- Matthew Berry, Fantasy
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I am many things.
Sensitive, confrontational, complicated, flawed, intelligent, unforgiving, slightly obsessive, narcissistic, hopeful, humorous, very pessimistic and very optimistic depending on the day and mood, reflective, crazy, harsh on myself and open. Probably too open.
I asked my editor to describe me in three adjectives and he chose: funny, gutsy, trying.
I asked my younger brother and he chose: brilliant, neurotic, determined. I'm still on very good terms with my ex-wife, so The Former Mrs. Roto chose: competitive, ambitious, loyal. My college roommate nominated: passionate, funny, mensch. We lived together for three years and I was positive he was gonna say "gassy."
The Wall Street Journal has called me "polarizing." The New York Times has referred to me as "a fantasy savant" and one of "the stars of the new frontier, the Web." A church blog asked if I was God. My coworker Jemele Hill says I am a party machine and that I have an unflappable liver, and a number of sports blogs and their commenters have called me, um, the kinds of words that are popular in blog comments.
Among the printable e-mailed descriptions of me from readers are: "Moronic," "brilliant," "the best at what you do," "the absolute worst analyst in the world," "a company man," "a corporate shill," "the man," "a nerd," "ugly," "cute," "bald," "idiot," "hilarious," "the best writer ESPN has," "totally unfunny," "a Simmons wanna-be," "a genius," "good stories but bad advice," "great advice but stupid stories," "egotistical," "I hate you and I hate myself because I can't stop reading you" and probably my all-time favorite: "Mildly irritating and occasionally useful."
One word that hasn't yet shown up but that I would use is "teacher." I try to teach. My dad, Leonard L. Berry, is a teacher (buy his book! On Amazon!) and I like to think I have taken after him in some small way.
Having played fantasy sports for a quarter of a century now, I've learned a few things that I'd like to pass on to you. I don't know everything; that's the first thing I've learned. The minute you think you do, you're dead in the water. But there are a few things I do know, and if there is one thing I'd like you to impart to you, it's this: Rankings don't matter. Projections don't matter. How right or wrong I (or any analyst you read) am in any one prediction doesn't matter. How well or poorly I do in "expert leagues" doesn't matter.
Only one thing matters, and that's winning. My good friend Ron Shandler of BaseballHQ.com has written on this sort of subject before and we have slightly different takes, but his general point is one with which I agree wholeheartedly. (And I encourage you to read him if you don't.)
The only thing that matters is winning. I did a "You Heard Me" bold prediction column last year. And I said Rick Ankiel would hit 40 home runs. I was wrong. By 15 home runs, to be exact. How much does that matter?
Because the reason I wrote that prediction was to show that I like Ankiel to have a nice power year, and that you should draft him. His average draft position last season was in the 18th round. If you listened to that piece of advice, you got 25 home runs in the 18th round. Happy about that? Or mad that he didn't hit 40? What if he only hit 20? What if he hit 30? Honestly, the only thing that matters about Ankiel is how well he meshed with every other player on your team, and how well all those stats stacked up against every other team in your league. Did he help you win? That's all that matters.
What's more valuable? If I tell you a player is going to get 33 home runs, 99 RBIs and hit .302 and then he goes out and puts up those exact numbers, or if I tell you a guy will hit 27 home runs, 74 RBI and hit .288 and he ends up with a 21-60-.278 year?
The truth is you can't answer it because it depends on what it cost you to get those two players. If I nail that projection or ranking for the first guy, it does you no good if you are forced to spend on him like he's a 40-homer guy. And the second helps if you get him for below market value.
Rankings and dollar values are merely indicators for you to give you a general idea of value relative to the value of every other player, and how other owners in your league might view these guys.
If I tell you a guy is the 12th-best shortstop and he winds up being the 10th-best, does that help or hurt you? It helps, unless you bypassed the eighth-best guy for him.
Look, I'm pretty good at this. I've been doing it a long, long time. I've got a track record a decade long and have continually built my audience over those 10 years. A fickle audience doesn't keep growing unless you're right more than you're wrong. And I have some resources at my disposal that you don't have as easy access to. But I'm human, I make mistakes and I can't predict the future. I don't know when it will happen, but I do know I will whiff horribly at some points in this upcoming season. And so will everyone else playing, writing and analyzing this game. Anyone who says different is either a liar, stupid or both.
