Sports Juice: 5 Tips to Win Your Fantasy Baseball Season

When I started this blog last year, one of the first topics I came up with related to fantasy baseball.  Now that it is March, I can finally write that piece.

My fantasy involvement came about 10 years ago.   Without much in the way of a specific team to cheer for, I instead focused on the appreciation of specific players.  This led me to fantasy baseball which in turn led me to donating some money to some of my buddies.  I would typically stock my team with my favourite players, pay too much to trade for Albert Pujols and then wonder why I was in the bottom half of the standings. 

At some point I got over this rookie mistake and finally last year I made the leap to the Championship in my league.  There were a few specific reasons for this which I thought I would share today. 

Before I get into that, I will put forward my historical fantasy record and leave it to the reader as to whether or not they wish to proceed:

2003: 8th place
2004: 11th place
2005: 2nd place
2006: 2nd place
2007: 7th place
2009: 1st place

Looking back at 2007, I whiffed on my starting pitchers and had an assortment of old offensive players who couldn’t do much more than hit HR’s.

Tip #1: Buy the 2010 Baseball Prospectus Annual or Something Similar

The biggest reason I won my league last year is that I bought the 800 page 2009 Baseball Prospectus while I was on vacation last March for something to read.  I am sure there are other good books out there, but the key is to go above and beyond the fantasy magazines or the research information available on Yahoo or ESPN.

My logic in this tip is that the in-depth books with the heavy statistical research do a much better job at predicting the following season performance of every single player in the league.  While Yahoo seems to take last year’s results and tweak them up or down, a book like BP is a lot bolder in their predictions.  They publish at the end of the book a nice cheat sheet of predictions for every position and every statistical category.  Invariably there will be a lot of guys you know and a few that you hadn’t thought about.  These lesser thought of guys then become quality mid-round value picks.

Last year, I drafted the following players based on my research:

Round 5: Nate McLouth
Round 8: Rich Harden
Round 9: Ryan Ludwick
Round 10: Kevin Kouzmanoff
Round 11: Jason Werth
Round 12: Ricky Nolasco
Round 15: Kelly Johnson
Round 17: Chris Carpenter
Round 18: Kevin Slowey
Round 19: Elijah Dukes
Round 20: Cameron Maybin
Round 21: Travis Synder

A lot of these guys did not work out very well for me, but I did not need all of them to work out.  With the exception of Harden and Ludwick, I would have never had any of these guys on my radar and would have missed out on the great seasons put up by Werth, Carpenter *, Nolasco and Slowey (until he got hurt).

* The Carpenter decision was actually primarily due to my noticing that he failed to yield an unearned run in the preseason.

Tip #2: Avoid Older Players

In previous years, I always fell in the trap of drafting ‘known quantities’, or players that had been in the league for years.  Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada and Frank Thomas always seemed to make their way onto my team each season.  I suppose this is due in large part to my being unaware of the up and coming players.  Tip #1 solved this issue.

The simple truth is that positional players hit their statistical peak around ages 27 or 28.  Some guys push that into their early 30’s, but there are very few guys aged 34 or older that are going to make or break your fantasy success.   If you look at my drafting list from tip #1, all of these guys are at or before their statistical peak.  Other key picks on my team last year were Mark Texieria, Chase Utley, Michael Young and Ichiro.  Of all my positional player picks, only Ichiro was older than 32 years of age.

The same holds true of pitchers, though the great pitchers tend to age a little bit better.  In addition to Carpenter, I picked Brandon Webb with my fourth round pick, which tied in nicely to the four innings of work I got from him in 2009.  Webb was my only huge mistake in the draft, taking him over Roy Halladay.  Lesson learned for 2010: when in doubt, take the younger player.

Tip #3: Get Multi-Tooled Players

Looking at my positional player draft selections, I consciously tried to ensure that every player brought at least 3 stats to the table.  My league was a bit odd in that the offensive stats in my 5×5 league were:  Runs, Hits, HR, RBI and SB.  With the exception of Teixera, Ludwick, Ichiro and my catcher, every player I drafted was projected to hit 15-25 HRs and steal 15-25 bases.   Tex and Luds were there to solidify the HR and RBI stats, while Ichiro and Young were brought in to rack up the number of hits.   Not surprisingly, I struggled in the runs scored category but I found that type of player to be only two-dimensional (runs and SBs).

For pitching, the five stats were: Wins, SVs, Earned Runs, WHIP and K’s.   Wins are tough to predict so the focus was on pitchers that were high strikeout/ low walk pitchers.  Success in those areas should translate to lower WHIP and earned runs, which hopefully would translate to wins.

The key when drafting is to understand the mix of players you need on your team and to adapt your strategy as you progress. 

