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Friday 26th 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 know that this weekly column is suppose to be about the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC), but we are now seven weeks into the baseball season and I am getting a little antsy for football. After expanding the NFBC to five cities over two weekends in 2010, Fanball is expanding the NFFC to eight cities all drafting on September 4, 2010. NFFC players will also be able to participate in the NFFC Classic and Primetime online.

 

The eight locations are:

 

Las Vegas at the Bellagio Resort & Casino
New York at Citi Field
Chicago at Trackside at Arlington Park
Boston at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Boston
Buffalo at Ralph Wilson Stadium in the Kelly Room, 50-yard line
Dallas (site still to be finalized)
Denver (downtown, site still to be finalized)
Minneapolis at the Minneapolis Hilton downtown

 

It is an interesting decision to expand to multiple cities. In general, the live locations are great. Over the past few years I have participated in NFBC and NFFC drafts in Orlando, Tampa, New York City, Las Vegas, as well as on-line, and I had fun regardless of the location. Drafts are no longer offered in Florida as the attendance was deemed less than expected (if I remember right, there were three leagues). It would be interesting to see what Fanball projects for participation in each city as more and more locations are offered. 

 

Does the level of competition vary by location? My opinion is that the level of competition will not vary much, there are good players everywhere. But will the chances for collusion increase? That takes us to a whole other realm of the competition. As the prize money increases, the opportunity for some level of cheating also increases. Are there really going to be more than two or three leagues that fill in Buffalo? I am not saying that a group of guys could get together and guarantee that one of them would win, but they could certainly do things that would change the odds. I can see the draft being manipulated in subtle ways, but I can see it more when it comes to bidding on free agents (aggressively or non-agressively, and knowing what other bids are before-hand) and setting line-ups for head-to-head games. Again, I am not saying that it is going to happen, only that as the draft locations continue to spread out thinner and thinner that it is something that those in charge of the NFFC must keep an eye on.

The importance of the draft CANNOT be overstated for NFBC play. That point should have been hammered home in last week’s column by Buster. I heard that advice from Perry Van Hook, Todd Zola, Viper… all the NFBC guys know the drill, and we’ve all seen it in the forums for years. I’ve been playing this game for the better part of 12 years now. I like to think I’m pretty good at it, if for no other reason than the fact that I’ve been able to be competitive in every league I’ve joined, regardless of the format… until now.

This article is probably best suited for the NFBC rookies out there, or for those players who are considering jumping into the fray in the future. Let’s be honest, you don’t throw down more than 100 bucks to go against the best unless you think you’re one of them. But as the masters have repeatedly preached on the boards, and as Todd’s articles on league format have clearly demonstrated, no matter how good you think you are, you have to understand the intricacies of the format you’re playing in to truly rise to the top. It’s not good enough to pay for the best projections or have staff members riding IM-shotgun on your draft. And what you did in your CBS league doesn’t mean jack in the NFBC.

This article is also a bit of a confession… I was that guy. This is my first year playing in the NFBC, and while I had no delusions of walking away with the title, I SURE AS HELL expected to do better than dead last on May 17th. Last year I finished second in an expert league to the leader in my NFBC league this year, Fred Zinkie from FantasyBaseball.com. So needless to say, I was confident. Then the draft happened.  I posted the results on the board so I won’t rehash all of that here, but I think a brief summary is probably in order.

Going into the draft picking 10th, my original plan was to grab Longoria and someone like Kinsler off the bat. I was terrified of what I could end up with if I missed out at 3B, and I think Buster’s experience with Chone Figgins mentioned in this space last week confirms those fears a bit. The only reason this is important is because I ALWAYS use the 3B slot for a power bat. Call it habit, tendency, theory, whatever… that mindset drastically affects the way my roster comes together. Well, when Prince Fielder dropped to me at 10, I grabbed him thinking I had a strong power base. The problem is that I didn’t do a good job of tracking my projected stats and was too focused on filling positions with PLAYERS. Losing Kinsler to injury didn’t help either.

As for the pitching, I fell victim to the blind spot of past success, and gambled on a ton of high upside arms coming off of injuries--Brandon Webb, Eric Bedard, Justin Duchscherer, Brad Lidge… toss in Rich Harden and I’m begging for a call to Dr. James Andrews.  I justified that risk by thinking a base of Javy Vazquez and Josh Beckett would carry me through some of the bumps and bruises. Um… what? That’s working out about as well as Junior’s return to Seattle. You do not want Mike Pelfrey, Carlos Marmol, and Tyler Clippard carrying your pitching staff.