So if you take one thing away from this whole manifesto, it's to absorb all the information -- here and elsewhere -- and to think for yourself. To understand that the ultimate goal is to win, and how you get there -- draft day, free-agent pickups, trades or most likely a wacky combo of the three -- is all that really matters.
Time to once again dust off the old Draft Day Manifesto, updated for 2009. You've read a lot of it before, but it's always good to get a refresher, and for those of you new to fantasy baseball, it should help as a blueprint to help you maximize your chance at success. That's ultimately what winning fantasy is all about: stacking the odds in your favor, thereby putting yourself in the best position to win.
I still see too many people paying top dollar for saves, overvaluing rookies at the expense of proven veteran production, paying for live stats somewhere else when they can get them 100 percent for free right here on ESPN.com.
You might want to settle in. This is gonna take a while. Because another adjective that's been used to describe me? Wordy.
Before the Draft
OK, before the draft. If it's a start-from-scratch league, we'll get to you in a second. But let's talk about those of you in keeper leagues.
If you're in a keeper league, you need to decide who to keep. No duh. But how do we go about that? By protecting the best players we have, right?
You protect the best value. Not the best players. That's an important distinction.
My rule of thumb is that you keep the guys who are undervalued or (assuming you are in a draft keeper league and not an auction league) somebody so awesome you won't be able to get him back (Hanley Ramirez, for example).
So say, like me, in one of your NL-only keeper leagues, you have Ryan Braun at $35 and Geovany Soto at $1. Who do you keep? Well, as much as it pains me, I'm throwing back the Hebrew Hammer and keeping Soto.
Even though Braun is a five-category stud, I think I can get him back for $35 or so. Even if it costs me $36 or $37, it's worth it to me, because Soto, should I throw him back, would go for a lot more than the $1 I need to spend. (It's a 5x5 league with a $260 cap and, because it's keeper, people have more money to spend due to inflation. What's that, you ask? We'll get to it in a bit, but the whole Soto thing has a lot to do with it). Soto is a top-three catcher in the NL this season; my league-mates know this, so he'd go for double-digit dollars.
So you keep your players who are undervalued. Now -- this is important -- what is undervalued?
Depends on your league. Say you've got Jose Reyes at $35. Is he undervalued? If it's a 10-team, $100-cap mixed league, then no -- he's overpriced. Talent is plentiful in that league, even at shortstop.
But if it's a standard 13-team/25-man roster/NL-only league, then yes, he is undervalued. Talent is at a premium in that league, and Reyes will earn more than that. So you're going to need to make your own decisions and own judgments in regards to this price list and your own league. Also, if you've been in the league for a number of years, hopefully you've paid attention and know what goes for a lot and what doesn't.
As a general rule, I will keep players if they aren't a bargain, but are at a position where there is a lot of scarcity. So in the AL, where there aren't a lot of top-tier first basemen, I'll keep Justin Morneau at $30 even though that's a few more bucks than he's worth. Because I'd rather pay three to five bucks more for him than be one of 10 teams trying to overpay for Mark Teixeira. Or worse, hearing myself desperately shout "Paul Konerko, $25!" late in the auction.
Ideally, you go into the draft with as much money as possible. But that's very different than the MOST money. You're going to have to spend money at some point. And if it's better spent on a keeper, then so be it.
For those of you in keeper leagues that are NOT auction leagues, you probably have some sort of penalty and/or cap on players you can keep. The approach remains the same:
Keep players that are so amazing that you could not get them back: your Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Reyes, Han-Ram or players that are undervalued. If you had drafted Dustin Pedroia in the 12th round of an AL-only last year, it really doesn't matter if you believe he can build on his MVP season or not; he's a tremendous value based on where he's ranked this year, so you keep him even if the penalty is a 9th-round pick. But say you had Placido Polanco at the same price. Well, I say you throw him back, because you can get him -- or a similar talent -- in the 9th round, if not later.
Drafting a team -- any team -- in roto sports is all about getting the most value out of each slot. I'd wager that more leagues were won last season by getting Ryan Ludwick in the last few rounds than were won by getting Albert Pujols in the second or Manny Ramirez in the third. It's all about maximizing value.
OK, we know who we're keeping. Or it's a start-from-scratch draft and we're raring to go. Well, before we draft, we're gonna need to do some draft prep. A lot of it. So let's get going.
Obviously, you should be reading as much as possible. I would be checking this site at least once a day. I own a Web site called RotoPass.com that I'm fond of. And all those social networking sites are also very good, although, to be fair, they're usually better for inappropriately hitting on girls. Err, so I hear.
