One of the coolest developments in fantasy baseball over the last few years has been the advancement of the best ball format. If you have been wondering what best ball is or are looking for a different way to enjoy the fantasy baseball game, let me give you a brief introduction and then we’ll talk some best ball strategy that should get you off to a flying start.
The season is not here yet, but why not get a head start and jump in a Fantrax Classic Draft contest? Get a jump on the season with a Best Ball league or maybe a Draft and Hold. Or put some green on the line with a new season-long league to try and conquer. There’s no better time than now to get your baseball on!
Best Ball Draft Strategy for 2023
What is Best Ball?
If you love drafting a team but don’t like adjusting weekly or daily lineups, then best ball could be for you. Most best-ball leagues are 12-team leagues with a 40-man roster. The players that you select on Draft Day remain with you all season: there are no transactions, there are no FAAB periods, no players to drop and add.
Then what happens is, your optimal lineup of 22 players, which will be made up of 13 hitters and nine pitchers, will be determined for you by the little person inside your computer each week.
After the draft, you have zero commitment other than looking at your weekly results. Draft it and forget it. The format rewards draft preparation and truly helps you hone those skills. I feel you can use a best ball league as an excuse early on in the winter to test your draft skills and really learn the player pool.
When you play at Fantrax, home runs and stolen bases count for three points each. Every other hit counts as one point. Saves count for six points and wins for three points. Innings pitched are 1.5 points, and quality starts are three points each. Pitchers who can give you mostly worry-free innings are your friends here.
How to Succeed in Best Ball Leagues
The first rule of any draft, in any league, is know the scoring format. It seems like a given, but you might be surprised if I told you how many people seek advice on their fake teams but can’t tell you the exact scoring format. Do this first, in every league you play. if you don’t know the scoring format, winning will become just a shot of dumb luck. Always remember a good process leads to winning championships.
This piece is not for expert players, but rather, those making initial forays into best ball. Last season, I went with a split of 24 hitters and 16 pitchers to make up my 40-man roster. I drafted nine outfielders to ensure that I had the depth to withstand a long season; you must start five outfielders, and the war of attrition between injury (Harrison Bader) and lack of performance (Akil Baddoo) is very real. Thankfully, unsexy names like Ramon Laureano and Andrew McCutcheon, rostered as depth, became starters, and they held their own. I was also lucky to fall back on great performances from Randy Arozarena; not so great from Jarred Kelenic.
Best ball is also a great way in my opinion to really learn the player pool. I made spreadsheets with every team’s lineup, rotation, bullpens, and extra guys that could get at-bats or more playing time as well. In all of my free time between work and chauffeuring kids around town, I would sit with a cup of coffee and peruse it. This helped me see the pockets of potential payouts I could get for a small investment.
For example, in the winter of 2021, I barely knew who Jorge Mateo was. Last winter, by making my spreadsheets and looking at them, it seemed likely he would get playing time, and thus at-bats, and then statistics I could use. At the end of the season, he had over 500 at-bats, 13 home runs, and 35 stolen bases. That’s valuable to your best ball team despite his value taking a hit in other formats.
My first picks didn’t end up being great ones in 2022. I went Bo Bichette/Shane Bieber/Manny Machado/Teoscar Hernandez as the first parts of my build. I tried to find steady playing time and innings pitched, as volume seemed to be key to me. While I didn’t have an “ace” starter, when you look at it, I did have several guys pitch a bunch of innings: Bieber, Carlos Carrasco, Jameson Taillon, Jose Berrios, Blake Snell, Patrick Sandoval, and German Marquez all scored at least 300 points for me.
Closers are somewhat devalued in best ball, but I had a sterling season from Emmanuel Clase and good work from David Bednar. I ended up winning the league due to my depth, not because I had drafted well early in or had superstar performances from my first picks. In my mind, making smart, unsexy choices really helped me win the league handily. You can overcome early draft misses by being consistent in your approach to the draft. Some risk is fine, of course, but keep compiling those at-bats and stats.
Building a Base
I tried to build a base of solid infielders right off the bat. As stated above, two of my first three picks were Bichette and Machado. I filled in my starting infield with Jose Abreu and Jake Cronenworth. Behind those starters, I drafted the following: Amed Rosario 922nd round), Adam Frazier (28th round), Rowdy Tellez (34th round), Mateo (36th round), and Kyle Farmer (40th round). All were solid contributors for my team.
As you have determined by now, depth is crucial. Your best ball draft strategy has to center on covering yourself up at every position. Backups and even more backups are needed for each position. Multi-positional eligibility doesn’t matter in best ball. Those players are assigned only one position. I would suggest carrying at least two players at each position, maybe three catchers, and a bevy of outfielders, likely seven to nine outfielders. And you also start THREE utility hitters which can be any position. I solved the catcher position last year by drafting J.T. Realmuto a round earlier than expected, and augmented with guys I thought would have lots of at-bats, James McCann and Jacob Stallings. So I remain thankful for drafting Realmuto when I did.
While I know we do not live in a perfect world, my ideal roster would have three players at each infield position, three catchers, and eight or nine outfielders with the rest being pitchers, and the bulk of those being starting pitchers. You will have to decide the pockets of value and what you do best when it comes to roster construction.
Place a heavy emphasis on starting pitching, and less on relief pitching. There are of course different ways to play this one; astute players zig while others zag, and if great relief pitchers fall to you because there is a run on starting pitchers, grab a couple of outstanding relievers. But I would truly emphasize building a stable of starting pitchers that garner a high number of starts and worry-free innings. By far the highest point earners in best ball formats are the elite starting pitchers. Start with a base of three or four elite starters who can get you more than 150 innings and provide strikeouts.
Forget about batting average and just accumulate “counting” stats. Draft players who can give you both speed and power, which is true in any format, right? I have seen team batting averages slide down in almost every league I play in now in every format. In best ball it doesn’t make as much sense to worry about it, as oftentimes, batting average helpers are not really going to help you compile counting stats, other than hits and runs.
If I can be of any help to you, please feel free to reach out on Twitter @mdrc0508 (the worst Twitter handle ever) and I will be happy to try and help you. Happy drafting!
Got any secret best ball strategy of your own? Let us know about it in the comments below. For more great analysis check out the 2023 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit!