RSOB Introduction: My Conversation with YOU
From Ron Shandler’s Other Book 2016: The Manual of Baseball Roster Construction.
ME: Hey, welcome.
YOU: C’mon Ron, do we really need another fantasy baseball annual?
What? Already with the questions? How about a little “Hi Ron, how ya been? We’ve missed you at Baseball HQ but it’s nice to see you’re still doing the Forecaster and you got a cool new website going. How’s the family?”
It would have been more polite, that’s all.
But okay, it’s a fair question. Do we really need another fantasy baseball annual?
“Need” is such a strong word. Do we really need churro dogs and nachos on a stick? Do we really need 7×7 Rotisserie and 50-man rosters? Do we really need Scott Boras? No, we don’t need any of them, but they exist to enhance our baseball experience. Some people do need these things and for them, it makes life better.
If you’ve been reading me since 1986, maybe you’re completely satisfied with the concepts and ideas I’ve written about. Maybe you are winning your leagues every year and gratified to be able to tuck me away as your secret weapon (I fold up small). But some of you might still find it challenging to project player stats with 100 percent accuracy. Some of you might be finishing as low as second place every so often. And to be painfully honest, I owned Chris Davis in 2014 and Adam Dunn in 2011; I’m not perfect. So, there is a place for this other book.
You really haven’t answered my question.
Okay, okay. In the next two chapters, I am going to present you with long lists of facts about how bad we are at predicting the future. Individually, we know and acknowledge these facts. We’ll nod our heads and say, “Yeah, yeah, projections are not gospel. I get it.”
But no, we really don’t get it.
We know that baseball cultivates a love affair with statistics. But, those numbers work best in describing what has already happened. Used correctly, they do a terrific job of that. But we take a massive leap of faith in proclaiming our aptitude as soothsayers. Yes, past statistics can be manipulated to project future performance, but within a very wide range of outcomes. Extraordinarily wide. The problem is, for our fantasy leagues, we need far more precision than what we can currently achieve. Yet we continue to go into each season with meticulously-crafted rankings lists, and player values, and targets.
Are you saying that all my draft prep is a waste of time? Seriously?
It’s not a complete waste of time, but we put far too much effort into the process and far too much credence in the minutia. We still look at a 30-HR performance – or 50 steals, or 200 strikeouts, etc. etc. – and fixate on those numbers as if they hold some religious significance. We are still seduced into making important decisions based on the wild allure of small sample sizes. We still try to ferret out patterns in the stats, even if what we’re looking at is mostly noise. We still look at research results based on aggregate data and draw finite conclusions about individual players. And recency bias? Oh, don’t get me started.
As hard as it is to comprehend, there is often not a significant difference between a 3rd round player and an 8th round player, or between a $19 player and a $9 player. And yet we agonize over ADPs and engage in bidding wars.
So, in this other book, I look at the process of building a viable fantasy baseball roster through an unorthodox lens. For over three decades, we’ve taken a bottom-up approach to roster construction, focusing on projecting player performance and then building from there. This book takes a top-down approach, focusing on the structure of the roster itself, and then filling in the pieces. After all, winning is not about nailing projections; it’s about weighing skill versus risk, and balancing assets and liabilities.
It doesn’t matter if you think Giancarlo Stanton will hit 35 HRs, or 40, or 45. You might be right; you’ll probably be wrong. It matters how his overall profile – skill and risk – fits into a well-built roster. On Draft Day, successfully reaching statistical targets provides false comfort; how many post-draft standings projections ever come true? But creating a solid foundation and structure, and then building it out by arranging puzzle pieces provides a higher-level perspective that allows for better roster management.
Back in the 1990s, the greatest advantage you could have was possessing better information. The internet leveled that playing field and left us looking for other competitive edges. Over the past 15 years, we’ve gone through numerous iterations involving statistical modeling, news impact analysis and even game theory, but the goal was always to get better player projections.
This is different. That’s why you need this other book.
Geez, it sounds like you’re tossing off all the years of research you’ve done in the Baseball Forecaster and on BaseballHQ.com.
