn't happen last year. The odd thing is that his xAVG doesn't even compare to his old ability to hit for over .300. If he can't hit for .300 anymore then I'm not sure what he can do for your fantasy team. Use extreme caution here.
  • Jedd Gyorko (.210 AVG, .240 xAVG) - The batting average was concerning for Gyorko last year but that had never been his strong point anyway. The fact that his power disappeared is a bit more concerning. We have the good news that his AVG should return to less-terrible levels but hopefully he can rekindle his power stroke as well in 2015.
  • Carlos Santana (.231 AVG, .260 xAVG) - If Santana was able to hit closer to his xAVG with the power he showed last year then he would have had quite the nice season. The fact that he's no longer eligible at catcher does hurt his fantasy value but the idea of Santana hitting for a decent AVG with his 25-30 HR potential is certainly exciting.

Jan 19, 2015

When Home Run Totals Lie: Finding 2015's Sleepers And Busts

Fantasy baseball is a game that is literally all about baseball statistics. The funny thing about baseball though is that it's a long season and luck is bound to be a factor in creating those statistics. In the first of a few articles related to potentially bogus stats from last year, I'll break down who might have had luck (good or bad) play a role in their home run totals from 2014. This will give us a good indication of how we might want to view them in 2015.

Doing this type of analysis would not be possible without the fine folks who invented HitTracker. Using that tool, we can look at all of the home runs from last year and see whether they barely were homers or whether they were no-doubters. We can also see, on average, how far a player's homers were and how fast they came off the bat. All of this data gives us a good way to come up with some potential busts and breakouts for this year.

Potential Busts

For those that are potential busts, I identify the hitters who had a large percentage of "just enough" home runs without many "no doubt" home runs while also having a lower average distance and speed of their homers. All of that paints a picture of someone who got a few extra home runs on their season total because of balls that barely cleared the fence.

  • Hamilton, Josh (10 HR, 6 Just Enough) - Hamilton ended up missing half the season last year but it was still a far cry from his 43 HR season two years ago. It could be that he was playing injured and that's why he wasn't slugging as well but even his 10 HR last year were a bit lucky for him to get.
  • Cespedes, Yoenis (22 HR, 13 JE) - Cespedes bounced around a bit last and will be playing for yet another new team this year. Players who change teams are often a risky gamble anyway and the fact that his HR total seems to be inflated by a large number of JE homers gives another reason to possibly avoid Cespedes this year.
  • Gomes, Yan (21 HR, 11 JE) - Yan has forced himself onto the fantasy radar by providing some decent offense at the catcher position. However, if you're looking for a decent source of power at the catcher position, be wary because it seems like he was the beneficiary of way more than a typical amount of JE homers.
  • Cano, Robinson (14 HR, 7 JE) - Holy crap. Cano may have still hit for average in Seattle but his power continues to decline dramatically. If you're hoping that his drop in power was just a fluke, unfortunately it's not. It looks like it could have been even worse last year so definitely use caution when looking at Cano in 2015.
  • Hill, Aaron (10 HR, 5 JE) - Speaking of huge drops in power, we have Aaron Hill who also dropped from 30+ HR's a few years ago to gradually becoming a below-average power hitter. His decline was already pretty scary but the fact that his few homers were aided by some luck gives even more reason to avoid Hill this year.
  • Adams, Matt (15 HR, 7 JE) - Adams had shown a bit of power throughout his career and then finally got to play a full season last year but unfortunately didn't deliver huge power numbers and, as we see here, was also aided by luck with the few he got. So, if you have your eye on Adams as a post-hype sleeper... well, maybe don't do that.
  • Heyward, Jason (11 HR, 5 JE) - File Heyward under the same category as Cano and Hill. Here's a guy who was raking in 2012 but has been on a major decline in the power department for whatever reason and it doesn't seem to be fluky either. Also, like Cespedes, he changed teams which is not a good sign for Heyward going forward either. Stay away.
  • Rendon, Anthony (21 HR, 9 JE) - And now we have a young hitter who had a breakout year and very well might be on many draft radars next year. Despite his fluky HR totals, he does have the benefit of youth so he might continue to develop power and overcome the fact that his 2014 numbers were a bit luck-driven.
  • Gardner, Brett (17 HR, 7 JE) - This shouldn't be a shock. Gardner never hit more than 8 HR in a season before last year and seems to have had luck on his side. I hope he decides to go back to stealing bases more instead of hitting these fluky homers.

Potential Rebounds

In my years of doing this, I've found that it is a bit trickier to pick the players who had lower HR totals than they should have. I think I've found a decent method now though by looking at a lower than average number of "just enough" homers, a high percentage of "plenty" homers with a high true average distance and speed on their homers. When factoring all of that in, we should have guys who were hitting the ball hard but just not getting the benefit of some lucky homers mixed into their stats.

