The time has finally come — the greatest of all fantasy sports seasons is here: fantasy baseball!
While many have deemed fantasy football the best of all sports, it’s fantasy baseball that allows managers the most control of their team and the most control over random factors that make or break a fantasy season.
To walk you through your season, I’ll be putting together a fantasy baseball column each week — discussing players to watch for, players to stay away from and trends to consider while putting together your lineups.
But first, who am I to tell you what to consider about your fantasy lineup? The truth is, I’m another fantasy player like you — although what qualifies me to write this column is the success I’ve found over the past few seasons with the strategies I’m going to lay out here. Dating back to 2008, I’ve finished 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 1st and 2nd (in a 12-team league). Like I said, fantasy baseball allows managers who know what they’re doing to separate themselves from the competition.
But enough about me, let’s talk strategy. This first column isn’t going to address players so much as how we approach the draft — the most important event in your season (although with the ability to add free agents, which I’ll talk about later, the draft doesn’t have to make or break your season).
The first thing to deal with is determining what format and categories you’re going to be using because this will significantly alter your pre-draft player rankings. Make sure you know whether you’re playing in a keeper league, a rotisserie league or a head-to-head league. Is it an auction draft or a snake draft? Do you know where you’re picking yet? Also, take a look at the scoring categories — are you using standard stats like average and wins/losses, or are you using new-age stats like on base percentage and WHIP?
Of everything you do in preparing for your draft, determining those two things will do more to help you than any amount of research.
Let me put it this way, in my league, we use OBP, slugging percentage, WHIP and net saves (while leaving out the “loss” category). Every online ranking system, however, is based on the standard stats, which means that players who thrive in OBP or WHIP will be ranked much lower than they should.
Take Giancarlo Stanton, for example. Last season, Stanton ranked 111th in the majors in batting average (.249), but he ranked 27th in OBP (.365) thanks to 74 walks in 116 games. According to the standard rankings, Stanton will be penalized for a poor batting average, but in my league where we only care about OBP, Stanton should actually be rewarded thanks to his above-average OBP. On the flip side, Carlos Beltran’s .296 average is very good, but his .339 OBP isn’t nearly as impressive.
If you find your league does use a different set of stats, you’ll need to adjust the rankings we’ll talk about in step 2.
So, again: step 1 — double check your stat categories and league type.
With that in mind, the second step is to begin doing your research and compiling your own version of rankings. Now, few of us have the time or knowledge required to build rankings from scratch, so pick whichever site you’re using for fantasy and use their rankings as a starting point (after all, your competitors are likely swearing by this list like it’s the Bible).
For me, the first step in doing research is positional evaluation. I’m a big believer in determining which positions are weak in a given year so that I can evaluate which players to target.
Many people spend their early picks selecting the best player available — which is fine for the most part — but we also need to consider who we’re going to be left with at positions like catcher, second base and shortstop.
For example, most people would consider it a push to have the 5th best OF and the 10th best 3B, compared to the 10th best OF and the 5th best 3B. The reality, however, is that the difference between the 5th and 10th best OF is miniscule compared to the 5th and 10th best 3B. In 2013, Torii Hunter was the 10th best OF and the 49th best player in fantasy baseball overall, compared to Alfonso Soriano, the 5th best OF who was ranked 27th overall. For 3B, however, David Wright was the 5th best 3B and was 89th overall, compared to Jedd Gyorko, the 10th best 3B who was the 236th best player in fantasy baseball last season.
This season, catcher is a position that lacks a lot of top-end talent. Using Yahoo’s rankings, there are just five catchers among the top 150 players this season (compared to 11 3B, 10 2B and 8 SS). As usual, if you can grab an elite catcher, it will be a huge advantage to your lineup every week.
So with scoring understood and rankings complete, the third step is to develop a draft strategy and to prepare. Nowadays, no matter what site you use, there are mock drafts available, and these are a must to get an idea of what players might be available at what stages in the draft.
It also gives you a chance to practice your draft strategy — determining which positions you want to target at what stages in the draft. Essentially, don’t just start shooting from the hip once you get into your draft.
Know whether you want to target weak positions at the top or take the best player available. Do you want to build an elite pitching staff or lineup? Do you want balance between the two? Are there players you like in later rounds that you need to keep an eye out for?
Finally, the fourth step is laying out a post-draft strategy, which, for me, involves a lot of activity in free agency. The reason I’ve been so successful in fantasy baseball is because I beat everyone in my league on the waiver wire every year.
Players I’ve picked up midseason recently include Paul Goldschmidt and R.A. Dickey (in 2012), and Gerrit Cole, Travis Wood and Leonys Martin (in 2013). While drafting is important, free agency is almost equally important — and that’s what we’ll tackle throughout the season is players who might be available and primed for a breakout week, month or season.
So there you have it: identify your league, prepare for the draft, execute your strategy and prep for free agency. While no strategy is fool proof, this is the strategy that has brought me mounds of success for the past five years — something I hope I can help you tap into this season.
If you’ve got questions or want up-to-date info, check out my new twitter @DNFantasySpiegs, or email me at [email protected]
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