Here’s why all of this rambling matters: I drafted no different than I would have in any number of leagues that I tend to do very well in. The difference is that if I step back and take a good honest look at why I’ve been successful in other leagues, it’s because I tend to do very well with trades and picking up profit from the wire. I subconsciously draft knowing this. Of course the rub is, you can’t trade in the NFBC, and furthermore, EVERYONE is scouring the wire with a fine tooth comb for that very reason. It’s not that you can’t get your guy if you bid enough, it’s that you have a limited number of times that you can do that for a player that has the ability to truly impact your roster due to the limited resources. A few weeks ago I went in big ($500) for Justin Smoak because of my power shortage issue. One of the details that you have to have a handle on before getting into NFBC play is a sense of what the bidding is like. I won Smoak by $150… another rookie mistake. It was a desperate stab that, in the end, won’t be enough.

Now I can still pick up some profit on pitching here and there, but I’m still short on power, and I won’t have enough in the bank to get anything significant down the road. As the guys here have been saying for years, you don’t typically find power on the wire midseason. The lesson learned, as I sit here in last place, is that you HAVE to nail your draft in NFBC play, and you HAVE to come out of it with power. You’re not going to find it later.

The other lesson learned is that Todd wasn’t kidding when he said they hired me for my looks.

Drapes

Masters of the NFBC is an interesting title, just a year or so too late.  I’ve had a good run in the NFBC, cashing three of the past four years, finishing in the top 20 overall twice, and ranking among the top of those players who have played in the NFBC since its inception.  Last year, you might have considered me in the same sentence as “master.” That was last year, and in a competition that is more, “what have you done lately,” as opposed to “what did you used to do,” master and Buster shouldn’t be in the same column, no less sentence.

True, it is only the beginning of May, and standings for the leagues really don’t mean much.  I always write a column about this time of year, admonishing people not to look at the standings. Truth be told, the standings are kind of like a train wreck or cleavage; you just have to look.  Well, I’ve been looking, but haven’t been too happy with what I’m seeing.

If it is true that a good season of moves can make up for a bad draft, then perhaps I’ve got a shot.  However, in retrospect, my draft was so bad that I’m not sure that it will be possible to make up for some of the picks that have no chance of panning out.  Let’s look at the first 10 picks, and perhaps you can see where things went wrong.

I had hoped to get one of the first eight picks.  My overall hope was to land pick eight and get either Matt Kemp or Mark Teixeira.  Well, I got pick nine.  Kemp went eighth and Teixeira went sixth, leaving me with Ryan Howard.  Howard’s OK, but with no speed and a poor batting average, I already had two holes to fill and it was only the first round.

In the second, I was targeting Roy Halladay and Grady Sizemore.  I had the 22nd pick.  Halladay went 20th, and Sizemore 21st.  You can see how my draft was going.  I ended up with, at that time, the slightly injured Ian Kinsler. Well, slightly turned out to be an understatement, and Kinsler is now not expected to regain form this season.  Thanks.  Wasted pick No. 2, meaning that I’m now batting one thousand.

For the third round, with pitching going quickly in other drafts, I was hoping to land Zach Greinke. Alternatively, I’m a huge Robinson Cano fan, and if he was there with pick No. 39, I would proudly announce Cano as my middle infielder. Greinke went 36th and Cano 37th, and then I made the mistake of taking Justin Verlander over Danny Haren.  Don’t ask.  I don’t know why, either. At this point, I was wondering if there was a requirement that I finish the draft.

In the fourth, I went with Ben Zobrist for reasons I still can’t explain.  Seeing a lack of third basemen available, and as I was projecting my team to be low in steals, I blundered and took Chone Figgins.  Not to be outdone, I went with Brian Roberts in the sixth.  Zobrist has done nothing. Figgins hasn’t hit his weight, and Roberts has been on the DL since about the day after I took him.  Things weren’t, and aren’t, looking up.

The seventh round brought Torii Hunter, the eighth got me Billy Wagner, the ninth Scott Baker and the tenth Miguel Tejada.  None have performed, and quite frankly, none have a whole lot of upside.