  • Lawrie, Brett (12 HR, 2 JE, 8 Plenty) - I was among those that bought into Lawrie as a sleeper not once but twice. He never delivered and now has been shipped to Oakland, which isn't a great sign. But, in his shortened season last year, he did hit 12 HR in under 300 PA which isn't too shabby and it looks like he was a bit on the unlucky side as well. If health and luck give Lawrie a break in 2015, he could be due for a big year. Of course, that means you'd have to trust Lawrie as a sleeper yet again which is tough.
  • Desmond, Ian (24 HR, 4 JE, 13 P) - Whether or not Desmond is able to expand on his HR totals to become a 30 HR guy, it's encouraging to see that his power is at least legit and not a fluke.
  • Alvarez, Pedro (18 HR, 3 JE, 12 P) - Alvarez saw his power dwindle last year after two years of 30+ HR and it looks like it was a bit of bad luck (and also a shortened season). While he'll never be a high AVG guy, you can invest in Alvarez in 2015 knowing that his power should return.
  • Morse, Michael (16 HR, 2 JE, 9 P) - Morse hasn't gotten a full season of AB's in a while but he does deliver in the power department when he's able to play. Depending on whether he'll be penciled in as a started in 2015, it looks like you can rely on Morse for some decent pop.
  • Avila, Alex (11 HR, 1 JE, 8 P) - It's hard to say what his role will be in 2015 with the Tigers after some rough offensive years but there's at least hope that he should hit for more power if he does get a full-time role in 2015.
  • Gordon, Alex (19 HR, 1 JE, 11 P) - It's hard to believe that an Alex Gordon breakout would be in the works considering he's consistently hovered around 20-25 HR's but it looks like he might be able to be closer to that 25 HR number going forward as his 19 HR's were a tad bit unlucky.

Jan 12, 2015

The Search For Narco | 2015 Sleeper Hitters

The sixth year of Mr. Cheatsheet will start off just like the previous five. Yes, that's right, welcome to the 2015 edition of my list of sleeper hitters which is lovingly known as The Search For Narco. For the uninitiated, you're probably first wondering what a "narco" is; think of it as a sleeper that is so sleepy that he is practically narcoleptic. This little sleeper system has been fairly successful over the past few years in identifying some of the best hitters before they break out. This year we have quite a big list of possible names. First, for the new readers, let's dive a bit into the history of this system and take a quick look at the methodology behind it.


To come up with my sleeper hitters, I go through a process of creating a list of players that meet various statistical benchmarks based on my research from over the years. As a result, the list isn't subjective at all. I just publish whatever the numbers tell me to publish. Despite a relative lack of human intervention, the system has been pretty great at unearthing big name sleepers while their value is still low.

Using the current parameters, the system identified 43 sleepers since 2008 and a healthy 32 of them ended up outperforming their draft position. Just to name a few successes, it would have told you to draft Josh Hamilton, Matt Kemp, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Gonzalez and Paul Goldschmidt before they became fantasy stars in their times. To see a full list of who had been identified and how they performed before and after they were named a sleeper, check out this nice little Google Doc.


My goal with this system is to find players who have not gotten a full year of stats so the general public isn't fully aware of them despite the fact that they performed great in their brief time in the MLB. To find players who meet that criteria, I look at the past year's stats and start by filtering it so that the only people on the list are those that meet these benchmarks:

  • Less than 400 plate appearances last year
  • More than 100 plate appearances last year (I do want players who got more than just a cup of coffee and actually established themselves a bit)
  • Less than 900 career plate appearances going into this year (I want to avoid pulling in journeyman utility players or established players who only had limited PA's because of injury)
I now have a nice little list of guys who should be a bit unknown to the general public due to their limited playing time. My next step is to look within that list for guys who performed at an elite level during that limited time.

There are a million ways this can be done but I kept the same method that I've been doing since the very beginning of this experiment. That method involves using the Total Fantasy Points that the players accumulated in my points league (the type of league where you gain 1 point for a single, 2 points for a double, etc). I take those total Fantasy Points from the past year and divide them by the player's Plate Appearances to get a Points Per Plate Appearance statistic. I then trim down that list to only look at those that were 0.5 standard deviations above league average for that year in that Points Per Plate Appearance stat.

Despite now having a list of elite part-time performers, there are a couple more steps that must be taken to perfect this list of sleepers. I want to only include players who are actually being drafted after the early rounds. Sometimes a player like Wil Myers last year could qualify as a "sleeper" from these other steps but is being drafted in the early rounds because of his reputation and potential. I've found that these players are bad gambles. So, once we start to get Average Draft Position data for the year, I eliminate all players who have an ADP within the top 100 players. The final step (which we also can't do at this time) is to only target guys who are going to actually be starters for their team to start the year. If a player doesn't end up being an Opening Day starter (we'll have a better idea of this as the preseason goes on) then I don't qualify them as a potential sleeper either.

