It’s the dead of the winter and there’s snow everywhere in my part of the world. The NHL and NBA playoff races have yet to heat up and quite frankly these are the dog days of their seasons. However, hope is on the horizon as Major League Basbeall spring training is a couple of weeks away and that’s what gives me hope in the dimness of winter.

Baseball for me is a full year love affair. Considering that the World Series wrapped up on November 2, 2016, it has been just over three months since a meaningful game was played. After the Cubs won a thrilling game 7 affair, the baseball world paid attention to the annual GM winter meetings, free agent signings, trades and CBA ratification which took us to the end of 2016.

This leaves about eight weeks of the year where “nothing” happens in the baseball world. It is during those eight long weeks when I start my fantasy baseball research. I love statistics and I learned how to read as a child from the information and stats on the backs of baseball and hockey cards. The amount of statistics that I can read over and analyze is literally limitless when it comes to baseball and I love every moment of it.

Fantasy baseball is bar none the hardest fantasy sport to play. I know that there are so many variations of fantasy pools these days, but here’s how I generally break down for the four major fantasy sports.

NHL pools are too dependent upon goalies. If you draft or acquire the league’s top goalie you’re pretty much guaranteed to be a top team even with a mediocre roster. Most hockey pools tend to give 40% of their statistics to goalies who often account for two or three roster spots on a given fantasy squad. This reliance on goalies does mirror real life where so often a hot goalie carries a mediocre team to the playoffs and a bad goalie will sink even the best of teams (here’s looking at the Blues and Stars this year). Also factor in that key goalie stats such as wins, shutouts, and goals against average can be random and team dependent from year to year. Frustrating picking that winner at best…

I once won a league with a dog shit team by picking up James Reimer and Bobvroski off waivers during the 2012-13 lockout shortened years. Two hot goalies down the stretch in a head to head style league was all that was needed to win a championship. Bullshit win but I’ll take it.

Now that I’m riled up NFL football pools infuriate me the most. I’ll admit I tend to be pretty mediocre in football pools. Given that there is only 16 weeks of fantasy football, the sample size is simply too small and luck dependent. I’m sure I will receive some flack for this, but it’s true. How often has your fantasy football league been won because somebody picked up some previous no name running back who becomes the leagues top player, or conversely your top running back or wide receiver breaks his leg first week of the year, gets suspended, etc… fuck fantasy football.

Lastly, NBA pools are actually pretty sweet. There’s multiple ways to build your team. You can build a balanced team of shooters and bigs and be middle of the pack in most stat categories.

If you choose to build a team based around three point shooters you will likely suffer in the rebounds, blocks and turn over categories, while a team of bigs will not provide you with enough points, three pointers and assists to be competitive. The one thing about NBA pools that’s key is that your top players better perform. The NBA is awesome, but it’s a league where for the most part the players are who they are. The top teams tend to be self identified and rightfully so before a meaningful game is even played. Basketball is awesome but my heart still belongs to fantasy baseball.

Baseball is unique and ahead of the curve when it comes to statistical analysis. Michael Lewis’ best selling book, Moneyball, may have brought the term Sabometrics into the main stream back in the early-mid 2000’s, but advanced baseball statistical analysis had been a developing field since the late 1970’s. sabermetrics pioneer, Bill James, led that revolution when he started writing the Bill James’ Baseball Abstracts. With the evolution of the Internet and Major League Baseball making data from every single baseball play publicly available, there is now a plethora of statistical information available.

What Bill James once started out of his basement is now a massive online community of sabermetric fans. Websites like fangraphs provide great in depth statistical analysis and forecasts for player and team performances. The data is there to truly analyze and to a large degree explain a breakout or slumping players performances.

Given that there are 30 teams in Major League Baseball, 25 men per active roster, and 162 games, there are a lot variables to keep track of. Regardless of advanced stats and depth chart analysis, when it comes to fantasy sports nothing beats the draft. A championship team is not built solely on draft day but knowing your advanced stats projections and not just picking names off an outdated magazine goes a long way. Ultimately though the draft is essentially the most important date of the year and is definitely the high point of the season; however, so much work lays ahead to build a winning fantasy baseball team.

I’ve seen teams win a fantasy baseball league out of pure luck down the stretch, but more often then not the managers who go into a draft picking random players or favourite players end up near the bottom. This goes for most sports but is even more apparent in baseball pools.

I love knowing the depth chart for each major league roster, who their top prospects are, projected batting order, home park and away splits, and park factors. Not everyone needs to know this stuff but if you want to identify this year’s Jonathon Villar or Kyle Hendricks it helps. If you want to avoid a deep regression ala Dallas Keuchel then you better know your stats.

The beauty of fantasy baseball is that you can opt to go as deep down the rabbit hole as you like. If you don’t care to understand advanced stats such as BABIP or ISO that’s fine, but it sure helps if you do.

Meaningful baseball starts April 2 and the World Baseball Classic will service as nice but flawed display of ball this coming March. But for you stat geeks the real season begins right now and the high point will likely be in late March when you gather around your computer or couch for a draft.

If you have the chance to do your draft in person do it… the Super Bowl might be an average sports fans favourite party of the year, but a great draft party is honestly so much better. Last year one of my auction keeper leagues took 9 hours to finish our draft and I loved every minute of it. The point being, have fun because it’s a game and a great one at that.

Over the next month and a half I’ll be writing a weekly baseball column and weekly fantasy baseball column. I hope to engage in some debate with you all about my thoughts as it’s pure joy to be able to talk about baseball when I look outside into the bleak Canadian winters.