Introducing FIRST: a fantasy baseball strategy

      March 28, 2012 @ 03:23:59 PDT


This is Part I of a two-part series that finally put a name to my strategy. I put the theory into action in Part II.

Following a third-place finish in my rookie season of 2011 mixed Tout Wars, I was invited back to the 15-team dance last weekend in New York City. (I'm trying to forget being forced to wear a Philadelphia Phillies jersey after finishing behind silver medalist Nicholas Minnix. Man, Nick is a lot skinnier than I am.)

Texas Rangers SS Elvis Andrus
After Andrus ... yikes

I'll uphold the fine tradition of sharing fantasy baseball draft stories, met by most with an enthusiasm level somewhere between hearing tales of bad poker beats and other people's kids' toilet trials.

This entry, hopefully, will sound less like a beer-infused complaint/brag and more like a collection of helpful guidelines. That's our job, after all.

In fact, I headed into the Sirius XM studios in New York City with the same drafting principles that I've kept since I started working for KFFL nearly five years ago.

The various steps of the process I've touched on - including The Barksdale, which apparently was lost on those who don't match my obsession with "The Wire" - have appeared in many a chapter of Rounding The Bases.

I decided it's time to gather my mad-scientist notes, along with some well-instituted strategic principles, into a neater package with a more universal appeal. This strategery needs a name.

Why not? The founders of Rotisserie baseball required rules. Free citizens were blessed with the Magna Carta. The Guy Code installed "Bros before" ... ladies. (I have a modicum of class, after all.)

Introducing ...

FIRST: Focus on Infield with Risk Spread Thin

Spreading something thin typically carries a bad connotation, but when what you're trying to dilute is risk - injury, negative regression, Rihanna, whatever - go in head-first.

FIRST - more so in auctions, about 90 percent of the time in snakes - applies the basic components of roster manipulation, fostering several well-known theories:

1. Offense before pitching.

2. There are more fantasy-relevant options in the outfield than at each individual infield position. Excluding the low percentage that defines left, center and right field for roster spots, your league will generally deal with a homogenized lot that multiplies the useful commodities that qualify within the collective "OF" lot.

3. Even with the varying degrees of risk within the positional tiers, the drop-off in dollar values between the elite and replacement-level members of 1B, 2B, 3B and SS is magnified when you look at the distribution of earners on our Fantasy Baseball Cheat Sheet tool. Notice the positive-dollar players in the OF lot - 70 as of 3/28 - compared to (based on official designations) 1B (16), 2B (17), 3B (19) and SS (17). SP? 103. Yup.

And, including CI and MI spots, you're looking at four or five necessary options from the infield. But they're defined and restricted sans those with multipositional eligibility.

Why plan on settling for one of the low-end money makers at the four dirt dusters, who hold sharper drop-offs, when you'll have plenty of more capable upside options among warning-track watchmen at your beck and call later on?

4. You might argue that since outfield boasts the most interchangeability among its assets, why not buy the big-name options as to increase the likelihood of productive replacement statistics? Your answer materializes in countless inseason free-agent pools.

What offensive position typically stands out on waiver wires outside of the shallowest of shallow dual-universe formats? Infielders? Please. Those leftover fourth and fifth fly-catchers are typically just hanging out there, waiting for a suitor, while you get into financial fistfights with other desperate owners for productive at-bats from a glove-first MI or a light-hitting CI.

5. This puts the onus on netting the largest possible head-start for your player pool by tabbing the elite members of the scarcest non-croucher groups, especially corner-infield power. Sure, it's a bigger risk in your ability to replace the player if and when he misses extensive time, but it puts you in position to command your league from the start in its most vulnerable areas. Play to win, after all.

New York Yankees OF Nick Swisher
Swish says, "Relax! So many OF!"

6. The distribution and built-in reduction of playing time for catchers lines up only a handful have a consistent shot at 500 at-bats. The replacement value here is generally even worse than that among the infield inhabitants. This is where FIRST veers from traditional positional scarcity tenets.

7. For the Risk Spread Thin position, it's about trying not to spend $30 on any mixed-league player in a $260 cap.

8. Starting pitching valuation looks similar to that of outfielders, at least in nabbing a top option at each. In mixers I generally like to add one top-20 outfielder and one top-15 starting pitcher within the first six rounds (and price equivalents in auctions). While addressing each position's top-level value, this direction recognizes the diverse value plays available in the middle tiers.

9. Generally go cheap on saves but play by ear for values.

10. In rotisserie leagues, do NOT punt a category. (Hello! Spread the risk!)

Amendments forthcoming - feel free to present yours if you'd like to be among the FIRST Founding Fathers and Mothers.

I'm not claiming that these are revolutionary ideas; many were around when I was still collecting baseball cards. They're simply reminders of how to maximize your league's cache.

Read on for Part II of the unveiling of FIRST: its application in Tout Wars mixed!

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About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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