Written by Jonathan Leshanski
Published: 18 February 2011
There are lots of different types of strategy when it comes to trying to win in traditional fantasy baseball. Hundreds of them in fact -- some work, some don’t. Figuring out just how you want to plan your strategy is a very personal thing.
If you’ve been playing fantasy baseball for a number of years, you probably have some ideas as to what has worked for you in the past and what hasn’t. And you probably know the most important axiom of the game -- you can’t win your fantasy league on draft day, but you sure can lose it.
Comming up with a new plan on the spot can be difficult.
What that means is that how prepared you are and how well you’ve mapped out your overall plan can lead to success, or incredible failure, from the get go. In auction leagues that means figuring out how to manage your money and get the biggest bang for your buck. While in leagues that use a serpentine draft system, it comes down to prioritizing player versus draft position and not just who the best remaining player is when it comes to your turn to draft.
In any case you’ll have to assess just what that player brings to your team. It may provide you with the boost in home runs that you know you’ll need to get from somewhere, or it could be someone at a scarce position who you believe will bring better returns than anyone else you could get later. Or maybe just someone you could trade.
The basics of fantasy will of course apply. No team, no matter how good, can survive without some “backbone” type players. These guys aren’t speculative picks, hyped rookies or guys with limited experience. These are the fantasy mainstays -- guys like Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Roy Halliday and even guys like Adam Dunn. They may or may not be superstars, but you know every season barring injury just what you are going to get out of them.
With Pujols you can count on five categories but with much more power than speed. Ramirez will give you everything but with more speed than power. Halladay will help in every pitching category except saves and Dunn will give you 40 home runs and an average somewhere around .250. That dependability lends itself to projecting your own team’s statistics and it is why Dunn ranks higher in the outfield charts year after year, and will be valued at higher dollar values than many guys who contribute in more categories.
And if you don’t have a few players of this type, you’ll rarely find yourself competitive in the long run. No they don’t have to be the superstars of the league, but when you feel secure knowing you can pencil in a guy for a .285-30-100 season the rest of your projections don’t have to make up for shortcomings in a guy who doesn’t live up to billing.
After that it’s open season when it comes to strategy.
In the 23 years I’ve played fantasy baseball, I’ve seen teams win by prioritizing pitching and having the best staff in the game and scoring tops in the pitching categories and making up for some mediocre-to-fair hitting, I’ve seen teams win by being offensive juggernauts and having just slightly better than average pitching staffs, I’ve seen guys punt saves or steals on opening day and win, I’ve seen balanced teams win, and I’ve even seem two teams staffed entirely with $1 and free agent starters finish in the money (though neither of them won).
Picking what works for you is a matter of experience -- how much time you want to put in, and how knowledgeable you are about guys you are considering drafting.
In auction drafts, that means going into a draft at least a rough allocation of the money you want to spend on starting pitching, hitting and closers. In serpentine it means being flexible enough to change your plan when one or more of your “must draft” players comes off the board before your turn comes around.
In established leagues the best fantasy managers don’t only take into account that hometown stars will come off the board earlier or command extra dollars, or that productive but almost unheard of small market guys may often be available in the later rounds also have those same poker type edges on certain of their fellow managers.
They know which of their opponents “must” own Ichiro Suzuki at almost any price, who the favorites of some their opponents are, which managers will focus on pitching, who is the most likely to back off or overbid when the price on Albert Pujols exceeds the value put on him by Yahoo! sports, and how far he can drive up values in an auction and dart away before he gets stuck with a player he doesn’t need.
In established leagues you probably can figure out which of your opponents have those edges and that knowledge. They probably finish in the top half of the league fairly consistently.
But even you don’t feel those edges, don’t be disheartened. Most poker players don’t have those kinds of edges either when they play their game either. Winning in fantasy baseball requires a solid knowledge of the game, making a good decision when faced with a tough draft day situation and getting a little lucky as the season goes on too. Having a plan rather than just winging it when draft day comes around will make those decisions a lot easier -- and might well propel you to a fantasy championship of your own.