One of the most beautiful aspects of a new season is eyeballing fresh ADP. ADP stands for average draft position, for you rookies. Fresh ADP means a whole new approach to fantasy baseball draft strategy. In reality I should say, strategies,”, plural. It would be ludicrous if I tried telling you there is only one avenue to success at the draft table. We’ll take a look at some of the most pressing issues in 2020 drafts here. In the end, of course, it’s up to you to determine how to take advantage of the landscape.
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Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy For Rotisserie Leagues
The Stolen Base Shortage
It’s not breaking news: stolen bases are down across the league. 2018 to 2019 was an even sharper drop than we got the year before.
How do we attack stolen bases when they’re in such short supply? Obviously, the biggest stolen base contributors get pushed up, but is it worth overpaying for steals? After all, if there are fewer steals to go around, doesn’t that mean that you need to draft fewer steals to win the category?
That’s a lot of questions without one easy answer. To begin with, our target in 15-team leagues for victory is to shoot for an 80th percentile finishes in each category. In NFBC leagues, the 80th percentile mark for steals in 2019 was 123. 10- and 12- team leaguers should aim more towards the 90th percentile mark, which was 134. Now, let’s take a look at how we can get there. These are the projected stolen base leaders for 2020, with both our own Fantrax projections as well as Steamer projections.
These are the only players projected by either Fantrax or Steamer to meet or exceed 20 stolen bases. If you’re going to get your steals in bulk, you’re going to have to pony up early. Eight of these 24 players are going in the first 30 picks. All but five are going in the top 150. Those who come cheap are discounted because they are a detriment in some (or all) other categories, negating their value. For example, Mallex Smith stole 46 bases in 2019 but earned just $5 according to Rotowire’s earned auction values due to a pitiful 6 HR, 37 RBI, and .227 average.
Luis Robert’s ADP will skyrocket now that he signed an extension and appears set to start the season in the Majors, making his steals less of a bargain. One solid bargain could lay in perennial tease Byron Buxton. He can blow past 22.5 SB with ease if he can only stay healthy. Elvis Andrus, Oscar Mercado, and Amed Rosario all contribute in other categories and offer nice value in the middle rounds if you missed out on the elite SB contributors early on. Middle Infield and Outfield is where you can find SB scraps in the late rounds to play catch-up, but good luck finding speed at the corners.
One strategy I like to employ these days is to look at what I like to call the “not-nothing” guys. Every stolen base counts in a big way these days. The not-nothing guys are the players who will at least chip you in three steals, eight steals, something to fill that category. If you’re debating between a player who is a total plodder with two steals in three years or a player who chips in 4-5 every year, there’s your tiebreaker.
The Elite Starting Pitchers Are Scarce
Our own Mike Kurland did a lot of this work for me in his insanely in-depth Starting Pitcher Preview, which can be found here. While my rankings differ a bit from his (check out our consensus rankings here) I would feel good about almost everyone from his first four tiers as my ace. However, once you get around SP40, there are a lot of question marks.
One strategy that will be popular this year is to go in early and draft two elite starters. Drafting two of these rare starters to anchor you with elite ratios while providing bulk innings and strikeouts will give you a massive advantage in four pitching categories. Even if you don’t come away with two studs in the first 2-3 rounds, you will want two by the end of the fifth. Yes, it is a vast departure from recent years in which the volatility of pitching pushed starters way down. While pitching is no less volatile, being able to avoid the ocean of mediocrity from SP40 and beyond as much as possible will make you a happy camper.
Power Is Plentiful
You might have heard a little something about “juiced balls” in 2019. The expectation by most (myself included) is that the baseball will return to relative normalcy this year. While home runs are easy to come by, that also means that you need multiple mashers if you’re going to cruise past your opponents. The 80th percentile HR totals from 2019 NFBC leagues was 348. A 90th percentile finish was an astronomical 364.
