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Navigating the First Week of MLB – Fantasy Baseball

Featured Image 05One week is now in the books, and while my daily fantasy teams haven’t fared as well I’d hoped, my yearly teams are off to a great start. Unlike a lot of those in the Daily Fantasy Sports industry who come from a background of online poker, I legitimately have my roots in yearly fantasy sports leagues. I’ve been playing anything fantasy sports I could find since I was fourteen years old.

We live in this society that is so ‘now’ focused we forget that some things take time, and no other sport is a better example of this marinating principle than the sport of baseball. I love the managers that are panicking right now because they have no sense of baseball time. It is a known fact that as the season progresses, hitters hit better.

Keep that in mind as you start planning your trades. Trading up your pitching is also not a bad idea. Take Cole Hamels, he’s had two horrible starts to begin the season. Imagine if you could move your Alexi Ogando or Matt Harvey for his Cole Hamels. Trust me; it’s worth the try.

So I say all this not to brag, but rather to inform. I have finished week one in first place in my Fantasy Sports Writer’s Association league, the only year-long league I am in this year. I’m glad my team is performing well, but you need to exhibit the same kind of perspective when you’re first that you would have if you were last after one week of play.

http://games.espn.go.com/flb/standings?leagueId=53130&seasonId=2013

Here are some things that I’ve learned.

Know Your League Settings

1. Know Your League Settings

I played in this league last year and neglected to educate myself on all the settings. One of particular note was the 180 start limit for your starting pitching. In last year’s draft, I was amazed at how far guys like Justin Verlander, Gio Gonzalez, Yu Darvish and such were falling so I sacrificed hitting to grab as many front line starters as I could.

While this may have been solid in theory as I had 9 pitcher slots to fill, it was not good in practice as I reached my starts limit with over a month and a half left in the season. My pitching stats then locked. I fell from top five in the league all the way to eighth, my worst finish in any league last year.

What did I learn? I learned that for this league I was going to forgo all pitchers that I thought were a sure thing for 30+ starts. Instead I was going to focus my eye on pitchers that would get 25+ and perform at high level for those 25 starts. I thought that most 30+ starters were going to be worth more than I was willing to pay at 180 start limit.

For you non-matheletes, that means you could only have six, 30 start pitchers or five 30+ guys. I opted for six 20+ start starters (Darvish, Lester, Harvey, Ogando, Minor, and Ryu) and four 15+ start starters (Cashner, Teheran, Garza, and Jose Fernandez).  Through just the first week of the season, this pitching staff has well out-performed my league mates with arguably better front line aces. Although I think all my pitchers are studs, and I carefully chose them before the draft sans Fernandez.

Draft Guys That You Like

2.  Draft Guys That You Like

One hour before the draft I learned I was going to have the last pick in this 12 team league. After wiping away my tears, I was really stuck in a quandary of sorts. I had no idea who my competitors were going to let slip to me at this pick. I figured with our settings (OBP and SLG instead of AVG and HR) and the fact that this was an expert league, any number of scenarios could play out.

Sure enough I sat at this 12th pick staring down Troy Tulowitzki, Justin Upton, Jose Bautista, and Bryce Harper. I ruled out Tulow rather quickly. To me he’s too much of an injury risk to be on my team, and that’s saying something. I love some Bryce Harper, but my love for him was eclipsed by old flame Joey Bats and my Braves love.

Sometimes a decision should be made from the heart. In this case it has really worked out for me as you could argue that no one had a more impactful first week than Upton. I don’t regret these two picks even though Harper and Tulow have been awesome so far.

I play fantasy sports for the competition and the feeling of closeness to the game. Drafting guys I like amplifies my enjoyment in those two areas.

Put Your Thinking Caps On

3. Put Your Thinking Caps On

What the heck does that mean? Well, it means that you have to be dedicated to your team on a daily basis and be forward thinking with your decision making. For this FSWA league, it is a daily lineup change league with a small bench.

You really can’t stockpile enough bats to sub out all the players you need to every day. It is also a two catcher league. I drafted Joe Mauer relatively early on the thought that he would help my OBP but then was frozen out of any good second catcher. As one catcher after another flew off the board, I decided to target Carlos Ruiz, who is another very solid OBP catcher option.

Problem with Ruiz is that he is suspended for the first 25 games of the 2013 season. There’s the dilemma. I mulled over using his back-up Erik Kratz, but he didn’t give me any help in that OBP category. I devised a solution to my problem. I would use a second catcher slot platoon featuring Rob Brantly from the Marlins and Evan Gattis from the Braves. Brantly would be my OBP guy on days where Gattis wasn’t playing, and Gattis would be my everything else.

Seriously, I am rostering four catchers as we speak, and I would say it has been a resounding success through the first week. Coming up with innovative solutions to complicated problems is the key to success in fantasy, the economy, and life in general.

Believe in Your Players

4. Believe in Your Players

The best advice I’ve ever read when it came to baseball was from the great Ron Shandler, “Once a player exhibits a skill set he owns that skill set and can always revert back to that skill set.” Justin Upton are prime examples of players like that.

I also targeted Jon Lester, Mike Morse, Emilio Bonifacio, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez on that same hope of reclaiming past skill sets. I will need Crawford to show speed to be successful down the line, and that is the only skill set that I could see not returning this year.

Lester and Morse have been great, and I look forward to seeing what Bonifacio can do when the base stealing light gets turned on. Where skill sets can return so can injury histories. I have David Freese as my lone disabled list hitter, and I hope that his injury “skill set” will not linger. I’m not holding my breath either.

Be Patient with Small Sample Sizes

5. Be Patient with Small Sample Sizes

Cheesy at in may sound the key to success in fantasy baseball is to stay the course. There are so many ups and downs in a sport that plays 162 games that patience is not only a virtue it is a necessity. Take Roy Halladay as an example.

I look at his BABIP, K/9, and xFIP and he looks like the greatest pitcher that ever played the game. Then I look at his ERA, HR/FB rate, and BB/9 rate and he looks like the worst pitcher of all time. All of these stats will normalize through the season.

Halladay will not be the best, and he won’t be the worst pitcher either. Keep everything in perspective. As I examine this FSWA league, I understand that I have a long way to go if I want to find year-long success, and that perspective will be the difference between a first place finish or a disappointing season-long free fall.

I look forward to bringing more and more yearly articles peppered along as we honker down every day on the Daily Leagues stuff. Feel free to email me any year long questions at [email protected]

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About Ben Pritchett

Member of the FSWA. Top 4 2012 Most Accurate Fantasy Baseball Expert. Top 3 Finisher in the 2012 DSFC football championship. Written for The Hardball Times and Daily Joust.

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