If the Sports Guy can release his playoff gambling manifesto and not worry about it being used against him, perhaps I can do the same with my fantasy baseball draft manifesto. Here goes.
1) Don’t draft a Utility guy like Travis Hafner or David Ortiz. Not only do these guys tend to be older and have ever-worsening contact skills and playing time, but they also keep you from taking advantage of some draft bargains. How many times have you been in a draft where a player is hanging around for 20 or 30 picks longer than you anticipated? I’m not talking the consensus 10th pick still around in the 4th round, but maybe a guy around 90 falling to 120 or 125. And you pass him by because you already have his position slot and your Utility slot is full? The Utility slot should be reserved for this type of occasion. In addition, if you’re not attached to your Utility player, you can keep churning through free agents and waiver wire pickups until someone drops a player they really shouldn’t have. Then, no matter the position he plays, you have a spot on your starting lineup for him.
2) Don’t draft a catcher in the top 100. These elite catchers just never seem to perform to their level. If Brian McCann is ranked 33rd preseason, he could have a solid season and still only be the 66th best player by the end of the year. Picking him 33rd is a terribly inefficient pick. It’s a brutal position on a player’s knees, and I’d bet catchers break down at almost the same rate as starting pitchers. I tend to go for catchers ranked somewhere between 100 and 200. Take a gamble on a catcher, don’t go for an established star. Let someone pick McCann, Joe Mauer, Russell Martin, and Victor Martinez 30 spots higher than their eventual end of season rank.
3) Don’t pick Carl Crawford. In the preseason, he always seems to be ranked in the top 10 or 12, and always seems to end up ranked 20th by the end of the year. I have no proof of this, it just seems like it.
4) Spread out your steals. Don’t count on a guy like Eric Byrnes or Brian Roberts for 50-plus, because a slight injury or change in philosophy could cut that number in half. Instead, find a bunch of guys that get 10 or 12 steals. A lot of times, opposing drafters won’t consider those steals as part of the value of a player, but having them will reduce the variance in your team’s output, and they can certainly add up.
5) Don’t worry so much about batting average and ERA in head-to-head leagues. As I showed in a previous column, being good in those categories doesn’t give you much of an advantage each week. On the other hand, if your team is truly excellent in runs, you’ll be rewarded with consistent head-to-head wins.
6) Use two basic principles to your advantage: regression to the mean, and aging. Almost every fantasy owner who mis-values a player will do so due to forgetting about those two concepts. Young players tend to get better, old players tend to get worse. Sounds simple when you say it, but how many people are going to draft Manny Ramirez as though his 2008 age 36 season is exactly what they should expect for 2009? And along a similar vein … don’t forget about regression to the mean. You have the tools on the stats section of this site to take a closer look at fantasy statistics. Be a critic, be skeptical, and stick to the null hypothesis: a career season from a player in his late 20s or anywhere in his 30s does not indicate a new true talent level, unless you have peripheral stats to back it up.