So, my first ten picks were below average, and the rest of the draft followed suit. This leaves me with trying to play catch-up and pick up quality players off the waiver wire.  We all know that this is possible, as guys like Cliff Lee and Zobrist were picked up last year.  It’s possible, but challenging. However, to be a master, one must embrace those challenges (OK, I keep telling myself that, but it hasn’t been working just yet).

Thus far, I’ve picked up Jeremy Bonderman (week one), Jeff Keppinger (week two, cut thereafter), Joaquin Arias (week three, cut thereafter) and Brandon Wood (week three), Tyler Colvin (week four, cut thereafter) and Randy Winn (week six).  Bonderman and Wood have some upside.  Keppinger and Arias filled a hole at second due to the injuries to Kinsler and Roberts, and Colvin looked like he might have upside, but of course, that ended the day I picked him up.  Randy Winn, well, he wasn’t my first choice this week.

It’s still early, and I have a number of Masters of the NFBC columns to write.  It would be easy to write had I gone wire-to-wire, but perhaps fighting out of the cellar will be interesting as well.  Assuming of course, I can win that fight.

Best of luck,

Buster

 

The month of April is behind us. Though you may find yourself in the lower echelons of your leagues standings, you will note that if you look at the cumulative stats, the distribution is not all that great and a lot of movement in those standings is still easily possible. In other words, this points of course to the patience factor, that perhaps your players have not yet come around and had their hot streaks.

In leagues that allow trades, however, May is the month of team evaluation. It is time to take a snapshot of your team and determine whether your players are experiencing substantial deviations in their underlying skills – walk rates, strikeout rates, velocity, and contact rates, and so on as compared to their career norms. Granted we are still dealing with small sample sizes, but at the very least if there is a variance, especially a detrimental one, you should take note of it and see if that player is making any progress towards getting back to their career norm. For example, A.J. Pierzynski was batting .172 compared to his career .284 mark. Now, his walk rate is right in line with his career norms, he is actually making more consistent contact than typical, and it is also notable that he has just a .186 batting average on balls in play with no significant change to his ground-ball, fly-ball tendencies. In other words, this is a stable skill set that will turn around if the White Sox give him the opportunity to do so. That’s the bugaboo of the fantasy owner. We always teach patience and not to overact to small sample size, but managers may not have that luxury, even if is the right thing to do. Continuing with our example, Pierzynski will attain 10 and 5 status in June, meaning he will have the right to veto any trade and the White Sox have a catching prospect, Tyler Flowers, so they may attempt to deal AJ before that time is up. At that point, there is no guarantee he lands in an organization with an open starting spot. So the Pierzynksi situation gives you a pretty vivid overview of the pressures on patience even if everything points to having it.

Looking for an Edge

The NFBC is set up in such a way that the draft is even more paramount than most leagues, since trading isn’t allowed. It makes you have to draft a more balanced roster rather than building a lead and trading for stats you’re lacking in. So that is the primary variable. The remaining variables are:

  • Who you decide to start and bench
  • Who you can pick up off the free agent wire

Unfortunately the NFBC rules limit pick-ups to players who have either appeared in the majors or on the roster of a team in your league. While this is unfortunate as it favors the unprepared/reactionary against those who have a deep knowledge of the prospect pool, and thus adds more to the luck factor than the skill factor. Nevertheless, the rules are the rules; you have to be aware of them.

Now during the draft process I saw a lot of prospects get drafted. I myself selected Justin Smoak, Michael Taylor, and Jeremy Hellickson – focusing on prospects that are likely to get called up and have an impact on the season in the late rounds of the draft. Right now we are seeing more mediocre veterans picked up and dropped in order to fill the spots of injured players or ineffective ones. The casualties as a result are those players who are not currently on the active roster of an MLB team. So this is where you can have your edge. You do not want a MLB replacement player. You want one with the ability to be more than that. While chasing prospects and waiting for them to make adjustments to the Majors can be hit or miss, you have to be aggressive in taking chances.

So if you have the luxury of having a roster with few injuries and your bench consists of replacement like veterans, consider adding a few high profile prospects that perhaps have been recently cut in your league. Getting them now is advisable as generally teams are looking for quick fixes and running out of roster room and they are not all that willing to spend a hefty FAAB price to acquire them, so they have the potential to be inexpensive options on top of being positive additions to your roster down the road. At the very least, this is a strategy worth pursuing to keep them off the rosters of other teams. The signing of free agents is not just an insurance policy for you, it is a defense policy of keeping those stats off of your opponents’ rosters.

