Fantasy Baseball: Pure luck or skill?

Are guides like this even worth reading?

How much of Fantasy Baseball is luck?

It’s an honest question you can ask yourself. Is the fact that your team is 12-2 luck? Or perhaps the fact that your team is 2-12 bad luck?

Ever think that maybe you’re either a great manager at fantasy baseball or maybe you’re just a poor manager?

Is the fact that I picked up Dillon Gee against the Pirates (8 innings, 1 ER, W) and he performed well pure luck or is it fantasy baseball skill to recognize the matchup and take advantage?

All solid questions.

These are all questions (and many more!) that were debated between  me and a friend earlier this week. We emailed back and forth (not local to each other) about the issue and we came to one agreement after several lengthy emails and chats:

He believes it’s pure luck … I believe there is skill involved.

I’m about to briefly summarized what happened in the league. Feel free to give me your analysis on the situation and give me your own feel good stories (or bad luck as my friend would call it).

Here’s our box score for a reference if you want to break it down yourself.

On June 10, I picked up Dillon Gee. He was playing against the Pirates who have been struggling to score runs all season.  I also picked up Tyler Clippard. He hadn’t pitched the past couple days; he’s a good reliever, and thought he would probably get into the game against a reeling Padres team.

I was down in the matchup and had to make some moves. They could have hurt me, but they turned out to benefit me greatly. Gee pitched a great game and Clippard made an appearance (two shutout innings, three Ks).  I gained 41 total points off the two.

On June 11, I had to make a few more moves. The guy I was playing had a couple big pitchers coming up in the next two days and I didn’t have anyone really. My pitchers had already gone … I had to make more moves. So I did some research and picked up Mike Minor against the Houston Astros. Minor has good K rates and strikeouts are a premium in this league. He was also pitching against a struggling Astros team that just had been beaten up by the Braves for two straight games, and I mean pounded. He pitches six strong innings and nets me 14 points. I also picked up R.A. Dickey. Dickey is pitching against the Pirates as well. Pirates have a bad offense, so what’s the worst that can happen, he gives up four runs? Dickey pitches eight innings, gets the loss, but still nets me 16 points. I gain a total of 30 total points off the two. We’re up to 71 extra points picked up,  just from pitchers.  We both made some other changes, mine were mostly small, but I ended up winning by 10 points. Without those pickups, I would have lost.

Is that pure luck?

Or was it skill in recognizing the matchups and capitalizing on it?

Would you have done the same thing in your league?

My friend thinks that once the players hit the field, it’s pure luck on what will happen and how many points we receive. I highly disagree. I don’t think its luck that I started Albert Pujols and he hit a home run and I don’t think its bad luck that I started Albert Pujols and he didn’t hit a home run. I think good fantasy baseball managers recognize certain matchups and opportunities to capitalize on, just like real managers. Do I think what Bobby Cox did his entire career was pure luck? No, but I’m sure some of it was luck though. I do believe a little bit of it is luck, just like everything in life is, but it’s not pure luck.

There is skill involved. What do you think? Comment below, let’s debate and I’ll be sure to invite my non-believing friend into the conversation!

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  1. can I put a rest to this? If it were all luck, then we could assign everyone a randomly selected fantasy team (kinda like the powerball). Then theoretically, everyone would have an equal opportunity to win. Now (I am going Plato style on ya) in this theoretical universe lets say one team was allowed to draft based on data (aka saber-metrics). Now we have eleven teams for all intents and purposes “auto-drafted” while we have a lone team picking players based on knowledge. 

    If this were a game of luck, then every team would have even odds at winning the league championship. If it were not a game of luck then a person of skill (the team that is not auto-drafted) would have the upper hand. 

    If I held a gun to your head and went all Samuel Jackson on your ass, what team are you going to take? You would be a fool to take the team with five shortstops (aka the auto-drafted teams) instead of the team that knew what to draft when to draft it. 

    Hence there forth, a team of skill will always be better than a team of pure luck.

  2. I think it is much more luck than you think it is, the reason being that although you can use historical data to back your reasoning, the reality is game by game fluctuations vary too much for one to consistently predict.

    For example: imagine you draft Roy Halladay at the beginning of the year. Barring any news about him being injured or limited to a certain pitch count, you would expect to start him on you roster every opportunity you have. Inevitably a pitcher as good as Halladay would have a bad start. However, it would be foolish for someone to try to predict the exact start where he slips up.

    In essence, picking a pitcher off of the waiver wire is the exact opposite of this situation – you’re picking a pitcher who wasn’t good enough to be drafted on draft day, and one who isn’t a lock to start every five days on your fantasy team. Therefore, he has a higher likelihood of not pitching a great game on the day you select him. That’s not to say you didn’t do your homework to try to maximize the potential for him to succeed, but you can’t expect one individual game to follow suit with what happens over a course of the season, which is where the luck factor comes in.

    I would also argue that for a pitcher like Dillon Gee (this is specific to your example), even against the Pirates you can’t have enough data (at least as of June 10) to accurately determine how likely it is that he has a successful game. Gee at that point had not thrown enough innings in his career to make a fair estimate of his skillset, and that specific Pirates team hadn’t been given enough time to show how good of a team they really were.

    A final example I’d like to throw in here is the example of how a batter has fared or will fare against a certain pitcher. Even against pitchers in their own division, a hitter realistically won’t face said (starting) pitcher more than six times in a season (18 games = approximately six series against division opponents). If the hitter gets three plate appearances against the pitcher each game, that’s 18 PAs a season. Over five years, that’s 90 PAs. Even if the hitter gets 60 hits in these 90 PAs, the sample size still isn’t large enough for one to expect a .667 average in the future.

    In conclusion I would just say that I agree with what you say to some extent. Yes, you can use tons of data to make a reasonable analysis, but individual events vary enough that I would say there is much more luck than you think.

  3. Your friend is an idiot if he didn’t try to counter your need to catch up with moves of his own. Either by grabbing the obvious players you would take or someone to gain extra points to stay ahead.
    If he seriously thinks that it is all luck, then I hope he enjoys losing.

  4. I won’t argue that with something as complex as fantasy baseball, there is some skill required. But I would say that the more decisions that have to be made by participants, that it becomes more skill than luck.It’s ultimately about predicting the future though, so of course there will always be some degree of luck involved.

  5. luck and skill both. after reviewing link in post, though, winner was definitely lucky that hellickson, morton, oswalt and king felix had bad weeks. clicking on felix’s name shows that those two outings were the worst two back to back games of the season for him. who would expect only 22 points from felix in a 2 start week. any other back to back weeks happen and bahama would have lost. and clicking on helilickson and morton shows that they both had their worst games of the season. lucky for sure bahama!

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