Fantasy Strategy: Dispelling some myths and common misconceptions

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Today we are going to review a few common misconceptions with respect to fantasy baseball strategy. Having a clearer understanding of these concepts will enable the owner to best manage his squad to a title.

The first point is one which we will revisit in greater detail later in the season, because, quite frankly, it continues to be met with disbelief. The prevailing assumption is that as the season progresses in rotisserie-style leagues, it becomes increasingly harder and harder to make up ground in the ratio categories such as batting average, ERA and WHIP. The truth is you are actually more likely to gain or lose points in these categories as compared to the counting categories. Obviously, it is harder to raise or lower your raw batting average, ERA and WHIP as the at bats and inning pitched mount, but the fact is you can still move up or down in these categories more readily than the others. There are two reasons why this is the case. First, you do not have to change your ratios very much to gain or lose points as the top-to-bottom distribution within the ratio categories is much tighter that the counting ones. We'll save the math for another time, but the idea is if you convert each category to the same unit, the teams are much more tightly grouped in the ratios, so it does not take as much to gain or lose ground. The second reason is not only can you gain points by improving your own numbers, but also if your opponents worsen. The take home lesson here is when making trades and free agent/waiver pickups, do not fall into the trap of assuming your move cannot impact the ratios, either in a good or bad way, because it most certainly can, even in August and September when the at-bats and innings have really piled up.

The next common mistake many people make has to do with keeper and dynasty leagues, specifically not recognizing there are many hybrid leagues that are really a mix of keeper and dynasty formats and thus require their own flavor when it comes to trading. While there is no official textbook definition, for the purpose of this discussion, the difference between true keeper and true dynasty leagues will revolve around the player-pool turnover and the availability of top talent each spring. In true keeper leagues, while a good portion of players are carried over from the previous season, the contacts and salaries are set up in such a manner that there is a steady influx of significant available talent each spring. In dynasty leagues, there is limited if any turnover among the higher end of the player pool.

Why is it important to delineate the distinct formats? In keeper leagues, a winning strategy should be to trade away protectable talent for non-protectable talent that gives you a better chance to win this season. You then likely have to spend a season or two rebuilding for another run at the title, but the turnover in the player pool is ample so you can accomplish this successfully. The idea is that in keeper leagues, it is perfectly acceptable to shoot for a win-rebuild-win-rebuild cycle instead of a series of middling finishes. The problem is that while you can probably engineer a deal to win the championship in a dynasty league, due to the static nature of the player pool, you will have weakened your foundation greatly and are not afforded the same opportunity to replenish the troops. So the so-called dump trade is not as viable a strategy in dynasty leagues as it is in keeper leagues, unless you are willing to spend multiple years rebuilding your foundation, as opposed to the year it takes in most keeper leagues.

When your league is at either extreme, it is straightforward to identify the format and plan accordingly. Where it gets cloudy is there are many leagues referred to as keeper leagues, but actually incorporate some elements of a dynasty league. Basically, in this hybrid format, while there is some churning of the player pool, it is not sufficient enough to adequately rebuild after a season in which you traded away your future to win now. The common mistake is to treat the league like a keeper league and indeed make a dump trade, not realizing the repercussions will be dangling in mediocrity for a few years while you restock your keeper list, and once you do, there are limited available top players to supplement.

More often than not, what distinguishes the hybrid setup from either extreme is while there is a salary bump from year to year, the player can be kept in perpetuity and the increase is so moderate that it takes a long time before the player cannot be retained under value. What you need to do is review your league's rules and think about the nature of your spring auction or draft. What kind of talent is routinely available? Does it always seem to be the same names that always go for exorbitant prices? If yes, you are playing in a hybrid format and you may want to consider holding onto your foundation and trying instead to make it so solid, you can win with a token deal or two, as opposed to keeper leagues where you sell your soul to win this season.

Another misconception is how trades are broached. Everyone has heard the mantra "trade from strength to improve weakness." But what if in a rotisserie league, you are doing poorly in a category with little chance of improvement but are doing pretty well in a couple of others but have an opportunity to do even better? The saying should really be something like "trade from a category in which you can lose the minimal ground to improve in others you can gain the most ground." It's not nearly as clean and concise, but it is a much better approach. It is still too early in the season to really get into category management, but in certain situation, you may be faced with a scenario in which it is best to sacrifice a point or two somewhere you are already struggling to fortify multiple other categories. For instance, maybe you were relying on Jose Reyes or Grady Sizemore to anchor your stolen bases and are lagging behind. Trading a second-tier stolen base player like Ryan Theriot or Alex Rios for more power may cost you a couple of points in steals, but could help gain points in HRs and RBIs. The analogy in points leagues is dealing away hitting to improve pitching or vice versa. What often results is a parallel trade involving the shifting around of where you get your points as opposed to improving your overall points potential. What you need to do in any trade, rotisserie and points leagues alike, is to look at your roster in total, pre- and post-trade and evaluate your point scoring potential and not strictly focus on the principles actually involved.

This segues perfectly into the final point. The trendy advice is to always look to be receiving the best player in a multiple-player deal. This is a fallacy that is admittedly perpetuated by the fact that in a majority of instances, the preferred side of a deal indeed involves the best player, but not always. It is easy to fall into the trap of setting the first condition of a deal to be receiving the best player. As discussed above, it is a matter of roster before versus roster after and selecting the option that leads to more points. As suggested, especially in mixed leagues, the quality of players you can use to backfill the players you deal away is usually of sufficient ilk to favor acquiring the best player -- but not always. Do not categorically reject the deal and instead do the math. Sometimes the return for your superstar is plush enough to warrant parting ways.