Some names that I have noted that are free agents in my league and may in yours too include Max Ramirez and Brett Wallace.  I am one week too late on Ramirez, but the writing was on the wall with Taylor Teagarden striking out over 60% of the time and Saltalamacchia out. He has already been handed the reins to the Rangers’ job and may go in the hundreds in FAAB this week. Excellent power, good patience, strikes out close to a third of the time, so expect streakiness. The Rangers may not be that patient if he gets off to a slow start, but again, worth taking a chance on. Brett Wallace on the other hand is currently hitting well in Triple-A with 8 home runs and only has the light-hitting Lyle Overbay blocking him.

So to sum up – keep a particularly close eye on who is being dropped as well as who is being bought. If their expected call-up is not expected soon, focus on them immediately while they may still be inexpensive. And if you get outspent no need to sweat it. You are speculating. You do not want to spend a ton of money on a player without a roster spot. After all, with no disabled list or minor league roster separated out from your reserve, it is quite possible you or the team that outbids you will have to cut that player in order to make way for a more immediate need.  Good luck to you in your hunt.

 

When most baseball fans hear the word Tinker, they think of the player beginning one of the most famous double play combinations in the history of the game.  For those that play in the NFBC, the word also represents a conundrum they face twice a week, whether or not to tinker with their lineup.

Those that began playing fantasy baseball within the past 10 or 12 years may not realize that the original incarnation of the game did not include reserve lists that may house active Major League players that could be freely inserted into your lineup, with the corresponding benching of a then-active player.  The original reserve lists were comprised solely of players on the disabled list, in the Minors or perhaps traded to the other league if the league was an “only” format.  In fact, once a player on your reserve was activated to a Major League roster, you had a set number of transaction periods to act on the player or he would be released back into the available player pool.  For those wondering what you did with an under-producing player, the answer is grin-and-bear it.  That’s right, you were stuck with the player unless you could replace him with someone coming off the DL, promoted from the minors or you could work out a multi-player deal so you could bump him off your squad.   While there was a weekly waiver draft, only those that had a player on the DL, demoted to the farm or dealt to the other league in only formats were eligible to participate.   FAAB was not part of the fantasy baseball lexicon.

With this as a backdrop, those relatively new to the hobby may now have a little better appreciation for why we old-school gamers espouse practicing excruciating patience with the players that less than a month ago, we drafted with certain expectations in mind.  The reason is because we had no choice!  But the practice did help teach us a valuable lesson.  More often than not, your virtuous patience is rewarded as water almost always finds its level. And by year’s end, the player would produce as anticipated.

But the game has changed.  Single league formats no longer dominate as Mixed Leagues have overtaken the landscape.  The aforementioned FAAB (free agent acquisition budget) has become a popular means to replace anyone on your active roster, regardless of their status.  And the advent of reserve lists in part comprised of active Major League players has introduced a completely new dynamic.

Now, instead of having to absorb the beatings given to Javier Vazquez, or wait for Carlos Lee to snap out of his doldrums, you can choose to bench the struggling performer until they right their ways.  And because the available substitute players are of higher quality in Mixed Leagues than they are in the deeper single formats, the urge to tinker is quite tempting.

While it is simple to suggest just play your best players, it is human nature to want to tinker.  Players look like they are in a slump or in a groove.  And even though research suggests the difference between a hot streak and a slump is usually happenstance so it is best to just leave your better player active, today’s culture has us wired for immediate results.

In addition, there is a bounty of newfangled stats which we are just paining to incorporate in our analysis.

So what is an NFBC player to do?  More often than not, practicing excruciating patience is still the right call.  While it may be difficult watching a team or two rack up the counting stats because they remain injury- and slump-free, as the saying goes, it is a marathon, not a sprint.   At some point, that team will suffer a key injury or have a player endure a prolonged slump.  And you know what?  The available replacements at that time are likely of poorer quality than early in the season, so relatively speaking, they may actually suffer more than the person wallowing early.

There is a new rule in the NFBC this season allowing hitters to be switched in and out of lineups on Friday.  And while the intent is to help minimize the effect of mid-week injuries, it opens up the opportunity to micro-manage your squad with mid-week lineup alterations.

