It is the time of the baseball season when all the clichés come out about baseball being a long season. Football is on the horizon; the excitement of draft day has come and gone, as has the initial rush of getting to watch all our new players for the first few weeks. It is the time of year when the season becomes a grind, but it also the time of the season when the contenders start to separate themselves from the pack and we being to see who may win our leagues. The draft is over, the injuries are firing at us rapidly and the competition now becomes about managing our teams, both within our own roster and through free agency.
I have a couple of other NFBC teams that are hanging in there, but my focus each season is always on my team in the 15-team NFBC Main Event. As for my Main Event team, which I discussed last time in this space, after a fantastic start to the season in April, it hit the skids through a very tough May. Funny enough, I wrote here last time how lucky I was that I fell into Carlos Beltran after Josh Hamilton was picked and now Hamilton is back from his injury and Beltran is hurt and it feels like he might be out for the year on any swing he takes. I had a rash of injuries that did not help the cause and it would be easy to blame my struggles on that, but I think that everyone has injury issues (especially this year) and how you react to them is way more important and valuable than complaining about them. The effort of trying to come up with solutions to the setbacks is what makes these games challenging and rewarding.
When struggling, I prefer to focus on my errors rather than the injuries, because those are things I can control, learn from and improve upon. I could whine about the injury to Jason Grilli killing my standing in saves, but he is also 37 years old and my lack of getting a third closing option in the draft or the first few weeks of FAAB (Free Agent Acquisition Budget) is the real reason that his oblique injury hurt my team so much. My third round pick of Justin Verlander is absolutely destroying me, especially since my decision at the time was between Verlander and Jose Bautista. After analyzing my draft a bit more, I realize that after taking Stephen Strasburg in the second round, taking a second pitcher was probably not a wise call considering my first round pick (Bryce Harper) was a bit of a risk due to his lack of track record. Grabbing some offense in round three just made a lot of sense, and that would be the case even if Verlander were not pitching like Hector Noesi. However, the long season cliché does hold some weight and while it does not look good now, I am certainly going to try and fix it in FAAB and attempt to grind my way back to the top.
For this article, I will use a $1000 FAAB budget with a once a week free agent bidding process, but hopefully this can be applied to any league no matter the size or budget that uses any sort of free agent bidding.
The Art of FAAB
Maximizing your flexibility and making solid lineup decisions are key and should always be an in-season focus, but today, we are going to look at what I think is the toughest aspect of the NFBC, how to approach and deal with the weekly FAAB process. The weakest part of my game in NFBC is my tendency to be too conservative with my FAAB money. I just hate to vastly overbid on someone so I often try and figure out an exact best bid on a player, which can lead to being outbid for guys I want or even need on my squad. It is a weakness I have identified and tried to get better about, but I still struggle with bidding aggressively enough. In particular, my Main Event league this season has been extremely aggressive on any player with any value, especially batters, when I compare it with not only the number of bids per week, but also the dollar values that guys end up being won for in other leagues. While I am always trying to get better at my FAAB game, I will walk you through how I approach FAAB each week to give some ideas and tips on how to try and tame this difficult, but very important process.
First of all, I very rarely even think about FAAB before the weekend (NFBC FAAB deadline is Sunday evening). If I am out or have scheduling issues, sure, I will then work on it earlier, but if not, I try not to waste too much time or energy on free agents during the week. So many things change during the week with both our teams and in MLB that the work put in during the middle of the week can end up being irrelevant by the weekend.
The first step towards figuring out FAAB for the week begins before I even look at the free agent list. The initial step is taking a look at my team and deciding what I need. Initially, I determine if there are any positions I have a need for due to underperformance, injury or lack of bench depth/flexibility. Then, I will take a look at the league (and later in the season, hopefully overall) standings to see how each category is shaping up in order to check where I am lacking and where I am falling. I keep a list of my standings from Sunday of each week in one spreadsheet so I can determine which direction I am trending in each category. Narrowing down what you need or what to target can be very helpful to make looking at free agents both more effective and more efficient.
Within this process of looking at my team, I determine whom I have that can be dropped. In a 15-team league, there are usually a couple of fringe guys that we all have who can be dropped without too much pain. However, in a 12-team league, this process can be very tough. Sometimes a guy gets hurt long-term or a closer loses his job or a guy is just so bad that we have to move on, but usually finding drops in a 12-teamer is tough. Make sure you are bidding on someone you like more in the long-term than your drop and not just because the other player is hot now or you want to get in on the action. Dropping the wrong guy, especially in a league full of very good players can hurt as much if not more than missing out on the hot free agent. The toughest drops tend to be shorter-term injuries and guys that you drafted who are way underperforming your projections so far. These guys will have a high % ownership and it can be tough to pull the trigger on those guys. However, if your team needs fixing now, sometimes you have to take the risk on cutting those guys now. Obviously you are not dropping Adrian Gonzalez or Wilin Rosario because they hitting under .250, but a couple of examples right now of tough drops would be Francisco Liriano and Billy Butler. Liriano is hurt for likely 4-6 weeks and was struggling before the injury and Butler is just bad right now and clogging up your utility spot. However, they are also guys that you spend a top half of the draft pick on who have had significant success and it is very hard to let them go and perhaps produce for another team. The decision on whether or not to drop these kind of guys usually depends on your team setup, your standings and what stat categories you may need.
