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Quantifying Patience and Timing in Fantasy Baseball

The last few weeks of my fantasy baseball season have been a tribute to Chris Liss' buy lowest theory. I've traded for players like David Ortiz, stuck with early disasters like Scott Kazmir and snagged seemingly unrosterable players like Aaron Laffey (AL-only league, 12 teams).

This isn't unusual, since I'm perennially the most active trader and roster tinkerer in just about any league I'm in. But it does underscore an element of fantasy baseball that gets overlooked: Dollar values based on timing.

Fantasy players calculate dollar values based on season-long performances. So when you do your draft in March, you look at David Ortiz's total dollar value for 2008, consider all the factors that might make him more or less likely to improve or decline in 2009, consider your own budget and needs and everyone else's, and bid accordingly. You'll sometimes see players' dollar values shown for first and second half performances too.

But a more instructive strategy that can make you a better fantasy player is to break down fantasy value based on how long a given player was on your roster (this can be done by pro-rating stats over an entire season). By breaking your team down this way, you'll learn a lot about the value of patience, and of timing. When Ortiz started this season looking like he was 47 years old (which he may very well be, by the way), the temptation was to write him off and either move on with another option at UT (in a shallow league), or trade him while you still can for 75 cents on the dollar, on the assumption that he's done. If you did unload him in say, June, you'd have missed out on Ortiz's best stretch of the year, including five homers in his past eight games. If you try to forget your mistake, you miss learning a valuable lesson. If on the other hand you performed an honest analysis, found that Ortiz earned you, say, $4 for your three months of ownership, but that you missed out on $15-$18 of value in the second half of the season, you'll be less likely to overreact to a slow start or believe a player is cooked before he really is.

You should similarly track dollar values earned for players acquired via trade. Grabbing Ortiz has allowed me to claw back from 7th to 4th in my league, a big leap if I can hang on, since the top 4 teams finish in the money. I also acquired Jermaine Dye a few weeks ago, a clear case of buying high, and now getting the worst of his '09 performance (at least so far). By tracking the dollar values of these players since they joined my team, I can reinforce important lessons on the risks of buying high, and the upside of buying low.

When the baseball season ends, the temptation will be to focus on other things, most probably your fantasy football team. But before you ditch baseball for six months, take a few minutes to tabulate the dollar values earned for each of your players. By isolating where you want right and where you went wrong, whether in the draft, free agency or trades, you'll get a better feel for evaluating players and figuring out the right time – and the wrong time – to make a move.