Four Big Answers: Advice for a Fantasy Baseball Beginner
Sara Hannon, a writer here at the Bleacher Report, posted a great article about four questions new fantasy players often have. As a long-time fantasy baseball player, I'd like to offer some friendly nuggets of advice that might help not only her, but many of you out there, surprise your more experienced friends with your fantasy acumen.
Question One: What's the best strategy?
The most common strategy is draft hitters early, closers late, and pitchers when they provide maximum value. This leads to many experts drafting around the average draft position, or ADP, quite often.
While any coherent, thoughtful strategy can win a league, I prefer the standard strategy because it takes advantage of several factors.
First, saves come into the league more than any other statistic. With a few specific exceptions such as Papelbon, K-rod, or Nathan, many teams have fluid closing situations or injury risks in their closer position.
A smart, active team can grab potential closers very late in the draft or off the waiver wire, essentially getting saves for little investment. This allows you to compete in saves without overpaying on draft day.
Second, pitching is more volatile than hitting. Part of this is due to the increased injury risk pitchers face and part is simply the nature of pitching. Pitchers get injured or endure bouts of ineffectiveness or bad luck with significant regularity.
There are very few pitchers who are reliable enough to take early in the draft. Johan Santana and Tim Lincecum are the two who jump to mind immediately, although Johan has had elbow problems and velocity loss in the past couple seasons.
Investing a huge amount of money or top draft pick on a pitcher is putting a lot of eggs in a very fragile basket.
Also, quality pitching comes into the league pretty often. Every year, there are guys who will surprise you with dramatic comebacks (Cliff Lee) or dominate right out of the minors (Tim Lincecum a couple years ago).
Active teams can scour the wire looking for bargains and often get great production at little cost by playing matchups.
Lastly, good hitting comes into the league very, very seldom. Puny contact hitters do not suddenly become sluggers and most breakout candidates get snapped up far too early or for way too much, like Justin Upton last year and possibly this year.
You cannot expect to be the team that gets a Ryan Braun or Carlos Pena off the waiver wire. It is wise to invest in reliable hitters early, while snapping up a few "lottery tickets" in the last couple rounds or for a dollar if possible.
Question Two: How far do you trust your instincts?
That's a tough question to answer because everyone has different predilections. Believing that Jacoby Ellsbury and Jason Bay are going to have phenomenal years is not useful until you can translate that belief into quantifiable projections.
I would take a close look at the PECOTA projections for this year (subscriber only at baseballprospectus.com but totally worth it) and see if your projects seem reasonable. If they are on the high side, that's fine, trust your gut!
But here's the caveat: You should be trying to maximize value at every turn in the draft. So even if you think Jason Bay is worth of a second-round pick, you should note that his current average draft position (ADP) is 38th on ESPN.
As a rule, you should take a player as late as you possibly can to maximize your profit. If you take him round two, he HAS to have a huge year for you to break even. Note that you can only break even or lose value in this situation.
But if you can wait until round three and grab him, then you create a situation where he will most likely break even for you, and possibly even create excess value. That is how you win fantasy leagues.
Question Three: Do you nominate the player you want or nominate someone to make others spend their money?
This depends on who is in your league. If you know your opponents, then try to make them overpay for their favorite players.
For example, if one of your friends is a huge Yankees homer, nominate Derek Jeter early. He'll probably have, in his mind, plenty of money to spend to make sure Jeter is his.
Make sure he pays at least sticker price (that is, average draft price). If you get stuck with Jeter at less than that, well, now you have a bargain on your hands. It's win-win.
If you don't know your opponents, there are a couple strategies to take. Some try to nominate the guys they want early, believing that people will be loathe to overspend right away.
This is sometimes true but it can also be risky. Some avoid the players they want to try for a bargain later in the draft when people have less money to spend. Both can work but I usually try to nominate players who have big names but are, in my opinion, overrated.
That way, I can try to get people to overpay so I'll have a free hand later in the draft.
However, I usually don't go into a draft with any particular players I want. I have my projections and dollar amounts I'm willing to pay.
I never, ever go over my ceiling unless I have gotten outstanding bargains early in the draft and can afford to lock in production for an extra dollar or two.
Remember that you're not playing for sentimental value, you're playing to win. As far as fantasy goes, it doesn't matter what the name on the jersey says, what matters are the stats that the player puts up. Don't pay for a name; pay for stats.
Question Four: Homerism
Don't pay for a name; pay for stats. I know I just repeated myself, but it's equally relevant here. All of the players you named, with the exception of Drew, will likely be great this year.
But all that excellence is worthless if you overpaid and can't surround that core with complementary talent.
One of the great benefits of fantasy baseball is that it forces you to learn about players you normally would not care about.
It teaches you that the Pittsburgh Pirates aren't a complete black hole (Doumit and McClouth will be relevant), the Royals have some great young talent (Greinke, Soria, Butler, Gordon), and many of the Yankees are overrated (Jeter, Pettitte).
So take this as an opportunity to learn about new players and expand your range of baseball knowledge.
You can always cheer for your home team while watching them on TV. But it's the fantasy baseball fan's pleasure (and agony) of watching your home team play while secretly wishing that the other team's pitcher shuts them out for eight innings (only to have his bullpen blow the game).
I hope that this advice helps all of the budding fantasy players out there compete in their leagues. If any readers want fantasy advice, I'd be excited to write a fantasy mailbag once a week. So if you have any fantasy baseball questions, shoot me an email at: email@example.com
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