Okay! That's it. So, who met that criteria and are among the great potential narcos for 2015?


At this point in time, there are nine players who meet the qualifications. Once we know ADP data and who may be starting for their teams, this list may get trimmed down more. But, for now, we have a list that kind of breaks down into three different groups.

  • Jorge Soler (OF, CHC) - Soler isn't exactly flying under the radar as he is one of the most touted Cuban imports. He hit the ground running in limited duty last year and should be on many people's radar in 2015. We'll see where his draft position ends up as that will determine whether he's really a "sleeper."
  • Mookie Betts (OF, BOS) - Betts had a nice debut for the Red Sox last year and, like Soler, is now already being hyped up as a 2015 sleeper. This may result in an inflated draft stock but I'm hoping he somehow slips under the radar.
  • George Springer (OF, HOU) - Springer was hyped up as the top prospect in the majors last year and he lived up to the hype when he got called up. He likely will be drafted early on in drafts and not really qualify as a sleeper.
  • Evan Gattis (C, ATL) - Gattis has been around for a bit but still hasn't eclipsed enough plate appearances to disqualify him as a narco candidate. That being said, he's still a guy who puts up solid numbers at a scarce position so that's never a bad thing.
  • Scott Van Slyke (OF, LAD) - The Dodgers have had an overstock of outfielders for a while but Van Slyke somehow got playing time last year and delivered in a big way. The Dodgers still have that same logjam in the outfield so he may not be able to get playing time in 2015. But, if a spot opens up for him, this could be a player to watch.
  • Kirk Nieuwenhuis (OF, NYM) - Oh god, I hope he doesn't become a star because I hate spelling his name. It took me long enough to learn how to spell Tiexeira right. But, anyway, he also may not get a chance to play full-time in 2015 so we have to see how this plays out after a successful 2014.
  • Kris Negron (3B, CIN) - Negron is still a question mark as far as what his role will be this year but he'd be a potential impact player if he gets regular opportunities in 2015.
  • Stephen Vogt (1B, OAK) - Different player but same story. He had a nice little campaign in 2014 but we don't know what his 2015 role will be quite yet.
  • Michael McKenry (C, COL) - McKenry had a nice season last year in limited duty but, damn, he had a super high BABIP that really inflated his stats. A little further investigation is necessary but this doesn't seem like a guy to purchase stock in.
That's your list of potential shiny brand new sleeper hitters that met my criteria. Over the coming months, I'll write up individual profiles on these players to see how worthy they are of actually being on your draft radar in 2015. Until then, enjoy this lovely snowy winter weather and keep dreaming about the baseball season that's just around the corner!

Sep 5, 2014

An Apology, A Revival and What's Ahead at Mr. Cheatsheet

The end of the fantasy baseball season is fast approaching for some of you. For others, the season is already over and you're working on your fantasy football lineups or, if you're a little obsessive, getting ready for the 2015 fantasy baseball season.

You may have noticed that you haven't heard from me in quite a while. You also may have read my posts about the plan for the 2014 regular season that did not come to fruition. This, unfortunately, isn't the first time that occurred at Mr. Cheatsheet and it means I need to change things up a bit to better deliver for you.

The Explanation

First things first, I would like to offer an explanation. I absolutely love preparing for fantasy baseball drafts and doing analysis during the offseason so that we can find hidden gems and create the best strategy possible during the draft. I love making cheatsheets and customizing them for all of you so that they are absolutely perfect. I love that this site gained enough of a fanbase that people are engaged and having fun with my work too.

However, this site is not a company nor a group of writers and researchers. It is me, Luke, doing the work for this at night after I'm done at my real job (and, let's be honest, sometimes doing work for this site when I am at work). From December to April, it is a grind for me as I bust my ass to put in hours of work every night to create content for this site. I do it out of love for fantasy baseball and the draft itself. I'm usually burning the candle at both ends for four months and pretty damn exhausted by the time the season rolls around. In the past, the season starting also signified a busy time of year at my job. This usually meant that I wouldn't have the energy to keep up the work needed to run the site.

Trust me, I would love to keep at it during the season and I feel a responsibility to do so but I'm one man working to create a site that looks like it is far more than a one man operation. In a dream world, I'd do this site for a living and be able to generate content all the time but we're not in that dream world.

