Fantasy Baseball ProTip: Understand Your League

This post comes from E. Rolf Pleiss.  E. Rolf currently writes about the Minnesota Twins for Knuckleballs Blog, is the co-host of a weekly Minnesota Twins podcast, Talk to Contact and his Twitter feed is a hilarious must follow.  E. Rolf has been playing fantasy baseball for nearly a decade, but starting in 2012 he started getting serious about his fantasy-swag, and started putting some of the tips he has seen here on Crackerjacks to use. He will be sharing some of his advice for first-time fantasy baseball players with us over the next several weeks.

Almost every year one of the people in our fantasy league will post something on the league message board about how this other league they are in needs an extra player because so-and-so backed out at the last minute.  I tend to volunteer for these types of opportunities for two reasons,

  1. I tend to think to MORE fantasy baseball is better than LESS, and if I can join an existing league it will usually be one that I can count on playing in for several additional years, and
  2. I like the ways that differences in drafting, scoring, and style (head-to-head, roto, keeper leagues, etc.) can have a huge impact on player valuation.  Generally, with the exception of AL/NL only leagues, all of the leagues will use the same set of players, and most will use some of the same stats for player scoring, because of this, each league seems very similar to any other.

Whether you are in just one league, or you are in ten, the first thing you should do is to familiarize yourself with the league rules, and then use those specific rule sets to create or enhance your player rankings/team construction.  To help you out, here are three things you should know about any fantasy league you are playing in.

What Type of League Are You In? 

Perhaps the biggest difference in player valuation is attributable to the type of league you are playing in.  Probably the biggest factor between league types is know if the league is a keeper league. If it is, how many players can you keep?  If you keep a player, do you have to pay a premium to have them on your roster in the future? Obviously, if the league you are playing in is a keeper league, there might be more value in drafting young players in an effort to build a team that can compete for more than one year.  If the league restarts from scratch each year, then player ages really go out the window, you should not be worrying about what rookies might be the player of the future, instead you need to focus on players that have value in the present.

Similar adjustments must also be made for players coming off of major injuries.  Alternatively, if you are in a head-to-head league, it is important to recognize that because your team will be judged over only a seven day period, that you will need to diligently monitor your lineup, moving players in and out of the lineup not only based on the way the player is performing, but also based upon the upcoming schedule for that player and how that might change their short-term performance.

What Are the Scoring Categories? 

This seems pretty straight forward, and it is, but a failure to understand how your team can score points will set you back in every type of league.

Obviously home run hitters are going to help your team in a variety of areas, RBIs, Total Bases, Slugging, and Runs, and so players that hit a lot of home runs will generally have a high fantasy value, but do not forget that you are also going to need players to help you reach those stolen base numbers, or perhaps you’re in a more sabermetrically inclined league and you are going to need some high On-Base Percentage guys to make up for those home run hitters’ strike outs.  Make sure you know the scoring categories, and make sure you build your team with all of the categories in mind.

What Happened Last Year?

Or, even better, what has happened over the last several years? In asking this question, the main thing you want to know is how many of what stat did each team accumulate over the course of the past year (or the average of those stats, if you’re looking at multiple years).

So if there were 10 teams in your league, how many home runs did each team have, how many stolen bases, etc.  Find the average of the top 3 teams (or roughly the top 3rd of the league), and set those numbers as your team goals.  If, looking at the standings from last year, you see that the top three teams in the league had 306 home runs and 227 stolen bases, you will want to build/draft a team, using player projections or reasonable expectations, that will reach those totals. KEEP THESE NUMBERS NEARBY ON DRAFT NIGHT. As you go about your draft, be sure that you are putting together a team that adds value to each of these areas.

If you can get a handle on those three things as a fantasy team owner you are going to be set up for success in 2013.