Fantasy Baseball Strategy Session

Over the course of this offseason, particularly after the first of the year when more free agents have signed, I’ll be writing fantasy baseball rankings and predictions to help you win your league. But today, I’d like to offer a strategy primer. This isn’t what players to draft; it is how to draft, period.

I’ll assume most people don’t play in a league that doesn’t utilize an auction and most of your leagues are standard 5×5 with traditional categories.

A lot of strategy will depend on where you pick in the draft when we’re talking about early picks, but once we get 10 plus rounds into it, that distinction melts away. I’ll offer some broad rules below, but first, I want to make a couple points in general. First, use sabermetrics to prepare. Fantasy baseball might glorify more tradition statistics, but sabermetrics will help you judge over and under performers. High and low BABIP can tell you something. Dramatically different walk or strikeout rates might explain something else. Use these things to determine if you should buy low or sell high.

Second, don’t draft names, draft performance. Don’t get caught up in someone’s history, go for what you think will happen in the year for which you’re drafting. Draft Adam LaRoche if you think he’ll outperform Pujols next season.

Draft Reliability

Early on it your draft, don’t get cute. Don’t go for the person you think might have a breakout season, draft safe players. Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera, etc. In the early rounds, get someone you can count on. There’s nothing worse than playing a hunch and drafting someone who bombs out instead of drafting someone you can count on even if they don’t have the best numbers from the year before.

Position Matters

A lot of people will tell you take the best player available, but I don’t recommend it. You should draft the best players at the worst position. There are a lot of good first basemen and outfielders, but very few good second basemen. Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia aren’t as good as Joey Votto, but you might think about drafting them higher because the difference between Cano and Marco Scutaro is much larger than the one between Votto and, let’s say, Freddie Freeman. Votto is the better player, but you have to get a second basemen eventually, so make sure you think about position depth when drafting.

Draft Elite Pitchers Too Early

Another typical piece of fantasy advice is not to draft top starters too early, but you should. Grab Verlander and Kershaw or Felix Hernandez a round early. You’re going to want a couple elite arms and this is the best way to handle it. Get them early and pay for it by losing out on a position player. You’re taking on some injury risk, but the reward will be worth it.

Draft Too Many Closers

One of the easiest things to do in April is to find saves. Closers and relievers are volatile. Teams will switch closers a lot during the season and you can draft proven saves-getters and trade them early. Get Papelbon and trade him for something you need. Closers are a great trade asset and you can outsmart the field and pick up saves on the waiver wire.

Add Pitchers Early

Draft lots of position players and drop them for pitchers in early April. You can only play so many position players every day, but you can rotate your pitchers in and out of the lineup throughout the week. Drop your ineffective subs and pick up pitchers on hot streaks.

There’s no secret to winning your fantasy league other than being smart and lucky, but these are some good tips. Draft reliability, think about position, draft great pitchers early, draft too many closers and trade them, and add hot starters in April. Do this, and you’ll be on your way.

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