Dec 6, 2012; Nashville, TN, USA; ESPN anchor Buster Olney broadcasts live during the Major League Baseball winter meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. Mandatory credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Using ESPN as a Weapon

Three trillion beings across seven planets play fantasy baseball through ESPN’s website.

OK, I made that up, but still, impressive right? And while I don’t know about fantasy baseball’s galactic reach, we do know for certain that the number of fantasy baseball players is in the tens of millions. Make us an offer, advertisers!

ESPN is the worldwide leader in the sport (or at least that’s their tagline). I’m going to tell you how you can use this fact to beat your friends in the game of fantasy baseball. But first, we need to rewind just a bit, so hit the << button on your cassette player.


Player Evaluation vs. Strategy

I enjoy contemplating the deep strategies of fantasy baseball, which means I’m an absolute hoot at dinner parties. I also like to analyze the strategies with other fantasy baseball…well, analysts. I like to analyze with analysts because I’m an analyzer, OK?

A question I asked the other fun party guys was was provides the most boost in terms of sustained fantasy baseball success. Is it player evaluation (Think: best player projections) or strategy (Think: how you manage your fantasy baseball team in season)?

Some great thoughts were shared and the experts agreed that both were important, but were split on which – player evaluation or strategy – got the clear nod. It’s like the old question of which is more important: hitting, pitching, or defense? The answer: Yes.

Although I think player evaluation is vitally important, I think that everyone has equal access to solid player evaluation tools, negating much of the competitive advantage you get from player evaluation. Who can’t search “fantasy baseball player projections” into their search bar, you know?

So while I’m partial to our Crackerjack player projections, my bias is that STRATEGY plays the largest role in fantasy baseball success.  Likewise, I believe that the widespread availability of solid player evaluation can actually be used against your opponents. (Now we’re getting to the meat of the post!)


What does this have to do with ESPN?

Let me explain. Millions of fantasy baseball players draft their teams via the ESPN website and few do much research outside of the rankings that ESPN places right in front of their face.

They fantasy baseball drafters have been assimilated by the Borg. Granted, it’s a little harsh to say that millions of guys are mentally unfit to resist mind control from an alien cybernetic collective hive-mind and it’s equally foolish of me to drop a Star Trek reference into this piece, further manifesting my geekery. Plus, GEEZ!, I’m a total Star Wars guy, OK?

But it certainly is fair to assume that these millions of fantasy baseball players are influenced by the projections in front of them, unaware of their confirmation bias. Sure it subtle, but that’s why it goes so unnoticed.  Did Matthew Berry say I should draft Craig Kimbrel first overall?!? Well, I must submit to my ESPN overlord!

ESPN places a player evaluation tool directly in front of the eyes of millions of fantasy baseball drafters and it significantly influences their drafting behavior, so let’s go step-by-step in how you can use this against your opponents.


STEP 1: Do some research outside of ESPN.

I could have just as easily said do some research outside of your primary fantasy baseball league provider. The point is to do use at least TWO quality sources, for comparing and contrasting.

Take a note of where ESPN (or your provider of choice, that we hope is Crackerjacks) is suggesting that players should be drafted. Your league mates will have this information directly in front of them, staring them down, and whether they know it or not, they will be influenced by it. By doing some independent research you are able to spot trends, differences in average draft position, and significant projection differences that they don’t see.

Use that to your advantage.


STEP 2: Have confidence in your own research.

You now have your own research in front of you. The next step is to learn to trust it. You’ll be going against the grain now, which can be difficult. We are intentionally passing on some picks because you feel like ESPN has them ranked too high. You’ll be reaching for some players that you found that ESPN has too low. You’re now off the grid, drafting outside of what is being pushed directly in front of your face.

Your league mates might even be giving you grief at this point, but you are still confident because you know that while everyone is drafting off the data simply being fed to them, you are drafting off data that you’ve researched on your own.

Remember though that confidence isn’t the same as bluster. Make sure you have a blueprint. Yes, go against the grain, but don’t go against the grain simply to go against the grain. This is a strategic draft plan.


STEP 3: Stay strong.

You’ll be both reaching for players at times and passing on players at times and it can create anxiety to go against the pick that is suggested right in front of you. But defy expectations and stay strong, being confident in your plan.

Don’t panic because the end of a draft can be a valuable time. Stick until the end.


ESPN’s player evaluation data is in front of millions of eyeballs and front and center in millions of draft lobbies. It would be foolish to think that we and our league mates aren’t influenced by it. Just remember that it can provide you a clear advantage if you do outside research, strategically formulate a plan to go against type, and have the confidence to follow through. Happy drafting.

Tags: Fantasy Baseball MLB Strategy

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