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Fantasy baseball strategy: The fantasy marathon

My personal strategy of choice.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

I thought I would take a moment this week to show my cards. The reason I am doing this is that I have thought about this strategy as I’ve implemented it over the last 3 years and for me, it is the best strategy (for many of you, it may not be). It originated 3 years ago in a fantasy baseball league. I was half way through the 2015 season (mid-July), I had lost 9 straight and gone from 4th place to 12th. I could see the writing on the wall, my season was headed into the toilet. I panicked and started to shed aged players from my roster for prospects to build up for the next year, I let go of Patrick Corbin, I let go of Jose Peraza, I let go of Victor Martinez as I deemed them not necessary for my rebuild.

I then proceeded to pick up the prospects: Trea Turner, Marcell Ozuna and Nicholas Castellanos. Three weeks went by and I won three in a row and in a bizarre twist, everyone around me in the rankings lost and I vaulted from 12th to 6th. I had NOT won these weeks due to Trea, Marcell and Nicholas so naturally I assumed I had panicked too quickly and I shed all three prospects (ugh, you can imagine my regret today watching how well they’ve done since) to get back into the race again. By this time Patrick, Jose and Victor were gone, I instead picked up Michael Taylor, Robert Osuna and Michael Cuddyer. Well I went on to lose all but one over the rest of the season and finished in 11th place. I was now without the likes of Patrick Corbin, Jose Peraza, Marcell Ozuna and Trea Turner who I would be elated to roster today.

I thought long and hard that offseason about where I went wrong. My take away was the knee jerk reaction that I did. All season I was making a ton of moves each week, the minute a player went cold who wasn’t in the top 30 I dropped them for the new flashy commodity and I came to the conclusion that was not the way I wanted to run my team going forward. I vowed at that point to play the long game, I would be a marathon runner not a sprinter. I am more willing then most to sit through a players bad spells assuming that more often than not they will return to normal and quite often have a strong 1-2 weeks on the tail end of struggling for 2 weeks. I think of them more as a stock then a dated item, I am thinking about their future earnings, less on their past success or failures.

Draft Strategy

It can deviate slightly from draft to draft but generally I am looking for a ‘balance’. What I mean by this is I want my roster to have a good culmination of four things:

  1. Age – I want experience, I want someone who has been doing this for years, I want someone who is more dependable with a history of success that I can lean on.
  2. Youth – I want a young power, it could be speed or strength but I want the promise of something greater with the likelihood of streaky behavior
  3. Safe – I want someone who is going to fall within a semi-narrow standard deviation and I know the players floor and ceiling are relatively close.
  4. Risky – I want someone who could be the 10th best OR 200th best and I really don’t know which way it’s going.

Season Strategy

Start of the season:

Don’t Panic - Sure there were some places in the draft that didn’t go as planned but there was a plan and the plan will have some holes. Panic = disorder and disorder = looking at the now instead of the long term. Part of being in a marathon is pacing yourself for the distance and not using all of your energy in the first 100 yards.

Don’t make a lot of moves - With the exception of a major injury, a demotion to their position or something very tantalizing on the waiver wire, I generally stick with my drafted players for a few weeks to see how it unfolds.

Trust the draft - Too many years I dropped my last 5 picks from the draft only to watch 1-2 of those guys take off after a slow 1-2 weeks. Give it at least a month to see how a players season is unfolding.

Mid Season:

This is where I shine. If your leagues are anything like the ones I’ve been in for 20 years, you have about 10-20% of owners who aren’t paying much attention, you have 1-2 top 40 players for the next year/the remainder of this year who are available (you just have to guess correctly who they are – is it a rookie? Is it a vet? Someone who had injuries that derailed the current season?). After sitting back and just making moves to start or sit the correct players through most of the start of the season, I become more more involved in the waiver wires and trades now. This is the time to become the bull and start making the bold moves that will sustain and build your team. You should have a good feel for what your roster is doing, make the moves now to shed dead weight and pick up the asset.

Late Season:

Figure out if you are – in the lead, in contention or out of contention. Once you figure that out, if you are in a keeper league, don’t shed everything but make 1-2 key moves to help yourself for next year. This past year in baseball this meant picking up Gleyber Torres and Francisco Mejia (or in leagues that include minor leaguers – Sixto Sanchez and Danny Jansen who had solid 2017 seasons). I’ve had multiple seasons where I assumed I was out of contention only for all cards to come my way and knock me into the playoffs (and vice versa) so I don’t want to completely overhaul, instead a few smart moves that will help going forward.

Off Season:

I do a quick analysis of where I missed and where I hit. Was it luck (or unlucky) moves vs. a calculated move that I had the decision points correct or false. That simple. I picked up Lewis Brinson quite a bit last season and he kept failing. My theory on this is his strikeout rate is crushing his abilities. Going forward I am now watching strikeout rates closely and I’m more critical on players with overtly high ones despite their strong prospect ranking.


Pros of the Marathon Strategy

1. Don’t make hasty decisions and drop a player with long term success based on some short term bad play

2. Prime to pick up the mid-season players that blossom – Rhys Hoskins (baseball), Wayne Ellington (basketball – TBD but promising right now); Matthew Barzal (hockey).

3. Prone to picking up recently dropped players who had a bad week but look good over the long term.

4. Catch teams sleeping during the middle months of a season. I often climb at least 3-4 spaces in the standings over the middle months of a season.

Cons of Marathon Strategy

1. I often miss out on the ‘nobody’ who rises to fame on a given year. This could be Baseball - Tommy Pham, Andrisail Garcia, Aaron Judge (in some leagues); Football – Adam Thielen, Carson Wentz, Alvin Kamara etc.. Hockey – Sean Couturier, William Karlsson, Vladislav Namestikov; Basketball – Enes Kanter, Kyle Anderson etc..

2. Generally a bit behind the snap decision players in terms of picking up someone the moment they have a good game.

3. Potential to hold on to a bad player much longer than normal. If the player truly is bad, I’m sitting through 1-2 weeks more of bad play than a typical team.

4. Putting a considerable amount of trust in your draft through the first month of the season which can put you in a hole quickly. That hole can be very difficult to surmount.


Are you a fantasy Sprinter or fantasy Marathoner?

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