The Future of Mr. Cheatsheet

With that explanation in mind, what's it mean for the future? It means that I need to not promise you all regularly scheduled content during the regular season. It means that I want to publish during the season but at a less frequent pace. Primarily though, it should be noted that this is a fantasy draft preparation website. That's where I'm an expert and that's where the readers benefit most. Readers of this site should come out of their draft with a strong team and I take pride in that. That will still continue at the same pace as usual. Draft articles, draft research and cheatsheets will still be here in 2015. After the season starts, there will be various articles throughout the season but maybe not at the pace I have promised in the past. This shift will also give me a chance to work on something I've considered doing for a long time: fantasy football cheatsheets.

While fantasy football cannot be analyzed in the same way as fantasy baseball, there's still some analysis I'd like to publish in future years. Also, there aren't projection systems built with the same precision as baseball but I see ways where a fantasy football cheatsheet could exist in 2015. In the meantime, if you have ideas for things you'd like to see in such a cheatsheet, now is the time to toss around ideas to me. I'd love to hear about what you'd like to see.

In 2015, I will continue to publish my Excel cheatsheets in the same manner as usual and I still have the desire to build out a web app that offers a similar level of functionality without needing Microsoft Excel. I am not a web developer though so I do welcome anybody who may be willing to help in this regard because I think it could be a great tool for the fantasy baseball community. There are no promises this will exist in 2015 but I remain hopeful.

Full Speed Ahead

Thank you all for being loyal readers of this site. I hope you all continue to remain with the site in the future and I look forward to helping you win your leagues in 2015!

In the meantime, I'd love to hear about how some of you did in your leagues this year! I've spent most of this season sitting in first place in my roto league and am in the finals in my head-to-head league after having the most total points during the regular season. Another successful season!

Apr 13, 2014

Follow The Herd? The 3 Most Added & Dropped Hitters – Week 2

We're about 12 games into the regular season which is the time when we start to believe hot starts are sustainable and cold streaks will last forever. We're also at a point when you're starting to have to deal with injuries or tempered expectations and are therefore looking to make some moves. There's been plenty of moving and shaking happening out there already but let's see if it's worth jumping on board with some of the hot and cold names in the world of fantasy baseball.

Shallow League Trends

One of the hottest adds right now is Charlie Blackmon. I had him pegged as a sleeper prior to the season but my main concern was whether he'd get playing time. He's getting it and he's taking advantage of it. In a crowded outfield, he has set himself apart by hitting .500 (!) with a HR and 3 SB already. He obviously won't continue hitting .500 but he still has potential to be a 20/20 player with a high AVG if he can get a full season of at-bats. Definitely add him to your roster if he's out there.

The biggest issue with Michael Morse over the past few seasons has been playing time and injuries. He's healthy and he's playing and he's doing his usual thing as a result. He's a home run hitter with the ability to hit for a decent AVG. That's the type of thing you want to find on the waiver wire. Pounce!

Trevor Plouffe is the third hottest addition in shallow leagues. He's hitting .349 and he plays 3B and... yeah, I can't get on board with this particular hype train. His AVG won't sustain (way too high BABIP and GB/FB rate) and he's not really a power or speed threat. Feel free to pass on this one.

The most dropped hitters in shallow leagues (for hitters that are not on the DL) include Mike Moustakas, Chris Carter and B.J. Upton.

Moustakas was an interesting low-value gamble coming into the season. He was a prospect that came into the league with good power potential but it hasn't panned out yet. Being that he was still young, some people hoped they would find the next Chris Davis and took a late round risk on him. Two weeks in and he's playing worse than even imagined. I do agree that he's worth dropping.

Everything I said about Moustakas can be applied to Chris Carter. However, I am a bit more optimistic for Carter as he is freshly removed from a 29 HR season. The power will come but the batting average will not. For shallow leagues, you can probably find someone more valuable on the waiver wire though.

B.J. Upton is not a good baseball player anymore. I don't know why exactly. Maybe playing with his ultra-talented brother spooked him really good or something but, regardless, definitely drop him in shallow leagues (and probably any other league).

Standard League Trends

Yangveris Solarte is a hot addition right now after getting a surprising amount of playing time in the Yankees lineup. He's got no power potential and he's got zero speed but he can hit for AVG. For deeper leagues, I can see him being worth a speculative add if you have power and speed covered but I just don't see him being a valuable contributor in standard leagues.

Between AAA and the majors, Chris Colabello hit 31 homers last year. He's playing again this year and doing well so far for the Twins. He's a 30 year old rookie though so don't expect that you're unearthing a hot young prospect here. The ceiling for Colabello may be 20-25 HR with a .260 AVG and not much else. He doesn't play at a scarce position but those numbers could be valuable enough as a guy to have off the bench. I wouldn't drop anybody of value for Colabello though.

