Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Plenty Of Fish in the Fantasy Sea...

Poker and fantasy sports. Two of my favorite activities, and for today's purposes, 2 things I'm going to compare at times in order to help explain what your proper mindset should be when approaching a season of fantasy football. I'm not going to tell you who to pick and why for your upcoming fantasy campaign, or try to compare a full house to a good receiving corps, but what I will hopefully provide you with, is the correct frame of mind you should have upon entering the 2010 fantasy football season...

What, you expected me to chronicle the fallout from the Red Sox/Yankees series and the MLB stretch run? Why? Because I have readers out there that actually care about the Red Sox? Well that would be news to me. Except for my mom, of course, whose faith will never waiver. But seeing as she sends more baseball related texts than Buster Olney, I figure I can keep her up to speed on the side without having to bother you fine folks...

So, seeing as my often mentioned Sea Biscuit-like run for the Sox has yet to lead the Pink Hats back into the fold, I'm going to give the people what they want. And judging by all the conversations I've been having lately, people are much more focused on their own potential for the 2010 fantasy football season than any potential the Red Team might have to grab the Wild Card...

So, without further dudes, here are a few tips and pointers on how to navigate your way through not only the upcoming fantasy draft, but also the 2010-2011 fantasy football season. And a few poker references to help move things along. Take a gander, and enjoy...

First and foremost, before you even make pick #1, you want to determine what type of fantasy player you are, and what type of players you're up against. Not so you can temper your expectations, but more so you can identify the different strategies being enacted by the different league members and attack them accordingly. Just like you would at a poker table. And also just like at a poker table, you need to be conscience of not only the image and tendencies of your combatants, but also the image you yourself are portraying to them. Not only so you can thoroughly destroy them and take their pride, but also so you can properly identify which type of league best suits your style...

In my experience, much like at a typical poker table, there are basically 3 types of players in any given fantasy football league...

1) The Enthusiast

Being an "Enthusiast" is more or less a nice way of saying someone is an "amateur". And in fact, I was going to originally call player #1 "The Amateur", but I figured that would come off a little too smug. And considering what I'm about to say next, I figured dialing back the smugness would probably be a good idea...

Being an Enthusiast doesn't mean you've never played before or that you're just in it to "have fun", it simply means that in the long run, you haven't made a profit. In poker slang, you'd be labeled, "a fish"...

Now, a lot of fantasy vets will immediately take offense to that statement, but that just means they've dumped hundreds if not thousands over their past fantasy ventures, and don't like having their "experience factor" scoffed at. Well, I'm sorry kids, but if you're a loser in the long run, that just makes this an expensive hobby. There's nothing wrong with having expensive hobbies, mind you, it's just that dumping money into something year after year doesn't necessarily mean you know what you're doing. It does mean you have enthusiasm, though, and in my eyes that's the most important thing when it comes to doing anything for fun and recreation, let alone fantasy football. So you got that goin' for ya, which is nice...

And seriously, who the Hell am I to tell you how to spend your money? Especially when I happen to part of the group that greatly benefits from said reckless spending. You can call it the "Don Draper Division", if you'd like, but for today's purposes I've labeled that player as...

2) The Fantasy Guru

"The Sports Guy", Bill Simmons, recently came out with a column titled "Throwing Rocks In Fantasy Football Pool" in which he outlined some of the ways he would uniformly change fantasy football. He has some good ideas, for sure (most notably the mandatory auction draft), but what I'd most like to extract from his column is this. Less than 10% of fantasy football players actually make money. And that's in any given year! In the long run, you can probably cut that percentage down to 5 or 6, if not lower. The Fantasy Guru's? They make up this 5-10%. And yes, as if you hadn't already guessed, I consider myself a proud member of this elite echelon...

Much like the Enthusiast, The Fantasy Guru can come in many shapes and sizes. They don't need to be sports nerds, like yours truly, although they usually are. More importantly, no matter how they do it, these are the guys that year in and year out find themselves in contention...

To continue with the poker theme, these guys are the pros. They believe there's basically 75% skill and 25% luck involved in winning, and know that by utilizing their edge in that 75% they can minimize the damage the 25% can do, or even be in a position to reap the rewards should luck go their way. And I know the 75/25 split seems sort of random and extremely arbitrary, but it's more just a mindset that it's "mostly skill" with "some luck" involved. Don't get too focused on the numbers...

Granted, even a pro as accomplished as yours truly has been known to have a less than stellar season, but usually not without cause. Ya know, injuries and whatnot. Conversely, it's obviously not 100% skill when we win...

Great example I think in describing what I'm talking about is Aaron Rodgers last season. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You all know he was my #1 Bearded Pimps 'n them. But it's his surprising rise to #1 Fantasy Pimp that's going to help me prove my point. Now if you had Aaron Rodgers on your team last year, and didn't finish in the top 3 of your league, you're more than likely an Enthusiast. He probably fell to you wherever you were drafting, and while you were blessed with his presence, you were less than able to surround him with a competent supporting cast. A Guru like me? I targeted Rodgers, and built both my team, and the team I was GMing for around him. Result? 1 regular season title. 1 Super Bowl title. 1 Super Bowl runner up. It's not all about me being better than you, although it this case it certainly seems like it, it's about being the beneficiary of luck, versus creating your own. Gurus use their skill to create their own luck, and as #1 Beard can fully attest, when a Guru's well planned gamble pays off, it usually gets paid back in spades...

