I’ve had this question for a long time and it wasn’t until today, for some reason, that I realized how easy it would be to answer. A buddy of mine and I used to wonder who would win in a fantasy baseball league in which you drafted only players from your favorite teams. Extending that question further, which MLB team would win if they played in a Roto Fantasy Baseball league?
Here’s how it worked. I took each team’s totals in the standard 10 categories (R, HR, SB, RBI, AVG, W, SV, K, ERA, WHIP) and ranked each team and gave them a point total 1-30 in each category with 30 points for the best in the league at each category (Ties split points). I then summed the point totals and ranked each team by total point value.
Next I scaled the fantasy points total into the equivalent value of real wins, which turned out to be much more widely distributed than I was hoping for which led me to simply rank each by fantasy wins and real wins and then take the difference between the two. Teams with negative differences do worse in fantasy baseball and teams with positive differences do better in fantasy baseball.
Here are the results:
I’ll call your attention to the values in red. 27 teams had fantasy win ranks within six places of their real win rankings. The exceptions are the Brewers who would much rather play fantasy baseball and the Reds and Athletics who are very glad that they do not have to. This speaks to the Brewers as a very traditional stat heavy team and the Reds and A’s as teams who accumulate their wins through things like defense, walks, etc.
I’m not sure if we can take too much from this, but if you were wondering how your team would stack up if you drafted them all, this is how it would look. Yes, Tim Jennings, I would have won.
Around this time of year, serious and casual fantasy baseball players are getting ready for their preseason drafts. Fantasy sports as a whole are a billion dollar industry and one of the more popular topics of conversation for sports fans young and old. While I’m not a fantasy baseball nut, I’m a baseball fanatic and have a pretty good knowledge of what it takes to win your league.
Here are a few tips to help you prepare for your upcoming draft.
Skim the Rankings
As you’re no doubt aware, every website in the world publishes fantasy baseball rankings and many publish more than one set. I can think of as least ten non-fantasy projection systems that could also be used in a fantasy baseball context. Needless to say, there is a lot of information out there regarding how other people think players are going to perform in a given season.
But don’t pay too much attention to these rankings. For one, there is a lot of uncertainty in predicting a baseball season, so saying a player is going to be number 6 at their position is really like saying that player is most likely to be somewhere between 10th and 2nd. No ranking system, human or computer, can make precise choices for you.
Yet the rankings are great for giving you a sense of how players are most likely to perform. You want to see that the conventional wisdom is that a group of players is expected to be about equal to each other and better than a second group of players.
Use the rankings for broad decision making, but don’t get bogged down in the details, it’s a waste.
There are a lot of sites that keep depth charts (MLB Depth Charts is my favorite) and you should review them. Playing time is often one of the most overlooked aspects of fantasy baseball. One of the best ways to get ahead from the beginning is to use late round draft picks on players who you think will play more than everyone else does. For example, going into 2012, Andy Dirks looked like he was going to be a part time player. But if you knew better and saw how terrible Young would be in LF defensively and how terrible Boesch would be overall, you would have known that Dirks was a buy low candidate who was going to be a big producer for the Tigers once May rolled around.
This is especially true with relief pitchers and closers. Know the players who are first in line for saves after a team’s closer. Those are great guys to target in the period immediately after a draft and early in the season. If you’re well informed about who is waiting the wings, you’ll be ready to pick them up before your opponents.
Think about Context
On this site and on many other sabermetric sites, we try to provide context neutral analysis. For example, Buster Posey was about as good as Ryan Braun last season on offense if we try to remove context factors like ballpark. However, that is the opposite of what you want to do in fantasy baseball. In real baseball analysis, we talk about how certain players are helped or hurt by ballpark and teammates. In fantasy baseball, you want to use those factors to your advantage.
In real life, Miguel Cabrera gets a lot of RBI because Austin Jackson and Andy Dirks got on base a lot and he shouldn’t get extra credit for driving in a lot of runs because he had a lot of guys on base, but in fantasy baseball you want guys like that. You want to snatch up players who are in ideal environments. Players who play in ballparks that favor their skills or who hit in a good spot in the lineup are good targets. Think about the defense behind your pitchers.
All of these context factors can help you win. Don’t pay big for Buster Posey because he’s awesome, avoid him because most people perceive him to be the best catcher in baseball even if it doesn’t translate to fantasy baseball style numbers because he plays at AT&T Park.
