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Fantasy Strategy Ideas from the Guru

Preseason "Football Tips of the Day"
September 1-11, 1999

For the week-and-a-half prior to the start of the football season, I put out a short "Football tip of the day" in each daily blurb. To make them easier to locate, I've collected them in one place here.

9/10 - My final football tip was going to be to double check your official roster in each game, and make sure it includes the players you expect. I'm sure many of you have changed your minds several times during preseason, and it can't hurt to make sure you've actually processed those final adjustments. Also, check RotoNews or the other fantasy football sites one last time to make sure there's no new negative information about any of your players. Then sit back and enjoy the first weekend.

But when I went to the SW football site this morning - to check my own roster - I noticed that they have posted a last minute scoring formula change. Kickers will now be charged a flat 30 SWP per missed kick, regardless of length. Clearly, that seems to be a scoring formula "dehancement", so I assume they must have had a problem capturing the stats for missed FG by length. I adjusted my calculation of kickers' points using 1998 stats, and noted that this reduces the average points per kicker by almost 70 SWP, or almost 5 SWP per game. Certainly not an earth shaking change, but still a negative impact on every single kicker. I doubt if this will cause you to rethink your choice of kicker, but I have redone the numbers in the stats tables, in case you want to check them out.

And finally, if you want every available edge, then don't forget the advertising inducements. In SW, you can get $10,000 per day by clicking on an ad banner, and in the Echelon games, you can also get "freebie points" up to 15 times over the course of the season. Advertising revenues are the life blood of free fantasy sports games, and supporting the advertisers is an important way to support the games. And while you're at it, don't forget to click on RotoGuru ad banners as well. In fact, why not click on an eBay ad right now. (There's an eBay square on the left menu panel.) Thanks for your support.

9/9 - Today's football tip takes a look at the projected Smallworld points by position, and considers the drafting implications of this distribution.

Which positions are the "impact" positions, and which are less potent? Using the 1999 point formula applied to 1998 stats, I took a look of the positional makeup of the top 50 and top 100 players in SWP/G. Here's the table:

Position Distribution of
Top Players in SWP per Game
Position Top 50 Top 100
Running back1221
Wide Receiver930
Kick Return02
Tight End00

Clearly, there is no positional parity in productivity. And this distribution is roughly reflected in the first price gains from last year as well. If I consider only the players whose first price gain was $200,00 or higher, roughly 80% of these gains (both in player count and dollars) were for QB, RB, and WR. Defense contributed another 10%.

So what's the preseason message? I'd suggest that for the three less impactful positions - tight end, kick return, and kicker - you draft players that you think you can hold for awhile, certainly beyond the first several price changes. Since these positions are likely to be less actively traded, they should exhibit decent price stability, particularly if they are on the cheap side. This will give you the ability to direct your early trades to the positions that are likely to attract the most attention.

Bear in mind that I'm not saying that the tight end, kicker, and kick return positions don't matter. In fact, as the season develops, you'll definitely want to upgrade those slots (unless you drafted Shannon Sharpe). I'm only suggesting that you wait until you can afford to make a material upgrade for these slots, and then do it in one shot, whereas you'll probably want to make more gradual upgrades to some of your higher producing positions.

Of course, it's always possible that some tight end or kick returner has a real burner in week one, and attracts significant trade flows. It may be that a quick trade can snag a disproportionately high gain, and you have to be alert to those opportunities. But maintaining flexibility requires that you draft players into these slots that you won't need to trade (i.e., no early byes, no overly speculative picks).

9/8 - For today's tip, I'll look at Echelon's Football Market game. Based on the preseason poll results, only about 10% of you are planning to play this game, but there are some differences from the recent baseball version that may make this one more interesting. Of course, as with any new game format, it's tough to anticipate how some things will really work, so those of us who do play the game will have to do some on-the-job learning.

The draft prices for this game are identical to the prices for the Regular Echelon Football game. But I expect the prices to start to differ with the first price change. While past Echelon games have only used performance as the basis to adjust prices, the rules of this game indicate that player demand (i.e., buys and sells) will also be reflected in price changes. Since demand is not listed as a price factor in the regular football game, I assume the prices for the two games will diverge. Just how demand is factored into the equation is anyone's guess, but it will be interesting to track.

