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Taking Advantage of Standard Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy

This article examines an unorthodox Fantasy Baseball draft strategy designed to take advantage of standard league Head-to-Head rules and eliminate uncertainty going into your draft.

The most glorious day of the year has arrived. It’s Draft Day in your favorite Fantasy Baseball league.

You’ve done countless mock drafts and are armed to the teeth with spreadsheets and highlighters. Invariably, no matter how many contingencies you’ve planned for, your Fantasy Baseball draft strategy has been shot to hell by Round 3.

Sound familiar? It’s no surprise. An overwhelming majority of Fantasy owners will employ similar approaches and read similar prep material.

It’s quite difficult to truly identify a Fantasy sleeper that half of your league isn’t already chomping at the bit to overdraft.

So what can you do to ensure some certainty to your Draft Day?

In this article, I will lay out a non-traditional Fantasy Baseball draft strategy that ignores a number of highly sought-after offensive categories, while highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the approach.

Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy Talk

The aim here is to expand the way we think about and approach Fantasy drafts. Let’s dive into it.

Know Your League Rules

I cannot stress this enough. One of the most common errors I see fantasy managers make is that they uniformly apply basic draft strategy to every league they are in, regardless of format. Rotisserie and H2H are very different. Innings limits are crucial for informing draft prep. You should have players rising and falling on your board depending on whether your league uses AVG or OBP. Spend time getting familiar with your league’s settings, and think out how this should impact your rankings heading into the draft.

Category Parity and Punting

The basis plan of the draft strategy I am going to explore here is rooted in the fact that there is one particular stat category in a standard 5 x 5 league that is easy to “abuse.” It is the only category where elite producers often go undrafted, and it is a category that many managers choose to punt away altogether because the players that meaningfully contribute to it are not particularly helpful in other areas.

The standard stat I am talking about here, of course, is stolen bases. As a quick and easy tool we will use the projected 2015 category stats from DraftHelp.com.

Comparing these players to the current ADP, we see that of the 13 players projected to swipe 30 or more bases, a significant number of them get drafted very late or not at all (Jarrod Dyson, Jean Segura, Eduardo Escobar and Leonys Martin). There are a few players that are drafted early, but the remainder are mid-round players that are not in high demand because they lack juice in other areas.

Similar to steals, many Fantasy managers punt saves, and many of the projected saves leaders in the draft help database for the upcoming season are widely available late in drafts because of mediocre peripheral numbers. Why don’t we try to abuse that category as well? Keep in mind that saves are much harder to predict than steals due to the turbulent closer market. Projecting saves outside of the super-elite closers is a futile exercise because closers get the hook for poor performance at a rate unseen by any other position.

Focusing solely on steals might sound crazy, but it actually minimizes risk,

Focusing solely on steals and pitching might sound like a crazy draft strategy, but it actually minimizes risk

Drafting Pitching + Steals

What I am proposing here is rather than trying to create the perfect team that has the potential to go 10-0 in any given week, craft a team that is absolutely dominant in all of the pitching categories, and then abuse steals.

Many managers will unknowingly assist you in this effort on Draft Day by selecting balanced teams and fighting over power hitters and positions with scarcity while punting steals.

The goal here, is rather than taking a well-rounded team against your opponent’s well-rounded team, you build a team that is designed to win 6-4 every week. You will, without a doubt, never beat anyone 10-0. However, if we win 6-4 every week (in Head-to-Head Roto leagues) we will hoist the league trophy every time.

In this draft strategy, we will only concern ourselves with premium pitchers and premium base stealers. We will essentially be punting all offensive categories except steals. In this draft strategy you will be targeting elite starters in the first few rounds, only passing on a pitcher to grab elite base stealers.

Do not worry about filling out your hitting lineup until the end of the draft (if at all). If elite closers are available at reasonable prices, they should be acquired, otherwise, saves will be won by a volume approach.

