Why Avoiding Risk Won’t Win Your League

How do you create a juggernaut in fantasy baseball? By drafting or trading for players for whom your evaluations are different than everyone else’s. How do you create a team that’s eliminated by Memorial Day? The same exact way. The differences in opinion about different players are what give rise to either destroying or being destroyed by your opposition.

For instance, in my home league, I valued Josh Donaldson as a top-20 player, believing that the change in ballpark and lineup would make him an elite asset. On the other hand, conventional thinking ranked him in the mid-30s. I ended up taking Donaldson with my third round pick, 27th overall, and he’s been a top three asset for me to date.

Of course, not all departures from mainstream opinion work out well. I liked Christian Yelich a lot this year, gambled on him with my seventh rounder, and dropped him at the beginning of May. In this case, the majority was correct.

If I had been as wrong about Donaldson as I was about Yelich, I’d be at a massive disadvantage without a third rounder. Instead it worked out, and I ended up with a superstar pick in the third round, giving me a big edge over my opponents. This gap between best and worst case scenarios is pivotal– it can make or break your season.

Moving away from my team, the two most divisive players at the top of the draft were Troy Tulowitzki and Bryce Harper. Each went in the mid-to-high second round to those few willing to take a big risk for a shot at a superstar, when most rankings had them at least a round lower.

As we all know, Harper’s been the second best player in the league while Tulowitzki has merely been a good shortstop. If you used your second round pick on Harper, you’re ecstatic, and your risky pick has been vindicated. On the other hand, if you used that same second rounder on Tulowitzki, you’re mildly disappointed. Both players had the same wide range of possible outcomes, though, but only one was a huge success.

You might be thinking that this strategy of deviating from conventional rankings is too risky to attempt, that it’s more prudent to stick with guaranteed security, but if that’s the course you choose to take, what are you really getting? You’ll finish in the middle of your league, you won’t embarrass yourself, but you won’t win anything. If you go with that strategy, you’ll finish in front of the guy who drafted Tulowitzki, who’s likely in last place, or close to it, but you’ll be far behind the guy who drafted Harper, who’s likely in the midst of a battle for first.

Yes, it’s inherently to risky to go out on a limb to say that you’ve found something that everyone else has missed, that you’re right and everyone else is wrong. But if all you do is try not to lose, capping your upside by taking safe players, are you really trying to win your league?

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