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The Minimum Effective Dose Strategy Part 1- The Shortest Path to Beating Your Friends in Fantasy Football

zacstacy

This post is a little overdue, I admit. In general, I only really write when I’m inspired to write. I don’t force it. I wrote some of this immediately after the fantasy season ended. The rest over the last couple days.

This is a summary of strategies and tactics I used to go from never making a Fantasy Football Playoff to winning 4/8 leagues this year. I like to call it, the Minimum Effective Dose Strategy.

A little background:

The first season I played Fantasy Football was in college with my roommates. Which isn’t that surprising, except that I went to college in Canada where it’s not nearly as common. Here’s a quick google keyword search comparison.

My roommates started playing a year before my first season, and watching them on Sundays with their laptops in front of them following multiple games piqued my interest. But the primary reason I started to play was to beat them. I’m a very competitive person.

Leading up to my first draft I did very little research, and it showed. To add to the challenge we played IDP. Given how little football I’d watched leading up to that year, I was hopeless. So hopeless in fact, that I drafted Tedy Bruschi in the first round everyone started drafting defensive players (I can’t recall what round that was). After the pick, I looked him up on Wikipedia, only to learn that he was retired and started a coaching job somewhere. In my defense, it had only been announced a week before our draft. But still. I drafted a retired player. Great start to my Fantasy Football career… I continued to make bad mistakes (not this bad though) for a few years.

Fast forward to this year. I played in 8 leagues. All of which were dramatically different, 1 keeper (that I inherited this year), 1 Dynasty League, 1 IDP league, 4 of them were 2QB leagues and 2 of them were 14 team leagues. I made the playoffs in 7/8, of which I won 4 and finished 3rd in 3.

So I wanted to share what I think happened. The reason I use the word “think” is because I recognize that we as a society tend to struggle with the Narrative Fallacy. I certainly fall into that trap. This is really a reflection of what things I did differently, why they were important and ultimately how they might have dramatically improved my success in Fantasy Football in 1 year.

Without further ado, here’s how I took my game to the next level in 2013:

General Philosophy:

1) Noise vs. Information:

I’ve realized that this played a bigger role in my jump from never making the playoffs to this past season’s performances than previously anticipated. I previously thought information was power. But if you can’t separate information that has decision-making value from that which doesn’t (noise) then you’re likely worse off. I used to read all of the top fantasy news sites several times a day. Typically, these sites post 100+ times a day and are trying to drive page views/be the first to report on something. They focus on content for you to consume, but not necessarily to make you a better fantasy football player. Ultimately, not all news should be factored into your decision-making on Draft Day, Start/Sit or Waiver Wire decisions. In fact, most shouldn’t. I went on a news diet this year. I relied heavily on the strategies below and significantly reduced my consumption of Football-related news [99% noise]. When I did read the news, I focused on 2 things. a) Tangible injury information (aka, Is the player going to play this week) b) the question, “Can this uncertainty in injury lengths estimates or general sentiment from a highly influential news site help me buy a player at a low or sell a player high?” Otherwise, I didn’t make any decisions on news.

2) Re-Draft Strategies:

a) Rotoviz rankings for WRs and RBs – this was my bread and butter throughout the draft. I used Shawn Siegele’s Rankings for WRs and RBs. Now, I missed on nearly every 1st and 2nd round draft pick in all 8 leagues. But with a thin top running back draft year and chaos from injuries and trades, so did everyone else. My teams actually improved as a result of losing my top RBs early (Jackson, Richardson, Martin, Rice) across the board. They started to closely resemble Antifragile teams. If only that was my strategy out of the gate. It will be next year and is the philosophy I’m basing a lot of Fantasy Football decisions on moving forward.

b) Late Round QB – I was convinced at the end of last season that this was the way to go. These articles made me fully committed: Here and Here. Rotoviz’s coverage of QBs was terrific and extensive. But at the end of the day I didn’t spend much time on QBs this year. I was able to play the waiver wire because I wasn’t committed to any particular QB emotionally. Dalton, Roethlisberger, Bradford and Cutler landed on a lot of my rosters in the draft.

c) Late round TE – I deviated from this in one league, where I took Jimmy Graham. In retrospect, I should have taken Graham in every league. But these articles helped me land Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron often enough.

d) There were also some incredible articles that just flat-out won me over to the point where I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to draft these players at their ADP (Gordon, Nelson, Decker). Read them, they should have convinced you to do the same.