Adeiny Hechvarria is a hot add right now at the coveted shortstop position. No speed, no power, no potential for a high AVG? No thanks. He's hitting .383 right now but there's nothing that suggest it will continue. Not even worth an add in deep leagues (unless it's a really deep league).

In the world of being dropped from rosters is Kendrys Morales. This comes down to philosophy really. He's not on a roster and likely won't sign anytime soon. As injuries occur and fantasy teams struggle, the luxury of waiting for Morales to sign somewhere is something you can no longer afford. If you're lucky enough to have a healthy team and room on your bench then stashing Morales is probably worth doing but, otherwise, having someone actually producing may be more valuable right now.

Will Venable won't always be this bad. How good he will be is another question. He's doing nothing right now and teams are giving up on him. I'd add him to your roster if you're in need of some SB's as he should come around and hit .260 with 10 HR and 25 SB as the season goes on.

For whatever reason, there were a lot of people who owned Daniel Nava out there. He's not playing well right now and I don't see a very high ceiling for him anyhow. Yes, he's worth dropping to make room for someone with a bit more potential

Deep League Trends

Jason Kubel is back with the Twins and playing quite well thus far. His 30 HR season from 2012 is a distant memory but he's definitely got the potential for a 20 HR season and a decent AVG to go with it. In deep leagues, you're not going to find a lot of that on the waiver wire so he's certainly worth adding a decent bat on your bench.

Another hot add is Conor Gillaspie as he is playing like a poor man's Trevor Plouffe. Yeah, take that for what its worth. Maybe he'll continue to hit for AVG but it doesn't seem likely and he doesn't have much power to go along with his zero speed. He plays at the shallow 3B position but the ceiling for Gillaspie is a .275 AVG to go along with 10-15 HR. If that's something you need at 3B right now then go for it but don't expect much.

Tyler Flowers is the catcher that's being added to deep rosters right now. Over the course of his career, he's had 625 PA's now and has 23 HR's and a .213 AVG to show for it. So, if you want to know what you could expect out of a potential full season of playing time for him, that's your baseline. To me, I'd rather have a catcher that doesn't murder my AVG in order to get a few extra HR's.

Well, Mike Olt came onto the scene as a hot early season addition once it was announced he made Cubs' roster. He has already flashed some power potential with 2 HR's but he's also showed his other big weakness by hitting .174 thus far. That is what you're going to get right now out of Olt. He's a power bat who is still learning how to hit big league pitching. It won't always be this bad so he may be worth stashing if you have the roster space.

I want the old Alex Avila from 2011 who nearly hit .300 with 20 HR. Other people wanted that too and took a shot on him this year. However, he's hitting like the usual Alex Avila instead so people are dropping him. That's understandable and I'd drop him too at this point.

The final notable popular drop in deep leagues is Rickie Weeks. He's not getting enough playing time and his career seems to be ending before our very eyes. He's definitely worth dropping and let's all take a moment to remember the old Weeks who constantly teased us with his potential but never lived up to it.

Apr 8, 2014

Baseball, Statistics, Beer and Tacos: An Interview With Jared Cross

There's a lot of specialists within the world of baseball and fantasy sports that add to the richness of our collective knowledge. The folks at Steamer Projections represent the keepers of knowledge when it comes to accurate player projections.

While Steamer is one of the newer projection systems in that world, Jared Cross, Peter Rosenbloom and Dash Davidson have wasted no time in making their system into the most accurate projection system for both hitters and pitchers year after year. As word grew about how accurate Steamer has been, the popularity of the system grew along with it. Steamer has since become the default projection system used by many sites including the wildly popular Fangraphs and Jared has even gone on to write pieces for ESPN.com.

I got the pleasure of getting to ask Jared some questions and learn a bit about Steamer's past, present and future.

Steamer has become well-known to the baseball nerd community but we often forget that there are actual people behind the system. Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

I’m a high school math and science teacher in Brooklyn, New York with two kids (2 and 4 years old) and a wife who puts up with my spending way to much time playing around with baseball statistics. Dash Davidson and Peter Rosenbloom, who will graduate from college in a couple of months, were my Chemistry students way back when they were in 10th grade and we decided to start working on this project. Peter takes his forecasting talents to J.P. Morgan in the fall and Dash is still weighing his post-college options and looking to get a job in baseball.

Why did you name it Steamer?

Our school’s sports teams are called the Steamers and we’d all played on the Steamers baseball team and, also, we’re not that creative.

You are in a grey area where two seemingly unrelated things, math and baseball, meet. Are you more of a baseball fan or a fan of statistics?

My interest in statistics was spurred by my interest in baseball but I’m a fan of statistics in it’s own right now. Really, they’re perfect together. Beer and tacos or something like that.

How did Steamer come to be? What was the goal?