But preaching patience and practicing it is often easier said than done.  There are actually two different conundrums present.  The first is how long to stick with an underperformer, especially if we have reasonable alternatives.  Hand in hand with these new metrics is learning the sample size necessary before their information yields statistically significant data.  Really delving into this goes beyond the intent of this essay, but suffice it to say the answer is not weeks, but months, anywhere between two and five, depending on the measurement in question.  So unfortunately, there is no “correct” answer to judge how long to keep Javy Vazquez or Carlos Lee active.  The best thing we can do is focus on their component skills as opposed to their surface stats.  Is Vazquez fanning batters at his usual rate?  Is he walking people or allowing more homers than usual?  If a player’s skills are intact, the best call is to ride the storm out.  If their skills are not up to par, for instance if a hitter is fanning way more than usual, you may want to reserve him until his contact picks up.

The second scenario involves decisions with players at the fringes, both hitting and pitching.  The depth of the NFBC Classic 15-team format is such that each team undoubtedly has a handful of players that are not complete no-brainers to leave active, with players of similar quality on reserve.  In fact, some plan it this way, hoping to upgrade a fungible spot or two over the course of the season.

Compounding the issue is that there is no proven method to properly select what players will perform better in any given week.  We all think we have a means that makes intuitive sense, but in fact, there are several studies that demonstrate these efforts are in a word, fruitless.  For instance, it has been clearly shown that a hitter’s past history versus a pitcher is not predictive of future performance and vice versa.  So while talk show hosts, beat writers, game announcers and yes, even some fantasy analysts like to talk about how someone is 6 for 11 with a pair of homers versus a certain pitcher, that is not sufficient reason to have that player active for that matchup.  Similarly, if the hitter is 0 for 12, he should not be reserved solely because of this.

So are there any discernable factors that can be used to help with lineup decisions?  Absolutely, we will start with hitters and then review pitching.  This discussion is going to assume helping out in specific categories is not part of the equation as that supercedes any other analysis.  We will discuss category management later in the season as it becomes more apropos.

It has been shown that a player’s skills are about 10% superior at home as compared to on the road.  The actual percentage does not matter, the point is in the case of a tie, it is not just intuition but research data that dictates starting the player at home, hitter or pitcher.  And while I am not a huge fan of park data, there are extreme hitter’s parks and extreme pitcher’s parks that indeed impact performance, so this too can be used as a tiebreaker.  Another measurable factor pertains to base stealers as there are some teams more adept at controlling the running game and some completely inept, so if the choice is between a base stealer and power hitter of similar value, the opponent does matter.  So long as you take the potential of a platoon type player sitting, you can simply count the number of games a hitter has, especially with the new Friday rule.  And even though past performance in small samples is not indicative of future performance, if one hitter is slated to face a couple of the better starting pitchers while another will square off against typical middle of the rotation types, it is justifiable to choose the softer matchup.

Managing pitching shares a couple of the same factors as hitting, namely the home field advantage and park effects.  It is also possible to identify strong and weak matchups based on quality of opponent, although as anyone who has done this will attest, results are far from foolproof.  Perhaps the most difficult lineup decision is choosing between a lesser pitcher with a pair of starts scheduled that week versus a better one with a single start.  Preliminary site research suggests it is always best to go with the better pitcher, unless the matchups are at home versus decidedly weak opponents.

To summarize up to this point, the most prudent means of managing your team is to allow the best players to do their thing and use a selected few factors to help make the decision on the fringes.  But some of us are still too obstinate and want to find every edge.

An angle I am exploring is utilizing something Bill James reminds us, and that is extreme data in small samples might be real.  As an example, previously, it was suggested that a player being 0 for 12 against a pitcher should not impact the decision to play him. But if that line comes with 8 strikeouts, perhaps there some reason for concern.  And if the hitter that is 6 for 11 against a certain pitcher hit four homers and a double against him, maybe he does have a better chance for success.

In a similar vein, it was just suggested that the difference between hot and cold streaks are mostly luck, namely the fate of the batted ball.  Did it find leather or land safely?  But what if in the midst of a cold streak, the batter is striking out at an alarming rate?  Maybe he is indeed struggling and should be reserved until the frequency of fanning fades.  Or in a hot streak, what if he is rarely whiffing?  Could this be an indication the player is truly in a groove and should be deployed over a historically better hitter? As it is suggested above, perhaps thus is a focus of some more site research.

