Around this time of year, serious and casual fantasy baseball players are getting ready for their preseason drafts. Fantasy sports as a whole are a billion dollar industry and one of the more popular topics of conversation for sports fans young and old. While I’m not a fantasy baseball nut, I’m a baseball fanatic and have a pretty good knowledge of what it takes to win your league.
Here are a few tips to help you prepare for your upcoming draft.
Skim the Rankings
As you’re no doubt aware, every website in the world publishes fantasy baseball rankings and many publish more than one set. I can think of as least ten non-fantasy projection systems that could also be used in a fantasy baseball context. Needless to say, there is a lot of information out there regarding how other people think players are going to perform in a given season.
But don’t pay too much attention to these rankings. For one, there is a lot of uncertainty in predicting a baseball season, so saying a player is going to be number 6 at their position is really like saying that player is most likely to be somewhere between 10th and 2nd. No ranking system, human or computer, can make precise choices for you.
Yet the rankings are great for giving you a sense of how players are most likely to perform. You want to see that the conventional wisdom is that a group of players is expected to be about equal to each other and better than a second group of players.
Use the rankings for broad decision making, but don’t get bogged down in the details, it’s a waste.
There are a lot of sites that keep depth charts (MLB Depth Charts is my favorite) and you should review them. Playing time is often one of the most overlooked aspects of fantasy baseball. One of the best ways to get ahead from the beginning is to use late round draft picks on players who you think will play more than everyone else does. For example, going into 2012, Andy Dirks looked like he was going to be a part time player. But if you knew better and saw how terrible Young would be in LF defensively and how terrible Boesch would be overall, you would have known that Dirks was a buy low candidate who was going to be a big producer for the Tigers once May rolled around.
This is especially true with relief pitchers and closers. Know the players who are first in line for saves after a team’s closer. Those are great guys to target in the period immediately after a draft and early in the season. If you’re well informed about who is waiting the wings, you’ll be ready to pick them up before your opponents.
Think about Context
On this site and on many other sabermetric sites, we try to provide context neutral analysis. For example, Buster Posey was about as good as Ryan Braun last season on offense if we try to remove context factors like ballpark. However, that is the opposite of what you want to do in fantasy baseball. In real baseball analysis, we talk about how certain players are helped or hurt by ballpark and teammates. In fantasy baseball, you want to use those factors to your advantage.
In real life, Miguel Cabrera gets a lot of RBI because Austin Jackson and Andy Dirks got on base a lot and he shouldn’t get extra credit for driving in a lot of runs because he had a lot of guys on base, but in fantasy baseball you want guys like that. You want to snatch up players who are in ideal environments. Players who play in ballparks that favor their skills or who hit in a good spot in the lineup are good targets. Think about the defense behind your pitchers.
All of these context factors can help you win. Don’t pay big for Buster Posey because he’s awesome, avoid him because most people perceive him to be the best catcher in baseball even if it doesn’t translate to fantasy baseball style numbers because he plays at AT&T Park.
Have a Plan for Injuries
The best advice I can give you is to be ready for injuries. They are a simple fact of life for the fantasy sports player, but you can be ready for them. Never leave yourself without options. On the pitching side of things, this doesn’t matter much because you’re going to have many players who play the same position, but on offense, it does.
After you fill in your starting lineup, grab players who fill in according to how much it would hurt to lose your starter at that position. Grab a fourth outfielder right away because that one player can back up three spots. Try to pick up a player with multiple eligibility to back up on the corners or catcher like Mike Napoli. You don’t want to have your best player get hurt in April and have to fill that spot from the waiver wire. What you want to do is fill the void with a bench bat and have waiver player fill in on your bench.
Have a Plan, Period
The best way to have a good draft is to know what you’re going to do and know which players you like. If you get to the draft room and you’re picking first, be ready for that. Same for if you’re in the middle or if you’re at the end. Know how you want to draft based on your position. Are you going for the best player available no matter what or do you like to have a position based strategy? Do you want to grab two elite players at the same position and use them as trade bait later? Know the kind of player you are and be ready for it.
Finally, the best thing you can do is know more about baseball than everyone else in the room. It may sound simple, but it will help. For example, if you know which top prospects are going to see a lot of playing time in 2013 and your opponents don’t, you have big advantage. Imagine if you had drafter Trout last year in the 14th round when most of your buddies were looking to grab him at the very end.
Any time you can know more about a player or a team, do it.
In general, prepare for your draft by being informed widely without focusing too much on fantasy baseball coverage itself. You win your league by drafting players who will over perform the expectations of the group either by playing better or by playing more than everyone else thought. Be ready for contingencies and good luck.
Feel free to post questions in the comments section unless you’re in my league, in which case, I recommend drafting Justin Masterson.