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Taking Stock: Eric Samulski’s lessons from his early season performance

Rotoworld Baseball Add, Hold, Drop: Hold Lopez
Eric Samulski analyzes a few players fantasy managers should add, hold or drop, including Houston Astros outfielder Jake Meyers, Minnesota Twins pitcher Pablo Lopez and Toronto Blue Jays infielder Justin Turner.

A little while ago, there was a discussion on Twitter about whether fantasy baseball writers/analysts needed to play in high-stakes leagues in order to lend some credence to their work. I vehemently disagree with that premise because I think analysis/research and gameplay are two different skills; however, I do think there is value in fantasy analysts sharing how their teams are performing and looking for trends.

To me, the value of analysts talking through their teams isn’t about saying “Look how good I’m doing,” but about turning the analytical eye to our performance and not just the performances of the players on the field. I may trust my ability to identify meaningful pitch mix changes or spot a change in plate discipline that could lead to better hitting performance, but that doesn’t mean I’ll bid the right amount or cut a struggling hitter quickly enough, etc. But if we take the time to look at the moves we’re making and how we’re performing as the season goes on, we can potentially spot consistent weaknesses or patterns of behavior that can hinder our fantasy success.

So if I’m going to spend this article looking at the current performance of my teams, why should other people read this?

Well, for starters, I believe in accountability. This is me putting my cards on the table. I give my opinions on players and trends weekly, so you deserve to see if I’m able to execute any of that in practice. Also, I believe there is some value in hearing/reading other people walk through their own decisions and mistakes. Perhaps you made some of the same ones. Perhaps my hits or misses can help you not make some of the same mistakes.

Below I’ll quickly go through the current performance of all my teams. I won’t go through every single move I made, but I’ll look at some of the reasons each team is successful or not based on how I drafted or how I managed the roster during the season. That can help identify trends across all the teams that can point to what my strengths have been or what I could have done better.

NFBC Leagues

Eric's NFBC Leagues

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with my NFBC performance. Five of my seven teams are in contention to win their respective leagues while two look to be teams I’ll spend all season trying to drag out of the dumps.

Since three of these are draft-and-hold formats where you don’t make waiver claims during the year, it’s hard to compare strategy too much to how I would draft a normal redraft waiver wire league; however, my general principles are the same. I’m always looking to get one “ace” starting pitcher - not usually until the third round - and then wait to fill out the rest of my starting pitching because I trust my analysis there the most. I also like to grab one elite closer in the first five rounds so I can stay out of the closer waiver game too much and then snag some upside closer arms later to hopefully avoid needing to find saves on waivers.

From an offensive standpoint, I want to get five-category hitters early so I don’t need to rely on speed-only or power-only players later, and I believed that second base and third base had a bit more depth than people expected coming into the year.

So how did I execute in these leagues?

All of my teams that are performing seem to have the same through-line. I secured an ace that has been delivering for me (Luis Castillo on four teams, Max Fried on another), I landed one high-end closer (Andres Munoz on two teams, and Emmanuel Clase, David Bednar, and Raisel Iglesias each on one), I hit on my late-round starting pitcher picks (Jared Jones and Luis Severino on four teams, Yusei Kikuchi, Luis Gil, Tanner Houck, and Reynaldo Lopez each on three teams), and my later-round closer gamble paid off with Mason Miller on five of my seven NFBC teams (shoutout to Greg Jewett who was writing very early on that Miller would indeed be the closer).

Oh, it also doesn’t hurt that I have Shota Imanaga on five teams after Nick Pollack and I chatted about him extensively in the offseason.

So that framework not only set me up for success, but it played to my strengths: I didn’t believe there was value in taking a starting pitcher in the first two rounds, I trusted I could find starting pitching late, and I didn’t want to be reliant on waivers for my saves. Sticking to that strategy also allowed me to focus on my offense early, which has helped a lot of these teams.

When I look at my top-performing rosters, I also see that I was quick with some of my waiver claims on hitters. A lot of my better teams have Luis Garcia, Brenton Doyle, Brent Rooker, and Tommy Pham. Now, none of those guys have set the world on fire, but they’ve been solid producers who I’ve had for months that have given me stats I can bank. I’ve often been too hesitant to cut bait on a hitter who I drafted who’s underperforming since I drafted him for a reason. This year, I was trying to churn the bottom of my roster more callously, and it’s worked out in a few of these formats so far.

On my teams that are performing poorly, it’s the pitching that has gotten me. My poor OC squad has Luis Castillo as its anchor, but early struggles from Joe Musgrove and Bailey Ober hurt my rotation, and I don’t have a lockdown closer on this team, other than Mason Miller, as my trio leaving the draft was rounded out by Pete Fairbanks and Tanner Scott. I’m not way off the pace in any of the pitching categories and think I can make up some ground, but it will take some doing.

