Welcome to our sixth season of fantasy baseball coverage. During the next month, we will help you get ready for your drafts and prepare for the upcoming season so you can become a champion.
Throughout the month of March, I will dive deep into fantasy baseball draft strategies, reveal my breakout players, bounce-back candidates and undervalued players along with overvalued players.
As a refresher for those who followed our coverage last year and to any new readers, in fantasy baseball there are different league formats that are used, but the traditional is the five-by-five rotisserie league format, and that is what I will base my opinions on. For those who are not familiar with what that means, there are five hitting categories — consisting of batting average, home runs, runs scored, RBIs and stolen bases. For pitching, the categories consist of wins, strikeouts, ERA, walks plus hits per innings pitched (WHIP) and saves.
On-base percentage (OBP) continues to become more popular as a replacement to batting average, so I will refer to that stat as well since it could change how we evaluate certain players.
Head-to-head formats are gaining steam and for good reason. I will stress often that it’s a long season and to be patient, but head-to-head formats eliminate that aspect which gives the season a quicker pace. Fantasy football is head-to-head so it’s not a coincidence that people are trying to duplicate that model in fantasy baseball.
It’s also easier to punt a category in head-to-head, but in roto leagues, that is a strategy I do not endorse.
When referring to draft rankings for particular players, I will use the average draft position compiled by many of the experts on FantasyPros.com.
To get you started, I have listed the consensus rankings and auction values from FantasyPros.com.
In case you aren’t familiar with positional tiers, it simply means ranking players by position who you think will put up similar value, and it helps you avoid drafting players based on their overall rankings. The elite players at their position go in the first tier, the next level in the second tier, etc.
Some positions may have five elite guys in the first tier, and others may have two. Some positions may have a strong second tier, while others are deep and have three tiers of players who make sense to draft. Instead of targeting a certain player, target a certain tier.
Fantasy owners get so caught up in drafting a player based on their average draft position, they lose sight that they could fill that position later with another player who could give you similar value.
Shortstop is clearly the deepest position in terms of elite talent, as 12 of the top 40 hitters on FantasyPros.com have shortstop eligibility. Tier 1 begins with Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians and ends with Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros, but I’d consider the top two tiers consisting of the 12 hitters.
I think this is a position to be invested in, and it helps that there are players in the two tiers who can be used at multiple positions. Due to that and the middle infield spot, targeting shortstops is a viable strategy in 2020.
First base isn’t deep in Tier 1, as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger and the Atlanta Braves’ Freddie Freeman are the only two I’d consider in this tier. However, the second tier is deep, as it easily runs from Pete Alonso of the New York Mets (ADP of 27 overall) to Josh Bell of the Pittsburgh Pirates (ADP of 77 overall).
Using tiers over average draft position is also good to know because this allows fantasy owners to attack positions that aren’t as deep earlier in drafts.
If we stick with the first base position and I have decided that Bell is a fine target for my team this season, I will scratch off every player at that position so I know when to strike and draft Bell.
Deciding which players fall into each tier is the responsibility of the fantasy owner. Also, when to draft that position falls on the fantasy owner. This is why we love playing fantasy sports. Usually, if you put in the work, you will be rewarded at season’s end.
In summary, don’t let the average draft position be the only resource you use. If drafting solely on player rankings and not positional rankings, it’s more likely than not that you’re going to reach on a position that you probably could have drafted later and gotten similar value from a player you drafted a couple of rounds earlier.
DRAFTING MULTIPLE CATEGORY PLAYERS:
This strategy can still be used in head-to-head leagues, but it becomes the focal point when constructing a roster in the traditional five-by-five rotisserie league format. The goal is to build your team with players who are helping you in every category, even if they aren’t performing at an elite level in any.
For example, Seattle Mariners outfielder Mallex Smith led baseball with 46 stolen bases. However, Smith’s .227 batting average ranked 114 overall among qualified hitters and his six home runs ranked 328th in all of baseball.
Those 46 stolen bases don’t look too great after that. Instead, look for players who at least help in every category, even if they don’t provide elite stats in one particular category.
A player like Tommy Pham stole 25 bases, hit 21 home runs, had an average of .273 and scored 77 runs. None of those statistics led the league, but he was solid in every category and that goes a long way in helping fantasy owners win a championship.
Here’s a tip I have learned the last few years in my drafts: If you are in a league that has been together for a couple of seasons, look back at the final stats for those who finished in the top three in each category in the previous years.
For example, if 350 home runs would have been enough to finish third in the home run category, while you are drafting, keep track that you are on the path to get around 350. If you are in the final few rounds and you find yourself needing power, then you may have to reach for a guy who will provide that, despite the fact that they may lack in other categories.
This is something we do throughout the season when we attack the waiver wire, but if you at least build a strong base in the early-to-mid rounds; you can withstand a guy who may not have a high average. This can be said for the other categories as well.