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December 27, 2013

Fantasy Freestyle

A Review of Larry Schechter's Winning Fantasy Baseball

by Mike Gianella

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Like many fantasy baseball players, my first exposure to fantasy baseball came when I stumbled across “Rotisserie League Baseball” at the mall bookstore. Ten minutes later, I knew I had to buy this wonderful book and figure out how to play this game. Ten hours later, I was plotting how I’d con the guys I talked baseball with in my study hall into playing in a league with me. The game itself sounded great, but it was the book’s witty and irreverent sense of fun that won me over forever.

However, while the original book was filled with great writing and jokes, it was lacking a coherent message when it came to strategy or tactics. While this deficit has been remedied over the years through many terrific web sites and expert advice, fantasy baseball has never had a definitive how to manual to guide enthusiasts through the competitive landscape of what Rotisserie League Baseball called “the greatest game for baseball fans since baseball.”

The latest entrant into the fantasy baseball how to book arena is Larry Schechter. Schechter needs no introduction if you have even a basic knowledge of the fantasy baseball arena. He has won the title in the Tout Wars expert competition six times, and if Rotisserie-style fantasy sports aren’t your thing, Schechter has also won the CDM Sports salary-cap league twice. I have competed against Schechter twice and have watched him purchase teams in auction-style leagues on three other occasions. It is a grand understatement to say that Schechter knows what he is doing.

Schechter’s how to guide does what few before it have done. It provides a cohesive, coherent, and logical blueprint that will help the novice as much as it will help the intermediate and more advanced fantasy players. The advice in Winning Fantasy Baseball is concise and to the point, and eschews long-winded theory in favor of targeted guidance for every facet of the game.

The first two chapters of Winning Fantasy Baseball are geared toward beginners. They explain the origins of the fantasy game as well as the various game formats you can choose from, but do not cover any new ground. The meat of the book starts in Chapter 3, where Schechter starts talking about general strategies for auction and draft formats. Here, Schechter drives home a simple point: there is no winning strategy beyond ensuring that you obtain the best value you possibly can at your auction or draft that suits your format. Schechter breaks down the mythology of other “systems” (e.g.: “I employed a Stars and Scrubs approach”) and explains why pigeonholing yourself in an auction with a specific philosophy is a losing proposition.

Chapter 4 offers additional strategy for auction formats, including ideas on how to rank players by specific positions, the benefit of having an early nominating position, and the idea of reviewing and/or revisiting your rankings if your projection for a specific player is too optimistic or pessimistic. The concepts presented here aren’t groundbreaking, but are presented in a concise, easy-to-use, and practical format that provide useful information to any fantasy player.

Chapters 5 and 6 discuss statistical projections and valuation formulas. If you are interested in doing your own player projections (as opposed to using a published version of projections like Baseball ProspectusPECOTA) then the information in Chapter 5 offers a basic framework with which to start. Once again, practicality takes precedence over theory, so rather than start with a complicated series of formulas, Schechter takes what he calls a “Real Clear Politics logic” and uses other projections to provide a baseline. Sabermetric thinking is discussed and considered, but the primary thrust behind projections for Schechter is a practical, easily workable framework.

The biggest strength of the book for any fantasy player—particularly for any player who plays in an auction league—is “Chapter 7: Mono-League Auctions (AL or NL only)”. This is a long chapter and a short paragraph or two in a book review won’t do it justice, but Schechter does an excellent job discussing how he prepares for an auction and then uses his 2011 Tout Wars AL-only auction to provide a real life example of how he takes his theories and applies them in a fast-paced auction environment.

My approach is similar to Schechter’s – and I suspect many experts also approach their fantasy auctions in a similar manner. However, it isn’t my agreement with Schechter’s approach that matters but rather how adroitly he navigates the explanation to his readers. Even in the rare instances where I don’t agree with Schechter’s methodology (for example, he recommends tiered approach to buy players, whereas I do not have an issue with buying two or more $30+ hitters under the right circumstances), he explains his methodology well, and makes a compelling case for adopting it at your auction.

Chapter 8 dives into mixed league auction values. The discussion about how to value mixed league players takes a practical bent as opposed to a deeply theoretical one, offering a good deal of practical, useful value if you have never played in a mixed league, auction-style format. Where the earlier chapters didn’t necessarily provide any fresh insights into the game, the mixed league chapter does offer one gem that Schechter provides ample evidence to support: with the exception of catchers, positional differences have always been overblown in mixed leagues.

Chapter 9 covers draft leagues, and provides a thorough review of the best way to maximize your dollar value or point value in this format as well as a practical way to prepare for drafts and execute your plan. Again, Schechter shows that positional differences in this format are extremely overstated. Chapter 10 focuses on salary cap leagues, and offers advice on how to pick players in a league where you can pick any player you want. Schechter goes into great detail on how to rank players in a salary cap league, how to adjust for the specific format, and how picking players in cap leagues is different than in Roto-style formats where you compete with other owners to own certain players. As someone who doesn’t play much in cap leagues, I found this chapter to be quite a learning experience.

Chapter 11 discusses managing your team during the season, and is a detailed examination of trading, free agent acquisitions, and bench management in leagues with benches. I enjoyed reading Schechter’s process on how he analyzes whether or not he is going to make a trade, as well as how different owners evaluate different players.

Chapter 12 focused on keeper leagues. If there was a part of the book that could have used more information or provided a deeper dive for readers, it is in this section of the book. The information Schechter provided was fairly general and didn’t quite have the nuance or strength of the rest of the guide. There was nothing wrong with the chapter, but it was more foundational information than anything else. If you are specifically looking for a deeper understanding of keeper leagues, I would start elsewhere.

Overall, Winning Fantasy Baseball is a gold mine of information from one of the all time great players of the game. Schechter has presented his readers with a treasure trove of invaluable information that players of any skill level can use and apply to their leagues. If you are looking for a book that provides a deeper understanding of fantasy baseball and augments your existing skills, Winning Fantasy Baseball is a strong choice, and an instant contender for the definitive guide to fantasy strategy and tactics on the market.

Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

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