How to Play Fantasy Baseball - Two Points
By Chris Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
Two Strategy Points
1. In most leagues, it's better to be strong in the averaging categories (WHIP, ERA and AVG) than in counting categories (HR, RBI, SB, RUNS, Ks, WINS, SAVES).
Why? Because in most leagues (not all), owners who are not doing well tend to quit. The guy in last place stops making moves in June. The bottom third of the league is scarcely heard from after July. A couple other owners drop off in August and one more in September when only five of the original 12 owners are still aggressively making moves.
As a result, injured players remain in losing owners lineups, and good players languish on their benches. Even though your best power hitter was done for the season after he murdered his family in May, and you were last in home runs at the All-Star break, you can make a few moves and pass five of the seven owners who quit. After all, another owner (let's call him Bob) may have Sosa in his lineup, but he's also got J.D. Drew, who hasn't played in six weeks with a high ankle sprain and Jeff Kent who tried to pull a wheelie at 115 mph on the interstate. Bob should activate from his bench Austin Kearns who has since taken Juan Encarnacion's job and has six home runs in the month of June, but Bob doesn't bother because his pitching has also fallen apart.
Luckily you're in first place in batting average because Bob is second, and no amount of dead guys in his lineup is ever going to change that. The poor guy who drafted the best team in your league, (let's call him Joe) is first in the power categories, second in steals, third in wins, first in saves, but is in the lower middle of the pack in ERA and WHIP and third to last in batting average. In June, Joe is in first place in your league, while you are in fourth.
In late June, you make some astute free agent pickups and trade Rick Reed before he has his annual second half collapse for Tony Clark before he has his annual second half surge. By mid-August, you have passed Bob and three other owners who have quit in both home runs and RBI. You are now in second place, just two points behind Joe, who can't seem to pass any of the dead teams in ERA, WHIP or AVG., and you know that barring injuries you will likely pass the other three deadbeats in both home runs and RBI.
In September it happens, and you win the league. Joe finishes in third place, as another owner who stayed active all season finally passed most of the dead teams in stolen bases and saves. As you happily deposit the check for $1500 which the commissioner mailed to you, take a moment to remember Joe who would have won the league if all the owners had stayed active. When you see Joe at next season's draft, be sure to offer him your condolences regarding the unexpected and unexplainable collapse of his team. Let him know in a subtle way that you won because you're smarter than him and know more about baseball than he does. Do not under any circumstances let him know the truth: that while he was the better drafter, the more prepared and knowledgable owner, you capitalized on the laziness, inattention and lack of heart exhibited by your fellow owners.
2. Get your rightful chunk of the windfall.
Last season, I was in third place in my home league in August, but I was third to last in steals. I had about 90 steals, the guy ahead of me had 98, the guy ahead of him had 101... the guy 10 guys ahead of him, i.e., the guy in first place in the category, had about 120. I realized that the only chance I had to win the league was to outpace the rest of the guys by 20 - 30 steals (in addition to doing well in some other categories).
I picked up Jason Tyner during our monthly free agent pick ups, Carlos Beltran had started to steal bases in droves, and I had dealt Bagwell for Corey Koskie, John Burkett and Omar Vizquel. I needed one more big time steals guy to make my move, and looking over the rosters and the standings, I saw that the guy who had Ichiro, let's call him Kan, was about eight steals below me and 12 above the guy in last place.
I called up Kan, and pointed out the fact that Ichiro's steals (more than half his value), were being wasted on his team, and that he should get some guys who would actually help him in the categories in which he could improve. He was worried about his batting average, so I offered him Jose Vidro and Jeremy Giambi to go along with Tony Armas who would get him some much needed strikeouts. He threw in middle reliever John Smoltz, whom I had a hunch would wind up closing, but that's besides the point here.
Between Koskie, Beltran, Ichiro and Tyner (Vizquel was a bust), I ended up finishing tied for second in steals and winning the league outright. Kan may have moved up a point or two in the standings due to Armas' Ks, and he stayed ahead of the last place steals guy even without Ichiro, but the trade can only be looked at one way: it was robbery.
Of course, one might argue that Kan was better off after the trade, so it was still a good trade from his perspective. The response to that is: "Yes, but he could have shopped Ichiro around for more." Okay then, let's assume that he already tried to do that, and that other owners were either not interested or low-balling him even worse than I did, i.e., that there was zero chance that he could find a taker for Ichiro elsewhere (which is hard to believe especially with steals so tight, but people don't like to trade in my home league, and Kan was a newcomer and didn't exactly work the phones. (Incidentally, if you want to get a trade done, the phone is a much more powerful tool than the email).
So assuming he could not trade Ichiro to anyone else, and considering that I was offering him players that would net him +1 point in the league, was it a good trade for him? Absolutely not. He should have sat on Ichiro and let his steals waste away on the his sluggish roster. He should have said to me: "If and when you decide you're serious about acquiring a player of Ichiro's value, let me know. But don't waste my time with your weak ass offer."
Let's assume further that Kan thought (he would have been wrong) that that was the best offer he could get from me. And let's also assume that he were right. It still would have been a horrible deal. What I am saying then is this: It's better to throw away a point than to give your opponent the title while gaining only a point. To look at a deal and say: "I'm better off afterwards" is not enough. You must also decide how much better off you are relative to how much better off your opponent is. If we call the combined amount that both teams improve the "windfall" from doing the deal, each owner should seek to get as much of that windfall as possible, and if both are good negotiators, come to an agreement that roughly splits the windfall 50/50.
To take a simple example, let's say that I own and business that has a value of $10. Let's say that you also own a business that's worth $10. We realize that if we combine the businesses, economies of scale will make the resulting entity worth $30. I offer to buy your business for $11. Now if my business didn't exist, that would be a great price. It's more than your business is worth. But knowing that there is a $10 windfall to be had from the sale, why should you only get $1 and I get $9? Instead, you should offer to sell it to me for $19. After all, if I buy it, my business goes from being worth $10 to now being worth $30. You argue that you're offering me a $20 gain for just $19!
Ultimately, once each of us realize that the other will not be easily taken, we agree on a sale price of $15 (or something close to that), and we split the windfall evenly. You don't sell at $11 even if that's all I'm offering, out of principle if nothing else.
It's interesting to note that certain major league teams don't seem to understand this point. Earlier this winter, the Dodgers had to move a disgruntled Gary Sheffield, and there weren't a lot of takers. The Dodgers really lack guys who get on base at the top of their lineup as well as production from their middle infield. The Braves would seem to be perfect fit with Marcus Giles and Rafael Furcal in the majors and hot prospect Wilson Betemit in the pipeline. The Braves on the other hand are largely dependent for their success on Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, both of whom are in their mid-thirties, i.e., they have to win now. An injury prone Brian Jordan, and an inconsistent Andruw Jones are not enough to compliment Chipper Jones, especially when your corner infielders are Vinny Castilla, Julio Franco, B.J. Surhoff and Wes Helms.
The Braves needed a big bat like Gary Sheffield desperately, and they had a glut of middle infielders. The Dodgers should not have given them Sheffield unless they got at least Giles back in the deal. But instead, they settled for Jordan and Odalis Perez! GM Dan Evans should have told John Schuerholz: "Okay, I guess you're not serious yet. Maybe desperation will hit you at the All-Star break. Too bad it has to come that..."
The bottom line is this: when you're making a trade, make sure you get your rightful share of the windfall.
Article first appeared 3/25/02