Spring is nearing, which means that fantasy baseball season has arrived. With opening day slated for April 3rd, many fantasy drafts are already underway. Draft prognosticators are hard at work compiling sleepers, busts, rookie rankings and analyzing opening week schedules. This is an exciting time of the year and while all those aspects are helpful toward winning a fantasy baseball championship, oftentimes the simple things managers should be made aware of are overshadowed. Fantasy baseball management is complex. Newcomers should play close attention here and many veterans may want a refresher. The following are 10 tips that will help managers dominate their fantasy drafts this season.
10. Don’t Offer Bad Trades
This may appear obvious, however every league has that one manager offering ridiculous trades he knows will likely never be accepted. Undervaluing opposing players is natural in pursuit of trading at a bargain but one must be cognizant of how a trade is perceived. Buying-low and selling-high is one thing, but sending insulting trade offers runs the risk of losing the chance to ever trade with that manager again for the rest of the season. There is generally a lot of chatter behind the scenes of leagues so the offer may even turn off other managers from trading. Instead, make an initial offer and attach a note informing the manager this is a suggested offer with flexibility. Closing off communication is never advisable as managers can help with other trades when the time is right and the needs are more fitting.
9. Don’t Be Fooled by Categories Heavily Influenced by Luck
An example of a category often counted in fantasy baseball that includes a great deal of luck is the “Wins” category. This statistic is largely out of the pitcher’s control. Having pitchers on teams with high win totals may lead to the pitcher having a high win total himself, but that is not always the case. Felix Hernandez placed third in the league in wins while playing for a 76-win Seattle Mariner team that played poorly all season. Hernandez didn’t even have a spectacular season by any means, posting a 3.53 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. His win total was very lucky. The previous season saw Hernandez dominate with much better statistics while the Mariners were much more competitive, yet he earned three fewer wins. Don’t chase wins; they are fool’s gold. Wins are not repeatable, ie: they are heavily influenced by luck and therefore not something to be paid for.
8. Look Beyond ERA
Oftentimes a high ERA can mask an effective pitcher. The reverse can also prove true as ERA is a misleading statistic. While not influenced by nearly as much luck as “wins,” ERA can be broken down with the use of advanced statistics. There are many aspects to account for when discussing run prevention. An easy concept to grasp is team defense. A pitcher with Andrelton Simmons playing shortstop will allow fewer baserunners due to defensive wizardry, in turn allowing fewer runs. Ballparks also play a large factor. Coors Field in Colorado is notorious for inflating ERA due to the ease in which home runs are hit in the thin mountain air. Noting any major defensive changes behind a pitcher and evaluating any change of scenery in terms of ballpark factors can help alleviate surprises. Familiarizing one’s self with advanced statistics such as SIERRA, FIP and xFIP is the next step, as these statistics attempt to neutralize these external factors in order to give a more accurate predictive number.
7. Strikeouts Are Great But Walks Are Worse
Fantasy owners are often blinded by the potential bounty source of strikeouts a poor pitcher may have produced. While strikeouts are often a fantasy category and are essential in winning a fantasy league, a pitcher who walks many batters can have a much more negative impact with the ratios he will attract than his positive strikeouts bring. Walks are a stable predictor of success and pitchers with a high walk rate should be avoided. To ensure the number of innings are taken into account, these rates should be taken on a per-9 basis. This rate statistic measures strikeouts and walks over 9 innings, making it simpler to compare multiple players who may not have pitched similar innings (for example, one may have suffered an injury). To calculate, take the number multiplied by 9 and divide by the number of innings pitched. For context, an average BB/9 is 2.9. A pitcher who walks over three per 9 innings should generally be avoided. An average k/9 is 7.7, with relievers posting rates slightly higher.
