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Monday 22nd May 2017

Do you want to learn Mastersball's tricks of the trade to win at the NFBC?  The Masters of the NFBC is the place.

I received a text message from a friend the other day that read, “These last few weeks are going to be tight. Every run counts… Good luck!”

I thought about it for a second and then looked at my calendar. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it’s almost the end of August already, which means just about a month of the fantasy baseball season remains. It’s pretty sad too, considering how much time we spend in the offseason preparing and anxiously waiting for opening day. And then the season flies by.

I think one of the reasons so many people love fantasy baseball is that it takes place during the best time of the year. The weather is the nicest, people are usually the happiest, and fantasy baseball only adds to that. But with the calendar about to flip away from August, that means only one thing: September call-ups.

And per NFBC rules, unless someone in your league drafted that particular player, you can’t pick them up until they see major league action. But you know what it’s like at the end of that long, 15-team draft. People are drafting prospects all over the place, scattering the names throughout their roster to either, 1) hold on the bench for the majority of the season, or 2) at least boost their ego by showing off their knowledge.

Aroldis Chapman was drafted in a whole bunch of leagues, and so were Jeremy Hellickson and Desmond Jennings. And most of the people who drafted these players eventually dropped them when they realized they needed the roster spot.

That means you can pick them up before they actually get the call (or re-call, in Hellickson’s case). And if they went undrafted, at least you’ll know who to look for with this handy guide to this year’s September call-ups.

Aroldis Chapman, RP, CIN: A popular pick before the season began, Chapman’s time as a starter lasted just 13 games before the Reds realized they should have listened to the scouts who said his command was a serious issue. He struggled in that role, walking 40 guys in 65.2 innings with a 4.11 ERA. But since he’s moved to the bullpen, the hard-throwing 22-year-old has collected 46 strikeouts in just 29 innings of work, earning a 2.48 ERA in the process. The Reds have already said they’ll add him to the roster on Sep. 1, and with reports that his fastball has been touching 103 miles per hour, he should be a valuable asset despite a likely role in middle relief.

Desmond Jennings, OF, TB: The Rays have been grooming their center fielder and leadoff-hitter of the future in Triple-A this year and Jennings has proved that he can handle the role. With eye-popping speed, the 23-year-old has swiped 34 bags and been caught just three times, scored 80 runs in 102 games, and hit .287 with a 63:41 strikeout-to-walk ratio. It likely won’t be long before he pushes the arrogant B.J. Upton over to right field and starts collecting at bats with the big-league club, and Jennings could be a solid source of steals in the final month.

Jordan Zimmermann, SP, WAS: Zimmermann made a dashing comeback from Tommy John Surgery in time to post a 0.53 ERA in four starts at Triple-A Syracuse this year. Even more impressive, he’s walked just three guys and allowed just eight hits (no HRs) in 17 innings. He was well on his way to becoming a household name in Washington last year, led by an impressive June/July in which he fanned a batter per inning. Now Zimmermann has his velocity back and appears to be healthy, and he’ll make his 2010 debut this Thursday. They’ll want to give him a test and let him stretch out during this last month of the season, so if you’re hurting with the loss of Strasburg, don’t be afraid to jump to his teammate who could very possibly have just as good a career.

Wilson Ramos, C, WAS: Another young stud who appears primed for a long career in a Nationals uniform (that sounds like punishment doesn’t it?), Ramos was acquired from the Twins in July for closer Matt Capps. Regarded as one of the top catching prospects in baseball, many Twins fans were puzzled by the deal, but with Joe Mauer locked in at Target Field for years to come, the Twins felt they had to make a move. Ramos has shown the ability to be a consistent hitter in the minor leagues (career .285 average), but the power has never really materialized and he’s had a tough time with plate discipline at the Triple-A level. After a short try with the Nats last week, he’s back in AAA for a few days but will get another chance with the big-league club on Sep. 1.

Jeremy Hellickson, RP, TB: After teasing us with his impressive stuff in four starts with the Rays, the pride of Des Moins, Iowa was sent back to Single-A for the time being to work out of the bullpen. It’s simply temporary as Jeff Nieman and Wade Davis are due back to the rotation this week. Tampa plans on recalling Hellickson on Sep. 1 to work in relief, and while it’s certainly a downgrade in value from being a starter, his high K-rate and impressive ratios make him a must-add anyway.

Dustin Ackley, 2B, SEA: Mr. Irrelevant after being drafted No. 2 overall behind Strasburg last year, Ackley has excelled quickly through the minors for Seattle and successfully converted from first to second base. He’s been hitting leadoff at Triple-A Tacoma and has been doing a solid job of getting on base, collecting a 21:15 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a .300 average. While the power has been scarce (five minor league homers in 439 at bats), Ackley’s great approach at the plate and superb talent makes him an intriguing prospect to watch as the Mariners should give him a chance when rosters expand.

Justin Smoak, 1B, SEA: Don’t forget about Smoak, who was sent down to the minors to work out some kinks at the end of July. He’s walked 16 times to just 18 strikeouts in August with four homers, but hit just .231. He’ll likely get another shot soon and with minimal talent blocking him at first base, he should get his fair share of starts down the stretch.

 

A few top prospects who probably won’t get the call this year:

Kansas City’s third base prospect Mike Moustakas has been killing the ball in the minors this season, hitting .325 with 28 homers and 99 RBIs between AA and AAA. But Omaha is in the middle of a playoff run at the moment and with Wilson Betemit actually playing well at third for the Royals, Moustakas may have to wait until next year.

Everyone thought Freddie Freeman (.310, 17 HR, 80 RBI at Triple-A) was ready to take over at first base for the Braves this season, but after the acquisition of Derek Lee, it looks like the hard-hitting Freeman will have to wait just a little while longer.

And while fans in Cleveland were looking forward to seeing the talented Jared Goedert suit up at third base once Jhonny Peralta packed his bags for Detroit, the Indians claim to be happy with the arrangement of Jayson Nix, Andy Marte, and Luis Valbuena at the hot corner for the remainder of the year. Between two levels, Goedert has hit 35 doubles and 25 homers this season and looks primed to take over at third in 2011.