Don't just read fantasy sites. Read the baseball sections on ESPN, the daily updates in Baseball America, etc. Watch "SportsCenter." And once the season starts, watch games. Not just highlights. Games. See how a guy gets his hits. Is he making contact and just not getting the bounces? Or is he swinging wildly and getting lucky? Those five runs the pitcher gave up? Defense's fault? Pitched great for five and a half innings but manager left him in too long? Or does he just suck? That last question should be asked about both the pitcher and the manager. You know who I'm talking about.
The more info you can have, the better.
I'll let you check out other places and explore. There are millions of sites devoted to fantasy baseball. See who you like, which you trust, who you agree with, which are moronic. But at the end of the day, all the advice you'll find will be speculation; some more informed than others, but at the end of the day, we're all just making educated guesses.
But either way, knowledge is power. The more you know about players, lineups, injuries, sleepers, coaching changes, schedules, etc., the better shape you're in. So prepare as if you're testing to get into Harvard Medical School, because the only thing worse than screwing up on draft day and listening to your buddies tell you you're an ass for the next six months is having to sit in front of a TV and say "Come on, Paul Konerko!" (I'm really not a Konerko fan).
Speaking of knowledge being power I know this sounds stupid, but you'd be amazed at how many people make this mistake. Know your league's rules. Inside and out. Is it one game, 10 games or 20 games for a player to be eligible at a new position? What's your FAAB? Do you even have a FAAB, or is it waivers? Do you know that FAAB stands for Free-Agent Acquisition Budget? If you don't use FAAB, are pickups on a first-come, first-serve basis, or do you use priority waivers? When is your trade deadline? What are the rules there? Can you keep players? For how long? What's the penalty? Is there a games-pitched limit? You don't want to stream pitchers if there is. But if not, go to it! Can you use the DL? Being able to throw guys on the DL without losing a roster spot means you can take more chances on high-risk, high-reward injury-prone guys. No DL or limited bench slots means you have to be more conservative. Every rule can make a huge difference. Read them and then read them again. And for the love of all that is pure and good, if your league doesn't have a written set of rules, write some down before you draft.
OK, now we need to roll up our sleeves. You need to prepare some paperwork before the draft to make life easier and more efficient for yourself. You'll need a few things.
First, get yourself an up-to-the-minute depth chart for every team in the NL and/or AL. Almost any baseball Web site has them, including this one. Ours are manned by Shawn Cwalinski, aka "C-Dub" for those of you who used to patrol the message boards over at the old TMR site or have used our Insider-only "Answer Guys" service. I can tell you ours are rock-solid. But whichever one you like, find the most up-to-date one you can get.
When the draft is nearing its conclusion and you're desperately searching for a starting middle infielder or a No. 5 starting pitcher, knowing who's starting -- or even who's on the right (left) side of a platoon -- will help a great deal. Trust me. As you should know, the more at-bats you get, the better.
I also like to have a games-played-by-position sheet. You don't have to bring it to the draft -- in fact, I wouldn't; the fewer papers you have at the draft, the better -- but on your master list of players, make sure you note who qualifies where. A lot of magazines will list players at the position they played the most last year or list them where they are supposed to play this year, not where they qualify. Chris Davis of Texas will be listed at first base in a lot of places, but it's very helpful to know he played 32 games at third base last year as well. Whether you target him or not, that affects the depth of talent at first base, so you need to know. Also, most sites, including this one, will base their eligibility on 20 games played last season. Which is fine. Unless you play in a league where you only need 10 games to qualify.
Breaking down the positions
In my humble opinion it should be our cheat sheet, but whatever list/magazine/Web site list you use for your player rankings, just bring ONE. If one magazine has Matt Kemp ahead of Carlos Lee and another has them reversed, who cares? They both rock, and you'd be just fine with either.
What is important to do is to mark up your own list. Make tiers out of players that are of similar ability. By this I mean, say you take your list of first basemen in the NL. Pujols, Lance Berkman, Prince Fielder and, I say, Adrian Gonzalez are the cream of the crop. Ryan Howard (see my "Love/Hate"), Derrek Lee, Joey Votto and Carlos Delgado are the next tier.
