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We spend so much time on player projection and analysis that sometimes we forget Fantasy Baseball is a game. Yes, we need to do the best we can at evaluating the game pieces (players) involved, but we can’t ignore the overarching strategies that can help us put those pieces together and beat our competition. We’ll deal with in-season strategies when that time comes. Today, I’m going to outline the basic draft strategy I’ll be using in all of my upcoming drafts. The idea is solid. Only time will tell if I can implement it successfully.
While each season can take on a life of its own, I’m basing my draft strategy on two trends I don’t see changing anytime soon.
One is the huge uptick in power. 2017 was a record year for home runs, with over 400 more long balls than the previous record set in 2000. There was a new rookie home run record of 52 set by Aaron Judge. Former borderline bats like Justin Smoak and Logan Morrison hit 38 bombs. Hell, Scooter Gennett hit 27 home runs in 461 at-bats after hitting 35 in his previous 1,500. 2018 may not match up, but I don’t see a huge drop in power.
The other trend I see continuing is starting pitchers are throwing fewer innings. More and more teams are trusting relievers with a larger portion of their innings. This changes the way we can build a pitching staff for our Fantasy teams. More on this when I address my pitching strategy a bit later.
With these two trends in mind, here is how I’m focusing my draft strategy for the coming season.
With so many marginal players hitting 20-plus home runs, the value of the home run has decreased. Conversely, the value of the stolen base has increased.
There are two ways to attack this. The first is to prioritize top stolen base threats like Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton. I absolutely hate rostering these one-tool players. Sure, those players can almost single-handedly win a category for you, but they also create a huge power void in your lineup. There’s also the fact that one leg injury can pretty much doom your entire season.
Instead, I’m targeting multi-category threats throughout my drafts. Ideally, every player I draft early will offer the potential of double-digit steals along with solid if not spectacular power. This means I’ll be bypassing players like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and J.D. Martinez. Instead, I’m looking at Trea Turner, Paul Goldschmidt, Charlie Blackmon, Mookie Betts, or Francisco Lindor in the early rounds. A little later on I’m looking hard at guys like Andrew Benintendi, A.J. Pollock, and Christian Yelich. Even later in drafts, I’ll consider Kevin Kiermaier and Ender Inciarte. I’ll even be the guy who purchases Carlos Gomez, when everybody else hates him for no good reason (in Fantasy).
A lineup full of these types may not win the stolen base category, but they should put me in the top half. Of course, these multi-category players will be highly coveted. Adjusting as the draft goes along will be hugely important. The main idea is to not waste a spot with a player who contributes no speed at all. Later on I can grab a couple power only types to pad my power numbers.
The danger in this strategy is that I don’t get enough speed early to stay in upper half, and then compromise my power trying to compensate. I still like the balance this strategy will give me. I should be in the hunt in all categories and able to address any needs in-season.
I hinted at my draft strategy for pitching above. It all hinges on the fact that relievers are getting more of the innings for many teams. With Major League hitters striking out more than ever, it means that good middle relievers will come awful close to striking out just as many batters as mediocre starters. I’ll use this fact and the rate categories of ERA and WHIP to hopefully exploit the pitching categories and score more points than my investment would suggest.
To do this, I’ll do my best to roster two of the Top 15 starters (via FantasyPros.com) at the right. I’ll add a couple safe pitchers (low WHIP) like Alex Cobb, Jeff Samardzija, or possibly Dylan Bundy. Any high upside shots I take will likely start the season the bench in favor of low-WHIP, high-K/9 middle relievers.
A couple of weeks ago I explained why I thought middle relievers deserved a shot in mixed leagues and offered up 20 names you should consider. It’s from this list that I will draw. I probably won’t reach high enough to grab Andrew Miller or Dellin Betances, but high strikeout arms like Tommy Kahnle, Chad Greene, and Chris Devenski should be available late into drafts, if not the reserve round.
For my draft strategy to have the best chance at success, I’ll need to stay with the bulk of the league in the saves category, but I won’t be able to invest in a top closer like Craig Kimbrel or Kenley Jansen. Instead I’ll shop for one or two in the next tier. Felipe Rivero, Raisel Iglesias, and Brad Hand don’t come with the elite price tags, but match up pretty well, with the top tier. I’ll also have to take a shot on a Brandon Morrow or Archie Bradley. They don’t have the track record, but most definitely have the skills. I’ll probably add a third closer late in the draft from among the Angels duo of Cam Bedrosian and Blake Parker, or Shane Green.
Just like in hitting, this balanced approach should leave me room to make moves in-season to gain points in multiple categories. That’s where the trading fun begins.
This draft strategy is nothing new. Many owners will be battling for the multi-category hitters I’ll be chasing. The key will be in identifying a few who do a little more than expected in either home runs or stolen bases. On the pitching side I have to come through in the rate categories. The existence of two such categories on the pitching side makes it possible to exploit them to some degree. If my team ERA or WHIP get away from me early in the season it could get ugly.
Got a draft strategy you intend to follow this season? Tweet it out to me @RotoDaddy.