Tip #4: Understand Positions of Scarcity

This is key to fantasy baseball success and it why you likely will have heard the advice to not waste high draft picks on closers.  Every year there are probably 15 guys who close a lot of games who weren’t closing on opening day.  There are probably 15 players combined who will sneak off of the bench to provide a meaningful contribution to their teams. 

I have not completed my 2010 research but generally speaking:

  1. 1B: there are a lot of big time mashers at this position, but they get drafted early.
  2. 2B: there are very few big time offensive 2B out there.  If you are looking for power, the list gets thin after Chase Utley and Ian Kinsler.  My 2009 team absolutely had to have one of these two guys.
  3. SS: again, a thin position with Hanley Ramirez significantly the best option available.
  4. 3B: moderate amount of quality positional players.
  5. OF: lots and lots of guys out there.
  6. C: a bit less scarce than previous years, but a real drop off after Mauer and McCann.

Looking back at 2009, I made a conscious choice to ensure I had the best 2B out there and I wanted to ensure I had a top offensive SS.  The tradeoff was that I received sloppy seconds for my 3B and catcher. 

The mistake to watch out for is using too many early round picks on starters and outfielders, and using any early picks on relievers.  If you do this, you may end up shorthanded at C, 2B, SS and 3B.  This is too many positions to ham and egg it around the season.

Tip #5: Invest Significant Time in Scouring the Free Agency Talent in April

This might well be the most important tip of them all.  As I noted in tip #1, I targeted a lot of players who were thought to have considerable upside.  A lot of them didn’t pan out which required making adjustments to my team as the season progressed.  If not for a few of my key additions early in the season, I would not have been on top come the end of the season.

The two key pickups I made were Mark Reynolds to replace Kouzmanoff at 3B and Derrek Lee who took over for Jorge Cantu at the CI position.    There is a fair bit of luck involved here, but the key was my making the decision to give up on the players I dropped.  This decision was made easier by avoiding the temptation to draft players that I loved or players with long established careers.  By drafting players with upside, it was pretty easy to identify that the upside was not happening in 2009. 

I am sure there are a lot of other great tips out there to be mindful of.  If you have anything that has worked for you, please feel free to put it in the comments section.  Thanks for reading!

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Sports Juice: 5 Tips to Win Your Fantasy Baseball Season

  1. One last tip as I re-read this post in advance of my draft tonight. The big trend the last couple of years is to send premium rookie talent back to the minors to start the season. This delays the start of the the player’s major league career and delays future arbitration and free agency eligibility. David Price, Boster Posey, Matt Wieters, Stephen Strasburg. Carlos Gonzalez and Pedro Alveraz are a few names off the top of my head.

    The implication is that for fantasy purposes, there will be a wave of good young players moving up to the show in late May/ early June.

  2. Alright, draft was last night. I ran some numbers this morning and I appear to have the most well rounded offense and a pitching staff that is probably 4th to 6th in the league of 10. Perfect!

    We started a keeper league with my picking J Upton, M Reynolds and J Santana as my three. Had Werth earmarked but we each floated one guy to the new teams and Werth got taken.

    Tip #1: Guys I picked from my BP Research
    Dan Haren
    Curtis Granderson
    Kurt Suzuki
    Hunter Pence
    Ricky Nolasco
    Rajai Davis
    Franlin GUtierrez
    Nick Johnson
    Erick Eybar

    Tip #2: Avoid old guys. I think Santana, Oswalt and Nick Johnson were the only guys I picked over 31 years of age

    Tip #3 multi tooled players
    Upton
    Reynolds
    Kinsler
    Granderson
    Bartlett
    Pence
    Gutierrez

    For pitchers, I again focused on K’s and WHIP:
    Santana
    Haren
    Nolasco
    Oswalt

    Oswalt was picked due to his hot spring, as was Liriano from the Twins. Liriano is either going to close or be a good starter.

    Tip 4: Focus on positions of scarcity
    3B: Reynolds with power and speed
    2B: Kinsler with power and speed
    SS: Settled a bit with Bartlett once I had my 2B covered
    C: Suzuki. Mauer, Weiters and V-Mart were keepers so it was McCann or wait. I waited.

    Prince Fielder was my masher at 1B. Missed out on Texeiria by one spot (I drafted 9 of 10).

    Ian Stewart, Nick Swisher are the only other guys of note. We have an extra IF and three Util spots with only two bench spots so I had to get some guys that can be slotted in multiple places.

  3. For sure JB,
    A few great pickups plus a good trade or two makes all the difference. I somehow traded K Johnson for Uggla and then Uggla for Justin Upton.

  4. jonbrony

    playing the waiver wire in April, and all year for that matter is huge!

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