A typical two-catcher, five-outfielder, single-utility setup means that you have 14 roster spots to hit 364 HR. That is a pretty ridiculous 26 HR per position. Consider that there were only eight catchers who hit 20+ HR even with the juiced balls in 2019 and you’ve got a high bar to clear for the rest of your bats. Again, the expectation is that home runs will regress across the board, but you still have to remain vigilant throughout your draft not to fall behind in HR. Should that malady befall you, here is a list of hitters with an ADP outside the top 200 who are projected by Fantrax to hit 25+ HR.
Most of these bats are average-sinkers. I certainly am not as convinced as our projection system on Austin Riley in particular. However, Didi Gregorius, Luke Voit, and Miguel Andujar look like power bargains at their ADP. If you’re going to tank your batting average to sell out for power with some of these options, though, you’re going to want to pay attention to our next topic.
Batting Average Anchors
Despite power exploding across the board, batting average has remained relatively static over recent years. While the league average batting average across MLB in 2019 was just .252, the 80th percentile mark we are looking at in fantasy is .268. Our 90th percentile target is .271. Personally, I worry about batting average almost as little as our final topic, saves. A single player’s average can bounce around quite a bit year-to-year. All it takes for a career .250 hitter to suddenly hit .280 over a full season is a little bit of BABIP luck.
That said, true batting average anchors are hard to find. We only have 12 hitters projected for a .300+ average at Fantrax. Perhaps just as important as drafting hitters to carry your average is avoiding those who tank you. Even studs like Bryce Harper (projected .263 AVG), Pete Alonso (.255), Jonathan Villar (.263), Adalberto Mondesi (.253), and Giancarlo Stanton (.252) are likely to set you back. If you’re looking to pump your average up in the later rounds, here are some bats who are projected to hit .275 or better outside of the top 200.
There are some fun names in this one! Every year people tend to forget how useful David Peralta can be. Gregorius and Andujar find themselves on another bargain board, which might just vault them into target territory for me. Perhaps the biggest bargain of all looks to be Avisail Garcia, who could be a five-category contributor in Milwaukee.
When To Target Saves
The fantasy community seems to be coming around to the notion of waiting for saves. Every year the closer bust rate remains high. Just in 2019, for example, the top two closers (Edwin Diaz and Blake Treinen) were massive busts. Their consensus ADP was 51 and 62, respectively. This year on Fantrax, the top closer off the board is Josh Hader at a much more reasonable 78 ADP. Last year there were 11 closers drafted before pick 110. So far in 2020, that number sits at just two – Hader and Kirby Yates.
This makes it a lot easier to invest in the elite options at the position. However, if you’re going with an SP-heavy draft strategy, it’s going to be hard to invest in an elite closer. If you draft two stud SP’s and an elite RP in the first six rounds, you’re going to have a lot of catching up to do on offense. That’s not even to mention the added volatility of starting so pitching-heavy.
If your fantasy baseball draft strategy calls for going cheap on saves (always a viable option considering the turnover) there are plenty of good options in the mid-to-late rounds. There are still a lot of bullpens in flux at the time of this writing, so I won’t get into specific names. Any way you slice it, there is no shortage of high-strikeout options into the late-teen rounds of drafts. Handcuffing closers in the final rounds and throughout the season is a great way to come into even more saves than you left with at the draft table.
Be sure to check out our rankings and position overviews for more information on depth at every position. Our general consensus is that first and second base are shallow, while third base, shortstop, and the outfield are deeper. Catcher is still a dumpster fire, but better than it was heading into 2019. Starting pitching is worrisome outside of the top 40 or so, but relievers are rich and plentiful.
So far in my personal mock drafting, I feel much better about my teams going early on pitching and getting a stud at first base before they run out. The best thing you can do is mock draft on whatever platform you play on (it better be Fantrax or I will send Liam Neeson after you). Learn what strategy leaves you feeling the best about your team when you’re done.
What are the keys to your fantasy baseball draft strategy in 2020? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2020 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!
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