Welcome to PressBox’s eighth season of fantasy baseball coverage. We will help you get ready for your drafts and prepare for the upcoming season so you can become a champion.

As a refresher for those who have followed our coverage throughout the years and to any new readers, there are different league formats that are used in fantasy baseball, 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 are 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.

I personally feel fantasy baseball is at a crossroads with the current format. Major League Baseball teams are not valuing starting pitchers, closers and stolen bases anymore and we need to adjust as an industry. Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened.

Even though roto leagues are still the standard, I encourage commissioners to think about implementing head-to-head formats along with total points. Adding more categories and getting the fantasy football feel of going against an opponent every week will only help enhance the fantasy baseball experience.

Drafting Multiple-Position Players

Flexibility is crucial in fantasy baseball, and having multiple players you can move around to different positions will set you up for success. This is especially important for those who are in leagues that make daily moves.

This may be one of the most important strategies, so I can’t stress it enough. Targeting players who can help at multiple positions is important.

The shortstop position continues to be one of the deepest positions, as there were 12 shortstops ranked in the top 75 overall, according to FantasyPros.com in early February. Out of those 12, four have eligibility at other positions. That makes it possible to draft a couple of high-impact players, which is highly encouraged.

It is important to know the rules of the site you play on. Some players are eligible at a position on one site but may not be on another. Other sites grant eligibility quicker during the season than others. Knowing your league rules goes a long way to building a championship roster.

Drafting Multiple-Category Players

In order to build a strong, well-rounded team, we need to target players who will help in every category.

A player who was mentioned numerous times as part of our coverage last season was New York Yankees outfielder Joey Gallo. The 28-year-old was extremely streaky, which led to him hitting .199 on the season. Gallo’s 38 home runs ranked 10th in the big leagues. That’s great, but his batting average ranked second worst in all of baseball among qualified hitters. Fantasy owners would have an incredibly difficult time overcoming the batting average category.

We don’t need the top performer in every category, but we can’t afford to have the worst, either. This is why a player like Tim Anderson is so valuable. The Chicago White Sox shortstop helps out in every category and helps you build a well-balanced roster. If you at least build a strong base in the early to middle rounds, you can withstand a guy who may not have a high average. This can be said for the other categories as well.

Positional Tiers

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 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 players 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.

If you draft 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.

Wins, Stolen Bases And Saves

Major League Baseball is changing, but fantasy baseball has yet to adjust. This impacts how we draft.

In 2020, starting pitchers didn’t average five innings a start. There was a slight uptick in 2021, as starting pitchers averaged 5.02 innings per start. This means the last two seasons have seen the lowest average innings pitched by a starting pitcher.

In order to earn a win, a starting pitcher must pitch five innings. In order to qualify for a quality start — which is a popular category — pitchers must throw six innings and allow three earned runs or fewer. Both of those categories were extremely hard to reach during the last two seasons.

As a result, the thought process is to draft one of the studs early. Seven starting pitchers are being drafted within the top 25 overall. However, I will continue to recommend the strategy of waiting on starting pitchers and finding value later.

We have spotlighted the lack of stolen bases in the last few draft guides and for good reason. Teams aren’t running anymore. The last time a team averaged one stolen base per game was 2016.

I hate recommending chasing categories, but this is one we need to prioritize. This is why premium players like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Trea Turner are at the top of the draft. They are still running while also helping in other categories. If fantasy owners find themselves behind in the stolen-base category during their draft, they may need to reach on players later in the draft to catch up. This will also be crucial during the season when targeting players on the waiver wire.

As for saves, this is always a category we chase on the waiver wire, as the closer spot is extremely volatile. Teams aren’t relying on one pitcher to close out the ninth anymore. There were 67 pitchers who recorded at least one save during the shortened 2020 season. In 2018 and 2019, just 11 pitchers in each season recorded 30 saves or more. There were only four pitchers who reached that total in both seasons.

This trend was somehow worse in 2021. There were 116 pitchers who recorded at least one save last season, and just nine pitchers finished with at least 30 saves.

Our strategy has stayed the same in recent years as we recognized this trend early. There’s no need to reach, but we would like to draft a closer on a good team who has his role solidified. We will attack the waiver wire throughout the season and ride the hot hand in order to compete in the category.

I spotlight these categories because it does impact how to draft, but also the bigger discussion of what fantasy baseball should do.

I’m all for getting rid of wins or the quality starts category and adding another pitching category like strikeouts per nine innings. Steals would be hard to get rid of, but leagues could add another offensive category to help mitigate the lack of steals like OPS. As for saves, I can’t stress enough that this is a category that should be gone. Leagues should add a holds-plus-saves category to expand the player pool for targeting that category.

Photo Credit: Colin Murphy/PressBox

Issue 273: February/March 2022

Phil Backert

See all posts by Phil Backert. Follow Phil Backert on Twitter at @PhilBackert