My First Day as a Tout (03/18/02)
First let me say that the American League is not exactly my area of expertise. I've been playing fantasy baseball in some form for more than a decade now and I've never played in an American League game. So when I was invited to join the Tout Wars AL fantasy baseball league this winter, I was both excited and reluctant. I would be competing against probably the most knowledgeable group of fantasy players in the country in a league which I knew very little about.
Needless to say, in-depth knowledge about the American League rosters was going to be a weakness going in. It's not that I didn't study the players; it's that it is next to impossible to develop a scouting book on players from just broad statistics. Stats will give you a basic idea of what a player has produced, but it is in the observance of a player over time that gives you a grasp of his potential.
For instance, just looking at Paul Wilson's career numbers doesn't nearly tell you what kind of pitcher he could be if he ever gains any kind of consistency. His career has been marred by injuries and his pitching record runs from terrible to brilliant. It is only in knowing that he has put together some very nice runs of quality outings in the past 2 years that provides any evidence of what he might be capable of. Knowing that kind of information on every player - and in an experts league you have to know every player - is key to success. As I've said many times before, you don't win fantasy sports by paying for and getting perceived value. The only way to win is to get more than perceived value and the only way to do that is to know who is capable of exceeding it.
My strategy going in was to make sure that most of the star players went for their perceived value and in the later rounds I'd try to fill my roster with some players I believe to have a high upside. I was also going to stick with my philosophy of never paying more than $25 for a player on draft day. To me, paying more than that is more of a risk than picking up an injury prone player. Why? Because injuries can happen to anyone, and investing so much into one player is hard to recover from if that player gets injured. Spreading the risk amongst a greater number of quality but less expensive players just makes more sense.
So, of course, the first two players I end up with are Ichiro Suzuki ($37) and Mariano Rivera ($30). I wasn't trying to acquire them; I simply thought their value was a little higher than everyone else did and wanted to make sure that no one else got a great bargain on a star player. I just happened to be the one paying the price tag this time. However, that wasn't enough to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Maybe I'm just being philosophical, but as fantasy players go, those are 2 of the more dependable players in the AL to produce what is expected of them. Even though their salaries cost me roster depth, it probably wasn't a bad thing to get them. It just meant that I had to extract more value from the rest of my roster. It also meant taking more high risk/high reward players.
So here's what I ended up with: 3 closers (Rivera, Kelvim Escobar and Jeff Zimmerman), and 6 starters (Wilson, Roy Halladay, Ramon Ortiz, Juan Pena, Orlando Hernandez and Tanyon Sturtze). Other the Sturtze, all of the pitchers are decent control, high strikeout/inning pitchers, or at least they've shown as much as a half season of that kind of talent in the majors and had a record of it in the minors. Having three closers not only makes my team a strong candidate to win the saves category, but they should help the pitching staff stay near or at the top in ERA and ratio, provided a decent number of my starters live up to their potential. The starters are the key, though. If they live up to their potential, the staff should do relatively well in the strikeout department and would allow me to trade saves safely sometime around the All-Star break, as four teams are essentially punting the category and might be vying for an edge. In the reserve rounds I picked up Scott Eyre, Hideki Irabu and rehabbing Wilson Alvarez, each of whom fit the mold of my starting staff.
On offense, Ichiro put me in a good position in steals and in batting average. Because he gets so many at bats, his batting average carries more weight than the average player, allowing me to be a little more liberal in taking a few low average power hitters without suffering for it. I also acquired Cristian Guzman and Brian Roberts to further augment my team's speed, giving me probably one of the top steals teams in the league.
Power is probably the most abundant resource in the game. In the AL alone there are at least 70 players who have hit at least 20 homers, or are capable of hitting that many in a season. Fortunately, I was able to get several hitters who have good history of hitting for both power and average: Tony Clark, Jeremy Giambi and Mark Quinn have decent potential in all but the speed category. I supplemented them with a grab bag of largely invisible players - invisible because most never stand out in any category, but all contribute a little. They include Travis Fryman, Olmaedo Saenz, Damian Easley, Brad Fullmer and Greg Myers. Also added were some young players who have decent potential to produce in the right situation - Mike Rivera, Brian Buchanan, Eric Byrnes, and in the reserve rounds, Karim Garcia, Jayson Werth and Joe Borchard. Admittedly, some of these guys are a bit of a longshot because they have quality competition for playing time, but each is talented enough that if they get the right breaks this spring, could be nice surprises this year.
Unlike last year's Sandbox team, this roster is not teeming with potential. In fact, this roster is not very sexy at all to look at. However, it has the potential to lead the league in saves and do very well in the 4 other pitching categories (wins, ERA, WHIP and Ks) and two batting categories (batting average and steals). For those of you who are familiar with roto-strategies, this is essentially the Sweeney plan. It's not purely Sweeney because I am not entirely committed to punting the power categories. I have an escape - I can trade saves for some power (theoretically) at some point to boost my fortunes in categories that are much easier to move up in.
So the final product wasn't really anything like what I intended when I walked in, but nevertheless has some potential to make some noise. And that's all I really wanted to come away with - a chance to hang with the experts and maybe sneak away with a surprise.