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Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Three Overlooked Aspects on Draft Day

There are quick ways to fall behind on draft day in your fantasy baseball leagues. Knowing league mates, settings and player pool will help avoid that.

fantasy baseball strategy, mike trout
fantasy baseball strategy, mike trout

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Every week until the MLB season starts, this column will feature draft strategies for various fantasy baseball leagues. That means for the next eight weeks, there will be advice handed out here ranging from basic advice to league trends and from snake drafts to auction leagues.

For the first instalment, here are three things to cover as draft day approaches for individual leagues. These tips might seem obvious but in my experience it’s often the most obvious details that get overlooked. These are just general guidelines that are applicable to most drafts.

Tip 1: Know Your Settings

It’s really quite something how many fantasy baseball owners go into a draft and are surprised by some of the settings for their specific leagues. Here are two common ones that often get overlooked:

  • A Snake draft actually isn’t a snake draft
    • If a fantasy owner knows they are getting the first pick overall in the draft, they can typically cross off a bunch of names they know won’t be getting back to them for their next pick in a typical snake draft. Sometimes though, there can be specific rules like the picks reset for the first four rounds or picks never reset so the draft really isn’t a snake draft. It happens more often than it should, so double-check to make sure it’s a true snake draft.
    • Values of settings in points leagues.
      • Points leagues work like fantasy football leagues in that every action has a point value assigned to it e.g. a single is worth one point, an RBI is worth two or what have you. If you find yourself in a points league, you have to figure out the values of players given the settings of your league: a league that penalizes two points for a hitter strikeout is different than a league that deducts just one point; pitchers in some leagues get dinged for losses which hurts the value of pitchers on poor run-producing teams even more than it normally would; stolen bases can be worth anywhere from one to three points in most leagues and that makes a huge difference for a player like Everth Cabrera.

Those are two more common examples but the overarching theme is that knowing your settings will help keep the fantasy baseball owner from panicking and making mistakes at the draft table. As NBC once said, “The More You Know.”

Tip 2: Know the player pool

The old adage in fantasy baseball in particular is “You can’t win your fantasy league in the first couple rounds but you can certainly lose it.” If you can lose your season in the first couple of rounds, you can win your season in the last few rounds.

Every year, there are players who were afterthoughts on draft day who almost single-handedly won fantasy seasons for owners. In the last few years alone players like Mike Trout, Chris Davis, Jose Fernandez, and Jean Segura were pretty much left in the scrap heap on draft day – meaning they cost a couple bucks in an auction league or fell down the draft board in snake drafts – yet they ended up being elite fantasy options.

This is to say that an owner has to research to identify who some of these players may be each season. They don’t have to be rookies or young players; Raul Ibanez hit 29 home runs last year as a 41-year-old and could have been had in the reserve rounds or waiver wire of most leagues. While 29 home runs was a lot, he did hit 19 the year before in just 425 at bats so there wasn’t a lot of reason (barring injury) to think he couldn’t get to 20. Those are the things a fantasy baseball owner needs to be aware of going into the draft. When sitting at the draft table – and especially in auction leagues – an owner needs to know who is left that can provide power, or steals, or strikeouts. An owner that gets to know the depths of the player pool can identify these guys quicker than the one who did not.

It’s not realistic to know every player from every team at every level, so league penetration is a huge aspect of knowing your player pool: is it a 12-teamer with 21 player spots or a 16-team league with 33 roster spots? In the first situation, middle relievers would never be an option on draft day. In the second situation, middle relievers could be part of a strategy. In either case, the depth of the league dictates the depth of research necessary of the player pool. An owner won’t hit every player and miss on many but he will be better prepared to fill holes than the owner that is winging it at the draft table.

Tip 3: Know your league mates

This carries into the season itself with regards to trades and trade bargaining but has a lot to do with draft day. Sometimes, you won’t know your league mates if you’re playing with random people on the bigger draft sites. Sometimes though, you do know these guys and a quick analysis of prior drafts can tell you a lot.

It’s necessary to know the tendencies of your league mates. Do some league mates chase the upside of young stars? Do other league mates target pitching? Do even other league mates bring their fandom of a particular team to the draft table with them (i.e. is there a Red Sox fan who might pay extra for Clay Buchholz?). Knowing what league mates have done in the past can help provide insight to what they will do in the future. Sometimes they change, most times they don’t. This is especially true when it comes to auction leagues; knowing which league mates might pay extra for certain players given their prior tendencies puts them at a disadvantage.

Knowing who your league mates are is a good piece of advice to keep in mind in the season itself as well. That would help in trades with knowing which player to offer to which owner and at what time to do so. Fantasy baseball, much like life, is all about timing. It’s also about a lot of luck and taking advantage of the margins and that includes knowing the tendencies of other fantasy owners.

These three tips seem obvious but are often overlooked. The more work that is done to know the settings, player pool, and league mates prior to the season hopefully means less work needs to be done during the season itself.

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