Be A Contrarian… Zag

In this post I am going to share with you one of the simplest and most effective fantasy baseball strategies you can implement.  You’re already aware of the strategy, but I’m going to dive a little deeper and dissect it into two components.  One to apply during the off-season and one for during the season.

Teach A Man To Fish…

“The fishing is the best where the fewest go…” ~ Timothy Ferriss

I cherry picked this quote from Timothy Ferriss’ book, “The 4-Hour Work Week”.  I read the book for some ideas on how to improve this blog.  And while it has nothing to do with fantasy baseball, this particular quote does a phenomenal job of illustrating this simple strategy I want to share with you.

We all know fantasy baseball is a competition.  It’s all about gaining an advantage and differentiating yourself from your opponents.

It is impossible to differentiate yourself if you’re following the crowd.  If you’re doing the same things as everyone else, you’ll get the same results.  If you’re fishing in the crowded fishing holes, you’re battling for the same school of fish.

To separate yourself from the pack you have to think differently.  You have to be different.  

If you’re reading the same fantasy baseball advice and commentary as the rest of the competition, you’ll be battling for the same players, you’ll be employing the same strategies, and winning might just come down to luck, timing, or random variations.  I hate luck!

OK.  How Do I Apply This?

The easiest way to execute this strategy is to be a contrarian.  To zag when everyone else is zigging.  To fish where no one else is fishing.  

Think to yourself about what everyone else is doing and what you can do to be and think differently.

You can implement this thinking on two levels:

  1. Behavior and preparation
  2. Player valuation

Let’s take a look.

1.  Behavior and Preparation

This is the part of the strategy to focus on during the off-season.  It is all about out working, out smarting, and “out learning” your opponents.  Do things they’re not.  Zag.

Read (shameless plug – I’ll give you two free e-books).  Get strategies and suggestions from respected experts.  Listen to podcasts.  Don’t just show up to the draft with a token cheat sheet.  Create your own rankings.

You might not be able to do all of these things.  Not all at once and not all in one off-season.  I’m sure you have a life outside of playing fake baseball games.

But if you can study up on two or three new statistics each off-season, you are developing skills and building knowledge that will help you long-term.  Think about the knowledge you can accumulate after three, five, or ten years.  Think about the competitive advantage you can create for yourself.

Most guys won’t be doing this.  They’ll be doing mock drafts, perusing a draft guide, and reading a few sleeper articles.  The same thing year-after-year.  You can take advantage of this.

I’m a firm believer that to be the best at this game you have to make your own decisions.  Only you can be the best manager of your fantasy team.  No expert can make educated decisions for your team.  By reading and studying strategy, you are building skills that will push you in that direction.

You’re off to a good start by reading this blog.  I’m not here to make decisions for your team.  Or to tell you who to pickup or trade for.  I’m here to share important resources you can use and help you develop the skills to give you a competitive advantage.

But how can you zag when it comes to specific player-related decisions?

2.  Player Valuation

This part of the strategy that applies most in-season.  And despite what you might think, it has little to do with Sabermetrics.  You don’t need great skill in Excel.  It has very little to do with data and player analysis.  This is more an exercise in economics than it is baseball statistics.

More specifically, recognizing the optimal time to buy or sell players AND acting during those times.   “Arbitrage” is another word for this, as Jonah Keri discusses in his book “The Extra 2 Percent”.

Everyone Knows Buy Low, Sell High.  You’re Not Telling Me Anything New.

I agree everyone knows this.  But all that “buy low, sell high” advice is in terms of player performance.

To take this strategy to the next level, begin to think more in terms of a player’s perceived value.  Arbitrage is the act of taking advantage of differences in perceived value.  It’s not taking advantage of fluctuations in BABIP and HR/FB rates.

Most managers know a Yuniesky Betancourt hot streak isn’t worth biting on.  So even though he may experience a HR surge (a rise in performance), he experiences no change in perceived value.

Perceived value is linked to player performance.  But not always directly.  This is not simply targeting players that are struggling and trying to trade away players that are hot.  This is targeting players that nobody wants and trying to exchange them for your players that are in high(er) demand.  Fish where they’re not.  Let them all fish in the same spots.

Begin to think in terms of how the fantasy baseball world and your league is valuing a given player.

