Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Fantasy Baseball 101: Pre-draft Strategy

So many players, so little time. As the date for your Fantasy Baseball draft looms, your stress understandably grows. How do you create a successful pre-draft ranking for your live or auto-draft Fantasy Baseball League?

Trust me, I know the feeling. One false move and you have got Kirk Benson on your team instead of Barry Zito. If we were playing Fantasy Baseball Wives, then that might have been a good pick. Normally, it wouldn’t be.

So what do you do? In an “all baseball” fantasy league, there are a huge number of players for you to consider for your team: on 29 major league teams, there are 5 starting pitchers + 2 top relievers + 9 position players = 29*16=464. Add in the backups, the rookies and the platoon players, and you have well over 500 players to evaluate. No one expects you to have a short bio ready for each player on draft day. But it sure does help to know who the top players are at each position.

Ok, I confess. I probably know something about each one of those 500 players. But I am not normal. There once was a time where I didn’t know much more than who last year’s players were on my favorite team, and I went into the fantasy draft with just my Yankee-love. In the following years, after a dismal start in fantasy sports, I learned how to learn. I taught myself where to go, and how to gain the knowledge. It took some time, but it was worth it to me.

First thing to know is that you don’t have to put in any extra time if you don’t want to. Most fantasy sports pages provide you with a standard ranking system. Yahoo’s page provides its users with two ranks: a basic Rank, based on last years performance, and an O-Rank, an overall assessment of that players worth, past, present and future. The lower the number, the better the rank; draft players with better ranks wherever possible. Simple, isn’t it?

Other websites provide a dollar value to each player. A player who is valued at $50 is worth more than a player worth $16. Seems obvious, right? What’s nice about this kind of ranking is that you can see the relative difference between players that might be harder to figure out by the Yahoo ranks. Yahoo may rank Jorge Posada and Javy Lopez as the fourth and fifth best catchers in a given year, respectively. A dollar-value based system may assess Posada at $24 and only give Lopez a value of $18. You can see how much difference there is between two players ranked right next to each other as well as compare that value to players at other positions with the same dollar value.

So, basically, with almost no time invested, you have a simple guide to who will be a better pick for your draft. Leagues that use Yahoo’s website for their auto-draft will automatically suggest the default Yahoo O-Rank as their draft pre-rank. With no work at all, Yahoo will make the choices for you, based on who the next best players is available from their master O-Rank list.

One of the things that make it enjoyable is that you don’t have to spend more time than you have. However, I am not satisfied with the Yahoo list alone. Yahoo doesn’t make any pre-draft adjustments for injuries, trades, free agency, or World Baseball Classic participation. So what do you do now? Where do you go to get all that juicy information that makes your draft so successful? There really is no secret. I don’t pay for any of it. All my data is available for free somewhere; in magazines, on TV, on the radio, and on the web.

Every little bit helps. I was always told by my teachers in elementary school, “The more you read, the smarter you are.” In high school and college, my creative writing professors told me that the same holds true with writing, “The more you write, the better you become”. One of my favorite bands, They Might Be Giants, subscribes to the same point of view: the more music you produce the better you become at producing music. Of course, we all do it more because we love to do it in the first place. But the rule holds true to Fantasy Baseball. The more you read about, listen to, watch and look up about baseball, the more you know about baseball.

I’d also say that doing a little bit at a time helps. Cramming might help you score well on that one test, but you are bound to forget all that info faster. If you learn a few things each sitting, you are more likely to retain that knowledge and make better decisions throughout the course of the season.

Most of us regular guys can’t be employed by ESPN and travel around from camp to camp during Spring Training. Very few have that luxury. Instead, we are all in the same position to begin with, knowing as much as those people choose to report. Read as much as you can, and you can try to know just enough that you might be able to get the jump on that one budding star, or to avoid that injury prone dud.

Here are some of the resources I have used in the past:
I subscribe to The Sporting News. Ok, it sounds simple enough, but this magazine gives me a weekly summary of every recent newsworthy baseball observation and how it affects each team. There is commentary on recent transactions, player health, manager opinions, and other expert articles. I rarely have time to read the entire thing, so, when I have time, I sit in my big chair and skim read for the player names in bold. When I notice that a particular player is noted to show promise or greater potential the next season, I circle their name. If a player is mentioned to have some sort of injury or fatal flaw that should keep them off my team, I put an X through their name. When I have time I use the results of this method to bump players up on my master list or eliminate them completely.
I listen to Sports Radio. It doesn’t matter what station you listen to, but any news you hear is more than you already knew before.
I watch SportsCenter. I actually don’t watch many sports on TV until baseball season starts, and then if there is a game on, the TV is on. I might tune in for a good college basketball matchup, but it is not essential. If I see some bit of news on the ticker at the bottom of the screen, I consider that a bonus.
I surf the web. I surf it like crazy. I surf it so much, Bodie from Point Break called and wants to meet me and catch a gnarly wave. There is a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge out here that few people know how to find and read. Here are a few of the sites that I have found to be the most helpful.
I pay attention to what the experts do. Most of the Fantasy Baseball experts I have read all post their own predictions as well as their own fantasy teams. One expert I like to follow is located on Yahoo’s site, Brandon Funston’s “Big Board.” Updated weekly, this will rank the top 50 players at any given week and 100 players during the pre-season (the Bigger Board). If you are looking to see how your superstar shortstop is ranked against the rest of the studs, this is a nice place to look. Funston is generally very objective, and he will tell you which players he himself has selected in his own expert’s drafts.
I review as many mock drafts as I can. Mock Drafts are drafts that act like “practice drafts” for anxious players. From these you can see what other rabid fantasy baseball fans think about the value of each player. You will see player movement trends early enough to then do the rest of the research on other websites to figure out why some people are giving more or less value to a particular player.

