Monday, February 12, 2007

Fantasy Baseball Consultant

UPDATE on 2/9/09: This is probably not exactly what you were looking for when you google-searched for "freelance fantasy baseball consultant," but I urge you to check out the site anyway. If you are looking for some more recent fantasy baseball strategy, click here and here.

In 1980, on an unseasonably and unreasonably cold mid-March day in New York City, the sort of day where spittle freezes on the sidewalk, Daniel Okrent invented fantasy baseball. He and eleven of his friends met at a restaurant, La Rotisserie Francaise, and after ordering, they each picked sixteen different major league baseball players—nine hitters and seven pitchers—that they thought would be high performers in eight statistical categories. They each chipped in $10 and agreed that at the end of the baseball season, depending on how well their selected MLB players did in the eight statistical categories, one member of their group of twelve would be declared the winner of the $120 pot (Daniel also threw in a subscription to The Economist).

Twenty-seven years later, roughly 15 million people in the United States, or approximately five percent of the U.S. population, are playing fantasy sports. I think the game can be dangerously addictive and so I don't play it myself, but I do work as a consultant for a friend who has a Yahoo fantasy baseball team. Last year, relying heavily on my sage advice, he came in fifth place in his twelve-team league. Who knows what place he would have finished without me? Eighth? Tenth?

He plays in a twelve-team, ten category (hr, runs, rbi, obp, steals, era, whip, wins, k’s, and saves), head-to-head format. If the previous sentence is gibberish to you, you can find a more plain-speak explanation of the league rules by clicking here.

Most people who play fantasy baseball draft primarily based on last years’ stats, which ultimately has about a .35 correlation with reality. Even the best baseball projections (say, Bill James') only end up being correlated with reality at a .45 to .61 clip. Most people who play the game try and draft a competitive-in-all-categories team. I’m suggesting something different: draft a going-for-broke-by-targeting-only-six-categories approach.

In a typical stat-accumulating (roto) league, you can’t be truly terrible in any one category and hope to win. When drafting a head-to-head team, however, one can use one of two main strategies: 1. do what everyone else does and draft a team that is medium-strong in all ten categories or 2. draft a team that is excellent in five or more categories but is lacking in all the rest. With option #2, you can choose to focus on starting pitching (and excel in era, whip, wins, and k’s), closers (and excel in whip, era, and saves), home run hitters (and excel in homers, rbi, and runs), base stealers (and excel in steals and maybe runs), or some combination thereof. Being good in a small majority of the categories is acceptable for a winning team in the head-to-head format. You only need your record to be good enough to get you into the play-offs where winning 5-5 on a tiebreaker is just as good as winning 9-1.

For those of you who have followed this post this far, I have two unconventional draft strategies for you to consider. The first strategy calls for the drafting of strong starting pitchers and hitters who are adept at hitting home runs. This would make the team a lock to win seven categories each week, but it would also require the team to tank three of them completely. I call the strategy Santana Dunn Dong. It would look something like this:
1. Santana
2. Vlad (30hr)
3. Manny (35hr) (or Carpenter)
4. Tejada (30hr)
5. Haren / Peavy
6. Dunn (40hr)
7. Lackey / C. Young / Smoltz
8. Brett Myers
9. Chipper (25hr)
10. Prince (30hr)
11. Weeks (25hr)
12. Schilling
13. Jhonny Peralta (20hr)
14. Burrell (30hr)
15. Ross (20hr)
16 - 21
22. Zumaya
23. Broxton

Use your 16 - 21 round picks to select your typical bounceback players, such as Wood, Buehrle, Vazquez, Ensberg, Cliff Lee, or Penny. Or maybe you want to speculate on a Wainwright, Prior, Garza, Hill, Quentin, Lilly, Ianetta, Bard, Kendrick, Kouzmanoff, or Alex Gordon. Please note: I am aware that you might 1. disagree with my player selection or 2. think that the players I've selected wouldn't be available at the spots I've taken them. The players in the above team should be understood as placeholders of sorts, merely to give you a better idea of what this draft strategy might look like if it were to be carried out in the present fantasy baseball market. During your draft, you can always target other pitchers or home run hitters that you feel are more likely to be available in your league or more likely to perform at a high level during the 2007 season.

The mission of the Santana Dunn Dong strategy is to win homers, runs, and rbi as well as wins, k's, era, and whip. This strategy is particularly effective if your first draft pick is in the 9-12 range and you select Johan Santana (and he performs like last year). The hitters from the above draft project to hit 265 home runs, or about 10.5 per week, and you would have five strong starting pitchers complemented by two low-whip, high-strikeout (cheap) setup men. Because you do not need to use early picks to reach for saves, you can usually get some really good hitters and starting pitchers. I especially like this draft strategy because it allows you to hedge your bets more than other strategies: you can troll the waiver wire for breakout base stealers and newly anointed closers as the season progresses and improve your team in the areas of saves and steals. 2006 Jared Weaver aside, it is much harder to troll the waiver wire for low-whip starting pitchers. In addition, since era is the league’s tie-breaking category, I prefer strategies that result in era being a strength.

My second unconventional draft strategy is what I call Santana and the K-Train. Its mission is to win all pitching stats and maybe steals and homers. It calls for using your first six picks on strikeout pitchers, including drafting the three best low-whip, high strikeout closers a few rounds above their current average draft position (ADP). The remaining picks are spent on cheap homers and cheap steals:
1. Santana (240k)
2. Nathan (95k) <--normally a 4th-round pick
3. K-Rod (100k) (or Carpenter 184k)
4. BJ Ryan (90k)
5. Zambrano (190k) (or Peavy 215k)
6. Lackey (190k)
7. Sexson (30hr) (or Smoltz 211k)
8. Dunn (40hr)
9. Patterson (18hr, 31sb)
10. Rios (20hr, 20sb)
11. Roberts/Weeks (10-20hr, 20-30sb)
12. Hall (30hr 13sb)
13. Giambi (30hr)
14. Crisp (15hr, 15sb)
15. Freel (37sb)
16. Burrell (30hr)
17. Kendrick (18sb)
18. Tavares (35sb)
19. Martin (10hr, 10sb)
20. Penny (160k)
21. Vazquez (190k)
22. D. Cabrera (8.5k/9inning)
23. Oliver Perez (239k in 2004)

Even though both my strategies recommend drafting Santana with your first pick, I'm not a Santana fan in regular baseball. Ever since Vince Coleman stole 110 bases in 1985, I've had a soft spot for speed, and Crawford and Reyes (mostly Reyes) are the guys I really like. I even have a love for the one-dimensional Juan Pierre. But Santana is (or has been) significantly better than any other pitcher, and that makes him hard to pass up in the first round.

As Rotoworld's Aaron Gleeman puts it: "Another strategy that seems obvious right now is that starting pitchers are ridiculously undervalued. I don't typically go heavy on pitching and I realize plenty of veteran fantasy players have draft plans that are tailor-made to avoid high-priced hurlers, but they're falling so far in ADP that you almost have to reconsider. If you can pick up Carpenter in the third round, Peavy in the fifth round, and Smoltz in the sixth round … well, you should do it."

Anyway. I don't play fantasy baseball. I'm only an occasional consultant for a friend of mine. When it comes to baseball, all I really want to do is move to Brooklyn, go to El Nuevo Portal restaurant, sit at my favorite corner table, eat my Mofongo, and watch every one of the Amazin' Jose Reyes' games on the wood-paneled 1990s-style TV that is bolted to the restaurant wall.

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