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2021 Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: Punting Categories

Ignoring one stat to load up on others could pay off handsomely in head-to-head settings, but it’s not the right approach for rotisserie leagues.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Fantasy owners are often thinking about ways to give themselves a competitive edge. They want to have the best and deepest team, loaded with both high-impact, multi-category contributors and depth. But sometimes, it only takes a small sacrifice.

For fantasy managers playing in head-to-head formats, punting a category might be a league-winning strategy if deployed correctly. If, on the other hand, the league in question is a rotisserie one, I would strongly advise against this approach.

Punting, in fantasy, means ignoring one category (or more) on purpose, so the owner can strengthen others. I personally prefer to ignore saves in head-to-head standard formats. That way, instead of spending draft picks on elite closers, I can grab a star pitcher to help anchor my staff, or the best hitter available at that point.

For example, the two best closers in fantasy, Liam Hendriks and Josh Hader, are currently being drafted 58th and 59th in NFBC drafts. That would be near the end of the fifth round in a 12-team league. Lance Lynn and Corbin Burnes could be available around that point among hurlers, and you can usually find hitters like Pete Alonso, Randy Arozarena, Luke Voit, and Gleyber Torres between the fourth and fifth turns.

Category punting can work wonders in head-to-head leagues

The general idea of punting categories is to forget about being competitive in one stat while focusing on strengthening the others. This strategy is perfect for head-to-head settings because you are surrendering one point, but increasing your odds everywhere else.

Additionally, if you punt batting average and go slugger-heavy to bolster home runs, runs, and RBI, there is also a chance that your offense goes hot one week and you win AVG every once in a while. This could also happen if you punt steals or wins, for example: you could luck yourself into a win in those categories sometimes.

Punting is appropriate in head-to-head leagues because there is no seasonal penalty for losing a category in a weekly matchup—once Monday comes, you will face another opponent, and last week’s results are in the rearview mirror. A clean state, if you will. The score will be 0-0 as you face a new foe.

Avoid punting in roto formats!

So far, so good. By now, you know that if you play head-to-head fantasy baseball and decide to avoid the headache of chasing the ever-scarce stolen bases, you can do it as long you focus on filling the other categories and giving yourself a competitive edge everywhere else. The most commonly punted categories are saves, steals, batting average, and wins.

However, I would advise against this particular strategy in rotisserie formats. In this setting, competitors receive the most points if they rank first in a particular category, and it goes in descending order until the last place, who gets the least possible points.

If there are 12 teams in the league, the first-ranked in RBI gets 12 points, the second receives 11, the third is awarded 10, and so on. At the end of the season, the sum of the points in all categories will dictate the final league standings.

Punting a category in roto means that you will only earn one (1) point there at the end of the season. You virtually dig your own hole, because you will need to be very, very good everywhere else to have a fighting chance.

Roto leagues reward a balanced team that can be competitive in all categories, while head-to-head is more forgiving in the sense you can forget about one (maybe even two, but that’s bold) stat as long as you are really strong and deep in the remaining nine, or at least seven or eight.

Points league are a different animal: you just have to worry about loading up on players that help you in the categories that award the most points. If your league awards one point for home runs AND for EACH total base, and it also gives away one for every stolen base, I’m pretty sure you will prioritize sluggers. In these formats, you could say there are no categories to punt.

To sum up, if you are playing in a head-to-head league, you could potentially forget about compiling stats in one particular category with the objective of bolstering others. In these formats, I forget about saves and batting average, and I’ve done pretty well for myself using this approach. You will never win saves in your weekly matchup, but you could take AVG away from your opponent in some scoring periods (it’s very volatile to plan a draft around, anyway), and if you add it up to the other stats you theoretically loaded up during the draft, you could win some leagues.