Fantasy Baseball is fast approaching, so it’s time for my annual article for the fantasy-challenged. Fantasy Baseball is only difficult to those who choose to ignore the basic, fundamental laws of probability. Which is why the #1 rule is – draft Albert Pujols. For the record, these rules helped me to a 2nd place finish in the 20-member Battle of the Blogs fantasy league last season (I got totally hosed in the championship, damn you Chone Figgins!).
Rule #1 – Draft Albert Pujols
Pujols become the only player in history last year to hit .300 with 30 HR and 100 RBI in each of his first ten seasons. I probably don’t have to list some of the really, really good ball players that fell short of this accomplishment, seeing as it was everyone, but for the record, that includes Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, etc. All of which had at least one down year during their Hall of Fame careers – “The Machine,” on the other hand, has never known a down year, and just by drafting him you’ve increased your odds of winning your fantasy league by 30%. If you can’t get Pujols, obey the offensively consistent with your first pick and…
Rule #2 – Pick the Ballpark as well as the Player
This means do not, under any circumstances, unless no other choice is available, pick hitters that play in Seattle or San Diego (be wary of Dodger Stadium, Citi Field, AT&T Park). You can’t hit there – just ask Adrian Beltre, Chone Figgins, Ryan Ludwick, and countless others. On the other hand, do weigh your picks heavily on those who get to hit in blooper-ball meccas like Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, and, to a lesser extent, Coors (the reverse is true for pitchers). Why isn’t Coors number one on this list? Because all the other parks in their division are pitcher’s parks. Catchers with a little pop in a small park are especially attractive – case in point, Miguel Olivo did wonders for me behind the plate last year with the next to last pick in the draft, but with his move to Seattle this year, he isn’t worth more than a mid-season waiver claim if your catcher goes down. On the flip side, go after the players who are transitioning from a pitcher’s park to a hitter’s park – Dan Uggla‘s move to Atlanta and Adrian Gonzalez‘s move to Boston will undoubtedly increase both players fantasy value.
Rule #3 – Don’t Draft Players on Crappy Teams, Claim them on Waivers
People who chase Neil Walker, Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez early in the draft will lose their leagues, guaranteed. These are good players, who will put up solid numbers, but their team is going to stink, period. Pick less talented players on better teams for the simple fact that they will have more runners on in front of them and better players to drive them in behind them – and runs and RBI count in just about all fantasy leagues. As was the case with the aforementioned Pirate trio last year, crappy teams will have young bucks coming up midway through the season looking to make a name for themselves about the time the guys who started the season with the big club are hating their lives. I got Tabata on waivers last year and he was awesome for me down the stretch.
Rule #4 – Obey the Law of Averages, and Don’t Panic!
Without some sabermetric mumbo-jumbo getting you all confused – don’t draft players too high who had a career year in 2010 and look to steal players who had career lows in 2010. Players who have consistent careers and experience an anomaly year, either good, bad, injured, or otherwise, will trend back to their 162-game average the year after. Players such as Nate McLouth of Atlanta, Curtis Granderson of the Yankees, and Rick Porcello of the Tigers will be available in the mid to late rounds (count in Kung Fu Panda, too, despite hitting at AT&T Park). The second part of this rule is don’t panic when your players don’t have an amazing April. My example from my team last year is Wandy Rodriguez, who went 3-10 with a 6+ ERA in the first half and came back with a 8-2 record and 2.11 ERA in the second half. No matter the first half of the season, established, veteran players will trend toward their 162-game averages in the second half. If you flip a coins ten times, you could get ten heads, but if you flip a coin a million times, you’ll get closer to 50/50. In other words, heads will always be a .500 hitter no matter how many times tails comes up in a row.
Rule #5 – Draft Multi-Dimensional Players
Do not chase saves too early – a lot of leagues have gone from saves to saves + holds, which makes it easier to find these players on the waiver wire, and the roles of relief pitchers change so much during the summer there will always be a gem to find on the wire. You have to draft hitters & pitchers that will help you in the most categories possible. Look for position players who pull in 10-15 stolen bases along with power numbers and don’t fall in love with the 30 HR guys that never walk – a multi-dimensional player, like a Shane Victorino, can get you a walk and stolen base even during a slump. As for starting pitchers, guys who give up the least amount of BBs and HRs will be more consistent keeping the ERA down and strikeout pitchers can get you 8-9 Ks even when they get blown up.
Bonus Rule – Watch the Transactions, Know the Prospects
This is especially true with saves – there will always be a five-ten closers get hurt at some point during the season and boom – you just increased the fantasy value of the set-up ten-fold. The fantasy owner who is on top of injuries will be on top of the players/prospects who fill in for those injuries. This is also why knowing the prospects will put you over the top late in the season – last year with Madison Bumgarner, it wasn’t a matter of if he will do well in the big leagues, it was just a matter of when he will get called up. I claimed him as soon as I could get to a computer and he helped carry my pitching staff down the stretch. Likewise, when Hong-Chih Quo, hurt for a good portion of 2010, came off the DL, I picked him up without the slightest hesitation. He loaded me up with holds and K/9, etc.