Fantasy Baseball Roundtable: Player evaluation or strategy?by Derek Carty
March 10, 2009
This week, it's The Hardball Times Fantasy's turn to host the Fantasy Baseball Roundtable. My question to the participants:
What do you think has a greater impact on one's ability to win a fantasy baseball league: player evaluation or strategy?
Tim Dierkes — RotoAuthority
Player evaluation. If you are adept at picking players, it will easily cover up most strategy errors. You can't win with bad players but can win with questionable strategy (like drafting a bunch of pitchers early or ignoring position scarcity). If you have the right players, the only real strategy is who to start on a given day. Usually you can look at the rosters of each team at season's end and just by eyeballing tell who won the league. It's easy for a radical strategy to backfire and ruin your season. The simplest strategy, creating a balanced team, will usually be fine.
Commish — Fantasy Baseball Geeks
You can make a case for both and my response will touch on each, but for the purpose of this question I will say strategy is most important. My goal entering all drafts is to load up on hitting early (or using a lot of my budget in auction) with a major focus on players that contribute to all 5 categories and do not hurt you in others. There is a 100% chance that I would pay more for Carlos Beltran than Ryan Howard as a current example. There are usually a group of arms that I target for "my ace" that will be on the board much later, but have the talent to rise into the elite. King Felix, Matt Cain, or Verlander would be an example of that for this year. I usually draft a bunch of these players and hope that collectively they can match up with someone that paid for Lincecum in the second round. Names like Yo Gallardo, Kershaw, Garza, Myers, Scherzer, and even Smoltz. Last, but not least I do not pay for saves. The 9th inning duties are the most volatile and spending early on them is a recipe for disaster. This is my personal strategy, but in the end it does come down to talent evaluation that makes it possible. I feel that I can find value in pitchers later (talent ready to rise) that allows my strategy to work. Hitters are more predicable and less injury prone, so for me it has been very successful over the years.
Patrick Cain — timesunion.com Fantasy Baseball blog
Strategy is more important. And with that I a mean, the ability to think on your feet, be flexible and take advantages as they come your way. Player evaluation was probably a lot more important a number of years ago, but now there are readily available, free forecasts that are really good. That basically puts everyone on the same level for predicting stats. There are also are great sites, like those hosted by many members of this league, that will help you fill in the gaps where that formulas may go astray.
Brett Greenfield — Fantasy Phenoms
I think player evaluation has the biggest impact when it comes to winning your league. Knowing who to target and who not to are the most important factors. I may have a certain strategy such as not drafting a catcher early, but knowing who Chris Ianetta is and when to draft him is more important.
If research is done and analysis is compiled, you are able to build your team from the bottom up. Examples of players from last year that could have been drafted in rounds 20 or later include Nate McLouth, Zack Greinke, Jair Jurrjens and Edinson Volquez. No strategy can find those kinds of players, but extensive player evaluation can.
Know each team's starting lineup, rotation and closing situation. Lastly, evaluate each team's "sixth man," such as an Emilio Bonifacio. Being aware of a team's depth chart can pay dividends in the longrun if an injury or poor play became a factor for a starter.
Both proper player evaluation and good strategy are important to long-term success in fantasy baseball. However, a good strategy usually trumps player evaluation. This is because a good strategy will shrink the player pool. This is what successful strategies such as Ron Shandler’s L.I.M.A. and Portfolio 3 plans attempt to do. After the auction, player evaluation increases in importance but the player pool continues to be smaller if the strategy is preserved.
Rudy Gamble — Razzball
I think for 10 and 12 team mixed leagues that player evaluation and roster management trump strategy. It pains me to say it since I love draft strategy but there are too many free agents out there. In an NL-only or AL-only league, I think draft strategy plays a bigger role but, even then, I can't say it trumps player evaluation. I'd say they feed off one another since you need player evaluation to identify the draft bargains that make a strategy successful. Perhaps the only format where strategy may trump player valuation is a head-to-head league where you can use strategy to outmaneuver your competitors.
Mike Podhorzer — FantasyPros911
I feel quite strongly that player evaluation is more important than strategy for winning a fantasy league. At the end of the day, winning a fantasy league boils down to accumulating the most value on your team for the entirety of the season (for the most part, total team value has a high correlation to the standings, but it's not perfect). If you had completely perfect projections, I think that it would be nearly impossible to not win your league, and certainly you'd be guaranteed to finish in the money at worst. However, there is only so far a solid strategy could take you. You still need to have as accurate projections as possible and know how to properly value them. Simply put, I see strong player evaluation skills as vital to a winning fantasy player, whereas a good strategy might be nice to have and provide some benefit, but is not truly necessary.
In fact, I typically play my leagues pretty much straight up. I can't even really describe any strategy I've used because all I do is try to leave the draft with the most value on my team by never targeting anyone and acquiring as many players at as large a discount to my value as possible, while hopefully spending my entire budget. I'm not sure that should even be considered a strategy, so a successful player could go "strategyless" and still perform well. I don't think you could say the same for a fantasy player lacking player evaluation skills.
Derek Carty — The Hardball Times
Well, since the majority of the guys answered "player evaluation," I'll lean the other way and say "strategy". Years ago, player evaluation was undoubtedly more important than it is today. Nowadays, everyone has access to a number of free projection systems, all of which have roughly the same level of predictive accuracy. Because of this, the marginal gains in player evaluation can be very slim in a competitive league (take note that in a weaker league, player evaluation likely trumps strategy). Therefore, the marginal gains for a superior strategist can supersede these player evaluation gains.
I do think there is an exception to this, however. While projection systems have an inherent ceiling, a barrier that can never be surpassed, it is still possible to gain a competitive advantage on your opponents in the area of player evaluation. While there is no marginal value in being the same as everyone else, there is a great deal of value in being different than everyone else, even if the cumulative projective accuracy of your methods are equivalent.
As an example (which is a strictly hypothetical one), if everyone thinks that Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Albert Pujols, and David Wright are the top four players to be drafted and you think that Stephen Drew belongs in that group, that is enormously valuable information (assuming that your system for determining this has the same level of accuracy as your opponents'). While everyone will be breaking even by taking Hanley and crew, you'll be taking an equivalent player rounds later.
I'm not suggesting that Drew is actually a top four pick by any means, but if you have a system that says he is, and on the whole that system is just as accurate as the more traditional ones, you will be at a huge advantage. You will be able to derive greater fantasy value from that system since there will be a greater discrepancy between your values and market values.
As regular readers know, being equally or more accurate while also being different is something I actively try to do here at THT Fantasy with things like CAPS (Context Neutral Pitching Statistics) and True Home Runs.
That wraps up this week's roundtable. If you guys have any thoughts on this issue, please feel free to use the comment section to make them known.
Unrelated note: Mock Draft Central expert mock draft
As an aside, I'll be participating in another Mock Draft Central expert mock draft tomorrow night at 8 PM EST. I didn't want to use a whole post just to announce this, but to those of you who are interested, please feel free to stop by tomorrow and watch the draft unfold, ask questions, etc.
Derek Carty, 23, has also been published by NBC's Rotoworld, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, and USA Today. This season, he'll be contributing to FanDuel and will be linking to all of his work at DerekCarty.com. In his three years competing in expert leagues, he has won 2 titles with 4 top three finishes, including a LABR NL title in 2009, making him the youngest person to ever win a major expert league title. Derek is a proud graduate of the MLB Scouting Bureau's Scout Development Program and is a firm believer in the importance of combining stats and scouting. He welcomes questions via e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter.
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