e) Tracking positions – One thing I started doing this year is keeping a running tally in the draft of how many players are off the board in each position. This allowed me to wait on players for positions that were over-drafted and hit on top player tiers when the draft started to shift from WR to RB or vice versa. This led to drafting players like Tony Romo in the 9th round (14 team), Le’veon Bell in the 9th round (12 team) Ryan Matthews in the 7th round (10 team). Basically I was capitalizing on irrational behavior, the impact of optics on drafting and the influence of Yahoo/Rotoworld/NFL/ESPN player rankings in the moment.

f) Exposure to metric-based evaluation – Rotoviz evaluates nearly every offensive player that’s relevant to fantasy football. Often times two writers will Rap Battle different sides of the argument on players in new situations. Here’s my hypothesis: My exposure (reading & interacting with writers) to player skill evaluations for nearly every relevant offensive fantasy football player allowed me to effectively understand each player and their situation such that I could make strong decisions about each round in the draft and waiver wire players. While I think over-exposure to information is toxic for fantasy football, I struck a good balance of exposure this year that allowed me to rank players based on likelihood to hit their upside. Revlis Football created this post on upside that provided a simple, yet thought provoking analysis.

g) Drafting on Upside – This was critical, especially for WRs. Given the information available, I specifically focused on drafting players based on their High projection. As a general philosophy, I tried to craft my teams by drafting players that have a reasonable chance to dramatically out play their draft position.

In summary, my draft strategy was all about drafting the right WRs and RBs using my first 8 picks and trusting that the exposure to high quality talent evaluation would lead to success in late rounds for QBs and TEs. The probability of missing on those was high, but the consequences were small.

3) Mid season strategies –

a) Buy Low/Sell High – I admit to not being able to employ this strategy in as many leagues as I wanted to. Sometimes people just get attached to their players. But ultimately, using the Buy Low/Sell High Machine was absolutely critical for my success.

b) WR, TE & RB Efficiency – I looked for players that were underperforming and had easier matchups (Buy Low/Sell High) in the second half of the season/playoffs. The top trade target with this method mid-season for me was Pierre Garcon. He significantly contributed to Championships.

c) Exposure to metric-based evaluation – back to the point made above. When players get injured, how many opponents have already evaluated the next player up? I did, because Rotoviz had already covered them (ok, I didn’t know who J. Grimes was…starting RB for Houston in Week 17…I mean come on). There were a couple tricky weeks that you had to decide between backups that would get the start. Let’s review season ending injuries by week:

First NameLast NamePositionWeek Injured
VickBallardRB1
DwayneAllenTE1
MalcolmFloydWR2
AhmadBradshawRB3
BrianHoyerQB5
OwenDanielsTE5
JulioJonesWR5
DavidWilsonRB5
RandallCobbWR6
ReggieWayneWR7
RyanBroylesWR7
JermichaelFinleyTE7
DougMartinRB7
SamBradfordQB7
SidneyRiceWR8
MikeWilliamsWR 8
KyleRudolphTE9
ArianFosterRB9
JakeLockerQB10
MikeJamesRB10
RobGronkowskiTE14

There were several weeks where in your waiver pickups you had to choose wisely. How did you decide what 2nd string player to pick after week 5 or week 7? I used the evaluations that Rotoviz writers had done to pick the best players, not necessarily the best situations. Zac Stacy, Bobby Rainey and Harry Douglas were on several of my championship teams. Ellington, Hartline, Todman and Pryor won me games along the way as well.

d) Start/Sit – this is something that I found remarkable. I didn’t spend time on this. Hardly any at all. I played the most talented players week to week. I stuck with players that had high upside and trusted the Rotoviz player evaluations. Sometimes I missed, sure. But my cumulative errors were much smaller than my opponents. I found that my exposure to player evals reduced uncertainty and my “tinkering”.

I call this the Minimum Effective Dose strategy, because instead of increasing the time I spent reading blogs, news and looking at stats in order to be a better player I employed strategies and tactics to simplify my decision making and used Rotoviz to cut through the noise and deliver the salient information. Small increase in effort, dramatic increase in results.

So as you try and break down last year’s results and make decisions on how you’ll play fantasy football differently next year, the following might be helpful:

– Go on a news diet
– Use the work the Rotoviz writers have done to rank your RB and WR draft targets
– Wait on QBs and TEs
– Keep a count of players off the board at each position
– Draft players with massive upside relative to their ADP
– Look for Buy Low/Sell High situations for mid-season trades
– Be cognizant of a player’s efficiency relative to their career efficiency
– Play your best players week to week

The second half of this post will show you what this looked like in practice.

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