Nash had originally asked me to add on to his piece about going from pretender to contender in fantasy baseball. But I really liked what he said and realized that I may be better served writing my own piece on the matter, so here we are.
Just so you guys know, I was asked to join this league at the end of the 2010 season. The team I inherited was awful. In a 15-team league with five keepers, having no real keeper worthy players is a real disadvantage, even if it did give me a good bankroll for the auction. I also didn’t know how the draft was going to go and frankly got overwhelmed during it. In the end, I finished dead last in 2011. In 2012, I finished in fourth place in a league that I would call pretty deep. Not a bad turnaround, if I do say so myself.
So, what did I do? What steps should you take? Well, let’s take a look.
1. I knew the league settings going in
This is something we harp on a lot, but you’d be surprised how many people fail in this regard. Obviously a first-year player joining an existing league is going to be somewhat handicapped in that he doesn’t know his rivals and how to make trades with them. Also, this league is 7×7, counting the five standard hitting and pitching categories, but also counting strikeouts against and walks for hitters, and walks issued and holds for pitchers. I knew the categories going in, but I didn’t necessarily know how they would change the values of players. But not knowing how different settings will come into play is different than not knowing the settings.
What I did know is that it’s a 15-team team with five keepers. I also knew that players are on a clock of three-years maximum. So, I knew what players were going to be available for the 2012 draft. I also knew that the players you kept were kept at their ESPN values for that season and not what was paid for them. That was handy knowledge for the following reason.
2. My last place team wasn’t that bad
Over time, I’ve gotten better at drafting, but it’s never been my specialty. The year in question was no different, as my team looked pretty bad on draft day. It didn’t help that I drafted Jacoby Ellsbury and immediately traded him. Ellsbury was coming off of an injury plagued 2010, but had a great 2011. I can’t even remember what I got for him, but the value wasn’t close to Ellsbury’s in 2011.
I had also taken a trade for Adam Wainwright, knowing that he was going to miss the whole 2011 season. I did this because I’d get him as a cheap 2012 keeper and I knew the guy was a good pitcher. I ended up moving Wainwright in 2012, but that was a good move for me. But I big name I acquired was Buster Posey early in the year. I had Prince Fielder, who only had a year of keeper eligibility left, while Posey was eligible to be kept through 2012. So, while it wasn’t a straight trade, I made a trade where Posey and Prince were the principle players. Then, right before Memorial Day in 2012, Posey got wiped out for the year and my team looked pretty bare for the final four months of the year.
Now, I could have made moves and probably finished in the top 10, but there was no way the team I had would turn into a contender. So, rather than make crazy moves to try to get into eighth place, I basically punted the 2011 season. Don’t get me wrong, I tried hard to get out of the cellar, but knew all along that it was a distinct possibility. Low and behold, I finished 15th out of 15 teams. But I had some very talented injured stars on my team in Wainwright and Posey who I knew would come cheap as keepers, also had a pretty good players in Jay Bruce and Madison Bumgarner to keep around. Rather than trade those two for a middle of the road team, I kept them around and built a pretty solid foundation around those two, Posey, and Wainwright. I also had a good deal of auction money to bid on the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Matt Holliday, and Matt Kemp. All but Cabrera were on my team in 2012. Now, that applied to me, but something else applies to other people.
3. Have a realistic view of what’s in front of you
Every league has these types of players. You know, the guys who draft their team and swear up and down that their players are all pure gold. They might be good guys, but they can be annoying to share a league with.
If you want to be a contender and are hanging around the bottom of a league, take a step back and ask yourself this question. Why is my team a cellar dwellar? Maybe it’s like my reason listed above and you have patience to wait it out, go for it. But maybe you just drafted a bad team. So, when one of the top teams come calling offering you some of their players for one of your stars, don’t dismiss it so quickly. After all, their team is better than yours, which probably means that if they’re willing to put some of their players on your team, you should consider it.
Now, that doesn’t mean you should take a quantity for quality offer like Garrett Jones and J.P. Arencibia for Andrew McCutchen, but realize that your team is around last place for a reason. Conversely, the other team is around first place for a reason. Swapping their players for yours may not be the worst idea in the world.
4. Pay Attention
Drafting well is great. If you can have a good team on Opening Day, there is a very good chance that you will have a good team for the season. But, things happen and if you don’t stay attentive to your team through the year, you won’t win. That doesn’t mean you need to devote the time and energy that we all do, but you can’t just check out.
Also, while drafting is great, I am living proof that you can win a league without having a great draft. I’m also living proof that a good draft won’t guarantee you a title. The team listed above, with Fielder, Holliday, Kemp, Posey, and Bumgarner didn’t finish in last place, but it didn’t win the league either. I finished in fourth place. That’s a far cry from the 15th place finish that I had the year before, but I didn’t win.
You have to figure out not only what’s happening in the majors, but what’s happening in your league. Nash pointed this out, and he’s absolutely right. Things like innings maximums come into play in a big way here. You not only want to see how close you are to them, but your rivals as well. That will tell you if you need to do things like stream or not, and how much.
5. Ask yourself two questions
- What did I do to make my team a bottom-feeder?
- What did the league’s champ do to make his team the best in the league?
This is really simple. In every league, you can go back and see the drafts, transactions, and what it took to win respective categories. Did you lose because you didn’t have enough balance? Did you lose because you tried too hard to be balanced and ended up below-average in every category? Did the winner go star heavy? Did he find ways to avoid superstars but not have a single weak link? It’s all possible. In a deeper league, he probably went with a bunch of B players. I can tell you first hand that a few A players mixed with some D players will not get you a win, not in a deep league. In more of a standard league, that may be possible. But try to go in a different direction from what got you in trouble, and try to emulate what the league’s best teams did.
This sounds like a remarkably simple concept, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t follow it. If you have a bad team, remember that it was bad for a reason while other teams were good for a reason.
I had a bad team in my first year, which didn’t bother me that much. When I first joined that league in 2011, my goal was to be a Top-10 team in 2011, a Top-5 team in 2012, and a championship caliber team in 2013. I didn’t meet my goal in 2011, but got back on pace in 2012. I know that a big turnaround can take place. If you’re willing to admit that the strategies that made you a bad team one year were off, you can have a really good team in no time.