In 1979, sportswriter Daniel Okrent was looking for a way to pass the time on plane trips. He decided to get together his fellow baseball junkies to make up imaginary teams using real major league players' statistics to compete against each other. They called it "Rotisserie" baseball because their first meeting was at a restaurant called La Rotisserie Francaise in New York.
At the time, the group just thought the game was a cool way to put their voluminous knowledge of the sport to use. But with the advent of the Internet, which made it easy for participants to track and analyze the most arcane aspects of players' performances, fantasy baseball blew up into a phenomenon as huge as Barry Bonds' physique [source: Kurland and Lucas]. Today, Forbes.com estimates that various forms of fantasy baseball are played by nearly 11 million people [source: Greenberg]. To put that in perspective, that's about a fifth of the annual attendance at actual major league games [source: Baseball-reference.com].
Like the actual sport, fantasy baseball is a thinking person's game. Click ahead for five tips from veteran fantasy baseball buffs on how to draft the best players for your team.
Find Good Sources of Information
Successful fantasy baseball players enter the draft with a strategy -- a strategy developed from in-depth research on players' stats and performance projections.
You'll find all the information you need from the various Web sites that provide stats, inside tips and analysis for fantasy competitors. ESPN's fantasy baseball site and the ML blogs network on the official Major League Baseball Web site are both good sources. Some fantasy baseball experts also have the online equivalent of horse racing tip sheets, such as sports author Ron Shandler's BaseballHQ and Harvard-educated math whiz Scott Swanay's Fantasy Baseball Sherpa. If you're serious about winning, you'll consult such sources religiously [source: Greenberg].
Know the Rules Inside and Out
Henry Lee, author of the manual "Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Advanced Methods for Winning Your League," says that one of the most common mistakes made by fantasy baseball competitors is not taking into consideration their own league's distinctive rules and setup. Some competitors, for example, base their draft picks upon projections made by fantasy baseball magazines, without bothering to notice that those evaluations are based on the Rotisserie 4X4 scoring system, rather than the Fantasy 5X5 standard that his or her league uses.
Your league's rules may also weigh certain statistical categories more heavily than others. For example, your league may favor pitchers more than hitters, so the dollar amounts of pitchers in those magazines may be low [source: Lee]. And there are other factors to consider. For example, it matters whether your league uses on-base percentage instead of batting average, or whether a relief pitcher is allocated a "hold" for leaving the game with his team's lead intact, even if the team ultimately loses [source: Harmon].
If you're playing in a league with a relatively small number of competitors, for example, you might want to try a "pitch and ditch" strategy. The principle behind this is that the shallower the league, the more quality starting pitchers will go undrafted and unsigned. Rather than drafting expensive starting pitchers, build a strong offense and bullpen, and then simply pick up new starters on the free agent wire and continually replace them with whomever else becomes available, based upon their statistical trending and the favorability of their upcoming matchups [source: Fantasy 411].
Watch Your Oppositions' Moves
Winning fantasy baseball competitors have one thing in common with wily coaches and managers: They're always trying to decode the other teams' signs. Henry Lee, author of "Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Advanced Methods for Winning Your League," advises you to pay attention to other team owners to develop a sense of their likes and dislikes, strategy, strengths and weaknesses. Do they tend to go after players who happen to be on a momentary hot streak, or do they prefer players with a proven record of putting up good numbers [source: Lee]?
Paying attention to your opponents' moves during the draft can make a difference for you down the road. For example, write down which owners make the next-to-last bid for the players you end up with at the draft. If those opponents are interested in those players during the draft, they're likely to be receptive to a trade in the future, says Lee. On that note, keep an eye on which players other owners try to acquire as free agents, and those players' key attributes. Even if you don't have those players on your roster, you may have ones with similar stats or projections that the other owners might like to have in their corners.
Know When to Ditch Your Strategy
Ideally, you'll enter the draft with a strategy. But knowing when to abandon that strategy is just as important as having one in place.
The challenge is being able to tell when your chosen strategy will lead you toward disaster, or when an opportunity arises that's a potential game changer. Baseball author Henry Lee says that if your strategy was to draft the top catcher, shortstop and second baseman as the core of your team, you might want to change direction when you see that the demand for them at the auction means that you'll have to pay 20 percent more than you expected. Weigh the unintended consequences of sticking to your plan. Will you still be able to afford productive players at other positions who become available at bargain prices? Similarly, if you get an unexpected shot at an undervalued star, you might want to concoct a new strategy on the fly [source: Lee].
Draft Speed Instead of Sluggers
Mike and Michael Harmon, authors of "The Savvy Guide to Fantasy Sports," note that most baseball fans are enamored with the sluggers who've defined the sport for the past couple of decades, and fantasy competitors are no exception. But when it comes to fantasy scoring, stolen bases have the same weight as home runs, even though steals receive a lot less attention, in part because power hitters are more plentiful than similarly adept base thieves [source: Harmon].
In a recent season, 37 players hit 30 or more home runs, while only a dozen players recorded 30 steals. And during one recent five-year period, hitters with 30-plus homers were 2.5 times as plentiful as players with 30 or more stolen bases. Nevertheless, when draft day comes, sluggers are the ones who fly off the charts. For that reason, the Harmons suggest taking a different approach. Look for a base-stealer with potential to generate productive numbers in other statistical categories as well.
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Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Greenberg, Zack O'Malley. "Tips from Fantasy Baseball's Best." Forbes.com. Feb. 28, 2009. (Sept. 15, 2010) http://sports.yahoo.com/fantasy/mlb/news?slug=ys-fantasytips022809
- Harmon, Mike and Harmon, Michael. "The Savvy Guide to Fantasy Sports." IndyTech Publishing. 2005. (Sept. 15, 2010)http://books.google.com/books?id=8CfbyPjAmnoC&pg=PA200&dq=fantasy+baseball+strategies&hl=en&ei=oS-RTP2iGMXflgf4zvzjAQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CEQQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Kurland, Adam and Jensen, Lucas. "Silly Little Game." Espn Films. 2009. (Sept. 15, 2010) http://30for30.espn.com/film/silly-little-game.html
- Lee, Henry. "Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Advanced Methods for Winning Your League." Squeaky Press. 2004. (Sept. 15, 2010) http://books.google.com/books?id=o6e_pSTGnxAC&printsec=frontcover&dq=fantasy+baseball&hl=en&ei=ReGQTIqdPIG8lQf2nPHkAQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CDMQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Siano, Mike, and Schwartz, Cory. "Pitch or Ditch." MLB.com. Sept. 15, 2010. (Sept. 15, 2010) http://fantasy411.mlblogs.com/archives/2010/09/pitch_or_ditch_for_wednesday_s_7.html