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Biggest Fantasy Baseball Draft Mistakes: Are You Guilty?

The glass is half empty! In the words of the immortal Glum, “It’ll never work. We’re doomed.” Everyone else is talking sleepers and breakouts, or about the next big thing prospect, and here I am going all Negative Nancy and turning to the dark side. I can’t help it. It’s in my nature. The good news is that we can learn things from the darker side of life. I believe it was Goerge Santayana (thanks Google) who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So let’s try not to be condemned and learn from the most common fantasy baseball draft mistakes.

Although in my mind I know all the answers, I realize there are those out there who are not convinced of that fact. Just to appease those doubters I sought out answers from some of the top experts in fantasy. The question I put to them was simple.

“What do you see as the biggest mistake being made in fantasy baseball drafts?”

The answers I received were quite varied and in many cases anything but simple. I’m now thinking there’s a chance, tiny though it may be, that I don’t have all the answers. Preposterous, I know! Anyway, enough of me. Let see what the best and brightest fantasy baseball has to offer have to say on this important question.

What?! Your league is not planning on using Fantrax? Inconceivable! Check out everything Fantrax has to offer and I’m sure you’ll come around to our way of thinking.

Biggest Fantasy Baseball Draft Mistakes of 2020

Yeah, I know I said enough of me, but I’m gonna kick this show off. I’m in charge around here… or at least I’m the only one awake at 4:30 a.m. when this will be published.

I’m not sure there is one biggest draft mistake, but I’m gonna share my thoughts on one that I’ve seen in every draft since I started this crazy game back in 1992. Way too many fantasy baseball owners are putting their team’s fate in the arms of pretty bad starting pitchers. It happens in mixed leagues and it happens in the uber-deep mono-leagues that are my obsession of choice.

In an effort to chase wins and strikeouts many people don’t realize the damage they are doing to their ratios, and that’s the key. Traditional 5×5 leagues include two ratio categories (WHIP and ERA) as opposed to just batting average on the hitting side. Because the impact of these ratio categories is not so easily discerned, their impact often gets overlooked.

This was a huge mistake back in the days when pitchers actually threw complete games and it’s an even bigger mistake now when those subpar starting pitchers are getting an ever-decreasing share of the innings and accompanying wins and strikeouts. The gap between many fourth and fifth starters and good middle relievers is getting smaller. In many cases, a middle reliever with good ratios may just produce a dollar or two of positive value, but that’s better than negative.

Think this is me just spouting an opinion? Head on over to FanGraphs Auction Calculator and run the values for a 5×5 league using 2019 final stats. You’ll be surprised at some of the pitchers who barely broke even or even produced negative values. You’ll see names like Blake Snell, Zack Wheeler, and Noah Syndergaard just barely at the break-even point. Other pitchers like Anibal Sanchez, Joe Musgrove, Miles Mikolas, and Trevor Bauer were underwater. It’s just a lot easier to hurt your ratios than most people seem to realize.

Obviously we’re not gonna be staying away from all of these pitchers. Some of them offer elite upside. But in the big picture, we’re paying too much and taking too many chances with mediocre low-level starting pitchers. We just need to realize that a bad pitcher doesn’t just have little-to-no value, but they can have a very negative value.

And now let’s move on to the names you probably came here to hear from.

Ron Shandler – @RonShandler: FSWA Hall of Famer, Founder of BaseballHQ, Creator of Broad Assessment Balance Sheet (BABS) and

The biggest mistake is the expectation that statistical projections can be considered precise enough to accurately rank players. Research has shown that about 90 percent of our picks will not return value in the round in which we draft them and more than half will finish at least four rounds worse than their ADP. So when you’re agonizing whether to grab that player with a 10th round ADP with your 8th round pick, or whether to pay a few dollars more than your bid limit, just do it. The ADPs and bid limits are generally wrong.

Ariel Cohen – @ATCNY: 2019 FSWA Baseball Writer of the Year, FanGraphs, CBS, RotoBaller, Member of Tout Wars and LABR

Essentially, I find that drafters sometimes make these two fantasy baseball draft mistakes.
1) Drafters only go based on rankings and do not assign value to players. There might be a big gap between the 5th and 6th third baseman but a small gap between the 6th and 10th third baseman. The ranking does not give you enough information.
2) They look at who is at the top of the draft board without regard to how tight each position is. There may be a high valued shortstop on the board, but a few other good SS options to follow – whereas there could be a lower outfielder, but a bigger drop to remaining ones. Drafters need to be more aware of the marginal values, not just the top value.

Lenny Melnick – @LennyMelnick: FSWA Hall of Famer, Hosted first-ever fantasy sports radio show in 1993, This Week in Baseball with Ozzie Smith, now running Lenny Melnick Fantasy Sports

1. CAREFUL to use auction values from Websites or Magazines Auction values MUST add up to the TOTAL amount or Money spent in the Draft…Example 10 team @$260 per team = $2600 Many times values will be significantly over or under total money spent?? Many times Magazine $ dollar amounts reflect earnings NOT potential prices

2. Spending $20- 25 for 2 closers is NOT a good idea…Take the $20-25 and add it to a $5 Hitter or Pitcher…You are much better off!

Peter Kreutzer – @kroyte: Fantasy Baseball and Football Guide Magazines since 2000, Founder of Ask Rotoman

First-round pitchers. Not that they can’t return first-round value, but rather that the talents of first-round hitters/runners are much harder to replace (or find in the later rounds). Last year’s first rounders were Scherzer and Sale, while you really wanted Verlander, Cole or deGrom, who went later. This isn’t always true, and of course first-round hitters often don’t return first-round value, but going hitter first is more likely to pay off than pitcher first.

