If you’re reading this article, you’ve decided to jump into the world of fantasy baseball. It is easily the most complex, demanding and involved of all the fantasy sports, but also the most rewarding. The 162-game baseball season is a marathon that will test your mettle, but if you make it to the finish line, I guarantee you’re going to have a new favorite fantasy sport.
Because of the multiple formats, sheer size of rosters, constant games and required activity levels, it can be daunting. To ease your foray into the sport, I’ve compiled a list of tips that should apply no matter what type of league you’re in. This article assumes you’re going to play in a 10 or 12-man league with little to no variation on which categories your league uses. Good luck!
If you read only one tip before closing this tab, make it this one. Especially in daily leagues — those where you can make moves every day of the season — you need to be on top of your team. Every day, check your team about an hour before game time and make sure all batters and pitchers are where you want them to be. Set an alarm if you need to. Remove injured players from your active roster. Don’t be afraid to pick up a batter who hit three home runs in the last week or a pitcher who has had two great games. By June I can already tell who is abandoning their team and it sucks. If you can pay attention to your team through August, I guarantee you’re not going to be a cellar-dweller.
Decide your activity level
Fantasy baseball lends itself to many formats. Do you know ahead of time you won’t be able to give your near-undivided attention? Start out with a weekly league. You set your rosters on a Monday and don’t have to worry about making daily moves because your lineups lock. You can still make pickups throughout the week, but your new additions won’t take effect until the following Monday when you can edit your lineup again. If you are obsessive like I am and can pay attention every day, then stay in daily leagues.
Turn on Twitter alerts
If you want to be the first in your league to pick up a replacement closer or the hot new prospect that just got a surprise call to the bigs, sign up for alerts. Turn on alerts for national writers (Rosenthal, Heyman, Sherman, etc) who are usually first on the big news. That should cover most trades, especially come July for the MLB trade deadline. Is a team’s closer struggling? Turn on alerts for their beat writers. They’ll be the first to let you know when a manager makes a move. Same goes for when a prospect gets a call up. Is this going to blow up your phone? Probably. You’ll get used to it but the angry shaking fists from your leaguemates will make it worth it.
Know your league’s settings
Is your commissioner like me and despises AVG and Wins and instead opts for OBP and Quality Starts? That makes a difference! Carlos Santana becomes a steal. Tim Anderson is...really bad now. Don’t show up to the draft ready to select players under the guise of a standard 5x5 format (R, HR, RBI, SB, AVG, W, SV, K, ERA, WHIP) if your league has other categories. Does it have OPS? That makes sluggers more valuable. Does it have Save+Holds? That really waters down a closer’s worth. This goes double for points leagues where (similar to fantasy football) certain categories are assigned points. I don’t recommend one of those if this is your first foray. But if you’re in it, be sure to assess the value of each player so that you’re prepared.
Other league settings apply beyond just categories. Maybe your league allows you seven moves a week to limit pitcher streaming. Or perhaps it has unlimited weekly moves but a 100-move season cap. Be sure to peruse your league settings before a draft to make sure nothing catches you off guard.
Don’t panic in the season, but make smart pickups
In April and May, it’s a free for all. These are the months where we’re not sure if someone is having a great start to the year or if they’re actually breaking out. The first thing you need to do is step back from the ‘Drop’ button. So what if Rougned Odor started April on a 7-for-52 slump. Or that Kyle Hendricks has a 4.95 ERA by the end of the first month. You drafted these guys inside the top-150 picks. If they started the year well and had their bad months in July, you wouldn’t blink an eye. I’ve heard some managers like to apply a snake draft formula for drops. To get a rough idea of when to drop someone, go off the round they were drafted. In a 23-round draft, the last three picks should be given a one or two-week leash. The 15-20th round guys get about three to four weeks. And it increases from there. It’s not great, but it does have merit.
Conversely, don’t be afraid to drop your fliers for someone who is performing well. It could simply be a hot April (Starlin Castro) and you get some early unexpected production. Or it could be a career-renaissance (Ryan Zimmerman) and improve your odds of winning the league. If someone is doing well, I like to check his peripherals. Is he throwing harder? Hitting the ball harder? Did he change his launch angle? Is he using a new pitch that is effective? Do some quick research before making a move.
