Like much of the Reddit world, I’ve been thinking a lot about the show Yellowjackets this week. At its core, Yellowjackets is a wilderness survival show hinting at cannibalism while juggling multiple timelines. It’s a lot like dynasty baseball leagues that way, which is where we’re going today: into the wilds of dynasty baseball strategy to hunt and gather six tips to survive and thrive.
1. Don’t collect pitching prospects
What constitutes a positive outcome for a pitching prospect as compared to a hitting prospect?
Hitters can contribute in four countable categories and one skill/ratio category. When I say “countable” I mean a category that can only go up. A run is a run is a run. Skill/ratio categories can go down with bad performance.
Starting pitchers can contribute in two countable categories and two skill/ratio categories. They could theoretically accrue Saves or Holds, we’ll set that variable aside for our purposes today in part because starting pitching prospects have typically lost a chunk of value by the time they’re viable contributors to the saves pool.
Pitching prospect outcomes are complicated by relievers in ways that don’t exist for hitting prospects. Relievers are simply better in the skill categories on the whole, which increases the difficulty for a young starting pitcher in the skills categories, WHIP and ERA. The bar for a pitching prospect is much higher than the bar for hitters, before we even consider the attrition rate of injury.
In general, hitters stay healthy for most of their careers, and pitchers do not. Shocking news to those of you reading baseball content in January, I know. Still worth mentioning, I think, as the most undervalued asset in dynasty leagues I’ve played is roster space across time.
Your own minor leagues should reflect this in the raw ratio of hitting prospects to pitching prospects, and you could even go all the way to the edge of the water like I do and roster only a few pitching prospects at a time. In my 15-team league, I have just two, Cody Morris and Joe Barlow, because my pitching staff is loaded with great veterans.
2. Rebuilding is a myth
Just cut the “Re” part, is all I’m saying. I’ve seen a lot of teams do this thing where they decide they can’t win a league that season, so they decide they might as well trade away all their big-named players for prospects and picks. I suppose it comes from how pro teams operate, but the thing is, we don’t have to pay these dudes. Doesn’t matter if I’m “wasting the prime” of a high-priced talent because the price, to me, is nothing.
Now, if somebody comes to you with an incredible trade offer, that’s a different situation because suddenly there’s a price: the opportunity cost of having those younger players who are also named guys by now. But to go around looking for people to take your good players is to sell low on them. It’s July and your team is in tenth place of a 15 team league. So what? Doesn’t cost you any more to hold those players.
The key question is: Are you closer to contending within the next two seasons if you make this trade or not? If you’re trading Gerrit Cole for picks 15, 30, and 45 in next year’s first-year-player draft, the answer is no, you’re much, much further away from contending after that trade. Sounds ludicrous, but I’m not inventing this from the air. It happened in the first season of a start-up auction dynasty league, helping catapult Cole’s new team to three-peat, having spent functionally nothing for the best pitcher over that stretch. If I sound bitter, I’m sorry. I was.
3. Don’t get bitter
Cool stuff, right? A hypocrite, I definitely am, but don’t we all want to be a little better than we are?
The arc of time is long. Leagues come and go. Dynasty is a game built for friendships–not cut-throat rivalries. Although, if you can find a fun rivalry in a friendly league, that’s nice, too.
If you see someone making a lot of bad trades, you have some choices. You can be a duck and let it roll off your back like water, knowing you’d rather not go looking to take advantage of a player in a slump or out of their league. Or you can try to trade with that player. Please refrain from complaining about the trades that player is making. Leagues seem to live or die on this hill. Get enough whiners in one group, there goes the neighborhood; there goes the league. This is meant to be fun. Our entry fees are invested in fun. They simply don’t stand up if viewed through a dollar per hour lens, so try not to do that. Trades sometimes pull that out of us because we’ve invested all this time, and then boom, a player we’ve been targeting for a long time suddenly gets dealt for peanuts. It happens. Try to laugh it off. Roll with the chaos. Enjoy your game.
