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.
In a mono-league, the vast majority of decisions are easy. The players on your bench are mostly worth so little that you're not going to consider replacing one of your starters for them. In a mixed league, you usually have a few close calls to make.
In mono-leagues, sometimes people will keep an injured player in their lineup rather than replace him with someone they perceive will do more harm than good. And if a player's dollar value is negative, that would appear to be the case. However, even most players with a negative dollar value actually make a positive contribution toward gaining points in the standings, so you're better off using them.
Personally I don't like trying to time hot and cold streaks. As I just said, you never know when a player will suddenly turn around a bad streak or end a good streak. Trying to time this is like day-trading stocks. You might get lucky or unlucky. I've never done an analysis of all players' weekly performances, but I suspect you would just find a lot of ups and downs, without much rhyme or reason. Sure, sometimes a player will have an extended hot or cold streak, but mostly the streaks are short and change quickly and without advance notice.
Having just said that, I'm going to contradict myself and say that there are times when a player is obviously struggling and it's probably best to bench him until he figures it out. If someone's mechanics or timing are out of whack, they usually don't just get it back the next day. But again, I could give you a million examples where this approach has backfired.
Carlos Gomez began the first two weeks of 2013 hitting 6-for-37, a .162 average. I then benched him on my CDM teams and he went 11-for-18 the next week.
As always, you want to get the most value possible. Suppose you're in a salary-cap game, and you have Brandon Phillips valued at 305 and Neil Walker at 284. They have identical salaries; therefore, Phillips is the best choice. However, what if Walker is playing seven games and Phillips just six? In that case, Walker's relative value is 7/6 × 284 = 331 and he is a better choice than Phillips.
I'm assuming here that Walker will play every game. There's always a chance he'll get a day off, especially in the dog days of summer, so to be more precise you might want to multiply his games by 6.5 or 6.7 or so.
Some people might also take into account what parks Phillips and Walker are playing in and which pitchers they are facing. I usually don't get that complex, unless it's something obvious, such as playing at Coors Field. This doesn't mean I automatically play a hitter just because he'll be at Coors or bench him because he'll be in San Diego.
To be precise, you need to project the stats you think the hitter will produce, and the resulting value. For example, my 305 value for Phillips might be lowered to 270 for a week he's playing half his games in San Diego.
Catchers are a little tricky. If they have seven games scheduled, they almost certainly won't catch seven days in a row. For National League catchers, you can assume they'll only play six. For the American League, some of them may still play seven by being used at DH. So you need to try to project this as best you can.
Also, keep in mind that for most catchers, all these days off were counted in their original projection. Unlike full-time position players, who will get 550–600 at-bats, a full-time catcher would typically be projected for only 475–500 at bats (possibly 525–550 if he'll also be a DH).
Early in the season, I do consider weather. A team may be scheduled for six games, but the weather forecast may be so threatening that a rainout or two is quite possible. The colder weather is also bad for hitters; a guy who typically hits .300 with 25 homers might be a .285 hitter with 18 homers if he always played in 50-degree weather.
For pitchers, taking into account their matchups is, obviously, much more important. Some choices are easy. If a pitcher is a close call with several other pitchers, and he's got one start at Coors Field or at Texas, then bench him. If he's got one start at a good pitcher's park against a weak hitting team, then start him.
I don't think I'm saying anything brilliant here. This is all pretty obvious. My only possible words of wisdom would be to advise you not to overthink and overanalyze matchups. I know some fantasy players who go crazy looking at home and away splits, pitchers' historical records against other teams, etc.
The ideal way to make a weekly lineup decision is to consider the likelihood of all possible outcomes, create projected stats, and convert that to a value.
You could take a lot of time each week analyzing all the pitching matchups and home and away splits. You could drive yourself crazy coming up with an exact figure, or you could make this process a little quicker. Here are a few examples . . .
No DH at NL Parks
You own David Ortiz, and he's on pace for a $20 season. Ordinarily you wouldn't have to think about possibly benching him, but the Red Sox are going to be playing six games at National League parks, where there will be no DH. The manager has stated that Ortiz will only start one game in each series.
You calculate that if he starts two games, he'll probably get eight at bats. Most likely, he'll get to pinch-hit a couple of times as well. So you take his current pace, but adjust it downward to reflect only ten at-bats for a week (which would be approximately 260 for the year).
For this week his projected value is $7.7. It's interesting to note that the way value formulas work, if a player gets half the playing time and stats, it doesn't mean his value will be cut in half. In this case, his value is less than half.
If we want to get more complicated, we can consider how he hits on the road, what ballparks he'll be at, what pitchers he's likely to face, etc., and can further adjust the projections based on all of that. But we'll keep it simple, and just give him the $7.7 projection. If you're in an AL-only league, you're unlikely to have a better replacement. If you're in a mixed league, you might.
Bad Pitching Matchup
You own Jeff Niemann, worth $10.8, and he's at home against the Tigers, which is fine . . . but he's facing Justin Verlander, who's been on a hot streak for the last month. You are concerned it will be tough for Niemann to get a win. You can't just write off Niemann, because there is still a chance he'll get a win, plus he contributes in other categories.
You have to ask yourself, "If every game this season Niemann was at home facing a hot Verlander, how many wins would he get?" Make your best guess and plug that number into your value formula and see what you get. For example:
|vs Hot Verlander||6.9||175||4.25||1.31||6||128|
In this case, your guess was six wins, leaving Niemann with a $6.9 projected value for the week. Again, if you're in an AL-only league, you probably don't have a better option. If you're in a mixed league, you might.
If you think Niemann tends to pitch better at home than on the road, you could also adjust his ERA and WHIP downward, and perhaps his IP and strikeouts upward. You can also take into account how good a hitting team Detroit has.