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Philosophy of Fantasy Baseball (2024)

Philosophy of Fantasy Baseball (2024)

In November of 2022, I met a friend through the FantasyPros Discord server, and we hit it off by discussing fantasy football and the fact that she is a Detroit Lions fan.1 Like most, she had an abundance of FF teams with different people and different setups, and she seemed to enjoy the strategy of each.

I explained that I am, first and foremost, a baseball fan and that being a baseball fan is actually a large part of my identity.2 I asked if she’d ever played fantasy baseball, and she said yes. Then she said she was a Cardinals fan, so I stopped talking to her entirely.3

A couple of my leagues had openings, so I offered them to her, and she jumped at the chance. One of them is my long-standing home league with traditional 5×5 scoring. The other has 14 categories and a bunch of very active characters for managers, none of whom I know in real life. The former is the type you lead a newbie into. The latter is … sort of bananas.

“What in the hell have you gotten me into?” she finally asked after both drafts. “Was that Lance Lynn pick a good one?”4 Suddenly, she was talking about OBP and K/9 and “What is a good K/BB ratio?”

It warmed my heart. This is how my best friendships are made. I bring them in with fantasy football facts, and then once they’re in, I rope them into complaining about Lance Lynn daily for five months.

And yes, I have more than one friend.

FantasyPros Fantasy Baseball MLB Draft Kit 2024

The Artistic Quartet of Fantasy Baseball Success

Baseball is the only game where the goal is to get back where you started.

When I sit down to write my annual Philosophy of Fantasy Baseball, that is the first thing I think. The goal is 360 feet away but is neither a circle nor a straight line. The obstacle you face at the start is the same at the end.5 The obstacles along the route have a seemingly infinite number of possibilities, and no two games will be exactly the same.

I’ve joked that my philosophy of fantasy baseball is simply that it’s better than other fantasy sports, but that’s not entirely accurate. I play them all (NFL, NHL, NBA, even NASCAR) and enjoy them for different reasons. However, I see those as mere games, whereas I see fantasy baseball as an art form that is different than the rest.

And if that doesn’t sound snooty enough, give me a minute. I’m just getting started.

The Art of Patience

A while back, there was a meme floating around that said something like, “If someone wanted to summon you, what would they say that would instantly make you appear?” At the time, I think I answered, “Bunting is good.” I should have answered, “Baseball is boring.” And now, it’s definitely, “I love the pitch clock.”

Essentially, my trigger point is anything that indicates baseball is somehow flawed because it is slow.6 And while I promise not to go all “old lady yells at clouds” about this, these complaints transfer directly to what everybody dislikes about fantasy baseball.

Patience is an important virtue in all fantasy sports, but it crosses into an art form in baseball. There is a game every day, save for the All-Star Break, from April 1 to October 1, and if you play in a daily league, you get to stare at your roster and watch those stats accumulate (or not) each night. When they’re hot, that’s awesome. When they’re not, that can feel like a disaster that must be acted upon RIGHT NOW. Except, does it?

One game is 0.61% of the season. Five games is 3.08%. Thirty games is 18.5%. You get the idea. The wait to see if the player you drafted is just in a slump or is a true season-long liability requires a lot of patience and intestinal fortitude to keep OR to drop. Non-footnote: For the most part, April is a terrible time to judge hitters, but people do. Don’t drop superstars in April. This should be known as the Julio Rodriguez Rule.7

Every fantasy baseball manager has their woeful tales of a player they dropped too soon who went on to tear up the world for someone else off of waivers. Most managers also have their ecstatic tales about players they scooped up thanks to someone else’s impatience.8

The great news is that in fantasy baseball, we have the art of predictability to help us with our patience issues.

The Art of Predictability

The second-most-complained-about trait of fantasy baseball is that has too many analytics.9

It is true that the sabermetrics of baseball have been around for longer than the statistical analysis for most other sports. Part of this is that 162 games every year create a pretty large sample size to make valid statistical measurements of player skills. (Comparatively, there are only seven NFL players who played in more than 324 games in their careers.10 Every other player in NFL history played fewer games than two seasons worth of baseball.) So yeah, there are a lot of baseball stats and a long baseball history to draw from.

While this can be overwhelming and confusing, it also creates predictability in fantasy baseball, and it is important for fantasy managers to figure out how to harness that to their advantage. If you find a stat you like that helps you delineate which players you want, use it. There are numerous tools and articles to help you sort through the weeds and maybe introduce you to a stat or 10 that you didn’t know or understand.

How much you like predictability probably depends on your age.11 And the great news is that baseball players follow that same arc to some degree. I think back to my 20s when I thought being predictable was the actual worst thing anyone could call you, and if I even started to lean that way, I would change something up.12 But then I hit my 30s and decided it was nice to have a routine. Now that I’m in my 40s, I have to consciously decide to be unpredictable, and it usually consists of choosing something different to have for breakfast (so I can get my unpredictability out of the way early).

