Sunday, February 21, 2010

My strategy: Keeper theory (Part 1 of 7)

Welcome to the first in a seven-part series chronicling my fantasy baseball strategy as it applied to the 2009 UPL season. The primary purpose of this series is to document my current thoughts about how I approach the game of fantasy baseball. Along the way we'll look at some real-life examples of challenges my team faced in the 2009 season, and why I did what I did each step of the way.

Last October the UPL wrapped up its 9th season--and first as a keeper league. Naturally, going into the season I wanted to have a successful strategy, but I especially wanted to adapt well to this new format because the last time the UPL switched formats (in 2003, going from point accumulation to 6x6 roto) I struggled for 3 or 4 years trying to implement a solid strategy. Given that history, and the fact that I hadn't won the UPL championship outright in 8 years, I was very motivated to do well in 2009.

Part of the allure that people have with a keeper league, aside from the fact that it's more realistic, is that you can do more than just win a championship--you can build a dynasty. On the flip side, if you screw something up then it could cost you for years to come. So from that standpoint there's a little more thrill involved in a keeper league.

Like everyone else in the UPL, as the inaugural baseball keeper season approached in 2009 I had high hopes of fielding a team that would not only be competitive in 2009 but also for 2010 and beyond. So how would I implement a new strategy that enabled my team to be competitive now, yet still plan for the future? This was the fun new challenge of the keeper league. The rules of the game had changed, and with these new complexities, our strategies had to adapt. As I recall, there was quite a bit of talk regarding how we'd need to alter our approach to this new problem.

But after giving it some thought, I soon came to a very different conclusion. In fact, I nearly blogged about my new views regarding a keeper league strategy before the 2009 season started. However, two things kept me from doing so: 1) I didn't think anyone would believe me and 2) Why give away my strategy?

Well, there was also a third reason. If in fact my general approach to the 2009 season was better than my opponents, shouldn't it become apparent after 2 or 3 months? I mean, I'd look really silly if I wrote a long post in March about how my strategy was better than my opponents, only to find myself mired in 17th place come July. Now this doesn't mean I'd have to win the championship in order to prove that my strategy was solid, but at the very least I'd have to field a competitive team before anyone would take my keeper theory seriously.

So what was my keeper theory? Earlier in this post I asked the question, " would I implement a new strategy that enabled my team to be competitive now, yet still plan for the future?" And it's true that my initial thoughts about a keeper league centered around this question. However, I started to run into problems when I tried to settle on a logical way to alter my previous season's (2008) strategy for the 2009 keeper league. Starting in 2006 I had learned to focus more on players with high-OBP's and strong track records of performance over multiple years. In 2007, I like to think that I improved upon that strategy with my willingness to draft older players, so long as they had a strong (and recent) track record of performance. In 2008, I had the same basic strategy, although I did deviate from it in a few key ways and it cost me. So for 2009, would I cook up a new strategy or would I be better off trying to get closer to the 2007 strategy that carried me to a UPL co-championship?

In every UPL baseball season prior to 2009, we all had the same simple goal: win now. Everyone clearly understood that you needed to acquire the players who would perform the best this season. But with the introduction of a keeper league where you can keep many players from year to year, suddenly the reward system expanded. Not only was there there a reward for acquiring the best players of this season, there was also a potential reward for picking the best players of next season or beyond.

And this is where a formerly complex problem became rather simple for me. It's already very difficult to speculate on which players will perform the best this season. As we gaze further into the future, it becomes even tougher to predict which players will be the best in the years ahead. (For example, if you had to make predictions today, would you be able to better guess the 2010 All-Star team or the 2011 All-Star team?) For me, this part of the equation was settled: My best guesses will be guesses about this season.

Fortunately, the first part of my equation dovetails nicely with the second part. If indeed you dream of fielding a team that's highly competitive for 5 straight years, doesn't the journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step? How can you have a great team for 5 straight years without first having one great team? So here again my strategy became obvious to me: Go all in for this season.

By now it should be apparent what my keeper theory was for the 2009 UPL Baseball season: Don't change anything.

It's kinda funny. For years all of us in the UPL honed our fantasy baseball skills to become better and better at acquiring the best MLB players of today.  But when the rules were changed in 2009 to allow us to speculate on something far more difficult, picking the best MLB players of the future, most UPL managers felt some need to alter their strategy away from having a laser focus on picking the best players of today. Imagine my delight when one of my top opponents signaled a retreat from his previous strategy by looking more closely at age.

 Now, for those of you with a good memory, you might recall my post from last March 19 when I wrote, "This year it's a keeper league, so that alters the strategy--and raises the stakes." Some might argue that this is proof that I was planning to alter my strategy for the keeper league. But I ask you: Is psychological warfare not allowed in fantasy baseball? Is it morally wrong to lull my opponents to sleep by praising their drafts as better than mine? Is there an unspoken rule against predicting a newcomer to the league will finish in the top 3, when really I just want to put the league's target on his back instead of mine?

And besides, if you're looking for clues about my keeper theory from what I wrote last March 19, you'd get a better sense of it from the opening lyrics of the song in that post:
Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted--One moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip?
From the beginning I planned to play as aggressively as possible, just like in years past, in pursuit of the championship at season's end. So don't count me among those surprised that my team came out and tore the roof off like two dogs caged. That was kinda my goal.

Stay tuned for part two of this exciting series next week when I explore the finer details of point accumulation. And, in a shocking plot twist, we'll discover that the Chairman has more in common with Rup than he ever dreamt possible.


Pauly said...

I'd love it if you would get to the part about making pre-draft deals with me. I got 2Bs for you buddy.

Greg said...

Admittedly, Pauly, anytime I learn that I have a player that you want, I start to value them a little bit higher. ;-)