Is there a secret formula for winning your fantasy baseball league? According to author and elite fantasy league champion Larry Schechter, it helps to be part Warren Buffett, part Michael Corleone.
Buffett, of course, is known for finding stocks to invest in from companies that are undervalued. Schechter, whose new book is called “Winning Fantasy Baseball,” is also dedicated to finding bargains when drafting a fantasy team.
“If a player is worth $20 and you buy him for $17, that’s a good deal; if you buy him for $22, that’s a bad deal,” Schechter said on Friday from his home in Rexford, northwest of Albany. “It’s kind of so simple that any fifth grader should be able to figure that out.”
Many fantasy leagues use an auction format draft in which the team owners bid dollar amounts for players, while staying within a salary cap. But Schechter said his principles also apply to straight player drafts. For example, a fantasy owner may select a shortstop too high because he perceives there to be a lack of good-hitting shortstops.
“They think they need to pay extra for a middle infielder because of position scarcity,” Schechter said. “They think they need to spend a premium on a star hitter. They think that they have to get a first baseman who hits 40 home runs. There’s all this conventional wisdom out there. I think a lot of it’s correct but there’s a lot of it that doesn’t make sense.
Position scarcity, for example. It applies to catchers but it rarely applies to any other position.”
Michael Corleone was the Al Pacino character in the “The Godfather” who was fond of saying that whatever he did was only business, not personal. Schechter follows that logic in assembling his roster during a draft. He didn’t win the LABR and Tout Wars expert leagues in 2013 by drafting players who wear his favorite uniforms.
“If your goal is just to have fun and you just want to root for your favorite players, then sure, do that,” he said. “But if your goal is to win then absolutely you have to not pick anybody based on who you like. I’m a die-hard Red Sox fan, but I end up taking as many Yankees as Red Sox because I’m very objective.”
Schechter runs a college prep and financial aid company called RSC. He said he no longer needs to put in 40-hour work weeks at the company, so he has a fair amount of time on his hands to devote to his fantasy teams. Most drafts are held in the final week or so of spring training, so his time now is spent creating his own projections and values for each major league player.
“What I do personally is I go through all the players myself and I make my own projections,” he said. “And I realize not everybody has the time or the desire to do that.”
There are plenty of websites and magazines that publish their own fantasy projections for ballplayers. Schechter says those projections have some value, but it’s a mistake to rely on just one magazine or website. Like political polling, he said, an average of the polls has more value than just one.
“So what I suggest is, take three or four or five of your favorite magazines or websites and get like an average of the statistics. As far as converting raw statistics into value, that’s where you get a whole lot of variables. If you just take like dollar values from magazines or websites, first of all you’ve got to figure out, are they using the same formula your league is using? Are they splitting the money 70 percent for hitters and 30 percent for pitchers, or 65-35? There are lots of variables.
“I also suggest somebody use their own value formula. And besides having a value that is specific to your league format, it also allows you to do things during the year and before the year. Like for example, last year, if you looked at websites and magazines and Curtis Granderson was worth maybe $25. But all of a sudden he hurts his arm and he’s going to be out for eight weeks. So now you’ve got to figure out what is he worth now. So if you have your own value formula you can plug in Granderson missing eight weeks, and what kind of replacement you think you’ll get for eight weeks, and come up with a specific value.
“The thing is, doing your own projections for every player, that’s time-consuming. Using your own value formula, that’s not particularly time-consuming once you set it up.
“There’s one chapter about value formula and I keep it as simple as I can. Value formula is very confusing and you can write an entire book about it. You can get into the weeds about all the mathematical nonsense. And I am not a math major; I dropped out of calculus in high school because I thought it was ridiculous. You don’t have to be an economist or a math major to understand it.”
Baseball is a sport that attracts stat geeks. Bill James and his books about sabermetrics have been very influential. Schechter said he mostly avoided delving into sabermetrics until a couple of years ago, when he began writing his book and wanted to find out what the sabermetricians could offer.
“Some of that stuff is definitely useful for predicting player performance,” Schecter said. “There’s a lot of sabermetrics where it’s good if you’re a real major league general manager, but for a fantasy player it’s not too relevant. Again, it’s the kind of thing where you can get so into the weeds it’s ridiculous.”
You’ll find more information on Schechter’s book at WinningFantasyBaseballTheBook.com.