I also just frankly drafted a poor offense in that league. It’s hard to win when you draft Manny Machado, Jose Abreu, Brandon Lowe, Anthony Santander, Daulton Varsho, and Brandon Drury on the same team. I should point out that, of that group, only Santander is a player I was actively targeting in most leagues. In fact, I have no other shares of the other hitters. Maybe I need to be more deliberate about getting “my guys” when I’m close to their ADP in a draft.

On my TURF team, I also missed the mark on my top closer, drafting Edwin Diaz. I did draft Robert Suarez and grabbed Jason Foley on waivers early, but that can only help so much. Cole Ragans and Bobby Miller were also my top two pitchers on that team, and while I was excited about that when I left the draft, Miller got hurt and Ragans has been solid but not really an ace. Pair that with also having Bailey Ober’s poor starts and having to find a replacement for Bryan Woo early on, and this rotation struggled a bit. I’m competitive in all pitching categories, but my ratios will certainly need some work.

There is some poor injury luck coming into play as well, but the misfires on pitching seem to be the biggest issue.

At the end of the day, looking at my NFBC teams tells me that my general strategy works for me, but I still need to execute it. Maybe I need a smaller pool of aces or top-tier closers to pick from so that I limit my misses. However, we’re all going to miss on some picks. I also need to keep being aggressive early in the season on the wire, trying to scoop up hitters who are performing well, even if they’re not “league winners” because they can be incredibly helpful over the year.

Lastly, I need to be more deliberate about drafting the hitters I have faith in. Too many times, when I have one share of somebody, they are not performing well, which means when I find myself in a situation where I think “Oh, I guess I’ll take this guy,” I tend to miss on that pick. Maybe others have success in that situation, but my teams tell me that I don’t.

AL Tout Wars

Al Tout

After the Tout Wars draft, I wrote an article detailing my strategy for assembling my team, so you can check that out to see what the plan was going in and what parts are going according to plan so far.

Similar to the NFBC leagues, my faith in my ability to find quality pitching without spending a massive amount of draft capital (or money in this case since it was an auction) paid off. Tarik Skubal has been tremendous for me as my ace and leaning on a relief duo of Andres Munoz and Mason Miller paid off (hey, more Mason Miller shares). Dean Kremer and Brayan Bello have also been solid for me in an AL-Only format, and I snagged Kirby Yates and Simeon Woods-Richardson off waivers, which has worked.

Not having to pay so much on pitching allowed me to pay up for Kyle Tucker and Rafael Devers, who have helped carry my offense. I also paid up for Salvador Perez, which has panned out, and made it a point to get Tyler Freeman in the draft because I thought he would be a super UTIL player, and that has worked out better than I expected.

That’s also a great microcosm of my feeling on this team right now. It’s doing really well, but I believe I’m getting a bit lucky and have players who are out over their skis. Paul DeJong has been much better for me than I had any right to expect. The same for Trevor Larnach and Jonny DeLuca, who I got off waivers. Some injuries in Texas helped save my Ezequiel Duran pick. I don’t think this is an offense built for long-term success, but perhaps if Max Kepler keeps this up and Vinnie Pasquantino becomes the hitter I think he can be, I’ll remain in contention.

My main takeaway from this team is that I’m happy I leaned into my strengths in the draft. I think that gave me a stable foundation for success, and I’ve pulled some of the right strings early on with my waiver claims. However, you always have to anticipate that you won’t keep pulling the right ones. DeLuca is slowing down. Drafting Rene Pinto was a disaster. Ramon Laureano got cut. But I like being in a place where I can focus my needs on the wire. I know I need one more consistent hitter to make me feel better about this offense, so if that player becomes available, I can spend aggressively to get him (or maybe Coby Mayo, who I have in reserves, gets promoted which would be nice.)

Rotoworld Staff Leagues

There are two Rotoworld staff leagues for me this year, one of which is roto scoring and the other is head-to-head. I’m also currently performing on opposite ends of the spectrum in those two, but we’ll look at the roto league first.

Rotoworld League Roto

This team started off poorly but has come on of late thanks primarily to, you guessed it, pitching. I’m tops in the league in saves, ERA, and WHIP and it might come as no surprise that this is another team where I have Andres Munoz and Mason Miller. I also took Robert Suarez here, so the bullpen has been carrying me.

I didn’t pull as many of the right strings with the starters; although, I took Chris Sale, Luis Gil, and Tanner Houck here which has helped me withstand the slow starts by Kevin Gausman, Justin Steele, and Yu Darvish. Also, getting Bryan Woo back has been nice. To me, this team then provides the best example of those late-round dart-throw arms. Having a bunch of those guys on my team has not only propped up my rotation but allowed me to weather the storm when two other pitchers I drafted late DL Hall and Casey Mize didn’t pan out.

I swung and missed with a lot of “my guys” on offense here. Michael Harris II has just been fine. Gleyber Torres has not panned out. Jake Fraley remains in a platoon. Parker Meadows was demoted. Mitch Garver has not been good enough for one-catcher leagues. However, perhaps this is a good example that reacting early enough to hitting breakouts is easier to do than on the pitching side. This team also now has Jurickson Profar, Wilyer Abreu, Matt Chapman, and Brent Rooker who have all been great for me. Will they remain great? I’m not sure, but they’ve given me a stable foundation and I can trade them out for another hot bat if they struggle (as Rooker is starting to do).

