The concept of the metagame

by BaseballHQ.com on February 4, 2010 @ 00:00:00 PDT

 


So you're sitting in your Barcalounger feeling pretty comfortable about the upcoming Rotisserie season. Already you've memorized your league's new rules, followed the offseason moves, unearthed the promising prospects and digested six fantasy guides. You're set, right?

Wrong. You haven't considered the metagame.

Each Rotisserie season can be considered a "game." These games are distinct; no credit is given in a year for one's performance in a prior year. In most leagues, though, the games are not independent - there are elements that travel from one game to the next. These elements constitute the "metagame."

Essentially, the metagame is the arena in which your league holds its annual Rotisserie contest. Just as a manager wouldn't write his starting lineup without factoring in the host ballpark, so too should you not adopt a posture for the coming season without checking the metagame. Your league's metagame shifts from year to year, but it does exist, and with some concentration its features will emerge from the mists.

The significant point about the metagame is that each league has its own. Insights into your league's metagame will not appear in any statistical abstract or fantasy guide. Therefore, a look at your league's metagame can offer an edge.

Note that different types of Rotisserie leagues have different degrees of metagame. If you're in an online league that starts from scratch each year, with new owners and clean rosters, then the metagame is null. You may gain experience in playing Roto, but you can't build league-specific knowledge because there is no continuity. If you're in a league with ongoing ownership but no keepers, then there is a metagame, but it's limited to the nature of the owners. The richest metagame is found in continuing keeper leagues; here, not only do owners carry over from game to game, but also much of the composition of the teams.

The purpose of studying the metagame is to find relative value. Suppose that your league tends - for whatever reason - to appraise Atlanta Braves above their projected worth. The extra value must come from somewhere - that is, your league must commensurately undervalue other players. The goal is to find those players.

The first rule of the metagame, for both non-keeper and keeper leagues, is to know thine enemies. First, make a list of all owners (including you!) and their pet teams and players. You may be surprised by the extent to which owners are guided by personal allegiances (and, for that matter, aversions).

Second, review Draft Day tactics. Get your hands on prior D-Day rosters. Who punted a category? Who spent $9 on pitchers? Who drafted no players over $20? Did the seasons affirm their decisions?

Also scrutinize money management. Who sat out the first hour? Who walked out after the first hour? Who left money on the table? Patience is a rare offseason pickup. Try to picture your competition for various players at various times in the draft.

Finally, examine league-wide biases: How deep (and pricey) did the prospecting go? How much respect was shown to players traded into your league over the winter? How about to players in your geographic area? What are the popular Rotisserie guides, and whom are they touting now? The answers to these questions will suggest groups of players to either pursue or avoid on Draft Day.

In keeper leagues, the metagame extends beyond trying to capitalize on owner tendencies. Here are some questions to illuminate the surroundings:

How steep is inflation? Draft inflation arises when owners freeze players at salaries below their projected value. Figuring inflation is a critical metagame task for owners in keeper leagues. The greater inflation, the greater consideration you should give to freezing a player, because a "freeze" dollar is likelier to capture more value than a "draft" dollar. It may even be worthwhile to freeze players at salaries above their projected values, if those salaries are still lower than the inflation-adjusted rate.

How are owners positioned? If a majority of teams are poised for this year, then it would serve you to play for next year, both to benefit from a smaller bidding pool for prospects in the draft and to be a market for the contending teams' keepers during the season. Conversely, if most owners are playing for the longer term, aim for this year, for inverse reasons.

Do people trade? If you operate in a trade-poor league, then starting the season on solid footing takes on greater importance, because you can't rely as much on in-season deals to help you recover from a poor draft. Accordingly, you may want to add a freeze or two, to lock up value. On the other hand, if deals occur freely, then you should feel more comfortable about snubbing freezes and taking your chances in the draft. (Remember, it's the number of owners who trade that is important, not the number of trades.)

When adjusting your freezes to the metagame, don't overlook winter trades. Given your analysis, maybe you can turn one keeper into two or vice versa. Maybe you can hand off a player who shouldn't be kept, or grab a likely cast-off who should be.

For all Roto owners, be aware of your own role in the metagame. Your freezes boost inflation; your trades increase liquidity; your strategies tip the balance. Always act with the knowledge that your acts have consequences.

That advice leads to the element of the metagame that may be the most persistent of all: reputation. All your other maneuvering will come to naught if the rest of the league has decided that they won't - or can't - deal with you. Reflect on your attitude. Do you return messages within hours or weeks? Do you greet ridiculous offers with a sneer or a smile? Do you rail at unfair trades or redouble your efforts? It's the rare GM who wins without dealing often. Take the arrival of a new year to prepare a few resolutions.

The metagame is on.

(Acknowledgement to Richard Garfield, who invented a popular card game called "Magic" (and whose company now produces the Pokemon card game). "Magic" has one of the deepest metagames ever (or imaginable), and the concept of the Roto metagame was inspired by an article he wrote several years ago.)

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