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Baseball Game Theory: Sequel to the 5-player simulation

I played it safe in Round 1. Can I land a big name in Round 2?
I played it safe in Round 1. Can I land a big name in Round 2?
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The background: In January, Matt Goldman of Beyond The Box Score hosted a most interesting thought experiment. It was an exercise in game theory, and the rules can be summarized like this:

- One GM for each of the 30 teams
- Each GM picks 5 players from other teams to steal away and add to their roster
- If another GM picks the same player as you, neither of you get him and he stays on his old team
- You can't pick your own players
- If you successfully steal a player, you also inherit his contract situation (salary, years of control, etc.)

Who do you pick? The best players, and hope no one else blocks you? Role players, sacrificing value for a better guarantee of getting something? Sleepers, and hope no one else has the same idea?

I signed on as the GM for the Oakland A's, and you can read about the results here. I ended up stealing Houston starter Lance McCullers, Seattle starter Taijuan Walker, and Texas second baseman Rougned Odor, while getting blocked trying to swipe Kole Calhoun and Andrew Heaney from the Angels. The only player the A's lost was prospect Matt Olson, to the Mariners. My biggest regret was not testing the waters by picking Bryce Harper (instead of Calhoun), as nobody was bold enough to go for the reigning MVPs or Cy Youngs.

In February, we decided to see what would happen if we tried playing again. All 30 GMs returned to represent their teams, and the rosters were reset back to real life (that is, the picks from last time didn't carry over to Round 2). How would strategies change, having seen what each other did the first time around? Here's what happened! (Click here for the full writeup at Beyond the Box Score.)

My strategy

Last time, I employed a specific strategy that helped me narrow down the pool of available players and target guys whom other teams might not also think of. That strategy worked pretty well and I couldn't come up with a reason to change it, so I based my picks around it again. It went as such:

- I focused on pre-arb players so as not to add payroll.
- I only looked at pitchers, outfielders, and middle infielders, so as to fill team needs.
- This is a fun dream scenario, so I'm not spending my time stocking the farm. I'm only taking players who will be in MLB in 2016.
- I only want players from other AL West teams, so that I simultaneously strengthen my own team and weaken my rivals. I'll take one player from each of the other four AL West teams, and then one more wild card.

The only difference is that I decided to be a bit more bold this time around. In Round 1, I erred on the side of safety so as to at least get something out it, but I think I can dial things up just a little and still at least match my 60% success rate.

My picks

Here was my thought process for each team.

Angels: Mike Trout is too obvious, and I got burned last time when I went against my gut to roll the dice on Calhoun. Beyond them, there just isn't much I'm interested in taking -- I don't want to pay the big salaries of Simmons or Street. So, I'm repeating my pick from last time in Andrew Heaney, the 24-year-old starter with a half-season under his belt and six more years of team control. Like Calhoun, Heaney was blocked when I took him last time (by the Cubs), but I'm willing to play chicken on the young up-and-comer where I'm not with the established Gold Glove-winning star. I don't think the Cubs will gamble another pick on Heaney, and other teams might steer clear of a player who got blocked in Round 1. Beyond that, he's just too perfect to pass up -- the Angels' weakness is their pitching staff, and Heaney is arguably the most exciting thing they have going in that department (with respect to Garrett Richards).

Astros: Last time, I might have gone too far under the radar with Houston. A lot of the guys I ruled out went unclaimed, and while Lance McCullers was a worthy selection I decided to dream a bit bigger this time. Therefore, I forced myself to pick someone from the list of guys I rejected last time. Dallas Keuchel? Nah, still too bold. George Springer and Jose Altuve got double-picked in Round 1, and they each might be too famous. I'll go with reliever Ken Giles. Sure, maybe I was better off taking a starter like last time, but the 25-year-old Giles is a really freaking good reliever and he's still got five years of control left. Houston's bullpen was one of their weaker areas last year and was ultimately beaten by the Royals in the playoffs, and Giles was their big expensive trade addition to shore things up. And I'm gonna try to steal him.

