Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: Don’t Let Deep Leagues Overwhelm

Adam Lind
Adam Lind
Mark Konezny USA TODAY Sports

Knowing how to navigate a draft is one thing, and that’s something I’ve already covered: Having a plan; knowing where to go depending on where the draft goes; predicting player runs; these are all important components to most fantasy drafts.

I remember doing my first real deep draft four years ago now. Like most fantasy baseball owners, I had a pretty good grip on the top-300 players and thought the depth players were irrelevant. Well, let’s just say that didn’t work out.

For the purposes of this article, assume that the smallest draft would be a 16-team mixed league with a standard set up: C, C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, OFx5, MI, CI, UTIL. With that set up, there are 14 starting hitters per team and that means 224 hitters in a starting lineup in every given day. On a full day of baseball with all 30 teams playing and one inter-league game, there are 254 hitters in starting lineups. That leaves essentially one starting hitter per MLB team untouched.

That’s a shallow deep league, too. Leagues of 20+ teams can turn even the most veteran of fantasy baseballers’ hair gray by the end of the season.

If you’re finding yourself in a deep league for the first time this year, or are looking for some extra advice, these are the two best pieces of advice I can give you. One is for the draft, one is for in-season management.

Know The Splits

With so many players being drafted – a 20-team 30-man roster would mean 600 players drafted – there are going to be a lot of players with a lot of issues with them. That doesn’t mean they can’t provide value.

When a league gets that deep, fantasy baseball owners need to put on their manager cap. It’s important to get guys who might be parts of platoon situations with their real team in order to fill out at-bats for the season. The bulk of these platoon situations are because there are drastic splits for some players when it comes to facing left-handed or right-handed pitchers.

Most of these guys might only get somewhere between 200-400 at-bats but the ones they do give (provided they’re on the right side of the split and not Adam Lind being trotted out consistently against lefties) will be productive.

Here are five names to keep in mind (there are many more than this) for your drafts that will be part of platoon situations and have significant splits:

Adam Lind (1B-TOR) – He has a 247 point difference in career OPS between righties (.850) and lefties (.603). He is not to be started against left-handers at all, despite what Jays manager John Gibbons does.

Rajai Davis (OF-DET) – Davis is a career .294 hitter against lefties, just .255 against righties. He’s mainly a speed guy anyway, but he can produce at the plate when he’s on the good side of his splits. He’ll get a lot more playing with with Andy Dirks out for three months now, but I’d still watch his splits.

Seth Smith (OF-SD) – For his career, Smith has a career .582 OPS against lefties and .844 against righties. He’s also just over the Mendoza line for his career against lefties at .201.

Danny Valencia (3B-KCR) – Valencia career line against RHP is .229/.269/.360. Against LHP, it’s .329/.367/.513. In short, he mashes lefties and with Mike Moustakas struggling against lefties in his career, Valencia should get the bulk of the starts against LHP.

Gaby Sanchez (1B-PIT) – The splits aren’t as drastic as others, but his OPS is 195 points higher against LHP than RHP for his career. He also sports a .300 career average against LHP. Besides the average, Sanchez hits home runs at a significantly higher rate against lefties, too (about 30-percent more often).

Those are just five names but there are a plethora of them. If you find yourself in a deep league, finding hitters with the dramatic splits late in drafts are what puts a team over the top for a fantasy title.

Depth over Talent

It’s always laughable in most fantasy leagues when a trade offer comes in like “I’ll give you Victor Martinez, Anibal Sanchez and Alex Gordon for Carlos Gonzalez.” Those 3-for-1 trades seem like a good idea on the surface because of the talent coming back but this is why it doesn’t work out in shallower leagues:

Two-for-one or three-for-one trades look good until you see who you have to drop. Sure, getting Martinez, Sanchez and Gordon for Gonzalez would be nice. In shallow leagues, though, the owner getting the three players would then have to drop two guys from their roster to accommodate the influx of players. Because it’s a shallow league, most likely these are decent options. All of a sudden, Martinez/Sanchez/Gordon for Gonzalez becomes those three guys for Gonzalez and the two worst players dropped from a roster. In a shallower league, it could be names like Brett Gardner and Ubaldo Jimenez.

In a 20-team league, this completely changes. Because of the depth of the teams, there are bad players on every roster. In this situation, getting Martinez/Sanchez/Gordon for Carlos Gonzalez isn’t such a bad idea; going along with Gonzalez would be two bottom-of-the-barrel depth players like Carlos Marmol and Lucas Duda. In this case, the depth wins over the talent because of the players being replaced.

It’s a stretch, but this notion applies to the draft as well. I’m a fan of upside just as much (maybe more) as the next fantasy owner, but deep leagues are not the time to be taking chances early in drafts. For example:

In a 20-team league, Billy Hamilton will not drop out of the fifth round, more likely the fourth round. There is a real chance that he’s back in Triple-A by the month of May. The speed is enticing, but it’s foolish to take Hamilton in a deep league like this over guys like Alex Gordon or Desmond Jennings. In a shallow league, if Hamilton doesn’t work out, owners can just go to the waiver wire and grab Christian Yelich or Colby Rasmus. In a deep league, the waiver wire provides next to nothing and the options on the bench aren’t much better. The same idea applies for guys like George Springer, Anthony Rendon, and Taijuan Walker.

Deep leagues can be overwhelming without the proper preparation. Knowing which players can give good splits and building team depth are good foundations to build upon.

**As always, thanks to FanGraphs and Baseball Reference

author avatar
Michael Clifford
Michael Clifford was born and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada and is a graduate of the Unviersity of New Brunswick. He writes about fantasy hockey and baseball for XNSports and He can be reached on Twitter @SlimCliffy for any fantasy hockey questions. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+'://';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');