Like many people, I began my journey playing fantasy baseball in redraft leagues. The concept of adding prospects into the mix was delightful but seemed foreign. But the desire to continue challenging myself eventually led to joining my first dynasty baseball league. I was immediately attracted to the concept of uncovering young players before my league-mates, often at the expense of my success. The thought of being a GM for a professional team always appealed to me. Stumbling upon a game that closely resembles that experience was too fascinating to turn down.
Fast forward to last year. It was my first time playing industry leagues, and I was coming off a four-month stint engulfed in prospect analysis. I was thrown into the fire early and received some humbling lessons. It became clear that my level of preparation needed to increase to compete against the best minds out there. Everyone has talent at the highest levels. The little details can often determine the outcome when excellent players are competing. Today, I want to share a few lessons I learned in my first go-around playing against the sharks and help us all get a little closer to our potential. These concepts may be relatively basic, but the fundamentals are often the path of least resistance.
Drafting Against Sharks in Dynasty Baseball
Know the Player Pool
We have all heard it before. It may be the most overused and underappreciated statement that gets tossed around. It sounds simple enough. But it’s the people who embrace this that have an edge on the competition. Most casual players have a solid understanding of the early rounds of drafts. They have some favorite targets in the middle rounds and a handful of late-round sleepers. Understanding the different options at various stages of the draft maximizes your ability to shift gears. And believe me, when you face a bunch of well-schooled draft experts, they will force you to shift gears whether you want to or not. To compete against some of these high-level players, you have to possess the ability to draft in several different styles while maintaining control of the situation. Once you allow top-notch players an opportunity to take control, it is an uphill battle. The bottom line, you need to have a deep understanding of the player pool at all levels. The best players we are competing against know it like the back of their hand.
Play to Win the Game
Some basic concepts seem to get lost in the shuffle with many advanced ways to evaluate players. Something that sounds so easy to grasp can often not get the attention it deserves because it is in one ear and out the other. People tend to believe they have it figured out the moment they hear it, so there is not a lot of investigation. But when it comes time to take the necessary steps to complete the task, many will draft as though the lesson did not sink in. That can be particularly challenging for those that spend a great deal of time investigating prospects in dynasty baseball leagues. The allure of discovering the next young player often puts managers in a position that hurts their chances of winning. The vast majority of rookies will not impact the standings significantly. You can put yourself at a massive disadvantage in deep dynasty leagues against people selecting less coveted MLB players who will be part of the game we are trying to win this season. We should all actively avoid giving away seasons.
Proximity over Upside
The allure of the high upside prospect is something many dynasty baseball managers understand. Some of the best players currently being drafted in the first round of redraft leagues were once relatively obscure teenagers. The successful players I competed against gave far more weight to the proximity of a player than their upside. I made the rookie mistake of trying to strike gold on the unknown. Even someone who analyzes prospects daily can not accurately predict which players will leap forward. The concept of proximity over upside becomes more and more relevant the deeper your league is. If you are playing in a 12-team league, the caliber of players available on the free agents allows you to take more risks. But in a 30-team setting, it can not be overstated how valuable Major League depth is. We need talented players, but the roster of the champion will not always look incredible on paper. It is not a bunch of young superstars. Their focus is on having the MLB depth come out ahead in the volume game.
Volume is the Key in Deep Leagues
The adrenaline will fade from all the high-upside draft picks you made, and reality sets in once it’s time to set lineups. The solid managers will have each position filled with active MLB players and several backups to cover injuries, underperformance, and days off. They do not care if they are sexy names. Over the entirety of the season, having hitters you can mix and match while piling up the counting stats versus the league adds up in a significant way. It is human nature to want to chase the next big thing, but the players who have mastered the art of self-control in the heat of the moment can set themselves apart when so many others are thinking about how their picks will be valued years down the road. I would find myself deeper in drafts with all these alluring names I had been studying for months and get lost in what I was there to do. I can assure you that treating your dynasty leagues more like a redraft will pay off in the standings.
Vets are typically Under-valued in Dynasty Baseball
Dynasty leagues tend to make people think about ages a lot more than redraft. And to a certain degree, there is value in doing so. Once players reach 30, there seems to be a mental block with many managers. I’ve seen this in all kinds of leagues throughout the years. It’s a nice round number that people assume is the start of a player’s decline. But we’ve seen several examples of players being highly productive into the mid-to-late thirties. The best dynasty players know how to find the proper balance between the present and the future. Sprinkling in the right players throughout your draft can help your push for contention immediately. I often use this to my advantage, but the players at the top level have it in their repertoire at all times. There is significant draft value sitting out there late based solely on age. Some managers who only have redraft experience would be a nightmare to deal with for the first couple of seasons at least. There is so much that can change in a matter of months. There is a strong case for taking the production you can bank on at the moment.
Get to know the Competition
The majority of this is about the importance of focusing more on MLB talent and generally avoiding young players. But there is a significant role these upside prospects can play in your quest for the title. The trade market is an essential element of dynasty leagues. Once the initial startup draft is complete in a deep format, it is the most viable way to upgrade your roster. Going back to a previous point, this ties into the importance of understanding the player pool. I have had the opportunity to talk in-depth with some of the very best trade minds around. Take the time to learn about the managers in your league. Pick up little clues along the way while they are making other transactions. Watch how they build their roster and what kind of players they gravitate towards. Figure out which managers like stashing prospects. Just like the best drafters out there, the trade wizards you will come across are thinking things through at a high level. They are willing to be patient but know when to strike quickly. They have a deep understanding of the market, a strong belief of how it differs from their views, and the ability to negotiate deals that appear enticing to others. And every step is calculated.