Fantasy Baseball: Why You Should Play Salary-Cap Challenge Games
Thousands of teams signed up on Fantrax last year to play a wide variety of draft leagues, with even more expected to play this season. Leagues are filling up every day, and countless fantasy players will spend the next two months analyzing Average Draft Position (ADP) trends and hoping against hoping that they get the chance to own Mike Trout or Jose Altuve. I have a bit of advice for these people: You’re doing it all wrong! You need to give the one of the salary cap challenge leagues a try.
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Sure, drafts are fun, and I’m not suggesting anyone should forgo drafts completely. But do they really give you a chance to prove how good of a talent evaluator and fantasy owner you are? If Owner A lucks into getting their league’s first overall draft pick, selects Mike Trout, and wins the league, is he or she really any better than Owner B, who randomly picked eighth overall and whose first-round pick spent two months on the Disabled List, costing him or her a shot at the playoffs? Sure, that’s a very specific circumstance, and we all know that a successful fantasy season is not predicated on one draft pick. However, the scenario above is just one of many which highlight the inherent pitfalls that come with draft leagues.
Lucky for you, the solution to this problem is closer than you think. Fantrax has four (count ’em – FOUR!) full-season salary cap challenge leagues. Fantrax offers two Points games and two Rotisserie games, giving owners the choice to participate in whichever game suits their individual budget and skill level.
Games start as low as $29.95 for the Bronze Points Salary Cap Challenge. These games are perfect for any level of fantasy player. In my opinion, these games are the truest test of skill, because every owner has the same starting point and same parameters. Let’s get into a little more detail about how these games work.
Leagues consist of 25 teams each, except for the Silver Points Salary Cap Challenge, which has 30-team leagues. There is a slight difference in lineup configuration between the Points and Roto games. However, each team in all challenge games will start 28 players each week and all starting lineups must stay within the game’s designated (and fixed) salary cap.
Benches consist of 13 players for the Points games and 12 players for the Roto games. Transactions take place once a week, and owners can make up to 18 New Player Claims throughout the course of the season.
In Points leagues, the goal is to (obviously) have the players in your starting lineup accumulate as many points as possible. In Roto leagues, teams are ranked within each category from top to bottom, with the winner being the team with the most total league points. Here are some of the reasons salary cap challenge games are so much fun and are, at least in my opinion, the best measure of a fantasy player’s skill level.
Control the Action in Salary Cap Challenge Leagues
If you participate in a standard draft, there are several disappointing realizations you must come to before the draft even begins. You are not going to get to draft a large majority of the players on your wish list. Draft “runs” will occur and may alter your pre-draft strategy. Players will autodraft, which usually either results in them lucking into certain players or otherwise manipulates the competitive balance of the league. With Salary Cap Challenge games, It’s ALL in your hands! Want Mike Trout? Take him. Want Clayton Kershaw? Do it. Want Paul Goldschmidt? Have at it, Hoss. Want Trout, Kershaw, AND Goldschmidt? Go nuts!
“Wait, doesn’t that mean everybody will take the same players?”
Not really, because rosters are 40 or 41 players deep and starting lineups each week consist of 28 players. If lineups consisted of a handful of players each week, this might be an issue. But the expanded rosters and starting lineups ensure that there will be plenty of variance. Sure, some players will have a high ownership percentage, but no two lineups will ever be the same in a given week.
No Chance for Collusion
How many times have you received a notification about a pending trade in your league and thought that something foul was afoot? We have all heard the horror stories about savvy owners taking advantage of novices with lopsided trade proposals, or the even worse instances in which owners strike a deal with the expressed purpose of benefiting one team and/or harming another for whatever reason. We’ve even seen teams place productive players on waivers, knowing that a specific team will pick them up. This is unfair and ruins the experience for everyone. Because everyone gets to choose from the same player pool in challenge games, there is no chance of owners combining forces to either form a superteam or freeze other owners out of a particular player.
Fantrax offers incredibly competitive prizes for each of their Salary Cap Challenge games. The Bronze Points Salary Cap Challenge not only offers each league winner $150, but the overall winner of the challenge nets $3,000! I’m guessing your local draft league does not offer the opportunity to make your money back times a hundred. This league does. Not all salary cap challenge games offer overall prizes, but they make up for it with their league prizes. League winners of the Gold Roto Salary Cap Challenge win $4,000 just for winning their league! That’s unheard of.
Drafts are fun, but oftentimes league winners are not the ones who drafted the best. More often than not, a league winner’s September roster will hardly resemble the one drafted in March. Some rosters are entirely turned over, perhaps even multiple times.
I for one do not want my league to be won or lost just because someone scours the waiver wire each week and makes scores of roster moves. I want preseason research to mean something. With a finite amount of in-season roster changes, your Opening Day lineup matters. A lot.
