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VALUE: The key to winning your fantasy league
by Nathan J Noy

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It doesn’t take an economist or someone with an MBA to figure out how to win a fantasy league. The key to winning draws heavily upon a concept that carries over into a number of disciplines. What is this concept?  It sounds very simple, but it is often misunderstood.  This key is, of course: VALUE.

If you want to win your league, you need to maximize the value of every decision you make, especially those decisions you make at the draft.  By following the advice in this article, you should find yourself in a much better position following your draft.  This should lead to a better position at the end of the season.  You should be receiving a check instead of writing one when it’s all said and done.

Some of what you are about to read may be new to you, some of it you may have heard before.  I follow these concepts, and I know a number of others that have been quite successful using them. 



Avoid Alcohol at the draft and other distractions (Final-4 etc)

Every auction or draft seems to have at least one guy that shows up with a 12-pack of Bud Lite.  Hopefully, you are not this guy.  The casinos in Las Vegas give out free booze for a real good reason; it impairs the judgment of those that consume it. I would advise the host of any draft to provide it as well.  There’s nothing like waking up the morning after the draft and finding a $30 Al Martin on your roster (to say nothing of the numerous young ladies who have woken up as Mrs. Al Martin!).

Alcohol impairs one’s state of mind.  That can be scientifically proven.  The less clearly you are capable of thinking, the less likely you are to walk away from a draft or auction a winner.  The underlying theme to this advice is value; if you are impaired or distracted at your draft, you likely will not be positioned to take advantage of situations where this “value” may present itself.

Another great ploy for the host of the draft is to put something REALLY interesting on TV.  My annual draft takes place during Sweet 16 weekend.  There’s nothing like trying to follow your bracket and find a good 5th outfielder at the same time.  Take it upon yourself to distract your competition.  Do whatever it takes; hold the draft during a major sporting event or if your group would not be offended, show the Playboy channel or some copies of Baywatch for the afternoon.   Nothing is quiet as distracting as Pamela Anderson, with or without Tommy Lee.

Sure, the draft is meant to be fun.  But it’s a whole lot more fun in October cashing a check than it is writing one.  Buy that 12 of Bud Lite in October, not in March or April. Use distractions to your advantage, focus on your task at hand (the draft) and do your best to distract others.  This is a time-proven method that will certainly give you at least a little extra edge on the competition.


The Closer Turnover Rule

When I first posted this piece a year ago I included the following opening:

How many of you out there paid $35 or more last season for BILLY WAGNER or UGUETH URBINA?

Wagner’s #’s for the year: 2W 6SV 6.18 ERA

Urbina’s were not much better:  0W 8SV

Who out there paid more then $1 for OCTAVIO DOTEL 16 Sv’s, or LA TROY HAWKINS 14 Sv’s?

I venture to say that a majority of the owners of Hawkins and Dotel tended to cash a check at the end of the season and the owners of Urbina and Wagner were writing one.

The same can apply this year to the likes of Todd Jones (from 42 Sv’s in 2000 to 13 in 2001), or Jeff Zimmerman (from 4 Sv’s in 2000 to 28 in 2001.)


Other historic examples:

1997 Mark Leiter 0 Sv’s
1998 Mark Leiter 23 Sv’s

1989 Mark Davis 44 Sv’s
1990 Mark Davis 6 Sv’s


It happens every season, and not just to one or two players or teams.   The closer turnover ratio in Major League Baseball is astounding.  No job is more volatile, and there is NEVER such a thing as a GUARANTEE.

In fact some people use a strategy of punting saves, especially in an auction style league.   Just ask our resident expert and two-time champion of the expert league LABR Michael Brown.  He has left each of his LABR auctions without a closer; he chose instead to spend his money on offense.  The net result: back-to-back championships of the most prestigious fantasy baseball league on the planet and a strong finish last season.


I am not fully advocating punting Sv’s.  And in many leagues, closers are actually undervalued.  What I am advocating is not betting the ranch on winning saves by spending heavily on closer LOCKS.  If history has taught us anything it has clearly taught us that there is no such thing as a closer LOCK.


The 35 Dollar Rule

There is a nearly unbreakable rule that many successful fantasy teams play by: in a 12 or 13-team AL or NL league, NEVER pay more than $35 for a single player.  Some people argue that there may be a Pedro exception to this rule.   However, we should take a look at the rationale behind it before we consider breaking it.


