Thursday, February 27, 2014

What is better: Fantasy football or fantasy baseball?

I think fantasy baseball is much more exciting than the more popular fantasy football.  I encourage my friends who love baseball to give fantasy baseball a try.

For the most part, how your fantasy football season plays out is almost solely based on your draft and planning for bye weeks.  If you draft a bad team, chances are there's little hope for you unless some really good free agent pops out of no where into your lineup.

Fantasy baseball is different.  The season is long enough that, by constant studying and tinkering, you can rebuild your team during the season by making smart free agent acquisitions.  This is generally true, because the season is long enough, if you pay attention, you can pick up a hot player, or an up and coming rookie, who can pay dividends.

Surely this can happen in football, but it's far less likely than in baseball.  In baseball, there are hundreds of players on the free agent wire who will have good years.  If you are vigilant, you will find these guys, and thus spoof up your team, and therefore your chances of winning your division.  

While your offense stays relatively the same each week barring injury, those who do the same with their pitchers generally lose, regardless how elite those pitchers are.  So some form of strategy regarding pitching is essential in fantasy baseball.  If you have no such strategy, regardless of how good your pitchers are, chances are you will lose a fair share of games (unless you are lucky).

In football, once the bye weeks are over, you can pretty much just sit on your team and hope for the best.  You can go for weeks without even looking at your team, and then come back to find out you are in first place.  I can honestly say I've done this many times.  In fact, I drafted such a bad team that I lost interest and paid no attention to it for six weeks.  When I finally peeked to see how bad my team was doing, I had the second best team in the league.

I can almost guarantee that will not happen in baseball.  If you don't set your lineup in baseball, and you go six weeks without checking it, you will probably find that you dropped three out of four games.  In baseball, teams do not win without GM intervention (unless you are that lucky guy).

To many guys, this makes fantasy football more appealing, and fantasy baseball too much of a challenge.  To me, the added challenge, and the need for strategy, makes baseball much more attractive.

In football most experts recommend picking a running back first, and building the rest of your team around your running backs.  In baseball, pitching is the strategy. You will obviously have your elite pitchers who will get you 20-plus points most weeks.  However, what if your elite pitcher has only one game during the week, and that game is against an even better pitcher than he is.  If he gets you only 5 points, or if he loses points because he had a bad game, then you might lose your game.

In football, when your quarterback faces the same situation, chances are you have little option but to play that guy and hope for the best.  I mean, how many football GMs will take Peyton Manning out of a game because he was playing the great defense of the Seattle Seahawks, and instead insert some chump quarterback he plucked out of free agency?  Chances are it won't happen.

So, in this way, in fantasy baseball you have to be more proactive than if you were playing fantasy football.  You might decide to sit your superstar pitcher for that week in anticipation of a bad game.  In his place you might start an average pitcher who has two games during the week.  Your plan is that if the two start pitcher has two games, at a minimum he will get you ten points each game.  If he wins his games, then he gets you 40 points.  Now, of course your strategy could fail, but so could any strategy.

In football, you could actually waltz into the draft and pick whatever players fall to you and do just fine during the season.  I've done that more than once.  In baseball you need some kind of strategy, or you will end up with a bad team. So, particularly in baseball, you will need a draft strategy, if not a very intense one.

The experts usually recommend drafting the elite pitchers first, although I find that is a bad idea.  Well, chances of a pitcher having two good seasons in a row is rather rare.  By reading lots of articles early on in my fantasy sports career, I learned that, of the top ten pitchers last year, maybe three will be top ten this year. In baseball offense is generally stable, and lest risky to draft.  Pitching is less stable, and very risky.  The top ten pitchers vary from one year to the next.

So it's bad strategy to draft based on last year's pitching stats, although most people do.  Surely there are exceptions to every rule, although only a fool uses the exception as a strategy.

Instead, I prefer to study the rest of the pitchers very hard, and make an educated guess as to which ones are posed for a breakout year.  I then draft offense first, and then draft sleeper pitchers later on.  At the same time, however, I will hope that at least one of the top pitchers will fall to me, and I have had that happen from time to time too.

Plus, I find that while having one or two elite pitchers is nice, I find that having five elite pitchers is not so nice.  Generally, as a rule of thumb, once I have two elite pitchers I think might be elite (or are elite), I draft other positions, such as those positions I let fall, such as second base and catcher.  My goal here is that by drafting pitchers later on, I will be drafting two start pitchers to sit on my bench, players that will play the platoon role on my team.  As any major league manager will tell you, platoon players are among the most important on the team.