Pounce on closers
This ties Twitter alerts and the previous tip together. Last April Jeanmar Gomez, Blake Treinen and Sam Dyson all lost their jobs early in the season. I turned on Twitter alerts for their respective team’s beat writers and speculated on who could take over their roles. Usually the 8th-inning guy is the one who will become the new closer, especially if he has velocity and previous success. But sometimes managers will throw us a curveball and we have to be prepared. Closers are great trade bait. In standard-sized leagues I don’t mind carrying as many as five because I can trade them away to owners. Is no one biting? Just hang on to them and reap the saves. Eventually a manager with one or two closers will relent and you can work something out.
Note: If you’re quick on closers (and you should be because of the alerts), this means you shouldn’t spend a high pick on elite closers in the draft. Aim to leave with three and then get ready to make moves.
Beware of early season trades
It’s one thing to make an early season add or drop to your roster. It’s another to make an early season trade. I remember last April I was desperately trying to land Eric Thames and Dylan Bundy from their owners. Thankfully, none wanted to make a move. Thames was a shell of his April self for the rest of the year and Bundy wasn’t the ace he pretended to be in April. On the other hand, if you can trade away closers, do it. I shipped Treinen and Dyson to a manager who needed saves for Aaron Nola. Yeah, I was happy with that one. But in general, be wary of blockbusters early on. Any player in baseball, elite or not, can make changes for better or worse that will dramatically alter their season and leave April trades looking extremely lopsided.
Speculate through the DL
Most leagues should have at least two disabled list spots and probably more thanks to the DL-pocalypse of 2017 brought on by the 10-day DL. Use them! In your drafts snag some players that will be on the DL for a month. Once teams officially designate them, you can DL them and pick up another player. Many platforms have the ability to add DL’d players straight to the DL spot on your roster. There’s absolutely no reason to use them up. If the player suffers a setback, just drop them again no harm done. Sometimes managers are hit by the injury bug and can’t hold on to every injured player. This is where you can pounce. And if you’re evil like I am, try and trade them back the player they dropped.
Use your bench for pitchers and relievers
This isn’t a catch-all tip, but it’s one I suggest for standard leagues. I like to carry at most two bench bats, and usually just one. This allows me to load up on 6-7 starters and 3-4 relievers. In H2H leagues you’ll usually beat your opponent in quantity. If you have three to four bats on your bench, you’ll drive yourself crazy managing them every day and more often than not miss out on offensive categories. With starters, you just worry about slotting them on their scheduled days. But remember one of the earlier tips. If your league settings say something about a cap on innings pitched per year, maybe you don’t want to go for quantity over quality because once you surpass that innings limit, your stats won’t count.
Use resources to learn about trends and players
Here are my favorite free resources:
Fangraphs.com (One-stop shop to get smarter from their articles and see a player’s peripherals)
baseballsavant.mlb.com (exit velocity, barrels, etc. Sabermetrics galore)
rosterresource.com (really intricate depth chart info)
baseballpress.com/lineups (best place to use to see if a player is in a lineup that day. Lineups submitted about two hours before game time)
Razzball.com (first thing I used when I got into fantasy baseball. Humor from main author is not for all, but they’re spot on and have enough content for all league formats)
PitcherList.com (Excellent source for pitcher information. Nick Pollack is an expert at identifying trends beyond FIP, K-BB%, etc).
But perhaps the best place to visit to aggregate all of it is reddit.com/r/fantasybaseball.
The world of fantasy baseball is huge. But if it clicks with you, you’re never going to have enough. I’ve gone from managing one simple 10-team redraft in 2009 to eight teams this year ranging from 20-team expert dynasty leagues, AL-only leagues, contract dynasty leagues, and more. While it can be exhaustive, you’re going to learn so much about baseball while you’re at it. And along the way, maybe, just maybe, you’re going to have a ton of fun.
If you want to follow up with questions or share your own tips, feel free to comment below or find me on Twitter @EddyAlmaguer. Always happy to help.
Author’s Note: Written before the 2018 season.