The rule is based on statistics, but it is easy to find a parallel to the real world.  Assume for a minute that you have $4.00 in your pocket and you are off to Burger King for lunch.  Let’s also assume that you are like me and anything short of a large Coke simply will not satisfy your thirst.  Furthermore, let’s also assume that you are hooked on those nasty fries they serve. And let’s assume at this particular BK there are no value meals.  So for your $4.00 you could buy a regular Whopper, your large Coke that is a must, and a large fry.  But if you decide that you are willing to pay more and you buy a Double Whopper, you will only have enough money left for a small fry and a 12 ounce Coke, that may consist of ice only after a sip or two.  Obviously your choice to pay more for one item than you can afford has had a major impact on the other items you can afford.


It’s the same way in a deep fantasy league draft.  There are a finite number of players that can actually benefit your team, and as you are likely aware, some players actually can hurt your team.  If you overpay for one player at some point you must sacrifice total quality.  Nothing will sink a team faster in a deep league than having $10 left to acquire your last 10 players.    Your team will be filled with guys that hit .240 and pitchers with ERA’s over 5.00.


The statistics behind this mess are based on standard deviation theories.   That is why some experts may advocate paying more than $35 for a player like Pedro.  Most of us don’t have time to do in-depth statistical analysis and come up with our own values based on standard deviations.  Actually, most projections and quality $ projections like the ones on drafthelp.com utilize these techniques in their calculations.  My advice is not to break the rule. Even if Pedro has a real value of $45, I would drop from the bidding at $35.  It is likely that he’ll end up going for more than $45 anyway, and you can rest assured that the team with Pedro will have more than his far share of scrubs on his squad.


Accurate projections and conserving your budget are two ways to assure you field a competitive squad.  Paying the proper amount for a player is the key to building a team with value.  By following the $35 rule, you can help assure you will have the money you need to buy those players that you feel are under or accurately priced.


Adjustment of Bid Based on the Number of Teams and Positions

Most projected dollar values are based on the assumption that your league uses a standard 12-team AL or 13-team NL format.  However, this is often not the case.  There are a number of 12 team leagues that use both the AL and NL and often an AL or NL only league may not have 12 or 13 teams.  Most draft lists are based on the same assumption.


The number of teams in your league should have a significant impact on your strategy.  Especially when it comes to 1Bs, OFs and closers.  In a 12-team AL-only league, there are 14 closers for 12 teams, but in a 12-team mixed league there are 30 closers available.  The same goes for quality Ofs; the number of quality OFs goes from about 25 to 60, and 1Bs from around 10 to 22.


The impact on the other positions is far less severe.  At SS, you go from 4-5 to maybe 9-10.  And at catcher you go from 2-3 to 5-6.  The same holds for 2Bs, 3Bs and SPs.  So what does this observation tell you:  in a league that has less than the standard number of teams, focus on the positions that have very little depth.


In a draft league, this means drafting Jeter before Bonds, because when it gets to the 20th round you can still grab an Adam Dunn at OF (well, at least you could last year!), while the guy that blew his first pick on Bonds will be stuck with the likes of Ozzie Guillen at SS.  By adding the combined stats of the two players you can obviously see that you are better off.  The same holds true for closers.  Let someone else draft Trevor Hoffman in the second round, you’ll still be able to grab LaTroy Hawkins or Mike Anderson somewhere around Round 16, and you’ll still be competitive in saves.


As far as auctions go, here’s where you can almost throw the $35 rule out the window.  Spend and spend big for the positions with little depth.  If you can lock up Piazza, Pedro, A-rod, and Robbie Alomar, you will still be able to fill your roster with starting OFs for $1.  If there are 12 teams in your league and every team gets 5 OFs and there are 60 guys worth getting, then you are almost guaranteed being able to grab a guy with value at the end of the draft for $1.  But think for a second what the 23rd and 24th best catchers in baseball can do for your fantasy team.  Besides hitting .240 and costing you 6 places in batting average, very little else.


Playing in a league of standard size is great, but some of us decide not to for a number of various reasons.  For those of us that appreciate “standard” we see anything less as being a combination of “All-Star” teams.  So if you plan to play in this “All-Star” style league, be sure to adjust your strategy, and make it a priority to fill your roster with the superstar players that come from positions that have little depth.


Talk up the guy you don’t really want,
keep quiet about those you REALLY do

This one has been working for me for years.  Say you REALLY think that Jeter is ready for that 40-40-.350 season and you simply MUST have him.  What do you do when he’s on the board?