In Roto leagues, you are given 40 roster spots and 18 New Lineup Claims. That means that at least half of the players on your Opening Day roster must remain on your roster for the entirety of the season. You will not have to worry about someone ignoring the league for two months, swooping in, and winning your league. That will not happen in salary cap challenge leagues. You must draft a competitive, well-rounded team if you want a shot to win.
Significantly Lower Risk
OK, that’s probably not entirely true. But how many fantasy players avoided the likes of Giancarlo Stanton and Stephen Strasburg in 2017 drafts due to injury concerns? I’m guessing a lot. And why? Primarily because they put so much stock into the draft equity of those draft slots that drafting those players was not worth the risk.
Such concerns are dramatically reduced in salary cap challenge leagues. If you select a player who suffers some unfortunate injury three weeks into the season, it’s not the end of the world. You did not select that player with your first pick, or your fourth, or your ninth. He is simply one of 40 (or 41) players on your roster. Just use one of your 18 New Player Claims to replace him. Easy peasy.
Winning your office league may give you occasional bragging rights at the water cooler, but by and large, it’s not really that impressive. I hate to break it to you, but odds are that your league-mates do not care to put in the time and effort that you do toward your local league, so victories are often quite hollow.
The same goes for leagues with friends and family members. However, Fantrax’s Salary Cap Challenge games offer players the unique experience of competing with players from all over the world. The best way to test your skills is to step on up and face some real competition. Nothing gets the competitive juices flowing like competing against the very best. And yet…
The Water is Fine! Come On In!
Daily Fantasy Sports have seemingly taken over the industry, but those games are not without their own problems and deficiencies. I know a lot of people who have been turned off by DFS due to the sharks using huge bankrolls, computer algorithms and software programs to stack the odds in their favor.
Owners enter hundreds of teams into a single contest, giving them a decided edge over someone playing a single team. In Fantrax Salary Cap Challenge games, that is not an issue. Moreover, Fantrax has a Rules Page with tons of helpful Tips to Help You Win and FAQ. These features will help answer many questions beginners may have and provide an excellent structure for how one should go about building a team.
There are also some great Forums that give owners a chance to interact and discuss strategies and ideas. Anyone who is not familiar with these games can pick the brains of veterans who have been there and done that.
The Cream Usually Rises
Another critique of DFS leagues is that there is a certain amount of luck involved with making decisions involving a small number of games or dates on the calendar. That luck factor is reduced greatly in season-long Salary Cap Challenge games. Victories are earned, not given. You must start the season with a good roster, and make shrewd weekly moves based on varying factors in order to win. When all is said and done, the cream will rise to the top.
If you enjoy the concept of constructing a competitive fantasy baseball team within the confines of a salary cap but are tired of the various problems associated with DFS, you have come to the right place. The Fantrax Salary Cap Challenge games are for you.
“Great Now What?”
It’s time to take that research you have been doing for the past couple of months and put it to good use. If you have been participating in drafts and creating your projections, you have a pretty good idea of each player’s value. You can measure each player’s value with their salaries in each Fantrax Salary Cap game to determine who stands out as the best values.
As I preached in my TRAX Best Score preview, it is wise to keep backups at each position if possible. You will also want to have a minimum of four starting pitchers among your reserves. Two-start weeks are gold in these games, and you will want as many of them as you can stomach.
Keep in mind, however, that quantity does not always trump quality. Of the four categories that starting pitchers contribute towards, two are ratio based. In other words, one Clayton Kershaw start is still usually better than two Kyle Gibson starts.
Here are some players at each position who will likely find their way onto a fair number of Salary Cap Challenge rosters.
CATCHER: GARY SANCHEZ, NEW YORK YANKEES
Gary Sanchez is the second-highest salaried catcher, but he is virtually a must-own nonetheless. Sanchez led all backstops in runs, home runs, and RBI last year and is a pretty safe bet to do so once again in 2018. Sanchez also helps in batting average. Among the 14 catchers who had at least 400 plate appearances in 2017, Sanchez trailed only Buster Posey in batting average.
Health permitting, Sanchez should easily eclipse the 100-RBI plateau while providing solid numbers in each category. After Sanchez, you will not want to stray too far from the top of your catcher rankings. Most catchers are cost-effective, so there is not much reason to try to go bargain shopping at this position.
FIRST BASE: HANLEY RAMIREZ, BOSTON RED SOX
There are several low-cost power options you can choose from in this range, each coming with their own set of pros and cons. Hanley Ramirez probably has the highest ceiling of this group, having ranked among the top-40 hitters just two seasons ago.