4. Trade slow. Trade fast. Trade fair. Trade with everybody.
Everyone has a different play style. I was not good at making trades when I first started playing dynasty leagues because I applied a value matrix that was pretty much one-size-fits-all. X player is worth Y, kind of stuff, but there’s no objective reality here. Also I was impatient. Every fantasy team is a human, or sometimes two humans, and they have preferred play styles. Some trades take a long time to manifest. Some trades come together in an instant. Try to move with the wind here. Be a trade partner other teams enjoy working with because you adapt to their play style and seek an even middle, or rather, a place of comfort for both sides, given that an even middle doesn’t really exist so much as two sides who feel pretty fair about where they are can exist.
The other path is dark. Lonely. We’ve probably all seen teams just kind of spin off the earth in their own little silo because they don’t make any trades because they’re really hard to work with, or they’re not responsive. Their teams just die the slow death of neglect.
It’s valuable to reject a trade quickly if you don’t think you’ll do it. Don’t let it linger for a week just in case your mood shifts. You might get a better offer the very next day if you just reject the first one in a timely fashion. I’m not saying you should always play fast. “Trade slow” refers to finding your own pace, too. Don’t hesitate to reach out to another team in the league if you get a trade offer, and you want to see if there’s another path. I wouldn’t make an every-time habit out of this for several reasons (time-value of response, could become irritating to others, I like to move fast in general), but there’s no reason you can’t shop around in the middle of a big trade moment. Just be transparent about it with the team who made the offer you’re hovering over.
5. Watch whatever you can find
It really helps to have MiLB.tv, but if all you have time or money to view is Twitter videos from people finding and cutting that stuff up, find and watch those. Run a Google search, watch the videos you can find. Then maybe search Instagram or Duck Duck Go or Twitter or Facebook.
I don’t mean you should do this for every player in the database, but if you get a trade offer, take a minute to clap eyes on the kids involved.
On draft day, when you’re planning out a pick a couple spots ahead of time, scour the web for video of the guys in question.
You don’t have to be a scout to have eyes and opinions, and this compounds across time. The more you watch, the better you get at identifying what works. It also increases the immersion of the dynasty game itself, bringing these new names to life in the real.
Everyone makes mistakes, and a lot of public-facing prospect places get things wrong: handedness, height, weight, velocity, hit tool, power, speed, twitch, etc. You name it, I’ve seen it proven wrong in just a couple moments watching the actual player playing an actual game. Oakland OF/1B Lawrence Butler was one of these in a big way this year. He’s 6’3” 210 lbs and looks like a double-plus athlete with easy plus speed, something you can’t pick up just reading his baseball card or most scouting reports, especially if you’re trying to stay ahead of the echo chamber spotlight for dynasty (or baseball card) purposes.
6. Make transactions
I suspect we’ve all seen this slow death of neglect as well. If you’re not checking in to make add/drops, your team will not improve. In redraft, whatever, your team is out of it, let it die. I get that. Dynasty is not that game. You will be behind forever if you’re applying that redraft life to your dynasty leagues. And it’s a self-replicating thing across time, in either direction. The more you check out, the worse your team will always be, even four years from now, and the more you check in, the better your team will get, even if you’re kind of unlucky with your decisions. That’s the kind of skill, like watching more young players in games, that compounds across time. Some of the best dynasty players I’ve seen are active first, and whatever else second, and they’ve become incredibly astute prospect finders that way.
One thing to do on the regular, especially if you’re not big into the research side of minor league baseball, is click the plus-minus columns in your free agent pool. Who is getting picked up this week? Who are they? Look em up. Find some video. Bring them into the real, pick them up yourself and see where it goes.
I think that’s all I’ve got for today. Six dynasty survival tips that was meant to stop at five, but I got the motor revved and just let it run a minute, so here we are. Hope you enjoyed the journey!
Thanks for reading!
I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter.