How to be a player

Have you ever noticed that their stuff is ####, and your #### is stuff? -George Carlin

What have you done for me lately? -Janet Jackson

Playa, Playa, Play on -Blackstreet

As serious fantasy baseball GMs, we strive to be objective when evaluating players, but none of us are utterly impervious to emotionally-based changes in perspective. One of the simplest and most straightforward ways in which one’s perspective can subtly shift on a player through very little of that player’s own doing is ownership.

A second factor that can have a large impact on one’s feelings on a player at the moment is their recent performance—especially when a marginal player is riding a hot streak or coming off a great start. I like to consider myself a voice of reason more than a master prognosticator or analyst, and as such, today is dedicated to reminding you how to be a “playa.”

Some of us like to stream pitchers or rotate position players based on park or handedness splits. Sometimes, when we make a wise choice we are rewarded with some really nice stats. That’s great; it’s supposed to work like that. The trick, however, is to remain committed to the strategy and not hitch yourself to a wagon on its way back to pumpkinhood.

There are indeed times when one can stumble into waiver wire gold by constantly mingling with the waiver wire crowd. In fact, that’s one of the unheralded advantages of this strategy. Nobody is saying you can’t find love at the singles bar, just that you needn’t force a relationship with every one night stand simply because you had that one good time.

Before rushing into a relationship, here are a couple of things to consider about the advantages of the single life.

He doesn’t look like that in the morning
You picked up this player for a reason. Perhaps he was hitting against a weak pitcher, in a great ballpark, or perhaps he was the beneficiary of a big handedness split. Maybe he was a pitcher facing a mediocre offense or pitching in a great ballpark. One way or another, he was all dolled-up for his night on the town. That’s the idea of playing the wire, you get players at their best and kick them to the curb before they can hurt you by ruining your image of them.

In the case of a pitcher, I definitely want to know against whom and where his next start will be. If the pitcher is one of the better starters on the wire and he’s staring down another attractive match-up, I might commit to a second date.

I’ll stick with a batter as long as the favorable conditions under which I picked him up remain, or as long as holding him does not preclude filling a different active roster spot the next day. The more positions this player plays the better, as there’s a greater chance he can be slotted in any given open roster spot. As a general rule of thumb, I only want a long term relationship with a bench player if he’s notably better than replacement level and/or eligible to fill in at least half of my daily active roster spots.

Other fish in the sea
What are you missing out on by not rotating that roster spot? In the case of offensive players, this is a pretty straightforward proposition. With many similar level players on the wire, your goal is maximize ABs.

With pitchers, it’s up to each GM to figure out how much he wants or needs to spot start and how many innings he can use from non-SPs in that same roster spot when not starting. In daily moves leagues, you can stream middle-relievers when you don’t like starter options and at least give yourself a chance at positive stats. Turning these players over quickly also keeps some of this crop on waivers, restricting your opponents’ access to these same useful plays.

From one night stand to friends with benefits
The players who are on the waiver wire are there for a reason. As discussed above, these are not the best catches out there; those beauties are all hitched already.

In poker, a player’s “hand equity” is comprised of his/her “pot equity” and “fold equity.” Your pot equity is your statistical likelihood of winning the hand. Your fold equity includes the likelihood of an opponent folding his/her hand and the gain to you if he/she does. Basically, your chance of winning includes the chances of you having made the right play on an odds basis AND the chances of your opponent folding (as a reaction to your actions).

This analogy is a little messy, but basically it’s telling you to ask yourself a few questions—most importantly, what are the chances my opponents will fold on picking this player up leaving him available the next time I want to pick him up. If that happens, you win with no opportunity cost. That’s the best of both worlds. The two sides of the equation you must consistently consider when determining whether you want to shack up with your latest pick-up are the likelihood of this player being consistently, meaningfully better than replacement, and the likelihood of your opponents picking him up at any given time.

The Incompleat Starting Pitcher
The end of the nine-inning start and how we got here.

The concept of fold equity and hand equity frequently play out in drafts and auctions as the later rounds/dollar days roll around and owners start consider not only which player they think is the best, but which player they think has a better chance of lasting until their next pick.

The one(s) that got away
Despite the considerable reasons to continue playing the field, there are certainly going to be times when you kick yourself as a player goes on to have a great season and you are left knowing that you had him on your roster for 4 days in May. Sometimes even the loosest among us fall in love. I feel lucky to have married Jose Bautista in 2010 after a few of my friends partied with him a bit. They followed all my advice and one of them felt he wanted to get off before the wheels fell off. Around that time, an injury on my team opened up a place for me to experiment with Mr. Bats for a few days. Those days were so good, they turned to the rest of a season. As a GM, you have to be willing to fall in love, but not overly eager.

It’s important to remember that when it comes to legendary wire gems like Bautista, you have to be in it to win it. You don’t meet any hot young studs sitting on the couch watching Law & Order re-runs with Johnny Damon.

Also, players like Bautista don’t emerge every year. If you are active, you will most certainly see good players pass through your clutches and go on to have good years. But, if you make good choices and get the best your partners can put forward, your composite line will be quite impressive itself.

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