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Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Make Smarter Moves and Maximize your Value

By SD Dirk (Tony La Russa) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As the calendar gets ready to turn to August, the stretch run is coming into sight.  Rotisserie fantasy owners must look at where they'll be able to pick up ground in their leagues and where they have room to give. The concept is simple but very often overlooked. Not all fantasy stats (HR, R, K, etc.) are created equal, and being able to understand your standings can be the difference between taking home your league’s title and ending up as the beer boy for the following year’s draft (see: http://www.cracked.com/blog/the-10-worst-punishments-losing-in-fantasy-league). A hard analysis can sometimes lead to the realization that you don't need to get even value in a trade-- accepting a lesser player who can gain you more points mught be the better option.

As an example, take a look at the following league's standings. We'll keep it simple and pretend this league only uses hitting stats, but you can and should expand this analysis for all categories. Remember, first place in runs is just as valuable as first place in saves so you want to get the whole picture.































R HR RBI SB Avg Total




































At first glance you might say it will just be some luck to see who has a hot finish to the year in to determine who will win this league, but I'd have to disagree. There are probably just four teams in the hunt (B would need some real magic), but I would prefer to be Team C currently in fourth place if I had my choice, because they could easily jump to 21 or 22 points while the other teams would all struggle to get above 20. Teams A, D and E are all tied at 16 points with C just behind at 15, but fantasy baseball stats aren't quite as linear as the real life version. Put another way, while it's true each HR your fantasy team hits will tally equally a HR, R, RBI and improve your average, what really matters is how each of those stats accumulate and compare to the other teams in your league.

Without looking at the entire roster, it's clear that Team C is short in the power department, but how bad are they really? It's unrealistic to imagine that they'll catch Team A, but a small power surge could move them from fifth to second fairly quickly and net the team three fantasy points. The same logic applies in the RBI department, too, where Team C could easily pick up three points. In the other categories, Team C has a huge lead in runs and they are grouped at the very top of stolen bases.  With the big lead in the runs department, it's very unlikely Team C is going to give up any ground there, and while they could gain a fantasy point in SB, it's unlikely they would give up any points and finish worse than second.  And finally, Team C is basically by itself in batting average where it would take something significant for them to move up or down there.Just to reiterate: Team C currently sits at 15, but could easily gain six (three in HR, three in RBI) or seven (if gain one more in SBs) fantasy points.

Again, without looking at the rosters, there's a pretty good chance Team C has a few guys like Matt Carpenter, Jacoby Ellsbury, Starling Marte and Everth Cabrera, which has helped build their lead in runs and SB, but it's come at the expense of power production. They could stay the course and hope to find some power on the waiver wire, but at their current pace, they're going to end the season with a GIANT lead in runs. To put it nicely, that's just plain dumb, because the goal should be to finish first in every category by 1 run, 1 SB, 1 HR, 1 point of batting average, etc., since the incremental value of each run or RBI you finish above the team behind you is precisely zero.

Let's fast-forward to the end of the season.  Team C finishes with 850 runs (first in the category), and the next closest team has 700. In HR, Team C finished last with 100, but the team that got second in HR had 110. Objectively, Team C "wasted" 149 runs, because they could have used the players that generated these runs to trade for players that generated power which would have gained them three actual fantasy points.  With the goal being to maximize fantasy points, Team C could have realized its excess of runs and identified a power bat to trade for. Even if this meant accepting a trade that resulted in 100 fewer runs but 11 additional HR (this would seem like an awful idea in most circumstances) and "losing the trade" in a vacuum, it would actually net the team three fantasy points by moving up in HR from fifth to second (and could potentially have a similar impact on RBI) without costing any points at all in the runs category.  To provide context, rarely would I trade Jacoby Ellsbury for Adam Dunn, but it could actually make sense under the right circumstances at this point in the season.

You can take this logic to the next level by looking at what other teams need to gain points, too. In doing so, there may be times when there's some logic to "keeping" stats on your team to prevent another team from having them and gaining ground on you (think of this as a defensive strategy). Conversely, there may be times when you see the person you're competing with for first place has a very slim lead in a category, and you can trade a player to a team who's out of the running but that can steal a point from the team you really care about by allowing them to overtake your direct adversary in a specific category (think of this as a sabotage strategy).

Remember, this logic should be applied across your entire standings, because though you might have an excess of saves, picking up extra steals could put your team over the top. Even if it costs you a point in one category, you should be willing to sacrifice that to pick up three or four elsewhere.  You’re always better off working smarter rather than harder.


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