Beats, brags, and variance

Fantasy baseball beat

My examples that unclutch hitting exists in fantasy baseball. (Icon/SMI)

This past Sunday in my friendly yet competitive Head-to-Head home league, I found myself in a tight race with one of my friends in our match-up. With the pitching categories split, the winner was going to be decided by a couple of close hitting categories. These two categories—hits and OBP (I didn’t choose the categories)—were actually tied coming into the Sunday Night game featuring the Mets vs. the Cardinals.

My friend had zero hitters on his team participating in the game while I had two hitters. And they weren’t just any two hitters; they happened to be Albert Pujols and Jose Reyes, the best hitter in the game and certainly a very good one. Surely I thought I would get at least one hit out of the two of them and without asking for too much, perhaps a walk thrown in to win OBP as well.

In a rare showcase of hitting incompetence from my two batters, Pujols went 0-for-5 and Reyes 0-for-4, leaving me with a disappointing loss for the week and on the receiving end of some Monday-morning smacktalk. While I am not going to attempt to calculate the odds both hitters fail to reach base in the same game, I can tell this was a rare feat—somewhere around 5 percent likely—making it a definite bad beat in fantasy baseball terms.

I’m not sure if the THT Fantasy readers are sadistic enough to keep track of the bad beats that have happened to them, but if you have experienced something “sick” in a league feel free to share it along with any brags as well in the comments.

Poker and fantasy baseball

For those of you unfamiliar with the origins of the title of this article, the phrase is used in a popular sub-forum of Two Plus Two, a Website dedicated to everything poker-related with a vibrant (albeit sometimes unwelcoming) community. While myself or THT does not endorse gambling in any fashion, I am enjoying the merging of the two communities occurring in the CardRunners Experts League in which Derek is participating.

I will forgo jumping into the “Intuition vs. Quants” discussion, having laid out where I stand on the issue at the moment already but instead comment on the nature of the two communities themselves.

The poker community operates quite nicely being fairly consolidated in which the route to gaining credibility is quite straightforward: become a winning player. In fantasy baseball it is much harder to distinguish oneself as a “winning player” and with sample sizes so small over a fantasy baseball career (it takes a full year for one sample), even the most methodologically sound player could fail to win a league for years.

Usually I side with parity and cringe when I hear people say Tiger or Federer winning every match is good for the sport, but the emergence of a dominant fantasy player would certainly be good for fantasy sports in general. The problem is no one has the ability to predict player performance with such greater accuracy than anyone else to ensure victory or top finishes and even if someone could, it is unlikely he/she would use the advantage to dominate fantasy leagues.

I suppose my point is that the fantasy baseball community will largely remain as is—a scattered collection of Websites that for the most part ignore each other. Most sites are indistinguishable in terms of quality of content; or better put, people are not at the end of the season reviewing the advice given by each particular site to distinguish the most helpful ones.

And despite as much of a fantasy baseball hero Derek Carty (or anyone else) might be to you, it remains unlikely that he will ever be able to gain the same sort of widespread reputation that a Tom Dwan or Phil Ivey has in the poker world.

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Alex Zelvin
14 years ago

Paul – I think you’re failing to see the potential for fantasy baseball to develop the way poker has, because you’re looking in the wrong places.  Phil Helmuth didn’t become a celebrity by dominating his home poker game with his buddies and Phil Ivey didn’t become a multimillionaire competing against poker writers for bragging rights in a small stakes ‘experts league’.

Although still in their infancy, there are two types areas where I think fantasy baseball is very clearly following in poker’s footsteps.  Whether it eventually has the same kind of success in attracting big money and creating celebrities, who knows.

High stakes fantasy contests (particularly the NFBC) offer substantial prizes.  Last year a pig farmer named Lindy Hinkelman achieved the incredible feat of winning both the NFBC Main Event ($100K) and the NFBC Online ($65K I believe).  With an additional bonus for sweeping both events, he took home $225K and made a good case for skill over luck in fantasy baseball.  Over a much longer period, guys like Shawn Childs have so consistently been near the top of the high stakes contest standings that one has to believe that variance may not be quite as quite as you’d think.

The other type of contest where stakes are becoming substantial, and where sample size is more than adequate to determine who the big winners are, is the daily contest sites such as Fanduel, Snapdraft, and Fantasysportslive.  Like poker, variance is extreme in the short run.  Also like poker, people are play up to 40 or 50 contests per day, giving them a meaningful performance history over periods of a month or more.  While traffic on these sites is just a tiny fraction that on online poker sites, they’ve generally modeled themselves after the poker sites, and the top players on each site (Kaiseroll3 on Fanduel and FSL, Peter G and Eric W on Snapdraft)are playing in excess of $10,000 per month of contests.

Paul Singman
14 years ago

Alex—While traditional fantasy leagues probably won’t lend itself to the stardom or consistent cash winnings we are referring to, the types of games you mention I suppose certainly could.

I am not sure how these sorts of ‘contests’ work so I’ll have to check them out… but from what I know, I feel they leave out the game aspect of a fantasy league and enter more into the realm of sports betting/gambling.

Alex Zelvin
14 years ago

Paul – I’d say that’s accurate for the daily contests.  The NFBC (and other high stakes contests) are very close to a traditional league format though.

Derek Ambrosino
14 years ago

Before getting to the second part of your article, I will throw out a memorable beat fantasy (not baseball though) beat that I bet can get a collective grown from thousands across fantasy nation.

Raise your hand if you were knocked out of your fantasy football playoffs in 2007 when Brian Westbrook took a knee at the 1 yard line to ensure Cowboys wouldn’t touch the ball again!

Oh, also to pick nits – wouldn’t you need more than a hit and a walk combined to win the OBP category, two times reaching base between the two of them would have dropped your OBP, no?

Derek Ambrosino
14 years ago

ugh. I need an editor for my comments…

Sorry for the excessive “beat” in the first sentence, and that should be “groan.”

Interesting points, Alex. I’d love to one day be able to quit my day job in order to lose high stakes fantasy competitions professionally!

14 years ago

Jose Reyes has looked like crap all year, I don’t think an 0-fer from him is all that surprising.

Paul Singman
14 years ago

Derek, yea I guess somelike three walks/hits from the two of them would have been necessary to win OBP, though just one hit and I would have been at least happy.

Todd, well, focus more on the Pujols half then.