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Fantasy Baseball Strategy: How to Manage your Team in Month One

By Keith Allison on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

This is the second article in a series of RotoBaller Strategy pieces.  Last week we laid out for all you RotoBallers Why We Love Fantasy Baseball.  This week, we're getting into actual strategy.  In the future we'll explore topics like "How to Trade," "How to Play the Waiver Wire" and more, but for now we wanted to hit on a topic that a lot of readers are asking about: how to manage your team during the first month of the season.  This piece will give you some general guidelines that we hope will help to calm your nerves a bit as you settle in for the long, long season ahead.

You spent weeks, even months preparing for your fantasy baseball drafts.  Everything was looking good: you identified sleepers, breakouts, busts, overvalued players, undervalued players, targets, avoids, etc. You created tiers at each position and made meticulous projections. You did mock draft after mock draft. You talked keepers with your fellow fantasy GMs. Perhaps you just did some of these things and not others; maybe you did everything listed here and more; but either way, we all went into our fantasy baseball drafts feeling confident that we would draft the best team out there, filled with solid vets and youngsters with breakout potential.

Jered Weaver on June 27, 2012And then, the draft.  It was supposed to be so smooth and amazing.  After a few rounds of picking the best players on the board, all borderline superstars, you get into the real meat of the draft.  One of the players you're targeting in the 9th goes a couple of rounds early, then another and another, and by the time your pick comes, you’re in a bit of a frenzy:  do you reach for player X who you thought would be around two rounds later? Or do you stick with the solid bankable player you were targeting originally? We all have these dilemmas, and we all deal with them differently, and every choice works out somewhat differently from what you had originally thought.  In one highly competitive big money league, for example, I ultimately settled for a sixth-round pick of Jered Weaver, and after seeing Austin Jackson and Shin-Soo Choo fly off the board, I made a panic-driven seventh-round selection of Jimmy Rollins (when I already owned Starlin Castro).  Chris Sale was still on the board after that Rollins pick, which means I could have had Choo and Sale in place of Weaver and Rollins.  Disastrous.

No matter how your draft worked out, the first few weeks seem to pose the toughest dilemma that any manager could face: how is my team and what do I need to do to improve it?  Make add / drops immediately to balance it out? Make trades? Or sit tight and hope for the best?  There is no clear-cut answer, and someone who drafted Weaver, Freeman and Aramis is going to be forced to make big early-season moves.  Those are rare instances, however, and RotoBaller feels that the more patient you can be with your team over the first month, the better it will serve you down the road.  Here are a few maxims and guiding principles that should aid you in managing your team over the first 4-6 weeks of the season:

  • Be Patient: Three weeks are in the book, and three weeks is not nearly enough to evaluate most players, with many off to either super-hot or super-cold starts. The hot players won’t keep it up, and the cold players won’t keep it down.  If you drafted Giancarlo Stanton or Buster Posey in the second round, you can’t all of a sudden treat them like fourth- or fifth-round players and sell low, based on a few weeks.  The same goes for guys like Cole Hamels and David Price who are also off to cold starts.  Patience with players like these will reward you with high-end stats down the road.  On the flip-side, just because you have a hot breakout player who’s going bananas (hello Chris Davis!), you don’t necessarily need to try and sell high on him.  You drafted him for a reason, so be patient, and he will likely reward you with another torrid stretch of play, and probably achieve the 30-35 HR projection that led you draft him in the first place.

  • Giancarlo Stanton 2011Just Say NO (to selling low): You wouldn’t believe how many questions we get in our chat room about players like Posey, Stanton, Price and Hamels. People want to know if they should sell Stanton at a 50% discount from his draft price.  News flash: Stanton had 5 RBI and 0 HR through April 29th of last year.  And we all know how that ended up. The takeaway here is that the season is very long, and we are not even through the first 10% of it. Give your players time to get into the swing of things.

  • Understand your Players: Look, we’re not telling you to never trade a really cold player, but you have to first do some due diligence and deep evaluation. With Stanton, you've got to recognize that there is nothing wrong with him, he’s just in an atrocious lineup and he’s hearing trade rumors every day, and he’s yet to find his groove.  There is nothing in that evaluation that you didn't know on draft day, but you still drafted him, and you did so for a reason:  he's an absolute beast.  You don’t want to trade him for Chris Davis and then watch Stanton hit 40 HR from May through September.  On the other hand, you have a first-round pick like Matt Kemp who’s also struggling terribly. Kemp is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, which we’d like to be patient with but truthfully no one knows when he’ll be back to normal. He’s also striking out at a ridiculous rate of 30% which is way too high for him, and it’s driving his contact rate down down down.  Kemp is a guy to be legitimately worried about, and if you can recoup 90% of the value for him you should explore options.  The point is, it’s about understanding your players and evaluating each situation on it’s own.

  • Edwin EncarnacionA Small Sample does not a Season Make: This is similar to Be Patient, and maybe we’re just reinforcing this point. You made valuations prior to your draft, and just because things haven’t panned out exactly as you’d hoped, it doesn’t mean you should throw your judgment out the window.  If you thought Edwin Encarnacion was going to hit 30+ HR, the fact that he hasn’t gotten off to a strong start shouldn’t change that (unless, as we saw with Kemp, there is some injury concern lurking beneath the surface) As long as the player isn’t inured and has no major red flags, don’t let yourself be sucked in by the black hole of small negative sample sizes.

  • Track other players, teams, and the waiver wire: Whether your team is off to a hot start or cold start, you want to make sure you know what’s going on around the league. Is there a hot player on the waiver wire just sitting there waiting to be picked up when Ryan Zimmerman goes down with an injury? Are there players on other owners’ teams who are frustrating them to hell, players that you can try to buy up on the cheap? Take advantage of other owners who are unwilling or unable to exercise the excruciating patience that is required of a fantasy baseball champion.  You want to be collecting as much information as possible, so that when the time comes to make moves, you’ll be prepared.  Our Ultimate Waiver Wire Watch list and weekly Buy Low / Sell High articles are great resources to start with, but you also need to know your league and other managers’ teams and personalities.

  • Most Importantly, Don't Blow Up Your Team: No matter how badly your team starts out, resist the urge to blow it all up with poor trades and waiver wire pick-ups that force you to drop solid players who should be universally owned.   I can't tell you how many times I've seen this, even in leagues with big buy-ins.  Last season, a manager in my hyper-competitive league managed to use 40 of his 70 allotted adds for the year by the end of April. It didn't get any better-- he self-destructed and traded away many of his best players, and traded high future-year draft picks for lower caliber players. It was one of the most inept examples of fantasy management I have ever witnessed.  You don't want to be an owner like that, so, if your team stinks right now, try to just take a step back and chill.  It's a very long year and you will need more than three weeks to determine whether this season is lost.