We are at the time of the season where it is all about points.   You reserve a more valuable player for a less valuable player if activating the less valuable player can net you more rotisserie points.   Since the National Fantasy Baseball Championship is a no-trade contest, all the manager really has at their disposal is liberal use of their reserve list and the free agent wire.   But the shrewd manager also has history on their side, which if exploited properly, can aid in amassing the maximum number of points.

The conventional advice in an essay such as this is to examine your categories in an effort to decide where you can gain the most points while losing the fewest.  It is pointed out, as if you did not know, that every league is different.  Each league has its own statistical distribution within each category.  Where you sit within each category dictated your mode of action, where to attack and where to back off.

And of course, all of this is true and sound advice, but it really is not anything every owner who is still paying attention does not already do.  So instead, we will focus on a concept that may be new, but uses history as an ally to help you manage your squad down the stretch.

What we are going to do is take a look at normalized end of the season standings.  While the numbers change a bit year to year, the general distribution within average NFBC standings if consistent.  Average NFBC standings are generated by averaging the first place through the last place total in each category.  This is how you would generate category drafting targets.  Most like to target draft by aiming for the second or third place total in each category.  We are going to use these totals in a different manner.

Normalizing the average standings converts the real categorical totals so that the sum of all 15 teams adds up to the same number, we will use 1000.  In other words, instead of there being fewer total homers than say RBI, and instead of batting average, ERA and WHIP being expressed as a decimal, the sum total of all 15 team’s normalized totals will be the same, in this instance 1000.  This allows us to do determine the relative distribution of stats within each category.  Doing it this way helps debunk a myth or two about category management.  Of course, we are going to look at average standings.  As suggested, what is paramount is where you lie within your particular league.

For the ease of formatting, only the first place and last place normalized totals will be presented.  Difference is between first and last place while regression is a least squares linear regression from 2nd place to 14th place, to eliminate the outliers from owners punting or overloading categories.   The smaller the difference and regression are, the more tightly bunched the category sits, suggesting it may be more possible to gain ground in those specific areas.

 

BA

R

HR

RBI

SB

ERA

W

WHIP

K

SV

1st

70.7

73.5

79.8

74.6

91.6

76.4

80.9

71.7

74.8

102.1

15th

64.4

57.4

54.5

57.5

43.3

58.0

50.5

62.2

52.0

20.9

difference

6.3

16.1

25.3

17.1

48.3

18.4

30.4

9.5

22.8

81.1

regression

0.46

1.00

1.47

0.94

4.73

0.99

1.63

0.53

1.37

4.73

Let us start at the categories with the largest distribution, steals and saves.  There are a couple of things to keep in mind here.  First, of all the stats, these are the two that are most frequently strategically punted by some owners, rendering the last place total artificially low.  In addition, even though the spread is quite large, both these categories are dominated by players that earn their respective stat in bunches, that is a smaller percentage of the player pool contributes a huge proportion of the stats, making the big gaps easier to overcome.

Now let us jump to the other end of the spectrum and take a gander at the categories that are most tightly grouped.  Lo and behold, it is the ratio categories, especially batting average.  Truth be told, this is the real crux of this discussion, as this suggests to me that it may be easier to gain points in batting average, ERA and WHIP than many perceive, due to the tightly grouped distribution.  Granted, as the innings and at bats mount, the ratios do not move very much, but what also is true is they do not need to move very much in order to pass a competitor.  In addition, unless you owned George Brett, circa 1983, once you get a counting stat, it is yours to keep.  You do not lose stats.  But your ratios can in fact get worse.  So not only are the ratio categories tightly bunched, but you can gain rotisserie points without any of your hurlers throwing a single pitch if a competitor ahead of you has a pitcher get lit up.  If you glean anything from this discussion, the take-home lesson is not to automatically assume you are locked into place in batting average, ERA and WHIP.  The truth is globally, more points will be gained (hence lost) in the ratio categories.  How you look to take advantage rests with how you stand in the counting categories.  Perhaps deploying a solid middle reliever can help you net a couple more ratio points if you are situated at a point where you cannot gain or lose points in wins and strikeouts.  The point is, too many brush off the possibility due to feeling they have too many innings accrued to have a middle reliever make a difference.   This is a myth; he still can contribute in a positive manner to ERA and WHIP.

Looking at the pitching counting stats, the common advice is not to chase wins as they are unpredictable and out of the player’s control.  And that is true.  But additionally, based on difference and regression data, it is a wee bit more difficult to make up ground as the spread between teams is broader.  Of course, this can be overcome by deploying more starters, but that brings you back to the unpredictability of wins and how chasing them may cost you more in ratios, for even if you are fortunate to pad your win total, on a relative basis you may need more of them to propel yourself up in the standings.  Strikeouts is probably the most reliable pitching stat to project, but again based on the difference and regression data, you will really need to ratchet up your total, hopefully not at the expense of your ratios, which as just explained, are not as stable as you may have thought.

It is not too surprising that runs and RBI show similar profiles as they are both team dependent stats, reliant as much on how many at bats your team totals as it does the quality of your hitting attack.  Next to the ratios, runs and RBI points are the easiest to earn based on difference and regression data.  What this means is it is imperative that you maximize your at bats down the stretch, making liberal use of the Friday activation rule and continually scouring the free agent pool for hitters with the most playing time.  Something else to keep in mind is movement in the counting stats is facilitated by some dormant squads no longer interested in managing their team to optimal efficiency.  When “doing the math” and adding up potential points you can gain, it behooves the attentive owner to go the extra yard and look for teams whose totals will suffer down the stretch as they have some roster holes.  This makes catching them that much easier.

So while the overriding factor is still where you are nestled in each category, there are some global nuances you can employ to help you gain the most points.  At the forefront is not ignoring ratios, followed by maximizing at bats.  Then the trick is balancing the pitching ratios versus wins and strikeouts and batting power versus speed.

Todd Zola won the 2008 and 2009 NFBC $1300 Auction Las Vegas National League only championships.  After a one-year hiatus, he intends to return in 2011 to reclaim his title.

 

When the 2010 NFBC draws were announced, I received a number of sympathy notes. Among the competitors in my league, Classic Weekend 2, New York 1, are Ron Shandler and his assistant Dave Adler from Baseball HQ, plus three-time Tout Wars Mixed League champion Larry Schechter. There is the dynamic duo of ESPN’s Nate Ravitz and three-time LABR co-champ Glenn Colton.