But until we can clearly demonstrate a means of crunching a small sample of short term data to produce more reliable results than what is displayed by a larger sample, it is best to let history be our guide and play our best players so long as they are healthy and utilize our reserves only in the event of an injury.  Then use the limited amount of cognitive analysis we presently have to manage at the fringes, maximizing the opportunity for success.

 

 

It has been well documented in fantasy baseball that spending your FAAB early and often will yield the best results, with the idea in mind that as time progresses throughout the season, you’ll receive diminishing value from the players that you pick up – since a full year’s worth of production clearly out-weighs production from a player picked up in the middle of the summer.

I’ve known this, but for some reason I’ve had this idea in my head that I need to save a decent size budget for late-season call-ups and helpers down the stretch. Not this year though. With a majority of my teams off to a mediocre start, I’ve convinced myself to spend big and spend often in the beginning FAAB periods, gunning to get some much-needed help now, rather than half the help later in the year.

Then, of course, the question of how much to spend on each player arises. I’m happy with spending $300 of my FAAB in the first month of the season, and maybe another $200 in May, $150 in June, $100 in July, etc. For those of you interested in a sample spending plan throughout the year, the trusty Scott Swanay did an excellent job outlining it here.

With a handful of players already finding new roles, or just establishing themselves as someone who can be successful in the majors this season, spending big this month has left my roster feeling rejuvenated.

 

Here are a few players I’ll be targeting in this week’s FAAB period (values based on a $1000 budget):

 

Ike Davis, 1B, NYM, $134: Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel made it very clear that the 2008 first-round draft choice is going to play every day, and with Mike Jacobs designated for assignment, he’ll have little competition for a while. Even when Daniel Murphy returns from his knee injury, Davis would have to be doing quite bad to lose his job. He picked up a couple of hits in his debut on Monday night and slotted nicely into that 6-spot in the lineup. Davis has great power and decent plate patience, and could become a full-time fantasy player in most leagues.

 

Jeremy Hermida, OF, BOS, $24: With Mike Cameron fighting off kidney stones and needing more hospital time and Jacoby Ellsbury nursing sore ribs, Hermida has been getting his fair share of playing time lately. Even if both return healthy, JD Drew has looked awful and is always fending off the injury-bug, not to mention David Ortiz can’t touch a breaking ball, or any pitches for that matter. Theo Epstein traded for Hermida in the off-season with intentions of getting him some playing time, and he has definite upside in that lineup if the Red Sox ever decide to start scoring runs again.

UPDATE: With Cameron and Ellsbury to the DL on Tuesday, Hermida's value sky-rockets for the time being. I'd up my bid to somewhere around $48.

 

Justin Maxwell, OF, WAS, $34: The 26-year-old was called up from AAA last week and jacked a three-run homer in his first start against Randy Wolf. He’ll likely get playing time against lefties for the time-being, but the Nationals don’t exactly have the most reliable outfield, and Maxwell has tremendous power/speed upside.

 

Wade LeBlanc, SP, SD, $58: He has one of those names that make it seem as though he’s been around for a while, but despite being in his third stint in the majors, he’s only 25 years old. LeBlanc has the ability to fan a lot of batters, and pitching in Petco Park is always a plus. He pitched well in his first start filling in for the injured Chris Young and may earn himself a spot on the big-league club even when Young returns.

 

Oliver Perez, SP, NYM, $24: If you have a weak stomach, don’t even think about rostering Oliver. But if you live for a thrill, he’s your man. He clearly has the stuff, and while he’s incredibly inconsistent, he works in a pitchers park and has shown flashes of brilliance. Great strikeout upside for those who are light in Ks.

 

Jonathon Niese, SP, NYM, $38: Oh my, another Mets pitcher. I actually like Niese better than Perez, and when he has command of that cutter, Niese can pile up the strikeouts. He’s still young, and he shows it on the mound, but he pitched another solid outing against the Cubs and just might be ready to begin his career in the bigs.

 

Greg Smith, SP, COL, $14: Smith spent the majority of last season in the minors dealing with shoulder issues, but he’s looked pretty decent filling in with the Rockies this year. He’s shown great command of his sinker and changeup and has openly expressed his feelings on being back in the National League (he likes it). Could do worse if you’re searching for innings.

