Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy, Part 1 – Know the Basics
We are less than two weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting and our draft room is heating up. This is where I remind you to play your season-long leagues here on Fantrax. Our leagues payout up to 96 percent of league entry fees. The league champion can earn more than eight times his or her entry fee. Yes, you read that correctly. The prizes and competition are top-notch, and we are just getting started. Now that you have resumed reading this after signing up for a league, here are some general fantasy baseball draft strategy tips and suggestions for you to get the jump on the opposition. I will not get into too much detail about specific players yet, though if you are hankering for that sort of thing, we have got you covered like Matt Chapman covers the hot corner.
For all the rankings, strategy, and analysis you could ever want check out the 2020 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!
Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy, Part 1 – Knowing the Basics
This is my number-one rule in every single sport regardless of format or scoring system. It seems simple enough, and yet most of us fall victim to joining a league without a full understanding of the particulars. Yes, I even made this mistake in a league last year myself. Each player will usually have a slightly different perceived value in a Roto league as opposed to a Head-to-Head Points league. That value may change further if you are playing in a Best Ball or Draft and Hold league. It may be altered still depending on potential multi-positional eligibility thresholds. Other details such as the method for acquiring free agents, whether there is a start or inning minimum for pitchers, use of the bench and Injured List spots, and the like, will play a part in being able to properly value each player in the draft pool.
I believe that having a thorough understanding of one’s league rules and settings is paramount to having a successful fantasy baseball draft. This is because the rosters are so much deeper in fantasy baseball than any other sport. In standard fantasy baseball leagues, you start 22 players, more than double the number in most fantasy football leagues. Also, most hitters are playing just about every single day. There is a much greater reliance on a player’s overall skill set and role, as opposed to a game-specific approach or a perceived strength of schedule. A team’s best hitter will still come to bat every ninth turn in the order. It is not like football where a team can pepper a wide receiver facing a weak cornerback every fourth or fifth offensive play while everyone else fights for scraps.
Put the Puzzle Together
Fantasy baseball is such a unique challenge because you can find production in each category at virtually every position. In football, you will not find a wide receiver who can rush for 1,000 yards or a quarterback who catches passes. But last year, there was an outfielder who hit 48 home runs and another who stole 48 bases. There was a second baseman who hit 38 bombs and another who swiped 40 bags. There was a shortstop who hit 35 homers and another who stole 35 bases. The key is finding the right balance throughout your roster, both in terms of raw statistics and position. If you have already selected three first basemen and/or if you have a surplus of speed, you might not feel the need to draft Danny Santana.
The goal in Roto leagues is not to win a certain category or even the most categories. The end game is simply to score the most combined points across all categories. If you lead your league in the power categories but are dead last in stolen bases, near the bottom in batting average, and have a subpar pitching staff, you will fall short of the money. Balance is the name of the game. You must take this into account throughout your draft, both in terms of category strength and positional flexibility. For example, if your roster is chock full of power and you have outfield spots to fill, you may want to grab Mallex Smith a round or two earlier than you otherwise would. On the flip side, you may want to ignore the speedster in Seattle if you have already drafted Victor Robles and Oscar Mercado.
This is where the real fun begins. You have to decide in real-time whether it is more prudent to draft Mercado in the 11th round or Smith in the 15th. Or maybe you would rather draft power-hitting outfielders and opt for Adalberto Mondesi in the fourth round or Jonathan Villar in the sixth. Then again, you could decide that banking on one player for steals is not worth the risk and instead choose to select players who provide speed without being a detriment in other areas. If you select players based solely on overall rankings (or worse – default rankings or ADP), you could find yourself with an overabundance of players with similar skillsets, oftentimes at the same position. A fantasy baseball roster is like a puzzle. The pieces must fit together to form a well-balanced team that will compete at the end of the year.
Position eligibility is another factor to consider in your fantasy baseball draft strategy. Now, I wouldn’t blindly and randomly draft players solely on added flexibility. However, if you can put this tool to good use, it can be quite a bonus. Jeff McNeil is currently being drafted right around the end of the eighth round. If you are only able to deploy him in your outfield spot, you might not consider him a good value at that point in the draft. But if you can start him at second base and third base in addition to the outfield, you may choose to bump him up a few spots in your valuation. That goes double for leagues in which you can make daily adjustments to your starting lineup. These are the little edges you can gain on opponents throughout the draft.
If you’re like us you can’t wait until spring to get the 2020 fantasy baseball season started? Well, you don’t have to. Leagues are already forming at Fantrax.com, so head on over and start or join a league today.