Then there is a very solid tier with some upside, like James Loney, Garrett Atkins (qualifies at third, too), Andy LaRoche, Casey Kotchman and Jorge Cantu. Then it's a dropoff to the next level, where there are a bunch of guys with some sort of question mark. Pablo Sandoval is unproven, Conor Jackson might have to share time with Chad Tracy; that kind of thing. So one of those guys will be good for a corner infield slot, but for your big stud first baseman, you decide, "OK, I'm not settling for less than the second tier."
So during the draft or auction, you see Pujols, Howard (someone doesn't read me), Fielder and Berkman all get bought. But instead of freaking out, you look at your little sheet and see Lee, Votto and Gonzalez are still available. You'll be fine and don't need to jump in and spend too much for one of those guys.
Too many roto players get hung up on one particular player. And this is a huge mistake, because we're playing roto, not real baseball. I'm an Angels fan and I hate, hate, hate the Yankees. But I'll be in there bidding on Joba Chamberlain with the rest of them. I can root for Joba to do well but for his team to do poorly.
A lot of players are generally the same. Maybe this one gets a higher batting average, this one steals a bit more, but at the end of the day, there are groups of players -- as I showed above -- that do more or less the same thing. If you get one guy on that list, you're fine. It doesn't matter which one. This can be extrapolated (and should be) to every position. And you need to figure out what those groups are before you draft or bid. Doing so will help you figure out where there is position scarcity and where there's surplus; where you need to go early and where you can wait a bit.
This can obviously change for those of you in keeper leagues. You need to take your master list and cross off everyone that was kept. What might be abundant in a "scratch" league might be scarce in a keeper. That's why you need to make your lists, group them, etc. (If you're lazy, just group it by price from your list. Over a three-buck difference and they're a different player.)
In 2009, in the AL, I think first is fairly shallow. Even if you consider Chris Davis elite and believe Youk repeats, after Cabrera, Big Tex and Justin, plus those two, it's a fairly steep drop. The NL, however, rolls deep at first base.
It's second base where the NL falls short. It's basically Utley, Phillips, Uggla and then Ug-Ly. However, I'm fine with a number of second basemen in the AL.
Third base is solid in both places (more so in the NL than AL, however), and this is as deep as shortstop has ever been. Outfield gets a little thin assuming you don't play in one of those godforsaken leagues that only requires three outfielders. Be a man. Even if you're a woman. Play in a five-outfielder league.
So if you're gonna overpay, the place to do it is at first base in the AL, second base in the NL and in the outfield as long as you play in a real league.
In addition, please, please, wait on a catcher. Do not be the one that wastes an early pick on Russell Martin or Brian McCann. As great as they are, you will find a solid catcher much later in the draft. I mean, look at this list; Joe Mauer, Soto, both Molinas, Ramon Hernandez, Ryan Doumit, A.J. Pierzynski, Chris Iannetta, Mike Napoli, Matt Wieters, Jaime Navarro and, while I don't like them, someone will bite on Jorge Posada and Victor Martinez. All those guys are solid, and your money/picks will be better spent elsewhere than paying a premium for an elite catcher.
And now, we come to my mantra. I wrote about this for ESPN The Magazine, but it bears repeating here, and not just because I'm lazy.
Never. Pay. For. Saves.
It's a volatile position, there's a ton of turnover, it's only one category. If you have read me for any amount of time you know that I have been screaming this since 1999. (And boy, is my throat tired. Thank you. Thank you very much. Please tip your waitresses. Try the curly fries.)
Assuming you play in a league with people who know what they're doing, you're not going to be able to leave the draft table with the ideal team. You want to maximize value there, and then pick up pieces during the season.
Certain statistics come into the leagues; certain ones do not. Saves are the category with the most waiver-wire depth. Look at this list of players who did not start last year as their team's closer or were on very shaky ground, and the saves they wound up with. I make a list like this every year, and every year there's at least 10 names on it.
Brian Fuentes (30)
Troy Percival (28)
Brandon Lyon (26)
Jon Rauch (18)
Ryan Franklin (17)
Jonathan Broxton (16)
Dan Wheeler (13)
Fernando Rodney (13)
Jensen Lewis (13)
Brad Ziegler (11)
Brandon Morrow (10)
Luis Ayala (9)
Chad Qualls (9)
Joel Hanrahan (9)
Carlos Marmol (7)
Chris Perez (7)
Now, not paying for saves doesn't mean you don't pay for them at all. You know your league best, and if it's one with deep rosters and an active waiver wire, you might not be able to grab the "next Ryan Franklin." But that doesn't mean you break the bank or use a high draft pick on a guy like Jonathan Papelbon (41 saves, same as Brian Wilson).
