StrategyNovember 25, 2006

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Confessions of a Mediocre Fantasy Player

By Muneer Ahmad

The World Series is finally behind us, and Cardinals fans around the land rub our faces in their team’s unlikely title. For fantasy players though, the work starts right after the season ends. If you finish first, you need to strategize to keep your hold on the crown. If you finish below that, you begin formulating a plan to knock that smug doofus off his high horse.

For every first place finish, there are ten or more runners-up. It’s a harsh reality, but not all of us are collecting trophies while humiliating friends, family, and coworkers on a regular basis. This article will go over a few of the reasons why mediocre fantasy players stay that way. I have to admit that I have been among these unwashed hordes over the past couple of seasons. I have learned from my mistakes, however, and now you can benefit from the blood, sweat, and tears I have shed learning the following lessons.

1. Not being aware of league settings: This is one of the cardinal sins in fantasy. There is no such thing as standard settings. Each league will have a quirk or two that the serious fantasy player can exploit in order to win. It could be as basic as having an owner who covets members of his hometown team, and will make foolish trades to get those players, or it could be that your league uses OPS instead of Batting Average. It’s good to know these things prior to the draft.

2. Not preparing for the draft: Not researching for your draft is like going into an exam expecting to learn the material while taking the test. If a manager relies on commercial magazines, he is working with data that is months old. A lot of fantasy magazines go to press in December or January. As a result, there is no accounting for injuries, late signings, and position battles in spring training. It behooves you to know these things. Don’t be the person at the draft who takes a player who just lost his job to a hot new rookie.

3. Being a homer: This ties in a little with #1. Fantasy is not the time to get sentimental and try to get as many of your hometown players on the team as possible. This sort of strategy is analogous to investing all of your money in one volatile stock. Diversification is the key to staying ahead of the competition when the bumpy patches in the season hit your squad.

4. Drafting one category players: There are some who may disagree with this statement. However, I have found that these one-category players often hurt you in more categories than they help. Take Scott Podsednik for example. His 40 stolen bases in 2006 were nice, but his home run, RBI, and batting average numbers most certainly dragged you down. Ditto for closers who get saves, but have wretched WHIP and ERA numbers. It’s simply not worth it to concentrate on winning one category at the expense of three others.

5. Deviating from your strategy at the draft: Ideally, you want to have a general idea of what needs you will address as the draft goes on. For example, this year, I drafted only hitters in the first ten rounds, and then addressed pitching. No matter what, you have to stick to your strategy at the draft. You must have enough faith in your skills as a manager not to get caught up in position runs. Inevitably, each draft has a run or two on closers. Participating in these panicked periods of your draft inevitably leads you to choose a player at a draft spot that is too high for his worth. Remember that new players emerge every season and that your team will likely look quite different at the end of the season from the one you drafted.

6. Making early season panic trades: I think making trades in the first month of the season is a bad idea for a couple of reasons. First, you don’t have a proper sample size of performance upon which to base your decision. For example, Johnny Damon was mediocre to start the season, and I ended up trading him for Kelvim Escobar, who seemed to be having a breakout year. Fast forward to the end of the season. Damon put up his usual steady numbers, while Escobar underperformed and languished on the DL for part of the season.

7. Overestimating “name” players. Who was the better second baseman this season: Marcus Giles or Dan Uggla? Chances are that most Giles owners held on to him, waiting for him to get hot in the second half. It is also a strong possibility that Uggla languished on your league’s waiver wire while other owners waited to see if he could keep up his production. While I do not advocate giving up on star players too early, it is essential to learn when to cut a marquee player and pick up that hot rookie. Establish a benchmark of some sort to help take some of the guesswork out of when to cut a player. If your star player has dragged your team down for a month, and there is a more than suitable replacement on the waiver wire, take a chance. This strategy would not work as well in a keeper league, but it is perfect for one-season leagues.

8. Becoming emotionally invested in players: This is similar to point #7, but different enough to warrant a separate discussion. Who among us hasn’t said: “X was my top draft pick. He just has to come around. There’s no way I’ll trade him.”? Just because you had the misfortune to draft a bum in the first round, that doesn’t warrant compounding the mistake and sending him out there every day until he breaks out of his slump. There are definitely times that a player turns it on soon after you trade him. But, chances are that if you do your homework, you can get another guy who will be more productive, mostly due to the fact that he’s actually producing stats instead of waiting to break out of a slump.

9. Basing trade decisions on a player’s draft position: Certain managers seem to think that there’s no way that they can trade their second round pick for a ninth round pick. The logic here is inherently flawed. Decisions should be based on results. To back to my Giles/Uggla example. If an owner offered you Dan Uggla for Giles straight up right before the All-Star break, you’d be a fool not to take it. Giles has an injury history and was vastly underperforming, while Uggla was arguably the #2 second baseman in the National League. Fantasy baseball is all about results. If you win the crown, no one’s going to look back and say, “Yeah, but he traded his first rounder for X’s eight rounder.” All that matters is putting the best team possible out there.

10. Paying too much attention to external sources: It’s good to keep up on developments in the baseball world, but if you’re letting the experts do your thinking for you, it’s going to be a long season. Different sites and magazines will invariably have contradictory advice from time to time. This advice is meant to help you make informed decisions. If you’re mulling a trade offer, think about it for a second before you want input on “My Pujols for his Bagwell?” from the Cafe. Part of fantasy baseball that is so enjoyable is the strategic aspect of it. By letting others make decisions for you, you’re passing up on an integral part of the fantasy sports experience. Take a chance once in a while. Make some risky moves. That’s the fun of fantasy sports. At the end of the day, you don’t really lose all that much except pride and maybe a few bucks.

Well, there you have it. Ten nuggets from me to you. Now get out there and win next season!

Muneer Ahmad has been crazy about baseball ever since he watched a Royals-White Sox game back in 1991 to avoid having to go to bed. He has been actively playing fantasy baseball since 2003. You can catch up with Muneer in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of reenum.
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