Have a Plan for Injuries
The best advice I can give you is to be ready for injuries. They are a simple fact of life for the fantasy sports player, but you can be ready for them. Never leave yourself without options. On the pitching side of things, this doesn’t matter much because you’re going to have many players who play the same position, but on offense, it does.
After you fill in your starting lineup, grab players who fill in according to how much it would hurt to lose your starter at that position. Grab a fourth outfielder right away because that one player can back up three spots. Try to pick up a player with multiple eligibility to back up on the corners or catcher like Mike Napoli. You don’t want to have your best player get hurt in April and have to fill that spot from the waiver wire. What you want to do is fill the void with a bench bat and have waiver player fill in on your bench.
Have a Plan, Period
The best way to have a good draft is to know what you’re going to do and know which players you like. If you get to the draft room and you’re picking first, be ready for that. Same for if you’re in the middle or if you’re at the end. Know how you want to draft based on your position. Are you going for the best player available no matter what or do you like to have a position based strategy? Do you want to grab two elite players at the same position and use them as trade bait later? Know the kind of player you are and be ready for it.
Finally, the best thing you can do is know more about baseball than everyone else in the room. It may sound simple, but it will help. For example, if you know which top prospects are going to see a lot of playing time in 2013 and your opponents don’t, you have big advantage. Imagine if you had drafter Trout last year in the 14th round when most of your buddies were looking to grab him at the very end.
Any time you can know more about a player or a team, do it.
In general, prepare for your draft by being informed widely without focusing too much on fantasy baseball coverage itself. You win your league by drafting players who will over perform the expectations of the group either by playing better or by playing more than everyone else thought. Be ready for contingencies and good luck.
Feel free to post questions in the comments section unless you’re in my league, in which case, I recommend drafting Justin Masterson.
Over the course of this offseason, particularly after the first of the year when more free agents have signed, I’ll be writing fantasy baseball rankings and predictions to help you win your league. But today, I’d like to offer a strategy primer. This isn’t what players to draft; it is how to draft, period.
I’ll assume most people don’t play in a league that doesn’t utilize an auction and most of your leagues are standard 5×5 with traditional categories.
A lot of strategy will depend on where you pick in the draft when we’re talking about early picks, but once we get 10 plus rounds into it, that distinction melts away. I’ll offer some broad rules below, but first, I want to make a couple points in general. First, use sabermetrics to prepare. Fantasy baseball might glorify more tradition statistics, but sabermetrics will help you judge over and under performers. High and low BABIP can tell you something. Dramatically different walk or strikeout rates might explain something else. Use these things to determine if you should buy low or sell high.
Second, don’t draft names, draft performance. Don’t get caught up in someone’s history, go for what you think will happen in the year for which you’re drafting. Draft Adam LaRoche if you think he’ll outperform Pujols next season.
Early on it your draft, don’t get cute. Don’t go for the person you think might have a breakout season, draft safe players. Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera, etc. In the early rounds, get someone you can count on. There’s nothing worse than playing a hunch and drafting someone who bombs out instead of drafting someone you can count on even if they don’t have the best numbers from the year before.
A lot of people will tell you take the best player available, but I don’t recommend it. You should draft the best players at the worst position. There are a lot of good first basemen and outfielders, but very few good second basemen. Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia aren’t as good as Joey Votto, but you might think about drafting them higher because the difference between Cano and Marco Scutaro is much larger than the one between Votto and, let’s say, Freddie Freeman. Votto is the better player, but you have to get a second basemen eventually, so make sure you think about position depth when drafting.
Draft Elite Pitchers Too Early
Another typical piece of fantasy advice is not to draft top starters too early, but you should. Grab Verlander and Kershaw or Felix Hernandez a round early. You’re going to want a couple elite arms and this is the best way to handle it. Get them early and pay for it by losing out on a position player. You’re taking on some injury risk, but the reward will be worth it.
Draft Too Many Closers
One of the easiest things to do in April is to find saves. Closers and relievers are volatile. Teams will switch closers a lot during the season and you can draft proven saves-getters and trade them early. Get Papelbon and trade him for something you need. Closers are a great trade asset and you can outsmart the field and pick up saves on the waiver wire.
Add Pitchers Early
Draft lots of position players and drop them for pitchers in early April. You can only play so many position players every day, but you can rotate your pitchers in and out of the lineup throughout the week. Drop your ineffective subs and pick up pitchers on hot streaks.
There’s no secret to winning your fantasy league other than being smart and lucky, but these are some good tips. Draft reliability, think about position, draft great pitchers early, draft too many closers and trade them, and add hot starters in April. Do this, and you’ll be on your way.