And hey, I didn't start off writing this piece with the intention of lauding my own merits. Matter of fact I think the Enthusiast and the Guru play an equally important role in any successful league. Both competitively and for entertainment purposes. It's this 3rd type of league member that you need to watch out for. Despite what his friendly beard may suggest...

3) The Gambler

In the poker world, this player would be known simply as a "degen". And if you can't figure out how and why that nickname is appropriate, then there's a good chance you probably are one...

This player will usually have 3+ teams with completely different rosters, the most transactions in every league they're in, and virtually no participation in any league beyond setting their lineup every Sunday morning. Now, some of you may say that's all there is to fantasy sports, with which I would counter with asking then why do we go out of our way to be in a league full of our friends? Right. Because if it were all about the $$, most of us wouldn't care who we were going against, as long as we won...

But for the Gambler, it is all about the money. For them, it's Moneyball sans the strategy and sense of achievement. Now while we all channel our inner Kenny Rogers from time to time, treating fantasy football as simply a monetary venture just isn't doing it justice or treating it with the proper respect that it deserves. And besides, you should be treating this as an expense, and enjoying the time you have anyway. Flipping your priorities like this is only doing to lead to constant anguish and disappointment. Needless to say, I don't recommend it...

Oh, and this person will often be the 1st to offer you any sort of "deal" Italicin the playoffs once the money rounds have been reached, and is the most likely to offer a certain type of trade that I will address later on. As for the "deal making", it's only in my last 2 or so years that it's become an issue. Pretty sad commentary on their confidence, if you ask me, and definitely NOT a boost towards the integrity of the game. I always say, if you have to make a deal, that means you can't afford to be in the league. And if you can;t afford to be in the league...well then I don;t wanna play with you in fear you might lose and not pay (paging, Mike Adams)...

But hey, if you're in a league where your Commish allows it, then I guess all the power to ya. Participants from my 2009 Baseball league can attest to the fact that I am not one of those commissioners, as I immediately disbanded the league upon hearing about unsanctioned deal making...

Again, I liken it to poker, where there's nothing worse than the second you're knocked out of a tournament, than having the remaining players immediately start making deals for the rest of the money. Sure, there might be certain instances where this type of action is appropriate, but those instances should be few and far between rather than par for the course...

And hey, just like with the Enthusiast, who has the right to lose their money year after year, the Gambler is well within his rights to spend his money any way they'd like. Unlike the Enthusiast, you need to be weary of having too many of them in your league. IF I had it my way, all the Gamblers would have to be in league's only with each other, that way there could be a clear line drawn between those who are there to have fun, and those that are only in it to make money. But that's not the way it is, which is why I'm warning you of their lurking presence...

So, now that you've figured out who you may be up against, allow me to toss out a few

1) Always draft for value

In the Bill Simmons column mentioned above, another good point he makes is that 5-10 years ago, you could actually gain a substantial edge on your league if you knew where to go for the right draft information. Now? Every body's reading the same shit. That's part of the reason I'm not big into handing out draft advice, actually. With so little wiggle room now between the Enthusiast and the Guru, at least in terms of the draft, saying anything would be saying too much...

The other thing that was easier about drafting "back in the day", was that all you really needed to focus on was getting as many good running backs as you could. That is, if you knew what you were doing. With a limited # of viable backs in the league, landing 3 to start on your weekly roster gave you a really good shot of at the very least making the playoffs. Now? The role of "featured back" has all but disappeared, and the league in general has just become much more focused on the passing game. Where there were once only 15-20 legitimate backs for a 14-team league to scrap over, now there are closer to 25-30 runners that you could at least start at your "slash" position if you really needed too. Granted that's still not enough for every team in your league to get 3, increasing the RB pool by at least 50% definitely takes some of the effectiveness out of that once fruitful draft strategy...

Nowadays, especially in the first 5 rounds, it's all about value. And this isn't even a theory, it's more or less a fact proven year in and year out by the people in your league who allow Yahoo! to pick their team. 5-10 years ago, "autodrafted" teams were slaughtered like so many delicious lambs, but now, those teams seemingly have little difficulty with, at the very least, making the playoffs. Why? Because while the rest of the league tries to get creative and second guesses themselves, they're team is buys stocking it's starting roster with the best value, round after round. I'm not saying don't take chances, and I'm not saying you should listen to Yahoo! or ESPN 100% of the time either. What I am saying, is that until your starting roster is completely filled out or until you start running into major conflicts, you need to draft the player you feel is capable of scoring the most points for your team week in and week out. Don't bother with "having to draft a running back" or "having to take a tight end", just take who you think is best...

