This guide is intended for folks who are new or new-ish to fantasy baseball drafting, as well as experienced managers who want to shake off the rust of the long off-season with a little refresher. So grab your favorite brew and let’s get started.
Step One: Learn the Damn Rules
I’m not just writing his name so the trawler bots on Google will spit out my articles when you search for him, nor am I writing it to fulfill my legal obligation as a Yankee fan to find a way to shoehorn Judge into everything I talk about (“great weather today, Josh!” “Yeah but have you seen how tall Aaron Judge is??”).
No, I mention Aaron Judge because he’s a prime example of a player whose value varies significantly depending on your fantasy league’s scoring rules. Does your league use the traditional 5×5 categories? Does your league have negative scoring (i.e., if your player strikes out does this count against you)? This is by far the most important thing you need to understand before you even think about “scouting” players and identifying who you’d like to draft.
In 2017, Aaron Judge hit for a .284 batting average, good for 46th best in the MLB. That’s a very good average, but by no means elite. A .284 isn’t going to win you the batting title in any fantasy league. He won’t hurt you in an AVG league, but he’s not going to carry you to victory in that category either.
Also in 2017, Aaron Judge finished with a .422 OBP, behind only Mike Trout (.442) and the always-underrated Joey Votto (.454). Now there’s a category Judge can carry a team in (besides, you know, Home Runs…and Runs scored….and RBI).
If your league uses AVG as an offensive category, Judge immediately loses value and becomes pigeonholed into the “slugger with a solid average” category, possibly falling into the late second or even third rounds.
In an OBP league, however, you can bet someone takes him in the late 1st round, and he’s a steal if he’s still on the draft board after that.
Continuing the OBP/AVG comparisons, Joey Votto is another prime example. Votto hits for a ridiculous AVG every year and combines that with his penchant for drawing walks and working counts. He’s a great player by either of those measures. However, Votto doesn’t hit with the raw power of other first basemen (though he’s no slouch in that department either with 36 dongs last season), and several guys will accrue more HR, RBI, and R than him. In an AVG league, Joey still paces the rest of his 1B counterparts, but a half dozen other players finished within 20 points of his AVG. The argument could be made that the additional power provided by guys like Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, or even Cody Bellinger makes up for the fact that their AVGs won’t measure up to Votto’s.
In an OBP league, however, Votto is in a league of his own (sorry). The next best OBP for a 1B after Votto’s .454 mark is the .404 OBP posted by Paul Goldschmidt. That’s a cavernous 50 point deficit between Votto and everyone else, making him the best option 1B in OBP leagues outside of Goldschmidt, who’s a lock pace all first basemen or to finish in the top 3 of virtually every category.
It’s the same for pitching: does your league do total K’s or K/9 ratio? The former rewards managers who load up on durable SP’s to accrue hundreds of K’s on the season, while the latter scoring style favors managers who collect flamethrowing RPs and specialists who throw up insane ratios but pitch far less innings.
Does your league score Quality Starts (QS) or Wins for starters? If it’s Wins, you better make sure you’re drafting players from solid teams. Felix Hernandez’s CY Young winning season, for example, would have netted any fantasy manager an insane WHIP and ERA, but the lethargic Mariners offense was only able to turn his historic season into 13 Wins. The King recorded an absurd 30 QS that same year.
The point being that you must shape your draft strategy first and foremost around your league rules and scoring categories, which is why it’s so crucial to know them and understand them. Every league is different, and you have to arm yourself with knowledge of your own league before you can every hope to win it.
Beyond the Stats
It’s not all about scoring and matchups and statistics, though. It’s also about those ancillary league settings that provide savvy fantasy managers with an indirect edge.
For example, I can 100% guarantee that at some point in the season your players will get hurt. Yes, I know, I’m very sorry to break it to you, but until we figure out how to get into the MLB’s settings and options menu there’s no turning them off.
Once that happens, do you hold onto the player or cut him loose? Well, that entirely depends. How big is your league’s Disabled List (DL)? Are your lineups set weekly, making it impossible to change or alter anything until next week anyway? Are there acquisition limits for the week? Did you already add/drop all of your players for the week? What about for the whole season? Some leagues don’t limit how many players you can add/drop in one week, but they do limit how many you can do in a season. Once you hit that limit, no more changes for you or your roster. You’re stuck with what you have.
This can make transactions very difficult. If your league does have a season limit for transactions (i.e., everyone gets 100 add/drops) and you burn through 50 add/drops in the first month because you want to stream pitchers each week, or pick up every promising young prospect who was promoted, then you’ll find yourself stuck without any moves by the All-Star Break.
That’s all well and good once the season kicks off on March 29th, but how does that affect the way I draft, you ask?
Durability is a major factor for players. It’s easier to take a gamble on Rich Hill and his fucking thumb (can you tell that I rolled the dice on him last year?) when you have a nice, big DL to keep him on. You don’t want to find your roster full of injury-prone players that force you to burn through half of your roster moves just to be able to field a full team.
