Five last-minute tips

The countdown has begun, and my fridge is stocked. Opening Day is less than 96 hours away. Unless you count all the Thursday games as the real Opening Day, then simply subtract 12 hours. I will forgive baseball for confusing us simpler baseball folk with multiple opening days, mainly because I’m aching to get this party started. I have compiled five simple tips to help jump-start 2011 and guide the newer fantasy baseball enthusiast. Enjoy.

Know the difference between “want” and “need.”
The No. 1 mistake I find myself making both in the draft and in season is that I tend to favor my favorite players. Favoring your guys is good in a sense, but you must always treat you fantasy team like it’s a business.

Holding grudges is silly, but a very real element to fantasy management. For example, it’s tough for me to see past the problems Matt Kemp created for me last year when I selected him in the first round. He seems to be a new player this spring, one more similar to 2009 than last season. My dislike was well documented earlier in a 2011 analysis, but I feel like my personal feelings were distracting from a more fair assessment of his long-term value.

Another example: I want Roy Halladay on all my fantasy teams. He is a legitimate ace and will be a top five pitcher by season’s end. I won’t have him on my team because I believe I can find pitching value much later. So it’s pretty basic. My want for Halladay doesn’t equate with my need for quality pitching.

Now, concerning the waiver wire. I know my tendencies, and I know that I will always gravitate to risk on the free agent list. In fact, the riskier, the better is the motto I live and die by. The riskiest guys on the free agent list are the injured, the rookies, and post-hypers, and I am in love with all of them. Granted there is a much lesser degree of actual risk to a fantasy team found in the free agent pick-up, but proper FAAB budgeting/waiver priority is still very important.

Sometimes, I have to approach the “want” or “need” dilemma like I am dieting. I’m a pizza lover. I genuinely could eat pizza every day and be perfectly content with my eating choices. I have to limit my pizza intake to not only avoid being the size of a bus, but also to promote good health in my rapidly aging body. You may be one who loves power guys. I don’t blame you; we all love the long ball, but when building a fantasy champion, you can’t load up on one category. There must always be balance, and I will be able to eat pizza only once (or twice) a week.

Playing time is as underrated as any analytical tool for evaluating future player performance.
As some of you may know, our own fantasy hall-of-famer Derek Carty and I will be drafting our FSIC NL Only Expert team on the Sunday prior to this going live. We have exchanged notes, and I have studied his strategies used in prior drafts (LABR, Tout Wars, Yahoo F&F). The shallower the league is, the more importance Derek has placed on playing time. It’s a novel idea to monitor at-bats with such ferocity, but after long examining his teams, he has labored to let playing time set the table of his roster. It’s a great strategy in super deep leagues, and it can even be a serviceable one in all other league types.

Monitor the preseason ins and outs. Make sure to note all health issues, both present and possible future. I like to always evaluate the player’s role with the team. Take a guy like Brandon Belt. He went from a top prospect to the probable starting first baseman for the Giants in a few weeks. Conversely, a closer like Francisco Rodriguez is most likely going to be traded before his bonus kicks in so there’s no real way you can pencil in a season of closeresque numbers for him.

Another reason to monitor playing time is the advantage it will always offer by way of accumulating stats. Victor Martinez’s value is greater as a catcher because he won’t actually have to deal with the rigors of the position, and the same goes for Jorge Posada. The potential for 500-plus at-bats is greater for these guys than a Geovany Soto or Brian McCann, and thus they have an easier chance of accruing the bulk stats. This strategy can be used for all positions. Batting order is another good indicator for increased at-bats.

You must always take into account your team’s depth, both categorically and positionally.
Drafting Hanley Ramirez within the first three picks has as much to do with his position as it does with his skill set. Derek was just showing me the lack of speed guys in the National League. Well, what does that mean? Well, that means that you NL-only leaguers must strategize a plan to secure speed. Positional scarcity is a fun term thrown around by us all, but the understanding of positional scarcity at shortstop, second base and third base lets you perfect your roster without blowing all your money or early round picks on first basemen.

As we move onto applying this principle to the waiver wire, it’s imperative to your roster to always, always, always be searching to add depth, both categorically and positionally. The baseball season is long, and there will always be freak injuries (::cough:: Adam Wainwright). Building depth allows you to maneuver through the rough times.

