Winning Fantasy Requires Year-Round Attention

It’s no stretch to say that Larry Schechter is a fantasy baseball expert. He is a six-time winner of the renowned Tout Wars experts league and a winner of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR). He is also a two-time winner of the CDM Sports national salary-cap challenge. He also is the author of the 2012 fantasy baseball book, “Winning Fantasy Baseball: Secret Strategies of a Nine-Time National Champion.” In the book, Schechter discloses many of the elements of his winning methods. It is designed for everyone from beginners through experienced players.

As part of our expanded fantasy coverage this season, we bring you the following exclusive excerpts from the book, which give you insight into the book and some of Schechter’s approaches. “Winning Fantasy Baseball” is available at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and in bookstores everywhere. You can also find more information and reviews at winningfantasybaseballthebook.com or follow Schechter on Twitter @LarrySchechter.

Get the drop on opponents: Know how they value talent

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My goal for an auction is to buy as many players as possible for a discount. That’s the only way to buy $290, $300 or more value for my $260 budget. To execute this strategy, I could simply show up at an auction and wait for bargains to appear. But I do much more preparation before I show up.

And there are two important caveats. If I simply wait for bargains to appear and take what I can get, there’s a danger that I might pass on too many of the better players and end up not spending my entire $260. Leaving money on the table is the biggest sin for an auction. It is a blunder of huge proportions. If you leave a dollar or two on the table, that is not a huge blunder. But $5, $10, or more? That’s a whole lot of value you just gave away.

The other caveat is that if I just take every bargain that shows up, I could end up with an imbalanced roster. What if I’m valuing stolen bases more than my competitors? I could end up with massive overkill for speed and no power. So I do try to get a somewhat balanced team. I don’t want to start in a position where I know I’ve got overkill in certain categories and am going to have to trade later. (As I explained in another part of the book, I think it’s a terrible idea!)

Identifying Potential Bargains

Rather than waiting for the auction, I attempt to identify potential bargains in advance. On my player-projections pages, I have a column called Others’ Value. My 2011 AL-only league shortstop projections are shown below. The Value column is my personal dollar value for that player. Then I have listed the dollar value according to five other sources. For the 2011 season, the sources I used were Fantasy Baseball Guide magazine, Rotoworld’s online draft guide, Sporting News magazine, Fantasy Baseball Index magazine and Baseball HQ’s website.

I pretty much always use Fantasy Baseball Guide, Rotoworld.com and Baseball HQ. I find their dollar values to be generally pretty well thought out, and—more important—I know that these are popular sources used by many players, including some of my competitors. I often have also used RotoWire magazine, for the same reasons. (I didn’t use it in 2011 simply because it didn’t arrive in my local newsstands until very late in the spring.)

Cliff Pennington projected to provide surplus auction value among AL shortstops in 2011 (Photo by Andrew Woolley).

Cliff Pennington projected to provide surplus auction value among AL shortstops in 2011 (Photo by Andrew Woolley).

When I first decided (in 2005) to add this others’ value information, my hope was that it would help me identify players whom I thought had more value than what my competitors thought. As it turned out, it was a very valuable tool and has continued to be so.

I peruse this information looking for potential bargains. Starting with the shortstops, Derek Jeter is at the top of the list. My value is $20.8. Two of the five others list him at $21, and one at $24. This means it’s very likely someone else will be willing to pay at least $21 for him, possibly more. So it’s unlikely I’ll be able to buy him for less than my value of $20.8. Alexei Ramirez and Elvis Andrus also have many others’ values at, or exceeding, my value.

The next shortstop is Cliff Pennington, whom I’ve valued at $13.7. The others’ values are $11, $8, $3, $10 and $10. This means it’s very possible none of my competitors will be willing to pay more than $11, if even that much. Obviously, my list doesn’t include every possible source of values, and all it takes to ruin my chance of getting a bargain is for just one of the other eleven guys at my auction to think he’s worth $13 or $14. Nonetheless, I’ve got a chance here. It’s much more likely I’ll get a discount on Pennington than on Jeter, Ramirez or Andrus. As I said, my experience using this system has shown that it works. When I identify a player like Pennington as a potential bargain, there’s a good chance he will be available at a price I like.

Going through the rest of the shortstops, I have identified three targets:

PROJECTED
Position Player $ Value Discount
Shortstop Pennington $13.7 $2.7
 —— Peralta $11.5 $0.5
 —— Brignac $11 $2.0

My projected discount is calculated by simply taking the highest others’ value and subtracting that from my own value.

I look at every position, as well as pitchers, and compile a comprehensive target list. There are always many players on the list. For 2011, there were a lot of hitters with projected discounts in the $1–3 range and a lot of pitchers at $3–5.

For a mixed-league auction, I’m looking to get discounts much greater than just $1–3 for most levels of hitters and more than $3–5 for many pitchers. So the projected discounts here don’t exactly apply for a mixed league.

However, it still allows me to identify targets. There is a greater chance that Pennington, Jhonny Peralta and Reid Brignac will be available for the types of mixed-league discounts I’m looking for than will players such as Jeter, Ramirez, and Andrus where others value them as highly—or more—than I do.

Discount Double Check

In addition to being my list of potential bargains, I must also ask myself, “Could this simply be a list of players where I’ve got it totally wrong?” For example, if nobody else thinks Pennington is worth more than $11 and I’ve got him at $13.7, maybe I’m being way too optimistic.

AL-ONLY SS PROJECTIONS • 2011
Player Value FBG RW SN FBI BBHQ
Derek Jeter $20.80 19 21 24 21 20
Alexei Ramirez $20.10 20 20 21 18 21
Elvis Andrus $18.70 18 25 24 23 17
Cliff Pennington $13.70 11 8 3 10 10
Asdrubal Cabrera $13.50 13 15 14 15 14
Tsuyoshi Nishioka $13.30 1 10 2 16 18
Erick Aybar $12.90 13 14 3 13 14
Yunel Escobar $11.80 14 12 12 11 12
Jhonny Peralta $11.50 11 9 7 11 10
Reid Brignac $11.00 7 9 2 3 8
Alcides Escobar $10.30 7 6 2 15 15
Alexi Casilla $8.80 1 8 0 9 15
J.J. Hardy $7.60 7 7 2 5 16
Jed Lowrie $7.30 9 4 0 3 8
Orlando Cabrera $7.00 6 3 5 3 7
Marco Scutaro $6.80 12 4 12 10 10
Brendan Ryan $4.40 1 2 1 3 5
Jason Donald $2.60 5 1 1 3 3
Felipe Lopez $1.30 5 2 1 5 2

When I project players’ stats I try to take a second look at many of them. After generating the above list, I will take a second look at anyone I haven’t already considered and perhaps even a third look at some players. For these targets, I want to make sure that I am very comfortable with my projections.

If I change my projected value for anyone, I will adjust the above list accordingly. But for all those who remain, I’ve now taken two or three looks at them, and I’m going to stand by my projections, even if they’re a bit higher than what others think. After doing so, I am confident this is my list of potential bargains.

As I said, my target lists have proven to be extremely helpful. Typically more than half of the players I end up buying were on my target list. And some of the ones I didn’t buy still went for a good price, but I didn’t have room for them on my roster. Also, that doesn’t mean that the other players I bought were all for full price. There are always discounts available for some players I wasn’t expecting.

I’m confident that you can compare your own values to others’ values to also get a good idea of potential bargains. (If you know that some people in your league like to use certain sources for their information, be sure to include those sources in your Others’ Value column.)

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