An Loss is Unlikely…

Under Billy Beane the A’s have lost all seven of their winner-take-all games. Baseball at its simplest, like flipping a coin, means each team has a 50% chance of winning. (In six of those games, they had a better record than their opponent, so we could probably go higher than 50%.)

Beane has flipped his coin and it has come up tails seven times in a row. The odds of that happening, as surely one of the smart people in the A’s front office could tell you, is 1 in 128.

The irony of that statement, when so much the A’s philosophy is built on simple probability, is absurd. People have killed themselves over less.

Oakland Camus

On Reading…

They say nobody reads anymore, but I read for two-and-a-half hours last night. The movie was in Russian, was I just supposed to ignore the subtitles?

Alternative Fantasy Football Leagues

There is no right way to play fantasy football, so while most leagues use the same standard settings, there is plenty of fun in mixing things up as well. And by mix it up, I mean far beyond the realm of PPR or 2-QB.

The following list includes a number of games I have collected from all over the internet, and I encourage you to adjust and adapt them to your liking. Most will still work with standard, half-PPR, or PPR scoring unless otherwise noted.

Combination Head-to-Head and Rotisserie

Description: This league’s standings are determined by awarding a team for winning their head-to-head matchup, but also for finishing with a higher number of points relative to the whole league.

Each head-to-head win earns one point for the winning team, a loss is worth no points, ties are worth .5 points. In addition, each team finishing in the top half (top five for 10-team league, etc) each week by overall points is also awarded one point.

Format: Works for any number of teams, preferably even

Poacher League

Description: Each week, the winner of each head-to-head matchup can select a player on the team he has just defeated to join his team. He must trade a player of the same position to his opponent (must have been on his roster during the matchup, cannot make a FA pickup). This trade is mandatory for all matchups and must be accepted.

Format: Head-to-head

Keeping competitive balance: As one might suspect, teams who start the season 0-3 will not only be behind in the stands, but also presumably have lost their top three players. There are multiple methods to helping keep teams from being out of it early.

  1. Few or no bench spots. This will keep the free agent list stocked with stronger players.
  2. Allow each losing team to “protect” a certain number of players on their roster. This could be based on the number of their losses or the winning team’s number of wins.
  3. See the Reverse Poacher League

Reverse Poacher League

Description: Similar to the Poacher League describe above, only the losing team in each matchup gets to choose the players for the trade, thus keeping things more balanced throughout the season. In the (optional) playoffs, there would be no poaches or the winner would choose the trade.

Format: Head-to-head

Elimination League

Description: The team with the lowest score at the end of each week is eliminated from the league. The eliminated team’s players become free agents.

Waiver order: Weekly waiver pickups will be a huge part of this league and you can go two routes. First, the team that scored the most points is rewarded by getting the first pick up, and so on down the line. Alternatively, the waiver order is set in reverse order of the number of points scored that week. This would make the ideal spot to be in is to have the second-lowest number of points… for those who like to live on the edge.

Format: Rotisserie, Any number of teams will work

Predictions-Only League

Description: The draft is a major part of most leagues, but this league puts your prediction skills to the test by forcing you to keep the team you pick for the whole season. Rosters are standard, but there is no bench. Rosters are locked for the whole season.

Format: Head-to-head or Rotisserie

Lots of Starters League

Description: If you can only find a few friends interested in another league, that’s no reason to allow a bunch of players to sit unused. Each team has six QBs, RBs, WRs, FLEX, and Defenses. There is no bench.

Format: With so many players per team, four teams is the optimal size or make it four of each position for a six-team league.

Scoring-Only League

Description: Everyone knows the most exciting part of the game is the touchdowns, so why not dedicate a league to them? This scoring system only considers scoring plays. Kickers and defenses are optional.