Then, there is me - and oh yeah, 11 other owners.

For those who are reluctant to participate in these kinds of leagues because of the “name” fantasy industry competition, don’t be.

None of the top three teams in the league, those with over 90 points, are led by the industry people. Schechter, Ravitz/Colton and I are among a pack in the upper-middle of the standings with scores in the 80’s. The Shandler/Adler team is lodged in the group bringing up the rear.

My team is about as imbalanced as they come. I have the second-highest total in pitching with 61 points, but am just two points from having the fewest hitting points at 23.

While I thought I had a very good draft (but who doesn’t?) my two major free agent acquisitions since the season began have been busts. San Diego’s former outfielder Kyle Blanks drew a $202 bid that took me nowhere. Ineffectiveness followed by injuries were the culprits.

The health questions surrounding Rockies closer Huston Street caused me to hop on former ninth-inning man Manny Corpas in late June. The speculative move itself was not bad, but bidding $203 clearly was.

Overpaying badly for both Corpas and Blanks wasted considerable FAAB. On the mound, Corpas was so awful that I don’t think I have had the confidence to even play him more than a week or two and I surely will drop him as I did Blanks.

Earlier, all the way back in April, I had bid over one-quarter of my FAAB in an attempt to get either Justin Smoak or Ike Davis. I failed at both. I haven’t looked at the numbers this year, but in the past, I am usually among the league leaders in bids lost, as I am constantly bargain-shopping.

Fast forward to the here and now. As we headed into the final trimester of the season, I decided to undertake a major overhaul of my underperforming offense with the goal of reaching third place in my 15-team league.

To do so, I would need to pick up just eight more points. In that case, I would most likely finish ahead of my industry friends and rivals; but this isn’t about showing well, it is about cashing in.

Out went the hugely-disappointing Nate McLouth, injured hitters Blanks and Brandon Inge and the Rockies’ fill-in infielder Jonathan Herrera. In came Royals prospect Kila Ka’aihue, previously leading the Pacific Coast League in a number of offensive categories, streaking St. Louis shortstop Brendan Ryan, a steady veteran in Pat Burrell and an injury opportunity player in Tampa Bay’s Dan Johnson. The veteran first baseman, hot as the summer in the minors, should play most every day while Carlos Pena is out. With John Buck on the disabled list, his replacement, J.P. Arencibia, joined my squad as well. I spent less than $100 in acquiring the five.

Time will tell if my revamped roster will make a difference, but I am giving it my full attention and best effort. Consider a similar set of actions in your league if you are close, but not quite close enough.

An overhaul certainly couldn’t hurt and maybe you can pass your rivals to gain some always-valuable bragging rights in the process, as well. Most importantly, if you are like me and are still within striking distance of the money, it’s time to go get it!

 

Brian Walton is the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 12-year history. He is a 2009 NFBC league winner and finished in the top 25 nationally in both the NFBC and NFFC last season. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com.

 

Way back the last time I checked in here, our NFBC team was languishing at the bottom of the league, our pitching dying largely thanks to Jake Peavy and Javy Vazquez.

At the time, our hitting was OK, but the pitching? Well, if you remember how both hurlers began the year, then you understand. In fact on our message board right here at Mastersball, there were a number of folks who were asking if they should drop Vazquez after all the pounding he was taking.

I was pretty adamant not to let him go for a couple of reasons. First, all pitchers do struggle from time-to-time and Vazquez was readjusting to being in the AL. Next, Vazquez was likely a high draft selection or moderately priced starter in auction leagues, and just jettisoning a guy like that when there were still over four months to go in the season was a mistake.

As was trading him for with the investment, letting Vazquez go would have made him a loss leader to another team. For, Vazquez' trade value was marginal at the time of his slumping. So, if you did trade him--maybe for a then hot Mike Sweeney--say, what you wound up with was the double screw.

First you would have been stuck with Vazquez lousy totals, and had to search for someone who would ideally balance them. Then you had to hope Sweeney would keep it up.

What happened was since then Vazquez has been terrific, and Sweeney pretty much on the DL.

Which means whoever you traded with would have been able to get all those good numbers, and would have dumped Sweeney just at the right time. Which means your team would still be languishing.

So, Lord Zola and I hung, and threw Javy out there, and got Peavy's improved starts, and low and behold, we find ourselves amongst the top five teams in our league now, bouncing around between 89-94 points, awaiting an August surge that could add the final 10-15 points that would indeed put us in the money.

Of course losing Peavy was a blow, as was losing Troy Tulowitzki and Asdrubal Cabrera for a time, but, we have done well with Carl Pavano and CC Sabathia and we're currently second in WHIP and fourth in ERA in the league.

It is fun to be among the leaders, though winning the league will indeed be tough, but the point here is trust your instincts and the players you selected to be the core of your team when the season starts.

True, often players do have off years and disappoint, and our teams suffer accordingly, and that means sometimes we just have a bad year. Every team does--be it our heads or on the field--and that is part of the game and life.

But, the reason a guy like Vazquez is generally thought of as a good pick is that he has delivered a body of good stats with consistency, and that suggests he will deliver a baseline of good numbers to help your team.

If you don't give him the chance--and that means over two-thirds of the season, and sometimes hiding him on your reserve list--to do what he can, chances are you will not only lose, but you will hand your opponents a title.

 

The first time I wrote this piece back in May, I was dead last, had what looked to be zero power, and I was sure that the inability to make trades would doom any legit shot at respectability. I harped on and on about the importance of getting power in the draft. I even tossed out the (now standard) notion that managing the wire for pitching was my only hope going forward.

My how things have changed! Not that I’m in contention or anything, but what I find truly shocking, standing here from my newly claimed perch in the 11th position, is how much power I put up in the first half. In fact, my efforts to manage my pitching staff repeatedly blew up in my face (Carlos Zambrano anyone?). At just past the halfway point in the season, I have 46 hitting points against a ridiculously laughable 9.5 points in pitching. I managed 11 points in each of the R, HR, and RBI categories, 10 points in batting average and a weak three points in stolen bases. The question I’m now facing is, given the incredibly unlikely possibility of gaining any major ground in the pitching categories, how do I at least manage them so as to avoid losing any more points there? As you’ll see later, the plan to pick up hitting points is pretty much a no-brainer, as there are multiple categories with multi-owner bottlenecks going on. If my guys keep hitting, I can really only tweak two or three slots based on matchups and injury. But the pitching, that’s going to take some work.

