Evaluating free agents

On Monday, I wrote about the key to success in season-long fantasy baseball leagues – working the waiver wire. I drafted my first team on January 30th, and I have already added five players from the waiver wire – Danny Santana, J.D. Davis, Kyle Tucker, Ryan McMahon and David Price. Santana, Tucker and Price were dropped by other owners.

There are three reasons that I can think of to get a free agent off the waiver wire. The first reason is that you lose a player. Usually, you lose a player because of injury. Before you drop a player, you need to determine if the player is worth keeping. If he is put on the injured list, you can move him into your IL slot, opening up another roster spot.

A second reason to acquire a player from the wire is that you want to replace a healthy player who is not performing. I drop and add players regularly during the regular season. The leagues I play in have no season acquisition limits, and you can add and drop players on a daily basis. This is not true of all leagues, so check your league rules.

A third reason to acquire a player is that the free agent is simply too good to pass up. This player may have been dropped by one of the other general managers in your league, and you think the player is worth acquiring. More often, the available player is an emerging  star, whose stock is rising and you simply want to own him for that reason.

This begs the question – how do you evaluate free agents? There is one criterion that is common to both pitchers and position players – ownership percentage, which is listed on the player profile right next to position rank. This is a useful tool, but don’t rely solely on ownership percentage. Look at the player’s current metrics and track record.

When I’m considering adding a free agent during the regular season, I’m more interested in the change in ownership in the past week than I am in total ownership. ESPN and other fantasy sites monitor changes in ownership, and this is useful information. It’s similar to evaluating the ownership numbers of an individual stock before buying it.

If you draft a team early, like I did, you should be watching the average draft position (ADP), which is monitored by several sites. Don’t confuse a player’s ADP ranking with other rankings, like ESPN, or Fantasy Pros. ADP shows you who is drafting each player and at what rank. I’m not advocating always following the herd, but it’s worth noting.

The advantage to drafting your team early is that a lot of players are overlooked. Once spring training starts, the buzz starts. Analysts and pundits begin talking about players, labeling them as breakouts, or sleepers. But the downside is you may wind up stuck with a player like Aaron Judge, or Chris Sale, who get injured after you draft them.

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