Yeah, I know. There is still one more football game to be played. But the fantasy baseball magazines have hit the stands, we have reports of players being in the best shape of their careers and talk of steroids fills the air. This can only mean one thing; pitchers and catchers will be reporting soon and it is time to ramp up your preparation for the 2010 fantasy baseball season. Over the next several weeks, I will be offering some suggestions on how to assemble a championship squad, and then I will tag in my Mastersball teammates, who will guide you through the season with advice on managing during the season.

Raise your hand if you said "this is the year I do my own projections." Now keep your hand up if you are following through. Good for you. For the rest, do not fret as I am going to let you in on a little secret. You do not have to do your own projections to be successful.

Most overlook the fact that a projection is composed of two parts: performance rate and playing time. Performance rate can be thought of a player's skill and ultimately will be expressed by the stat per plate appearance for hitters or the stat per inning pitched for pitchers. Playing time is, of course, plate appearances or innings pitched.

Projection models project skills according to their own proprietary means. Most systems take a look at the player's skills history. Elements such as player's age and the park they played in are often factored into the equation. Different sources use different indicators to analyze the trends, but ultimately, some sort of weighted average is used to project a rate of performance for the upcoming season. The playing time is then estimated and the static projection is born.

Here is the secret. As suggested, while each model incorporates its own proprietary black box, ultimately, the skills analysis does not differ that greatly between systems. What this means for you is that you can fundamentally do your own projections simply by flavoring any trustworthy projections source with your personal playing time approximations. And while you may not feel qualified or have the time to do regression and correlation studies to produce your own model, it does not require an advanced degree in Sabermetrics to guess how much Garrett Atkins is going to play.

So here is your first assignment. All you need to do is something you are very likely to do as a baseball fan anyway, and that is just read about each team and check out its offseason transactions and current constitution of its roster. While it is a bit early to assign playing time, come up with a preliminary depth chart and pitching rotation. Make notes of positions that are still up in the air and make a point of following those battles in spring training. While tracking transactions, do not ignore the seemingly insignificant signings like Gabe Gross by the Oakland Athletics. While only those in the deepest of formats care about a reserve outfielder, what is important is how many at-bats his presence will cost players you do care about like Coco Crisp or Rajai Davis.

What is so important about doing your own playing time estimations? Especially with hitting, playing time is fundamentally fantasy baseball currency. Regardless of the format or scoring system, the teams accumulating the most at bats are usually atop the hitting standings. While 20 at-bats does not seem like much, if you take the time to project your own playing time, you are apt to find a team's worth of players you feel will play more than your competitors do. Adding 20 extra at-bats to each roster spot is like fielding an additional half player. If the average player hits 20 homers and steals 10 bases, you have tacked on 10 homers and 5 stolen bases to your totals, not to mention the additional runs and RBIs. This could earn you a point or more per category.

So kick back and enjoy the football game over the weekend. But in between discussing whether Peyton Manning is the best quarterback of all time or rooting for the city of New Orleans after all they have been through, pick out a couple of teams and catch up on their offseason activity. It could result in a handful of points without having to understand what xFIP is or how to calculate a player's BABIP.

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