The impact of the Internet on the world of fantasy baseball has generally been quite positive. However, one specific area where the Web has not been able to replicate the "real" world is the fantasy draft. Various web services do offer live draft options with their fantasy games, but such services are often unreliable. Even at their best, they are a poor reproduction of an actual league gathering. As a result, many online fantasy players end up selecting their players by filling out one or more player ranking lists, which then drive a computerized draft.
While this format does allow competitors to express differences in their player evaluations, the glaring weakness of such an approach is that it allows for no in-draft adjustments. Your second selection (or purchase) cannot complement your first. There is no real opportunity to consciously achieve balance across the various scoring categories. While many fantasy veterans claim to prefer a policy of "drafting for value, trading for balance", the fact is that almost everyone aims to draft at least some scoring balance, consciously or not.
The result of this style of online drafting is a situation where everyone in a league ends up having a team basically fall into their lap. The more quickly and accurately you can assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of your players, the sooner you can use that knowledge to your advantage. With that in mind, here is a fairly simple four-step plan to getting acquainted with your new team:
Step 1: Find a point of reference
If you played in a league of similar size and scope last year, pull out the final standings. If you do not have access to that information, you should be able to track down numbers from a similar league elsewhere on your service's web site. Once you locate this data, note the total that won each statistical category. While you don't need to win each category to win your league, it never hurts to set high standards.
Step 2: Assess the quantitative categories
Now, you can begin to assess your own team in a reasonably detailed fashion. For the categories HR, RBI, SB, Sv (and Runs and K's if you play 5x5), paste each of your offensive players' projections into a spreadsheet and total the category results. At a minimum, make a cautious projection of your own for each player, and add up those totals. Represent each total as a percentage of the highest total in that category from your baseline data. These percentages will give you a snapshot of your relative strength in each category. (Skip this process for wins, as this is usually the closest category come season's end, and your projections are likely to show only insignificant differences between teams.)
Step 3: Assess the qualitative categories
For BA, ERA, WHIP, your primary concern at this point in the season should be to identify (and eventually minimize) where you are at risk of struggling. This can be done in as much or little detail as you like. One simple and fairly useful technique is this:
Return to last year's baseline data. For BA, ERA, and WHIP, break the baseline data into tiers. Note the final statistics that were worth 3, 5, and 7 points in each category (these numbers assume a 10 team league, just divide roughly into thirds as your league differs). You may find, for example, that an ERA of 4.10 earned 7 points, 4.35 was worth 5 points, and 4.60 was worth 3 points. Take every player or pitcher on your team, and determine which of these three breakpoints he is most likely to come closest to. By looking at which of these tiers your staff tends to converge at, you can get a "quick and dirty" glimpse of your risk and/or potential in that category.
Step 4: Assess risk factors
Finally, try to get a quick glimpse of the overall risk level of your team. In an auction environment, you can minimize your risk by spreading your budget among several solid players, rather than a few stars. In a draft environment, each team always has a 1st round pick, a 2nd round pick, etc. So, take a look at your stars, and ask yourself some questions. Are they durable? Are they consistent performers, or are their career numbers prone to some fluctuation? Are they coming off of injuries, even minor ones? How old are they? This info will complete the picture of your team, by giving you an idea of how much confidence you should have in the results of your assessment.
Having completed these four steps, you should have a good handle on what kind of team you're playing with this year. Certainly, there are even more exact methods that can be used in the assessment process, particularly for the qualitative categories. And, in theory, this process could be performed on every team in the league, rather than just your own. But the point here isn't to determine in April who is most likely to be in first place in September. There are far too many in-season developments still to come.
In fact, all that you are seeking here is some assistance in evaluating trade opportunities in the earlygoing, and some context with which to view early-season numbers. If this exercise shows that your weakest category is SB, then that is certainly useful information to have when speed is offered to you in trade. Most importantly, as you watch the races develop in each scoring category, and your team seeks out its own place in those races, you will have some idea of which of your positions are expected, and which are surprises. Armed with that knowledge, you will be much better prepared to make changes to your team, as you aim for the top of the standings.
Ron Shandler began publishing statistical reports for baseball analysts and fantasy leaguers in 1986. Since then, his enterprise has grown into one of the largest information providers in the industry, producing quality products continuously and over a longer period than any other fantasy baseball company.
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