Fantasy Baseball

Another regular season is about to end and thus that means almost the end of fantasy baseball. For some teams, they’re still vying for the league championship, and others, the season has already finished. Playing in the past three years, I’ve started to learn a lot about tricks and strategy in order to succeed in playing. Granted, I’ve been only been playing in private leagues, it still remains competitive nonetheless. Of the ten teams, eight of them were active players that made moves and roster changes throughout the season. But in playing, these were some of the things I’ve learned:

Focus on the performances from the past month, not the entire season. Why? Because you can tell whether the player is on a streak or not. While a player may have thirty home runs in the season, if they’ve only had two in the past month, it’s obviously telling you that he’s cooled down quite a bit. Picking up players when they’re slumping isn’t particularly the best idea.

Check game logs when checking the last month’s stats. I think this is just as key as checking the past month. The reason you want to see their game to game stats is that even though they may seem to be on a streak in terms of hitting or pitching, if they aren’t playing daily or had one big game with a bunch of games that are pretty much productionless, it might not be the best pick-up.

It’s not worth picking up injury prone players. I made a mistake in drafting Josh Beckett from the Boston Red Sox due to the fact that he’s known to get injuries over time. Basically, drafting players that are injury prone means you’re not getting the full potential for them. You know they’re going to have those recurring injuries over the course of the season, so why bother? You want players that won’t always keep going back on the DL every few months, because you’ll get no stats from them when you could be with someone else.

The waiver wire is your best friend. Last season, I managed to pick up Carlos Pena. This season, it was Carlos Quentin. Both players had big seasons in those respective years, having over one hundred RBI and at least thirty five home runs. But how did I get them? I looked at players from the first two points. Seeing how they did over the course of the month and game-by-game (it leads to my next point as well). Even if you have a bad draft, you can always at least one gem on the waivers and free agents that you can pick up to make your team better, depending on how deep your league is.

Look at previous seasons. Something you have to look in mind is previous seasons. A lot of fantasy baseball is about a game of averages. For the case of players that have been in the season for several seasons, by looking back at their previous seasons, you can get a general idea of how consistent and successful they’re going to be for your team. Unless they’re on some enhancement drug, it’s not likely they’re going to go from a ten home run, fifty RBI season to having a forty homer, hundred RBI season (assuming they’re playing the same number of games). It shouldn’t be completely discounted that this will happen, but more often than not, it’s a rarity.

Find players around 27 or 28 years old. It’s around here when a player really reaches his full potential in the league. It partly has to do with the experience when it comes to pitching or batting, but also their strength, power, and speed as well. For example, three of my top hitters on my team are all around that age. Mark Teixiera, Justin Morneau and Carlos Quentin are all around the power age. Each with at least one hundred RBI and twenty home runs (Morneau with the fewest at twenty three).

Draft pitchers early. This has been my strategy for a while, but at the same time, I’m also playing in an AL-only league, so this might be different. But here’s the reasoning behind drafting pitchers first. There are only a few people that I would strongly consider drafting first in terms of hitting. Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, David Wright, and probably a few others. However, beyond that, the power hitting starts to even out and you have a lot of people to choose from. In playing an AL league only, you can see that there becomes a ton of depth when you have an all-MLB universe league and a lot of players to choose from.

Pitching, on the other hand, is harder to find. Yes, you can make the same point about pitching in that there’s the top tier and then everyone else. But remember this: hitters play everyday, pitchers don’t necessarily. If you neglect those stats, it’s going to bite you in the butt. Because starting pitchers pitch usually only once a week, you have to make the most of those starts. Having consistent pitchers that will keep your ERA and WHIP down, while getting you a lot of strikeouts and wins are always worthwhile. They’re hard to find and if you dominate the draft in picking up the stronger pitchers, you will likely dominate other teams in that area. (Also, if you’re playing in Yahoo! leagues, the first tiebreaker in playoffs is lowest ERA.)

If you have the opportunity to draft a top tier hitter, then go for it. But else, I would focus on solidifying your pitching first, because there’s always a lot of hitters that you can get that will help you out in the long run, especially those called up from the minors. Not so much with pitchers.