 

Juan Gutierrez, RP, ARI, $14; While AJ Hinch insists that Chad Qualls will be the closer, I can’t help but be worried when he had a save chance skipped (though Gutierrez blew his chance too) and then was used with his team down one run against the Cards on Monday. Gutierrez hasn’t looked steady of late, but Qualls has probably looked worse, so those speculating for saves should stash Gutierrez on the bench.

 

Koji Uehara, RP, BAL, $4: Uehara may not be back from the DL for a few weeks, but the bullpen situation in Baltimore is a mess. Mike Gonzalez isn’t healthy (as expected), Jim Johnson doesn’t look great, and closer of the future Kam Mickolio has given up a run in each of his appearances. Uehara will have to come back, prove he’s healthy, prove he can get guys out, and if Gonzalez isn’t ready to go by then, Uehara just might get his chance in the 9th inning.

 

 

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.

Regular readers have probably noticed by now that our long-time title of this weekly series, The NFBC Zone, has been retired in favor of a new, spiffier tag, “Masters of the NFBC.” This new label, shared by our nine Mastersball writers competing in some of the many NFBC variations this season, is not intended to convey arrogance.

While we are proud of our many titles, we thought of it as a synergistic opportunity to brand two great names together. Also, as you will see below, the masters of this site include many of you, our readers.

Along with our leadoff man, Lawr Michaels, who penned our first Masters of the NFBC column last week, all the names you know and love will be taking turns here in this column on a rotating basis: JP Kastner, Jason Mastrodonato, Todd Zola, Rob Leibowitz, Buster H Esq., Jesse Draper, Marc Meltzer and me.

They way I see it, there are going to be two types of readers of this column. Either you are already competing in the NFBC or you are not. For the former group, you already know what you are into, but should still receive what I believe will be valuable hits, tips and perspective in this space all spring and summer long.

My focus today, however, is on the latter population. You are probably aware of the National Fantasy Baseball Championship, but for some reason, haven’t yet taken the plunge.

It could be the expense, though there are now a number of very reasonably-priced leagues added since the NBFC first opened its internet doors in 2004.

It could be concern over the level of competition, worrying about jumping into a tank full of sharks. Let me assure you that the NFBC has some very good players, but so do your local leagues. While many industry names you may know compete, they aren’t the ones taking home those oversize checks each year. That could be you.

Take my NFBC main event league, New York League #2. My credentials as having won a few NFBC leagues and finishing in the top-25 twice mean absolutely nothing. I was a small fry in a pond with some big fish.

Drafting to my right was BaseballHQ’s guru and co-star of the Fantasyland book and movie, Ron Shandler, and his co-manager, HQ’s Dave Adler. A few seats down sat ESPN’s Nate Ravitz. Drafting with him was Glenn Colton, a former federal prosecutor and co-manager of three LABR title-winning teams. Also in this same 15-team league is Larry Schechter, three-time Tout Wars mixed league champion.

You know what? When the NFBC drafts began, we were all on equal footing, with a blank roster in front of us waiting to be completed. Of course, what transpired over the next four hours may have set the tone for the upcoming season, but even so, after 450 players were drafted, I honestly cannot identify a clear favorite.

Just like in any league, the games have to be played, as the tired line goes. Unexpected players will emerge and “sure things” will flop. One thing for sure, if you don’t join in, you can’t win.

You may have missed out on the competition this year, but I hope you will follow closely and by the time the 2011 season comes along, that you will be ready. Most importantly, spend time on our forum. Lurk and soak up the discussion, but also don’t hesitate to post, too.

Here is a way to get your feet wet. If there is one takeaway from this article, it should be “The NFBC Rookie Invitational.” If you are even slightly considering joining the NFBC, we have created the perfect laboratory for you.

Ryan Carey, aka “deansdaddy” on our message boards, is shepherding a group of 11 first-time NFBC-style players against four seasoned veterans with the winner of their league taking away a spot in the 2011 NFBC Main Event.

The primary focus is not about the competition as much as it is to foster an ongoing discussion about the “do's” and “don’ts” of play in the unique 15-team format of the NFBC. There is an entire forum set aside here at Mastersball just for strategy discussions. Chats are planned during the season on a variety of subjects like FAAB and free agency.

The best part is that everyone is welcome to join the discussions, ask questions and learn about playing the NFBC-style game. All you need is a free message board account to get started. Make this forum and the Mastersball website a regular stop all summer long and by the time the season is done, you will be more than prepared to compete in the 2011 NFBC.