I did buy in on Anthony Volpe’s spring training swing change with this team, and that has worked out for me, and I have yet more shares of Bryce Harper and Taylor Ward here, so I’m happy to have continued targeting those guys where I could.

Maybe the main takeaway from this league has been to really attack that late-round pitching in your draft and then be quick on the hitters who emerge at the start of the year because you never know how long they’ll continue to produce.

And now for the head-to-head league.

Rotoworld H2H

This has been an abject failure. It would be easy for me to blame the head-to-head structure of the league since I don’t usually play in those. Maybe I’m not making enough weekly pickups. Maybe my team wasn’t built with enough balance for the format. It’s entirely possible I simply am missing competitive advantages in head-to-head leagues, and we have to be open to accepting our weaknesses in a format or a league type.

I also think I just drafted poorly and part of that is that I deviated from what I normally do in order to chase perceived value.

As I mentioned above, I like getting one ace and then waiting on starting pitching but after taking Luis Castillo with the 23rd pick, I saw Kevin Gausman fall to the fifth round and scooped him with the 50th pick instead of taking the hitter I might have normally taken. Gausman has obviously not had a great season, so it feels like a wasted opportunity with that pick. However, my next two starters were Justin Steele and Michael King, and just like that, a rotation I loved after the draft performed really poorly so far.

I also decided to wait at first base, which is not something I had done in previous drafts and wound up with Spencer Torkelson and Jeimer Candelario. That has certainly not worked out well for me. Pair that with drafting Randy Arozarena and Josh Jung and then taking an injury discount on Josh Lowe only to see him get hurt again, and this team has been a disaster. I think it’s telling that this is the team where I have the most players who I only have one share of. This league is my only share of Arozarena, Torkelson, Nico Hoerner, Masataka Yoshida, and Jake Burger, among others. Maybe I should have had no shares.

I will say that I did target a few of my favorites in this league and have Andres Munoz, Mason Miller, Tanner Houck, and Taylor Ward on this team. At least that’s worked out.

Home League

Lastly, let’s look at my home league, which is a 5x5 roto league that uses OPS instead of AVG. I’ve been competitive in this league for almost all of the six years I’ve been a part of it, but I’ve never won it, so it means as much to me as many of the industry leagues because I am compelled to get over that hump.

Eric Home League

One of the biggest things I learned in my home league over the years was that I kept saying I would wait on starting pitching and then I would react to pitchers falling in the draft and scoop them up, which made my offense weak, especially in an OPS league where you really need those consistent power bats early in your draft. This year, I was convinced I would wait on arms, especially since I came into the season with Freddy Peralta and Bobby Miller as my keepers.

That enabled me to take guys like Rafael Devers and Corey Seager early and then scoop up Bryan Reynolds, Tyler O’Neill, and Taylor Ward when I might have been convinced to take starters. While O’Neill has cooled of late, I’m happy to have made those decisions. Especially since the pitchers I did eventually pull the trigger on were Max Fried and Chris Sale.

This is yet another team where I took late-round dart throws on starting pitching and hit with Kutter Crawford and Jared Jones, which allowed me to weather the storm of missing on my Louie Varland pick. I also continued my trend of making sure I drafted at least one stud closer early on, this time taking Emmanuel Clase, who has been elite for me. I also benefited from this draft being right when David Bednar was battling his shoulder issues, so he fell in the draft enough for me to take him and then I scooped Trevor Megill off waivers to give me a solid trio.

All told, I like this team and am happy with what I’ve been able to do in withstanding injuries to Bobby Miller, Triston Casas, Willson Contreras, and Matt McLain and some really poor performances from Evan Carter and James Outman. Early waiver wire pick-ups with Luis Rengifo and Jose Caballero have paid off, which is another example of really trying to spot potential playing time opportunities with hitters early on.

However, I know this team has holes. Using Jeimer Candelario and Kyle Manzardo at 1B to fill in for Casas isn’t ideal. I’m relying too much on just Jose Caballero for speed. Losing Willson Contreras hurts. Yet, leaning into my strengths with late-round pitching has given me a surplus of pitching talent that I can likely move for a 1B bat, especially with Nathan Eovaldi and Bobby Miller coming back to give me more depth.

So my main takeaway from this league early on is to really look into what you struggled with in years past. Try to learn from what strategies didn’t work where your impulses led you astray and then adjust to it. Play to your strengths in the draft and then don’t be slow to work the wire for hitters. I’ll have to keep doing it, but it’s put me in a good position right now.

Hopefully this exercise was useful for you. After having done it for all of my teams, I would encourage you to do the same for yours because I think it can give you a real sense of not only the state of your teams but also the strengths and weaknesses of your process.