Written by Jonathan Leshanski
Published: 09 July 2009
Like many fantasy players I tend to play in more than one league per season. In some leagues trading is easy -- throw out some offers, get some offers, make some deals. In others the trading is hard, unless you are willing to part with a top player, no one wants to talk to you at all. But being willing to part with a top player isn’t enough sometimes, unless of course the top player has a “Name.”
It’s a concept which needs to be discussed a bit. What exactly is in a name? Why value them so highly? And why discount a player who doesn’t have a name?
I guess the first concept here is what makes a name? That’s a tricky concept, and what constitutes a name varies widely. But here are the criteria most people seem to use -- that a player must meet at least one of the following criteria.
They have a proven track record.
They were an “expert” pick or have gotten a lot of press.
They had a huge season last year or a couple of seasons ago.
There may even be others, but these are the ones which most commonly seem to be applied. So let’s take a look at them.
Ok, a proven track record is a good thing. After all the backbone of every good fantasy team is the proven, CONSISTENT, player. Consistent as you may guess is the key word. Guys with a single great season aren’t yet proven, even guys with two seasons under their belt haven’t quite nailed it. Plenty of guys crash after that first, or even second, season. Some good examples might include former Rookie of the Year Angel Berroa, Chris Davis of the Rangers or last year’s version of Troy Tulowitzki.
But even the most consistent of players at some point in their career often take that big nosedive as skills erode (Andruw Jones over the last few years, Richie Sexson), due to injury (Chin-Ming Wang) or for no reason (the strange power outage of David Wright this season).
Pablo Sandoval is unproven, but still performing well.
So let’s look at criteria number two -- guys who were expert picks or have gotten a lot of media hype. The truth is that everyone writing fantasy columns, making guides or talking about fantasy baseball and dubbed “experts” are just making their best guess based on experience. Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are wrong. If you listened to an expert prediction and picked up Pablo Sandoval or Nelson Cruz, you are probably pretty happy with the selection, but if you were one who picked up Mike Aviles, Jordan Schafer or Lastings Milledge on “expert” advice you probably aren’t all that happy.
Those hyped by other members of the media are often worse. Players coming through either the draft or farm systems have tons of people touting them every step of the way. From agents who represent them (and want them to appear to be the next big thing to general managers who’ll write checks), to front offices (desperate to represent them as the next big thing to fans in order to increase excitement and ticket sales), to writers, sports talk radio guys who are trying to cover their local teams to the best of their ability. Everyone wants to believe that their farm system is turning out something that will rejuvenate their team or can be dangled as great trade bait. But for every Evan Longoria there are probably about ten Kris Medlens - players who may one day be outstanding, but just aren’t going to be major impact players right away.
The last criteria is a pretty fair one. Everyone hopes to get a guy on the upswing. Guys who’ve had a great season or two and then lapsed into mediocrity have potential to repeat the numbers. That makes them great buy low candidates because as long as you are buying low there is little downside to holding them if you can’t find someone a little better. Of course, plenty of players never come close to repeating that amazing season or two that they had earlier in their career, but that’s a chance you take with one of these type of guys.
While I do have a certain respect for players with “names,” the core of fantasy baseball is a lot simpler than just buying a bunch of “name” players. It’s all about what have you done for me lately? To win championships you don’t need guys with potential, you need potential delivered. At some point you need to make a decision with every single player and ask is this player delivering what I drafted him for? Or outperforming someone else you could acquire in a trade for him?
Great fantasy owners live and die by the “what have you done for me lately” motto -- they are the ones who cut guys who don’t deliver, trade away what underachieving “names” they can for players who are definitely useful this season and don’t sit there waiting all season for potential to materialize.
While these players do occasionally get burned and see a guy who gets traded turn into a star again, they do what needs to be done, over and over again. They try to incrementally improve their team with every move. They don’t get too caught up with any name who isn’t a proven and delivering backbone of the team kind of player, unless of course the player is delivering.
It’s easy to get caught up in the name game, and trying to avoid playing it can be very hard, especially since fantasy baseball is full of intangibles beyond the control of those of us who manage our teams. We can’t avoid the injuries, the suspensions or the real life trades that change our players’ roles or if they play in the AL or NL. What we can do is try to avoid those who underperform no matter what their name is.