The reason pretty much stems back to the example of being proactive above.  If you have five elite pitchers, and three of them have bad match ups this week, it's still hard to sit your elite pitcher.  But if you don't, you risk having a losing week. So if you don't have five elite pitchers, you are better off.  If you do draft five elite pitchers, then chances are you lack in offense, and you have good  trade bait.  So you could, obviously, take that strategy too.

On a similar note, I have had many years where my team has made it to the playoffs with not one elite pitcher.  In these years I play the best two start pitchers I can find each week, and in many cases these pitchers come from the free agent market.  This is where the major strategy comes into play.

If you end up with no truly ideal pitchers, you will be forced to study hard in order to have a chance of winning your game next week. This is good because it keeps you active in regards to your team, but also what is available on the free agent market.

As a rule of thumb, the GM most acquainted with the free agent market is the one most likely to win it all. If you have the same lineup each week, you're more likely to become complacent and lazy, and when it comes to the end of the year, when guys like Jose Bautista get injured, you'll be scrapping to find a replacement.  So you might have the best record in your league, but lose in the first round of the playoffs because you didn't have a plan.

Another reason I usually let elite pitching slide in the draft is, in order to draft the so called elite pitching, you have to sacrifice elite offense.  It is my experience, after 14 years of doing this, that elite offense to baseball is like a good running back to football: the position is thin; there are only a few elite offensive players at each position, while there are hundreds of pitchers to choose from, any of which can have a good week.

So, I think elite offense should be drafted prior to elite pitching.  That's one strategy of many.  As a matter of fact, I have been so successful with this strategy over the years that nearly every other GM in our league has copied it, which is why I feel fine about writing about it here.

I also think this is a good strategy because offensive players are much less likely to get injured than pitchers, who are putting a lot of strain on their arms. By drafting offense first, you can pretty much rest assured you will not have to tinker with your starting lineup unless there is an injury (just like in football).  I have had seasons where all of my offensive players did not get injured all season, and my lineup never once changed.

It is wise to note that there will be guys who salivate over names like Justin Verlander during the draft.  I just let them draft those guys, and while they are doing so I pick up guys like Albert Pujoles and Miguel Cabrera.  Then when the draft is over, while these guys are in awe at how they have the best pitcher, they are in awe over how I get the best overall team year after year.

Another thing to note is that, aside for the best player at the position, most second basemen and catchers do not score enough points in a given week to be relevant.  So I don't expect many points from these positions.  For this reason, unless I can get the elite players at those thin positions, I let these positions fall until later in the draft.

So, what positions do I let fall?.  Usually it's either third base, second base, shortstop or catcher.  Actually, I almost always let catcher fall, because, for the most part, even the elite catchers don't produce enough points to be a factor in winning a game.  So I let most catchers fall.

Say I end up drafting high a good third basemen.  Now I have to decide to let either the second basemen or shortstop slide.  I usually anticipate this situation before the draft, and any good fantasy baseball GM would do the same.  In this particular year 2nd base is a very deep position, with the guys I ranked 2-12 being about the same, at least in my opinion.  Shortstop has only three guys I'd even want to have on my team.

So, in this case, if I had to choose picking a player high in only one of these positions, I'd pick a shortstop and let 2nd base fall.  But I anticipate this happening and have a backup plan.  The backup plan is always some sleeper, some rooking, some up and coming player, that I'd plan on drafting late.  It are these types of picks that can win a league.  One year I drafted Chase Utley by this method, and he became an elite 2nd baseman that year, taking my team all the way to the league world series.

So you can see there is quite a bit of strategy baseball.  In the football draft you have to make similar strategies, but they don't go so deep.  In football you may have to decide if you draft a wide receiver or a running back in the second round. You will then have to decide in what round you draft a quarter back.  But these are minor strategies compared to those of baseball, ones that are usually determined by draft position and what was drafted prior to your pick.

So a good strategy in baseball, I find, is to hopefully have a couple elite pitchers who can be used every week, but otherwise to have a bunch of two start pitchers you can use as needed.  It's also essential to stay alert to what's going on in the free agent market.

And can see that fantasy baseball is much more strategic than fantasy football. Some people choose not to play fantasy baseball because such strategies requires time and effort.  To me, this makes fantasy baseball much more enticing than fantasy football.