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The Pick Five Simulation Results

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Clearly, I failed baseball game theory. But so did lots of other people!

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Getting through an offseason is hard. There's just all that time there, sitting there, oppressive in its lack of baseball and devoid of any Chip Caray malapropisms. Luckily for me, SB Nation is nothing if not full of simulation-esque activities to pass the time. One of those happened last week.

Here's the skinny. Imagine you're an MLB GM, but the rules have changed. Specifically, there's now a "Rule X" draft. No, not Rule Ten. Rule X, like David Eckstein was the "X-factor" (and also the Astros' password?). Essentially, you get to do the following:

  • Pick any five players not currently in your organization. This includes the majors and the minors, and is not limited to players specifically on the 25-man or 40-man rosters. Want to pick some randos from a rival franchise's AA team? Go for it.
  • Your five picked players are added to the organization, contract status and all. Just like that. Well, unless...
  • Any player you picked was also picked by another GM (or multiple other GMs). In that case, none of you get that player.
  • You also can't pick or protect your team's own players. That means that your roster is at the mercy of others.
That's it. If you want to think a bit on who you'd pick, feel free to take a moment. This article will still be here when you come back.

Both at the time and in retrospect, the strategic considerations at play here are kind of obvious. Picking superstars and guys overflowing with value is risky, because that's a short-ish list of obvious names. You could risk it, but perhaps the prize is too tempting, and you'll get nothing. Perhaps more appealing is a second tier and third tier of really valuable, exciting players, who aren't quite the cream of their particular crop.

In preliminary discussions, it seemed like a possible handy strategy could be to try to steal some undervalued/underappreciated names, while also gambling on bigger names just in case. That way, you potentially won't be entirely shut out of acquisitions, but still have some outside chance of snagging a Trout or Sale.

Of course, since this simulation was run by the SBN hivemind (who also brought you this year's bonkers winter meetings sim), things did not go quite as planned. In short, I failed you all and I'm sorry. In short, most of us failed baseball game theory. In short, hey, I got AJ Pollock? Woo?

The five players I picked, and the (somewhat obvious) rationale for each selection, was below. I ended up snagging two of them, and whiffing on the other three due to interference from my co-participants. I also a lot of value, but there wasn't anything to be done about that, given that my own roster was at the mercy of others. In any case, onward:

Jorge Soler (no dice, also picked by the Yankees)

I decided pretty quickly that my strategy was going to be to try and pick off somewhat depreciated assets that could still be useful for the medium- and long-term approach that the franchise is currently taking. Jorge Soler, who's basically been featured in Julio Teheran rumors so much I'm surprised the Google Knowledge base doesn't think they're brothers, was an obvious pick, given his 2015 struggles but wealth of potential. Unfortunately, that didn't quite work out.

There wasn't any inspired higher-level thinking from me here. Soler could be good, is controllable, and I figured his recent performance would de-emphasize him enough. On the one hand, I was kind of right, as only one other GM claimed him. On the other hand, I really needed no other GMs to claim him. Oh well.

Yan Gomes (no dice, also picked by the Orioles and Tigers)

Okay, show of hands, how many of you even know who Yan Gomes is? Is he:
  • The first Brazilian-born major leaguer ever?
  • A guy that's been worth 3.8 fWAR/600 for his career?
  • A guy that's signed to a laughably cheap contract ($40M for his next sixseasons, if so desired, or $21M for his next four)?
  • A guy who played hurt and poorly last season?
If you figured all of the above, you're right. It also helps that he's a catcher and can play in an emergency (maybe even a kerfuffle) in the corners. I figured the fourth bullet would overpower the other three. I was wrong. Two players in the sim were claimed four times (Gerrit Cole, Addison Russell). Four players were claimed three times. The other three in this latter group were Mookie Betts, Carlos Salazar, and Corey Seager. I picked Yan Gomes. It didn't work out well.

Yordano Ventura (pitchers, am I right?)

