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I equate my fantasy baseball experience in 2021 to graduating to the “big kid table.” Remember when you were a little kid and you had to sit at the converted ping pong table in the basement while the adults ate and drank and talked shop upstairs? Well, it appears I finally aged enough to be able to sit at the big kid table.

What did I learn? Lots, some of which I will share here for both your amusement and horror. I hope someone reading this can learn from the mistakes I made and use this to become a better player.

Well, the first thing I learned was that I am not nearly as good as I thought I was at fantasy baseball. It was humbling yet also expected on my end.  I knew my mettle and acumen would be tested on a weekly basis. But it’s actually a daily basis here. You have to grind each week. I basically doubled the hours I was playing fantasy baseball per week once I got into the leagues. I was lucky enough to get into GLARF and TGFBI.

People in this industry are, for the most part, welcoming and helpful. This surprised me. I thought it would be far more cutthroat. What I found was that people were willing to give me pointers and insights into their thought processes.

These experts have unbelievable skill at finding hitters in the middle rounds. I lack this skill.

The sheer number of leagues players play in is staggering; some play between 30-40 leagues, some more. But the more I thought about that and felt it crazy, it is not. This allows them to try certain strategies in different leagues while also playing a number of formats. It allows them to continue flexing their muscles and most importantly, learning. Meanwhile, I really only have time to play 6-8 if I want to play them well.

One huge concept that often goes unsaid: you need to fully understand your format and your league rules. This seems like it would go without saying, but you need to understand every aspect.  Here’s a glaring example I will share with you: I was lucky enough to play in GLARF this year. Talk about a room: Dave McDonald, Jenny Butler, Dave Swan, Michael Govier, DVR, etc. I let myself be intimidated by the names and it impacted my strategy. I did not stick to my process, overthinking it, and did not follow my draft board as I should have. I did what I thought an expert what do, not what I should have done.  The best players will systematically pick you apart and shake your faith and confidence when you freeze up. I did just that. Knowing what you want to do before a draft is fine, but when things change, and they do, quickly, you have to faithfully look at your team and decide what your pivot is. I struggled to do that.  In reality, you should be thinking about that before it happens. Looking at the board compared to your team’s needs is important but trying to be cute and banking on unbankable things will sink you. Lesson learned.

Full disclosure: I did not fully know how the FAAB process worked in the GLARF league. Ties back to what I said earlier: know the ins and outs of the rules and the procedures. Many players in that league were picked up for nothing. A thought on FAAB: I looked weekly at what other league mates were doing and how they valued players for their team. And I learned that spending FAAB earlier in the process is far better than hoarding it for later. I was initially shocked to be in these kinds of leagues, and I paid for it.  Being happy to be there is a fool’s errand.  You play to win and can’t be mesmerized by names.  By the time I realized that it was too late, and I missed out on guys who could have helped me because I didn’t want to ante up. And then I overspent on guys who did not help me later. I found myself consistently outbid early on because I thought it was too early to spend up on guys. The first transaction that I won was for the immortal Jordan Lyles for $6, dropping David Price. Guys I could have had that week? Garrett Whitlock for $2. Hansel Robles for $9. Huascar Ynoa for $12. And this was like week three of the season. It’s readily apparent that I need to spend more time on FAAB.

In GLARF I ended up with $172 left in FAAB. I finished last in the league. That’s money that I could have used on difference-makers in the first month of the year. You can’t be afraid to churn unproductive players if there is someone available who improves your roster. I got stuck in my own thinking, hoping that guys that had been injured, Ketel Marte, for instance, would come back from injury and dominate. What I should have done was find someone who was actually playing and getting stats, like a Josh Harrison or Willi Castro type, and move on. I couldn’t bring myself to do it and then had several injured players filling spots on my team when I should have dropped them and added production. This stubborn fear of missing out on stats from superstars clouded my reality. And it cost me. Lesson: do not be afraid to churn the roster.

FAAB bidding is a must-improve for me this winter to be able to not be eaten alive by better players. The amount of time experts spent on FAAB was mind-boggling. A well-known high-stakes player told me that he spent 4-6 hours every Sunday doing FAAB. For those of us balancing work, family, writing, and fantasy baseball, this was a cold dose of reality for me.  I cannot dedicate that amount of time to the process, so I need to be smarter and more productive with it. The days of waiting until Sunday night are over for me. It’s time to get in the game if you are going to be in the game.

