Help me up my pNERD (where p = player).
May 29, 2014 10:45 AM   Subscribe

I play fantasy baseball in a league with friends, some of whom pay no attention and others who have baseball stats in their very DNA. I myself am moderately ok most of the time, but generally have a low-level understanding of what I'm doing, so when things go wrong my solution is usually to flail around with free agent players while watching my ship sink, week by week. I'd like to get off this plateau and actually learn more about the game, sabermetrics, etc so I can be a legit contender, but I'm lost in the morass: every resource I can find is super basic or way over my head. Help!

My deal is basically this: I grew up watching baseball with my dad, as a lot of people do. I was really invested until the strike in '93, and at that point I was so disgusted with grown men demanding more money for essentially playing little league (I was a kid, so my logic was just that black & white) that I stopped paying attention entirely. I didn't start watching again until 2004 and stayed an uber-casual viewer until 2008. With this timeline, I missed out on almost all of my developmentally-crucial years with the game, as well as baseball's acceptance of sabermetrics. When I stopped watching as a kid, I knew that batting average was king; when I returned to baseball, it was like an entirely different game. This discouraged me from learning more until I was invited into this fantasy league. In my first two seasons I gave it the ol' college try, learning the basics of stats & fantasy, and became one of our fair-to-middling players. In the past few years, though, I haven't really improved that much. I've had great runs at various points in the last three seasons - winning streaks of 4+ weeks, a really good shot at the playoffs - but because I kind of lucked into the streaks in the first place, when things inevitably went downhill I didn't know enough to be able to adequately protect my own interests. I've never made the playoffs once. Considering I seem to show potential but never really fulfill it (as my middle school teachers always said on my report cards), this pisses me off immensely.

Right now, I'm at the top of my league. It's a great feeling - but I'm not really sure how I managed it, and I know I won't be able to do much when I start to lose again but frantically read for each week's two-start pitchers, drop low-scoring players for other decent free agents, and hope that's enough. It's not, and I know this, but where do I start?

I'd love any resource to help with this. I do read faketeams, and occasionally, but the latter is way over my head. There are so many stats in play these days that it's nearly impossible for me to figure out which are more or less important, much less how to balance them with what the individual players are performing and what my team needs more or less of. So anything would help - basic books? Online guides? Even any histories of teams, players, etc. I've looked into some - my team is the Red Sox, and I've looked at histories relating to them, I obviously know about Moneyball, etc, but I'm just not sure what would help. The twist: I don't have a ton of time to dedicate to this - I'm a grad student who needs to dissertate more than anything else - but trust me, my frustration is exquisite.
posted by AthenaPolias to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The trick is that fantasy baseball is in many ways not very much like real baseball at all. So don't overdo it with research, sabremetrics and other esoteric stats, etc., especially if you're just in a casual sort of league. The most important stats are the ones that count in your fantasy league. Some stats can be useful as an indicator of whether a player has been performing over his head (like an abnormally low BABIP for pitchers, for example). But generally, for me, the most efficient way to have a chance at doing well in fantasy baseball is to draft a team based on recent performance (as in, the last 2-3 years), and then make changes only reluctantly. It's a long season. Players tend to revert to their mean. A player can perform very badly for the first third of the season, and then you look at their numbers at the end of the year and they actually turned out pretty good. Certainly keep assessing, and dig deeper into players on your team that seem to be having problems, but don't make panic moves.

If you are playing in a traditional "roto" style league, you want a balanced team that can give you a decent shot at placing in the top 25% of every category (literally, add up the expected totals and see where you'd place). If you are playing a weekly head to head league (which it sounds like you are) you can "punt" some categories in an effort to dominate the other categories, but that can be risky.
posted by AndrewInDC at 11:34 AM on May 29, 2014

Fantasy sports are like poker, not golf-you're trying to beat your opponents, not an arbitrary standard. This is especially true in a weekly matchup league like the one that you are in-versus a roto league where you're trying to maximize value over the season.

Watch the flow of transactions of other players in your league and try to understand why they happened. This will help you to identify good and poor owners in the league. You should try to make trades with the poor owners-many leagues are won this way. Propose trades with the same players on your end to various other people in your league, and see how they are received. Generally, you should try to propose a lot of trades, to gain information about how other owners value players. Propose trades that are lopsided in your favor but not insultingly so-if you propose a trade that is immediately accepted, you haven't learned any information and probably got a bad deal. This kind of negotiation can be tricky, but you will learn skills that will help you to negotiate in phases of your life beyond fantasy sports.

Review the draft. Why did selections happen when they did? Did a good team make an odd selection? Did they get lucky? How are people valuing positional scarcity? When did the first pitcher get taken? When did the first closer get taken? Did the Yankees fan take a lot of Yankees? Did the famous guy who isn't any good any more get taken too early? When did Tanaka and Abreu, veteran international free agents who should have been expected to be good but lesser known than other good players, go off the board? How did owners draft injured players, or injury prone players?

Understand the rhythm of the baseball season. For example, over the next few weeks top prospects are going to be called up because they can avoid "Super 2" status for this season. So now is a good time to look at which top prospects are doing well in the minors, and you can think about picking them up as they are called up, or slightly before.
(Young players are not paid nearly as much as veterans. More or less, avoiding "Super 2" means that young player salaries can remain a lot lower for an extra year if teams wait until mid June to call them up)

Many of the standard stats in 5x5 fantasy leagues -- batting average, steals, runs, rbi, wins, saves, even ERA and WHIP to an extent -- are not the most useful stats that are taken seriously by the sabermetric community, so to an extent fantasy baseball writing and analysis exists on its own plane, separate from saber metrics. For this reason, though, fantasy baseball writing and analysis isn't usually as predictive or useful as it could be, and I don't spend much time on it. I follow baseball and read sabermetrics for its own sake, but I wouldn't say that that directly informs a lot of my fantasy baseball decision making. That said, if you're someone who cares a lot about sabermetrics, getting into a league that really takes better stats seriously can be a lot of fun-but few leagues are like that.

I principally just read Fangraphs and Keith Law at ESPN (ESPN Insider required) these days, but I watch about 1.5 baseball games a day and review the scoreboard every day.
posted by Kwine at 11:46 AM on May 29, 2014

Response by poster: Hm. I wonder if I should have mentioned that we're not a league that trades much - in fact, not a single trade has been proposed this year (we've switched platforms and people seem to not be paying attention much at all, if at all). We've become really lopsided, in that the people who don't do anything to their team at all (not even setting lineups to accommodate for players on the DL) are nearing 50%. Those who are actually good at this are, I believe, spending nearly all of their time on their other, more serious/pay leagues. The result is that the single league I myself am in is not the greatest place to learn at the moment. I'm sure we'll make major personnel changes for next season, but for right now it is what it is, unfortunately.
posted by AthenaPolias at 11:54 AM on May 29, 2014

More leagues. Deeper leagues. (The Metafilter fantasy league is a 19-team roto.)

I also listen to ESPN's daily Fantasy Focus podcasts.

Try to draft healthy guys. (Yeah, if only.) In a head-to-head league, depending on the standings sometimes you can afford to build toward the playoffs, so avoid guys who may be shut down early, and stash guys who will be coming back.

Trade depth for talent when you can. Or the other way when you can't.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 1:26 PM on May 29, 2014

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