A week ago, I was able to hold on a win to win my first Tout Wars league. The extremely gratifying experience was the culmination of too many years of managing fantasy baseball teams. From the early auction to the results coming down to a Christian Yelich at bat, the season was great. I am not going to talk about the team in detail because no one wants to hear about someone else’s fantasy team. Instead, I will stay away from the details and go over some of the keys to winning the league.
Know and exploit the rules
This idea is hard to implement in leagues which have the same set of rules for years, but in new leagues with unique rules, this is the biggest key to winning. Since it was my first year in Tout Wars, I was added to the lower/experimental league. Tout Wars has four other leagues, AL-only, NL-only, mixed-draft, and mixed auction. If any rule is being considered for any of the other four leagues, like moving from batting average (AVG) to on-base percentage (OBP), it is done first in this league. The league got hit straight on with new rules this year with net steals, net Saves, K/9 vs strikeouts, and a head-to-head format (detailed in a previous Rotographs articles).
The biggest advantage was to be gained with the change to the K/9 category. I went with a few elite starters, Jose Fernandez and Max Scherzer, and a lights-out bullpen. The way to exploit this league is different others. In all the other Tout leagues, teams know they need to try to target two-start pitchers. If a team doesn’t, they’ll likely end up losing. Another common exploitation is to use relief pitchers qualified as starting pitchers in leagues with inning caps and starting and relief pitcher slots. These relievers can really help to pad a team’s ratios (and may Saves) when starters are not being used. Try to find the rules to exploit because your opponents will likely take full advantage of them and you will be fighting from behind.
Win the auction’s end game
If there is a time for deals, it is usually during the last 25% of the auction (or in the first 12 bids as people are figuring out the room). Don’t get tired in the last few picks and really concentrate on finding some bargains. Additionally, depending on the league’s depth, this is the time to bet on a player’s upside in a shallow league. The last few additions can add huge value.
In this league, I paid a total of $4 for three of my top four hitters, Dustin Pedroia ($2), Mark Trumbo ($2), and Jonathan Villar (reserve) and seen in my end of season values. All of them had downside like one of my later picks, Steven Souza. At this point, I was looking for upside and each of these players provided that chance.
Now, this strategy does need to be adjusted depending on league depth. The deeper the league, an owner needs to target more players who they know have effectively locked down starting roles since pickings on the waiver wire options fewer.
Luck is a thing … accept it
No one can truthfully say they have won a league on pure skill. Your good luck or your opponents’ bad luck will be needed. Just accept it. Did anyone know that Jonathan Villar was going to be a top round talent? No way. He was not picked up during this draft and I snagged him with the last pick in the reserve round. Everyone had a chance for the sleeper.
For example, in this head-to-head league, I was losing a lock on my win during the last scoring period because of a horrible start from Max Scherzer. The OBP category came down to Christian Yelich getting on base or not in his last at bat. After taking the count to 3-2, he singled. The odds were completely against me at that point, but I will accept the win as I know of all the other bad beats I have had over the years including my hitters going six for 66 over the finally weekend causing me to drop in enough categories to lose a title. I had my share of bad beats, I will gladly take the good ones.
I figured I would never compete in any national fantasy baseball league when I first started playing. I mainly just wanted to talk smack with my friends. My participation has grown over the years, but it still would not have been possible without the help of several groups of people. First, I would like to thank the readers here who keep my work honest and let me know when I am out of line. Alos, thanks to Tout Wars for letting me in to compete against the industry’s best people. Thanks to the people here at FanGraphs/Rotographs for continuing to strive to be the best. Especially thanks to my three bosses (in an Office Space sort of way, I am a little disappointed it is only three): Eno Sarris, Dave Cameron, and David Appelman. They gave me a chance to do baseball research. Finally, I have to give thanks to my family for giving me time to allow me to pursue my hobby into a full-time job. Thanks again. -Jeff
Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.