There’s nothing wrong with taking guys like Hill who you just know are gonna get hurt at some point, but how many of them you should take and in what round will depend largely on your league settings. Basically: how much risk and how much turnover does your league allow for? As you formulate your draft strategy and eventually start your draft, you’ll need a balanced team that reflects not only your league’s scoring rules but also the way transactions and roster sizes are handled.
Speaking of roster sizes, how big is yours? (I see you blushing)
Some leagues are very specific on positional assignments, such as requiring you have a Right Fielder, Center Fielder, and Left Fielder. That’s a huge departure from lumping in everyone who plays on grass as an OF, which provides far greater flexibility in who you can draft. You don’t want to end up with 3 CF’s only to realize you don’t have any corner outfielders.
How about flex positions? Many leagues include slots such as “UTIL” for utility players, which allows you to plug in any offensive player regardless of position. There are also spots for Middle Infielders that allow you to start an additional SS or 2B, same for Corner Infielders and getting an extra 1B or 3B.
Some leagues include several of these, some include none. Be sure to educate yourself so you know how many, if any, “extras” of positional players you can pick up during your draft.
Lastly, and perhaps most obviously, you need to know how your league drafts. What are the time limits, if any, per pick? Is it snake draft? Auction draft? Do you do it old-school style with a whiteboard and pen and paper?
This will doubtless affect your approach to acquiring players in the draft. If it’s auction style, for example, you’ll need to identify players you want to “go after” and consider overspending on or pricing other owners out of. You also don’t want to get too trigger happy and blow your budget before you even finish filling out your infield. That’ll make your team “top-heavy” with a few superstars and then a gaping maw of mediocrity behind them. And Ruth help you if your team budget is tied up in just one or two guys who then get hurt.
Can you trade draft picks in your league? If so, consider in advance what players you might trade up for, or if you’d be willing to entertain in-draft trade offers from fellow owners. Some leagues also allow for this kind of trading in advance of the draft, so think carefully on whether or not you’re happy with your draft slot.
How do you know if you’re happy with your draft slot, you ask? There’s only so much specific planning that can go into a draft plan. The obvious reason being that you have no clue what your fellow owners are going to do, and thus it’s impossible to know who will be available when it’s your turn.
However, the (slight) exception to this law is the first round of the draft. There are only about a dozen players or so (depending who you ask and what your league settings are) that are going to be “in play” in the first round of a league’s draft. The best of the best.
You’ll know by the time the draft starts who these folks are (more on that in next weeks addition), and so will your teammates. For example, we all know that Mike Trout is going #1 overall in every league. If he doesn’t then you should probably have the owner with the first pick checked out for brain damage. Beyond him though, it gets trickier.
Now last year I had a mid-1st round pick. Most projections and mock drafts had Paul Goldschmidt going at the end of the 1st round or early 2nd. I decided through my own research that Goldy was being undervalued. Not by much, but by enough. I probably would have been glad to take him with the 2nd or 3rd picks, but I was crossing my fingers that he’d be around at 6th overall so I could snag him and consider it a steal. Of course he ended up still being there and I snapped him up. While I didn’t know for sure that he would still be available and planned accordingly, I was figuring that most of my leaguemates were using the same projections as me and seeing him go in the later 1st round. I targeted him using that information as the best value player I could hope to get at 6th overall in the first round.
Again, this type of planning matters less and less the further out you get from the first round. Inevitably other managers will throw monkey wrenches in your plans and take that guy you had your eye on. But knowing when you pick can help you plan in advance and make a “short-list” for each round of players that you personally value more than what the projections say. This can help you get great talent at a bargain, and that’s the best you can hope for in a draft.
Stay tuned for the release of Part Two next week, which will cover the topics of How to do Your Research and What to do When Your Draft Plan Falls Apart.
Today I’m reviewing one of my new favorite go-to beers from one of my all-time favorite breweries: Founders Azacca IPA.
This beer pours a nice light orangey-gold color with a small head of creamy foam. At 7% ABV and 70 IBUs, it’s right in the middle of the pack when it comes to IPAs. The flavor, however, is anything but middle of the pack.
It’s incredibly sessionable and easy to drink despite the 7% ABV it boasts. I get super juicy and big stonefruit flavors with sweet hoppy goodness on the tongue. It’s nice and crisp, with a balanced body and classic IPA bitterness that nicely compliments the tropical flavors. It’s not as light and juicy as a true West Coast Style due to it’s carbonation and bitterness levels, but it works wonderfully in this tasty brew. And at around $8 for a 6-pack it doesn’t get any better for your money, guaranteed. This has been my go-to “cheap” beer since its release, and I consider it another home run from Founders.
Rated as a 4.25 on my Untappd (j89bigblue).