During the preseason, in a fantasy baseball roundtable, THT’s Derek Carty asked this question:
What do you think has a greater impact on one’s ability to win a fantasy baseball league: player evaluation or strategy?
Most of the responders seemed to believe that evaluation was the more crucial skill. However, if the question was adjusted to consider just the final two weeks of the season in a tight, competitive fantasy league, would the responders adjust their answers?
I hope so.
Most competitors in most leagues are out of competition by now. With only a dozen or so games to go, player evaluation is mostly directed at recapping the season or discussing the next one. Football has started, and many fantasy enthusiasts have directed their efforts in that direction.
But if one is lucky enough to be involved in a close, thrilling finish, there can be an enormous amount of strategic gamesmanship involved.
In some leagues, we witness variants of old game theory problems including “Prisoner’s Dilemma” and “Chicken:” What’s the other person thinking I’m thinking? If your team and your closest competitor are locked in a tight struggle for both ERA and strikeouts, for example, it helps to know if you’re competitor is going to aggressively make a lot of starts to chase strikeouts or conservatively protect ERA. Otherwise, making a lot of starts without your competitor doing the same could put ERA at risk.
In other leagues, we might see competitors unwittingly measure the economic advantages and disadvantages of hoarding. If you hold a dominant position in steals, for instance, and nobody else in your league can come close to touching you in that category, does it make sense to hold onto a speedster like Michael Bourn or release him for needed help in other categories? What if your main competitor has room for points growth in steals and is No. 3 on waiver wire priority? Do you take the risk of letting him have your player?
The final few weeks of the season can be the time of the year when competitors pursue wild strategies. For example, a team focused on maintaining a small lead in a ratio category like AVG, ERA, or WHIP above all else may pare down their active roster to the bare minimum.
Conversely, a team desperate for a few wins as the maximum innings limit approaches may attempt to grab as many spot starters as they can on that final day they reach—and surpass—the innings limit. (Most fantasy service providers will allow a fantasy team to go above the maximum amount of innings that final day.)
Let’s not forget pleading and nudging as an appropriate strategy. In Tout Wars AL this year, Mike Siano of MLB and Lawr Michaels of Creativesports.com are in a tight battle and Siano is browbeating other owners in the league to put their best foot forward.
Almost everything is fair when a title is on the line. But pay attention to the strategy involved.