For the most part, Roto League Draft Strategy is very similar to Head-to-Head category leagues. Your goal is to construct a deep and multi-faceted roster.
Roto League Draft Strategy differs in one major factor: “winning” an overall category. With H2H leagues, being the best in a category does not matter as much as being good in all the statistical categories each week.
While that may seem like a minor detail, it completely changes my Roto League Draft Strategy from what I will explain in my H2H league article. For instance, there are certain players that I would not touch in H2H that are valued in Roto leagues.
Now for this Roto League Draft Strategy, I am working with some basic assumptions. I am assuming it is a 12-team league, with 5X5 categories of Runs, Home Runs, RBIs, Stolen Bases and Batting Average for hitters. The pitching statistical categories are Wins, Saves, Strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP.
I know that many of you have variations of this format. Whether it is league size, or you use On-Base Percentage instead of Average, or add Holds. I get it, but this is the most common form (that I have seen at least). The thing is, the Roto League Draft Strategy will stay mostly the same with these format changes. You might just focus on a few different players.
Roto League Draft Strategy
Top of the Draft
For any strategy, let alone Roto League Draft Strategy, you have to nail the top of the draft. I have been saying it for both Fantasy Football and Fantasy Baseball for a few years now. You do not have to come away with the best player in Round 1, just avoid the bust.
In both Fantasy Football and Baseball there are usually 8-10 studs that will not bust barring injury. The first round is not the place to get cute and reach on potential. Take the bird in hand and leave the bush alone.
For Roto League Draft Strategy, I would say avoiding the bust is even more imperative. In a H2H game, you are just beating one team each week. With a Roto League, you have to beat every other team over the season. The lack of the Round 1 stud can be dealt with on a weekly basis. Over a whole season though, it will be too much of a drain on your category rankings.
I see nine players worthy of stud-status this season: Mike Trout, Joe Altuve, Kris Bryant, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Clayton Kershaw, Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson and Max Scherzer. I need another year from Mookie Betts to prove his studliness. I am also hesitant on Manny Machado because of his ability to stay on the field, and Miguel Cabrera will get old at some point.
Hopefully you can come away with one of these guys in the first round. In a 12-team league, I can almost assure that at least one will be available.
Aim For Third Place
After Round 1, my Roto League Draft Strategy diverges away from H2H leagues. I am a huge believer in “punting” statistical categories and focusing on dominating others. This is a risky route, but reduces the luck factor.
If you punt on a category in a roto-league, then say goodbye to your championship hopes. I have only seen a person win a Roto League with a last place finish in a category just one time. I am sure it happens more than that, but it has to be a very low percentage. The one time I saw it, the guy was first place in SIX other categories. He had a run of great pitching luck that carried him.
You do not want to count on winning SIX categories. That is just insane. That is where aiming for third place comes into play. If I get third in every statistical category, I like my shots of winning the league (at least in a 10- or 12-team league).
There will always be the power-chasers whose teams hit 50 more home runs than everyone else. There will also be the starting pitcher streamer who will accumulate many more strikeouts and wins than the rest of the league.
These two guys will usually be so low in stolen bases/batting average and ERA/WHIP respectively, that it averages out to about fifth or sixth across the categories. So even if you are in first place in two different stats, it is nullified if you are in last in two others. That is why third place is a good spot to aim for.
When everything in Fantasy Sports is about winning or scoring the most points, how do you aim for third?
Statistical Goals and Projections
— SoCalledFantasyExprt (@SoCalledFanEx) March 1, 2017
As I talked about in my Cheat Sheet post, I spend the majority of my draft preparation on constructing a solid set of projections for each player. For my Roto League Draft Strategy, I also create projections for the league. By that, I use the past couple of year ending statistics to see how much of each category slots into the ending placement.
For example, if the team that won the HR category had 250 and 260 bombs each of the last two years, I put the first place home run total at 255. By doing this down the line for each category, you get a feel for where your team is at.
I also mentioned in my Cheat Sheet write-up about utilizing a tab for your team. By copy and pasting the player’s projection in as your draft them, you can see your team totals with a simple SUM Function.
By doing this, you know exactly where your team is at, percentage wise, after each pick. If you know you need 190 home runs to get third in the category and already have 170 with two picks to go, you can focus on other areas.
Target Versatile Producers … Mostly
I do not want to get into individual players too much here. This post is for overall Roto League Draft Strategy. There are plenty of other great articles by our phenomenal writing team on the site that focuses on individual players.
I do want to talk about the types of players. For Roto League Draft Strategy, I want versatile producers. I want guys that are above average in at least four of the five categories for hitters, and three out of four for pitchers.
If you can obtain several players that contribute to multiple categories, your late-round picks can add more value. Instead of worrying about filling in at steals or strikeouts, you can take lottery tickets with high upside.
On the flip side, there is something to be said for the 1- or 2-category superstars. I mentioned a couple of these in my Outfielder Busts post: Giancarlo Stanton and Billy Hamilton. I had said I would stay away from these two guys since they are one-trick ponies.
However, in a Roto League, they can be used in a productive way. If you can pair a power-only with a speed-only, then they average out. The thing is they need to be uber-elite at their specialty for it to work.
I do not advise this in H2H leagues. The randomness of the long baseball season lends to too much luck being involved in Fantasy. If Hamilton gets you six steals one week and zero the next, while Stanton goes the opposite on home runs, then you do not reap the benefits.
Ready to Draft!
This basic Roto League Draft Strategy should get you started on your draft preparation. If you can nail your Round 1 pick, while targeting versatile producers, “Third Place” is within reach in each category. And for once, third place is worth fighting for.
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