by Erik McKeen
If you are a baseball fan and have not tried fantasy baseball yet, I highly recommend doing so. It’s a lot of fun, and if you are already familiar with the widely successful fantasy football, you can fit in easily. The biggest concern people have with it is that it is way too long of a season, which is a valid point with the season being half a year, but I think the long season makes it better for the baseball fanatics because it just means more fantasy baseball. Not only do you get to follow your favorite MLB team throughout the season, but you also get to follow your own team with which you can do anything you want. You can pick up free agents, make blockbuster trades, test out different strategies, and feel a little bit like a general manager.
For those of you who already play fantasy baseball, you can skip this first part, but for those who have never played, you should become familiar with the different kinds of leagues and scoring systems.
The first kind is a rotisserie league, or roto for short. In this format, there are no weekly matchups. It goes on the whole season, and points are awarded top to bottom based on how good each team is doing in a certain statistic. For example, if two teams are in a twelve-team league, Team A is leading the league in home runs on the season with 50, and Team B is in last with 10, Team A would get 12 points for that statistic, Team B would get 1, and teams in the middle getting somewhere between 2 and 11 points. This is calculated for each statistic, and in standard roto leagues, there are typically 10 of them. All the points each team has for each of the statistics are added together, and at the end of the season whoever has the most overall points is the champion. The typical 10 category roto leagues have 5 batting and 5 pitching categories (commonly called 5×5 leagues). The batting categories are batting average, runs, home runs, runs batted in, and stolen bases and the pitching categories are wins, strikeouts, saves, earned run average, and whip.
A points league is the most like fantasy football. You play a different opponent every week, each statistic has a point value associated with it (4 points for a home run, 1 point for an RBI for example), and whoever gets the most points gets the win for that week.
A head-to-head categories league, on the other hand, combines the best of roto leagues and points leagues. Like points leagues, every week you play a different opponent, which makes it more exciting, but, like roto leagues, it is focused on the baseball statistics themselves instead of putting it all in terms of a single points entity. Every week, whoever does the best at each category gets the win for that category. This is my favorite format to play because you play against someone different every week and it’s more about finding players based on statistics rather than just finding someone who gets a lot of points.
I prefer head-to-head categories, but I’ve played in a couple roto and points leagues before and enjoyed them as well. If you’re new to fantasy baseball, you might want to try all 3 and see which one you like best. Now for the do’s and don’ts of 2018.
Do: Know your league settings
You have to know your league settings backward and forward before you draft your team. Only then can you truly maximize the potential of your fantasy team and gain an advantage. You obviously have to know what kind of league and the scoring type your league uses, but you have to know a lot more.
One very important setting you have to know is how many players can you pick up per week. This pertains more to during the season than to draft preparation, but you should know this as early as possible to be ready for the first week. DO NOT use all of your pickups the first day of the week. This one is a little too close to home for me. Last season in the second week, I really wanted to pick up Aaron Judge, but there was a little problem: I had already used all 4 of my pickups for that week. I used them all on Monday, so I was nervous for a few days waiting to see if anybody was going to pick him up. Someone did on Saturday, and I definitely learned my lesson not to use all of my weekly pickups the first day of the week. I ended up winning that league mainly because I traded for Giancarlo Stanton in April, so thankfully that mistake didn’t cost me.
Another setting you have to know going into your draft is which categories are being used (if you’re playing in a roto or head to head categories league) because not every league is a standard 5×5. For example, the league that I mentioned above had 19 categories. You have to know which ones are used because it affects the value of players. Some of the most popular changes that people choose to implement are using on-base percentage instead of batting average and using quality starts instead of wins, or just adding those two categories and having it be a 6×6 league.
Similar to that, going into your draft you have to know your roster positions. Is it a 1-catcher or 2-catcher league? Is it a 3-outfielder or 5-outfielder league? Are there corner infield and middle infield spots? How many utility spots do you have? These are all very important to know going into your draft so make sure to study up on your league settings page.