Let’s take a look at what a mock draft might look like (thanks to our friends at Fantasy Pros for their awesome free customizable mock draft simulator). For reference: I drafted this team based on Yahoo standard roster formats. By setting the draft slot to 3/12 I was able to select the following team:

  1. Clayton Kershaw
  2. Madison Bumgarner
  3. Stephen Strasburg
  4. Billy Hamilton
  5. Aroldis Chapman
  6. Julio Teheran
  7. Hisashi Iwakuma
  8. Gerrit Cole
  9. Mark Melancon
  10. Trevor Rosenthal
  11. Elvis Andrus
  12. Doug Fister
  13. Zach Britton
  14. Denard Span
  15. Joe Nathan
  16. Leonys Martin
  17. Alcides Escobar
  18. Lorenzo Cain
  19. Chase Utley
  20. Jarrod Dyson
  21. Chase Headley
  22. Aaron Hill
  23. Chris Iannetta

My Roster Breakdown

  • SP: Kershaw, Bumgarner, Strasburg, Teheran, Iwakuma, Cole, Fister
  • RP: Chapman, Melancon, Rosenthal, Britton, Nathan
  • IF: Iannetta, Headley, Utley, Andrus, Escobar, Hill
  • OF: B. Hamilton, Span, Martin, Cain, Dyson

In a perfect world, you start this draft from a high-end draft spot and make Kershaw your centerpiece. However, starting later in the draft with Felix/Scherzer is perfectly fine as well. I had intended to draft Devaris Gordon in the Round 5, but he went a pick before my selection. Instead, I grabbed the best closer on the board.

The rest of the draft went essentially to script. Guys like Martin, Escobar, Cain, and Dyson will almost always be available late. That makes this draft strategy fool-proof for the most part. Even if you miss out on the early drafted premium base stealers like Altuve, Hamilton, and Gordon, you can still clobber the category late with the specialists.

Strengths: This team will be essentially unbeatable in Wins, K’s, Saves, WHIP, ERA, and SB. The offense likely won’t win any other category besides steals any week of the season unless there is a random and collective batting average spike one week. The stable of stud starters will easily mask any damage that closers with mediocre peripherals could do with an occasional blow up, so start even fringe closers with confidence in an effort to win saves by volume.

Similarly, while even ace pitchers are prone to occasional poor starts, the sheer volume and quality of innings pitched that a roster like this can produce should easily cover any sub-par outing from these guys. By employing this draft strategy, you will also have a lot of disposable players. The C, 1B, 3B drafted above can be dropped without worry while prospecting for closers or emerging pitchers as we are only concerned with winning SB on offense. Against opponents that have punted saves, you can deploy only your elite closers until you have enough to ice the category for the week, then simply rely on your ace starters to carry the rest of the categories.

This Fantasy Baseball draft strategy is truly only effective in Head-to-Head formats where winning 6-4 is all you need to do. In Roto, finishing first in six categories and last in four categories likely will not win you the league. Additionally, this draft strategy is particularly effective in league with high weekly IP limits (this will be discussed further in the next section).

Weaknesses: The primary weakness of a roster like this is a low weekly IP limit. What this would allow an opponent to do is to simply start their ace pitchers or top closers in cherry-picked match-ups in an attempt to meet the IP limit for the week with extremely low WHIP and ERA. If an opponent can eke out wins in these categories, they will likely win the week 6-4 as all teams will have a substantial edge in HR, RBI, R, and AVG. That is why the higher the IP limit, the more difficult it is to defeat a roster like this in H2H.

Another downside of this draft strategy is that starting pitchers are more likely to endure injury and DL stints throughout the season. You will have to stay closely attuned to the waiver wire to continue to try to mine emerging starters in the event you lose a few of your early picks. In a balanced draft format this is easier to recover from.

When you are going all out for the pitching categories, this can be fatal.This could also end in cataclysm if more than one manager decide to employ the draft strategy. By the time you realize what the other person is doing it may be too late to reverse it.

The only other foreseeable hiccup with this strategy is a Murphy’s Law week where numerous elite starters are shelled, all your closers are rocked, or none of your base stealers happen to get on base. None of this falls outside of the realm of any normal runs of bad luck that we’ve all experienced as managers, regardless of roster make-up.

Morality

When discussing this Fantasy Baseball draft strategy with other long-time Fantasy managers, I have often heard the honor of these tactics questioned. This has always surprised me a great deal. Don’t let the naysayers dissuade you: if you are playing in a league with money or pride on the line, and your league’s manifesto doesn’t expressly forbid the use of this draft strategy, then by all means employ it with confidence. This is not “against the spirit” of competition. The spirit of competition is striving for victory; this will help you in that pursuit.

It breaks no rules, and in fact, is expressly encouraged by most H2H formats. While, admittedly, it does take a shift in mindset to be voluntarily sacrificing 40% of standard categories, the end goal remains the same. If it is executed properly, you ought to be able to win 6-4 every week on your way to a title.

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