With Meatloaf’s passing and a potential strike shortened year, a little more history around the SMART system makes sense in this edition.
In 1989, I volunteered to work engineer a project for IBM called Baseball Manager. I was a statistics geek who loved everything baseball (still am and still do). We completed this in the fall of 1989. In 1990, the first league included Meatloaf, Don Mattingly’s agent, Dave Herman whose popular radio show on K-Rock preceded Howard Stern and a handful of lucky people at PRODIGY, the IBM division doing online services.
I started playing Rotisserie baseball in 1988, religiously read every sports magazine or newspaper and subscribed to a Bulletin Board System or BBS to share thoughts on the game. John Hunt was one of my heroes.
The League of Alternative Baseball Reality or LABR was founded by USA Today Baseball Weekly writer John Hunt in 1994. The first season included big names like Keith Olberman, Peter Gammons, Danny Sheridan, Bill James and industry icons Lenny Melnick and Greg Ambrosius. Amazing. Fantasy baseball being given celebrity status. The Baseball Manager league continued, but with little fanfare other than an occasional Meatloaf live chat on PRODIGY which ended up being about music instead of the less popular hobby for sports enthusiasts. LABR brought attention to fantasy baseball as never before.
In 1995, I was the 13th person to join SportsLine USA. In early 1996, we launched a full suite of fantasy products called that Triple Play because it included a salary cap contest, a commissioner product and the Advance Scout, an online draft guide with in-season tools called the Assistant GM.
The following year, SportsLine bought a sponsorship package from USA Today Baseball Weekly to popularize our new online products. As part of the sponsorship, we got a seat in LABR AL for the 1998 season. I was crazy excited. We had amazing writers and baseball minds, but there was no way that spot was not MINE. We hired AOL Live to broadcast it and my team from CBS was leading the way on coverage and promotion. I studied day and night reading everything from all the participants that I idolized. I was READY!
I finished dead last.
I vowed to not be the guy who bought his way in and finished last every year. Over the next three years, I was in the Top 5. When I finished 3rd in 2001, I thought I did everything I could. That fall, I was out with long-time friend, Glenn Colton talking about our baseball leagues. At that time, Glenn was a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York. That was pretty cool and pretty important but come on, playing in LABR was better, right? Glenn’s analysis was sharp, and it was clear he knew the game. So, I agreed that having a litigator on my team was “smart”.
We needed a set of rules on which we could agree as sharing fantasy team is very difficult without them. We set out some rules and started collaborating on fantasy teams in both baseball and football. After winning LABR AL in our first collaboration in 2002, Glenn Colton and I decided to write a recap of the Championship season for Rotoworld.com about how we defeated our heroes. We had a loose list of rules. Now we needed to formalize that for Rotoworld.
There were systems out there and almost all of them had acronyms that I couldn’t figure out. Baseball icon Ron Shandler had his LIMA system. Was it really for “Low-Income Mound Aces”? Or was it named for the player that was a perfect fit for the system, Jose Lima? Gary Huckabay’s algorithms for Baseball Prospectus were called Vlad. Was that a player’s name converted to an acronym? Nate Silver was coming out with PECOTA. Ok. Well…that is an acronym, but too HEADY even for a digit head like me: “Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm”.
So, I suggested to Glenn that we decide the acronym before we plug our rules into it. That is when he said that I was being too “smart”. No one ever said that before, so PERFECT.
“We’ll call it SMART because acronyms are DUMB”, I said. Then I said that I wanted to go further and call it SMARTASS. We agreed that went too far (until now). The geniuses that created the acronyms and systems before us didn’t need that kind of ribbing, although it is funny.
Well, we are now in our 20th year using the SMART system. Will this set of rules work for you? We don’t know but it surely has worked for us as we have added four more LABR AL trophies (and three Tout Wars AL trophies) to our virtual mantel piece.
This system and set of rules can work for you, but feel free to make a lame acronym like ours to define your own rules. Would love to hear about those @FantasyAlarm or @RickWolf1 on Twitter.
Here we go.
S in SMART Stands for Scarcity
Each year, different positions in different formats are scarce. The first step is to identify those scarce positions and adjust the prices that you pay for quality players at those scarce positions. By successfully rostering a top-flight producer at a scarce position you gain an immediate advantage over your opponents and avoid bottom feeding in the waiver trough trying to find someone to give you anything at that weak position. Warning: paying for scarcity does not mean paying for mediocrity. Rather, it means paying a scarcity premium for top quality players or proven performers. For example, second base in the American League is scarce with a clear tier one. If you don’t draft Marcus Semien, Brandon Lowe or Jose Altuve, you will end up with speculation.
Scarcity also pertains to statistical categories. With the continued downturn in the number of stolen bases in the major leagues, you MUST pay attention to getting your stolen bases.
M in SMART Stands for Management
Management means managing not only the draft but the entire season. For us, in the draft, that means religiously following the SMART system and the Rules of Engagement. Specifically, it is critical to have a plan AND contingency plans. One should never be so surprised by the results of a draft or auction that you are forced to deviate from your plan or one of your contingency plans. Bottom line here is that if you make reasonable plans, you will never ever have to leave your wingman! If you plan on paying $20 each for José Ramírez and Trea Turner, well, that plan will not work. You want both those guys, you better budget around 90 and stay close to that range. You get the point.