So, I know you're thinking, "Ivan, why did you take a pitcher? We have like 3,000 of them!" Well, I figured that we'd get some arms taken away from us, and wanted to replenish that well a bit. I also loved Ventura's cheap contract and his ERA-FIP gap suggested he might be overlooked by my fellow sim-GMs. I was right (for once).

The reward is a 2.5 - 3 fWAR pitcher who only costs $44M for the next six years, or only $21M if we want to ditch him after four. Ventura probably won't make as much of an impact of some other potential picks, but at least I managed to pick one under-the-radar name. He also has some room to grow and improve, and there should be a lot of trade suitors for his services should the hypothetical Braves' rotation pan out to the extent that he is rendered unnecessary.

Carlos Rodon (no dice, also picked by the Tigers)

Marking the second time the sim-Tigers' GM and I collectively ruined our sim-lunches, Carlos Rodon was an intriguing pick that was unfortunately a no go. While yes, he's another pitcher, he projects to be a great one, and was very solid in his rookie debut. I was hoping that the lack of eye-popping stats and the overshadowing by Chris Sale would pave the way for me here, but not so much. Also notable is that while he was selected by a division rival in addition to me, one of Rodon's worst starts last year came against the Tigers.

AJ Pollock (yay, I guess?)

AJ Pollock was, when I submitted my picks, as far as I was willing to go for a gamble. He's a great player but doesn't quite fit the timeline, but still carries a bunch of value and could be very exciting as a trade piece, or even potentially an extension candidate. I also figured there wasn't much chance of getting him, given that he just put up a 6.6 fWAR season and is pretty much an all-around star with no real downside in his game. But I did. Maybe everyone else figured he'd be too likely to be claimed, and I was the only one that didn't. Maybe the universe conspired to give me a win beyond Yordano Ventura. Who knows. The point is, I managed to get AJ Pollock. So, yay, kind of?

The flip side

Of course, other sim-GMs were also engaged in machinations to steal away players where they could. Unfortunately, I have to report that we lost more than we gained:

  • Nick Markakis, to Boston (uh, well, okay then?)
  • Sean Newcomb, to Miami (well, crap. Little to show for Andrelton Simmons now. Well, at least I got Yordano Ventura...)
  • Freddie Freeman, to Houston (do I have to give up my right arm, now? At least I'm left-handed...)
  • Ender Inciarte, to Minnesota (sigh)
So yeah, that's a bit of a backbreaker. It's not particularly surprising that Newcomb, or even Inciarte, got nabbed, given that they're high-value (at least potentially) players that are under the radar a bit. Markakis, well, have fun, I guess? Freeman hurts, and it hurts more because no one else bothered to select him.

So in the end, I got a great outfielder and a solid starter, but lost two outfielders, a prospect, and the team's best player. In the end, I fared pretty poorly: while I wasn't as bad as Boston, who gained three players but lost eight, or Pittsburgh (lost six, gained three), I'm still squarely in the bottom rung with a net loss of two players. Only six teams lost two or more players, net, and 14 teams had a net gain. One of which was...

Revenge of the Phillies (aka, rebuild? what rebuild?)

The most remarkable thing about this whole business was that the whole strategy about avoiding the best players was rendered a bit silly. How this played out makes sense if you think about it even a bit: everyone avoided the best players because they figured someone else would claim them, and in the end, the path was cleared and paved in gold for one team to swoop in and make off like really, really efficient bandits: the Phillies.

Specifically, here's the bounty they came out with: Giancarlo Stanton, David Price, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer. Have fun sim-playing in that division, rest of sim-NL East! What's worse is that we have no one to blame but ourselves. So congratulations, sim Phillies, you clearly won this whole shebang. Way to make us all look dumb.

So, that was fun! I bet if the sim ran again, the results would be different. A big thanks to Matt Goldman for putting it together. If you were driving this particular bus instead of me, who would you have picked? Were my choices decent, bad, or should I be fired due to my toxic personality and/or ineffectiveness? (Also, in case you skipped it, full analysis and results are here.)