My team ERA is a whopping 4.49, good for one point. Now I haven’t researched how much ground you can make up in ratios over time, but for the sake of putting a plan together, let’s say I should realistically target something as close to 4.00 as possible.  Between me and the guy in 11th with a 4.03 ERA are five potential points. Given the no trade rule in NFBC play, strategies designed around trading to make your competitors lose points isn’t an option. So realistically I need the pitching staffs on the four teams above me to tank while my guys, ideally, pitch out of their heads from here on out. Of course that is not very likely, nor is it a particularly controllable plan of attack. I could load up on middle relievers (which I’ve already done) and watch them suddenly blow up one month (Tyler Clippard - You’re killing me lately!). As of today I have Matt Belisle, Sean Marshall, and J.J. Putz holding down three spots, Brad Lidge and Carlos Marmol closing in two, and Josh Beckett, Mike Pelfrey, Javy Vazquez, and Jeremy Bonderman establishing the standard for mediocrity to fill out the staff. Erik Bedard, Rich Harden and Bud Norris wallow on my bench waiting to be healthy/effective.  The WHIP category looks much the same as ERA, so I won’t say more on that or than that it’s another uphill battle. Of course the good news is that I can’t lose any points in either category. Did I mention that I named the team Sonofapitch?

Wins and saves are categories where I could legitimately pick up two to four points each. One of the reasons I picked up Clippard, Marshall and Putz was that each were pitching extremely well for teams that have found themselves in plenty of close games. I know its chasing wins, but given the MASH unit I have for a pitching staff, it’s at least a plausibly legitimate gamble. Sounds like a sure bet to me! I really don’t see myself gaining any more than a point in strikeouts given my starters, but if Bedard and Harden return marginally effective, I could be moderately surprised.

Since I can’t lose points in the ratios, saves (only one guy behind me with half the saves), or strikeouts, it looks like the best plan is to continue to deploy stud middle relievers who tend to get vulture wins or saves, while keeping an eye out for effective starters on the wire.

Now for the fun stuff! Somehow I managed to rack up 140 HR over the first half, 26 behind the leader, but only 10 behind the guy in second. Catching him would give me a three point jump. I have 578 RBI, good for 11 points, but I can realistically only hope to gain two points there where I would need a 50 RBI jump to catch the guy in second. Now the two guys sitting in the 580s are doable. Runs looks much like RBI… after a block of two guys ahead, I’m pretty much maxed out. The BA category is a train wreck. There are at least seven guys hovering around my .270, so that cat could go either way. Finally, in the stolen bases category, I am at the bottom of a bunch of owners all sitting somewhere between 70 and 85 swipes. I’m keeping my eye out for a speedster, but with Scott Podsednik and a bunch of double digit steals guys on the roster, I could very well gain some ground there with the players I have.

Mike Napoli, Prince Fielder, Ian Kinsler, Brandon Phillips, Adam LaRoche, Jason Kubel, Juan Rivera, Delmon Young and Michael Young are my best bets for power going forward. In the last week I picked up Dayan Viciedo to plug in at CI until LaRoche remembers he’s a second half player. I also have Justin Smoak who lost value moving to Seattle, but offered me some hope by hitting two bombs over the last week.  With the power comes production in three categories. Needless to say, I’m very excited to see I totally underestimated that aspect of my squad back in May.

I’m not going to catch up to Fred Zinke up at the top of the standings. But climbing out of dead last up to 11th, with a chance at finishing in the top 10 by the end of the year will definitely make my first NFBC experience a much more enjoyable one. If nothing else, I can at least try to finish ahead of Team Ravitz.

 

 

It’s a good news, bad news situation for Buster and the NFBC at the All Star break.

The good news is that the NFBC website is up and running and most of the features are working well.  While the website started off rough, things have rebounded well.  Live scoring is accurate, team rosters can be modified with a mouse click, and waiver wire transactions are easy to locate and analyze.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Team Buster.  Team Buster, for lack of a better word, stinks.  While I knew leaving the draft that I would need some help to win the league, I didn’t think that I would need help just to get out of the cellar.  As of the All-Star break, I’m a lot closer to the cellar than the top, but at least I’m not in last.  I’m sitting in 13th place (out of 15), which obviously isn’t good.  I’m also in 304th place overall (out of 435), which again isn’t any good.

Misery loving company and all, I’m a bit heartened that fantasy guru Ron Shandler’s team is in 378th place.  This is not a knock on Ron, at all.  It just shows that even the smartest, brightest, and best prepared can have their troubles, too.

Looking back at the draft, there are obvious reasons why I am failing.  Too much emphasis on speed (Chone Figgins in the 5th round and Brian Roberts in the 6th) gave me two gaping holes in the power department when others were drafting guys who would hit 20+ home runs.  Like it or not, home runs pretty much equate to RBI, and with two holes early in the draft in home runs and RBI, I created a problem.

Compounding that problem is Ian Kinsler, who was my second pick.  Kinsler hit 31 home runs last year.  This year he has four.  Want more guys who have lost the ability to go yard?  Try Ben Zobrist, my fourth round pick.  Last year, Zobrist knocked out 27 in just 501 at bats.  This year, “Big” Ben has a grand total of five home runs.

My third round pick was a pitcher, Justin Verlander, and my first round pick was the somewhat disappointing Ryan Howard. My first five hitters have combined for a total of 26 home runs. To put that in perspective, undrafted Jose Bautista has hit 24 by himself.