Once you have done all the research you can, get yourself a master player ranking list. This list would have player names, positions, teams, probable rankings and maybe even last year’s stats. Cut and paste it from a website, borrow it from a friend, or hand type it yourself, it doesn’t matter. Its value is great. If you can even rank players by position on different pages, that gives you a better look at things. Using this list, for players that you have read favorable news, bump them a little higher on the list. Players that have received poor press or who are injured, bump them down on the list, or eliminate them completely. This will give you a good idea on what you think certain players belong in the draft – when you think they will get picked.

Finally, it’s important for you to have a plan. Nothing huge, just have an idea on what positions you think there are fewer good players at. This year, there are a multitude of very good shortstops available – if you don’t want to pull the trigger on the best one or two out there in early rounds before they are picked by others, wait until later to make your choice. Keep an eye on who has been picked as the draft progresses, and if it fits in the plan, grab one before most of the good ones are gone. Other positions are generally thinner when it comes to available talent. You might want to try to grab one of those players earlier in the draft so that you aren’t left out in the cold when all the decent talent is gone.

Spread it out. Don’t draft too many of one position all at once. My suggestion is for every five rounds pick at least one infielder, one outfielder, one starting pitcher and one reliever. Use the fifth pick to fill in the holes. Another suggestion is to spread out the power/average/speed picks as well. For every power hitter you grab, you should also target one player who hits for average and another who can steal bases. There is no perfect order or formula, just spread it around. The same rule applies to players on the same team. The year after the Angels won the World Series, a friend of mine went out and drafted their entire starting lineup. Of course, many of those players were very good and helped his team weekly. There are reasons that some players bat at the bottom of the order, or pitch at the end of the rotation. Don’t fall into the trap of drafting every player on your favorite team; if just doesn’t work. Every fantasy team will have players from lots of different teams, even teams that have no chance at making the playoffs, let along a World Series.

Ultimately, you should have an idea about what kind of team you want to have by the end of the draft. Do you want to focus on pitching strengths or batting? Are there certain players you like more than others? As you figure that out, I encourage you to keep one thing in mind – pick yourself a team that you love to look at every day; it’s a long season.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Are you kidding me??

This new toy is bound to be the next Cabbage Patch Kid: http://www.appleheadfactory.com/
Teddy Scares...

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Warm and Cozy

Recently we had to take Big Sis to the emergency room. The poor kid got a huge splinter lodged under the nail of her middle finger. I can't imagine how it got there, and it didn't really cause her much discomfort. She had woken up from her nap like any other day and was playing happily in the living room until she eventually let us know there was a problem. Very quietly, she walked into the kitchen where WW and I were sharing an afternoon snack. Without a word she entered the room and walked right up to us. She held her hand up to my wife and said, "kiss?" (we had to kiss it to make it better)
After a futile attempt to tweeze it out myself, while my wife gently but firmly held her still amid her screams, we decided this task might be best left to the professionals. I drove Big Sis to the local Kid's Healthcare walk-in clinic to be seen. Like that annoying, self-absorbed parent that we all hate, I cut the line and asked the admission nurse if it was worth the wait: would the seriousness of her splinter force us to go to the real ER, or could she be seen here.
The nurse led me to a room where the Doctor on duty came in to examine Big Sis's finger. With one look he knew: there was no way he was going to touch it. We had been dispatched to the Emergency Room, Scottish Rite, the prestigious Children's Hospital. The doctor said that in order for him to remove the splinter, he would have to sedate her, remove her nail, remove the splinter and then replace the nail. He didn't have the equipment/medication there to handle the sedation.
Off to Scottish Rite we went, picking up my wife and son. After meeting up with Grandma to drop of the boy, we made the 40 minute drive to the children's emergency room. Supposedly, this is the best place to take a kid in the greater metro area, so that's the place where we were going. Once we were there, and after a long wait, we saw a very nice doctor-lady who brought a tough orderly and a needle of painkillers. Loratab, to be specific, my kid's first fix. Well, after one shot of that stuff, and 15 minutes for it to kick in, the nice doctor-lady was able to gently pull the splinter out without a peep from Big Sis.
About six hours, and $100 later, we were finally on our way home. The drugs hadn't exactly worn of yet either. For most of the ride home, Big Sis sang quietly to herself. One song quickly became her favorite, sung dreamily and repeatedly, I can't even guess what tune it was to. She, in the haze of a Loratab high, contented herself to sing "Warm and Cozy" over and over again on the dark ride home. Our baby was okay again.