The world has the Internet to thank - or curse - for the true boom in fantasy sports.
Back in the day, when you had to crunch all the statistics by hand from a weathered copy of USA Today, only the fanatics bothered. But now, you can log on and within minutes, buy a fantasy team and a service that will track its stats for you. Old college buddies can play across 10 states. Strangers can meet over a mutual obsession.
At the same time, a generation of Web-based fantasy experts has emerged, peddling up-to-the-minute news, strategic advice and spreadsheets that can be carried into your draft on a laptop. For the serious player, these gurus have surpassed preview magazines as the fantasy aides of choice. Why rely on a bunch of player capsules written in November when you can be armed with projected statistics that are tweaked whenever a guy wins a new job or strains his knee?
I don't pretend this is an objective guide to the best fantasy material on the Net. But these are some of the sites I've turned to and enjoyed while prepping for recent drafts.
BaseballHQ.com is the granddaddy of serious fantasy sites. I've already talked up Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster 2006 in this space, but this is where Shandler serves up the whole hog.
Baseball HQ offers projected stats, updated weekly through spring training and the season. Daily columns update you on players who are shaping up as good and bad buys at each position. The site has its own prospect expert. And Shandler weighs in with columns on strategic advice and two massive pre-draft compilations of sleepers, busts and shots in the dark.
So many good fantasy players use Shandler now that you almost want to subscribe just to know what the other guys in your league are thinking. You can buy access for three months at $39 and for the whole year at $99.
More recently, I became aware of Mastersball.com. Its proprietor, Jason Grey, has a remarkable record in leagues composed of national experts. He's known for advocating offense-heavy teams. But Grey does something else interesting. He goes beyond stats and gathers information from actual major league clubhouses. He uses this information to tweak his projections.
I haven't followed Grey long enough to see how his projections stand up over time. But his site (a year-long subscription costs $39.95) is outstanding. It features deeper pieces on draft strategy than any site I've used. And Grey and his cohorts make a point of answering subscriber questions on the lively chat boards. I wouldn't be surprised to see Mastersball competing seriously with Shandler in a few years.
If you're a baseball nut, you may have already discovered Baseballprospectus.com. The Prospectus guys formed a sort of baseball think tank in the 1990s and their annual preview guide is one of the most entertaining books produced on the sport. In more recent years, this collection of writers has focused on producing Web-based analysis throughout the year. (An annual subscription runs $39.95.)
Most Prospectus writers are not fantasy focused. But you can apply their intelligent writing about baseball and statistics to fantasy. And last year, they introduced the player forecast manager, which translates their Pecota projection system into a fantasy context, with auction values and everything. They also brought on veteran fantasy writer Jeff Erickson to offer advice.
If you're looking for a hardcore fantasy product, look to Shandler or Grey first. But if you're looking for generally intriguing content with applicability to fantasy, Baseballprospectus.com is great.
For breaking news, Rotowire.com and Rotoworld.com are the industry standards. Both collect news from journalists around the country and provide instant advice on how injuries and position switches might affect your team. Both sites offer some content for free, but for $14.99, you get access to all their news and preview materials.
I don't rely on either site for broader strategic advice. But for quick bites on the latest happenings, you can't beat them.
The sites offer very similar content, so I'd recommend browsing both and then picking whichever strikes your fancy.