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Copyright © 2001
How to gain an advantage by
following the leaders
by John Burnson
Many Rotisserie players act as if the only worthwhile fantasy advice comes from magazines, books, and web sites. The truth is that these players are missing the most valuable tips of all: the habits of their fellow owners. These owners are experiencing the same league conditions as you -- why waste the work of 11 other pairs of eyes and ears? This essay will survey ways to follow, anticipate, and learn from the actions of one's leaguemates, especially the leaders.
As an aside, there are actually two other groups of leaders whom you can learn from, besides your leaguemates. One group is made up of the leaders of expert Rotisserie exhibitions, such as LABR and Tout Wars. Given the high level of competition in these leagues, the moves and strategies of the leaders should carry some weight. In Tout Wars, winning FAAB bids are posted by Saturday morning, giving you two days to gauge their relevance for your own circumstances.
Expert FAAB picks offer not only the names of intriguing players but also prices. For example, one Tout Wars owner in 2000 paid $43 for Jason Tyner (NYM, OF). "Who is Jason Tyner?" is only the first thing to ask; also weigh the cost. Do owners in your league have more or less money than those in Tout Wars? Are there more teams out of the running (and so out of the bidding) in your league? Are your contending teams more or less solid in the category at stake? The answers will indicate whether the published bid is high or low for your league's environment.
The second group of leaders to learn from is the real McCoys -- winning MLB teams. One of the best examples is the Atlanta Braves, who have contended for a solid decade. This year, four big question marks on the Braves heading out of Spring Training were Bobby Bonilla, John Burkett, Rafael Furcal, and Kerry Ligtenberg. Pre-season projections granted them a combined $10 in value for 2000; they returned $38. These players were justifiable risks in the aggregate.
More to the point, these are not isolated cases -- pitchers especially seem to turn a new leaf after they arrive on the Braves (Mike Remlinger and Rudy Seanez are notable examples). This is not to say that the Braves always make good judgments, only that they -- and winning teams like them -- have earned the benefit of the doubt. If there's a major-league GM whose decision-making you admire, try to mirror his moves. However, pay less heed to players traded from these clubs. Contending teams tend to make deals out of need, not opportunity; as a result, players traded away from these teams are not necessarily hopeless cases.
However, the most useful sources of information during the season are the people with whom you shared a table on Draft Day. No one better knows the character of the owners, the nature of the race, or the local perceptions of the available talent. In most leagues, there are two or three teams that contend year after year. Let these owners do your homework for you (or at least confirm your answers). Here are some areas in which you can share in their expertise:
Free-agent pick-ups: Contending owners are usually the ones still poring over the stats of possible pick-up's at 11:30 on Sunday night. Don't let their hard-won wisdom rest with them. Because of the to-and-fro of free agents, many of these players will be available later in the year. Of course, don't pick them up sight-unseen -- either their performance or their role (or both) may have changed since they were originally nabbed. But do give them a once-over, and make a concerted effort to understand what first attracted the eye of the skilled GM.
In some cases, picking up a "blessed" free agent will provide you with not only attractive stats but also bargaining power. You may be able to trade a free agent back to its earlier team, in instances when the owner had to release a coveted player to make way for a returning star.
Trade partners: Few Roto teams win titles without dealing. But identifying responsive GM's can be painstaking. Let the teams at the top do the hard work of carpet-bombing owners with trade proposals. Wait until the dust settles, then march on the same battlements as they do. In keeper leagues especially, teams that make one sizable deal are usually in the mood to pull more in quick succession in the same direction -- either to run for the roses or to rebuild.
Trade timing: Impatience is a trait of many losing teams -- cutting underperforming players too quickly, pulling the big score too early. Take a memo: When do the championship teams in your league make their clinching trade? Before or after the All-Star Break? Before or after the trading deadline? Follow their lead. Also, which owners focus on even a slight chance of victory and stick out the race until the end, and which bail at the first sign of trouble? You want to be able to predict the behavior of your foes in those years when you're contending.
If you're in a keeper league, make a note of not only when the better-run teams make their push for this season, but also when they bow out and start trading for next season. Tuck away this info for future years, so that you can anticipate and possibly pre-empt their moves.
Expert Roto players, actual GM's, fellow owners -- all these people offer lessons. But the key lesson is that you have something to learn from them at all. If you chalk up their successes to good luck on their part (or bad luck on yours), you waste an opportunity to peer into their minds and beat them at their own game. Like many Roto opportunities, this one is best taken.