Though I am not directly a part of the Invitational, I can assure you that I am learning from the discussions despite this being my seventh year in the NFBC!

Mastersball COO JP Kastner often points out one of our key differentiators. “You can actually talk to real experts in our forums,” he says, and for that, we are all proud.

Come and join us and be masters, too!

 

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.

 

It seems kind of funny to be kicking off the NFBC focus this year having simply been a facilitator, but this year, since the NFBC guys were hosting Tout, I threw my hat into the ring and drafted at Citi Field last Saturday morning as part of League Six.

It was actually a last minute switch, as I had been slated to play in League Five, but because my compatriot JP Kastner and I are funded from the same source, I was moved into a league with my MLB.com bud, Cory Schwartz and his running mate Mike Siano.

Nestled as Team Five, snugly between George Vogeloskos and his son (Alex, I think) and Winston Sapigao and his partner, whom our Auctioneer, Ryan Carey, referred to as The Deadly Assassins, I caused a buzz with my first pick of Troy Tulowitzki, at fifth overall.

My reason was simple. Balance is key, and power at certain spots is critical. And Tulo likely has the most power potential of any of the younger shortstops. True, Hanley Ramirez is a better and more valuable pick, but Tulo was not going to be there on the return of the snake, for certain (and Hanley was gone, of course).

I wanted to fill my middle infield and third base with the best players available at the time, reasoning there was enough power at first and in the outfield to push that out a bit.

When the pick came back to me I nabbed Brandon Phillips, and was setting my sights on either Pablo Sandoval or Kevin Youkilis as round three moved forward. I thought there would be daylight for the Panda when Aramis Ramirez was surprisingly gobbled up in the second round. Lord Zola, who was my co-drafter (though Todd masterminded his mixed auction strategy, while I took the lead with the classic team), and I were more than pleased and surprised as it pretty much nailed acquiring one of the two. But, Sandoval was nabbed so we settled for Youk, dropping him at third.

When CC Sabathia was still available for round four, I had to take him, and when the chance to snatch Javier Vazquez and Jake Peavy as picks six and seven (Mariano Rivera was my number five), again, I simply had to take advantage of the troika as rotation anchors.

Leaving first base alone worked well as we got Paul Konerko in round 13, and Nick Swisher in round 16.

Additionally, closers went earlier than we speculated. We did take Mo after Jonathan Papelbon was taken as the second closer, and Jonathan Broxton the first, by Cory and Mike. By rounds nine and ten all the mid-level closers, a la Rafael Soriano, were taken so we played it safe with Brian Fuentes.

There were some interesting zigs and zags and surprises, in addition to Ramirez going in round two. Jayson Werth found himself deemed worthy to be a second rounder, and Team Nine, manned by Dean Chadwin, grabbed Joe Mauer first and locked up his backstops with a second selection of Victor Martinez. The Citi Field location was just great and the whole affair proved to be a lot more fun--drafting is serious business--than I ever imagined.

Of course the season will reveal itself and our good picks from our bad ones, but here is how the squad shakes down (round selected in parenthesis):

  • C-Russell Martin (12)
  • C-AJ Pierzynski (14)
  • 1B-Paul Konerko (13)
  • 2B-Brandon Phillips (2)
  • 3B-Kevin Youkilis (3)
  • SS-Troy Tulowitzki (1)
  • CI-Nick Swisher (16)
  • MI-Asdrubal Cabrera (10)
  • OF-Jason Kubel (8)
  • OF-Denard Span (9)
  • OF-Brad Hawpe (15)
  • OF-Cody Ross (17)
  • OF-Scott Podsednik (20)
  • UT-Luke Scott (23)
  • P-CC Sabathia (4)
  • P-Javier Vazquez (6)
  • P-Jake Peavy (7)
  • P-Mark Buehrle (17)
  • P-Ervin Santana (19)
  • P-Carl Pavano (21)
  • P-Mariano Rivera (5)
  • P-Brian Fuentes (11)
  • P-Scott Feldman (22)
  • Res-Cliff Pennington
  • Res-Scott Downs
  • Res-Ryan Sweeney
  • Res-Skip Schumacher
  • Res-Nick Blackburn
  • Res-Nate Schierholtz
  • Res-Landon Powell

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