OK class, settle down and take your seat. My name is Mr. Finch and I want to welcome you to Fantasy Baseball 101. If you’re looking for Fantasy Baseball 102, you can register in the classroom at the end of the hall.
If you’ve never played or only recently started playing fantasy baseball, you’ve come to the right place. It was almost 19 years ago I played in my first fantasy baseball league and I still remember the first player I drafted, it was Kenny Lofton. He was a .300 hitter good for 100 runs and 60+stolen bases with double-digit power. At least that’s what the fantasy magazine said, or something to that effect. You know what I knew about him a month prior to that first draft…absolutely nothing. I took him based on the advice of a fantasy expert that had him ranked as one of the top 10 hitters.
Today things are much easier with hundreds of fantasy sites out there and information just a click away, but if you’re new to all this – all that information can be a bit overwhelming. Most things are geared towards the people who have been playing for years, but for the novice it’s hard to know where to start. That’s what I hope to help you with today, give you a starting point on what to concentrate on and what to ignore for now. Let’s begin, please open your text books to page 3.
LEAGUE TYPES AND SIZES
There are many types of leagues available today but I’m going to focus on the two basic types, H2H (head to head) and Roto (rotisserie). Roto is probably the easiest one for a beginner, but either format is fine to start with. In a Rotisserie League, fantasy teams are ranked from first to last in each statistical category. Points are then awarded according to how they finish in each category and are totaled to determine an overall score and place in the standings. In H2H your team will square off in a weekly matchup against another manager’s to see who can compile the best stats across a number of different categories. Each stat category counts as one game, with the win going to the team with the highest total in that category.
After deciding on the league type you will play in, you must determine the league size. I would recommend playing in a 12 team league. If you choose a league with more teams you’ll probably have a harder time as the talent pools gets rather thin. If you choose a league with fewer teams you’ll have more players to choose from, but I think this can be harmful as you get a false sense of a players value with so many rosterable players available on waivers.
As for where to play, I’d recommend Yahoo or someplace that is free. It’s your first dance and unless you get lucky you’re not going to finish on top, so there is no need to pay for this learning experience.
So in starting out, you’re looking for a 12 team roto or H2H league on a free site. The one thing not mentioned yet is you’re looking for a single year or Redraft league. This covers over 90% of the leagues you’ll see opening come spring time. You will see posts on message boards looking for owners to either take over a team or new people looking to start a keeper or dynasty league. Keeper leagues are just what they say, each year you keep a set number of players for a set number of years. Dynasty leagues are similar but usually keep most if not all of their players. Many of these leagues have extensive rules on how many years a player can be kept, rounds they are kept in, salaries for each player if applicable, and some kind of minor league system.
There are also specialty leagues such as AL or NL only leagues. These leagues just like keeper and dynasty leagues can be fun, but can be frustrating to beginners. You can try one of these if you like, but I recommend sticking with the basics in the beginning. Some new guys can be successful, but most times they fall on their face and quit; then the commissioner has to go and find somebody to take over the mess you left behind. Don’t be that guy.
Most standard leagues use a 5×5 scoring format. What’s 5×5? That means you use 5 scoring categories for hitters and 5 for pitchers. The categories are runs, home runs, RBIs (runs batted in), stolen bases & batting average for hitters and wins, saves, ERA (earned run average), WHIP (walks and hits to innings pitched) & strikeouts. Some custom leagues will vary from the scoring methods to the number of categories used.
Since most fantasy sites gear their rankings towards the standard 5×5 format, it’s best you stick to that before moving on to more advanced scoring methods.
PLAYERS AND RANKINGS
Now if you’re interested in playing fantasy baseball you’re probably a fan of the game. If you are you probably know some of the players and are familiar with your local or favorite team. That’s all well and good but knowing some players from a few teams is a far cry from knowing close to all the players from all 30 teams. Many sites either have or will have rankings for the 2014 season. I did my early rankings for 2014 which you can view here and the Assembly Crew will all be doing 2014 rankings over the next few months. Fantasy Rundown also has a full-page of rankings collected from numberous fantasy sites which you can also use. You can also go the old school route and buy a fantasy magazine, and if you do I recommend Lindy’s Fantasy Baseball Guide. I recommend the fantasy magazine as it gives a brief write-up of each player so you can get an idea of what each player has done and is expected to do. It’s also great bathroom material so if you’re in there for a while, why not read up on a few players.
Regardless of your personal preference for sites and research material, get familiar with the players. Looking at what a player is predicted to do is smart, but you should also see what they have done in the past. You’re not going to accomplish this feat over the next few months. Getting to know players, their past accomplishments and potential futures will take several years. You can cram for the exam quickly, but it takes time for all the facts to stick in your head long-term.