Format: Head-to-head or Rotisserie

Scoring:

  • TD: 6 pts (rushing, receiving, or return)
  • TD pass: 3 pts
  • 2-point conv pass: 1
  • 2-point conv: 2
  • FGs: 3
  • Extra points: 1
  • Defense TD allowed: -6
  • Defense return for TD: 6

Yards-Only League

Description: Ever had your running back rush the ball all the way down the field only to have the fullback fall over into the end zone for a one-yard, TD run and steal all your points? This league allows you to eliminate the vultures.

Format: Head-to-head or Rotisserie

Scoring: Standard, half-PPR, or PPR, just remove all points for rushing, receiving, and passing TDs

Alternate Points League

Reddit user twolves knows a lot about stats, he used that knowledge to put together a new system that looks pretty awesome if you aren’t afraid of numbers. He includes reasons behind everything in his post, so rather than copy and paste it all here, I’ll just link it up.

Punter’s League

Description: This league was founded for humor and something absurd to root for on fourth down, which is the most boring down as far as fantasy goes.

Format: Each team consists only of two punters, head-to-head

Scoring: Keep in mind there is no “fair” way to score this league as there are multiple factors beyond the punter’s control that will affect his output. The humor aspect of the league has been taken into account with some of the scoring categories.

  • Punt yards: 0.5 pt/yd
  • Punts inside the 20: 10 (also counts for punts inside the 10)
  • Punts inside the 10: 10
  • Punt return yards: -0.4
  • Fair catches: 4
  • Blocked punts: -5
  • Touchbacks: -4
  • Solo tackles: 20
  • Fumble: -15
  • Fumble recovery: 10
  • Fumble recovery for TD: 200
  • Passing yards: 5/yd
  • TD Pass: 200
  • Rushing yards: 10/yd
  • TD Rush: 200
  • Reception: 20
  • TD Reception: 20
  • Interception return for TD: 1000

IDP-Only League

Description: While they receive much less attention than the guys on offense, defenders are just as big of a part of the game.

Scoring:

  • Solo tackle: 1 point
  • Assisted tackle: .5
  • Sack: 4
  • Tackles for a loss: 3
  • Pass defended: 1
  • Interception: 6
  • Forced fumble: 4
  • Fumble recovery: 2
  • Touchdown: 6
  • Safety: 10
  • Blocked kick: 6

Quick Twists, otherwise standard leagues with one (or many) of the following caveats:

Should the Pirates Bring Back Russell Martin?

Almost every time Russell Martin is shown on television, tweet after tweet after tweet appears on my timeline encouraging the Pirates to re-sign the man. Most people probably aren’t in the best mental position to consider a multi-million dollar contract right after a two-run homer, but when the dust settles what can we expect out of Martin going forward?

1. Performance

There is no doubt that Russell Martin has performed well this year. His average, OBP, and wOBA are all career highs. He walked more and struck out less than last year. Among catchers, he trails just Jonathan Lucroy and Buster Posey in WAR, although both have played 40 more games than Martin. He’s throwing out 39% of would-be base stealers, which is 11 points higher than the League average. Leaving New York appears to have been a great decision.

Russell Martin WAR

2. BABIP

Before you get too high on Martin’s offensive output though, note that the Pirates have gone nuts with BABIP this season and Martin is no exception. Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Josh Harrison, and Martin all have career-high BABIPs in 2014. He is making contact with more pitches he swings at in the strike zone and hitting more line drives than he did last season, but those numbers are still around his career average. On the down side, he’s also chasing more pitches outside the strike zone than ever. At a .343 BABIP, Martin would rank fourth in the League among qualified hitters. That’s just not going to happen again next year.

Russell Martin BABIP

3. Age

Martin will be 32 years old next year. He missed May with a strained left hamstring and catching is not getting any less physically demanding. Age studies typically find that a baseball player will peak at 27, though there is some evidence that says they are not declining as quickly as they used to. Martin has not followed the average path—his career looks less like a bell curve and more like the Liberty Bell—but the chances he will surpass or even match this season’s performance is pretty low.

