In retrospect, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I didn’t do any research heading into my first draft and relied solely on the projections of the provider that we were using. Evaluating players seemed like a foreign concept to me, and instead I just picked players that I thought were good discounts at their position that I would be able to root for.
Every season since, I’ve seen plenty of magazines and articles written discussing the author’s sleeper and bust picks for the upcoming year. After the Mike Trout/Bryce Harper breakout of a few seasons ago, the covers are plastered with “Who will be the next big rookie?”, yet one thing which is glaringly missing from all of these publications is strategy. How should you approach a draft? What is the biggest difference between drafting in a mixed or mono league? Is there a best method to projecting auction values?
As a writer in the Fantasy Baseball industry, I’m lucky enough to have the chance to speak to many of the best and brightest players in the world, including Larry Schechter. Larry is the first two-time champion of the CDM Sports National Salary-Cap Challenge, and is also a six-time winner of the renowned Tout Wars expert’s league. He also has won the USA Today – sponsored League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR). Bottom line? Larry is one of the most respected players out there, and I’m actually lucky enough to live close to him.
Larry recently published a book called “Winning Fantasy Baseball,” which is hands-down the best Fantasy strategy book I’ve ever read. It touches upon every format and style of league possible, and provides a method to project player statistics and create your own value formula. This in turn allows owners to enter the draft much more prepared and confident. The book is a classic example of one that you can read through several times, each time picking up hints and tips that you may have missed previously. The book is straightforward and no-nonsense, and actually refutes many of the popularly held beliefs across the industry right now. My copy happens to be earmark and underlined to death, and I can’t say enough about it.
After I discovered that Larry and I aren’t that far apart in New York, I sheepishly approached him with the idea of meeting up and talking Fantasy Baseball for a while. I had a ton of questions that I wanted to pick his brain about, and below is the interview that I conducted with him last week.
ET: Larry, in your book you highlighted the importance of sticking to pre-determined draft values for players. Since the top-tier ones tend to go either on-par or higher than my projections, at what point should I jump in and grab one?
LS: Other managers paying higher prices on the top-tier talent tends to leave the following tiers at a discount. I will usually grab at least one $30 player in mono-league drafts, and take several discounted players after that.
Does sticking closely to these pre-determined values prohibit you from getting hyped up prospects or hot button players, since other managers are often willing to overpay for them?
It typically does, yes. Overall, I’m pretty conservative when it comes to projections about players like Masahiro Tanaka or Jose Abreu. I try to peg them at a “AAAA” level, since the talent level that they face overseas is definitely not the same as here. I’d be pretty surprised if I ended up with anyone like that on my team.
What does a typical Larry Schechter team look like at the end of a draft? How much projected value do you often walk away with?
Normally, I feel that I’ll have at least $300-$330 in value at the end of the draft. Each draft is completely different, but I tend to take at least one very good starter and relief pitcher. Often the starter is within the Top 5 at the position. Like I said before, I tend not to have very many hyped up rookie players on my team and instead favor veterans. It doesn’t make much sense to drop money on a player like Byron Buxton who isn’t in the majors yet, I’d rather use the money on a player with a proven track record.
What brought you into Fantasy sports? How many years have you been playing?
When I lived in Boston around 1990 or so, I heard an ad on the radio talking about Fantasy Baseball and a CDM salary cap game. I decided to join a league. Back then, we weren’t able to draft online, so the draft took place over a conference call, which was the best we could do. Funny enough, the majority of fees to enter the league were actually used to pay for the call. After that I was introduced to several players like Charlie Weigert, who is known as the “Godfather of Fantasy Sports”.
Have you always used your value formulas and rankings? Or did those happen to evolve as you played?
I’ve always created values for players from day one. My formulas have certainly evolved over the years. As an example, earlier in my career I valued ERA and WHIP too heavily, so although I thought that I was getting a good deal on a player, it may not have been as good as I initially projected. It’s certainly evolved.
Are there any players this year that you feel have been going at a big value compared to your projections?
I’ve really only been a part of the LABR draft so far this year, so I can’t really comment on drafts other than that one. I really liked the values on some of the players, several of which you highlighted in your article. (http://rotoexperts.com/63960/fantasy-baseball-2014-labr-drafts-in-review/ ) Some of the picks that stood out from my own team would be Colby Rasmus for $11, Yunel Escobar for $4 and Chris Tillman for $9. I liked the selection of Andy Dirks for $2, before he was hurt. Raul Ibanez for $2 was also a bargain.
What has made you so successful in these expert drafts? Clearly it isn’t a fluke with you winning TOUT Wars six times…
I take the time to prepare, and I figure out the best strategy for each format. I calculate the exact values for each player and don’t overbid. I look for bargains at every level.
For newer Fantasy players that may not have a ton of time to create a value for each player, what would you recommend that they do? A lot of people don’t even start baseball research until the Super Bowl ends.
I think that players should definitely look for rankings and projections from multiple sources, instead of basing everything off of just one. Using a value formula is certainly important, and although it takes a little time to set up initially, it provides a manager with the ability to adjust. My book outlines some pretty easy methods to get started.
Do you have a favorite style or format of league?
Not particularly. Each come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. For example, a salary cap format tends to take luck out of the equation. An injury to one of your “stud” players likely won’t hurt you nearly as much as the other formats, since you can always just pick another one up. The ability to have anyone you want is certainly less aggravating as well. However, players tend to be pretty common across all the teams. A player that you had pegged as a breakout candidate will likely be owned pretty quickly once they start to do well. You also tend to not have live drafts, which I enjoy.
Snake-style leagues are pretty straightforward. It takes a lot of guesswork out of drafting, because when it’s my turn, I know exactly who is available and I can take whomever I like the best. Obviously you’ll still want to draft according to your own team’s needs.
Auction drafts are fun, but can be really aggravating. Each draft is completely different. If you think that you are getting a fantastic deal on a certain player and take them, an even better deal will come along later that you can’t pounce on. That happens to me constantly! I certainly can’t complain about them much because I’ve been successful with them though.
Last question. What do you feel that people will gain from reading your book?
I think that since the book is all-encompassing and really covers everything beginning to end that it’s a nice resource for Fantasy players, both beginners and advanced. In years past, strategy articles would only cover one particular topic, so you would need to search through and dig up information. With this, it provides step-by-step directions on how to be successful in Fantasy sports.
As I said before, I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of Larry’s book in time for the upcoming baseball season. It is available at all major retail bookstores and is also online at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. I want to thank Larry for meeting with me this past weekend and talking sports for several hours. Can’t wait to catch him again at TOUT Wars next weekend!