The goal was initially to figure out how to win at fantasy baseball (for the record, Dash and I have consistently won our leagues -- Peter not so much) and morphed into a project to create our own projections. We started by imitating Marcel and then, after the first year, began adding features and layers of complication one at a time.

So you were aware of Marcel. What about CHONE and ZiPS from that time as well?

We knew the algorithm for Marcel and started there and we knew about some of the features that CHONE and ZiPS and others systems add to the Marcel model, like using park factors and minor league equivalents. Those were some of the first additions we made to our original model. We still don’t know everything those guys are up to, of course.

What was your biggest “eureka!” moment with Steamer?

I think it’s the realization that regression to the mean is a stand in for Bayes’ theorem and, therefore, that the baseline that we want to regress each player’s statistics towards is really a “prior” -- something like our best guess as to his ability before we know his stats.

What has been the hardest thing for you to accurately project?

Playing time and injuries, I think.

What data or stat do you wish you had access to (whether it exists or not) in order to improve upon your projections?

For the first time this year, we have access to Inside Edge data which includes the location and hang time for batted balls and I’m excited about what we might be able to do with that. I’d love to have data on how deceptive pitchers’ motions are and how much their changeups looks like their fastballs. It would be incredible if we knew how hard every player works in the offseason and had medical reports that indicated their physiological age.

You have made changes each year to Steamer but are there things you hoped to add that you haven't gotten to yet?

We’d like to make long-term projections at some point. We’d also like to project platoon splits for pitchers (we have platoon splits for hitters now although they aren’t published anywhere) and be able to make a projections for individual batter-pitcher matchups. There are also ways we think we can make the projections we do have more accurate, by utilizing the Inside Edge data and by using pitchf/x data more fully among other things.

Are you aware of any sort of secret projection systems that MLB teams are using? Do you think your methodology could benefit a real ballclub?

I really don’t know. I saw Jeff Lunhow describe the Astros internal projection system as “best in class” and I’d love to know what they’re up to.

Do you play fantasy baseball? If so, how obsessive are you about it? And, do you use your own projections?

Yes, although not like I used. A friend and I used to co-manage a dynasty team in a league with a 40-man roster and another 40 minor leaguers, long-term contracts, options and arbitration and all of that. At that point, we could recite scouting reports on any top prospect including kids still in high school. That had to end when I had kids. Now I play in a low stakes, relatively easy-going league. I do use Steamer.

For those that use Steamer for fantasy baseball purposes, are there any tips you’d like to give them about the pros and cons of relying solely on the projections?

That’s tricky. If you’re thinking about how much weight to give data from different years in the past or how to adjust for a move to a new ballpark, I’d suggest that this is the kind of thing an algorithm is relatively good at and that you’re probably better off trusting Steamer (or whichever system you prefer) than your own instincts. If, however, you happen to know that player X is nursing a quad injury and won’t steal nearly as many bases as he did in the past, then you know something Steamer doesn’t and should adjust accordingly.

If you go back to when you were first starting Steamer, what is one thing you wish you could tell yourself?

I’d tell myself to learn R and SQL right away.

Where do you see Steamer five years from now (if you think it will still exist)?

I hope it still exists and that it’s a good bit better than it is now and that we’re still looking for and finding ways to improve it.

In closing, I like to ask a pretty divisive question... What’s your favorite baseball movie and why?

The Natural. I don’t know why. The music? It’s more like a dream than a movie and I spent a lot of time dreaming about baseball a kid. Also, he starts out as a kid playing catch with his dad and ends the movie playing catch with his own kid. That’s really what baseball is all about.

Apr 5, 2014

The Draft: It's What Makes The League [Slightly Strategic]

I have friends who are all about trades. I have other friends who stake their reputation on the waiver wire.

But for me? Ah. The draft. It’s what makes the league, really.

My first year in the WBL was 2007. My wife and I had married the summer before and, like it or not, there was a feeling of missing some of my individuality in that first year. Chalk it up to overcompensating toward us.

I had played fantasy baseball previously, though never whole-heartedly. It was always online drafts, rarely any interaction during the season, never for money.

The WBL was different. It was a$100 buy-in league. Big money for a guy in college for the second time. But what made it a truly different experience was the draft.

The WBL draft fulfills every stereotype about fantasy baseball, and that’s what I love it.

The winner of the previous year hosts the following year’s draft. All six drafts since I’ve been in the league have been at the winner’s parents’ house. [1]

The draft board goes up on the wall and when a player is drafted, his manager writes his name or sticks his sticker up in the slot.

My wife rolls her eyes when I talk about bringing the trophy home someday, but that just makes me want it even more.

Yoo-hoo. I didn’t know the connection to the original rotisserie league until recently, but I love Yoo-hoo, so I’ve never questioned it.