It sounds like an insanely simple strategy, I know, and that's party because it is. That being said, you'd be shocked at how many people not only don't employ it, but go out of their way to defy it. Last weekend, for instance, I was chatting with some fellas over the merits of taking Aaron Rodgers over Adrian Peterson with the #2 pick. Obviously, I was on Team Rodgers, but the pro-Peterson argument completely blew my socks off. The logic they were using was that since there are fewer viable RB's than there are top flight QB's, so it would be better to take a top flight back when you could instead of missing out one completely. OK, I get that, but if you're then going to submit to me that Rodgers and Peterson are going to have similar statistical seasons to the ones they had a year ago, then I'm sorry but that's where your logic ends. Think of the acronym KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid. As long as your roster isn't handcuffed, and at the #2 pick it CAN'T be, put the player on your team that you believe is going to get you the most points. If you think it's Adrian Peterson, then freakin' take Adrian Peterson! But when you start over thinking, it's when mistakes are made. And it's those mistakes that will not only lead to the demise of your roster, but also the demise of your mood for the remainder of the season...

Take it from a Guru. The only thing worse than listening to a bad fantasy football war story, is listening to one from somebody who you know had a shitty draft. Droz said it to Gutter, and I'll say it to you. Draft for value, and don't be that guy! I Droz would have value drafted the Hell out a team in PCU if he'd been given the chance. And I have to imagine watching Jeremy Piven draft a football team would probably be a lot of lot more entertaining than watching him trying to buy one...

Ohhhhhhhh Entourage BURNNNN! Watch MadMen, kids, and spare your DVR...

2a) If you don't make a trade in the 1st 5 weeks, then you probably shouldn't be making one at all


2b) NEVER accept someone's first trade offer to you

I know nobody's going to want to hear this, and this will probably come off as the most preachy part of the column, but trading is simply an advanced move that most "Enthusiasts" shouldn't even bother trying to pull off. Especially if you've been doing a lot of it in the past and NOT winning...

But if you do decide to trade, despite the statement I just made, I'm not totally against it as long as you follow the two rules I labeled above...

Why shouldn't you accept the first trade offer proposed to you? Because 99 times out of 100, it's a low ball offer that even Isiah Thomas wouldn't touch if it were attached to the crotchless panties of a New York Knicks intern. Your response to that should ALWAYS be an equally, if not even drastically more lopsided trade offer. Your trade partner will get the picture, believe me. Either it will clear the air and open a window for legit trade discussion, or you'll be forever saved from receiving lopsided proposals from them in the future. Win freaking win...

As for the first 5 weeks thing, that goes back to value. Past week 5, players have too much of a proven track record on the season, and the best you can usually do is swap positional need for positional need at a very low level. Again, this isn't to say you shouldn't keep your eyes open right up til the trade deadline, it's just that the deeper you get into a season, the riskier trades become. I advise that past week 5, you do the majority of your transactions on the waiver wire, which is why the next piece of advice is so critical...

3) Be quick on the trigger with waiver wire acquisitions

You don't need to literally be "quick", at least not any more. Not with the "Sunday waiver freeze" that most leagues are now employing. But that doesn't mean you should be any less diligent. Here's another "fact" for ya: 10 or more impact players will emerge in the first 2 weeks of the season that will be on your league's waiver wire when week 1 kicks off. So keep an eye on the highlights, get your claims in, and make sure you don't miss out on that early season fantasy treat. And don't be afraid to drop that backup defense or that return specialist you have stowed away on your roster, either. Remember, it's all about calculated gambles, and no place is that more true than on the waiver wire...

And finally...

4) Be weary of coaching and/or philosophy changes within an organization

Probably could have incorporated this with "drafting for value", but whatever...

Simply put, this is looking for guys whose roles may have changed, for better or for worse, because of a situation changing around them. Like Shonn Greene taking over as the #1 RB in New York or Mike Martz taking over as the Offensive Co-Ordinator with the Bears. As the #1 back, Greene might get more carries, but will he be used as frequently near the goal line? And Martz, when he's OC, his teams will always be at or near the top when using 4 + 5 WR formations. That means a team not known for it's passing game might all of a sudden have more than 1 viable fantasy receiver. It's just something else to think about, and while you shouldn't use it to second guess yourself, you shouldn't be hesitant to incorporate it into your personal definition of "value"...

So there you have it, kids. I hope I was helpful. I truly believe you have to be in the right frame of mind to succeed at any game of skill such as fantasy football, and I hope this primerwas able to help you out in that regard. And if I could paraphrase Don Vito Corleone, I wish you the best of luck in your fantasy interests, so long as your interests, don't interfere with mine. Hey, he may have been the Don of the mafia, but I'm the Don Draper of this shit, so I feel that quote is more than appropriate...

Have a great week, everybody. Make sure to check back next week for yet another full and enticing version of the Nache, but more importantly get out this week and enjoy the Summer while it's still here. I'll be doing that this weekend as I again venture out to Long Island and the Big Apple, and wherever you may roam I hope you have equally as pleasant a time. And rest assured, if I meet any more racist fish vendors on the beach, you'll be sure to read all about it...

Be good, friends...

Teddy Williams...



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