After I have decided all of my internal team questions, I attack the long and extensive free agent list, but I try and make it manageable by breaking it down by position. Within each position, I sort by at-bats for the last week or two to see who is getting playing time (and if are they playing well) and if it is new name with a new job, I do some research to learn more about the player. In the NFBC, the free agent list provides a column for what percentage the player is owned in leagues. At the end of my position searching, I usually do a quick search by percentage to see if there is anyone highly owned that is available in my league that I may have missed for any reason. This can happen if another owner has dropped an injured player, as he would not show up high in the list when I sorted by at-bats.
Of course, identifying who we want to add is only the start of the process, because (especially in competitive and active leagues) how much to bid is the really tricky and fun, but frustrating part. I break my potential free agent adds into short-term and long-term guys. Short-term guys will be players that are replacing a player with a minor injury, someone who has a great schedule the next week based either on park or platoon splits or a starting pitcher getting two starts in the next week. I love to get a fringe player going to Texas or Coors for the week to use as my utility bat or 5th OF. These short-term bids will all be pretty small amounts depending on league size and the other owners, although in my Main Event league this year, a lot of people have been doing the same thing and prices have been driven up as a result on this short-term schedule guys, especially the two-start pitchers.
The pickups for someone I see as a long-term asset is where FAAB becomes a very tough and tricky game. Undoubtedly, I am not the only one who sees that player as a long-term asset. These players usually included heralded rookies just called up who are not already on a roster in the league, replacement closers and high upside players who have fallen into playing time due to an injury or an underperforming starter. These are all guys you would love to get a week or two early and it often makes sense to try and take some stabs at guys in order to save cash, but a lot of times, it is unforeseen circumstances which suddenly give these players significant and immediate value. Also, with a short bench, it can be tough to stash too many guys hoping for them to fall into value, especially if you already have a few players on the DL taking up valuable bench space.
My general rule is that I will not go into triple digits unless it is a player I could see the potential of using in my lineup right away and for a number of weeks after that if things go well. Of course, that player also has to fit within my team. If I have three good corner infielders, I am unlikely to break the break for a rookie corner that gets called up unless it is someone so good that I just can't pass on. Similarly, if I am doing well in saves, I am not going to get involved in the expensive chase for saves, even if I really like a guy who fell into a job. The earlier it is in the season, the higher you need to go for these long-term assets since everyone still has more of their FAAB budget in the first couple of months of the season. In addition, if you get a player early in the year that breaks out, you get that much more time with them producing in your lineup. My general rule on these players is to bid an amount that when checking the FAAB results, I will be happy I got the player at the price I bid. I never want to check the results and secretly hope that someone outbid me.
When it comes to exact bid amounts, besides how much you like a player, a lot comes down to the budget you have left and how the general bidding in your league has been going. As the season progresses, it is imperative to look closely at your league's bids every week to get a feel for how the people in your league bid. In addition, keep a close eye of the remaining budgets of the other teams in your league. Often, as the summer goes on, some teams will stop bidding as they fall behind. This does not happen often in a league like the NFBC, but it is worth monitoring, especially in September. If you are in contention, make sure to take note of the remaining budgets of the other teams in contention. If they are all low later on in the season, you might be able to sneak some players through at a cheaper price than usual since the other contenders cannot afford to bid.
For more help on which players to target each week, I highly recommend the AL and NL FAAB articles on RotoWire that come out every Sunday afternoon. Jan Levine and Andrew Martinez do a great job with this weekly list and they list names that will be helpful in a large variety of leagues. I often read these articles near the FAAB deadline to ensure I have not missed or forgotten about anyone that has new value. While they do provide bid amount suggestions, every league is very different, so make sure to adapt those recommendations to how aggressive, deep and competitive your league is.
People often ask and discuss how much of their budget they should save for later on the season. This is really one that comes down to personal preference. In 2013, Eric Heberlig won the NFBC RotoWire Online Championship with $0 of FAAB entering September. He had a great team and great depth (and while he used his FAAB early, he used it very well), but did take a risk that he would not hit bad injury luck and clearly it paid off large. I like to have $75-100 left for September, which allows me to outbid people for a player I really want and also not worry about an injury causing me to take zeroes. I am more comfortable playing this way, but clearly both ways can be successful, but make sure to have depth on the bench if you do go that low.
Managing your team in-season is a huge part of the fun of fantasy baseball. People often say it is a grind, but that is also the rewarding aspect of it. If it were easy to run a team and win a competitive league, it would not be nearly as enjoyable when you do win. The draft is great, but it is one day and no matter how well you draft, how you manage lineups and how you play free agency are going to determine much of your final fate. A diligent and detailed approach to FAAB, along with some feel of your league with bid amounts promises to pay off in the end. My final FAAB thought would be one that I wish I listened to more and that is if you really want a player, just go get him. Overpaying (within reason) is sometimes a necessity and missing out on a guy you really needed because you were too cheap is a really bad and frustrating feeling. Good luck in the marathon!