What the Joker can teach you about fantasy baseball

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I, like many people, went to see The Dark Knight in theaters over the summer. My personal opinion on the movie was that is was good, but not as good as it was hyped to be. Although I doubt any movie could live up to the amount of hype Batman received.

It was a long movie and it felt long. Christian Bale’s voice in costume was annoyingly deep and the sequence of events in the movie seemed somewhat irrational to me. Things just sort of happened without any explanation as to how, but I just went along with it to enjoy the movie.

I must admit that Heath Ledger was amazing and single-handedly made the movie with his demeanor and clever lines. Even though I have included Batman in another article of mine, I would not consider myself a Batman, fan by the way. I didn’t even see the prequel.

Anyway, one scene did resonate in me even after the movie ended. It was when the Joker was talking to the injured Harvey Dent in the hospital room, right after the explosion that killed Rachel and injured Harvey. One line of the Joker’s in particular stood out and it went like this:

The mob has plans, the cops have plans. You know what I am, Harvey? I’m a dog chasing cars… I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it. I just do things. I’m just the wrench in the gears. I hate plans. Yours, theirs, everyone’s. Maroni has plans. Gordon has plans. Schemers trying to control their worlds. I’m not a schemer, I show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are.

“What does this have to do with fantasy baseball?” you might be asking. I could relate this quote to a lot of aspects of fantasy baseball, but it fits best with drafting strategy, something you would know I focus on if you’ve been reading my season reviews.

Relating to baseball

Re-read the last two sentences of the quote—the ones on schemers trying to control everything. Now think of your strategy during drafts. Generally speaking, you probably go into a draft with either no idea of who you want to take (winging it) or specific targets mapped out for each round. You create a scheme and try to control everything. The problem with this strategy, which I will call over-preparing, is that if one piece of the plan falls apart, a domino effect can occur that ruins your entire draft.

Let’s say you are targeting a third baseman in round number seven, right before a large drop-off in talent in your opinion. Some players you are targeting (it’s last year) are Garrett Atkins, Chipper Jones, and your safety net of Ryan Zimmerman. Well, the seventh round rolls along and two picks before you, Zimmerman is taken. Ouch. This was your predetermined slot to take a third baseman and now its ruined!

Either you reach for the next ranked third baseman, which in this case would be Adrian Beltre, or you quickly change tactics and take a starting pitcher because Aaron Harang has somehow dropped this far. Now you have an extra pitcher and a hole at third base. Looking at your strategy sheet, for the next round—round eight, a starting pitcher is suggested. Great. The last thing you need is another pitcher so you improvise on the spot again and select Adrian Beltre or Mike Lowell or Alex Gordon even though you don’t really want to.

The meticulously planned draft becomes strikingly similar to the “winged” one.

My Advice

I’m not one to denounce something without providing a solution, so here’s my take on drafting: find some middle ground. Over-plan before the draft but become so comfortable with drafting—from every position—that you don’t even need to look at a cheat sheet or have the Hardball Times stats page open during it. Feel the draft, if you know what I mean. Have some sort of general strategy or plan, but make it flexible.

Flexible does not mean having a backup plan that is just another strict plan. For example, do not have in mind, “I like Roy Halladay here, but if he gets taken Carlos Zambrano or Roy Oswalt would be fine too”. Flexible is adjusting to the draft as it is happening.

If shortstops are going fast, decide either to jump aboard the train and take a shortstop early, or to wait on the position, hoping a steal falls because most teams already own one shortstop and hopefully will not select a second.

Develop strong and mild likes and dislikes for players. If you think that Ryan Braun is garbage and has just been getting lucky the past two years, then actively avoid him. However, if you are stuck between two players, one whom you mildly dislike and the other you mildly like (let’s say Adam Dunn and Felix Hernandez, respectively), and you’re shallow in the outfield, take Dunn regardless, knowing that your dislike is based on an unsubstantiated hunch that will be right as many times as it is wrong.

Adjusting to the draft as it’s happening is a tight rope to walk, and it is easy to fall over either edge into over-adjusting or meticulous following. The hardest part is knowing when your doing it right. If you feel like a draft went perfect, by the way, that is a clear sign you did it wrong. No draft is ever perfect, or at least the odds of you getting every player you targeted are extremely slim. Maybe you should try joining more competitive leagues if that is the case.

One indicator that you are doing it right, and by “it” I mean finding the right balance between following a plan and adjusting, is that after several drafts you should have somewhat varying rosters. Perhaps a certain core group of players tends to find itself on a majority of your teams, but the rest of the players—the ones you did not have as strong an opinion on—vary from team to team, depending on which core players you were able to get.

The big thing is realizing that no draft is perfect and all drafts require in-game adjustments. When you become a schemer and try to control everything, as the Joker shows us, you often end up controlling nothing.

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