Don’t: Punt on categories in standard 5×5 leagues
In standard 5×5 leagues, punting on a category is a very bad idea. In roto leagues, it just gives you a lower ceiling of the overall points you can attain, and in head to head categories leagues it makes it a lot harder to win a week. To win the most categories in a week you obviously have to win 6 out of 10. If you punt saves for example, then you are limiting yourself because you then have to win 6 out of 9 categories.
In leagues with many categories, it may be okay to punt 1 or 2. For example, in the 19-category league I was in, I punted saves because there were so many categories, so I didn’t want to take up 3 or 4 roster spots trying to win just that one every week. Innings pitched was also 1 of the 19 categories so it just made sense to have all starters on my pitching staff.
Do: Draft two catchers from the same team if you miss out on the top tier
Yes, you will have to take up an extra roster spot to do this, but you will always have production coming out of generally the worst position in fantasy baseball, which will gain you a big advantage. I thought about doing this midway through last season when I couldn’t find any catchers that I could feel confident starting, so I decided to try it out and picked up both Atlanta catchers (Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki). They were both available because it was a 10-team league and neither one of them was good enough to start by themselves. If you combine their stats from 2017, they had 79 runs, 31 home runs, and 99 RBIs in 180 games. Obviously, you have to decrease the numbers some amount from the games where one of them subbed in for the other. Even then if you take away, say, 10 runs, 5 home runs, and 10 RBIs, they have a combined 69 runs, 26 home runs, and 89 RBIs, which would have been a top 3 catcher. For reference, the top catcher from last season, Gary Sanchez, had 79 runs, 33 home runs, and 90 RBIs. If you are in a 1-catcher league (only start 1) and you miss out on the top guys at the catcher position and find a team with 2 decent catchers that get relatively even playing time, pick them both up and play the one that is starting that day.
Don’t: Look at only rankings when you draft, look at tiers as well
In addition to rankings, I will also be posting tiers as we get closer to the start of the season because tiers are in my opinion just as important. The point of tiers is to separate players within your rankings into groups of players that you think will deliver similar production. When you are up in the draft and a tier of a certain position starts to get down to one or two players and you need to fill that position on your roster, it may be a good idea to take one of those players (especially if it is the top tier) because next time you’re up, the players available at that position (in the lower tier) will have less value.
Do: Lots of mock drafts
The best way to prepare for your real draft is to do mock drafts. This way you can get an idea of which players generally go in what rounds, and, as a result, you can see which round you have to take the guys that you really want on your team. Doing many mocks allows you to figure out which strategy you like best, test out positional tiers, and learn to pivot when things don’t go exactly as planned. When you do mock drafts, you should draft from lots of different spots as well because you might not know what draft position you have in your real draft until a half hour or an hour before it starts. You should practice drafting from all positions to be ready for all possibilities.
Don’t: Have more pitchers than batters on your team for the first part of the draft
If you want to draft Kershaw or another top-tier pitcher in the first round or two, that’s fine, but early in the draft, you should be focused on hitting. The main reason for this is that in most leagues you start more batters than pitchers. Another reason for this is that the quality of pitchers in the middle rounds is generally greater than the quality of batters. All of the elite or near elite batters are gone within the first 6 or 7 rounds, and if you don’t get in on that, you will be behind in the hitting categories.
Do: Make a list of sleepers and busts
Make a list of the guys who you think will overperform their draft position and who will underperform their draft position. To do this, compare your favorite rankings to the ADP (average draft position) of players from the site you play on. You could also do this by doing mock drafts and seeing who you think is being drafted too high and who you think is being drafted too low. Make a list that you can reference along with rankings during your real draft so you can get the guys you want.
And with that, you should have a good start on what to expect and the basic do’s and don’ts of fantasy baseball. Stay tuned for more fantasy-related articles in the coming months, and best of luck if you plan on joining in!