Tanner Bell – @SmartFantasyBB: Creator of and Co-Author of The Process

I believe one of the biggest fantasy baseball draft mistakes being made is not having a concrete set of dollar values to draft from. Whether you’re in a rotisserie, points, or head-to-head league, there are approaches you can use (standings gain points, z-scores, percentage valuation method) to take player projections and convert them to dollar values tailored to your league’s specific format and scoring settings. Without having projections converted to dollar values, I don’t believe owners have the proper information to make fully informed decisions. Knowing Player A is valued at $24 and Player B is valued at $21 helps with the decision making process. Without that, an owner is left to guess if 100R-30HR-100RBI-6SB-.289BA stat line is worth more than a 95R-45HR-110RBI-1SB-.260BA stat line. Being able to make optimal decisions all throughout the draft is key to giving yourself the best chance to win.

Eric Cross – @EricCross04: Lead MLB Writer, Top MLB Prospect Writer

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in a fantasy baseball draft is not being flexible. We all go into a draft with our plan but 9/10 times, that has to change. We’re never going to get every pick we had mapped out so adjusting on the fly, sometimes even before the trend starts, is key. Don’t be stubborn with your strategy. This usually leads to an unbalanced roster with a lot of holes to fill positionally or statistically.

Jorge Montanez – @Roto_Nino: MLB Writer

There is no perfect strategy for drafting a fantasy baseball team. There are, however, ways to set your team behind from the start. One common mistake I see drafters make is filling positions while leaving value on the draft board. Just because you see a blank space on your roster doesn’t mean you need to reach for someone to fill it.
Another problem I see people run into is over-drafting for a category. At some point, it’s all just empty wasted value. Balance is necessary when constructing your team. Lastly, don’t draft more than one closer before the first ten rounds. You’re likely going to get burned due to the nature of the position.

Mike Kurland – @Mike_Kurland: MLB Writer, 2019 Finalist for FSWA Baseball Series of the Year

When it comes to biggest draft mistakes, I have to say letting the ADP dictate your decision making is one mistake I absolutely tell people to try and avoid. ADP is simply a tool to utilize and the idea is to exploit it by finding the values and being a step ahead by targeting said values. Exploiting the ADP instead of conforming your draft pick decisions to fit the ADP is one of my biggest rules to follow. Focus on team construction and take the best player to fit your team needs at that time. It may sound simple but that simple step can be the difference in getting the players at great value that can help you win your league.

Paul Mammino – @PaulMammino: MLB Writer

I think one of the biggest fantasy baseball draft mistakes is placing players into must draft or never draft buckets. It is reasonable to dislike the player at their ADP but eventually, there comes a point in a draft where every player becomes the best option. Roster construction causes player value to change dynamically and while going into a draft you may have disliked a player there comes a point when he may help your roster the most.

Mick Ciallela – @themick23: MLB & NFL Writer, 2016 CDM Challenge Winner

The biggest mistake people make is not having a clear understanding of their league’s settings. Every slight alteration can change a player’s relative value, whether it be league size, lineup configuration, or scoring system. A player’s value can change by multiple rounds depending on a specific tweak to one or more of these settings. This leads to placing an improper value on each player, which is a recipe for disaster in drafts.

Michael Florio – @MichaelFFlorio: NFL Fantasy, NFL Network,, FSWA 2018 Baseball Article of the Year

In life, you should never go chasing waterfalls, but in fantasy baseball, you should never go chasing helium. Player analysis is more prevalent now than ever. You can head to any number of websites (FantraxHQ especially duh!) or even just be scrolling on Twitter and see plenty of deep dives on basically every fantasy-relevant player. There is an abundance of information all at the click of a fingertip. With all that, you are naturally going to like some players more than others. Those become players that you target in fantasy baseball drafts, especially early on when you are building the foundation of your team. But, the whole reason for that process is to find values. Find players that you think the masses are too low on or that you believe is overlooked or underrated for any number of reasons. Or perhaps there is a player on the verge of a breakout that you think will be an absolute league winner. But, if a player you are targeting becomes a popular draft target and the hype causes them to shoot up the draft board, aka get filled with helium, than you are best to show restraint.

Last season I was a big believer in Zack Wheeler. I was drafting him in my early drafts in the sixth round, perhaps later at times. I believed his floor was safe enough to select there, but the ceiling was the he could finish as a borderline SP1. But as we got closer to the season, I quickly found out I was not alone here. Others were buying in on Wheeler and his ADP began to climb. It was now costing a third or fourth round pick to select Wheeler. Again, I thought he had the upside to surpass that and despite the increasing cost, I was paying up for a target that I really liked. Wheeler ended up having a fine season, but he failed to live up to the draft cost, because he was being drafted for his ceiling, which is a mistake in fantasy baseball. If you have to play for a players upside, there is no room for them to return on that investment, but plenty of ways for them to disappoint. I have long preached to not pay for a ceiling, but I got sucked in myself last season. And that is the biggest mistake you can make in fantasy baseball. If you put too much helium in a balloon it will pop, and that is exactly what will happen to your fantasy baseball team if you go chasing helium.

Takes from the Twitterverse

Got something to add? Share your thoughts on the biggest Fantasy Baseball Draft Mistakes in the comments below.

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