StrategyFebruary 5, 2009

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Use the Rules

By Drew Szczerba

Every year, dozens of fantasy sites offer some variation of the time-honored advice, “Know your league rules,” and rightfully so. Knowing the rules inside and out is a given for any competitive team, however if you want to do more than merely be competitive, you must move past a cursory knowledge of the rules. If you want to win, you need to use the rules.

Using the rules effectively means taking advantage of every change, variation, and modification to your league constitution. In fact, anything that deviates from “standard scoring” can have a substantial impact on player values. Some examples are more obvious than others. Anyone and everyone knows a league that uses on-base percentage (OBP) instead of batting average (BA) is a boon to the value of Adam Dunn. Consequently, you’ll never be able to steal him in the fifth round of an OBP league even though he’ll likely go in the seventh round of most standard drafts. Fortunately, most examples are much more subtle, and therefore, much more easily exploited.

Take a player who’s on everyone’s radar such as Matt Wieters; you want him, you need him, but where should you draft him? The pluses are evident. He has the potential to be a top-3 catcher this year. He can hit for both power and average. The minuses, however, are also apparent. He’s a rookie. He may not begin the year as the starter. He’s never even seen a Triple-A pitch. Wieters is a classic high-risk/high-reward player, and according to his ADP is going in the 12th round of a 12 team draft. What should you do?
• Should you “overpay” and take him in the ninth round to make sure you get the player you want?
• Should you take him in the 12th round if he’s still there?
• Should you pass on Wieters altogether?

In order to answer to those questions, you should first review your league rules and ask yourself the following:
• How many total offensive players can I start?
• How deep is my bench?
• Are lineup changes made daily or weekly?

How many total offensive players can I start?
The number of total offensive players started is critical to the value of each of those players. If your starting lineup consists of the standard nine positions (C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, OF, OF, OF, Util), the catcher position is more heavily weighted, and consequently more valuable, than if your league starts more offensive players (say C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, CI, MI, OF, OF, OF, OF, OF, Util, Util). Under the first scenario, Wieters is one of just nine starters and his stats would have a greater impact on your team’s total offensive output. Put differently, if you gamble on Wieters and he delivers, you’ll be better rewarded under the first scenario. In this case, I’d be willing to take a chance on Wieters in the ninth or tenth round, whereas, under the second scenario, I would not draft him until around the 13th.

How deep is my bench?
Some leagues require you to start all of your players (i.e. “no bench”), while others allow you to reserve almost as many players as you start. If I’m in a “no bench” league, Matt Wieters won’t be on my team. Why? Because I don’t want to be forced to drop him. There’s a decent chance Gregg Zaun begins the season as the Orioles catcher, forcing Wieters owners to wait. If I have more than five bench spots to stash him, that’s not a problem. However, if I have less than three, my options are dangerously limited should anything go wrong. I would not be able to withstand more than one or two slow starters in my lineup before I have to make a tough decision. Unless the struggling player is someone who can safely be dropped, it’s a situation worth avoiding.

Are lineup changes made daily or weekly?
Suppose Zaun does begin the season as the Orioles catcher, and he keeps the job throughout April. In early May, Wieters gets the call but he does not immediately become an everyday starter. Instead, the Orioles decide to platoon both catchers, and, much to everyone’s dismay, it will be another month before Wieters has a full-time gig. During that time, his owners will cringe every time Orioles manager Dave Trembley declares “Wieters is our guy, but we don’t want to rush him,” or “It’s only a matter of time before he’s our everyday catcher,” or “I have Zaun in my head-to-head league.”

If you can make daily roster changes, you will be able to spot start Wieters. He will be of some value to you even before he plays everyday (or almost everyday since he’s a catcher). However, if lineups can only be changed weekly, he is essentially useless until he becomes a full-time player. You can’t start Wieters for two or three games a week while most catchers are playing five or six. You’ll be at a significant disadvantage in all of the counting categories. This is not to say that he shouldn’t be drafted in weekly transaction leagues; he certainly should. It merely suggests that if you’re drafting in such a league and can’t decide weather or not to pull the trigger, you can wait with confidence for one more round.

So where should Wieters be drafted again? There are plenty of rankings, mock drafts and cheat sheets available to help answer that question. The real question, however, is where should he be drafted in your league? To answer that, you need to use the rules.

Let your league mates draft based on general information alone. A better strategy is to use that information as a starting point. Then analyze all of the rules to create league-specific player values. Depending upon how unique your league setup is, these values can vary significantly. But even in fairly standard leagues, every rule is an opportunity to gain an edge.

Drew is a born Yankees fan who, not surprisingly, doesn’t particularly care for the Red Sox or Mets. He does, however, have a soft spot in his heart for most small market franchises. He gets an uneasy feeling every time the Yankees overpay for the latest big name, and fears they may someday begin to acquire whole teams. Drew has been playing both fantasy baseball and football for 10 years. You can catch up with Drew in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name Case Ace.
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