Russell Martin wRC+

4. Alternatives

If the Pirates are going to stay in-house to replace Martin, Tony Sanchez might be expected to step up. He’s 27 and has never had more than the 74 PAs he had this season. He strikes out a lot, but his .304 OBP isn’t exactly bad. Chris Stewart has performed slightly better than Sanchez, with a .362 OBP over 125 PAs this year. He’s a year older than Martin though, and has never been an everyday player. Elias Diaz appears he could move to the Majors at some point in 2015, but no matter how well he does he’s probably not going to be a starter for a while. Obviously they’re all a far-cry from Martin, but all of them will also save a boat load, bringing us to the final topic.

5. Price

If this were my fantasy league, even with the unlikelihood that Martin would provide as much pop at the plate next season, I would probably keep him on my team. I don’t have a contract to consider though; the Pirates do. Martin was the highest-paid Pirate this season at $8.5 million. Stats-wise he was second to only Andrew McCutchen (that’s not using any fancy numbers either, Cutch topped him in WAR, average, slugging, runs, RBIs, home runs, hits, you name it). As we have seen, his numbers almost surely won’t be what they were this year and it’s even less likely they will improve. His salary, on the other hand, almost surely will rise. Perhaps the biggest factor will be how much.

Remember last year’s “Must Sign Man of the Year,” AJ Burnett? He was sitting people the eff down mid-playoff race and everyone loved him. The Pirates were willing to pay him a good salary to return, but they would only go so far. The Allegheny River rose a few inches from all the tears shed when he went to Philly… who paid him $15 million to go from a 3.9 WAR and 3.3 ERA last year to a 1.2 WAR and 4.3 ERA this year.

I don’t envy the Pirates front office having to try and make a deal with Martin, but I expect to see the same strategy as they used with Burnett—we’ll pay, but there’s a line. Fans bemoaned the choice to let Burnett go last year, but the front office made the right call. No matter how this turns out, hopefully they can do so again.

Do the Steelers Take Weak Teams Lightly?

Over the past few years I have heard the complaints of the local radio personalities as well as my mother, who claim that the Steelers take their opponents lightly and often lose games that they should have won. Pittsburgh’s football team has been successful by most measures in recent history, but that success has created a fan base with very high expectations. And perhaps has also produced a team that does not work as hard to prepare for their lesser opponents.

But is it true?

While some fans might think they should win every game, we will focus only on the games in which they were favored. In the five seasons since they won Super Bowl XLIII, the Steelers have been the favorites in nearly three of every four games (59 of 80).

In short, they have gone 42-17 in those games. And while only winning 71% of the games you are favored in may sound low, it is actually higher than the rest of the League, which wins 67%.

Let’s take it a step further though by breaking down the weeks they were favored point-by-point. If we look at all NFL games over the past five years (almost 1300) we find that as the spread increases, the accuracy of the pick increases steadily as well. Teams who were favored to win by one point won just 51% of the time, whereas teams who were favored to win by 11 points won 90% of the time. We are not concerned about covering the spread here, simply winning the game.

Let’s graph it out point-by-point, although keep in mind that the Steelers’ line will look a bit wonky since they have played so few games as compared to the rest of the League.

Steelers Graph

As we can see, Pittsburgh is better than most teams in games that they are favored at five points or less. They have won 67%, compared to a 56% League average. When they are favored by more than five points, however, our doubters may have a point. Pittsburgh has won 75% of their games while the rest of the League has won 80%. It may only be a difference of two games out of 28, but it would have been very clear that they were the favorite going in. It would have also included games like Pittsburgh’s most notable failure—a 27-24 defeat at the hands of Oakland in December 2009. A 15-point favorite entering the game, the game was the biggest upset in the NFL over the past five years.

While there appears to be some confirmation bias at play overall, there is some truth that the Steelers lose when they are ‘supposed’ to win more than most.

SteelersWinChart