Thursday, March 5, 2009

Moneyball in Fantasy Sports

The main message of Moneyball was that Billy Beane built winning teams on the cheap by finding inefficiencies in the market and exploiting them. We can use that same tactic in fantasy baseball.

Let's examine a common fantasy expert recommendation: don't draft top-rated catchers in the top 100 picks. If you've been in many drafts, you've probably seen people who wait until the 19th round to pick up a catcher. In the same draft, someone probably drafted Joe Mauer in the 5th round. When you're deciding when to draft a catcher, you want to know what people think about catchers and the above recommendation. If you somehow know that everyone is following the above recommendation, you can bet that Russell Martin will be available in the 9th round and draft accordingly. That's a market inefficiency.

Another example: a common draft tenet is to not draft top-rated closers. If you know everyone is following this rule, but you really want Jonathan Papelbon, you can wait a few rounds more than you would normally to draft him.

It can be hard to figure out the trends of the draft while it's going on, especially in timed drafts like Yahoo's (90 seconds is not a lot of time). Some signs are obivous; position runs are the most obvious ones. When everyone is taking closers, the other positions are being neglected. Notice these trends.

Others inefficiencies are harder to spot. Typically you will only know how a drafter feels about single-spot positions (i.e. SS, 2B, and C) when they draft them, and then it's too late. The positions you can learn the most about are OF (undifferentiated), SP, and RP, since teams need multiple players for those positions. If you have time to keep track of your opponents drafting habits, you can see how they value those positions and make guesses as to when they might draft the next player.

You can also look at stat categories. Maybe runs are being undervalued. Maybe drafters are rushing to grab stolen bases. Keep an eye on available stats left on the board and how fast they leave the board.

You're not drafting in a vacuum; every other drafter is making moves, and every move they make carries a lot of information. In addition to your one draft sheet (you only have one, right?), you should have one scouting sheet. Take notes on your opponents. If you've played with them before, jot down your thoughts about them before the draft. If you can spot these trends before others do, you can get a huge advantage. 

(I'm hoping to handle some of this in Walrus, so keep your eyes peeled!)
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