For example, on all my teams I have been able grab a guy like Danny Espinosa to back up my second base starters (Gordon Beckham and Neil Walker). I like having Espinosa not because I am sold on his skill set but because I’m not sold on Beckham or Walker just yet. Loading my hand with several options affords me the opportunity to watch the cream rise and increases the odds of that cream being mine, whatever that means.

I can’t preach categorical depth enough. If you have already drafted a catcher like Joe Mauer, don’t draft a Brian McCann. It will do you little good to add a skill set like McCann’s on the hopes of trade bait. If you intend to use him as a DH until the trade, that logic is flawed as well because his skill set can be found much cheaper and trades can be difficult. Furthermore, I don’t understand why people draft speed like it’s going out of style. Inevitably, there will be one guy in your draft who will nab four or more steals-only guys. My advice to you: Don’t be that guy.

Ensure stability by knowing your player(s).
I can’t stress the importance of knowing every thing you can possibly know about your players. There will be guys on my team that by the end of the year I will know better than my own wife. It’s so important to know how they react to adversity or respond to success. Do they like to play at home? Or are they road warriors?

A friend and I the other day began discussing the need for in-depth, to-the-minute information tailored to your particular fantasy team. Even more than that, we were discussing the need for TMZ-like information about the players. Off-field distractions can be a fantasy season killer for owners. Some 2010 examples are Matt Kemp vs. Rihanna, Pablo Sandoval divorce, and K-Rod assaults.

If only we could follow our players around like an episode of the Real Housewives of Wherever. I’m only kidding, but it is important to know the way your players are in certain circles. Even more so, it is vital to know the game of your players, especially in daily leagues. Platooning correctly can have extreme payoffs for the fantasy manager. It’s not as important for the weekly, roto guys, but understanding the streakiness of certain players like Ryan Howard can be beneficial come trade time. I will always target Howard and Adam LaRoche post-trade deadline.

The “R” in WAR
How a person can be a hero by being a zero.

Most important of all these tips: Date the waiver wire, but don’t marry the waiver wire.
Alternately, you can love your team, but don’t fall in love with your team. I say this because I see a significant amount of you fantasy gamers out there who over/under manage good teams.

I was in a league with a guy who had one of the best drafts I’ve ever seen. His team was stacked top to bottom. He had elite pitching and phenomenal hitting. After the draft, I walked away so defeated that I contemplated my own skills. Afterward, I had several conversations with said drafter, and he had already convinced himself that his team was invincible. To make a long story short, this manager neglected the waiver wire for fear of breaking his “masterpiece” of a roster, and needless to say, he lost that league. It remains one of my favorite championships.

Every week there will be a guy who is “the next big thing.” He’s young and streaking, or he’s out of his slump, or, my personal favorite, he’s just been called up. It’s really quite easy to hype the players in the free agent pool, but there’s a lot of smoke-and-mirrors saturating the waiver wire. You must always be careful. A fantasy player who marries himself to the free agent list is either admitting the ineptitude of his team, becoming overwhelmed by the hype, taking advantage of league settings, or in rare circumstances, showing sheer ingenuity. I have yet to see that last example, and all the other example are poor excuses for getting hitched to this strategy.

Maybe I’m pushing this analogy to the edge, but it’s important to recognize the line in the sand. Walking the waiver wire can be a treacherous feat, but if accomplished can be a very rewarding experience. Good luck in your adventures.

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Mike L
Mike L

For me, it all comes down to understanding what replacement value is at each position. This is crucial to the impact of positional scarcity, as well as knowing how aggressive you can be with owning risky players.

Will Hatheway
Will Hatheway
Wants, needs, and grudges are so right on. I totally avoided Kemp this year, and am wary of that. His mate Ethier, too. I recently tested my grudge against waiver-wire type pitchers, and bias against positionality, in a 20-team mixed points league that gave 3 points per IP but not much against you for poor pitching performance. When you are on pick 113 and only have five players, it doesn’t suck to have Tulo (always had a thing against him), Pedroia, and Kinsler. And that whole SP thing: the league has 9 nonspecific P slots, plus 3 bench slots. I… Read more »
Derek Ambrosino
Derek Ambrosino

Even more than that, we were discussing the need for TMZ-like information about the players

Paging AJ Daulerio…