We’ve hit a groove with the movies we watch during the draft. Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez steals home, Ray Kinsella plows up his cornfield, Roy Hobbs destroys a light pole. As much as I find The Natural to be the most unintentionally hilarious movie I’ve ever seen, I’ll gladly watch it once a year on draft day.

Without the live draft, I would have dropped out of this league by now. I would have lost interest, never really having a chance to get to know my leaguemates. And I would have stopped working to get my name on that trophy. Just once.

  1. This year’s draft location changed about a week before the draft to – gasp! – not someone’s parents’ basement. For shame!  ↩

Apr 4, 2014

Overwhelmed? 4 Tools For Simplifying Your Roster Management

The baseball season has started and things are already happening way too quickly. Closers are dropping like flies and weekly waiver wire claims are just around the corner and it's really hard to keep up with it all, isn't it? Fret not because fantasy baseball does not have to be a 24 hour job. There are amazing resources out there to make your fantasy baseball life as stressfree as it can be.

Tools for Chasing Saves

Chasing saves is the term for when you are trying to pick up closers or would-be-closers for your roto team in order to get cheap saves after the draft. In leagues where there are weekly waiver wire claims, it isn't as stressful to chase saves but it is a race to your computer in leagues where add/drops are instantaneous.

     The Easy Solution: Closer Monkey
     The Advanced Solution: Follow @closernews
     The Expert Solution: Subscribe to a MLB beat writers list on Twitter
Closer Monkey is a great resource because an e-mail will simply arrive in your inbox when there has been a shift in one of the MLB bullpens. If you get emails sent to your phone, it really can't get any easier than this.

If you're on Twitter, following @closermonkey and @closernews will likely get you the information a few minutes earlier than the Closer Monkey email. You could get it even earlier than that by going right to the source and subscribing to an MLB beat writer list. These solutions require that you're constantly checking your Twitter feed 24 hours a day though. That's added stress which is what we want to avoid.

Tools for Weekly Add/Drop Advice

Most of my leagues are weekly waiver wire pickups. I prefer this to the daily grind of real-time pickups. If you're just doing weekly pickups too then all you need is a good article each week before you make your waiver claims.

     The Easy Solution: Read the FantasyPros waiver wire feed on waiver deadline day
     Possible Sites: RotoGraphs and Fake Teams
The FantasyPros feed has some great sites linked within it. If you need waiver claims in by Friday night, read some of their linked articles on Friday and you'll be knowledgeable enough to make some claims within a few minutes of reading. Your job is done for the week.

Two sites within their links that I like for weekly advice are RotoGraphs and Fake Teams. If you want to consolidate your weekly reading to one site only then choosing one of those is a good way to go.

Tools for Daily Updates

Sometimes catching up on fantasy baseball news over a morning coffee can be enough for the pace of your league.

     The Easy Solution: Fantasy Rundown
     Alternative: RotoFeed
Fantasy Rundown is the gold standard of fantasy baseball news feeds. You can rely on it being updated every morning and it only pulls from the best sources in the business. Advice and news are waiting for you every morning. If you prefer a more magazine-like feel, RotoFeed offers that but with a bit less content.

Tools for Trade Advice

The last piece of your roster management puzzle is deciding what to do about trade offers. For that, a second opinion is all you're really looking for.

     The Easy Solution: Follow and tweet at @BaseballGuys, @ProjectRoto or @FantasyWhizMLB
     The Other Easy Solution: Baseball Monster Trade Analysis
     Yet Another Easy Solution: Reddit's /r/fantasybaseball
You can get opinions from experts via Twitter by tweeting at them. It's not their job to respond but they're often more than willing to help.

When you need a third opinion on top of a second opinion, there are more options. Baseball Monster has a nice trade analyzer that uses season stats to gauge the trade for roto leagues (using projections is a premium feature that I haven't used). And, oh man, if you're still struggling at that point then crowdsourcing an opinion from a place like Reddit will hopefully settle your internal debate.

Other Helpful Tools

While this is about having a minimal toolbox to make your life easier, there are sometimes other specialty tools that you need to access in times of need. Here are a few helpful resources that you may need to call upon occasionally:

     The Fantasy Baseball Experts list on Twitter is worth subscribing to and checking out each day
     MLB Depth Charts is a great resource for looking at lineups and depth charts
     Daily Lineups at BaseballPress helps with daily lineup decisions
     Weekly Two-Start Pitcher articles for making your weekly lineup decisions

The 5 Minutes A Day Management Toolbox

If done right, fantasy baseball can just be a small, enjoyable part of your day. This is really all you need to manage a roster effectively without stress:

     1. Sign up with Closer Monkey and wait for emails about closer changes
     2. Check Fantasy Rundown in the morning for your news/advice summary
     3. On waiver claim day, check the FantasyPros waiver wire feed for advice
     4. When a trade is up, tweet at a few trade analysts for advice
That's it. Your day is freed up so that you can actually watch baseball, enjoy life and have your roster on autopilot without abandoning it. Fantasy baseball isn't about information overload. Keep it fun and easy.