My advice: “as Elmer Fudd would say ‘be quiet, be berry berry quiet.’”  Just sit back calmly, let the bidding rapidly escalate to the mid-20s and jump in when there is a moment of silence.  DO NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT throw him out there yourself.  Anytime you have a player on your list that you REALLY must have, let someone else toss him.   The only exception to this is near the end of the draft; if you have budgeted wisely, then you can toss a player that only you can afford.

Also don’t be the guy that says $30 when the bidding is still at $10.   Let someone else drive up the price.  You need to sit quietly until the time is right for your bid.

Now if you MUST have Jeter that likely means you think A-rod will pull a Griffey and hit about .250 this year.  Here’s what I suggest you do.  THROW HIM EARLY.    Also when you toss him out there say: “.318 52-135-18, and that was a BAD year for him.”  Quote the stats; talk him up big time.  Say, “This is by far the top player in the game!”  Also, start the bidding at $25 or so.  You KNOW you won’t get stuck with him that cheaply, and if you do, then that’s one great deal.  I would also suggest sticking around in the bidding to his fair market price.  Be the guy that drives him right to the fringe, and if you end up with him at least you will have him for less than he’s worth.


Some of the other owners in your league may eventually figure out your ploys.  If this happens, then mix it up little.  Keep them guessing.    The key, of course, is to get the guys you want as inexpensively as possible, and make the other teams pay as much as possible for the guys you’re really not interested in.


The Value of a Steal

Last season’s total HR and SB totals were as follows:


AL HRs: 2506
NL HRs: 2952
MLB HRs: 5458


AL SBs: 1647
NL SBs: 1456
MLB SBs: 3103

This means that in the AL there was a SB for every 1.52 HRs and in the NL this ratio was one SB for every 2.03 HRs.  The total for MLB was a 1.76:1 ration.


The above was not a single-season phenomenon.  In fact, a review of historical statistics would result in very similar data over the last 15 years. One obvious conclusion can be drawn from the above: a SB is more rare than a HR in today’s game.


As any rotisserie league participant knows, in most leagues HRs and SBs are categories of equal weight, i.e., in a 12-team league the leader in SBs gets the same 12 points for leading the category as the leader in HRs.


Since we can prove that a SB is a less common occurrence than a HR, we can also infer that a SB is more valuable.  For example last season Alfonso Soriano had 43 steals this represented 43/1647 or 2.61% of all the steals in the AL. Jim Thome hit 49 jacks, 49/2506 or 1.96% of the total homeruns that were hit in the AL. Thome had more HRs than Soriano had SBs, however, Soriano had a higher percentage of the league’s total SBs.


I’m not advocating that you should automatically take Soriano over Thome in your league this season.  What I do state is that players that hit 15-20 home runs are a dime a dozen and cannot really help your team.  However, players that can grab a handful of steals can move your team up a number of spots in the standings.


The Power Hitter Rule

If you’ve just read the above piece you may be thinking to yourself   “I can spend $30 each on Ichiro and Soriano this year and easily win my league.”  Or if your league uses a draft format, “I can use my first two picks on these guys and win.”

There is a reason that players like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, A-rod, Carlos Delgado and Juan Gonzalez go for big money in every auction or are the top picks in every draft league each season.  There is a premium on superstar power hitters in fantasy baseball.

Not only do they help out in the power stats (HRs and RBIs), in 5-category leagues they generally produce a high number of R’s, and most of the league’s top power hitters consistently approach at least a .300 average. 

The reason you cannot simply focus on the pitching categories and SBs in a fantasy league and win is two-fold.  (1) There is a very short list of guaranteed pitchers.  Even Pedro has an extended stay on the DL each season, and owners of Roger Clemens can tell you all about his 4.60 ERA in 1999. Plus, we’ve already discussed the volatility of closers. (2) If you don’t have any superstar power hitters on your roster, you will finish dead last in HRs and close to the bottom in RBIs. You cannot put together a group of players that hit 20-25 HRs and plan to compete in the power stats. Let me explain why:

First, assume that aside from the weakest middle infielders and defensive catchers, virtually every player in baseball is good for 10-15 HR’s over the course of a season.  Assume that in a league Team A grabs Arod, Delgado, Juan Gonzalez, and Jason Giambi. Team A also gets 10 other players that hit only 10 HR’s each.  Let’s say that the group of 4 averages 45 HRs each, so Team A would end up with (45*4) + (10*10) or 290 total HRs.  Team B tries to obtain a balanced team and gets 8 players that hit 20-25 HRs and 6 that hit 10.   Even if all 8 of Team Bs marginal players have breakout seasons and hit 25 homeruns each, the best Team B can likely hope for is 260 HRs, which is much less than Team As.