Do Not Overvalue ADP
Regardless of which style of game you play or the scoring system your league utilizes, there are a few basic things all fantasy players should be mindful of before the draft. Though we live in an age of information overload, many fantasy owners still decide to enter the online draft room and rely on the site’s default ADP rather than their rankings. Doing so puts these owners at a tremendous disadvantage. ADP fails to account for a myriad of factors that will undoubtedly alter the value of each player. First and foremost, the “A” in ADP stands for “average”. That is a key point that far too often goes overlooked. It is only an average of where that player is being drafted. It is not a true representation of a player’s true value, but many fantasy owners erroneously treat it as such.
ADP generally does not take league settings and configurations into account. And yes, I am including our own ADP in that critique. On Fantrax, we have one ADP for each player. We record that data regardless of whether that player was drafted in a Roto league or a Points league. According to our Player Rater, Alex Bregman finished ninth among hitters in Roto last season. He finished fourth in total points. That may seem like a minor difference. But he is currently going off our boards as the seventh hitter drafted. Is Bregman a value or a reach? It may depend on which game you are playing. The further down the line you look, the wider the gap may be on a certain player. Oftentimes a player will have a value that is two or three rounds higher in a particular format. A blanket ADP would not account for this.
Our ADP also does not differentiate between leagues that start Corner Infielders (CI), Middle Infielders (MI) and/or Utility hitters (UT). These league settings can greatly affect the value of certain players. For instance, I mentioned in my recent Best Ball piece that each team starts three utility hitters. That means that you can theoretically start four third basemen every week. Right now, 19 third basemen are going in the first 15 rounds of 12-team leagues compared to 12 first basemen. If the ADP accurately reflects current market value (a big “if”, by the way, which I will address momentarily), then those “extra” third basemen are a more valuable commodity in those leagues. To determine whether ADP accurately reflects market value, let us look at the example I just used featuring corner infielders.
In a standard league where you start one first baseman and one third baseman, those corner infielders who are borderline starters are going to be devalued. Suppose you are considering drafting a third baseman in the eighth round, but you notice that 10 teams have already drafted one. If you do not see a great difference between the 11th third baseman per ADP (Matt Chapman – 90.26) and the 13th (Josh Donaldson – 100.61), you can probably afford to wait on whichever one you prefer. In this example, a player of Chapman or Donaldson’s ilk can fall multiple rounds below their ADP. The opposite would probably be true in a Best Ball league, where an owner would want to lock down some quality hitters to fill those UT spots.
Therein lies the problem. When we look at Josh Donaldson’s ADP and simply see “100.61” next to his name, we have no context. Was that pushed down because of hundreds of standard, one-3B drafts? Or was it pushed up because of hundreds of Best Ball drafts? The answer likely lies somewhere in the middle, but we don’t know. We also do not have context based on time. Our leagues are open virtually all year round, which is great for those who can’t get enough fantasy. However, this feature can skew ADP as well. There are still sites where leagues have not opened yet. Assuming they do decide to open for business at some point, their ADP data will not reflect anything that has happened over the last few weeks, let alone the past several months.
Scoring At Home
Before you head into the draft room, you should do a fair amount of research. It can be quite an intimidating endeavor. You are essentially evaluating most of the players currently playing at the Major League level, as well as plenty of minor leaguers and foreign players. Publications like The Fantasy Baseball Black Book are a great tool for those looking to prepare for drafts. The player pool can be very deep depending on your roster settings and league configuration. After all, in Fantrax standard leagues, as many as 750 players will be drafted. That makes for a long day in the lab. As I mentioned earlier, you should know the specific scoring system your league employs. That seems rather elementary. But a slight tweak can drastically alter the values of certain players.
For example, many Points leagues offer one point for each total base that occurs as a result of a base hit. This means doubles are worth two points, triples three, and home runs four. However, in Fantrax Best Ball leagues, all singles, doubles, and triples are worth one point, with home runs worth three. Stolen bases are also worth three points in Best Ball as opposed to two in Points leagues. This can often lead to a shift in value. In 2019, Eduardo Escobar finished the year as the 16th highest-scoring hitter in all of baseball in Points leagues. Whit Merrifield finished 23rd. In Best Ball formats, however, Merrifield finished 16th while Escobar finished 24th. If you are improperly valuing the contributions of every single player in the pool by a full round or two, you will be way behind the curve.
You need to prioritize your league’s scoring system when trying to assign each player a value. This will allow you to come up with a more customizable ranking for each draft you participate in. Having a site or magazine’s projections at the ready sounds great, but those raw numbers do not always tell the whole story. How do we know what these projections mean in terms of player values? To figure that out, I like to convert these raw numbers into a more usable tool. One of the ways to form a well-balanced roster from a statistical standpoint is to give each categorical contribution its own value. This will also help you identify potential bargains throughout your draft. I will go into detail on how to go about doing this in the next installment of this series.
What are the keys to your fantasy baseball draft strategy? Let us know in the comments below. Don’t worry, we won’t tell your secrets to anyone in your league.
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