Apr 3, 2014

The Differences That Make Each League Unique [The Irregular Season]

This is the debut post of The Irregular Season, a column where I'll write about my fantasy baseball experience this season. Reflection, humor, insight and some venting are all fair game within this weekly post. Enjoy!

I've come to know one truth about our game and this is it. Our leagues aren't a product of fantasy baseball itself. Fantasy baseball is a product of our leagues.

It took me ages to realize that.

I started playing fantasy baseball as a child. I'd estimate that I was probably ten years old when my oldest brother let me play with his friends in a fantasy baseball league. I know they just needed another warm body and figured I was an easy mark but, hey, I was the little brother being let into the big boy inner circle. Exciting!

Those early experiences defined my expectations about fantasy sports for years to come. I recognized it as a game that is filled with trash-talking, joke-telling, false bravado and intense conversations about our respective teams during the season.

I got older and formed my own leagues with my friends and tried to recreate that same experience. It didn't come naturally. I wondered what I was doing wrong.

I got older still and joined other leagues with other friends. Once again, I tried to make the leagues into what I thought fantasy baseball was. It didn't happen and it made me realize that it's not up to me to define the fantasy baseball experience for everyone else.

Two decades and many failed leagues later, I now play in four leagues with rich histories. They're all fantasy baseball leagues but there's no way you could convince me that they're the same game. That's a good thing because it is the differences in each league that have showed me the many reasons to love this game.

The Keeper Points League:
For The Love Of The Season

This was another older-brother-inviting-the-little-brother-into-his-world league. The style of the league was what I was already comfortable with. During the season, the owners are constantly engaged in a very interactive experience. It is a head-to-head format and there is a sense of importance surrounding who you play each week.

This league recognizes the season itself as the true cornerstone of fantasy baseball. The commissioner embraced that concept so much that there's a Twitter account with league updates and there's a website with stories about the history of the league. There's even a YouTube talk show about the league with episodes regularly posted throughout the season.

This league has taught me that being engaged throughout the season with your fellow owners is one of the best parts of fantasy baseball.

My Own Keeper Points League:
For The Love Of Gambling

I helped create a new league about a decade ago. I modeled it after what I knew. I wanted it to be a socially engaged league with trash-talking and history. This started my revelation that the experience cannot be forced.

The guys in this league all have loose connections to one another but there are a lot of people who don't know one another. The draft happens online with minimal interaction. There is some chatter throughout the season but it usually involves countless trade offers and complex rule discussions.

I've come to realize that this is a league that is ultimately about trying to win some money. We don't come back to the league every year because we love the social element or the draft or the season. We come back because there's a pretty damn big check on the line and that makes it exciting.

The Traditional Roto League:
For The Love Of The Draft

This was my first rotisserie league. I only knew one guy in the league and it felt like I was joining a cult when I got to my first draft. It was abundantly clear that the draft event was oozing with tradition and ritual and I walked right in the middle of it. This wasn't a first draft; it was an initiation. Bow down to the trophy. Kneel before the draft boardEat the cheese curds. Drink the Yoo-Hoo.

Drawing upon my previous experiences, I still felt that social engagement was a big part of fantasy baseball so I initially tried to bring that to the league after draft day. I eventually realized that the tradition here is the draft and not the season. The season is a bit of a solo journey since there's not a head-to-head element nor group interaction.

This is the league that got me to truly appreciate the ritualistic element of fantasy baseball and the traditions that can come out of it. Baseball is a constant in this world and fantasy baseball should follow that lead.

The Roto Auction Dynasty League:
For The Love Of Strategy

This is a low-stakes league and was the first auction league that I was invited to join. This is a group of loosely connected guys from around the country who all just love baseball and analyzing stats.

The league was constructed to maximize the strategic element: auction, dynasty, 6x6 roto. These are all things that require extra thinking and plotting.

It is a league that is all about trying to outsmart other smart guys. The other leagues have that element too but this was a new extreme to that idea. It allowed me to truly appreciate the strategy of fantasy baseball even more while exposing me to yet another side of this game.

What Is The Common Thread?

For me, the common thread between these four leagues is that I drafted Scott Kazmir in all of them.

Aside from that, the thing that makes all of these fantasy baseball experiences similar is they are centered around the people you play with. We are experiencing and defining it together, not alone, and that's what makes these experiences special. Paraphrasing one of my favorite quotes, fantasy baseball [is] only real when shared.