By: Nate Leer
Over the last few seasons, I have had some pretty good success in the fantasy baseball leagues I am in. However, I know there is always room for improvement. To that end, I have been working on a few things that I think can make my teams better. Most of these points will also apply to other sports, particularly basketball and hockey where owners set line-ups every day.
5 Things I can do (and maybe you can too) to be a better fantasy baseball player:
- Patience: In other words, taking the long view & not overreacting in the short term. In past years I have been too quick to pull the trigger on moves to swap out under-performing players I drafted for the latest hot batter or pitcher. While owners have to be active mining for hot free agents, giving up on players too soon can be a hazard. The most active owners often look back at players they had for a stretch that ended up doing good things on another team. If this happens a lot, the owner is not a great talent evaluator but rather an impatient manager who is hurting themselves in the long run. I have been trying hard this year to stick with players I like even if there are players available that are hotter right at that time. I am also watching to see if other owners are making this mistake so I can jump on players that will come around with big months later in the season. A player such as Prince Fielder has no obvious reasons for a major regression so holding on to him through early rough spots is bound to pay off in the long run. Sure enough, Prince is starting to heat up just as many owners are giving up on him.
- Pay attention to the standings: Most fantasy owners realize the advantage of paying attention to the schedule for each of their players to play match-ups, two-start weeks and recognize players who have strings of easy or tougher upcoming series. However, also paying attention to the standings can inform plans for later in a season. The prefect example this year is Jose Fernandez. As long as the Marlins stay postseason relevant, at or over .500, they will probably continue to try to manage Fernandez’s innings so he is able to pitch through September and potentially into October. So far the club has done a good job of limiting his number of starts and number of innings per start. This makes him a little less valuable in the short term but should allow him to contribute in the fantasy playoffs. I recentl contemplated trading Fernandez in one league because I am in good playoff position but was worried Fernandez may be shut down around Labor Day. I eventually decided to keep hom since the Marlins are remaining competitive in the wild card hunt.
- Planning: This goes hand-in-hand with the “taking the long-view” point above because you have to have the patience to see a plan to fruition. The plan I am struggling with right now centers around Dee Gordon. He is in the midst of an 80-game suspension and I have him in two leagues. I acquired him in two opposite ways – in one league he was one of my two keepers hitters and in the other he was cut and I swooped him up. But those are sunk costs so let’s focus on the future. My plan is to pretty much punt SBs until Dee gets back. I am hoping he is pissed and rested so he steals a base a game after he returns. The tough part is not sacrificing players via cuts or trades just to chase steals in the short term. Basically I have one roster spot for steals, it isn’t producing, so I need to be competitive until it turns around. The thing I like most about this plan is that with it being a suspension situation, Dee will be completely gone and then completely back (healthy and rested but not rusty after his minor league stint to finish the suspension) at a known date. It won’t be a case of an injured or struggling player in the line-up but not producing – I hope..
- Double-checking long-held beliefs about players – mine and others: I recently had a buddy point out that Jason Hammel is currently averaging close to a K per inning. I told him that I didn’t think that was sustainable – or his sub-3 ERA. I thought that Hammel had never averaged a K per inning but my buddy countered that Hammel averaged a K per inning over his career. I decided to double-check the numbers; turns out both of us were wrong. Turns out Hammel had more strike outs than innings pitch last year. However, that is the first time in the majors that he has done that and many years he has been well below a K/inning. The moral of the story: I could have just held to my belief that Hammel was not at all a K/inning guy OR (just as bad) changed my mind and taken my buddy’s word for it that he was a consistent K/inning pitcher. Either one is incorrect and could have led to bad decisions down the road – drafting Hammel too high next year, not even considering him if he does become available during the season, etc. I need to never assume the I KNOW something but be willing to go back to the data to verify even my most strongly held beliefs.
- Playing the opponent: This approach has been highlighted in one of the leagues I am in by two owners who have taken approaches on the opposite ends of the pitching strategy spectrum. One has punted saves in favor of more starting pitchers while the other has gone all-in on saves while trying to win ERA and WHIP as well. These extreme tactics show the value in being able to analyze and exploit an owner’s strategy. Consider a more common approach to pitching: streaming pitchers to pile up Ks and Ws. If you are playing someone using the quantity strategy and there are any loose saves available in your league’s free agent pool, snap those guys up and maybe an elite set-up guy also to help with ERA and WHIP. Or cut a borderline SP with a tough match-up that week in favor of a hot hitter to swap with a struggling bat in your line-up. By letting an opponent blow his wad on very average pitchers and countering with just your studs and strength in other areas, you can win the week. Conversely, you may take the tact of trying to beat the other owner to the punch by getting one or two of the best available 2-start pitchers that week. The key is to have diagnosed your upcoming opponent’s strategy and decided on a plan (see point #4) to counteract it before the week starts.
So there it is – my “work” for this summer. Do you have any other pointers to share? At Fan Sports Lists, we always like to hear from our readers whether they agree, disagree or want to add to our discussions. So please, tell us your secrets!