In previous seasons, the waiver wire has produced a number of contributors.  This year, I haven’t been nearly as successful, and indeed, there haven’t been as many players out there making an immediate impact.  Bautista’s been good, but is hitting .237. Alex Gonzales has 17 home runs, but is hitting .259.  Ty Wigginton is hitting just .252 to go along with his 14 home runs.  In a year when I am in need of an impact hitter or three, I’ve picked up, in order, Jeff Keppinger (since cut), Joaquin Arias (since cut), Brandon Wood (twice, and cut twice), Tyler Colvin (since cut, major mistake there), Randy Winn (since cut), Travis Hafner (hey, I’m desperate), Mike Sweeney (since cut), Scott Hairston (after I had cut him), Andy LaRoche (since cut), Casey Kochman (since cut), Jose Tabata, Yuniesky Betancourt (since cut), and this week, Dayan Viciedo.

It’s not for a lack of trying, obviously.  The bottom line is simple, while there may be a power hitter or two available on the waiver wire in the NFBC, it is impossible to make up for a draft that is so sorely lacking in power.

Best of luck in your seasons.

Buster

Let’s face it. A 15-team mixed league without trading leaves your ability to make up significant ground difficult. Note that I did not say impossible! There is indeed a method at your disposal that can help you make up significant ground, perhaps in a hurry, if you do it just right. I call this method the “overload approach”.

This is nothing new and you may have not done it before, but often in leagues were trading is allowed or there are not many teams, you choose a more conservative approach. In a situation with limited options, this is the ideal environment. It is very simple – you see which categories you can most easily move up in, often the categories that are most tightly bunched together, and you attempt to overload your roster in attempt to move up the standings. Now there is a balancing act required here as you have to judge which categories you may slide in as a result of attempting to overload and judge on your own as to whether the points you gain are worth the potential sacrifice.

For example, in my NFBC league, I have a few options:

Batting average – I am at .2682 with five teams all closely bunched together, but realistically I can only move up one or two points in a short period of time. There are players available who I could sacrifice some power for who make more consistent contact. It is quite possible you have this flexibility within our substantial 7-man reserve rosters.  There are hitters with this ability out there in most league free agent markets including Dustin Nava and Nate Schierholtz (just reinstated into the starting lineup with the trade of Bengie Molina)

Stolen Bases – I am tied for seventh with 80. There are two teams tied ahead of me at 81, a team behind me at 79 and the fourth and third place teams are only at 86 and 89. There are speedsters available out there like Michael Brantley, Darnell McDonald, and Eric Patterson who all are getting substantial playing time due to for example.

Wins and strikeouts are two categories you can simultaneously overload, especially if you are not worried about your ERA or saves. Simply load up on starters, checking the match-ups while watching two-start options of course. If you suddenly switch to 9 starters, you will notice a fairly significant move, at least in strikeouts, quite quickly. Wins are more fickle and depend on run support, but given enough options, you will pick up some. For example, I am at 41 wins, second to last in my league, with one team behind me at 40. Two teams ahead of me at 42, one at 43, and so on. Saves are tight, but if I chose to sit one or both my closers, I might be more able to make up ground in wins  then later be able to make up any ground in saves, owning Jon Rauch and Francisco Rodriguez

When it comes down to it in this type of league sitting back and trying to stick with a balanced approach unless you comfortably in the lead and without injuries, is not the best idea. You have to take some risks and be willing to do things like overload categories. Just be sure to not get carried away and to constantly reassess whether you need to focus on overloading a different category or perhaps returning to a more balanced approach once you have gained a comfortable amount of ground as a result of your overload move.

In a hobby filled with cliché advice, I am reticent to add more, but what the heck. Value does not win championships, rotisserie points win championships.  This seems simple enough.  In leagues that permit trading, the axiom is “draft for value, trade for balance.” The canned advice was “deal from strength to improve weakness.” Obviously, there is no trading in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship, so this balance must be achieved via other means.  And it really is not balance that is the objective, but maximizing rotisserie points, because after all, it doesn’t matter if you have 1 more homer or 20 more than the next guy, you still get the same number of points.  And that, my friends, puts me at the cliché limit for today.

The key to this is category management and that will be the topic of this essay, how to best manage the categories to attain the most possible points. We are far enough into the season so that the statistical distribution within each category can be studied, in an effort to determine where you can gain or lose points. This helps with lineup decisions as well as guiding your acquisition of free agents.

It must be emphasized that every league is unique. Each has their own distribution within each category, with differing areas of bunched teams and large gaps between teams. What will follow is some general information, shown over the years to be true in a global sense. This should be considered when evaluating your squad, but most important is your team’s placement within each category. In some leagues, the team with the 10th most homers may only be 6 behind the team with the 4th most. In other leagues, 20 homers may separate the 10th place team from the 9th place squad.

FACT: The most successful teams fare the better in homers and do not worry about steals as much. If you add up the category totals for all NFBC Classic winners, you will find that on the average, champions finish the highest in home runs and the lowest in steals. This is not to say champs ignore steals, just they finish a bit higher in homers. The point being, if you have more stolen base points than home run points, you may want to consider replacing a stolen base specialist with a player with more power, even if the speedster has more value in a vacuum. Remember, value does not win championships, points do. Hey, I only said I would not use a new cliché, I never said I would not repeat one. The intuitive reason power is favored over speed is a home run hitter also contributes to runs and RBI. A speed guy will only help in runs, so not only are you improving your stead in HR, you are also doing so in RBI, and maybe even runs.

FACT: While It is hard to make up a bunch of ground in ratio categories (batting average, ERA and WHIP), it is actually easier to make up a little ground, even as late as the final week of the season.  While I realize this point is counterintuitive as we have been programmed to ignore improving in the ratios as the at bats and innings mount, I challenge you to see this for yourself and follow the weekly movement in your standings. Note which categories teams gain and lose on a daily and weekly basis. I promise you, many of you will be shocked at what you observe.  There are two reasons for this “phenomenon”. The first is not only can you improve your ratios, your opponents can suffer damage to theirs. If you are in 6th place in saves starting the day and do not earn any saves, you will end the day in no better than 6th. But if you are 6th in WHIP or ERA, if someone ahead of you has a hurler that incurs a beating, you could jump them without a single arm you own throwing any pitches at all that day. Further aiding this ascension is if you normalize all the categories, giving the leader 100 units and scaling down, you will find that the ratio categories are much more tightly bunched. And not just by a little, the distribution is much closer. This means on a relative basis, even though you cannot move a ratio category that much as the season wears on, you do not need to move it that much. I know, you still do not believe me. Accept my challenge and get back to me in September.

