Saturday, March 24, 2007

Keys to Winning at Fantasy Baseball

This is a slightly revised version of a guest article I wrote a few days ago for Fantasy Baseball Guy...

Yes, I’m aware that at least three other bloggers have written about this very same topic in the past few days. But I have a slightly different take on what the keys to winning at fantasy baseball are, and I’d like to share them. Obviously there are a lot of different things that can impact your results in a fantasy baseball league, but I believe that these three are the ones that most frequently separate the winners from the also rans.

Exploit Your Edge:
One of the keys to winning is having a plan. You need to know where your edge is going to come from and you need to have a strategy that allows you to maximize the benefit you’ll gain from that edge. It’s not enough to just draft the best players possible and hope for the best. If you do that, you’ll do ok if you value players well, but you’ll get beaten out by someone with a real plan for how to win the league.

For example, I believe that my edge comes from an understanding of how to project pitching performance. My understanding of which stats are good predictors of future performance and which aren’t has consistently allowed me to do a better job than most people of picking up undervalued pitchers and steering clear of overvalued ones. My strategy to exploit that edge is that I focus very heavily on hitting during the most drafts, confident that I can put together an ok staff of undervalued pitchers in the later rounds of the draft, and gradually improve my staff over the course of the season. Another reasonable strategy for someone with my edge would be to focus a little more on pitchers who I thought were good values even if they went relatively early in the draft (ie…pick Peavy if he’s there in the 4th round) with the intention of trading some of my pitching away once everyone else recognizes just how good my pitchers are…but obviously that will only work in a league where teams are so active that I can be sure I’ll find someone to trade with. My experience has been that that’s rarely the case.

Another example of an edge that someone might have is that they spend so much time online and watching baseball that they’re almost always the first one to know about injuries. For that person, it might be reasonable to draft only one closer, since they’ll almost certainly be able to pick up closers during the season when somebody gets hurt.

Know The Rules:
Its really important to know the rules of your league. Not just the obvious stuff like what the scoring system is, but every little detail. Is there an innings pitched maximum? An innings pitched minimum? Games played maximums at each position for hitters? What time is the transaction deadline? Are you allowed to draft an invalid roster? What are the requirements for position eligibility? Is there a disabled list? When do trading, waivers, and free agency begin? Are there limits to the number of transactions you can make? In a keeper league, what exactly are the keeper rules? Each of these (and many more) rules should play a part in the strategies that you consider using during the season. For example, a low enough innings pitched maximum might make middle relievers have some value, even in a shallow league where they normally wouldn’t. In league where you can draft an invalid roster, instead of drafting a replacement level hitter at your last open position, maybe you draft someone with an outside shot of winning the role as their team’s closer before the season starts. There are so many of these tricks and adjustments to be made, but if you don’t know the league’s rules really well, you’re not going to be able to properly take advantage of them.

Be Willing to Drop Players:
This was probably the toughest and most important lesson that I learned on the way from being a mediocre fantasy baseball player to being a good one. You simply can’t get too attached to your players. Lots of people advise this, but they’re usually talking about being willing to give up something good to get what you need in trades. While that is true, I think a willingness to drop ‘good’ players when its necessary is tougher, and more important too. In leagues with shallow benches, don’t kill your chances by carrying too manyh injured stars…at some point you may need to drop one to pick up someone who will play. In leagues with daily transactions, don’t hesitate to drop the 3-5 weakest players on your team, even if they’re pretty good. You’ll b e able to get much better production by rotating players in favorable situations….even if someone picks up the guy you just dropped. And never, ever sacrifice current production because you’re carrying a useless player for their ‘trade value’. You could wait a long time before someone is willing to trade for them.

Be Relentless:
While you can certainly lose the season with a bad enough draft, you can’t win it with a good draft. You’re going to need to check on your team and make adjustments throughout the season to have a chance of winning. Most leagues I’ve been in have been won by the person who did the best job of this, not the one with the best draft. Don’t underestimate how much ground you can make up by staying on top of things day in, day out, for the full six month season.

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