Ask Your Fantasy Football Contrarian: Shawn Siegele of Money in the Banana Stand

"When someone sounds like a crackpot, the most likely explanation is that they are, in fact, a crackpot."

Being a contrarian just to be different means nothing in a crowded fantasy landscape. Shawn Siegele, a relative newcomer to Twitter, is not this individual. He puts his fantasy theories to the test and the results speak for themselves. Find out what being bold can get you.

How did Money in the Banana Stand get started and what are you looking for out of the site? The idea behind Money in the Banana Stand was to create something of a catch-all sports site that was heavy on analytics but hopefully also with a sense of fun. I try to read pretty widely outside of fantasy football, and I become more convinced daily that just about everything we think we know about anything is wrong. And I don’t mean that there’s some giant conspiracy where people are lying to us or we’re lying to each other. Just that the world is more complicated and more interesting than our narratives or our numerical explanations can easily divine. When it’s functioning well, the Banana Stand is a Big Lebowski-infused contrarian sports thought website.

Did I read (and yes, I read) that you have been in 200 fantasy leagues in the past four years? Talk about all in. How do you keep up with such nonsense? This year it was only 32, which was actually pretty easy in comparison to the 80-plus that I’ve done on occasion. I just have each roster listed on adjacent rows of a big spreadsheet and go column by column making waiver claims and setting lineups.

First of all, can you tell my readers that no fantasy strategy is risk-proof? I’ve definitely lost with all kinds of strategies.

Thank you. Now that’s out of the way, talk about coming up with your “strategies of domination” like the Zero RB Theory. I employ contingency-based drafting, basically a cluster of strategies designed to provide maximum exposure to various types of upside. Zero RB is a strategy that works well in PPR leagues with a Flex. Since value at the running back position is heavily predicated on usage – which is hard to predict – I instead draft receivers, a position where value is more closely related to talent. This would seem to be a higher variance strategy, but that’s not been my experience in actual high stakes play. When you hit on breakout running backs, it leads to the development of ubersquads.

It really hit home when you mentioned that one of mainstream fantasy football’s favorite tools, value-based drafting, is based on a shaky foundation of statistical predictions that are often wrong. How can we minimize those errors in ranking players? The best way to minimize errors is to use competing projection systems and target those players who show up strongly in multiple screens. If we’re being completely honest, most of us create fantasy projections that are just last year’s numbers with small tweaks for changes in situation. This isn’t entirely wrong, as a prior year’s fantasy points correlate with a subsequent year’s points better than do a lot of fancy measures. But still the level of predictiveness is very low. [Zach note: It’s hard not to just look at last year’s numbers or last week’s numbers.]

This lack of predictiveness is one of the reasons RotoViz is developing into such an important fantasy voice. RotoViz uses Similarity Scores as a predictive tool, understanding that attributes like age, size, and usage can often tell you more than things like points or efficiency. Sim Scores are not infallible either – they missed badly on Trent Richardson last year – but the added intelligence provided is crucial to generating better rankings.

How’d you get hooked up with RotoViz, and have you actually met the elusive Frank DuPont? I haven’t met Frank, but at this point I’m fairly confident he exists. If not, he’s a very convincing ghost in the machine. Frank and I exchanged some ideas back when he was starting up the original Fantasy Douche website and I was starting the Banana Stand. We quickly discovered we had similar ideas about fantasy (and reality) football, and when he asked if I wanted to contribute to RotoViz, it was a no-brainer.

Your fantasy team names are fantastic, especially when they are Big Lebowski-related (example: The Dude Abides). Is this an underrated aspect of fantasy football? Thanks. I enjoy naming the teams, and having memorable monikers helps to keep them straight when you’re playing such a large number. This year’s NFFC Grand Prize winner, Terms of Enrampagement, comes from an episode of Archer where Sterling’s making a film about his rampage against an Irish gang that’s dealing in counterfeit chemo medication. With apologies even to the genius of Arrested Development, it’s probably the funniest single episode of TV ever made. When it’s Week 9 and you’re in the third hour of inputting contingent waiver claims, anything that will bring a smile to your face is a good thing.

Were you a better tennis player than Richie Tenenbaum? Since the apocryphal Richie was a top-ranked pro, it’s pretty safe to assume he was more talented, and sadly, probably better put together. The 72 Unforced Errors scene may be my favorite in movie history because it was undeniably hilarious but also tragically romantic and imbued with a type of deep realism that you can only get with abstract projects.

On a tangentially related note, I first read Moneyball at about the time I was transitioning from playing college tennis to coaching it, and the narrative about Billy Beane trying to find players unlike himself resonated pretty deeply. Tennis also shaped a lot of my skepticism about scouting. You can watch a tennis match and see one player with better technique, athleticism, and stroke production just get absolutely hammered by the apparently inferior player. This is frequently true even when the visibly superior player doesn’t have any glaring strategic weaknesses. Since any given tennis match represents a fairly large sample of points, big upsets are relatively infrequent and the score is fairly indicative of current quality. In football, we hear a lot that interaction effects make it impossible to do accurate analytics, but this tends to ignore the way interaction effects tend to swamp what is visibly apparent even on the individual level. Tennis is too complicated to evaluate without going to the stats. I don’t know why that wouldn’t also be true of football.