Steals vs. Saves. Which one? Personally, based on the last point, I would say go with saves. However, always be careful in selecting the right people for this. Choose solid closers, not the questionable ones. People like K-Rod, Rivera, Papelbon or Joe Nathan, to name a few (notice that they’re mainly in the AL). While it’s definitely situational for a save to occur, the thing is that not only do they help get you a SV in the standings, but they also reduce your WHIP and ERA, more often than not. Steals might not always get you a hit or a run. And again, pitching is far more important than hitting due to the fewer opportunities for starts than at-bats.

Keep an eye on call-ups and young players. There’s a few reasons. First, they’re not as likely to get hurt. Secondly, towards the end of the season, they’re going to get more chances to get up to the plate, especially if they’re out of contention for the playoffs. But from experience in selecting players, you get a lot of success out of the younger players and those in their power years. My current team right now consists of two older players (Mike Lowell, who is hurt half the time unfortunately, and Raul Ibanez), and youngsters. As a result, it’s really been beneficial for me as they don’t get hurt and get a solid production out of all of them.

Don’t draft catchers early. There are only a few players that I would strongly consider drafting early. Brian McCann and Giovany Desoto. But beyond that, that’s about it. Catchers don’t have a lot of power usually. Also, they don’t always play everyday due to the physical demands that it takes to play in the position. It’s not worth it.

Choose players on teams that will be competitive and making or fighting for the playoffs. Don’t choose players from the Nationals or other awful teams. If you choose the best player from there, you’re not going to get a lot out of them due to the fact that the rest of the supporting cast won’t provide much for you. There’s always a few exceptions for this, for example Tim Lincecum from the Giants, but beyond that, it’s hard to warrant getting the better players from weaker teams. Having a player from a team with a strong supporting cast will make that player a lot better. Teams like the Phillies, Red Sox, and Angels will provide some good offense for you, as well as strength in pitching as well. There’s a reason why they’re in the top of their division. They’ve got the solid players.

Don’t hesitate to make trades. While you don’t want to benefit your opponents, you do want to find ways to benefit your own team as well. Don’t hold back on making trade offers or making counter-offers. You may be able to pull off some steals from time to time, depending on the needs of the team you’re trading with. For example, one of my friends was deperate for a third baseman and desired Evan Longoria. While he was one of my better players on my roster, we worked out a deal that benefited both of us. I managed to pick up Justin Morneau, Joe Saunders, and Jacoby Ellsbury for Magglio Ordonez, Evan Longoria, and Justin Verlander (Verlander was having several strong starts, which was why he was in there). While he met his needs, I managed to maintain my power while also picking up more steals and someone else to lower my ERA and WHIP. I knew I could sacrifice some power to get other stats, which turned out to help me considerably in the final weeks of the season.

Anyway, that’s all the tips I can think about. But overall, I learned that it’s a lot about paying attention to the news and seeing the potential in players. It also requires a bit of risk-taking as well, but in doing so, you can reap the rewards of whatever gains that they might give you. For an AL only team, I managed to get four players with over a hundred RBI, six players with over twenty home runs, and almost all my pitchers with under 4.00 ERA (except my highest draft pick left in Beckett) and at least 12 wins. If you’re wondering who is on my roster, here it is. Note that I made changes for the sake of the playoffs since players were hurt or producing at all:

C - Taylor Teagarden (TEX)
1B - Mark Teixiera (LAA)
2B - Alexei Ramirez (CWS)
3B - Mike Lowell (BOS)
SS - Mike Aviles (KC)
OF - Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS)
OF - Shin-Soo Choo (CLE)
OF - Raul Ibanez (SEA)
Util - Justin Morneau (MIN)
Bench - Carlos Quentin (CWS) (Injured)
Bench - Nelson Cruz (TEX)
Bench - Nick Swisher (CWS)

SP - Ervin Santana (LAA)
SP - Jesse Litsch (TOR)
RP - Francisco Rodríguez (LAA)
RP - Brad Ziegler (OAK)
P - Josh Beckett (BOS)
P - Joe Saunders (LAA)
P - Jose Arredondo (LAA)
Bench - Brandon League (TOR)

Cruz, Choo, and Teagarden were all picked up for the sake of the post-season. Before I had them, I had Marlon Byrd (TEX), Jed Lowrie (BOS), and Jeff Mathis (LAA). I use the waiver wire a lot, with a total of 35 different transactions and two major trades. And by the end of the season, a league championship for 2008 fantasy baseball.

Hope these tips help out when the 2009 season comes around.

Thanks to Tyler Smith, for all the discussions with regards to fantasy baseball over the past few years.

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