Is it me or is there no such thing as a normal baseball season anymore? The fantasy baseball draft tips that follow will hopefully help you deal with the madness that no doubt lies ahead during the 2024 MLB season.
Think about what fantasy baseball managers have had to contend with over the last four seasons. The 2020 and 2021 seasons were shaken up by a pandemic. In 2022 we had to deal with a lockout and though we did get a full season in, it was not a sure thing by any means. Finally, in 2023 we all had to try and predict what effect the pitch clock, the increase in base sizes, and the shift ban would have on our fantasy game. I’m sure 2024 will be a completely predictable season and all of our projections will be spot on… Right?!…
The 2024 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit is just kicking into gear, but I wanted to jump in right away with a few nuggets of wisdom before draft season really heats up. This isn’t so much my draft strategy as it is my stream of consciousness regarding what it takes to have a successful draft and ensuing fantasy baseball season
I’m gonna be honest with you. I have reposted this article several years with just a few minor tweaks… until the last few years. Things have changed so much, that I think it’s more than time to re-examine some of the basic tenets I once held firm to.
Follow the basic principles below, and with a little luck on the injury front, you’ll find yourself in contention come August. Don’t worry, all of us here at FantraxHQ will be here to offer support along the way and help you seal the deal when September and October roll around. First, you’ve got to get to that point, so let’s lay out the road map to Fantasy success.
Fantasy Baseball Draft Tips for 2024
Play it extremely safe in the first five or six rounds
Whoever said you have to take risks to win, didn’t mean drafting injury-prone or unproven players in the early rounds. I get it. It’s boring to play it safe, and nobody makes comments about how great a pick is when it’s the obvious safe play. That’s okay. I’d rather look like a genius in September than in March. That probably means you’ll skip over the trendy hitter everyone thinks is gonna break out. It means you’ll probably have to bypass that pitcher with the 100-mph heater to go along with a sketchy injury history. Instead, go with known quantities. The early rounds of a draft are not where you earn profit. Use them for safe investments more likely to get your money back. Save your upside plays for later. Speaking of which…
Let your sleepers be sleepers.
This hasn’t changed much for me. Everybody has sleepers. Even those fantasy baseball snobs who say there are no such things as sleepers; they have sleepers. They just like to call them value plays, late-round fliers, or some other less cliche term. Whatever you call them, sleepers are players that may have big question marks, but you like them to greatly out-produce their draft cost. It’s a chance to make a nice profit in your draft. Profit is what wins leagues.
If you start reaching too far for your sleepers, though, you take away a lot of your profit even if that player breaks through and you feel like a genius for drafting them earlier than everybody else. I still remember a perfect example of this from years ago.
It was an NL-Only industry mock draft during the draft season of 2012. Jose Altuve was coming off a nice, but unspectacular 57-game debut (Yes, the Astros were in the NL then). The draft was going mostly as expected until someone drafted Altuve in the third round.
Now Altuve went on to have a very nice year and probably returned his value, so some would say this guy nailed it. Smart fantasy baseball managers know he cost himself a ton of value. He could have safely waited until the eighth or ninth round to draft Altuve and taken a more proven player in the third. So maybe he got third-round value out of Altuve, but his ninth-round pick was just a run-of-the-mill ninth-round pick. It was a great call on the player. It was a terrible mistake as a draft pick.
Use a paper cheat sheet
But Fantrax and other draft sites show who’s been drafted and who hasn’t. Why the extra piece of paper? Two reasons. First, while it’s easy to see who is available overall, the speed at which most drafts move means it’s not always easy to see how many draftable players are available at any one position.
More importantly, though, you want a cheat sheet with your own rankings, because the default rankings for any site are going to conflict with your values. Your favorite end-game sleepers might be so buried on the site you forget all about them in the heat of the draft. Your cheat sheet will help you stay on top of the available player pool better and ensure you maximize value later in the draft. Don’t worry, we’ll have some printable cheat sheets for you once the player pools are a little more solidified.
Build a balanced roster
The uncertainty of the last few years has been impossible to predict. The people who built balanced rosters were best equipped to deal with all the unknowns and end up in contention late in the season. Balance means making sure you have solid options at all positions and also not neglecting any statistical categories to the point that you’re not within shouting distance come mid-season.
To help you achieve this balance, I’ve created a little recipe for success in snake drafts. Acquire these assets in the first 10 rounds and you’ll be well on your way to a winning draft this season.
Draft two top starting pitchers in the first four to five rounds
We may not always get the names right, but there’s little argument that elite-level starting pitchers are more valuable than ever. They are the rare pitchers still throwing close to 200 innings or more and enjoying the full benefit of this swing-and-miss generation of MLB hitters. Meanwhile, the bulk of starting pitchers are seeing fewer innings and subsequently fewer wins and a smaller share of the strikeouts. We don’t know how the baseball season will play this year, but in order to compete you’re going to need two elite starters who give you high-quality innings with plenty of strikeouts. If you don’t get these aces, you’re gonna end up chasing strikeouts with lower-quality pitchers and your ratios are gonna be worse for it.
It definitely hurts to bypass some of the great hitters in the earlier rounds, but with more hitting positions to fill, you can make up for it during the rest of the draft. It’s virtually impossible to make up the production an elite starting pitcher can provide.
Draft a couple of good middle relievers in the reserve rounds
For many of the same reasons the elite starting pitchers have gained value, so have the really good middle relievers. The average starting pitcher is getting fewer wins than ever. Those wins and many of the strikeouts are going toward middle relievers who also offer much safer ratios. The best part? These middle relievers are almost free! Use them early in the season while you’re still waiting to see what your upside picks really are. If you draft skill over role, you’re also very likely to “luck” into a closer or two during the season. Closer rankings were relatively stable in 2023 but I’m expecting a return to the yearly chaos we saw in previous seasons. That likely means there will be plenty of opportunities if you draft the right middle relievers.
You can wait on the middle infield
I remember the days when the middle infield was Derek, Alex, and Nomar, and then a bunch of garbage. It’s still nice if you can get Trea Turner or Bo Bichette, but both shortstop and second base go 20 deep in useful players. If you don’t grab one of the top few at each position, you’re gonna be okay waiting.
Do not draft a closer early!
Prior to last season, many fantasy pundits started pushing managers to draft closers as early as the third or fourth round. 2023 was relatively stable on the closer front but we have no idea how 2024 will play out. There’s a good chance we see a return to the closer chaos from previous seasons. Regardless, there is way too much hitting and pitching value at that point in drafts to be wasted on saves. Yes, those managers may indeed win the saves category. Just remember, you don’t need to win saves to win your league. It’s very doable to finish in the top half of your league in saves while piecing together a fantasy bullpen in the later rounds and being active on the waiver wire. Sometimes old advice is good advice. Don’t pay for saves!
Track the rosters of the two owners who draft right before you and after you
Most online drafts move too fast to meaningfully track rosters of the entire league and even in 12-team leagues, it’s very hard to predict which players will go off the board in between your picks. What you can do is try to keep an eye on the positional needs of the owners who draft in close proximity. It might help you decide between the two players you’re targeting. For example, if you know the owners drafting before and after you already have two closers, you might wait on the closer you want and grab your second starting catcher. If you’re within a few slots of the turn (3rd-4th, 9th-10th) this really comes in handy.