Mariners: I started looking at Seattle's depth chart and I fell asleep right there at my desk. Thinking about Mariners players made me think about Mariners games and I just couldn't stay awa ... ... ... Dammit, I nodded off again just talking about them. So boring. Is there anything more Mariners than an outfield of Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin, and Seth Smith? Screw it, just give me shortstop Ketel Marte so I can move on to the next team. Marte had a good couple of months last year at age 21, so maybe he has a future. He's not well-known so I doubt anyone else will pick him, and Seattle's other options at shortstop aren't inspiring now that Brad Miller is gone.

Rangers: Last time I took Odor, and I think he was my best pick. But I just took a middle infielder from Seattle and, spoiler alert, I'm gonna take another one with my final pick. Unfortunately, Texas' starting pitchers are all either expensive, injury-prone, currently injured, or Colby Lewis, so that leaves the outfield. Delino DeShields is tempting, but he's too similar to Billy Burns. Josh Hamilton and Shin-Soo Choo are ... less tempting. So, I'm slightly bending one of my rules and going for a top prospect -- outfielder Nomar Mazara, who reached Triple-A last year at age 20 and could theoretically make his MLB debut in 2016. He's one of the top prospects in the game, with the following rankings: No. 5 (Baseball Prospectus), No. 9 (Keith Law), No. 18 (, and No. 21 (Baseball America). He's got power and a big arm in RF, and he can hit for average, all of which would be nice since the A's current RF is a free agent after this season.

Wild Card: One spot left. I had trouble finding even one suitable candidate on the Angels, Mariners, and Rangers, so let's go back to the Astros. I've already picked a starter, a reliever, a shortstop, and an outfielder, so I've hit each position once. Last time I used this pick to take one last risky stab at a higher-profile name (Calhoun) but wished I'd gone even bigger (Harper), so let's shoot for the stars this time. I'm taking shortstop Carlos Correa, the 2015 Rookie of the Year and a budding superstar shortstop who has six years of control left. If I get him then Marte can sit on the bench or whatever. Still better than being on the Mariners.

The results

The full table is kind of large and we're already at 1,000 words here, so click here to see the entire league's results.

My personal results:

Andrew Heaney: Success! We got him.
Ken Giles: Success! We got him.
Ketel Marte: Success! We got him.
Nomar Mazara: Success! We got him.
Carlos Correa: Success! We got him.


Yup, I got every single player I picked. The only player the A's lost was starter Rich Hill, who was taken back by the Red Sox. To quote Matt Goldman's analysis:

This round seemingly didn't have a clear winner, although Oakland has a strong case. They successfully stole five players, and all of them were from division rivals. Their biggest get was undoubtedly Carlos Correa, who they would have under control through 2022.

Once again, reigning MVPs Donaldson and Harper went unclaimed, as did Trout. However, Cy Youngs Keuchel and Arrieta were both taken, with the latter successfully moving to the Giants (eww). A couple elite hitters moved, including Paul Goldschmidt (to Cleveland) and Andrew McCutchen (to Seattle, where he will surely hit .220), while the Phillies repeated their superstar picks from last time but "only" got Price, Scherzer, and Greinke in this iteration. Arizona hilariously took back five players from recent disappointing real-life trades, including Justin Upton, Dansby Swanson, and Touki Toussaint. Kole Calhoun didn't get picked this time, which is annoying.


I couldn't be happier with this haul. The division-favorite Astros are crippled, the Angels' staff had gasoline thrown on its dumpster fire, and the Mariners now have a big hole up the middle. It will also now take the Rangers a bit more time and/or money to replace their aging outfield. Meanwhile, any questions you may have had about Oakland's middle infield would be solved for the foreseeable future, while the pitching staff gets beefed up and a long-term replacement has been secured for Josh Reddick. Each of the new additions plays for the MLB minimum and has six years of control left, except for Giles who only has five. What more could you want?

For Matt's full analysis of the results at Beyond the Box Score, check out his article. How do you think I did?