There aren’t a lot of books written about fantasy baseball. There are plenty of annuals that can help you prepare (Bill James Handbook, the Baseball Forecaster, Baseball Prospectus), but in terms of full-length books, they’re few and far between. The last one that I thoroughly enjoyed was Fantasyland, by Sam Walker. Now, nine-time champion Larry Schechter has written Winning Fantasy Baseball, and I was eager to dive in. What follows are highlights of the information I read in his book, and how they could apply to my own game.
“It’s all about value.”
This is the primary takeaway from Schechter’s book. Every draft is about getting the most value that you can. I was highly amused when he gave a list of maybe 25 strategies that are “tried and true” from the industry, such as “avoid players who had breakouts and are overpriced,” and “don’t spend on players without a track record.” I’ve read about every strategy he listed, and I’ve utilized many of them in constructing my own draft strategies. However, Schechter insists that these firm rules aren’t the point. As he puts it, “If done properly, player projections take into account all relevant factors.” Those injury risks like Tulo and maybe even Harper need to be discounted in your projected value because you can’t rely on 550+ AB. Jose Fernandez’s youth, first-year success, and potential signs of a sophomore slump need to be factored into his draft value for 2014. Look at whatever factors you believe in, and make them part of your final valuation. Every player has a specific value in your projections and pro/con lists, and you need to find it.
My Take: When ranking players, I like to use tiers at every position. I also do a ranking of all players. However, when I see other rankings from friends or publications, I pick apart their high ranking of injury-risk players, like Matt Kemp for 2014. I think to myself, “You consider him a top-5 OF? Are you nuts? He may not play enough to be worth it!” In my personal valuation system, I put an emphasis on reducing injury risk, at least for the upper echelon of players. There’s no way I’d use a first round pick on Kemp, and maybe not even a second round pick, due to his injury history.
“Not necessarily discount, but profit.”
Why does a player’s specific value matter? Because in the draft, you need to maximize your profit. How do you do that? You must stick to your values and never (or almost never) go over that value. If you buy a top 1B for $30, and a lot of elite 1B are going for over $30, then you should feel good, like you got one at a discounted price, right? Not if your projected value is under $30, or even exactly $30. Schechter states it’s okay to pay full price sometimes, but in general you want to maximize your profit, signing players below your value for them. If you pay full dollar every time, you won’t come out ahead, and your team won’t succeed. You do have to pay attention to your league’s own trends to a degree — but again, that’s something you should factor into your values as much as possible.
My Take: Last year in the first year of a dynasty league (up to 5-year contracts), I decided I really wanted Cano. I didn’t have him in any other leagues, and I was going to pay nearly any price, “within reason.” I ended up getting him at $38. At the end of the year, he was definitely a top-10 hitter, and he seemed like a “discount” compared to Trout and Cabrera, who both went for over $45. But there were many players who did nearly as well and who cost a lot less. Other top 2B scored at least 90% of what Cano did, but their salaries were in the $20-30 range. There was no profit in what I projected for Cano and what I paid for him.
“Balance in your roster is important.”
The concept of balance doesn’t apply to points leagues, but in roto formats it’s essential. There’s no need to go overboard in any one category, hoarding a stat when you can’t gain any more standings points from it. If you own Billy Hamilton and project him for 75 SB, and you project that it will take about 150 SB to win the category, then you shouldn’t also target Michael Bourn and Emilio Bonifacio. Netting 220 SB is unnecessary when 155 SB gets you the same amount of points in the standings. Also, don’t simply take on extra speedsters or closers on the assumption that you can trade that surplus. Odds are you won’t necessarily get equal value in exchange for them, let alone come out ahead.
My Take: I overlooked Schechter’s emphasis on not overdoing SB last year. When I got offered a trade that included Leonys Martin, I believed I was getting a good value on the surface. In terms of the two players I gave up and the two I got back, I felt I came out ahead; I also simply liked both of the acquired players more than the ones I traded. Martin could maybe help me catch the #1 team in SB, or I could turn around and trade one of my other speedsters later, if needed. However, I should’ve looked at the balance of my team before making that decision. There wasn’t a great chance I’d reach the #1 team, and the gap between me and the #3 team was large enough that adding Martin was simply SB overkill. Losing some — really any — HR in that trade wasn’t the smart move. I should’ve kept the bit of power edge I gave up.
“Put in the work to win.”
The previous points I cover have one major factor in common: they require time and effort. Schechter makes it abundantly clear that you need to make projections yourself (or at least actively tweak someone else’s for your own purpose). Then you have to calculate players’ values. Then you have to know enough about the general market to find the potential profit targets compared to your own values. When making roster moves, you need to be aware of your team needs and calculate how a move affects your target for a stat. It boils down to putting in the man hours to get the work done. You can’t win a league by purchasing a $7 magazine at your local bookstore, copying their values or rankings, and then heading to your draft. Being fully prepared before your draft is important.
My Take: I have some casual family/friends leagues, and I admittedly don’t put enough time and effort into them to do as well as I could each year. However, my few favorite leagues earn probably 85% of my fantasy baseball time and effort, and I do better in them, even though it’d be easier to dominate the casual leagues. My basic rankings and draft prep only take me so far. When I get into the specifics of a league and look for key values based on a league’s format, I do much better. My in-season moves are more numerous and more thought out. I put in the time and effort, and I reap the rewards with more top-3 finishes and championships.
Just Read the Book.
There’s so much more to learn in Larry Schechter’s Winning Fantasy Baseball that I can’t cover here. From his thoughts on position scarcity to presenting two methods of valuing players to using a draft curve in your values, the information he gives you will make you analyze your own approach to the game. Is there any value in holding back on acquiring players in an auction to control the end game? What about leaving any money on the table? How should you split your value between hitters and pitchers, and how does that compare to the actual average spending trends? Even if you don’t agree with everything he says, you’ll have an insight into how others think, especially those who do take his advice. Don’t rely on yearly guides and simply regurgitate their information. Learn how to prepare for your fantasy leagues on your own terms. Schechter will get you started, and when you get stuck, perhaps the Fantasy Assembly team can help you out.