Baseball players are the same. Rookies and second-year guys often have high volatility. After that, there is a time period where, barring injury, a player settles into who they are and is at the height of his statistical predictability. Then 30 comes, and the fall can happen at any time. But it does happen. That’s a guarantee.

It’s your job as a fantasy manager to decide who falls where on this spectrum and draft accordingly.

The Art of Adaptation

If you play in a fantasy baseball league that has even remotely typical settings, then no one player will ever be a “league winner.” Conversely, no one player is going to cause you to lose, either.13 This is one of the biggest discrepancies between fantasy baseball and the other sports, but especially football. One injury to a star QB could do you in over the course of 17 or 18 matchups. In baseball, however, even an injury to Ronald Acuna Jr. wouldn’t end anyone’s season (though it certainly wouldn’t help).

The Art of Adaptation includes the ability to construct your team in such a way that you can pivot at any time for any reason, but it is more than that. Fantasy baseball is beautiful because it offers so many opportunities for fantasy managers to flex their flexibility muscles. If half of your team is primed to end up on the All-Disappointment Team14 after the season, what can you do with the other half to stay in the race?

It’s easy to quit in other sports if the big dawgs go down early because there just aren’t as many ways to win. But in fantasy baseball, the strategies are seemingly infinite. A big power hitter goes down? Pivot to boosting Runs or Stolen Bases. Did you draft Cristian Javier and his 4.56 ERA for your staff?15 Go reliever-heavy to protect your pitching ratios.

There are always stats available on the waiver wire; with a little adaptability, you can find ways to plug and play them to stay competitive.

The Art of Endurance

I started working on MLB player notes and rankings on November 1 last year. By the time the 2024 World Series ends, I will be gearing up to start the next batch for 2025. Some people say the fantasy football season never ends, and they’re probably right. But the fantasy baseball season is a daily exercise for around nine total months out of the year. So many of the people who work hard to provide their analysis (and there are too many amazing ones to count) have this as their top passion and obsession 24/7/365.

There are those who, for whatever reason, end their fantasy baseball seasons before September.16  This is fine, of course. Everyone can play this game however they see fit and what works best for them. But for those who play to the end, it feels like a 5K you run every day. The reward is worth it, though, because while your coworker who doesn’t watch football won your office league and another coworker who picked their March Madness bracket based on team colors took that pool down, no one is lucking into a fantasy baseball championship. It can’t be done.

It is maddening and reassuring that this is true. Rest assured, though, that anyone with the endurance to continue caring and prioritizing fantasy baseball in their lives has a chance. I’d say that endurance, more than any other virtue or skill, is the most important thing to fantasy baseball success.

Conclusion

My philosophy of fantasy baseball in 2024 is pretty simple: Have patience, understand predictability, focus on consistently adapting, and stay in it until the end. Then you can call yourself a fantasy baseball artist.17

More than anything, though, no matter how you play the game, have a blast, and I hope you fall in love with it the way so many of us have.

Happy Baseball, everyone!

Footnotes

1. I’d never met one in the wild before. Back

2. I said this in much better terms, of course. Probably something like, “I really like baseball.” Back

3. After a couple of hours of introspection and discussing it with my baseball spiritual advisor, I decided I could practice tolerance and be friends with a St. Louis fan. Back

4. No, no, it wasn’t. But we didn’t know it at the time. Back

5. Catcher or home plate umpire, depending on where Angel Hernandez is that day. Back

6. I am 100% sure this is because while I was growing up, my parents repeatedly told me, “If you’re bored, it’s your fault, so figure it out.” Back

7. Julio Rodriguez (ADP: 6) came with a warning for being notably awful in March/April, and STILL, people were panic trading/dropping him in that time frame last year. If that happens again, jump all over it. Back

8. If you’re thinking to yourself, “Huh. I only have the ones that got away,” then you, my friend, definitely need to dedicate some time to the art of patience. Back

9. In layman’s terms, it’s “too mathy.” Back

10. Three kickers, one punter, one QB, and one George Blanda. Back

11. Or your personality type. Shout out to my fellow Type Bs! Back

12. I even changed up my swing in my slow-pitch softball league. See? Baseball players are just like us. Back

13. Oh, did Alek Manoah try, though… Back

14. The 2023 All-Disappointment Team: SP Alek Manoah, SP Lance Lynn, SP Cristian Javier, SP Carlos Rodon, SP Dylan Cease, C Alejandro Kirk, 1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 2B Miguel Vargas, 3B Anthony Rendon (a perennial roster member), SS Willy Adames, OF Aaron Judge, OF Lars Nootbaar, OF Mike Trout, OF Jazz Chisholm Jr., and RP Daniel Bard  Back

15. Additionally, were you a fantasy analyst who told everyone around you to draft him? Yeah, well, some of us were. Back

16. Yet none of them will play in my fantasy football league that ends at Thanksgiving. Back

17. Which is how you get to be a “cool kid” in some very specific circles. Back


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