Fantasy Baseball

So you’re bored on a Tuesday night. There’s nothing going on in your dorm, and you just don’t feel like studying for that psych exam coming up. Go sign up online for a fantasy baseball draft. Fantasy baseball, you say? Isn’t that just for Internet geeks with way too much time on their hands?

Well it is, but it’s also for any baseball fan that wants to make the season a bit more exciting. From novice to superfan leagues, there is a myriad of opportunities for fantasy baseball across the Internet. But what if you’ve never seen a draft room before, or you think WHIP is something you crack across a person’s back? (It’s actually the ratio defined as the sum of walks and hits divided by innings pitched). Have no fear, gentle reader. Here are some tips to ensure your fantasy team doesn’t look like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

First, everyone in your league will undoubtedly know the top players available, so try to familiarize yourself with guys that can be taken in the later rounds. After the A-Rods, the Giambis, and the Ichiros are taken off the board, some fantasy players will be clueless as to what to do next. If you’re well-versed with the likes of Jose Vidro, Pat Burrell, and Garret Anderson to pick up in the middle to late rounds, you’ll be well on your way to developing a solid team.

Next, absolutely, positively, do not draft players based strictly on name recognition or what they did in any year other than 2001. Many new players will grab guys like Omar Vizquel because of his dazzling glove, assuming that he can be productive at the plate. Vizquel quite possibly could be one of the worst fantasy players available, judging by his laughable home run totals, his mediocre average, and his lack of productivity in any category besides fielding percentage. Avoid picking guys with “Ken Caminiti syndrome” in which the player’s name supercedes any talent he may have once had. Tim Salmon, Robin Ventura, Eric Karros, and Barry Larkin may have been solid in their prime, but their fantasy value is close to zero for this upcoming season.

Make sure you’re aware of any injuries players are recovering from, or any history of arm problems, knee problems, whatever, that they might have had. Although Pedro Martinez, Ivan Rodriguez, and Ken Griffey, Jr. are all bound for tremendous seasons, there’s a looming risk that their seasons might be cut short due to various ailments. If you’re worried about potential lineup disruptions, consider passing on them to take Barry Zito, Paul Lo Duca, and Adam Dunn a couple rounds later.

For each closer you draft, be aware of the set-up man or solid middle relief guy for his respective team. That way, if your prized stopper tears his rotator cuff or fails to close the door on opponents, you can pick up his team’s new go-to guy and not miss a beat. Guys like Eddie Guardado, John Smoltz, and Byung-Hyun Kim didn’t begin the year as their team’s closer, but soon assumed the role. And yes, you should pick up Kim to fill your bullpen if he’s available after the 14th round. Despite his horrendous performance in the World Series that will most likely define his career; Kim was more than solid down the stretch (19 saves with a WHIP just a shade over one).

And while we’re at it, guys like Rich Garces and Jeff Nelson are pretty much worthless, unless you’re competing in a league that has “holds” as a category. Despite being solid, these guys (just like most middle relief pitchers) won’t see too many save opportunities, and are just as likely to balloon your ERA and WHIP totals as a closer is.

Keep yourself up-to-date on rookies making a big splash in spring training, or early in the season. Last year, Albert Pujols went from virtual obscurity to a fantasy stud after the first two weeks of the season. Already, several players are shaping up to become the darlings of 2002. Nick Johnson, Morgan Ensberg, and Sean Burroughs are all looking to wreak havoc on unsuspecting hurlers. Grab these guys quick if they start hot, before they disappear off the waiver wire.

And finally, whatever you do, don’t let emotional attachments interfere with producing the best team possible. Even if you were the biggest Cal Ripken, Jr. fan (before he retired), you would have been crazy to draft him. Make no mistake, Ripken SUCKED as a fantasy player, despite being a hell of a guy. So to all you Sox fans, avoid Shea Hillenbrand, Rey Sanchez, and Dustin Hermanson, no matter how loyal you are to your team. The job is to produce the best team, not a bunch of guys you like. This might entail even drafting a couple guys from those sucky Yankees. Surprisingly, having Jason Giambi or Mariano Rivera doesn’t conflict with your Yankee-hatred as much as you would think.

Following these guidelines might not make you a guaranteed winner, but you’ll at least avoid embarrassing yourself during the draft and the season. After all, fantasy baseball ain’t just for geeky fanboys anymore.