Let’s Look At Some Examples

You will never know exactly when a player has reached their ultimate high or their ultimate low perceived value.  But some great examples are when a player’s performance transcends just fantasy baseball and becomes a story line in the sports world.  If they’re drooling over a player on Sportscenter, think about how that might present opportunities to acquire or dispose of a player.

  • 2013 Postseason – Michael Wacha almost throws a no-hitter in his final regular season game and then goes 4-1 in the playoffs with a 2.64 ERA.
  • July 2013 – Ryan Braun is suspended for the remainder of the season for PED use.
  • June 2013 – Yasiel Puig is called up to the major leagues and puts up a stat line of .436, 19 R, 7 HR, 16 RBI, and 4 SB in his first 26 games.
  • May 19, 2013 – Miguel Cabrera hits three home runs on nationally televised ESPN Sunday Night Baseball
  • April 2013 – Justin Upton starts the season with 12 HR in his first 23 games.
  • 2013 Season – B.J. Upton hits .184, 30R, 9 HR, 26 RBI, 12 SB for the entire season.
  • May 8, 2012 – Josh Hamilton hits four home runs in one game.

More Practical Examples Please

Alright, I know what you’re thinking.  Cuban defectors don’t take the league by storm all too frequently.  So here are some more practical examples you could take advantage of:

  • a player gets traded
  • a player gets an opportunity to play more because of an injury to someone else
  • a player gets injured
  • a player gets off to a notable hot start
  • a player gets off to a notable slow start
  • a player comes into a new starting role
  • a player gets benched
  • a player gets moved into the starting rotation
  • a player gets demoted

You Already Know This

These examples aren’t groundbreaking.  But let’s go back to the premise of this entire post.  Fish where no one else is fishing.  The day one of the “good” events above happens, a player’s value will never be higher.  The day one of the “bad” events happens, the value is never lower.

Every player that gets traded “just needed a change of scenery”.  People behave as if someone off to a hot start really can hit 85 home runs in the season.  Or that All-Star player really will hit .170 (curse you for ruining my example, B.J. Upton).  If you’re a disciplined fantasy player, you know not to buy too much into these natural ups and downs during the season.

You still need to push the limits of this.  Make yourself uncomfortable.  Sell the players no one else would sell.  Buy the players you’ll be called crazy for buying.  And do so at very favorable prices.  

The more you’re able to push towards discomfort, the better of you’ll be.  When you’re selling players no on else would sell, you will have the most interested and engaged buyers.  Demand is the highest.  You can sell at the best price.  When you’re buying players nobody else is buying, you’re the only interested party.  Demand for that player is the lowest it can be.  You can buy at the best price.

This is a War.  Not a Battle.

There will be times when this doesn’t work out.  If you traded Miguel Cabrera after his May 19th performance, you missed out on the 33 HR and 90 RBI he had the rest of the season.  But even if a deal involving a player like this doesn’t work out, you’re not left empty-handed.  If you traded Cabrera after his three home run performance, you hopefully received a king’s ransom in return.

To further embrace this strategy, always be thinking in this contrarian mindset. This doesn’t just have to be about striking big in one trade.  In the pure sense of the word, artibtrage is about a series of small gains that accumulate to give you an advantage.  Think long-term.

The Truth Lies Somewhere In The Middle

No player is ever as good as they seem.  And no player is ever as bad as they seem.  The truth lies somewhere in the middle.  So if you make transactions when players are seemingly at the edge of the spectrum (either they seem too good or they seem too poor), you’re inherently earning value for your team.

A Word of Caution

Common sense obviously applies here.  While it’s OK that others think you’re crazy for trading an extremely hot player.  They must not think you’re crazy for the return you get from the trade.  If others are not at least nodding their head saying, “Yeah, I guess you got a lot in return.  But I wouldn’t have done it”, then you’re doing something wrong.


If you made it this far in the article, you’re not like everyone else.  You’re already zagging.  Keep it that way.  Outwork, outlearn, and outsmart the others.  Continue to do things they won’t do.

If you haven’t already done so, sign up for the SFBB Newsletter by filling out the form below.  You’ll get an instructional e-book walking you through the process of how to create your own rankings.  This is the actual process I go through every year to rank my players.  You’ll get another book laying out the greatest fantasy baseball resources (websites, books, and more) I know of.

And make smart choices.

2 Responses

  1. Rudy H
    Rudy H at |

    “I’m sure you have a life outside of playing fake baseball games.” Tanner, true but fantasy baseball gets me through all the other crap. Great article.

Comments are closed.