Management in season means watching all the news and not being afraid to make a move to make your team better. Specific steps to take: 1) track prospects that may be coming up; 2) search for spot starts for good teams and those in good parks against bad teams; 3) find the vultures – watch who managers bring in when the game is tied as they will get more cheap wins; 4) spot playing time changes by tracking injuries/poor play; and 5) watch who your competitors cut and see if the advanced metrics portend a rebound (i.e., if a player is cut because his ERA is way above his norm yet his BABIP is inflated and strand rate suppressed, you may have a waiver wire opportunity).
A in SMART Stands for Anchors
Before the draft, identify and target specific starting pitchers who will give you production in the four non-save categories. As a rule, it is safer to make substantial investments in hurlers who throw hard. Simply put, those who throw gas get away with a lot more mistakes and are more likely to jump to their next level and thus yield a bargain. Remember, do not invest too much in pitchers who have only done it once or worse, not at all. Anchor means a pitcher who is as sure of a thing as there is to start atop your rotation. Bottom line here: anchor doesn’t mean get the best pitcher in baseball as the cost is often way out of whack. There are usually 4-5 pitchers in each league. Make sure that they do not violate the rules of engagement below.
R in SMART Stands for Relievers
Get a steady solid closer on a good team that throws hard. I know that many say do not pay for saves. Ok, we do not agree. Pay for your one closer and then speculate thereafter. Make sure that you have at least two other relief pitchers that either get saves or are second in line – preferably on teams with shaky closers. If you did that last year and rostered Emmanuel Clase who throws super hard behind closer James Karinchak who had only one career save, you got yourself a bargain second closer. We drafted him in Tout Wars for $3.
T in SMART Stands for Team
A very important part of the SMART system is to make sure that when in doubt, pick the player from a better team. Good teams score more runs making it easier for hitters to get RBI/runs. Good teams also provide more opportunity for pitchers to get wins/saves. Plus, players on good teams do not get traded to be backups or set up men in July.
The Rules of Engagement
No rule is absolute, but these will help in staying focused and making good decisions at the draft and all year long.
Age Matters: When looking at your big money selections, pay for prime players (loosely defined as 26-32) with a proven track record. Players without a track record may produce full value but why risk it? The helium on Jazz Chisholm coming into this year is a good example. Maybe he will be the next Fernando Tatis Jr., but can you count on it? He has 520 at bats so far and some great numbers with 20 home runs and 25 steals. He has not found plate discipline with only 39 walks and has been caught stealing 10 times meaning that he has a 71% SB% which would be 4 full points below the average. Missing on a $20 player makes a championship a lot more difficult. If you get value, great, but the breakout is not eminent for Jazz.
For your mid-range investments, focus on young players with decent baselines and more than 1000 ABs or 300 IP but who have yet to reach full potential. Those players made the majors at a very young age precisely because they are that talented. Once they have the experience to go with that talent, they break out.
Injuries Matter: Do not invest heavily in players who have undergone off-season surgery or who are oft injured. Predicted medical recoveries do not always go according to plan. It may sound simple but never forget that injury prone players get injured. Note, this Rule does not say do not draft such players at all, it simply means do not pay full price. For example, if you think a healthy Shane Bieber will be worth $35+, do not pay $35 (he only had 16 starts last year) but be prepared to pounce at $25-30 or so. At that price, you have serious profit potential and do not need full time health.
Big Money Free Agent Signings Matter: Do not pay big bucks for free agents who signed big money deals to play in a new city. Adjustments (to a new city, new teammates, new place to live, etc.) take a couple of months and as a result, year-long stats suffer. Corey Seager signed a 10-year, $175M deal to move from the Dodgers to the Rangers. Many professional players can transition, but this has all the hurdles of an April struggle. Seager is in a new city, new league, with many other new players to the team and playing with the pressure of a franchise on his shoulders. Expect a 10-15% reduction in stats so pay 10-15% less at least. There have been exceptions to this rule, like J.D. Martinez arriving in Boston and blowing up the stats sheet but they are exactly that -- exceptions.
Throwing Gas Matters: Do not invest anything but late round picks or small dollars in Kyle Hendricks-types. Hard throwers are more consistent roto performers and easier to track. Plus, Ks come from hard throwers with late movement. In the last few years, Hendricks was on a good team and got his wins, but with a 6.9 K/9, it is hard to invest in that for today’s game. Thus, a hard thrower is much more likely to become a K pitcher and one less reliant on his fielders.
Upside Matters: All late round picks and low dollar amount players should be those with upside and not aging veterans that you could write down their max stats now.
Hype Matters: Do not pay full value for predicted but yet realized upside – instead pay for baseline performance with the indicators of a breakout.
Protection Matters – Ratio Protection That Is: In the average categories (BA, WHIP, ERA and if you play OPS, OBP), do not take any players at high values that will cripple your ratios. There is always another player there.
Home Park Matters: You need to get a discount on Coors Field and Camden Yards Pitchers and PetCo Hitters. Look at Ballpark Ratings for other examples.
Speed Matters: Take one trick pony speed only guys if you get a huge discount. It is better to fill your roster with players who run some so that you have a balanced approach to speed and do not become reliant on one player (usually one who does not help in other categories). This has become more important as there are only 19 players in the majors projected for more than 20 stolen bases with only seven in the NL. You need to get guys who run some from just about every player on your roster. Well, except 2nd catcher.
Conclusion: The SMART system and the Rules of Engagement will not guarantee you a fantasy baseball title. What they will do is provide critical structure to your draft preparation, actual drafting, trading, and in-season management. What the SMART system and Rules of Engagement will do is give you the best chance to be trash talking this October!