I've been doing pretty well in the Baseball Market game, in spite of a slow start and a general cluelessness about the inner workings of the price change formula - especially for pitchers. The best tip I can give - and I suspect this will be valid even with the addition of demand to the price formula - is to concentrate on the cheaper players. In fact, I'm starting out with a fair chunk of leftover cash, since I think the players with the best price upside will tend to be the expected starters who are priced more like bench players. This would have been true even without demand factored into price changes, but may be even more true now. Remember that the lower priced players tend to have the best price moves in the early weeks of SW Football as well, which is totally demand-based.

The big unknown of this game is the degree to which "Monday morning quarterbacking" is a successful strategy. In baseball, the best approach seems to be to wait until a player has a monster game, and then buy him just before the next price update. While this forfeits the big dividend, it captures the price action, and dividends tend to be fairly inconsequential relative to the size of the bigger gains. The only real risk, then, is that you have to hold the player for four more days.

In football, you can also wait until just before the price change to capitalize on hot players from the prior weekend. What we don't yet know is whether the sacrifice of the dividends for these players will be a material opportunity cost. Since there is no minimum holding period for players, and a fairly minimal transaction cost (0.5% per sale), if dividends really are immaterial, then the entire game might turn out to be a dud. But, we'll never know until we try it out.

9/7 - Today's football tip focuses on the Echelon Football game. This game is constructed quite similar to the recent basketball and football games, with a hard salary cap that increases gradually throughout the season, player prices that adjust based on performance (but not buys and sells), and a roster that includes two wild card slots. In the basketball and baseball games, active management to gain additional game exposure was the most critical strategy, and while bye week management will be an important factor in football, it won't require the same level of activity and attention that was necessary in the other sports. In fact, perhaps the most important strategy will be to identify the most significantly underpriced players, and lock them in before the first price change. Successful basketball teams generally picked up Anfernee Hardaway at the start, and held him throughout virtually the entire season. Adrian Beltre has been on all of the top teams in Ball Park Dreams since the outset. Finding a few productive cheapies not only gives you decent bang for your buck, but it also provides more capacity for other higher-priced players. And while the top teams always seem to have a few cheap players locked in for a long time, they also trade actively in many of their roster slots, looking for the hot hand, picking up the new starter (whether due to injury or promotion), and exploiting favorable matchups.

Although some Echelon games have postponed the first price change until the second week, I see no mention of that in this game, so we should assume that the first price change will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 14th. If you missed a good cheap pickup in your draft, you'll have until Tuesday morning to rectify the omission(s). And while stats won't be posted at the Echelon site until the prices are updated, you can use to identify the first week's cheap producers. With any luck, I'll have Sunday's points posted by mid-Monday, enabling you to make a quick roster rebalancing before some prices start to run away.

In a sense, you get a free mulligan. Even if your opening drive is only slightly offline, no penalty strokes will be assessed, so you might as well take full advantage of it. Others certainly will.

9/6 - For today's football tip of the day, I took a look back at the first price change in last year's SW football game. As will be the case this year, the first price change occurred after the second game, so there may be some relevant patterns to consider. The tables below list the 10 top gainers and the 10 biggest losers, along with their SW points for each of the first two games. (Note that the maximum weekly price move was $3 million last year.)

10 Best and Worst Price Changes
for the First Week of 1998 SW Football
Name Pos Draft Price Gain SWP
Week 1
Week 2
Moss, Randy WR $3,830,000 $1,810,000 302 166
Foley, Glenn QB $3,710,000 $1,540,000 492 140
Hearst, Garrison RB $5,910,000 $1,090,000 526 314
Bennett, Donnell RB $1,580,000 $1,070,000 242 51
Carney, John K $690,000 $930,000 100 40
Cunningham, Randall QB $1,340,000 $820,000 0 95
Stewart, James RB $5,230,000 $760,000 336 254
Seattle D $5,380,000 $740,000 51 -164
Davis, Terrell RB $10,800,000 $720,000 238 516
Bruce, Isaac WR $4,640,000 $700,000 242 480
Name Pos Draft Price Loss SWP
Week 1
Week 2
Smith, Antowain RB $5,690,000 -$400,000 74 42
Pickens, Carl WR $4,040,000 -$450,000 128 132
Tampa Bay D $5,730,000 -$450,000 -553 -360
Arizona D $3,180,000 -$490,000 -684 -454
Alstott, Mike RB $4,930,000 -$590,000 15 2
Johnson, Brad QB $8,400,000 -$630,000 351 110
George, Eddie RB $6,610,000 -$650,000 208 4
McNair, Steve QB $5,540,000 -$770,000 174 275
Grbac, Elvis QB $4,520,000 -$990,000 175 0
Plummer, Jake QB $4,870,000 -$1,020,000 158 88

