Is Your Team Really As Good or Bad as It Looks? (Fantasy Baseball)
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Few fantasy players leave a draft with thoughts of anything other than glory. While it’s easy to see where things went wrong in hindsight, everyone selects the players they believe are best based on their own rankings and projections. Most gamers enter Opening Day optimistic about winning the championship, but that will only prove true for one triumphant manager.
Then again, others tend to be their own worst critic. If you’re like me, every pick and transaction is doused with deafening self-doubt. Did you really screw everything up, or should you consider giving yourself more credit? (Everyone else says the latter, but I guess I’m too dumb to take their advice …)
For better or worse, these perceptions often cloud the truth. In order to get the best gauge of our team’s true status, it’s imperative to remove our biases as much as possible. Since numbers don’t lie (as much as our brains), the cold, hard data represents the best path to objectivity.
Identify Statistical Targets
“Is my team good?” can be impossible to answer without establishing the parameters for a good team.
You may feel light on speed, but you can’t say for sure without knowing how many stolen bases you need to compete. Unless you’re playing in a new league with customized scoring, you can dig through the archives to calculate the stats necessary to win.
For those not intimidated by math and spreadsheets, Pitcher List’s David Fenko wrote a comprehensive guide to creating statistical guidelines for your league. The article includes benchmarks for 12-team staff leagues using head-to-head scoring and standard Yahoo rosters.
Looking back at two rotisserie Yahoo Pro leagues from 2018 and 2019, I took a much cruder hack at setting targets. I simply averaged out the yearly third-place finishes from each category, which would give a squad 100 total points in a 12-team league. The winner of these two leagues — shyly raises hand — tallied 96 and 106 points in 2018 and 2019, respectively, so it’s a solid baseline to crafting a balanced championship contender.
As expected, more home runs were required to compete during the power-infused 2019 campaign. Going back another year at least factors in some regression to the mean, but another change in baseballs could greatly alter future target points. The more seasons available to dissect, the better. With set goals in mind, concrete data can help you identify your club’s strengths and weaknesses. Of course, that’s only part of the puzzle, as this exercise does little without accompanying player projections.
What Do the Projections Say?
Knowing the numbers a title candidate should compile, managers can determine if their roster is on the right track. Therein lies the value of player projections.
While making your own is a useful exercise, those using personalized projections risk exposing themselves to confirmation bias. If you drafted based on your forecasts, you’re probably in trouble if that model doesn’t forebode a first-place finish.
Outsourcing projections can help. Multiple forecasting models — Steamer, ZIPs, ATC, The Bat — are available to all on FanGraphs. Most host sites also provide projections, and some may even update the estimated league standings accordingly in the draft room.
And now, it’s time for a shameless plug. Not only does FantasyPros also house projections, but users can easily combine their preferred sources to fine-tune the product. Prefer someone to do the work for you? Sync your draft to the Draft Assistant to easily see where you and your competitors stand in each category. You’ll also get pick recommendations based on those needs. In the end, the Assistant will assess your squad via projected league standings broken down by category.
After perusing those forecasts, you may still determine that the AI is wrong and that your sleeper relievers are going to get more saves than anticipated. That’s fine, but a predicted ninth-place finish should discourage your delusions of harnessing a superteam. It, at the very least, should show you that there’s work to do.
Ask Someone Else
Don’t trust yourself or the heartless projections? Perhaps another set of eyes will help. Ask a friend whom you can trust to answer honestly. Or, you know, just use the internet. Find a message board — are those still a thing? — or seek guidance on social media. A knowledgeable stranger may be a better bet, as they’re less likely to exaggerate their praise or hide a bitter truth. Just be sure to provide some useful information (league size, settings, categories, etc.) if you want a useful response.
The best-laid plans of projections — and men — often go awry. Is it time to panic because your projected winner sits in sixth place after one month? Is your better-than-expected start sustainable, or is it just a fluke built behind regression candidates?
Preparing a road map for the full season should prevent you from drastically abandoning ship too early. Trusting the long-term projections will often pay off, especially if steady contributors are falling short of career norms while healthy. Some discrepancies from the computations to reality — particularly in volatile categories such as wins and saves — can even out with patience. Head-to-head gamers also shouldn’t freak out if they get squashed early by someone who simply had an amazing week.
On the other hand, an overachieving squad should not get too comfortable. For example, I was lapping a 2019 home league in power on the strength of Herculean starts from Cody Bellinger, Marcell Ozuna, Josh Bell, Max Kepler, and Hunter Dozier. Knowing that all were exceeding my seemingly optimistic hopes, I traded Bell midway through the year. While that banked power allowed me to address other needs, I also didn’t take my foot entirely off the gas in fear of falling too far from first place in home runs.
At a certain point, plans must change. Preseason projections don’t mean much in August, so managers can’t wait too long to address potential issues. But if everything beyond blind hope pointed to success in March, don’t declare your season over in May.