Fantasy baseball is anywhere from 30 to 50 years old depending on which game you subscribe to, but there are a lot of commandments in this game that people still swear by because they read it in a magazine or some fantasy expert they follow told them it is the way to go. A great personal example I like to relay is my first and only experience in the NFBC draft in 2009 out in Las Vegas.
I was paired up with former colleague Ted Carlson for one of the 15-team drafts, and we had the 13th pick in the draft. If you have done an NFBC draft, you know how much Average Draft Position (ADP) means to everyone in the room, and the reaches are very rare in the early rounds unless someone is in the draft with an off-the-wall draft strategy or is using disposable income to catch lightning in a bottle. Either way, I told Carlson we were coming out of that draft with Nelson Cruz come hell or high water. That previous November at the Fanball (RIP) staff retreat, I was singing the praises of Cruz as we laid out the draft magazine and took him in the mock drafts that we did throughout the weekend. On draft day, Cruz’s ADP was somewhere in the 14th round, but that did not stop me from pestering Ted to draft Cruz as early as the seventh round, and he finally gave into me in the 9th round; Cruz went on to be one of the more productive outfielders in the league that season.
If you also happen to play the fantasy version of football, you are acutely aware of how a second-guess can hurt you from week to week. Yesterday, my opponent sat Beanie Wells for Mike Tolbert, and the large scoring difference between those two players led to a victory for me despite the fact that my entire team scored but four touchdowns. My point here is that if you make a decision, stick with it and do not let others influence your decision because you are the one doing your own homework on players, so you need to have the faith in your own abilities to execute your plan. If you believe you can punt saves and win a league, punt away. If you think you can forgo power and load up elsewhere because power is too expensive, slap hit away. If you believe strikeouts are fascist and boring, then skip over them and load up elsewhere.
In theory, all of these brave statements sound nice, but are they practical to execute and can you win ignoring certain categories? For this, we turn to the most recent Tout Wars standings to see if any of the more popular fantasy commandments were adhered to or ignored.
“Thou must draft closers”
There is no more divisive category in fantasy baseball than the saves category. For every fantasy expert or player that tells you that you must do this, you will find another like me who will tell you to give it as much attention as you do an ex-girlfriend or ex-wife. Winning a league while forgoing saves is fantasy crack because once you have done it, you think you can do it every season. I did it two seasons ago, but slighting saves this season helped keep me out of the top two spots in one of my local leagues. Both Larry Schechter and Fred Zinkie finished in the top three for saves in their leagues on the way to the league title, but NL champ Steve Gardner was in the middle of the pack in the final saves standings. Nick Minnix of KFFL nearly caught Zinkie at the end, and Minnix finished 11th in saves on the season with 42 in the 15-team mixed league. Rotowire’s Jeff Erickson was able to finish second in AL Tout but had one of the lowest save totals in the league while Brian Walton was Gardner’s closest competitor and won the saves category.
“Thou must draft speed”
After all, fast guys get to second and score easier and some fast guys get help with batting average thanks to the infield hits that they are able to pile up. Unlike saves, our champs this year did subscribe to this theory as each of them finished no lower than third in steals. Interestingly enough, both Walton and Rob Leibowitz were able to place in the top three spots while finishing in the bottom half of the league standings in steals.
“Thou must not give away any categories”
A common piece of advice for draft preparation is to get the standings within each category in your league over the past few seasons and set benchmarks for your draft so that you can work to acquire enough points in each category to finish in the top three in each based on your pre-draft projections. It is sound advice to help you on draft day, but if you are falling behind in any category within a season, it is by no means a body blow to your title hopes. Any time you are faced with a shortcoming in a category, you can either choose to address the issue or trade away what you have in that category to help in others. Each champion had a shortcoming in the final standings that they were able to overcome to win in the end. Schechter finished with just four of the possible 12 points in batting average and still won Tout AL by 13 points. Steve Gardner finished with just 5.5 points out of 13 possible points in wins and seven points out of 13 in saves but won Tout NL by nine points. Zinkie did it the hard way; he finished with just two points out of 15 possible points in home runs of all categories!
“Thou must watch their ratios”
The counting categories are easy to total at the draft because one simply needs to recall their elementary addition skills to add up their projected steals, home runs, saves, and the like to see how many they have. That is not as easy, however, for batting average, WHIP, and ERA. The common logic goes that as a pitcher’s ERA and WHIP go, so do their wins, so getting pitchers that do well in the first two categories should help in the final one. That said, tell that to Tim Stauffer or Cory Luebke owners this season. Schechter finished fourth in ERA and fifth in WHIP in AL Tout, Gardner dominated both categories and won them with a bunch of Stauffer/Luebke types as you will recall that he finished with just 5.5 points out of 13 in wins, while Zinkie also finished fourth in ERA and fifth in WHIP. In Tout Mixed, each team in the top five spots in the standings had double-digit point totals in ERA and WHIP while two of the teams were in the bottom half of the league standings for batting average. In Tout NL, the top four teams finished no worse than fifth in ERA or WHIP while Leibowitz was able to place a distant third despite his low team batting average. AL Tout was the exact opposite as the top five teams in the final overall standings finished no higher than fourth place in either WHIP or ERA while only Erickson’s team had a batting average higher than that. In fact, ESPN’s Jason Grey finished third despite finishing dead last in ERA and WHIP.
Overall, each of the top teams in each league got to the finish line in a different manner. Schechter finished in the top three in six of the ten categories on his way to winning Tout AL by 13 points while Erickson finished in second place while finishing in the top three of just four of the ten categories. Grey finished four points behind Erickson despite placing first or second in five of the ten categories. Gardner won five categories outright and finished in the top three in seven of the ten categories, and while Leibowitz was a distant third, he did so by finishing in the top three in just three overall categories. Zinkie was strong across the board, finishing in the top four in nine of the ten categories, which is what allowed him to win despite finishing 14th out of 15 teams in home runs. The fact that Zinkie was third overall in the RBI category with such few home runs is rather amazing.
There are no absolutes in fantasy baseball. The beauty of the sport is that it varies so much from season to season. The only absolute is that if you enter a draft without a plan, you are absolutely wasting your money and time unless the rest of the room is as ill-prepared as you are.