6. Be Selective With Closers
Saves are a fickle category that elude even the most experienced fantasy managers. There are those who preach never to pay for saves (as in don’t draft any) and there are those who believe in paying for the elite closers in order to avoid stress. As is often the case, the reality lies somewhere in the middle. During most fantasy seasons, over one third of the opening day closers will be replaced. Since relievers do not bring much fantasy value to the table if they are not accumulating saves, there is inherent risk in owning a closer. If he loses his job, the pitcher has lost the vast majority of his value. As a general guide, leaving the draft without any closers is risky. There will be at least 10 new closers to emerge throughout the year but remember, there are likely 11 other managers competing for their services. A good bet would be to draft one reliably-established closer and one very cheap gamble. Then, be on the lookout and follow the closer carousel in an attempt to pick up several off of free agency throughout the season.
5. Veterans Over Rookies
While many managers are reaching for the exciting young rookie, the slipping veteran becomes yesterday’s news. This causes a shift in value where the veteran becomes more valuable. Finding talented rookies can be exciting but not when it comes at the cost of an already-established player. Paying for stats a player has yet to put up is risky. When taken into account with a low draft selection it is a worthwhile gamble, however, young players are frequently overvalued while veterans begin to slip. Seek the players expected to post bounce-back campaigns. Whether they are recovering from injuries or simply had an off-year, these are the players who are often undervalued. Drafting a young rookie is sexier and thus more popular. It is not worthwhile to reach for them when a similarly-producing veteran remains on the board.
4. Understand Your Platform’s Ranking System
The pre-rank values in fantasy baseball are not a one-size-fits-all. In fact, they are often quite misleading. Because fantasy baseball is weighed by production in categories, the omission or addition of a category has an immense effect on rankings. The pre-season rank is based off of the default settings. For Yahoo leagues, this means R, RBI, HR, SB, AVG for batters and W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV for pitchers. Now: what if your league also adds OBP? A player like Joey Votto should soar up draftboards, however the pre-season rank will not be affected. If a league does not use standard settings, managers must be weary of the pre-season rank. Ideally, they can be manipulated to draft players who perform better with the new settings than the default ones but most importantly, do not make the mistake of taking these rankings as gospel.
3. Take Advantage of ADP Data
Average draft position (ADP) data is available on the majority of fantasy platforms and is a great tool for managers to use. One way to take advantage of this data is to see which players are undervalued and vice versa. After having ranked players on a spreadsheet, chart each player’s ADP and note the difference. Every scoring system will have their own difference so it is important to take league settings into account. This is a simple way to see which players are being drafted too high based on your league settings and which players are undervalued. Strategy must also play a key component. If a manager ranks a player three rounds higher than he is going in average drafts, should he reach that high and take him? It depends how confident the manager is in his ranking but in general, this shows that he can wait a little longer than where he ranked the player.
2. Understand League Settings
It’s boggling how many managers arrive to a draft without proper knowledge of the league settings. Prior to beginning the preseason rankings, ensure that the league settings are clear and will not be changed. Note if the league is a head-to-head league or rotisserie style. In a rotisserie league, every game played counts. Therefore, drafting players that are injured at the time of the draft is made risker. However, in head-to-head, having the player healthy during the fantasy playoffs is the most important aspect, which allows for more risk being taken on injured stashes. Roster positions are another aspect to be knowledgeable about. If a league starts two catchers, raise the ranking of catchers but if only one catcher is started, waiting on the position becomes a viable strategy. Going in blindly to a draft is akin to fantasy suicide. Ensure the league rules are known by heart.
Unlike fantasy football, fantasy baseball is a marathon and not a sprint. The season is 162 games long. There will be plenty of variance, cold streaks and frustration throughout the season. It is important to remember to be patient, particularly early on in the season. When a player goes hitless for six games in a row during August, there is a good chance that nobody notices. However, when that player doesn’t have a hit for the first six games of the season in April, of course panic will ensue. Remembering how long the season is will save far more frustration than dropping a slumping player only to have a competing manager swoop in and take him for free. For a manager that properly ranked their players, there should be no drastic moves made during April. Until one month has passed, there is not enough relevant data to form conclusions. If a manager liked a player during March, there is no reason for that opinion to change during April barring an injury.