As for the players in the minors (and some will contradict this statement), I say ignore them for now. You may see a few high-profile names during your research that could make an impact this year such as Xander Bogaerts or George Springer; these are not the players I’m talking about. I’m talking about anybody that is in AA ball or lower. With the exception of a handful of players, these guys aren’t going to help you much this year. You’ve got enough on your plate getting to know all the current players in the majors, you don’t need the added headache of getting to know the name of a guy who may or may not be good enough to play at the major league level. Concentrate on what’s in front of you, there will be time in the years to come for minor league players.
This goes hand in hand with the players and rankings. Deciding what players to select and which round to take then is critical. Some players warrant a higher pick based upon the numbers they can give you regardless of the position they play. Position scarcity is something else to consider when deciding on who to take, but it shouldn’t be the deciding factor. Just because you need a shortstop doesn’t mean you should ignore that outfielder or starting pitcher that will give you better numbers.
Sticking with shortstops since I just mentioned them, you may have a late pick and decide you want to draft Troy Tulowitzki. The risk for injury withstanding he would make a fine choice, but what other choices do you have when it comes to that position. Looking at the SS position I see Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Ian Desmond next in line (regardless of the order you choose to put them in). Is taking Tulowitzki a wise move here with several players on the board with equal talent? And even if you don’t get one of those 4 players, what does the talent pool look like once they’re gone?
When preparing for a draft you have to consider the overall talent of the player as well as the position and depth of the position they play. Now being new nobody would blame you at taking a good player at a weaker position, but don’t let the position a player qualifies at or your need to fill a position override your choice when assessing what is available to you at the time. Come up with a plan for draft day, but don’t be afraid to deviate from said plan as nothing is written in stone. Also do a few mock drafts before the big day. Yahoo usually has mock drafts for different formats and team sizes as does couch managers and mock draft central. Participate in a few of these so you can get an idea what other people are looking at and where they are taking them.
You should have a general idea by now about the players and where you plan to take them. You may even have some notes written down like all good students do when they study. Now its draft day and it’s time to put all that knowledge to work. Regardless of the site you choose for your league, they will have the players ranked according to their own experts. This order may slightly differ from the ones you were using earlier if you were using rankings from a different site, and that’s fine as it’s good to have different opinions. For your draft though, I want you to stick to the default rankings on your site. You can use the ones that you studied for research as a second opinion, but overall stick to the ones in front of you in the draft room.
Also don’t stray to far from the default rankings, at least for the first 10-12 round. You’re going to read a lot of articles before the season on a number of topics and players. You’re also going to see a good number of players hyped making them seem better than they are. Sometimes there is some weight behind those arguments, but you don’t know enough right now to determine which ones to follow and which ones are just smoke. The early stages of the draft are the most critical so you should stick to the top ranked players. If you have to scroll down 50 or more players in round 5 to find a guy that someone pumped up in an article you read earlier, not only aren’t you getting good value but you’re passing on some very good players that could probably help you more. There will be exceptions to this rule in the future, but that’s covered in fantasy baseball 102.
Now when it comes to your pick, don’t be afraid to pick a player you don’t know too much about. As Tommy Landseadel mentioned to me in an example while discussing this, if given a choice between Jimmy Rollins and Everth Cabrera the novice and even casual players will inevitably choose the player they are more familiar with; In this case it’s Rollins. Now picking the aging veteran isn’t a bad move, but there is very little upside to picking a player on the downside of their career. If you’re trying to decide between two players who are evenly ranked at the same position, consider taking the younger player that you know little about. Just because he doesn’t have the name recognition doesn’t mean he can’t perform at the same level or higher that the name brand player he was ranked next to.
Finally, we all love to root for players from our own real life teams, but don’t load up your roster with these players. Sure it makes things more fun, but if your real life team does horrible so will your fantasy team so diversify your roster. In addition, just because a guy is a good ball player in real life doesn’t mean he is a good option for fantasy. Learn to separate the baseball fan from the fantasy owner when selecting players.
PATIENCE EARLY ON
As good as the players you’ve selected are or could be, not all of them will come charging out of the gate. Each year dozens of high-profile players and early picks fail to produce early on leading some owners to cut bait and either drop or trade them for pennies on the dollar. Last April Jason Kipnis batted .200 with 1 home run and 4 RBIs, Ryan Zimmerman batted .226 and David Price had a 5.21 ERA. These aren’t the numbers you envisioned when you drafted these guys and when players get off to a rough start, your first reaction might be to cut bait or move them for someone who is producing. In some instances that might be the correct move, but in my world any player drafted with one of your first 10 picks deserves the benefit of the doubt. These players were ranked high before the draft for a reason so odds are, it’s just a slow start and they should return to form soon.
Dropping one of these players is not an option, don’t give your opponent a freebie. I know it’s frustrating but outright releasing a high-profile player like this will infuriate the other owners who don’t have the #1 waiver claim. Like I said above, trading one of these players can be warranted, but only if you’re getting full value. If you’re not getting a player of similar quality in return then you’re only helping your opponent. Speaking of fair trade value, that brings me to the next topic.
