The Making of a Fantasy Baseball Player

Stories from a Rotisserie Dinosaur

Greetings, dear reader, to the launch of Roto Obsessive! In the days and weeks ahead I look forward to posting a number of articles that will help as you prepare to compete in your 2017 fantasy baseball leagues. But I’d like to start with a bit of an introduction about how I became a fantasy baseball obsessive and why you might want to listen to what I have to say.

I got my feet wet back in the late 1990s. I had always been a huge baseball fan and particularly loved the analytical side of the game. As a kid, I would devour the Bill James Baseball Abstract each year as soon as it came out and I spent an embarassing number of hours replaying an entire MLB season with the APBA Baseball board game. I had heard of this thing called Rotisserie Baseball (weird name!), in which a group of fans would get together at an auction and purchase “fantasy” teams of real-life baseball players, using their MLB statistics to structure a competition over who could assemble the best team. Revolutionary! How had baseball fandom existed before this innovation?!?

So, when a co-worker found an NL-only league that had an open slot for the upcoming season and asked me to manage the team with him, I leapt at the chance. We had no idea how far in over our heads we were. Armed with only a single trade publication containg a list of stale dollar values and the urgent advice not to overpay early in the auction, as the bargains would assuredly come later on, we sat patiently and waited as one top notch player after another sold for more than his projected market price. Then we waited some more…and waited longer yet. By the time the auctioneer called the first break we were the only team yet to make a purchase and the best player left on the board was Derek “Operation Shutdown” Bell. Our trusted trade publication had led us astray! Well, actually, it was our lack of adequate preparation in learning how individual league dynamics – auction inflation resulting from keeper value, the size of the player pool, and the total pool of auction dollars – can result in auction prices that differ dramatically from one-size-fits-all cheat sheets. In other words, as rookies, we made some big rookie mistakes.

We regrouped as best as we could and determined to start buying players, fast. We got Mr. Bell at a buck below the list price, but that was small consolation as we ran up against every Rotisserie player’s worst nightmare – more money left to spend than player value left available to acquire. We did end up acquiring several averagish players at discount prices, but our team was thoroughly lacking in star power and we left waaaaaaaay too much money on the table. We walked out of that auction with the worst Opening Day roster I will ever have for as long as I play fantasy baseball (knock on wood). We got schooled, but we learned quickly, managed our team aggressively throughout the season and somehow managed to claw our way to fifth place.

By the next season my co-manager had dropped out but I had caught the bug. The previous year’s auction disaster motivated me to research Rotisserie strategy more deeply. I got turned on to a publication that would change my understanding of the game: Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster. Ron’s essays about underlying player skills and strategy were a quantum leap beyond anything I had read before. I felt like I had found an informational and analytical edge that most of my competitors didn’t have, and I was right (ah, the pre-Fangraphs era, it was a simpler time)! My second auction experience went much better than the first. I ended up finishing in second place that year. By year 3, I added a second league to my portfolio and won them both (thank you, Javier Vazquez)!

At that point I was off to the races. I started adding more leagues, trying different formats, and continued seeking out new sources of information about strategy and player performance. And I won more and more leagues. The confidence that came from those early wins helped breed further success in the years that followed. Fantasy baseball is fun no matter what, but winning at fantasy baseball, whoo boy, now that is dial-it-up-to-11 fun! The enjoyment I have gotten out of the game has made it easy to invest the time necessary to understand fantasy baseball deeply and keep up with its changing dynamics. Wherever you are at in your development as a fantasy player, whether you’re just beginning and trying to figure this thing out or whether you’re an advanced player looking to hold on to your edge, I hope you will find the posts to come to be informative and helpful as you competed in 2017 and beyond.