FACT: When determining how many points you can still earn in a category, a very common mistake is made. Say it is exactly halfway through the season, and you note that 10 more homers would get you 5 more points. What many do is figure if they replace a guy expected to hit 5 more homers with a guy they anticipate will hit 15, all things being equal, they just made up those 10 homers. But here is the problem. All things being equal, that 10 homer difference will double to 20 by season’s end, so you actually need to add an additional 20 homers to make up the complete 5 points. Granted, this ditty is more apropos to those playing in trade leagues as it is much more likely you do this sort of upgrade via trade, but it is also applicable to a no-trade competition like the NFBC.

FACT: Even though it was just explained it is possible, if not probable you can make up a few points in the ratios, it is quite difficult to make up a bunch of points. As such, some of us have a decision to make. With the notion that the object is to net the maximum number of rotisserie points, some of us may have to make the difficult, yet necessary decision to cease worrying about our ERA and WHIP, and instead deploy as many starters as possible, concentrating on wins and strikeouts. This entails putting out non-biased glasses on and determining if we forgo ERA and WHIP, will we lose fewer points than we can gain in wins and strikeouts, with the obvious caveat that wins are a crapshoot. This is not a strategy that will result in a league championship and a run at the 100K, but if you have a superior offense and need to squeeze out a few more pitching points, it can mean the difference between a pat on the back finishing in 4th and a nice little 3rd place check from Fanball.

FACT: There are, and will always be dead teams. This is not the space to opine upon how I feel philosophically about this truism but rather the platform to point out that you can use this to your advantage in category management. Remember earlier I snuck in another cliché and said “all things being equal?” Well, the presence of a dead team renders things not as equal. That is, a dead team usually has some active players that are not generating stats, or perhaps pitchers really damaging ratios. When you do your categorical analysis, make appoint of identifying the dead teams and seeing if their lack of attention means you can leapfrog them easier. That is, under normal conditions, you may feel the team ahead of you is too far ahead to catch, so you focus your assets elsewhere. But if that team had a few players with stellar first halves, then slowed down, along with some injured players they never replaced, the difference may not be so daunting after all.

FACT: You never know what can happen.  It is always best to keep grinding. So maybe you only manage to jump from 9th to 6th, big whoop, as my sister used to say. But you now have the experience of managing categories and the confidence you know it can make a difference. Next year, maybe you are presently in 6th or 5th. A like effort will propel you into 2nd or 3rd, and you know what that means. Ka-ching!! And a consult with a tax lawyer.

 

So much is happening in fantasy baseball right now, you have to take advantage of every angle that you can.

Young studs are getting called up and finally getting their chances. Teams are re-evaluating their rosters and will start to make trades, paving the way for role-players to get consistent playing time. And guys that have been good all spring begin to fade off, while others who have struggled start to show signs of life.

I like to think that there are three major parts to the fantasy baseball season. The first third is April and May. It’s tough to ride the guys you had high hopes for but just aren’t performing early, and finding the new gems of 2010 is a constant game. In August and September, you’re spending your leftover FAAB to get any late call-ups, though a lot of them won’t field a whole lot of playing time. You’re making every move you can to give your squad that final push. But what I believe is the most important part of the fantasy season comes in June and July. Here are my five keys to capitalizing on these next couple months:

1. Give those young guys a chance.

I was really surprised to see just a couple of the call-ups get added in this week’s transaction period. And even more delighted to see that I won Mike Stanton for $288. Sounds like a lot, sure, but there is still a good portion of the season left, and it’s quite reasonable to expect him to hit me 20 homers and drive in 60 runs.

These young guys are where you finally get a chance to fill some holes. It turned out I’m lacking in power big time. Stanton becomes a freebee, and especially in a format where you can’t make trades to help you catch up in categories where you’re slacking, this is the best chance to pick up players who will get everyday at bats.

Jose Tabata went for just $78 in my league, he could steal 25 bags the rest of the way. Freebee. Jake Arrieta didn’t even get added after throwing six strong innings against the Yankees, because no one was paying attention with all the hype on Steven Strasburg and Stanton. Carlos Santana also got the call.

But there are still a few guys out there to keep an eye on. Pedro Alvarez (3B) in all likelihood will get the call from the Pirates within the next week or so. Jeremy Hellickson (SP) is still dominating in Triple-A, he could fan 100 guys if/when he gets the chance with the Rays this season. Dan Hudson (SP) has 86 Ks in 71.1 IP for Triple-A Charlotte, and it seems like the White Sox have to give Hudson a shot soon.

Sure a lot of these guys won’t pan out, but Ryan Howard didn’t make a splash untill July in 2005 and ended with 22 HR. Chris Coghlan struggled last year when he was called up in late May, but finished with 84 runs and a .321 batting average. Ryan Braun and Evan Longoria crushed it when they got their first chances in the bigs.

Pay some money for these young guys; you won’t get a better chance this year. And what’s the point for waiting ‘till September 1st call-ups who will help you for maybe a month? Time to spend that FAAB.

2. Adjust your FAAB spending patterns.

Speaking of spending your FAAB, it’s crucial to pay attention to your league-mates and their finances. Your mind gets into a pattern of knowing how much money you have to bid to pick up different caliber players throughout the year, but that was when everyone had nearly $1000 to blow.

Keep in mind the common player has about $400 left, so the typical bids are naturally going to be lower, especially for the average replacement player.

Don’t skimp if it’s someone who you really need, but don’t be wasteful either.

3. Pay attention to the hot stove.

Who’s going to take over first base when Derek Lee gets traded? Are the White Sox going to dish A.J. Pierzynski, opening the door for Tyler Flowers? Who becomes the closer for those out-of-contention teams who have no use for an $8 million/year ninth-inning guy?

Trades are going to happen, they happen every year, and that presents us with a golden opportunity.

It might not be a stud who steps in to replace him, but if he’s getting every-day at bats, he could certainly help you out.

If you really want to get bold, read up on trade rumors and add the potential replacement before he even gets a job. Because once he becomes a full-time player, you’ll have to pay up for him.