TRADES AND CON ARTISTS
There will be an individual or sometimes multiple persons in your league that will be looking to capitalize on your misfortune. Once they realize you’re frustrated with a slumping player (and sometimes sooner), they will come at you with a trade proposal or two. If you don’t look at the names of the players and just look at the pretty numbers they’ve put up so far it may seem fair, but we all know that old expression “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is”. There are several kinds of trades and people to be aware of here.
The first is the lowball traded guy. He may see your slumping Kipnis and offer you what may seem like a good deal when you look at the numbers but it’s far from fair. Mark Ellis batted .342 in April with 2 HRs and 11 RBIs. An offer of Ellis and some other hot generic waiver wire guy seems like a nice offer going by what they are doing now, but in reality he’s trying to hose you and unload his hot start guy; hoping you don’t know any better and will accept.
Next is the ambulance chaser. He waits for players on a team to go down and swoops in with an offer that nobody in their rightful mind would accept if both players were healthy.
There’s also the two for one guy (or three for one). He’ll offer you multiple players at positions you may or may not need in order to land one of your studs. Quantity for quality usually doesn’t work in your favor (unless your team is stacked with talent and you’re looking to solidify things for the playoffs). These people will do everything in their power to convince you that you’re getting the better end of the deal…don’t believe it; they are only looking out for their best interest.
There are other examples but I think you get the picture. Not all of these people are bad trade partners, and some of them might be willing to negotiate. Unless the trade falls heavily in your favor you should almost never consider the first offer. And if you’re unsure, submit your question to us. Someone here would be more than willing to give you an unbiased opinion.
PAY ATTENTION TO OTHER PLAYERS, NOT JUST THE ONES ON YOUR TEAM
Over the first month of the season you should know more about the players on your team than anyone else, but just because you don’t own a player doesn’t mean that you don’t need to know what they are doing. This isn’t just for new people, this advice is for all fantasy players. All to often we as owners tend to ignore or overlook the accomplishments of other players when they’re not right in front of us on our rosters. We tend to forget some players and unless they are making headlines dismiss them until we come across their names in some article. Looking at your opponents players in H2H leagues is a good practice, and for roto leagues looking the teams they’ve assembled is just as useful.
This statement also holds true with monitoring players on waivers. You’re going to experience injuries and not every player you draft is going to live up to expectations. You are going to have to make improvements, and other than a few trades most improvements will come from the waiver wire. Now you will read countless articles on players throughout the season and among them there will be some on hot players or trendy pickups. There are usually the players that can help you for a short period or may be a long-term solution. Do your research and determine if one of these players are for you. A shortcut would be to use the most viewed players trend page over at CBS fantasy. Most players listed here are being viewed because they had a big game the night before or for recent injury or trade news. In between there will be players mixed in that are just hot right now, but odds are they haven’t had the pleasure of being written about or were just recently featured. Take a look here daily, maybe you’ll catch a player before your league mates notice him.
PLAY OUT THE SEASON
Sometime around the end of July or the beginning of August fantasy football will be starting out. This is also the time you should be able to determine what your chances are for the rest of the season. Many owners who see their chances as slim or nonexistent call it a season and move on to the next league. A few will abandon their teams without ever looking back, and while most will play out the season their hearts won’t be in it. They will go through the motions of setting their lineup but will do very little beyond that. Don’t be that guy.
Continue to monitor the waiver wire and keep track of players that get hot in the second half. If you picked a roto league see if there are a few categories you can pick up a point or two in. If you decided to play H2H, fight for each weeks matchups and play the role of spoiler. The other teams may have playoff hopes but the road to the playoffs doesn’t have to go through your house. The added experience you’ll gain over those final few months can be a valuable asset and no quit attitude is a trait people in keeper leagues like to see in an owner.
I’ve said this early on but it bares repeating, you’re not going to learn everything your first year. I’ve been playing for years and I still learn new things each year from different statistics to judge players by to strategies in different formats. You’re never done learning, and anyone that tells you that they know everything is full of hot air. Take these first few years with a grain of salt regardless of how well you do. If you win your first year just remember, even a blind squirrel can occasionally find an acorn. There are many more things I can bring up and advice I can give but like the title says, this is fantasy baseball 101. For those lessons you’ll have to wait until next semester when I post fantasy baseball 102.
And when the season ends in September…you’re not done yet. That’s right, baseball doesn’t end in September for fantasy players. I covered all that information in a previous class call Fantasy Baseball is Over. Now What? You can go back and read that now or bookmark it for future reference when the time comes. I’ll be teaching my next class Fantasy Baseball 102 shortly. Until then, I’ll leave you to do your homework.