I think several messages come through loud and clear. First, on the upside:

  1. First week point totals dominated those of second week in determining the first price changes.

  2. Low priced players got most of the upside action. John Carney is there because of the combination of his low price and decent first game. Ditto for Randy Moss, Glenn Foley, and Donnell Bennett.

  3. Hearst had a bye in the third week, but that didn't seem to hurt his price action early on, even though the bye occurred only 4 days later.

  4. Randall Cunningham was the biggest exception to the week-1 dominance, as he didn't emerge (due to Brad Johnson's injury) until the second game. And even his output in game #2 wasn't significant. But he was cheap, and it looks like people took the savings and plowed it into Terrell Davis, who started his steady price climb right off the bat, again probably more reflective of his second game points.

  5. Only one defense appears in the top 10 gainers, and that was the best performing defense in the first week. In fact, Seattle really stuck out by posting a rare positive score in its first game.

The losers also point out a useful message. While you probably need to trade "like a lemming" in the early weeks, dare to be different in your draft.  Why? Last year, at the beginning of the season the most heavily drafted quarterbacks were Plummer, McNair, and Grbac, based on a combination of moderate price and high expectations. In fact, I remember someone remarking that they were hard pressed to find any team without either Plummer or McNair as one of the two preseason QBs. And while neither had stellar games the first week, they didn't totally stink. McNair even had a good second game. But they were the three biggest price losers, because they were so heavily drafted, and other QBs - like Foley and Cunningham - suddenly looked much better. Of course, all you had to do to avoid the debacle was trade like a lemming. But the moral is that these price declines were not so much a function of these players' performances; it was a function of their heavy drafting, and of other high performers at their position. And particularly at the QB position, a few players are likely to have eye-popping point totals the first week. If it's not one of the more popular draftees, then watch out.

Who are this year's more heavily drafted players? Look around at other teams in your division, and I think you'll see a few names appearing more often than others. Or read through some of the message forum posts to see which players are being hyped the most. The more you are able to differentiate your team in the draft, the more trading flexibility you should have in the early weeks.

9/4 - Today's football tip of the day is not so much a strategy hint, but a rules clarification. I've gotten several emails, and also seen several message forum posts, all indicating that the best trading strategy is to swap from Sunday players into Monday night players, thereby picking up extra games. Let's see if we can nip this one in the bud before anyone burns themselves with this approach.   Don't do it!   Why? Because it won't work!   In both the SW and Echelon games, the roster freeze deadline applies to all games for the entire weekend. You can't manuever mid-weekend to get extra games. And in Echelon's Football Market game, any trading after Saturday morning will forfeit the weekly dividends for both the player sold and the player bought, although you will still get the Tuesday price change for the new player. So, think of the weekend slate of games as a single chunk. Monday night games are no different than Sunday games. Don't waste any effort planning trading strategies to exploit the calendar. (I wonder how many nasty emails each game provider will get on that first Tuesday when no one benefits from their weekend switches?).

9/3 - Before I segue into my football tip of the day, I should probably offer a disclaimer. Football is definitely my weakest fantasy sport. It seems to be the sport where weekly matchups are the most critical factors, and where statistical analysis pales by comparison. With only a 17 week schedule, a few bad decisions and/or missed opportunities can wreck a season. And, as the most popular fantasy sport, competition is the toughest. Last year I only finished with a SW rank in the low 3000's, while I've consistently been a double- or single-digit finisher in baseball and hoops. So while I'm happy to offer my perspectives, suffice it to say "buyer beware".

