Need a fantasy baseball draft strategy for 2013? Kudos to you for preparing yourself. You’d shocked by the number of people who simply “shoot from the hip” and choose their teams with no rhyme or reason. Here are ten golden tips from two GMs who’ve won countless season-long baseball leagues. It’s very hard to win a league without drafting a solid team, and following these pieces of advice will put you in a much better position than you were before you found us. And if you really enjoy the fantasy draft, try out our one-day fantasy baseball leagues for real cash, where you can pick a new team every day without having to depend on draft order thanks to our salary cap format. It truly blows away the season-long format, in our humble (if slightly biased) opinions.
Now that you endured the first of a few shameless plugs we’ll be making throughout this article, here’s the draft strategy we promised you.
1) Master your league’s scoring settings and rules
Seems obvious enough? Well, to many GMs it’s not. Countless GMs in fantasy baseball leagues ignore holds when they first join a league that counts them, thinking they can pick up stud setup guys midseason. Or they have no idea what the waiver rules are for their particular league, and don’t utilize their waiver positions effectively. Or they don’t know about a particular category at all. The most glaring mistake is that even if a GM reads up on all of the scoring settings, they may neglect to think about how those specific settings could impact their strategy during the long season. If a league counts holds and saves, then closers aren’t as valuable as in leagues that simply count saves. Your draft strategy should acclimate to the settings, and statistics that are hard to come by should be placed at a premium.
2) Follow Spring Training Closely. Very Closely.
MLB Spring Training starts in February, which gives most teams a solid 6 weeks of baseball before they finally take the field on Opening Day. A lot happens during these six weeks. Players get injured. Positional battles go down. Prospects come out of nowhere and secure positions in the starting lineup. One of the biggest things to look out for is potential closers who assert themselves during Spring Training exhibition games. The scarcest position in fantasy baseball is also one of the most sensitive to managerial decisions, and a closer who takes the mound and blows a few games during Spring Training could easily lose his job. Even if he doesn’t right out of the gate, a little foresight can land you a guy who steals the job a month or two into the season. The same can be said for hitters. Some of the bigger surprise performers may be worth late-round fliers to stash on your bench for a bit. And it should go without saying that not keeping up with injury news can easily ruin a draft. Lingering injuries early in the season can turn into serious ones down the line, so it’s typically wise to avoid (or at least downgrade) these players where you can.
3) Use reliable sources of information
Some people may prefer to just look at MLB stats on sites like Yahoo and ESPN, but many GMs prefer direction or interpretation of stats and player progression. There are some great advanced products out there that offer player projections, draft kits, and more. What to take from this tip is that you should have a nice source of statistical information at your disposal, and avoid industry-hyped players unless your instincts confirm the same. Trust yourself.
4) Devise a plan and strategy, and stick to that strategy
It doesn’t matter what your strategy is…just ensure that you have one. Whatever it is, make sure you know what you’re going to do coming into the draft. Are you going to focus on hitting early or pitching (and this goes hand in hand with the above tip #3, and seeing whether the scoring settings slightly favor pitching, hitting or neither)? Are speed guys a priority early on or can you wait? Looking to draft for the scarce positions such as SS or 2B first? Punting a category? Taking more risk than usual in a particular year? Whatever it is, be sure to have one in mind.
5) Be ready to zig when your opponents zag
A draft never goes according to plan. Usually a GM with a pick right before yours snags your target pick and that will bust your entire plan up. Don’t sweat it, because you listened tip #4. You devised a strategy, and if someone drafted Adrian Gonzalez and you wanted a 1B early, you can still get Billy Butler or Allen Craig to provide similar (if not better) production. Or if someone drafted Starlin Castro, you can get other SSs later in the draft (like some of the sleepers we revealed in this article) who will provide somewhat similar production.
6) Mock, mock, mock, and then mock some more
Practice makes perfect. From riding a bike to
Dance Dance Revolution learning an instrument, you’ll be better at it the more you actually do it. Mock drafts will give you a feel as to when you should target some of the players who will adhere to your strategy, and how to react when all doesn’t go according to plan. This is probably the MOST valuable tip we can provide, since it combines most, if not all, of these tips to a practical manner. You can find fantasy MLB mock drafts everywhere, from Yahoo! to Rotoworld to CBS Sports. Some are free, others are not. But just find one. This will help you tier your players more than anything else, and it helps immensely.
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7) Low risk in early rounds
With your first three or four picks, take consistent rocks with secure job positions and a great and long track record. Very important: absolutely avoid injury prone players.
Good: Miggy Cabrera. Joey Votto. Robinson Cano. Andrew McCutchen. David Price. Matt Cain. Clayton Kershaw.
Bad: Josh Hamilton (unless he slips to the 3rd or 4th round).
You get my drift. You want to make sure that your most valuable draft picks are invested in the most secure investments.
8) High risk, high reward later
You will not win a fantasy baseball championship if you don’t take risks. This is what separates a mediocre GM from a stud GM. Having a list of sleepers and drafting them appropriately is an example of high risk, but high reward. Is reaching for Kris Medlen a bad move? Not really, so long as you don’t draft him in the first 4 or 5 rounds. But he can turn out to be a top-10 MLB pitcher who warrants a top-35 pick, and you got him because you took a risk and reached instead of settling for an over-taxed CC Sabathia or potential one-year wonder R.A. Dickey a round or two earlier.
9) Don’t panic
If you don’t like your team by the middle of the draft or towards the end, just relax. Keep doing your best and stick to your strategy (while you’re zigging and zagging) and keep in mind that an active GM is the best GM. The beauty of baseball is that there is a plethora of fresh, productive talent that comes out of nowhere and you can grab from waivers. Jose Bautista. Mike Trout. Chase Headley. Kris Medlen. So many more. Every single year, wise waiver moves and trades are the reasons that some GMs succeed. And how can you ensure that this works in your favor? Keep up with the news and box scores as often as you can.
10) Have fun
Picking players can be the most exciting part of the fantasy baseball season. Have fun with it no matter how it works out. The whole point of fantasy baseball is to play and have fun, creating challenges for yourself throughout the season. If you love the game, then this shouldn’t be an issue. You always learn throughout a season in preparation for the following season, and as stated previously, practice makes perfect. And if your draft completely bombs, be glad you found us here at FanDuel, where you get the chance to pick a new team every single day.
Bonus Tips (because we love ya)
The most valuable pitching stat – your reward for reading all the way down
The single best stat to consider for pitchers is K/9. Usually, pitchers with high K/9 rates tend to have low WHIPs (our second-favorite stat to consider) and are usually the more dominant pitchers. Just be careful to also include WHIP when evaluating K/9, since some pitchers have excellent K/9 but weaker WHIPs because they are generally wild and issue too many walks (which thereby shortens their start to 5 or 6 innings because they’re throwing more pitches, and limiting their chances at earning the win). Run-on sentence, anyone? Anyway, some examples of this are Max Scherzer and Jeff Samardzija, although they really turned it on in the second half of 2012 and turned into top-15 pitchers, simply because they had better command.
The most valuable hitting stat
For hitters, look very closely at OPS (and on-base percentage). The more often you get on base, the better the chance you have at scoring runs, obviously. But a high OPS is also indicative that a player gets walked often because he has excellent plate discipline and is pitched cheese because he’s a great hitter.
We also really love hitters who know how to hit doubles. That generally means their line drive rate is much better than their fly ball rate, limiting fly-outs and ensuring laced laser beams into the gaps. The best hitters have the best line drive rates, such as Joey Votto. So look at OPS, on-base percentage, and line drive rates as the top 3 stats for hitters. Come back and thank us in October.