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Introduction To Strategy

Today's guest article is by Derek Carty of The Hardball Times Fantasy Focus.

One of the most overlooked concepts in fantasy baseball is that of strategy.  Every fantasy site out there does player analysis; some do it well, some not so well.  If you know where to look, though, you can find good player analysis.  The problem is, in a competitive fantasy league, so can your opponents.  If you are both using the same data to analyze players, there really isn’t going to be a huge variance in your opinions of players, is there?  This means that neither of you really has a large advantage over the other.

There are still some ways to gain an advantage over your opponents in the way of player analysis – the most prominent being the new Pitch f/x system – but aside from this innovation there is little advantage to be gained from looking at the same things as your opponents.

Therefore, the winner of a given competitive fantasy league will be largely determined by luck, judgment, and strategy.  Judgment is difficult to teach (some will even argue that it can’t be taught) and luck can’t be controlled, but strategy is something that most certainly can be taught and controlled.  This is why it is of such great importance that someone serious about winning in fantasy baseball thinks critically about strategy and other, outside-the-box concepts not normally brought into the fantasy arena.  By doing things that your competitors fail to do, you gain a competitive advantage over them.

While not directly related to fantasy baseball, I think the following quote does a good job of illustrating this point.  One of my favorite quotes, actually, this is taken from Keith Woolner’s article first introducing VORP (Value Over Replacement Player):

"Baseball is a zero sum game. One team always wins at the expense of another. It is not possible for one team to win without another losing. In order to win, a team must be able to produce more runs (or prevent runs from scoring) than the opposition. Its success in producing wins is directly tied to its ability to produce more runs than its opponent. Any competitive advantage a team has must, in some way, translate to better on-field performance to be valuable.

A commodity which is easily available to all teams at no or low cost confers no competitive advantage, and therefore is of minimal value. Thus, baseball value comes from scarcity."

Fantasy baseball, too, is a zero sum game, and anything that is “easily available to all teams at no or low cost confers no competitive advantage, and therefore is of minimal value.”  Good player analysis is not scarce (at least not when we’re dealing with intelligent owners), but good talk about strategy is, and is therefore of great value.

Of course, this isn’t to say that everyone studying up on advanced statistics and reading good, intricate analysis will share the same opinion of a player. If two owners, for instance, see that Gavin Floyd has a .199 BABIP and is getting ridiculously lucky, their opinions might differ a little, but the difference in their opinion of Floyd (and other pitchers with low BABIPs) likely won’t be large enough to overcome the luck involved in fantasy leagues each year.

And, of course, this isn’t to say that you should ignore these kinds of stats and this kind of player analysis.  While you might not gain much of an advantage over those who are doing the same thing, it will give you an advantage over those who don’t, and not looking at them will put you at a big disadvantage to those who do make use of them.

The (controllable) difference in leagues with savvy owners, rather, comes down to how each owner uses the information presented to him, manifested in the form of judgment and strategy.

Read up on advanced stats and player analysis to keep up with your opponents, and read up on strategy and the like to sprint ahead of them.

Even if you aren’t in a league where everyone is aware of BABIP and stats of that nature, though, the fact remains that luck is a huge factor in every fantasy league, and the more advantages you gain over your opponents, the less luck will factor in.  The ability to utilize unique, logical strategy is a big way to gain that advantage.

Some sites do attempt to discuss strategy, but leave some aspects out, oversimplify it, spit out unoriginal ideas, or ignore it completely during the season.

More sites discuss strategy before than season than during, but it often is little more than, say, a repetition of the notion that you should avoid closers early in your draft.  This is a good strategy to pursue in many instances but is a notion that is rarely supported with a logical backing.

And sure, some sites will talk about a strategy in-season like “buying low and selling high,” but this has been talked to death and has become so meaningless and trite that even novice fantasy players understand it.  I mean, you would be hard-pressed to sell Mark Reynolds and his .298/6/15/12 line to even the most unknowledgeable owner for David Ortiz and his .070/1/3/6 line two weeks into April.  And no one in a competitive league will be buying Gavin Floyd and his .199 BABIP and 76% LOB% from you for Jake Peavy this week.

There are certainly less obvious examples, and buying low and selling high definitely has its place (there was a great article yesterday on this topic by Mike Podhorzer of the Fantasy Baseball Generals), but there is so much more to strategy than a phrase that has been rehashed over and over again and rarely shows any creativity or foresight by those writing about it.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be talking about different forms of strategy that you likely won’t find discussed elsewhere but will hopefully find incredibly useful.  Today, I just wanted to introduce myself and hopefully give you a sense of why I think strategy is so important for the successful fantasy baseball owner.  If you have any thoughts on this matter, I’d love to hear them.

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