That said, here's Friday's football tip of the day.   Look ahead!   In the SW game, you are limited to four trades per week, and that means at least eight of the players you draft for the first game are going to have to remain on your roster for game two. In fact, since SW has already announced that the first price change will occur after the second game (Wed., 9/22), you should try to draft a team that you think you can live with for at least the first two weeks. This will allow you to use your four trades after the second game (but still before the price change, if desired), making them as potent as possible.

A consequence of this is that you probably want to avoid any players who have byes in at least the first two weeks, and maybe even the third. San Diego has a bye in week one, and St. Louis sits for the second week. Week #3 byes include Dallas, Miami, and New Orleans. It may be OK to draft a week #3 bye (or two, at most), but if you do, recognize that this is going to significantly restrict your trading flexibility early in the year. And those early trades are probably going to make or break your season. A lot of teams will undoubtedly get off to fast starts, and while the baseball and basketball schedules generally give you time to recover from early problems (and I'm living proof of that), football is much less forgiving (and alas, I'm also living proof of that!).

"Bye the way", in case you haven't noticed, my stats tables and the Assimilator list the bye week for each player. The 10 week schedule look-ahead in the Assimilator is especially effective in allowing you to visually identify bye week concentrations. The tools are at your disposal... take advantage of them.

9/2 - Today's tip applies to all covered games, and while it may seem obvious, it is probably the most important issue at this stage of the season. Find the starters who are priced like reserves. There are several reasons:

  1. You won't start out with enough money to buy "name" players. You'll need some productive players with very low prices to be able to assemble a competitive roster.

  2. Unless they completely crap out, these guys are going to increase in value early in the season. Whether price changes result from demand (SW), performance (EF), or both (EFM), the best of these cheap players will get the biggest bang for the buck in terms of early price gains.

  3. Putting some very cheap players on you roster will allow you to pick up some star talent. Especially in the SW game, the early price gainers are likely to be those whose prices look the most out-of-line in the top 50 listings. (Remember Freddy Garcia and Kevin Stocker?) Of course, if everyone drafts the same cheap players, their price increase potential will be severely dampened, since (historically) draft buys haven't been incorporated into the SW price change formula. Which means that your rewards will be even greater if you can find the needles in the haystack.

How do you find these guys? Check out team depth charts (you can find links to several sites with depth charts on my favorite links page), and compare them to the draft price lists. Read fantasy football analysts for hints on "sleepers". Check out the RotoGuru message forum to see who is being touted. Look at other rosters in your division to see who is being drafted. Read preseason boxscores and look for new names. There are plenty of ways. But the season opens in 10 days, so you'd better get started soon, if you haven't already. Because until you figure out which cheapies you want, it will be hard to figure out what you can afford for the rest of your roster.

Get busy.

9/1 - Since it's September, I though I should start devoting some blurbspace to football. So, for each of the next 10 days or so, I'll try to include a preseason strategy tip for at least one of the covered football games. While some of you will find some of these tips to be obvious, I think many of you will find them helpful in getting your "football thinking caps" activated.

Today's tip relates to Smallworld football. There are some significant scoring changes vs. 1998, the most noteworthy being for team defenses. Last year, you may recall that team defenses averaged negative points per game, and a special deduction applied to team defenses on bye weeks. Since this flat deduction was more attractive than most team's averages, many managers chose to pick up a bye week defense.

This year, expected points for team defenses are positive. This means that holding a bye week defense is just like holding any bye week player - you'll score nothing. And nothing will not be an attractive defensive score, since the better defenses will produce over 200 SWP per week. In fact, using the new scoring formula, 300+ SWP games occurred 68 times last season, for an average of 4 per week. This will continue to make team defenses one of the more potent roster slots, and one that you should evaluate carefully each week.

RotoGuru is produced by Dave Hall (a.k.a. the Guru), an avid fantasy sports player. He is not employed by any of the fantasy sports games discussed within this site, and all opinions expressed are solely his own. Questions or comments are welcome, and should be emailed to Guru<>.

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