John Huthmacher Winning baseball but a fantasy for some

As spring approaches, this young man’s thoughts turn to fantasy baseball. For those unfamiliar with the game, it basically involves attempting to select a roster of players whose statistics turn out to be better than every other team’s statistics over the course of the season. Points are awarded in each category, such as innings pitched, strikeouts, earned run average, home runs, RBI, and so on.

Typically, I manage two teams each season: a dynasty team — which allows you to keep your top 10 players each season — and a public league, where you draft a team from scratch against total strangers.

Once played strictly by number-crunching baseball geeks, it has evolved into a popular mainstream phenomenon enjoyed by millions, including many of those very same number-crunching baseball geeks.

Leagues range in scope from free amateur to high-stakes professional. Not to brag, but I’ve gotten pretty good at it since being invited into my first league in 2011. Three first-place finishes and one runner-up season suggest I’m doing something right.

And while my track record isn’t tried and true enough to throw around too much smack talk, for many, the art of bravado is as part of the experience as picking up every fantasy baseball guide available at the local convenience store.

To be successful, one must be willing to put in the time deciding which players are likely to help achieve the desired numbers. Having some sort of strategy is paramount to pennants, though there is no one way that automatically ensures success.

Some like to stockpile pitching; others, power hitters. Still others, speedburners who steal bases.

How far you want to think it is entirely up to you.

In his newly released book, “Winning Fantasy Baseball,” author Larry Schechter, a nine-time champion in big-money leagues, offers up strategies he uses to achieve results.

His game plan includes crunching numbers using a formula to evaluate each player’s estimated worth. His techniques are tried and proven, though hardly an exact science. For in baseball, the one thing you can count on is change.

As baseball philosopher Yogi Berra famously said: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Injuries and career-worst seasons sink ships. And replacing unproductive horses in midstream can be equally damaging.

What it seems to all come down to each season is this: drafting well; playing the percentages; luck; and a few smart acquisitions made during the season, whether off the waiver wire or trade.

Schechter’s book — however helpful — reduces the game to numbers. To me, it’s an approach that takes a lot of the fun out of it. I like to win, but at what cost? Do I draft convicted drug users like Ryan Braun, just because they’re likely to put up good numbers? Or do I stick with seemingly wholesome players like Mike Trout — who also happens to be one of the best talents in the game — and take my chances?

To me, there’s a happy medium to be reached here. Ideally, playing in small money leagues as I do, I try to pick players whom I respect and admire who also happen to be very good. I figure character matters. Players who play with integrity tend to be more reliable than guys who flirt with danger and disaster off the field.

Plus, I’m still a fan at heart. As such, I want to genuinely feel compelled to root for my players, and not just because they’re going to help me get from point A to point B.

In the final analysis, the most valuable piece of information I gleaned from Schechter’s book that I’ll take into this season had absolutely nothing to do with strategy.

The tip: “Trust yourself.” You put in the time. You read your fantasy guides. You weighed the options. And you made your picks.

When it comes right down to it, that’s all any of us can really do. And hope the stars align in such a way as to bring success to our fantasy venture.

Spahn and Sain and pray for rain. Yeah, it’s like that. Whatever works.

Good luck to all fantasy mangers in 2014.

It’s on.

Copyright © 2015