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I’ve played fantasy baseball for 22 years, and I’ve never met someone who played this game perfectly. But the ones who come the closest tend to be those who can analyze their own performance. We all have weaknesses. We all have tendencies and biases. Recognizing the ways in which we aren’t perfect at playing fantasy baseball is the first step to correcting our flaws and having more success down the road.
I’ve identified a few common mistakes that managers make. Some of these areas used to be problems for me, and a couple of them continue to be things I watch out for.
Overvaluing surface stats
This is probably the most common mistake. Because a player’s performance in the 10 standard categories defines his fantasy production, we tend to overvalue those statistics when assessing players. We need to realize that those categories are a reflection of what a player has accomplished thus far and not necessarily predictive of what will happen in the future. And smart fantasy managers know that what a player does next is all that matters.
For example, managers tend to look at ERA far too often. We know the ERA stat is a noisy one that is influenced by batted ball luck and strand rates. Instead, we should be looking at pitchers’ strikeout rates, walk rates and batted ball data. Zach Davies is a great example of this error right now. A lazy analysis will conclude that Davies has reversed a disappointing start to the season by posting a 1.86 ERA since May 1. But looking a little deeper shows an awful 29:18 K:BB line over 48.1 innings during that stretch. Those who continue to use Davies are doing so at their own risk.
On the hitting side, we make similar mistakes. We value batting averages too much, even though we know they are influenced by batted ball luck. We also tend to look at RBIs, despite knowing that on a short-term basis they are heavily influenced by having many plate appearances with runners on base.
Waiting too long to jump
Adolis Garcia went deep five times in his first 10 games this season. Some managers added him to their roster during that hot streak. Others waited a few more days to make sure Garcia was worth grabbing and instead lost out to someone else.
Tarik Skubal has struck out 56 batters in his past seven starts. Smart managers noticed the trend after 2-3 outings and added the left-hander. Others waited a little too long and are now hoping that their hesitation didn’t cost them another waiver wire gem.
I get it — you don’t have the roster room to add everyone who has a good week. You need to pick your spots. But sometimes you need to jump on a hot free agent and hope you land the next big thing.
Waiting too long to drop players
Brandon Lowe hit .182 with a .665 OPS in April before batting .196 with a .692 OPS in May. So far, the Rays slugger is hitting .256 with a .761 OPS in June. Smart managers sent him to waivers after looking at his poor early season results and equally depressing underlying numbers. Others are still holding out hope that the 26-year-old will return to his 2020 form (.916 OPS). The problem is that by the time Lowe comes around (which may not happen), many of his teams will be too far back in the standings.
I understand that you can’t drop every early round pick who gets off to a slow start. But once you have a few weeks of data and the results just aren’t there, it’s time to start streaming the spot. I’ll go into more detail on “spot streaming” in an upcoming article.
Making anger drops
The term “Gombered” became part of fantasy baseball vernacular this year when Austin Gomber gave up nine runs in 1.2 innings at San Francisco after many managers added him for a two-start week away from Coors Field. The ugly April 26 start was all that most managers needed to see, as they sent him back to waivers as quickly as possible. Since that San Fran start, Gomber has posted a 2.58 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP across eight appearances. The reasons managers were interested in him in the first place – improving control skills, solid strikeout ability, usefulness in road starts – are all still present.
Dropping someone out of anger is almost never a good idea. Take it from someone who has made that type of move and regretted it many times.
Undervaluing playing time
When looking at free agents or trade candidates, managers are sometimes too carried away with counting stats such as homers and steals. Of course, those stats matter, but they are likely unsustainable if they are being accumulated without the benefit of regular playing time. Players are rarely able to produce significant counting stats in a platoon or part-time role. Of course, there is the odd exception, and I’m sure someone will visit me on Twitter and tell me all about him! But I like to play the odds, and the odds say that full-time roles are the basis of stable fantasy production. In fact, the fantasy teams who accumulate the most plate appearances are almost always the ones who finish atop the hitting categories.
I could write an entire article on trading (in fact I have, several times), but the cardinal sin in that area is being inflexible on reshaping your roster. Repeat after me, “all my players are available, all my players are available”. Get it? Good.
Being open-minded in trade talks will result in some great deals.
Missing lineup deadlines
I’ll admit that I’ve always struggled with Yahoo daily lineup leagues. Remembering to set my lineup in the early evening after the real MLB lineups have come out is a big challenge for me. But I’ve found ways to improve in this area, mostly by setting alarms on my phone to remind me to set my lineup. Sometimes I’m too busy to follow through on the alarm, but I’ve definitely made progress. Alerts from Yahoo about my lineup are also a helpful reminder.
You’re never going to be perfect at playing fantasy baseball. Neither am I. But the quest to chase perfection by making small improvements each year is what makes this game so much fun. After 22 years, I’m still learning all the time.