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How To Improve Your Fantasy Baseball Knowledge

Justin Timberlake has come a long way. He started out as a dorky little kid on the Mickey Mouse Club, “progressed” (notice the strategic use of quotation marks) to this, started dating the hottest celebrities (at the time), began appearing in award winning movies, and now he’s winning solo recording artist honors.

This example of Timberlake was mentioned by Marc Ecko, the billion-dollar fashion mogul, in a podcast interview about what it takes to be great (click here to listen). He used this illustration of Timberlake to point out that nobody ever really starts out great. It’s a process. To paraphrase what Ecko said:

The key to greatness is iteration.

According to Wikipedia:

Iteration is the act of repeating a process with the aim of approaching a desired goal, target or result.

Said another way, it’s about making continuous improvement over time. Small improvements. But a lot of them. Not necessarily dramatic leaps forward.

Timberlake didn’t just snap his fingers and go from scrawny Mickey Mouse Club kid to Music-Superstar-Hollywood-Actor-Junk-In-A-Box-Heartthrob. It took him years to get there.

Every season. Small incremental improvements. For many seasons.

If you start applying this concept now and master a couple new fantasy baseball concepts each year, think how good you will be five or even ten years from now.

Are You Improving?

One reason I enjoy having this site is that it holds me accountable to improve at this “craft” of playing fake baseball games.

I have had seasons in the past where I didn’t seek to improve knowledge or understanding of the game. But now I have reached a point where I try something new every year.

I make my draft preparation a little more involved. I add new features to my spreadsheet. I  enhance my rankings formula. I consider other ways of ranking players. I just developed my own projections for the first time. I read books about (real) baseball, Sabermetrics, technology, and even fantasy baseball.

So What Are You Doing To Improve This Year?

There are many things you can do. Here are some things that come to mind (more…)

An Important Concept Behind Making Projections

Envision a Major League Baseball player’s stat line.  If you’re having trouble doing that, here’s one:

Paul Goldschmidt’s recent MLB stat lines, courtesy of

Those are Paul Goldschmidt’s Major League statistics for the last three seasons.

How Do We Take That Information And Create 2014 Projections?

Do we just eyeball it and say, “He hit 20 HR in 2012 and 36 in 2013, so I’ll project 28.”?   Do we give more weight to 2013, because it’s the most recent season?  Is Goldschmidt still improving?  Could he hit more than 36?

What about stolen bases?  Or batting average?  Runs?  RBI?

There are a lot of moving parts here.  And they’re all somewhat related to each other. How do you make sense of all this information and develop a sound, reliable, and accurate projection for what will happen in 2014?

We Have To Disaggregate the Data

“There you go again, Tanner.  Using words like ‘disaggregate’.  What does that even mean?”

An Example

Assume you own an ice cream cone stand and you’re trying to project what sales of ice cream will be this month.  What factors would go into that calculation?

You could just project it at a very high level and say, “Sales were $10,000 last month and $9,000 the month before.  So I will estimate $9,500 for the current month”.  And that might give you a reasonably close estimate.

But the key to accurate projections is to look at underlying data or events that make up that end result.  You want to break apart the big event, or disaggregate it into smaller events you can study and measure.  Instead of trying to guess the ending sales result, you’re better off trying to project the smaller things that make up that monthly total:

  • The average selling price per ice cream cone
  • The number of ice cream cones sold
  • How many hours is the stand open each day?
  • How many people will walk by the ice cream stand in a day?  In an hour?
  • Out of every 100 people that walk by the stand, how many buy a cone?

After you have estimated this information, you run the math and calculate the total sales for the month.

Why This Works

It’s hard to just look at $9,000 and $10,000 of monthly ice cream sales and make sense of those numbers.  But if you know that you raised the price of each cone 25 cents, that you just hired an employee that will allow you to keep the stand open longer each day, that the employee has a striking resemblance to Jennifer Lawrence (with long hair, please) and has an uncanny ability to sell ice cream, and that there is a large festival taking place this month that will bring an extra 5,000 people by the stand, then you’ll be able to make a much more accurate projection than you would by simply looking at past monthly sales figures.

Applying This To Baseball

You can think of our typical rotisserie baseball categories as aggregated data, like the monthly ice cream sales.   When you break it down a home run is actually the end result of many smaller outcomes that added up to the end result of a baseball being hit over the fence.

All of these events have to happen for a home run to occur:

  • The ball has to clear the fence, which means:
    • The ball has to travel X number of feet
    • The fence is < X from home plate
  • The ball has to be hit in the air (a fly ball)
  • The hitter has to have an at bat, which means:
    • The hitter has to have a plate appearance
    • The hitter has to make contact (no swing and miss)
    • The hitter has to swing

We could take this further, but you get the idea.

We Live In An Amazing Time

Fortunately, we have data available (for free!) to measure every bullet point above.  Sticking with our original Goldschmidt example: