Plan Z: Winning with Style

Millions of people play fantasy baseball each year. It follows that hundreds of thousands of these folk win their fantasy league championships. And while this is an impressive feat, to be sure, it is hardly a unique one. We congratulate the winner, give him or her a trophy to put in his living room, and next year the slate is wiped clean. We each want something more: we want our foes to look upon our works and despair.

What follows is a strategy guide, but it is not a strategy guide. It does not pretend to maximize your chances of winning; in fact, it does quite the opposite. But what Plan Z sacrifices in terms of probability it more than repays in terms of potential payoff. Because when you play fantasy baseball the normal way, you win for a year. When you play by Plan Z, you win for a lifetime. Stories will become legends, which will in turn fade into myth. You’ll be a baseball Beowulf.

The rules of Plan Z are deceptively simple. They are, in order:

1. Only draft players whose names contain a Z.

That’s it.

Pascal’s Wager as Applied to Brandon Beachy

Back in the seventeenth century, French philosopher-mathematician Blaise Pascal contributed to the foundations of calculus, probability theory, physics, the scientific method, and the mullet. He also left a lot of stray papers an stray ideas around after he died, one of which has become known as Pascal’s Wager. His idea, which is the first recorded modern example of game theory, can be paraphrased as follows:

Suppose there are two states, there being a god and there not being one. Also suppose that you have two choices: believe in Him or don’t. You have to choose. There are four possible results.

• You believe in God, and he exists: eternity in heaven, worth infinite points.
• You believe in God, and he doesn’t exist: you waste time praying. Worth a small, finite number of negative points.
• You don’t believe in God, and he doesn’t exist: you get a few extra hours each week to watch football. Worth a small, finite number of positive points.
• You don’t believe in God, and he does exist: brimstone.
• Having laid all these out, Pascal’s premise is pretty simple: negative infinity is pretty lame, and positive infinity is pretty good, so you may as well choose the side that leans toward the positive side, whether it turns out right or not. Thus, God.

Pascal’s Wager has had its critics over the years, but it still stands as a solid theory for pragmatism – given the choices beyond your control, do what works best – as well as a rousing endorsement for drafting Brandon Beachy in your head-to-head fantasy league this year.

A Treatise On Relievers and Self-Reflection

There are a few incontrovertible truths in life. The vast majority of people consider themselves good people. They believe that they’re good drivers, and good listeners. And they all believe they can pick saves up off the waiver wire.

The commandment “Thou shalt not pay for saves” is omnipresent, and there’s plenty of truth to it. Of the relievers ESPN ranked in its top 25 in 2012, less than half finished the year in the top 25 in saves. And not even the handcuffs were always predictable: the Athletics went through their entire bullpen twice before settling on the guy they’d tabbed in the first place. It’s easy to throw up your hands at the crapshoot that is the closer position, and let others take the risk on saves.

But before you blindly follow a universal law, you should make sure it applies to your particular situation. Closers are risky, but that level of that risk changes from person to person. Before you fix yourself on the opportunity/talent spectrum of relief choices, ask yourself: will you have the time and opportunity to keep on top of your roster?

Why We Hate Marcel

Last week Bill Petti did battle with Marcel and came away bruised, if not beaten. Numerous mathematicians and would-be projectionists have done the same: few strategies, no matter how cunning, have been able to provide a long-term advantage over Tom Tango’s painfully simple forecasting system. But Marcel goes beyond taunting the experts; he bares his nasty little teeth at us all.

I began using projection systems in my fantasy preparation a decade ago; I lined up Marcel, CAIRO, and CHONE and let them help me break ties for the rankings I was unsure about. Many of you probably do the same. Even then, I mistrusted Marcel.  Metaphorically speaking, if the Bill James projections are the mother who pats your head and makes you hot chocolate when you make a mistake, Marcel is the crotchety old uncle who snarls at you to stop being such a screw-up. That guy hated everyone, but I could never bring myself to get rid of him.

He hasn’t changed. Here’s how Marcel felt about Mike Trout, blue-chip prospect and demigod-in-process, in 2012:
Read the rest of this entry »