ROTISSERIE: The Human Element: Taking fantasy strategy to a new level

[This is the debut article by Joseph Pytleski, one of our new hires. Read bios on Joseph and all the other new contributors in the second half of this recent GM's Office column. —Ed.]

Since Daniel Okrent formed modern fantasy baseball in 1980, fantasy managers have been focused on the numbers. Box scores, linear weights, ADP, FIP, and numerous other stats dominate the discussion. Sundry fantasy analysts today are focused on strategy revolving around league scoring, sabermetrics, and strategies based on quantitative outcomes. The unwritten rule is: Master the numbers, master the game.

Perhaps it is time to step back and reassess. Fantasy managers play the game against real people who have real tendencies and real biases. Have they forgotten that they play against actual people who are prone to making decisions that often fall outside the standard deviation? That sometimes the heart leads the head?

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu said, “Know thy self, know thy enemy.” When all the number crunching is done, the opponent still stands before you. In an age where fantasy managers are all reading the same quantitative data and analysis, perhaps it is time to stop playing the board, so to speak, and play the opponent instead.

Know Thyself
First, though, it is important to “know thyself.” What are some your tendencies as a fantasy manager? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Perhaps you tend to value hitters over pitchers. Maybe you are too influenced by a prospect’s upside. Do you know yourself?

These questions could reveal strengths … or weaknesses. Spend time creating an honest assessment of who you are as a fantasy manager. Ask tough questions, and let others ask tough questions of you. Blind spots are, by their very nature, invisible. Enlist the help of league mates to provide an objective opinion.

Some tend to overvalue prospects, especially when rankings come out. They cannot help themselves but dream about what could be. Come trade time it is difficult for them to let go, especially the longer they have watched a guy progress. Others may have an incorrigible habit of trading—they take odd pleasure in finding out that they have trade offers pending in their inbox. Know your tendencies.

If you are not willing to take a personal inventory, you’ve lost already. “Know thyself” means that you make your strengths stronger and shore up any weaknesses before your league catches on. Remember that in a world where everyone is reading the same numerical analysis, there is value in zigging when everyone expects a zag.

Know Thy Enemy
Great fantasy managers don’t just know themselves; they also study their adversaries. Do you know the managers in your league? Have you studied their tendencies? Do you know what’s going on in their lives outside of fantasy? If you don’t, you should. Here is a list of possible personalities in your league:

The Know-it-All
This manager has some formal baseball background, writes for a blog, or just assumes he knows more than anyone else about everything. He’s the guy that never praises a pick during the draft. During trade offers, his guys are all first-round picks while your guys are “scrubs.”

This person’s weakness: pride. There’s always a guy who constantly throws out meaningless emails like: “I’ve got interest in (your guy).” No offer is made, and you’re left to mind-read. Follow-up offers are never good enough and are summarily shot down.

HINT: Stick to your guns and make him pay full value during trade talks.

This manager lives for the trade. He trades just to trade, regardless of whether he has any real or perceived needs on his roster. The fun for him is negotiating and getting the trade done; it’s the journey; not the destination. This person’s weakness: contentment. He cannot leave well enough alone and he’s not built for the 162-game schedule.

You should know this guy; he’s already traded away the nucleus of his team this offseason (trading known commodities—Nolan Arenado and George Springer—for farm “depth”).

HINT: Exploit the fact that he’ll get rid of guys on a cold streak because he just doesn’t have the patience to wait it out. Know, too, that he’s more prone to selling low than other managers might be.

The Negotiator
This is your classic used-car salesman. His offers aren’t straight up, but rather they come with explanations, justifications, and theories. He’s always trying to talk other people into deals that they don’t really want to do. He’s also the guy that explains his draft picks. He’ll email the league after his pick something like this: “I feel like I have to take (player A) here. Can’t believe he’s lasted this long. I get that he’s not the best fantasy asset … but he shouldn’t be here at this pick. It’s the right move.”

HINT: This guy is insecure about what he’s doing and has to try and get you to buy what he’s selling. Don’t do him any favors in trade talks. If a deal doesn’t make immediate sense for you, click "reject" and move on.

The Homer
This manager loves his boys. The organization can do no wrong. His draft is full of his own local team. He’s so invested in his fantasy that he doesn’t even realize it. Even if he did, he wouldn’t care.

HINT: Take advantage by drafting one of his guys (if the value is right). Inevitably, he’ll come knocking at some point during the season.

The Snake-in-the-Grass
This manager makes few moves, but when he does everyone notices. He’s calm and calculating, and he rarely does anything with flash. He’s the one that procures a holds guy that, amazingly, becomes a closer three weeks later. Who knew? He seldom trades and he makes calculating moves during the season. He hardly makes a sound until you realize that it's September and he’s in contention … again!

HINT: You need to watch out for this guy, because he usually ends up in the top tier every year and, more often than not, is fighting for your league championship. Study what he’s doing and get better at doing it.

This manager is not too interested in fantasy and probably didn’t even make it to the draft. He’s barely involved and is probably the friend of a friend who helped the commissioner fill the final spot in the league. Unfortunately, every league has this guy. Some leagues have 2-3 guys in a constant rotation near the bottom of the standings.

HINT: Interact strategically at the right times: directly after the draft, trade deadline, and before the stretch run. You could end up with great value.

The Prospect Hound
This guy can’t help but salivate when he reads scouting reports about what could be. All he sees are ceilings, but has no concept of floors. He’ll give away proven players for potential. He will deal Maikel Franco for A.J. Reed without batting an eye. Nevermind that Reed hasn’t played one at-bat in the bigs—it’s the potential he offers.

HINT: Give up the farm. It’s time to exploit his weakness by dealing prospects for proven MLB talent.


There are other types of managers, too, so know your enemy. Even more importantly know yourself, including identifying your strengths and weaknesses. Fantasy isn’t merely a numbers racket anymore. To graduate from good to great, it’s important to play your opponent instead of merely playing the game.

Click here to subscribe

  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.