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We all hear the cliche, “You don’t win your Fantasy Baseball League at the draft… but you can certainly lose it.” While that is true, one’s draft strategy can go a long way towards setting you up for success during the season, or crashing and burning by mid-May.

Developing Rotisserie draft strategies prior to your league’s draft can be crucial towards one’s success on a yearly basis. In addition, seeing how that strategy plays out in the draft and beyond, along with seeing other players strategies as well, makes the experience all the more exciting.

First and foremost, no strategy is perfect, and likewise, no draft strategy is necessarily better than the other. All strategies, good or bad, play out based on how other owners draft, how players fall into place, how your roster shapes, etc. In many ways it’s like playing a multi-player board game based on strategy, for instance my new board game favorite “Blokus.”  If you want to learn about Blokus, feel free to visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blokus, but I’m not here to write a review on board games.

Obviously some strategies set you up for a higher probability of success, while others make you a little more reliant on luck and avoiding injuries. Nevertheless, I will discuss three draft strategies I have seen work for myself in the past, and you can determine which strategies better suit your skills.

And, yes, draft strategies do need to fit your personality and your strengths at Fantasy Baseball. I know I have an Achilles heal for chasing stolen bases, I am pretty successful at finding good value among starting pitchers, while I have never been very successful at drafting stable closers. Understanding your strengths, and more importantly your weaknesses, will help you develop a strategy best suited for you, and a strategy you will not have a problem sticking to in the draft.

Rotisserie Draft Strategies

For simplicity sake, we will use a traditional 12-team (trades allowed), 5×5 Rotisserie leagues as the measuring stick. That means a max of 120 points in 10 categories (a very important stat to know), and generally, 85-90 points will allow you to finish in the top three. To end with 90 points would mean you finished, on average, third in every category.

Traditional Balanced Strategy

The balanced strategy is self-explanatory. You look at previous year’s standings in either your league or other leagues that have had the same settings, sames starting positions, etc. and figure out what you need in each category to finish top 3 in each category. Generally, that’s about 240 HR, 1,000 RBI and Runs, 180-200 SB, .270 AVG.  100 Wins and Saves, 1,300 Strikeouts, 3.25 ERA and 1.200 WHIP. Obviously these numbers can all change based on the competition in your league, and how many players you start in your lineup.

Fantasy-30-for-30-300x300In attacking a balanced strategy, ideally you are looking for 20-20 type hitters early, avoiding the batting average killers and “one-trick pony” type hitters (Billy HamiltonBen Revere, Chris Carter, etc.) until later on. Along with hitters, ideally you would want an elite starter within the first five picks, two to three starters in the first ten picks.

If it were my draft and I deployed this strategy, I am letting other owners take the elite closers (Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, etc.), while I, in turn, begin to piece together my hitting categories, and hope to grab 2 closers later on between rounds 10-15. I have found it difficult to use a balanced strategy and win saves, while also maintaining a high total in strikeouts and wins. Instead, I would suggest shooting for 80 saves or so in the draft, while ensuring you have a good combination of elite, consistent and high upside starters. Obviously, in the early rounds, you select the best player available. But, knowing your strategy and how you plan to attack the draft, helps make the decisions between Carlos Gomez and Edwin Encarnacion, or Starling Marte and Billy Hamilton much easier.

Closer-Heavy Strategy

The idea behind a closer heavy strategy is thought to be simple. Load up on hitting to dominate all five of those categories, while ensuring that you also win saves, ERA and WHIP. This strategy certainly has its merits. First, elite closers are much cheaper in a draft than an elite starter. In addition, two elite closers and one above average closer would probably win the saves category, while even 3 elite starters would not lock up any pitching category. If deployed perfectly, ideally you would have at least 8 hitters filled out of your first 10 picks, and then allow you to pick 2-3 closers and 2-3 more hitters from rounds 11-15. If you have 11-12 hitters out of the first 15 rounds, you would certainly have an advantage in those five categories on most everybody in the draft, plus 3-4 closers should win the saves category with ease.

The positives aside, I would never deploy this strategy personally. Aside from my bad luck with closers in general, I do not think saves, ERA and WHIP are as easy to lock up as many people think, and closers are far too volatile. By “punting” wins and strikeouts, you are already limiting your max point potential to 100 points if you were to win every category.

Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies -- Photo Credit: Paul Hadsall

Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Photo Credit: Paul Hadsall

My personal strengths aside, this strategy is far too dependent on A) Getting the right closers, B) No one else deploying the same strategy. You can accomplish the first concern, ideally, by selecting two of the elite, “safe” closers. However, if you do that, then you are not really utilizing the strategy to it’s fullest — attacking closers because they are cheaper than starters.

Plus, if you are “punting” strikeouts and wins, why do you really need the strikeouts that those elite closers provide? It makes more sense to try to get three of Steve Cishek, Huston Street, Mark Melancon, Neftali Feliz, Jonathan Papelbon, etc. With that said, it also immediately limits your free agent pitcher pool to just relievers. If you bury yourself in wins and strikeouts by mid-May, there’s no turning back.  You can’t take risks on a starting pitcher on the waiver wire to potentially turn in a 2-IP/8-ER type of outing. And, that, is the double-edged sword. You can’t take risks on starters, and you also must avoid the brutal outings that relievers can turn in.

Who remembers John Smoltz allowing 8 earned runs in a relief outing on April 6, 2002? I do, because it was the day after I drafted him. Smoltz actually had a great season in 2002, allowing only a total of 29 earned runs. That outing, however, still left him with a 3.25 ERA on the season. A team ERA of 3.25 probably does not win that category.

This is not to say this strategy could not win, I just think it gives you a much lower probability for success.

“Punt” Saves Strategy

Loading up on hitters, testing my skills with young starting pitching and “punting” saves is my personal favorite. Obviously, it completely goes against the strategy above, however, it plays to my strengths, and generally plays well with what is available late in a draft. Hitters are generally much safer than pitchers, and thus, generally go a lot quicker in the draft. If you can maintain a good balance in all five hitting categories, it allows you more room for error when it comes to injuries or lack of production (see Prince Fielder, Chris Davis, Joey Votto).

Starting pitchers, likewise, should at least maintain their rotation spot. You may project 15 wins out of a starter and only get 10, but you still get 10. Closers, meanwhile, are extremely volatile. If you draft a closer projecting 30-40 saves and they lose their job after getting less than 5, how do you recover? You just spent a mid-round pick on a complete zero, while a majority of the people in your draft will get 10 wins, 150 strikeouts, or a 10/60/60/10 line with that same pick.

This strategy allows for a lot of flexibility. If you ignore the closers, protect yourself against reaching for a closer during the “closer run” then you can simply focus on hitting, draft a couple elite starters, and hope you hit on a couple young starters (Zack Wheeler, Marcus Stroman, Yordano Ventura, Danny Salazar, etc.)

In addition, you could always get lucky by drafting a current setup man late in the draft, and end up getting 20 plus saves out of them to scrape out a couple points in saves without really sacrificing anything in the other categories. Picking the right guys in that list are anyone’s guess though. In 2012 Fernando Rodney essentially won me an AL Only League after I picked him up off waivers the week before opening day, after which he ran away with the job for Tampa Bay. Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta were considered the favorites to close initially, and thus were at the top of my list to pick up. I lucked out though when two owners ahead of me in the waiver order picked Farnsworth and Peralta.

The biggest key to any draft strategy is maintaining the strategy throughout. A balanced strategy allows for a little more flexibility, mostly allowing for “best player available” drafting, and worrying about categories, positions towards the end. Those that elect the less traditional way of thinking, pitcher or hitter heavy, all starters, all relievers, “punt” batting average, etc. are more reliant on sticking to the strategy throughout. As I said, no one can, or should, ever tell you that their strategy is better than yours, as any strategy should be based on your Fantasy Baseball experience and own personality, skills, etc. With that said, some are certainly safer, and more probable for success.

For those leagues that do not allow trading, the “common sense” thought would be to go with the balanced strategy.  I, honestly, would disagree with that. A balanced strategy is safe, however if you can not make adjustments post-draft, you are very reliant on projections and expectations with that type of strategy. I would prefer a hitter and starting pitcher heavy strategy, ignoring saves, if I were not allowed to trade afterward.

Hitters are simply safer options and easier to predict (easier to lock up HR, RBI, Runs, SB). Wins and strikeouts, likewise, are easy to lock up in a draft if you simply focus on them. Saves, meanwhile, are anyone’s guess if you do not get the elite. In a non-trade league, a strategy that would allow you to, ideally, lock up 60+ points (10 in HR, RBI, Runs, SB, Wins, Strikeouts), without being too dependent on projections and avoiding injuries, means you only have to scrape out 20 points, give or take, between average, WHIP, ERA and saves.

Are there some other Rotisserie draft strategies you like to use? Let us know in the comments below!

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