Fantasy Baseball: 10 things I have noticed

As my fourth and final fantasy baseball draft (not counting five mocks) of the season approaches, I’ve noticed a few things. First and foremost, I pretty much rule at fantasy football. I have turned a profit every year for the last ten, a minimum of 80% of my teams make the playoffs, and if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, “How the @#$% did you end up getting all of THOSE guys,” I’d…I should have thought of a way to end that sentence before writing this article. Let’s just sum it up by saying once again that I rule.

Of course I do. Fantasy football is easy. You’re trying assemble a team of yards and touchdowns. If you really wanna get all crazy, you throw in receptions for PPR leagues. Essentially your draft strategy can be oversimplified to, “Take the best available player for the first five rounds before making only slight modifications for positional need and then swing for the fences late.” If you end up with a team loaded with good players, you don’t have to stress over which flex option to play, the awesomeness of your every week starters should assure you a winning record and a playoff spot, where essentially anything can happen.

But this isn’t fantasy football. It’s fantasy baseball, where you have more positions to fill, more statistics to worry about, more players to know, more lineups to set, and more stress in general. Stress! About a fantasy sport!!! Imagine that. It’s no wonder why I, your average man of dashing good lucks (according to my wife) and average intelligence (a generous analysis, according to my “I didn’t marry you for your brain, honey” wife have performed poorly in fantasy baseball compared to fantasy football. So this year, I’ve decided to prove to myself that I can do it. It’s why I’m playing in four leagues, instead of my customary one or two, and why I took the time to partake in multiple mocks. It’s time to become more than a one trick fantasy pony, and show that I’m not just another pretty face in the room.

Here’s a brief overview of my leagues. The two I’ve been playing in consistently the last few years, performing at a consistently mediocre rate, are a 15 keeper and 5 keeper league. Nothing fancy, just assemble the best team you can and keep the best players for the next year. To mix it up a little bit, I jumped into a start from scratch league, and I also took over a 10 keeper team in a points league. This one will probably be the true barometer of whether I’m making any progress or not. I haven’t decided yet whether the team’s previous manager is a mad genius or an incompetent suckbag of fail (that’s a real thing, Wikipedia it… on second thought, don’t. I don’t have time to create a Wikipedia page for it). It’s a points league so starting pitching is hugely valuable. My predecessor managed to land Jose Fernandez, so that’s good. He also seemed to have a good eye for young talent as Wil Meyers and Manny Machado were also on the roster. And then there’s Matt Cain, and Victor Martinez…and if we grimace slightly Panda Sandoval (third base is appallingly barren, it appears)…and where the heck are my other four keepers going to come from? That’s where the good ends the awful begins. Well, in a league where pitching is massively valuable, people will pay massive prices, so I managed to flip Fernandez for Matt Moore, Yasiel Puig and George Springer. Also flipped a draft pick for Domonic Brown. Gritted my teeth and kept Nelson Cruz, for lack of anyone better. And immediately drafted Doug Fister (I think he finishes top 5 in the NL Cy Young voting this year) and Francisco Liriano with high picks to solidify my rotation. Now, to see if I’m genius or a fool.

Since I titled this article “Things I’ve Noticed,” I should probably get to that. First and foremost, I like reading fantasy advice columns as much or more than anyone. I don’t always take the advice but I almost always find the columns to be insightful and entertaining, whether I agree with them or not. Fantasy writers come in good and bad, and they don’t make them much better than Matthew Berry, but even his fantasy baseball advice is bet hedged – in that “well, if this guy is here, I’d take him, but this other guy, you can get similar stats from player c three rounds later.” That’s not a criticism, it’s just an observation, and I think I get it now.