No, not at all. The Baseball Forecaster is still the bible of fanalytics and probably the most important resource for setting baselines for player performance. BaseballHQ.com still provides the deepest fantasy-baseball-relevant information anywhere and is the only online source of this caliber that is 100% baseball, 24/7/365. I’ll also give a shout-out to my new home at ESPN.com. While targeting a much broader audience, the quality of their analysis is unparalleled for an organization that tries to be so many things to so many different types of fans.
Nice of you to pimp your work but you didn’t answer my question again.
Look, all that prior work was built on the foundation of accurate skills assessment. That still applies here. It is still important to be able to evaluate performance in its component parts and understand how that relates to the surface stats that we play our games with.
The difference here is that, once we’ve done that evaluation, I’m tired of having to make the leap to a statistical projection. In the Forecaster, we do all that evaluation and then are forced to cull it down to a single line of numbers. I have always hated doing that, but we need the data for our draft prep so I keep publishing the numbers. However, like I write in the Consumer Advisory in the front of the book each year, there are far more important things to look at beyond that stat line.
So here, in Ron Shandler’s Other Book (RSOB), I get to say, “Sorry, I’m not going to do it.” If you absolutely need to know how many bases Billy Hamilton is going to steal so you can plug it into your fantasy model, please do buy my other Other Book and subscribe to BaseballHQ.com. But if you’re at least curious about trying a different way, well, that’s why you must be reading this right now.
Sorry, but I’m not going to give up my stats. So am I going to get any use out of this book, especially if I don’t have the Baseball Forecaster or subscribe to BaseballHQ.com?
The short answer is, “yes.” The longer answer is, “sure.” You will probably get a little bit more out of RSOB if you also have those foundational info sources, but you’ll do just fine without them. In fact, you might have a slight advantage over those who have spent the last 30 years with me on my quest for the Holy Grail. Without the Forecaster bias, you might have an easier time buying into a methodology that’s far less quantitatively based.
In RSOB, players are not stat-producing machines; in fact, they are also pretty flawed as human life forms. Rather than attempt to figure out what type of numbers they are going to put up, my focus is on describing them in the most accurate non-statistical terms, and then assembling these formless entities into productive rosters.
Is this a reinvention of how to win at fantasy baseball? I prefer to think of it as just an alternative lifestyle.
Okay, I’m not sure I get it but I’m willing to follow along for awhile. But why did you call this “Ron Shandler’s Other Book”? Doesn’t it have its own identity?
It certainly does. But I also spent over a decade as a marketer in Corporate America, so I get a bit pragmatic when it comes to stuff like this.
There is a story attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower. When he was president of Columbia University in the 1940s, he was asked where sidewalks should be put in. He suggested to plant grass and wait. The most-worn walking paths would reveal themselves in time and be the optimal spots for sidewalks. While civil engineers will tell you this is a flawed approach, there is still some elegance to it.
The decision-making process was similar here. Rather than forcing a moniker (I kinda liked “Baseball Fivecaster”), I made a leap of faith as to where the grass would be worn down quickest. I figured most people would end up calling this Ron Shandler’s other book, so that was the most fitting title.
And it makes for a great Abbott & Costello routine:
Hey, do you know the name of Ron Shandler’s other book?
Ron Shandler’s Other Book.
Yes, what’s the name of Ron Shandler’s other book?
Ron Shandler’s Other Book
That’s what I’m asking you. What’s the name?
That’s what I’m telling you. Ron Shandler’s Other Book
That’s right. What’s the name of it?
Ron Shandler’s Other Book
And so on, for at least eight more minutes, in black and white.
Where do we begin this expedition into otherness?
We begin with the decision-making process. How do you decide which players to draft? How do you decide what strategies and tactics to employ? How do you decide when to pull the trigger or pull the plug?
Most decisions in life come down to whether to take action and do something, or to avoid something. When we are thinking about drafting a player, or trying a new strategy, or cutting an underperformer, we are trying to consider the potential benefit of making a good decision versus the potential pain of making a bad decision. Research has shown that people are more motivated to minimize losses than maximize gains; we are far more likely to act out of fear of pain than quest for gain.
Let’s start by inflicting some pain.