FantasyBaseball.com University Series
Contributed By: Andrew Hibel
I can hear the aristocratic voice of the late John Houseman offering his most famous line, “Fantasy Players win championships the old fashioned way . . . they earn it.” Houseman, best known for his Paper Chase character and Smith Barney commercials, did not quite say that, but the message is the same. If you want to win a fantasy baseball championship, you’ll need to earn it. Earning your championship starts with formulating your primary strategy and evaluating talent prior to the draft.
Formulating Your Primary Strategy
Many fantasy players assume they understand the fantasy game they play. This assumption can kill your fantasy baseball season. Your primary strategy offers you a template for making decisions that benefit your team in the league you are playing in. Primary strategies should vary greatly from league to league and person to person.
1. Understand the rules of your league – At the risk of restating the obvious, you need to understand the rules of your league. Each league has a unique set of rules and you must understand how they impact the game.
Each type of league has its own biases. For example, I am in a point’s league where a win is worth 10 points and a save is worth 7 points. Therefore, 20 wins is worth about the same as 30 saves. In 2004, there were 3 players with 20 wins and 15 players with 30 saves. So, in this case, try to draft closers first, and get to the starters later on.
2. Identify the trends – Once you understand your league biases, you need to put that knowledge into action. Identify trends that provide you parameters for evaluating talent. The trend can be radical depending on the league. In some leagues, you may decide to de-emphasize pitching or hitting or a particular position due to the league biases and the identified trend. Don’t be scared to do this, but hedge your bets somewhat. Your ability to recover during the free agency period can be somewhat limited, so a miscalculation on something radical (like not draft any closers) can be fatal as well.
There is a slight trend that pitchers (both starters and relievers) that have unanticipated breakouts during the year are more common than hitters. It is much easier to pick up a Brad Lidge or Jaret Wright during the season than it is to pick up a “surprise” hitter during the year.
3. Understand this is fantasy sports – You are not playing baseball or cheering your favorite players on to victory. You are playing a game, a game based on baseball statistics. You cannot allow your personal feelings about certain players to affect your primary strategy.
4. Note for keeper leagues – Keeper leagues have a unique challenge when forming a primary strategy. In these leagues, you must understand that you are trying to build a franchise to carry over from year-to-year. The greater the value of your keepers, the better your franchise should perform each year. It is important to balance your team’s needs for the current year with the potential long-term value of each player.
Evaluating talent is often considered the only preparation needed before draft time. Many times, player rankings (a cheat sheet) are used to guide evaluation. Unless the cheat sheet can be shaped around your primary strategy, it should just be used as a general guide that can be modified according to the following evaluations:
1. Past repeated results – As any stockbroker, like Smith Barney, will tell you, past success does not guarantee future results. However, past repeated results are a very strong evaluative tool. If someone has hit between .260 and .275 over the past five years, there is a very good chance that they will hit between .260 and .275 this year.
The word repeated is emphasized because players can have career years out of nowhere (see Adrian Beltre) because of a contract year or for other reasons. Repeated producers are the best bet.
2. Durability, situation, and age – Once your list has shortened to repeated producers, you are ready to massage your list based on more specific factors. Fantasy baseball is played over the course of 6 months and being able to produce over all those days is key. You will perform better with players who play more games.
The player’s situation is also important. You need to know which ballparks are pitchers’ and hitters’ parks. Recognize potential platoon situations or when a starter’s role can be in jeopardy because of some poor results. And, you need to know where your player is batting in the order and who is hitting around him.
To a lesser degree, age is a factor you need to consider. It is just more difficult to evaluate. For both older and younger players, you need to evaluate the player’s career stage. There does not seem to be an easy way to identify trends in this area.
3. Note for keeper leagues – It is very important to know the rules of your keeper league and how rookies are merged into your league. This may be your one chance to add David Wright or Joe Mauer if your league does not allow the addition of rookies through free agency during the season. If you are looking to make a run at the championship, draft for this year only. You can only keep the same number of players each year.
Once you have your primary strategy and have evaluated talent according to that strategy, you should be prepared for your draft. This is just the end of the beginning of your quest to earn your fantasy baseball championship.
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