1) As different as the stats and stuff are for fantasy baseball and fantasy football, so are the team managers. What position a guy is gonna go for, and therefore who may be available to you three or four picks down the road is way more difficult to predict. In football, if you’re picking in four spots, and the three guys ahead of you already have a qb, Matt Ryan will still be there when you select. Can’t say that for baseball.
2) Mock drafts are pretty useless after the first few rounds. The few that I did, people seemed to check out by round 5 and let auto pick handle the rest.
3) Everyone likes Ryan Braun, and nobody likes Melky Cabrera. Remember when Cabrera was doing his best Clue Heywood impersonation, minus the whole leading the league in nose hair thing, and then tested positive for PEDs? And remember how he is essentially now a pedestrian player? Well, Ryan Braun was a superstar, then it came to light that he was slamming massive amounts of PEDs (and trying to ruin honest people’s lives), but people are still drafting him like a superstar. Maybe he still is one, without all the artificial enhancement, but maybe he’s Cabrera. I won’t spend a second round pick on him, and that’s not even principle talking…ok, maybe a little.
4) People love Billy Hamilton but hate Dee Gordon. I’m ambivalent towards both, but stolen bases are a category so… you can make similar comparisons using Jonathan Villar and Rajai Davis. One guy is getting snapped up, the other is waiver wire fodder. I don’t understand it. Maybe I should, but I don’t.
5) People sure do use ground ball percentage as a heavily relied upon stat when measuring whether a pitcher’s stats from the previous season were artificially good or bad due to luck. There may be some merit to it, but there are pitchers whose game plans are to pitch toward weak fly ball contact. Some are good, (see Greinke, Zack) others terrible (see Bauer, Trevor). Just because Greinke gave up more fly balls than your average top notch pitcher doesn’t mean it wasn’t by design.
6) Holy hotcakes, Batman, people sure are in a hurry to snag Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu. I get it in dynasty leagues, but really?
7) I buy into the theory that you can get saves late…but there’s a difference between a Kevin Gregg save and a Greg Holland save. There’s a difference between a Fernando Rodney save and a (dammit, why isn’t there a closer with the first name, Rodney!?) Jason Grilli save. There’s a difference between who is closing for the Cubs and who is closing for…a team that isn’t awful.
8) I hate that holds are a statistic in general, but the fact that they are a stat in fantasy baseball is truly infuriating. They take the art out of finding the aforementioned save late on. It means that you can’t smugly sit there knowing that by week 7 of the regular season, you’re going to look like a genius for snagging Cody Allen off the waiver wire because John Axford is a ticking time bomb as Cleveland’s closer. Someone will have grabbed him in the 18th round or so because holds are a @#$%ing category now. Why am I playing fantasy baseball again?
9) Conversely, I like how many leagues now deduct points from hitters who strike out. Makes you really think about where you should take Pedro Alvarez. Funnily enough, on a related note, I took Mark Reynolds with the last pick in one of my drafts. It’s 16 teams so it’s deep, and pickings were slim. The clock was at 7 seconds, the autopick was someone who was hurt, I think. In any event, I panicked and took Reynolds. That was over a week ago and I haven’t dropped him yet, mainly because I haven’t gotten to it yet. I was looking at my roster yesterday and noticed he had that little new news item asterisk by his name on my roster, and I absent-mindedly clicked on it to see what it was. Turned out he doubled and knocked in a few runs, but the point is, I actually looked at a fantasy news item for Mark Reynolds, something no successful fantasy player of the last decade has ever done. This isn’t looking good for me.
10) You shouldn’t select your keepers in a keeper league too far ahead of the deadline. You don’t want to wait for the last second either, because what if something happens that keeps you away from being able to do it? But there is no reason to pick your keepers a month ahead of time. I did that in the league Shaun and I are drafting in this Sunday, my last of the season, and I’m livid with myself for who I kept. I won’t get into who I should have kept over whom I did, I’ll give you a hint. The names Justin Verlander, Matt Kemp, and Craig Kimbrel are part of the conversation.

I noticed like three other things when I was writing this column, but I’m too lazy to change the title so we’re stopping here. Look for podcasts coming soon from your favorite sports blog that most people have never heard of.

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