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Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategies

Your league is set up! Now it’s time to draft!

Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Spring Training is wrapping up, major league rosters are taking shape, and your fantasy baseball league is off the ground! Last week I shared a brief overview of what type of leagues are available to play fantasy baseball. This week I will discuss the next major off-season step that all leagues participate in. Many will be having their live draft in the next two weeks. There are some strategies that you can take advantage of prior to the draft, during the draft, and after.

Prior to the Draft

  • Know the settings and rules of your leagues – The league set up of teams, scoring, rosters, and postseason is usually selected before you join the league. However, EVERY league is different. Make sure that you know exactly how hitters and pitchers are scored. Make sure you know what positions are needed to fill your lineup. Do you start one or two catchers? Is there a corner infield (CI) or middle infield (MI) slot? Do you start any outfielder (OF) or are they separated by position (LF/CF/RF)? How many UTIL/DH slots? With pitchers you will need to know if the league counts Holds (H), Quality Starts (QS), or other less common categories. It is important to know these, not only for the season, but also for the draft.

  • Find reliable information – It is vital to research sites, magazines, or podcasts that have a history of success. It sounds like common sense because it is. The info may be decent on most sites, but it may also be outdated. You will want to know which player has the upper hand in a position battle, but you won’t want to be the guy that didn’t know his first round pick just went to see Dr. James Andrews…

  • Keep your war room clean – Organize yourself for the draft. If it is your first draft, or your tenth, it can move fast if you are not prepared. Have players ready that you would like to target and research where they are being selected in other drafts. Most draft boards allow you to see your team in real time, but having a roster sheet to keep track could be a boost. Limit your material to a rankings sheet and projections sheet once you enter draft mode. All other research should be done prior to the draft.

During the Draft

  • Prep, prep, and more prep – A typical draft room will open 30 – 60 minutes prior to start time. Jump in early to see which random pick slot number you drew. If you have the third pick, for example, take some time to narrow your list to three players that you can select – one will inevitably be there for you. If you pick last (on the wheel), you have back-to-back picks. This can be a great spot for many owners. Check out ADP and rankings to see which players go near that slot and decide which combo might work best for you.

  • Utilize the queue – Add players to your queue! There is absolutely no harm in it. Stash players here that you won’t need to search for when you are on the clock. Certain examples of players to add would be closers that have won the job in spring (or top setup men if your league counts holds), a top prospect who may get called up before June, and any sleepers that you don’t want to forget about in the heat of the draft.

  • Pay attention – If you joined a league with your buddies, chances are you will know more about their habits than you think. We all have these friends – the homer, the flavor of the week, the know-it-all, the drunk guy, or the guy who hasn’t researched since 2010. You have advantages over all of these opponents if you use it the right way. However, maybe you joined a league with some guys you aren’t really familiar with. This is a little more difficult to take advantage of, so watch the draft room chat. Some guys will tip their hand on their strategy without even knowing it. During the draft pay attention to the manager picking before you and behind you. Find their strategy and also keep tabs on what they need. Example: You are 11th in a 12 man league. You should grab a closer here for your roster’s sake, but a high upside OF is sitting there to draft. The manager on the wheel already has 4 closers, so odds say he’s not grabbing that RP. Take the OF now and grab the closer on the way back. Two birds, one stone.

  • Position scarcity – If you have experience with fantasy football, then you will understand that Catchers are a lot like Tight Ends. You either seek out one of the top 3-5 or you wait to draft one. During your research, come up with your own ranking system. Knowing when to grab a first tier player at position A rather than taking a second/third tier player at position B can help you in the long run. Don’t get sucked into a run on players. Don’t reach for a player 50 spots before his ADP just because he is the next best at that position. You wouldn’t do it in fantasy football, and you shouldn’t do it in baseball. Select guys that you believe in.

  • Floors vs. Ceilings – This is my bread and butter category. If you are in a league with me, then you know this is my strategy. Your fantasy team can be just like playing the stock market. Minimize the risk and maximize the reward. Limit the risk! The ‘floor’ can be described as what is my expectation of Player A’s performance over the course of a season if he has a down year. Conversely, his ceiling would be his potential career year. This can be broken down as saying a player with a high floor is considered “safe” and a player with a high ceiling has “upside”. A low floor-high ceiling would be a high risk-high reward. Maximize players with high floors and don’t be afraid to reach on occasion for players with high ceilings. Many owners get in trouble by drafting a player on ceiling alone. A player like Yoenis Cespedes could hit .320 with 40 home runs and 100+ RBI because that is the type of ceiling he has, but he is drafted as a second to third tier OF because his floor doesn’t allow him to be a top 5 guy.

  • Which players to target – History can teach us. In fantasy baseball history shows us that bats jump off the board early in drafts, but it is pitchers that lead a team to championships down the stretch. History also shows us that big name hitters get the love, but it is guys hitting their prime (age 26-30) that deliver titles. The top shortstop in 2016, for fantasy purposes, went undrafted in most drafts. The top pitcher in drafts proved to be just that – untouchable. If you had Kershaw, Lester, Scherzer, and Verlander last year, then obviously you won a title. You weren’t getting these guys if you waited.

  • Versatility – Grab players with multi-position eligibility! Use it as a ‘tiebreaker’ of sorts between players. This can give you a huge boost as the player can be plugged into your lineup numerous ways. For a look at some players that fit this criteria, check out Dave’s articles here and here.

  • Fill categories – In a standard ‘5x5’ league, the hitting categories are Runs, HRs, RBI, SBs, and AVG. Wouldn’t it be great to draft a player that helps in all of those categories? Some players can contribute to 2 or 3 categories, but the best players help in at least 4. Managers will take a player like Billy Hamilton too early because he can help win the SB and runs category for them. However he doesn’t hit for power, drive in runs, or hit for average. So he is really only giving you 40%. However, a player like Marcell Ozuna is going a full 100 picks after Hamilton in drafts and he hit .266 with 23 HRs, 76 RBI, and 75 runs in 2016. That is much better value multiple rounds later.

After the Draft

Sit back and relax! Well no – don’t do that. You can’t win a fantasy baseball championship in March, but you can certainly lose it. Now it is time to stay up to date on the health of your team. Keep an eye out for notes on your players and check any news that comes through the pipeline. Also, be proactive in researching the free agents in your league. It is beneficial to know who is available in case you need to make a pick up.

Most importantly – stay active! Your league will appreciate it.