Fantasy Baseball Columnist
In honor of Lent ending (40 days without Coke was rough for me) here are five commandments to begin your fantasy season. Consider these only slightly less holy than the original ten.
1. Thou shall consider the free agent pool one giant bench.
Don't restrict yourself to only what's on your team; play the match-ups. If you can start a half-decent
The bottom line is, with this strategy, you can cherry pick the best match-ups to get a mix of stats that will sometimes be more productive than just subbing bench guys in and out. It's like Hugh Hefner. Hef could settle down with a nice lady and get married, or he could have 5-6 smoking hot girlfriends at once. For him it's a no-brainer. Approach your fantasy team the way Hugh Hefner approaches commitment. If things aren't working out, find someone new.
Back to a baseball example, I started Mark Buehrle on opening day. I thought he would pitch well against Cleveland and he did. Rather than wait the 4-5 days before his next start, I dropped him, and picked up an extra guy to play tomorrow with the off day. The day after that, I may pick up another pitcher to play and so on. The point is, instead of having Buehrle sit on my bench before his next start, I can use the roster spot to get a lot of production very cheaply. Obviously this is not a smart thing to do with your best players, but for the fringe guys, I would rather play the matchups to maximize the value of that roster spot.
2. Thou shall dive into Sabermetrics.
Just last week, one of my favorite sports writers, Bill Simmons of ESPN.com, wrote a great piece explaining some of his favorite advanced baseball stats. I highly recommend this article if you want to learn more about these stats.
For me, one of the most helpful stats to look at is BABIP (Bating Average on Balls In Play). Have you ever watched a game where a guy hit a frozen rope in the gap, only to have an outfielder make a diving play to save the hit? It will go down as an out, even though your hitter smashed the ball. Batting Average on Balls In Play basically tells you how lucky or unlucky a guy is. If his BABIP is really high, he is likely getting a little bit lucky, and vice-versa.
I try and target guys with low BABIP after the first few weeks of the season, because their owner most likely is frustrated by the low batting average and might not understand why. Conversely, you should try and sell high if you own a high BABIP player, they likely won't keep the average up. One important note to keep in mind is that high speed players naturally have a high BABIP, because they beat a lot of infield grounders out for hits.
3. Thou shall watch as many games as thou can.
The big movement in baseball right now is moving from all sabermetric based systems to more of a hybrid approach, combining advanced numeric analysis with traditional scouting. This combination of the two approaches is what makes Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik so successful. I think that this method is similarly successful in managing a fantasy baseball team. Box scores are great, but there is only so much that you can learn from a box score. For example, take this play from the Chicago-Cleveland Opening Day Game.
Top 5th. - L. Marson grounded out to pitcher M. Buehrle. Doesn't seem like a big deal right? Until you see the play.
Trading for a player you've never watched play is like buying a car without a test drive. You want to know what's under the hood before you make the commitment.
4. Thou shall know thy league-mates.
Depending on who I am trading with, I am sometimes willing to give up the better end of the deal if it is to someone that I don't think I am competing with in the long run. I am a huge fan of making 2 for 1 trades (Giving two good players for one great player) I am confident that I can almost always find a good value on a free agent and love making any trade in which I am getting the best player in the deal.
If I give up a lot to the guy that is going to finish in last place, I don't mind too much (especially if I'm giving up a stat category that I'm crushing in like HRs or AVG in favor of a category I need help in, say Wins and Ks). I am getting the player I want and although I've given up more value, I can go and use that free roster spot to further improve my team.
Another important part of knowing your opponents is knowing who they love. We are all guilty of loving certain players, and valuing them significantly higher. I am guilty of this with Justin Upton, Troy Tulowitski and King Felix. I would accept ridiculous offers if they included these guys. Figure out your opponent's favorite players and teams and you could have the upper hand in a trade with them.
5. Thou shall know when to hold 'em, and when to fold 'em.
It's very easy to fall in love with the guys you drafted. You feel good about your sleepers and possible breakout guys and want to see them succeed. However, one of the most common mistakes occurs when people hang on to their "sleepers" way too long. If they aren't a proven player and they aren't performing after a week or two, I would cut them loose in favor of a hot hitter on the waiver wire. Chances are, if your sleeper heats up, you will be able to go pick them back up if you keep your eye on them.
Luke Ricci is a huge fantasy baseball nerd. When he is not dreaming about Felix Hernandez's slider, he writes about baseball, fantasy, and other randomness at 500 Days of Zobrist.