4. The DL may become a shorter list, at least for a minute.

Edinson Volquez, Erik Bedard, Jordan Zimmermann, Dustin McGowan, Scott Richmond, Jair Jurrjens – just a handful of starters who have been on the DL for the majority of the season, and forgotten by many.

They’re all slated to make a comeback this season, some sooner than others, but could be helpful adds. The list goes on, but be sure to check each team’s injury report every now and then to see who is getting closer to returning.

5. Check the dropped list every single week.

Different people have different ideas of who is valuable on their teams. Brett Anderson and Rich Harden were dropped last week in my league. Brian Roberts was dropped at one point. Randy Wells, Tyler Clippard, and Michael Saunders have been dropped.

It may not be the most impressive list, but one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Don’t count yourself out yet, no matter how low you are in the standings. Sometimes a fantasy team just gets hot, and you can leapfrog half the league in a matter of two or three weeks.

Good luck the rest of the way.

Jason Mastrodonato is a student at Northeastern University and a sports reporter for The Boston Globe. He earned a second place finish in the FantasyPros911.com Expert League last season. He can be heard weekly on the Fantasy Roundtable Radio Show or you can follow him on Twitter, @JMastrodonato.

As the 2010 baseball season approaches its midpoint, more and more players’ minds are thinking about football. NFFC founder Greg Ambrosius discusses the upcoming fantasy football season in the following interview. 

Greg, last year, you expanded to five cities. What did you learn from that?

 

Well, the NFFC was the first multi-city, high-stakes event when we started in 2004 as my goal was to bring the contest to the participants. We held the first baseball and football events in Las Vegas, New York and Chicago in 2004 and 2005 and then expanded to Tampa in 2006. We eventually moved to Orlando, but after struggling for three years in Florida, last year we actually cut back to three cities and allowed folks to draft online for the main events. The online option was very successful and we’ll allow that again this year for the Classic and Primetime events.

 

This year in the NFBC, we decided to try a two-weekend concept while expanding to St. Louis and Atlantic City for the first time. As you know, Fanball.com is owned by Liberty Media and Liberty sees the potential of these live fantasy events. They have asked us to push the envelope and find creative ways to grow these events. That’s why we’ve been allowed to host our events at more unique, high-profile places like Citi Field in New York, Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, Arlington Park in Chicago and the Bellagio in Las Vegas. And they also pushed us to host these events in more cities and make the drafts more accessible to more people. We agreed and this year we will be in eight cities on Sept. 4th for the main events, hosting for the first time in Buffalo, Boston, Dallas, Denver and Minneapolis.

 

 

Now you are going to eight cities. How will you maintain the quality the NFFC is known for?

 

One of the reasons I knew we could host multi-city drafts in 2004 was because Krause Publications had a show division and was known for hosting industry events. With the sports card editorial staff already in place and the show division experienced at getting good hotel contracts and hosting live events, I knew we were the perfect company to do this. And as you said, we ran first-rate shows our entire time with Krause Publications/F+W Media.

 

Interestingly, we now have a much bigger sports staff at Fanball and can easily have 2-3 staffers per city to run the football drafts. Not only are we expanding to more cities, but we’re also providing more amenities this year with food and drink as part of the registration fee. Most of our staff either ran or helped to run the NFBC events this year, so I’m more than confident that the 20+ folks we have hosting these football events will be able to provide the same quality drafts that we’ve always had in the NFFC. And luckily, as you know, hosting football drafts that are just 20 rounds is much easier than hosting 30-round baseball drafts.

 

 

Last year, you had two weekends of drafts, but are now back to one. What went into that decision?

 

Actually, it’s the other way around. We’ve always just hosted the NFFC on Labor Day weekend. That will be the case this year with the NFFC Classic, Primetime, Auction Championship and Draft Champions Championship. Those will be held Sept. 3-4. But for the first time ever, we will also be hosting some NFFC private leagues on Sept. 10-11 at the Bellagio in Las Vegas where folks can play for prizes that range from 90 percent to 95.8 percent. We are hosting 12-team NFFC Supers, Ultimates and Diamonds in Bellagio – with online access for all of them – as we know many die-hard fantasy players will be in Las Vegas for the first weekend of the NFL season. And we know these high-payout private leagues will be a big hit with the industry. We are just a couple of spots short of filling the Diamond League at $10,000 per entry as folks like the idea that one person can win as much as $80,000 by beating just 11 other competitors, and we already have one full Super League.

 

So this is the first time we do have two weekends of events for football, even though as I said previously, we did have two weekends for baseball in March. And I’m confident we will stick with the two-weekend format again for baseball in 2011.

 

One more note, this is the first time in the industry’s history that anyone is offering a national contest for the auction championship or a draft champions format. In the past we always ran private auction and DC leagues, but this year we want to combine all of those players to see who really is the best auction player in the country and who really is the best Draft Champions player in the country. Both of those contests have $10,000 grand prizes and competitors from New York to Las Vegas will be combined in the overall standings all year long and one overall champion will be determined. Our goal is to honor national champions and this year in the NFFC we have six national championships that we’re offering. So I look forward to crowning and rewarding five different national champions. Nobody else is running their contests that way.

 

 

What are some of the online options for people who want to compete but can’t travel?

 

You can compete in both main events online against other people who are competing that way. Both the Classic and Primetime will have Online Main Events on Saturday, Sept. 4. If you can’t make it to one of our eight cities for Draft Day, you can still battle online for the $150,000 in overall prizes in those two contests.

 

We can hook you up via phone or online for any of the Super, Ultimate or Diamond leagues. Those payouts are 90 percent, 92.5 percent and 95.8 percent, respectively, the highest in the industry for this format. And both of those have 14-team and 12-team formats.

 

And of course we have our second annual NFFC Online Championship, an affordable $350 entry fee, 12-team league format that has a $50,000 grand prize. Most of those drafts are in late August and early September and we offer solid league prizes of $1,400 for first place and $700 for second. A total of 600 teams will have a shot at that $50,000 grand prize, which should be fun.

 

What are some of your new league options this year, price and format?