The argument against it is that you can spend the money and get a "sure thing," so you don't constantly have to scrape. Fine, I say. Just tell me who the sure things are. Because the people who spent big money on Huston Street last year would like to speak with you.
I spoke about this in my "Love/Hate" column but this year, more than any other I remember, there are so many murky bullpen situations and shaky closers, it's ripe for some major in-season shakeups. I count eight guys -- Papelbon, Bobby Jenks, Francisco Cordero, Joakim Soria, Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan, Brad Lidge and Francisco Rodriguez -- that are solid and safe in their jobs. I've never been a Jose Valverde fan, but if you want to throw him in there, fine. It's nine. That's it. Not even a third of the majors. In mixed leagues, it's almost ridiculous how many saves will be plucked from the waiver wire or in the draft's endgame.
On the other hand, if you're trying to figure out where to spend the money, spend it on speed. Because you can leave the draft table without saves and can make it up during the season, but you must have speed from Day 1 or you'll get left behind. Unlike pitching (starting and closing), speed does not come into the league. You can always find saves, and hitters will get called up from the minors and start bopping, but most speed is drafted.
Last season, 85 players had double-digit steals, and 37 of them had at least 20. But of those 20-steal guys, only four (Rajai Davis, Cesar Izturis, Lastings Milledge and Fred Lewis) were not drafted. Maybe Jason Bartlett, too. But that's it. Five guys. Put it all together and you need to get your hands on several players who run, and you can't count on getting them after draft day. But the good news is, thanks to the number of players who run, you don't need to grab a steals specialist like Willy Taveras or Juan Pierre to compete for the league lead.
In fact, for the first time ever, I'm not going to target a big pure speed guy like Jose Reyes or Carl Crawford at the top of my draft. The light isn't getting any greener, so instead, I'm making sure every player I draft for the first 12-14 rounds stole at least 10 bases last year. I'll forgive it for first base and catcher, but otherwise, everyone has to have demonstrated a certain flair for larceny.
I already told you that you should only be bringing one cheat sheet to your draft, and that it needs to be tiered, have positional eligibility clearly defined. That'll be your go-to reference document for deciding what player to take. But what about the players who have been taken? Because who is off the board, and to whom, is as important as knowing who to set your sights on. To that end, I prepare a sheet that has a place for every position for every team in the league. During the draft, I keep track of every player drafted by every team. If it's a salary-cap league, I also have a place to see how much money they have left. Those of you with laptops can have a spreadsheet do all this for you, obviously. If it's a keeper league with a salary cap, it's especially useful to get a lay of the land; how much money everyone has left for how many positions to fill.
I cannot stress how important this is. As the draft progresses, you're going to want to be able to know who everyone has: what positions they have filled and what they still need.
For example, Team 1 takes Alex Rodriguez. You write down "AROD" in Team 1's third-base slot. This way you can see at a glance what you need in comparison to every other team. Say it's Round 12 and you need a shortstop. But there's a corner guy you really like (we'll say Casey Kotchman) you want to grab as well. You look at your sheet, see almost everyone has a shortstop and that, according to your cheat sheet, Jhonny Peralta, Stephen Drew and Mike Aviles -- all of whom are tiered together -- are still out there.
So you should be OK when it comes around to you next; you don't need to burn the pick here. Conversely, the three teams picking after you all need first base or corner guys, so you'd better grab Kotchman now, or never get him.
This sheet will save your ass more than once toward the end of the draft, and that's where leagues are won and lost. Not in the first few rounds. It doesn't take a genius to say "I'll take Albert" in the first round. Grabbing Aubrey Huff in the 23rd when three others had their sights set on him rather than settling for Brandon Inge? That's gold, baby.
I also like to have a list of sleepers I want to target; late-round guys you want to take a chance on so that, when you're in Hour 4 and can't think anymore, you can glance at the sheet and go, oh yeah, I wanted to take a gamble on Jed Lowrie. Or Brian Buscher. Or Elvis Andrus. Or Anthony Reyes. Instead of saying, oh hell, I can't think of anybody I'll just take a crappy outfielder that will never see the light of day in my starting five. (Mark Kotsay, I'm talking to you!). Trust me, just because you know who you want right now, it doesn't mean you'll remember it when your brain is fried. It takes a few seconds to write a few names down, but the enjoyment can last all summer.