The fact that you can find a guy to give your team 10-15 HRs in the free agent pool or at the end of the draft means that if you ignore the top hitters, you will NEVER be able to close the gap in the power categories. 

From my research, I have found that most league champions have a couple of superstar power hitters, thus placing them in the middle of the pack in HRs.  They also have a number of players that chip in 10-15 SBs (which, as we know, is far more rare than a player that throws in 10-15 HRs.)  They more often than not have a few closers are considered second-tier, and they avoid players that can destroy a category (such as Troy Glaus and his .250 average, a topic for another day.)


The Media Hype Rule

What should be obvious to you by now is winning a league takes a lot.   Luck always comes into play, but craftiness and the recognition of value go a long way in generating what others may deem as “luck.”

The media can be your greatest ally when it comes to assisting others in overpaying for players at your auction.  Fantasy leagues are won on statistics, not pure baseball ability.  The likelihood that Jim Edmonds will win another Gold Glove this year and hit over .300 does not cancel the fact that 30 HRs is likely out of reach.   However, someone in your league will likely overpay for him because the media loves the guy.

Utilizing hype to your benefit and recoginizing that the statistics are what determines the outcome of a league is what will make you a winner.  Find stories about players you are not interested in just before your draft and hand out copies to the other teams in your league.  E-mail works great for this as well.  Find some tout that is saying Adam Dunn is a LOCK for 40 HR’s since he hit 19 in 66 games last season and CC your entire league on the e-mail (I like Adam Dunn, but he won’t be hitting 40 jacks this year).  At the same time, hoard the info about YOUR guys.  If you read a late breaking story that Mike Fetters has locked down the Pirates closing job on the morning of the draft, be sure to find the most recent article about Williams having the job and share it with the world.

This isn’t dishonest, it’s simply utilizing information to your advantage. After all if the other guys in your league deserve to beat you, they should be employing the same strategies listed in this article.


Final Advice
 How to better balance your Fantasy League life with you REAL Life

This is time of year when most roto-head, roto-geeks, fantasy leaguers, or whatever we may call ourselves begin to feel the pressure of balancing our passion with our real lives.  For some of us, balancing our time may not be an issue since we may still be single, or still be in school, or have a job where we can surf the Internet all day.  However, a vast majority of us have numerous commitments outside of our fantasy or rotisserie teams.

Before I got married and had children I would spend 6-8 hours every day pouring over stats, watching games and tracking my teams. I know a number of people still do this, and there is nothing wrong with that.  I could name every 40-man roster off the top of my head and recite statistics for almost every player.  However, as time went by and my external commitments increased, I saw myself having less and less time available for what had become an obsession for me.

I know that there are others like me out there searching for ways to still pay adequate attention to their team(s) but not lose their job or marriage in the meantime.  For those people, I offer the following advice.  There are a number of things such as being in fewer leagues, learning how to drive a car and read the paper at the same time, or chancing your job by doing research on company time that can add more available time to you day.  However, these solutions may not have positive outcomes for obvious reasons.

For people looking to still manage their team(s) and the rest of their lives efficiently and effectively I recommend the following two pieces of advice: (1) you should rely more on comprehensive information from specific sources (like this website) and (2) you should utilize technology to track your team(s).

There are a number of great websites that do your research for you.  If you have 200 hours to prepare for your draft and you have 40 hours a week to dedicate to your team, maybe these sites are not for you.  However, for the rest of us sites like drafthelp.com can be a Godsend.  There are numerous other resources (just check our rated links section) besides ours that provide very useful information.  These sites can tell you who may be hurt, what player is going to get playing time, and essentially any other information that may help your team.

Tracking your team with technology is also a key way to better manage your time.  I track all of my players on an excel spreadsheet.  All I have to do is download the statistics from USAToday each morning and I have all of the information I need.  Most leagues have also gone to a web-based system of management (if yours hasn’t, then you should consider it.)  The days of buying the morning paper and jotting down the stats are long gone.

If you want to discuss other specific ideas, please e-mail me at onlinedraft@hotmail.com or submit a question to our Q&A section.  Don’t forget to look for value in your draft this season. But try not to forget that no matter how much we may all love and live for this game, in the end it’s still ONLY a fantasy league.


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