 

We are in the process of formulating the NFFC Cutline Championship, a $125 entry fee 10-team league format that is very unique. Teams qualify for the playoffs by finishing first or second in their league and then each week a percentage of teams are eliminated starting in Week 11 based on points scored each week until we are left with 15 teams in Week 16. Those 15 teams then have a shot at the grand prize. To watch your team on the bubble during Live Scoring of the playoffs is worth the price of admission as you try to survive another week. This should be a lot of fun.

 

Again, the overall championships in the auction and Draft Champions formats are new, but the leagues play out the same way. And of course our Diamond League – the $10,000 entry fee price point – is new.

 

Which package deals seem to be most popular and why?

 

We have a main event doubleheader package that waives all of the Events Fees and co-manager fees if you sign up by June 30th that is very popular. Last year we had 182 teams compete in the Classic and Primetime main events – the ultimate fantasy football doubleheader if there ever was one – and I think we’ll top that number this year. We also have $100 off on three NFFC Online Championship teams ($950 total) if you sign up by June 30.

 

Are there any major rules changes this year?

 

Not really. Last year we allowed the top three teams from each Classic to make the Championship Round for a shot at the $100,000 grand prize and I think that added a lot of excitement. More teams get a shot at the $100,000 grand prize and that’s always a good thing. That remains the same for 2010. We are looking at some defensive scoring tweaks, but nothing else.

 

Just a reminder that the NFFC is still the only game that has Third Round Reversal (3RR) and the Kentucky Derby System (KDS). We started 3RR in 2007 and use it for all of our leagues. What that means is that we go 1-14 in Round 1, 14-1 in Round 2 and then back to 14-1 in Round 3. Then we continue 1-14, 14-1 from Round 4 on. We believe it makes all draft spots more comparable and past history shows the playing field is more level this way.

 

While 3RR is good, it’s made even better with KDS. What KDS does is allow owners a chance to pick their preferred draft spot and rank them in order from 1-14 (or 1-12 for 12-team leagues). Knowing that we have 3RR, some people prefer the back end and may list their KDS as 14, 13, 1, 2, 12, 3, 11, 4, etc., for example. When we form the leagues, we then randomly pick the draft order and then seed the owners based on their KDS preferences. In this case, if this owner was randomly picked first in his league, we’d look at his KDS and give him the 14th pick. We’d then look at the second owner randomly picked and give him his highest preference and continue to do this through all 14 owners. History has shown that 3-5 people in each league get their first preference and the average draft preference received is usually their third or fourth. Not always, but many times it works that way. We want to give YOU some say in where you pick on Draft Day. At this price level, don’t you believe the player rather than the game operator should decide where you draft? We do.

 

There were some administrative bumps at the start of the NFBC season. Will those problems follow to football, as well? Why or why not?

 

Admittedly, the first two weeks of the NFBC were a struggle with a newly developed back-end system. We struggled out of the gate with our first FAAB, our first set of standings, our player pool and even our first set lineup. I admit that those mistakes were on us and our players were frustrated. I wish they had never happened, but as you know we all worked long and hard to correct everything and right now the NFBC is running rather well. FAAB results are available four minutes after deadline each Sunday and we haven’t had a hiccup there since Week 1.

 

The good news for the football folks is that the programming for many of those same features are now tried and tested for our new back-end. FAAB will be very similar for football and should not be a problem. Set lineup, standings, free agency, etc., are going to be ready to go much sooner with football. We’ve even added some nice features in baseball that will carry over to football, such as the one-page Free Agent Quick, which shows every available free agent in your league by position on one page. You can even make bids on Free Agent Quick, saving folks who do multiple NFFC leagues a lot of time. The Conditional Bid feature has also worked very well in the NFBC and is ready to go for football. So again, I apologize to our NFBC guys for the rough start, but football should not have the same problems because many of those issues have already been ironed out.

 

I will admit that I’m very excited about the upcoming football season. The economy is still tough for a lot of people, but we have a lot of different price points for folks and I truly believe there is a game format and price level for just about everyone. The early drafts I’ve competed in also shows that this year the drafts are going to be as unpredictable as ever before. You really can win from anywhere this year. It should be a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to crowning several NFFC champions this year. We are expecting to award more than $1 million in 2010, so join us and jump into the game.

 

Thanks for the time Brian.

Brian Walton is the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 12-year history. He is a 2009 NFBC league winner and finished in the top 25 nationally in both the NFBC and NFFC last season. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com.

 

I can pretty much define my 2010 NFBC team I share with Todd in two words: Javy Vasquez.

Specific words that come to mind include frustrating, aggravating, disappointing, and not over yet.

As we round the first real goal of the baseball season, Memorial Day, which tells us a third of the season is over, I find our team in 12th place, not exactly languishing, while not necessarily picking up steam either.

For the bulk of the season we have indeed been hanging at the bottom, with decent offense and offensive pitching. Too be sure, at present we have 48.5 hitting points, and there are a chunk of points we could pick up meaning our hitters are holding their own, and need a couple of hot periods to push us up among the leaders in batting.

As for pitching, we are second to last, with 14.5 points.

It was not supposed to be this way. When I zeroed in on Vasquez and Jake Peavy as our sixth and seventh selections, I felt great that between them and our No. 4 pick, CC Sabathia, we had a solid core, not to mention 600 strikeouts and three good teams capable of scoring runs.

As we know, Vasquez is iffy as the Yankees No. 5 starter thanks to his 3-6 record and 6.86 ERA. Peavy has pitched adequately of late, but at 4-4, 6.28, a shadow of his San Diego self.

So, the first question is would I have done anything differently were I in the same situation?

Well, barring having the genius to grab Ubaldo Jimenez or Jose Bautista instead, no. And, that is a point: I picked good players, each with a good track record of solid contribution. So, no, I think I picked well, and correctly. It is just this time it did not work.

More important, since our team is more than competitive at the dish, drafting the players I did, in the order, was just fine. It was just that, as noted, in this case I would have been better served to have selected other hurlers.

But, as stated in the beginning, this is the first milepost. Our hitters are getting their at-bats, so as long as they keep it up, it is up to our pitchers.

Who similarly are getting their starts and their innings. As I noted to Todd the other day, we just need to improve our pitching. He replied, "We have the horses." And he is correct. There is still two-thirds of the season to go, and if CC, Jake, and Javier wind up with numbers close to their norm, we should have some good months ahead.

Nothing to do but wait.

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