And now we pause for something really nerdy
If you are in a keeper league with a salary cap, I suggest doing inflation calculation. What the hell's that, you ask? Well, basically, keeper leagues always have guys that are kept well below their value. I'm proud to have Alexei Ramirez for $1 in my mixed keeper league. As a result, the prices of available players will go up in the auction, because there is relatively less talent available, but more money to spend. Now, just Soto himself isn't going to move the needle too much. But multiply that by a couple of guys times the number of teams in your league, and you've got some figuring to do before you actually know what kind of money is chasing how many players in your league.
So you look at your handy ESPN 5x5 Cheat Sheet, and you see we list Hanley Ramirez at $30. But that's only at a start-from-scratch auction. A better judge of what to pay for Ramirez in your mixed keeper league will come about if you spend a little time calculating draft inflation.
I cannot take credit for the formula, and this has been written about elsewhere, but here's how you do it.
Let's say it's a standard 12-team league with 23-man rosters and a $260 cap.
That means there is a total budget of $3,120 (12 x $260) of available money to spend in your league. Now, you add up how much each team has spent on keepers. For simplicity's sake, let's say each team has kept 10 players at $10 apiece. So each team spent a total of $100, for a total spent of $1,200. (12 x $100).
OK, here's where we get even nerdier. Take whatever price list you have decided to use and calculate how much "value" is being protected. For example, my Alexei Ramirez is projected to earn $13 this year. So while I have him at a $1 price, his value is $13.
So you add up all the total value on the teams. Again, for simplicity's sake, let's say every team is protecting $160 worth of value. So the value protected is $1,920 (12 x 160), but the total spent is only $1,200.
So you subtract both numbers from $3,120 (the total budget);
• $3,120 minus $1,920 (value protected) = $1,200 of value left.
• $3,120 minus $1,200 (total spent) = $1,920 of money left.
This means at the auction, $1,920 of money is chasing only $1,200 of value. So you now divide money left by value left; 1920/1200 = 1.6. This means that at the beginning of the auction, you can spend $1.60 on every $1.00 of value and still break even.
This is your draft inflation rate; 1.6. So let's say Hanley Ramirez comes up for auction. And your trusty ESPN draft kit has him listed at $30. You quickly multiply $30 by 1.6 to come up with $48. That's his value in this league at this point in time.
The bidding gets to $40 and your competition, who all have him as a $30-$35 player, drop out. That's five bucks more than he's worth, people say. But you know that's actually a bargain for HanRam. You're saving $8!
Inflation calculation is a bit time-consuming, it can be a little confusing, but if you want those money lists to actually help you, you need to do this. Every dollar counts! And where it really helps is with the superstars, because the prices get so ridiculous that many folks drop out and they end up becoming the biggest bargains, because sooner or later the league's values will level off, unless a bunch of guys leave money at the table. So you just have to ask yourself, would you rather spend that extra five bucks and get Hanley Ramirez or spend that extra five bucks to get Jeff Keppinger?
You've done your research, you've got your cheat sheet, your numbers and rankings all add up. You're ready, right? Not so fast, cowboy. You should have a plan before you step into the draft, knowing what kind of players you're looking to target, when and for how much. We can't devote tons of space to each one, but here's a quick rundown of a couple of the more popular strategies.
The LIMA Plan: Invented by BaseballHQ guru Ron Shandler, LIMA stands for "Low Investment Mound Aces." Basically, with a $260 salary cap, you only spend $60 on pitching, $30 of that on a closer. The idea is to get a bunch of pitchers that your competition frowns upon but whose underlying numbers indicate that they've been unlucky to this point, are primed for a breakout or are simply undervalued because they have no name recognition. If you get enough of those guys, at least a few of them are bound to break out, and your investment is low enough that you won't have to think twice about throwing back a guy that doesn't work out in favor of a good waiver-wire pickup.
Then, with $200 for offense, you load up there, dominating all the offensive categories. You have to really know pitching and pay close attention to the trends all season long, but it has proven very effective to those who know how to play it.
The ZIMA Plan: This is my twist on Ron's LIMA plan. Basically, it's the same thing; most of your money on offense, cheap, low-risk pitching, mixing in starters and high-upside relievers (guys that could close). The difference is that in my version, you spend that $30 of the $60 on one upper-tier elite starter (like Johan Santana) or two upper-level starting pitchers -- say Francisco Liriano and James Shields -- for about that $30-35, and don't pay for saves at all, looking to snag those off the wire later.