Josh Bell, Justin Bour, Yonder Alonso, Greg Bird, and others come in as potentially cheap alternatives. What is interesting is that Matt Olson and Joey Gallo are listed in this group, which is not always the case. Both are certainly intriguing, though I prefer them in Points leagues rather than Roto leagues.
Using too many of these players is not recommended, but employing one or two can be quite effective. You should also own at least one of the top-five first baseman. They may be expensive, but they will provide necessary production at a position you cannot afford to lose much ground in.
SECOND BASE: JOSE ALTUVE, HOUSTON ASTROS
You will need to shave salary somewhere, but I just cannot stress the importance of having a fair share of stud players on your roster. Values will continue to emerge throughout the season. Inserting players like Jose Altuve may be tough early on, but he is well worth the price. His batting average may be the most valuable fantasy commodity there is, and his all-around game just catapults him that much farther into the fantasy stratosphere. Pair him with an Ozzie Albies type and off you go.
THIRD BASE: ALEX BREGMAN, HOUSTON ASTROS
Third base appears to be a position where you might have to pony up some coin. The top five are all expensive, but may well be worth their price tags. If you want to try to save a little bit of cap room here, I would recommend Alex Bregman.
Bregman is a young star on the rise for the World Champion Astros. Bregman has excellent contact rates and has all the makings of a five-tool fantasy player who can put up a 20-20 season in 2018. Only nine players put up such campaigns a year ago.
SHORTSTOP: TREVOR STORY, COLORADO ROCKIES
Shortstop thins out pretty quickly, and I would expect a good number of teams to own Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, or both. For those seeking a second-tier shortstop, I think Trevor Story can be a nice play.
Story comes with plenty of risks, but he has potentially advantageous splits due to playing half of his games in hitter-friendly Coors Field. Exploiting splits is essential to success in Salary Cap Challenge games.
However, you will want to make sure you pair him with someone who you can trust to play whenever Story is on the road. If you pair Story with a similar hit-or-miss type player, you will be forced to start at least one of them under less-than-ideal circumstances.
OUTFIELDERS: MIKE TROUT, LOS ANGELES ANGELS; ANDREW BENINTENDI, BOSTON RED SOX; TOMMY PHAM, ST. LOUIS CARDINALS; BYRON BUXTON, MINNESOTA TWINS
There are lots of quality outfielders, and with teams starting as many as eight outfielders (6 OF plus 2 DH) in a given week, the possibilities are nearly endless. High-priced power hitters like Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and J.D. Martinez should find themselves on many a roster.
There are also a ton of players with great potential and a wide array of skills who are very reasonably priced. Some of the names that fall into this category are Rhys Hoskins, Byron Buxton, and Ian Happ.
However, please keep in mind that you don’t want to stray too far away from the elite at any position. You can never go wrong with a Mike Trout or a Mookie Betts. Charlie Blackmon and Aaron Judge make for excellent home plays, although their early-season schedules do not appear to sync up and their salaries are tough to justify on road weeks.
STARTING PITCHERS: CLAYTON KERSHAW, LOS ANGELES DODGERS; COREY KLUBER, CLEVELAND INDIANS; STEPHEN STRASBURG, WASHINGTON NATIONALS; NOAH SYNDERGAARD, NEW YORK METS
I just stated that you should gravitate toward elite players whenever possible. If you do so at no other position, make sure you heed these words when choosing your starting pitchers. The majority of the pitchers on your roster should be what fans consider an “ace.” Pitchers such as Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber, Stephen Strasburg, and Noah Syndergaard will likely be owned by a high percentage of contending teams. Gambling on a couple of iffy starters with weak ratios is the quickest way to fantasy mediocrity in challenge games.
Taking a chance on a player like Shohei Ohtani or Lance McCullers is justifiable under the right conditions. But do not go overboard chasing the next big thing. For every Luis Severino, there are seemingly scores of young phenoms who fizzle out or who take a bit longer to develop.
This is not a keeper league. You want to draft pitchers who will be borderline elite this season, almost regardless of cost. The hitters in your starting lineup will play somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 games per week. Your starting pitchers will likely combine for eight or nine. Each game a pitcher in your lineup starts is of paramount performance. Do not underestimate this when constructing your staff.
RELIEF PITCHERS: KENLEY JANSEN, LOS ANGELES DODGERS
When it comes to selecting relief pitchers, it’s all about saves and save opportunities. An elite middle reliever will not benefit you as much as an average closer. Still, you want to make sure you do not skimp here, either. This is because of the often extreme volatility at the closer position. You can survive a hitter who goes into an 0-for-25 slump or a starting pitcher having a bad outing or two because their roles most likely will not change due to a simple slump. However, closers often have a very short leash. A couple of shaky blown saves and a demotion will completely sap all of the value from that player. Just play Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel and thank me later. They will keep your ratios and your blood pressure down.