04/07/2014 1:52PM

Fantasy baseball can teach a lot about handicapping a contest


This past weekend was the traditional start of the rotisserie (now called fantasy) baseball season. The in-person auction on the season’s first weekend is a chance to see old friends, sit around, and say the names of baseball players out loud. For many baseball geeks such as myself, it represents one of the social high points of the year. What does fantasy baseball have to do with handicapping contests? More than you might think. There are a few lessons that apply to both endeavors.

One idea common to both is that you really can’t have too much knowledge. Going into your fantasy baseball draft, it’s a good idea to have some idea about every single player who is roster-able. That might mean a piece of paper with positions, names, and dollar amounts or a computer file or program containing the same. Depending on what happens in the market of your particular league, you may have to reach down below where you’d ideally want in order to fill your roster. Maybe the market in your league went a little catcher crazy. You might not be able to fit the top 10 guys into your budget. If that’s the case, you better know who Devin Mesoraco is. It’s not a bad idea to have a full list of own-able players, organized by position, with a dollar amount next to their name.

This is also true for contests. Let’s take an example of a 10-race all-mandatory contest. It’s a good idea to have some idea about every single horse running in the contest because you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen as the day progresses. How often does that 10-1-plus on the morning line you love on paper open at 5-2? Rather than scramble for plan B, it’s better to already have plans B, C, and D lined up. Perhaps the easiest way of doing this is to use Steven Crist’s idea of marking every horse in a race as an A, B, C, or X. If you want to do a little more work, you can come up with a real value line for the races in the contest. You can make a line where you try to assess every horse’s chance up to 100 percent, or it can be a more intuitive line where you mark each horse with a price at which the animal in question would make an appealing bet. At a certain price, every horse in every race would make an appealing bet (of course price caps make this last point less relevant in most contests, but the idea remains true).

This may sound counterintuitive, but in both fantasy baseball and handicapping contests, it is possible to get too attached to the concept of value, as opposed to just going with whom you like. In both realms, the way most of us play, you will win or lose based on your own opinion more than on your full objective assessment of the probabilities.

In a fantasy auction, it’s better to end up with players you have a particular affinity for than it is to try to eke out a couple of dollars of theoretical value. This season, I’d rather pay $23 for Gerrit Cole than $25 on Justin Verlander, even though most market analysis would suggest the opposite (15-team mixed league, if other fantasy geeks are reading). I’m happy to go with the guy I like over the more proven guy I have questions about. If you switch those prices around, I’d switch my opinion, but a certain amount of subjectivity is only going to help you.

And so it is in racing. If you look at a card in the morning and a certain horse at 6-1 strikes you as your bet of the day, you should probably stick with that opinion even if he is 7-2 at post time. If he’s 5-2, depending on where you are in the contest, maybe it makes sense to go another way, but you should definitely consider giving extra credit to your own opinion. It’s a lousy feeling watching a top pick win when you’ve gotten off for a whiff of value.

The last similarity between baseball and racing to discuss is what’s happened in terms of how players play: What was once an exclusively in-person pursuit has migrated online in a big way. Online is a fantastic option – for both baseball and racing – but let’s not forget that for what we gain in convenience, we lose something as well. In this case, it’s the chance to connect with actual people. I definitely recommend trying to play in at least two in-person contests this year. It’s a camaraderie you don’t get to feel very often – at least not outside of a fantasy baseball draft.

**If you haven’t yet signed up for the contest email series, it’s not too late. The series offers a basic primer on contests and contest strategy largely derived from my book, “The Winning Contest Player.” You can sign up at http://drf.com/tournament-education.

**Last announcement for today: As many of you know, there was a technology issue with the March 30 DRF Bets contest. The contest was supposed to be decided by net winnings, but the scoreboard was displaying the leaders by gross winnings, i.e., who made the most collections, inclusive of stakes. DRF Bets has decided to award prizes to both sets of leaders, gross and net. Follow this link for information: http://drf.com/contest-results.