The MRI theory: This is Pete Becker's invention (although he now goes by his real name, Pierre Becquey), and I used it very successfully two years ago in Tout Wars (finished second). The idea here is that you get two high-strikeout aces for your staff (last year, in an NL-only, I had Santana and Cole Hamels), then you spend the rest of the money on middle relief guys. All need to have high strikeout rates and preferably have the potential to close, like Jonathan Broxton last season. (I always add one twist here, in which I'll be willing to go to low double-digits if a decent, middle-of-the pack closer is available; think Brian Wilson or Carlos Marmol). You're going to dominate in ERA and WHIP thanks to the mix of your aces and the fact that your middle relievers' ERA and WHIP will be a lot more valuable to your squad since you're pitching so few innings. That allows you to Maximize your Relief Innings, hence "MRI." Once you've laid out your ERA/WHIP cushion, you can go fishing for starters later in the season to pad your wins and strikeouts (where you'll be in the middle of the pack, thanks to your high strikeout-per-9 rates), while knowing exactly what kind of punishment your ratios can take.
Positional Scarcity: This is where you go after players that play positions at which there is not a lot of talent. The idea is that there is a much bigger difference between Chase Utley and Luis Castillo than there is between Matt Holliday and Alex Rios. Almost every first baseman and outfielder is an offensive guy, while there are many catchers and shortstops who have major league jobs thanks to their defense, but do nothing for your roto team.
So you go after Hanley Ramirez or Jose Reyes, letting others fight over Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols. I am a position scarcity guy as well, and will usually use the money I'm saving for offense by using LIMA to pay a premium for players at scarce positions. And even this season, in which I believe outfield is shallower than years past, it'll be easier to find an in-season outfielder that will come out of nowhere than to find a shortstop or catcher that will. But even more than position scarcity, I am into
Category Scarcity: This one is my invention (at least I've never read about it anywhere else. I am sure someone else has thought of it). I actually do a combo of this and ZIMA. I don't care so much about positions as I do categories. Not as many guys get steals, saves and strikeouts as other categories. So I go for those guys. I try to protect batting average, ERA and WHIP at all costs. I go for a balanced team; don't get me wrong. But I want to make sure I'm covered in the categories that are hard to get after the draft, regardless if my speed comes from the outfield, the infield or catcher.
Crazy John Walsh: Ron Shandler calls this "Total Control Drafting," but I call it Crazy John Walsh after my friend and mentor, John Walsh. John works here at ESPN and claims to have been in the second fantasy baseball league ever, as he was (and still is) friends with Dan Okrent and Glen Waggoner (aka "The Founding Fathers") who told him about the first league. Anyway, Walsh is crazy at an auction. When he wants a player (like Nick Markakis last year) he bids whatever it takes to get him. He never worries about what others are doing or what the correct "price" is. He decides who he wants on his team and goes to get them, no matter what. Obviously, you can't do all studs -- you'll run out of money -- but the idea is that, since you can't really predict that a $1 David Murphy will return $16 of value or that a $24 Travis Hafner will only return $3 of value, you might as well live and die with the guys you want rather than those you settle for. Pricing is really only relevant on draft day, and then only in determining the market against your fellow bidders. Crazy John Walsh says forget the other drafters, get who you want and hope they do what you expect them to. I've never done this, but I'm going to try it at least once this year. I should add that John Walsh is an excellent player who always finishes high in his leagues.
Best Player Available: At your time in the draft or auction, you just go for the best guy available and let the positions fall where they may. In an auction, you just wait until a bargain comes up and grab it, no matter what your team looks like.
By the way, never get in an early bidding war if you can help it. Another guy will come along. Second, be cautious in drafting rookies. For every Evan Longoria that comes through, there are a lot more Jeff Clement-types that don't. Dependable ain't sexy, but it does help you win.
Regardless of what plan you choose (and there are a lot of others not on this list), have one. And be ready to chuck it, or at least bend it, if the draft doesn't go the way you hoped. And it often won't. You must be patient, you must stay focused, but if you stick to your guns when you shouldn't, you'll end up shooting yourself in the foot. It's a "know the rules before you break them" kind of thing.
Speaking of the draft
OK, it's game day, baby. Time for the big show. Don't bother cramming on the way in or anything stupid like that. It's like a test. You know it or you don't. You're pregnant or you're not. You tell her "no, of course, that dress doesn't make your butt look fat" or you sleep on the couch.
You want to project -- even if you don't feel it -- an air of confidence. Make others sweat, be it in person or through chatter in your draft engine. That's my first draft-day hint.
1. Never show fear. Just be confident. You don't have to be cocky or a jerk. But occasionally sighing a breath of relief when the guy before you picks, as if to say "glad you didn't grab the correct guy," will do wonders to rattle your weaker-willed league-mates.
2. In auctions, throw out a young, hyped player early. Reliable performers like Roy Halladay and David Wright will be thrown out soon enough. But the first guy I'm throwing out this year is Matt Wieters. He'll go for at least $5 more than he should because he's sexy and everyone has money at that point. That extra $5 off the table will be helpful come much later in the auction.
3. If you find yourself getting screwed out of a position, don't panic! Say you've got Pick 11 in a 12-team league and you find yourself on the short end of a second-base run. Instead of reaching for a guy like Mike Fontenot, just to have someone, grab another closer, even if you already have two. Or a second decent shortstop. Give yourself something to trade for a guy.
4. If you are in a snake draft, especially at one end of one, grab what you need when you can. Let's say you really want a good No. 1 first baseman. You see there are at least 6 guys left you wouldn't mind having. So you grab another starting pitcher. But one good run and you're screwed. It's 20 picks until you get to choose again, if not more. Don't wait. Grab what you need, get surplus later (unless you're in a situation like I described above).
5. Don't listen to anyone else at the draft! (Basically, don't fall for No. 1). First -- and this is the secret we fantasy "experts" hold tightly to our chests -- nobody knows anything! That's a quote from William Goldman about Hollywood, but it's appropriate here as well. Yes, we experts probably spend a lot more time looking at stats, trends, players and teams and the like than you do, but that's because you have a life. And we've probably been playing a bit longer. So we probably have a more informed opinion. But that's all it is. An opinion. An educated guess. Emphasis on the word "guess."
So if I'm telling you experts aren't always right other people in your league sure as hell aren't. If they mock your pick or sneer at your team, who cares? Screw them. Don't let it rattle you! I often find the loudest guy at the draft is usually the stupidest. I've seen too many good drafts screwed up because someone listened to some loud jerk rather than trusting his own opinions. Listen, you've done the research, you've played the game you've even read this far. You're into it. And your opinion is as good, if not better, than anyone else's in that room.
6. For those in auction leagues, especially keepers, consider bringing last year's rosters with you. So say someone throws Miguel Cabrera, you look at last year's roster and see one guy had him at $36. It's likely that the guy who owned him last year will go up to $36 to get him back. How many times have you said to yourself, "Aw, hell, I'll throw him back, see if I can get him cheaper. If not, I can still pay $36 to get him back."
So you bid the guy up to $36. It's not a strategy for the weak of heart; you can get stuck. But worst-case scenario, you're stuck with Miguel Cabrera. Not the worst thing in the world. And if you're successful, you can take a lot of money off the table, a little bit at a time.
7. For the players you do get, write down the name of the last guy who bid on him or the ones who complained that you snatched him up right out of their draft queue. That will come in handy later when you're looking for trade partners.
8. The later the draft/auction goes -- and it will go long -- the more people get antsy and stop paying attention. This is where you need to be your sharpest. This is where the cheap guys come in. This is where you get the $1 Aubrey Huff. This is where you win or lose your league. Not by paying $45 for David Wright.
9. Always look for bargains. No duh, right? Yes, but look everywhere. To me, Hanley Ramirez at $43 is a bargain in a keeper league. Because I think he's worth $55 this year. Many times the best bargains are the superstars. Whatever you had to pay for CC Sabathia last year, he more than earned it.
10. I have participated in a number of "expert" drafts for all sports with some "big" names in fantasy sports. And in every draft, someone goes out of turn, tries to get a player already taken, makes some very questionable picks so if I'm telling you guys who do this for a living make mistakes, go easy on your draft mates.
So have fun. Remember, we do this for leisure. We all (especially me) take it very seriously and I play to win, but it's not worth ruining friendships over.
Unless you've got a shot at winning. In which case, you can always get a new friend.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- thinks Arizona got jobbed in the Super Bowl. He is a five-time award winner from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, including a Writer of the Year award. He is also the creator of RotoPass.com, a Web site that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his Cyberfriend
Matthew Berry lays out his master plan for total draft-day domination in his annual update of the baseball Draft-Day Manifesto.