Make a Fantasy Baseball Championship a Reality

Spring is in the air. Maybe that’s just in Florida, where MLB players are reporting to training facilities in preparation for the upcoming season.

As baseball’s best (and worst) gear up for a fresh year, fantasy baseball managers must also dust off the cobwebs and begin studying for draft day.

Those who already started their homework (that’s right, more homework, but this is actually important) and compiled comprehensive rankings should already be well aware of these following tidbits.

But for those who thought fantasy baseball comprised of a group of fans dressed in wizard suits simulating a baseball game or never realized that football isn’t the only sport with a fantasy game attached to it, there’s still much to learn.

Follow these general rules for a better chance at winning your league. Or at least not finishing in last.

Don’t Live in the Past

Nothing is more frustrating than hearing someone declare that Yadier Molina should enter the season as a top-five catcher. After all, he hit .315 with 22 home runs and 12 stolen bases.

That was last year. The smart money suggests that investing in a 30-year-old catcher who just shattered previous career-highs will not pay off.

Jeff Franceour defied all reasonable expectations in 2011 when he hit .285 with 20 homers and 22 steals. He followed up that scorching season by tallying a .235 average, 16 homers and four steals in 2012.

This is a new year. Nobody gets credit for last season’s stats.

The whole fun of fantasy baseball stems from guessing how certain players will perform. Several variables (new team, different spot in batting order, health status, luck) will alter productivity from year to year.

Don’t Overpay for Brand Names

Say you’re looking for a new T-shirt. You can purchase a generic shirt for $8, or acquire one that costs $15 but features a small check mark slapped on the top right corner.

Anyone not a slave to the Nike Corporation will select the cheaper item that presents a greater value. The same principle applies to fantasy baseball, where household names who don’t generate greater outputs will still cost a much higher premium.

Playing in a casual fantasy league with die-hard Yankees fans? Chances are that one will jump way too early to obtain Derek Jeter. While that move would have paid off big time in 2009, the 38-year-old stole just nine bases last year, and he never delivered much power in the first place.

Instead, wait several rounds for a young talent like Josh Rutledge, who compiled eight home runs and seven steals during 73 games last season with the Colorado Rockies.

Wins are for Losers

Let’s play a game. One of these starting pitchers won 15 games last season while the other notched six victories.

Pitcher A – 3.16 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 207 strikeouts, 28 walks

Pitcher B – 4.15 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 114 strikeouts, 70 walks

Pitcher A is the far superior pitcher, and it’s not even close. Well, those numbers belong to Cliff Lee, who won six games in 2012. Barry Zito, on the other hand, is Player B, who picked up 15 wins despite that mediocre stat line.

Wins is one of five pitching categories (along with ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and saves) counted in a standard league, but a starter plays a small role in determining his record. Lee found himself on the short end of several pitchers’ duels while Zito gained more support despite playing behind an average offense.

So don’t judge a hurler based on his wins total. For fantasy owners willing to go more in depth, consider how many ground balls a pitcher generates along with his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), which calculates a pitcher’s individual performance without considering his defense or ballpark dimensions.

Don’t Open the Draft with Closers

Like wins, pitchers also do not hold full control over saves.

Jim Johnson was not baseball’s best closer last season, but he led the league with 51 saves because the Baltimore Orioles provided him with 56 save opportunities. Craig Kimbrel, who led baseball with a miniscule 1.01 ERA, earned nine less saves in 11 less chances.

Teams also shift closers frequently, so it’s easier to scoop up relievers off free agency during the season.

Instead of spending a precious pick on Jonathan Papelbon, wait much later for inexpensive, yet effective options such as Tom Wilhelmsen and Glen Perkins.

It’s Your Team

There’s a player you’re eyeing in the fourth round, but all other rankings project him as a fifth-rounder. 

So you take somebody else who the experts rank higher instead. 

None of them hold Gray’s Sports Almanac in their possession, and that didn’t even carry over to 2013 anyway. Don’t be afraid to break free from conventional wisdom. The consensus isn’t always that wise.

You can’t trust all advice on fantasy baseball, or anything in life that you read. Except this article. Obviously all of this is spot on.