Another lesson: I overvalued pitching. In a home league, you can get away with that and trade from strength to get what you need.  In an expert league, your drafting skills are tantamount to success. You just can’t overcome bad picks. I had the 13th pick in GLARF. I took Trevor Story. Then I followed that up by drafting Trevor Bauer. Lance Lynn was a good add with my third pick, but then over-drafted Nolan Arenado. Add in that I also spent draft capital on players who had never performed at the game’s highest level: Ha-Seong Kim, Evan White, Jarred Kelenic. Egads! Good picks: Nick Castellanos in the 10th, Mitch Haniger in the 16th, Bryan Reynolds in the 19th. And that’s about it. My worry, always, is do I have enough pitching? And I did not. I thought I would ride my big three of Bauer, Lynn, and Charlie Morton.  I didn’t do enough to back them up with any depth options. And I whiffed on Brad Hand as a closer.

My goal had been to have three ace pitchers and a closer by the tenth round. I did have that but chose poorly. For example, I could have had Walker Buehler instead of Bauer. No one could have known the trouble Bauer would cause himself to lose the season, but I chose him over Buehler.  In choosing Hand, I felt like I had a thirty save guy, ignoring the fact that he had been lucky in 2020 and many analysts saw the slip coming. Point: you can’t always believe what you want to believe when the truth is lying there in front of you. Ignore the stats at your own peril.

Let’s take a quick look at the middle rounds to see the difference in draft skill. Dave McDonald won the whole damn thing. Let’s look at rounds 11-16 just for fun to illustrate my point.

11th round

Dave: Salvador Perez     Mike: Gio Urshela

12th round

Dave: Justin Turner       Mike: Ha-Seong Kim

13th round

Dave: Jameson Taillon   Mike: Jarred Kelenic

14th round

Dave: C.J. Cron         Mike: Christian Vazquez

15th round

Dave: Kolten Wong         Mike: David Price

16th round

Dave: Brady Singer      Mike: Mitch Haniger

See what I mean? Dave got production (at least at some points) from each player here. I got production from one, Haniger, and mediocre outcomes from Vazquez and Urshela.  The rest was trash.

One really should spend time reflecting at the end of the season on what went well and what did not in order to improve your process. I think you can learn more from the mistakes than you can from the successes, in truth. In terms of drafting, you have to be ready to take the boring veteran as opposed to the sexy newbie. There is nothing sexy about Justin Turner, but you know what you are getting if he is healthy. I in turn tried to be smarter than the game and fell in love with projections of double-digit home runs and steals for Kelenic and Kim. And it didn’t work out at all. Lesson learned.

One final lesson: I really feel that a player needs to decide and then apply which analytics they want to use and then really use that to shape their strategy. I need to sharpen my skills in analysis; there is no doubt about it.

But here’s the biggest lesson I learned this year. We need to do a better job of including all people and walks of life into the fantasy baseball community. We have a long way to go. I have been honored to meet so many people and know that I need to work on being more aware, being sensitive, and understanding to the cultures and lives of those around me. This took me far longer to realize than it should have. Being born white, middle class in the 1970s, and living in the third-largest city in the United States is a privilege that many others do not have. I did not see that until recently. I tell my students this on a daily basis: what we permit we promote, and once we know better, we must be better. It is a constant work in progress for me and I make multiple mistakes every single day. I value my school as a place for all to be welcome. Treat humans as humans. Recognize we share some experiences, but we do not share many others. Take the time to get to know people. Conversation, being open and not shut off, and using the right language is key. I do not have much of a platform, as people say here on social media, but I know I can do more than I am. If you are someone starting out or need someone to talk to, my DMs and phone are always open to you. My DMs are always open for crappy advice.

Finally, I wasn’t horrible in every league. I won a home league, finished second in another, placed fourth in my first best ball ever with zero preparation, and second in another expert league where I was competitive for the title until the last day of the season. Yet I am the type of guy who learns more from his losses than his wins. Interestingly, I find that the less handwringing I do over stats and the more I study the player pool and trends, the better I do. It’s all a learning experience and I plan to keep learning.

Happy fall and I hope you are all doing well, are happy and healthy as we head into the holiday season.

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