Are you sad that Deadwood ended the way it did or were you happy to get the three seasons that were produced? Although different in pretty much every way, Deadwood is the Big Lebowski of TV shows. The gap between Deadwood and the next best show is so large, you’d need to leave the No. 2 position empty in your rankings just to illustrate the chasm. Its premature demise and slightly flat final episode count among life’s great disappointments.

Why do you like the National Fantasy Football Championship style of league? I think if you’re going to play high stakes, you desperately need Third Round Reversal. Otherwise, the advantage of having an early draft slot over a late slot is 10% or more. (In an ideal world, everything would be auction, but the time aspect of that isn’t realistic.) There’s too much luck involved and too much money at stake to suddenly find yourself 10% in the hole before you’ve even started.

The NFFC also has KDS, which means you rank your draft order preferences. For example, if you were one of those rare souls who preferred A.J. Green over Adrian Peterson going into 2013, you could request a later spot and build a team more in line with your preferred strategy. Finally, the NFFC playoff structure doesn’t put all of your money on the line in Weeks 12 and 13. Some people like one-week, head-to-head playoffs even in high stakes, but that dramatically decreases the chances for the best team to cash. Powerhouse squads shouldn’t have their entire seasons ruined by losing a quarterback early or having a runner go out with a concussion on his third carry.

Do you have some good “post hype” players like Lamar Miller to consider in 2014 fantasy drafts? Running back efficiency tends to be almost completely random, so just about any disappointing 2013 runner makes a good post-hype investment. Miller, David Wilson, Doug Martin, C.J. Spiller, and Trent Richardson are all pretty appealing. Almost anybody I liked in 2013, I like even more in 2014 since the new information we have about them – a season of failure does decrease their chances to end up as a Jamaal Charles or LaDainian Tomlinson – is easily outweighed by the discount in price. On the other hand, guys like Eddie Lacy and Zac Stacy are going to be very dangerous to own.

Football or sex: which do you think of more? If not for the creepy vibe, I would say I’m a lot like Jim Schwartz in the amount of time I spend fantasizing about Jahvid Best highlights. Also, I hope I’m nothing like Jim Schwartz. Also, I hope Mr. Best is finding his way in a life without football but with his mind relatively intact.

Where’s your “command center” or “man cave” for watching the NFL games on Sunday? I’ve got big flat screens set up in multiple rooms and with the genie, I can record all the games simultaneously. I usually try to watch a big chunk of them in relative real time. (Once you’ve mastered the timing of the jumps, you can pretty much eliminate time between plays with liberal use of the “fast forward x2” button.) By the end of the day Sunday, I’ve frequently watched 75% of the plays that occurred in the given week.

Which football writers are on your must-read list? I try to religiously read all the guys at RotoViz and PFF. That’s a pretty long list and I wouldn’t want to miss anybody, but it’s probably worth mentioning that Frank DuPont and Mike Clay are doing a disproportionate amount of the groundbreaking work in football analysis. Jonathan Bales and Chad Parsons are a couple of occasional RV contributors who do awesome work. That group keeps me pretty busy, but I do find myself frequently running across great stuff from Bill Connelly, Chase Stuart, and Brian Burke even when I don’t seek out their articles. The folks over at BroJackson.com are tremendous if you’re looking for more of a Grantland-type vibe.

Tell me about any plugs that you’d like. Sites, podcasts, projects, anything. I’m currently exploring the possibility of writing a book about winning the 2013 NFFC Primetime Championship that would be somewhat similar to Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Eistein. (He covered the U.S. Memory Championships for a freelance article he was writing, became intrigued by it, and then went out and won the title the following year.) Perhaps something along the lines of Jamaal Charles is Better Than Adrian Peterson: How I Used Contrarian Strategies to Win a Quarter Million Dollars in Fantasy Football and Why You Can Too. So, working title. [Zach note: Nice title. Yeah, I buried the lede with Shawn’s big winnings.]

Thanks for answering my questions, Shawn. Follow him on Twitter and don’t ask him for a loan before I have an opportunity to do so.

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2 Responses to Ask Your Fantasy Football Contrarian: Shawn Siegele of Money in the Banana Stand

  1. Scott January 13, 2014 at 5:47 am #

    Great article. Zero RB is thought provoking, I’d like to hear more. Congrats on the great season Shawn!

    One unresolved question… how you going to spend all that money???

  2. Shawn Siegele January 13, 2014 at 10:42 pm #

    I’ll probably put it back into fantasy. Only takes another 10,000 similar results to buy the Detroit Lions, right?

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