Fantasy Baseball Strategy – pre-draft preparation

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In any fantasy sport one of the most important parts of the season is the pre-draft preparation and in fantasy baseball the amount of players and different positions you have to fill make that perhaps even more important. Now if you do an offline/email draft you have time between picks to react and change your strategy ‘on the fly’ so the pre-draft work required isn’t so crucial However, if your draft is ‘live’ you won’t have time between picks to be searching for rankings, depth charts, ADP, etc.  Therefore making sure you have all the information at your fingertips is crucially important.

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In my experience the more hard work you do before your draft the more of a leg up you have on your league before you ever really start. That will save you from having to be a super active owner in season and stop your life becoming consumed by fantasy baseball. Believe me a couple of hours hard work now can save a lot of time as the season wears on.

League Settings

The most important thing before you do any draft prep is to know your league settings and the site you are playing on. If you don’t know this information then you could waste a lot of time preparing only to find the settings are different than you originally thought.

  • Is your league Roto or is it Points?
    • This is the single most important thing to check because different formats reward different skills of a baseball player (e.g. A player who hits a 40 doubles is way more valuable in points than in a standard roto league).
    • As an extension of this make sure you know what categories your league plays because a roto league rewarding OBP is going to change a players value compared to a league using AVG.
  • What site are you playing on?
    • All the sites have different eligibility criteria and this is crucial when you rank players. ESPN requires 20 games at a position the previous year for a player to be eligible at that position whilst Yahoo requires much less.
    • Sites also have different standard settings for player pick-ups. Some allow you to pick guys up on the day they play but some require you to pick that guy up the day before (e.g. you want to use a guy on a Sunday you need to have added him before the end of Saturdays games). So if you’re planning to stream pitchers during the season then you may need to be thinking a day ahead and for a whole season that is really difficult.
  • Does your league allow trades?
    • A league that allows trades not only makes the league more fun but it also makes drafting easier. This is because mid-season you can trade from a strength to try and fill a weakness. However, more and more leagues are going away from trades because of the dreaded collusion factor and then drafting becomes much more important. Finding stats such as home runs and steals on the waiver wire is really tough so if you leave yourself short in the draft it’s going to take a miracle to get yourself back in at those categories.
  • Rosters and positional scarcity
    • There are so many variables here ranging from one or two catchers to whether you have defined SP and RP spots or just generic pitcher spots so if I won’t cover everything here but I will try and cover the basics
    • Catcher is historically weak so if you are in a 2 catcher league you could find yourself in a big mess at the position if you wait too long to draft them. My personal strategy is target two guys in the 10-15 region at the position who are relatively safe.
    • The other infield positions and outfield are much deeper positions because for the majority their primary job is to be a hitter whilst a catcher is primarily a defensive guy. However, be aware of the depth of each position because in 2017 it is much easier to find a decent middle infield option late in the draft than it has been in previous years so there isn’t the desperation to grab someone as early.
    • Specificity of position:
      • Outfield: Some leagues define LF/CF/RF whilst others just ask for generic outfielders. Be aware of this because it will obviously change how you draft.
      • Pitchers: Some leagues define how many SPs or RPs you need whilst others leave it up to you by making the position spots generic. Depending on how the numbers are set up changes the strategy and I will discuss that further in the in-draft article.
    • Bench and DL spots
      • There are two ways to look at the number of bench spots:
        • I can take more risks on injury prone players because I have more bench to store them if they get injured
        • More bench spots = deeper leagues (and less talent on the waiver wire) and therefore finding a replacement for an injured or just plain bad player becomes harder.

Projections

I would say that projections are probably more important in roto than points as you are trying to balance the multiple categories and therefore being able to pencil in the numbers as you go along can be a great way of tracking this. Projections will also help you make those tough decisions when setting up your rankings or tiers as they allow you to see how a player can contribute across the board. You have multiple options when it comes to choosing projections.

  1. Pick one set of projections and go with it

It is better that you have some projections at your fingertips than not having any at all so if you are short of time or don’t feel confident enough with excel to do the further options this is a fine way to go. Most projection systems are similar on the majority of players so just picking one isn’t going to be a disaster but each system/analyst will have bias so some players will vary and you need to be aware of that and not take them as gospel. They are simply a guide to help you work out your strategy.

  1. Try and combine multiple sets of projections

This can be done fairly easily by downloading/copying projections into excel and using some formula magic to come out with an average for each player. This takes a little bit of time because you need to regularly check those different sites as projections are fluid based on the latest news about trades, signings and batting line-up changes.

  1. Make your own

This itself can be done in two ways. Firstly you can use one of the two options above but set it up so you can change the projected games played or ABs for each player and have your spreadsheet update automatically to save you trawling the different sites all of the time. The second option is to go the full hog and do it from scratch but that is a big time commitment. If you want to I highly recommend using a book such as projecting roto X who can talk you through setting up your own spread sheet.

(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Patrick Smith – Getty Images

Depth Charts

This is really just a note to be aware of depth charts. Whether guys are projected to play regularly and if so where they may bat can make a big difference when valuing guys. Personally I use roster resource and while they may not be correct 100% of the time they do a great job.

You don’t have to spend all day refreshing line-ups but you should just keep them in mind any time you see player news because playing time and line-ups are really fluid. Take Billy Hamilton as an example, his three potential options are: top of the line-up, 7th/8th in the line-up or benched. Those three options give him a wide variation on potential value to you and knowing what the current projection is can help you make that tough decision in a draft.

Rankings, Tiers and ADP

The most important thing here is be flexible!

There are a ton of rankings out there including ours here at fakepigskin and everyone is going to have a slightly different opinion. Personally I use my own projections to produce my rankings but if you don’t want to go to that level then the best option is to have a look around at multiple people and take an average. If you take multiple people’s opinions into account you are likely going to find the complete range of potential options for a player. Then you can factor your own feelings into it and produce your own set of rankings.

Just be aware that sites will rank according to slightly different roster rules e.g. if you see catcher values inflated in some rankings you know they are working off two catcher formats.

I know what you are thinking here, ranking 300+ players is going to take me a long time. I know, I used to feel the same way but when I actually did it I realised it wasn’t that time consuming and you naturally do a lot of your research whilst doing it. You then have rankings you can adjust as your research continues as different news stories emerge.

However, whilst rankings are good the nature of fantasy baseball requires some flexibility in them and I actually go one step further and break my rankings down to tiers. I find tiers helpful because often five or six guys are very similar and so rather than lock myself into think X is ranked 5 and Y is ranked 6 I can put them all alongside each other. In the draft this allows me to use my tiers and wait until there are just a couple of guys left at a tier before taking one. This is useful because if you believe all of the players in that tier will return the same value then why take X in the 4th round when maybe you can get Y or Z in round 5 or 6 as the last two players in that tier.

For example here is one of my tiers for shortstop and one for first base:

Jonathan Villar Jean Segura Aledmys Diaz Troy Tulowitzki Trevor Story

 

Hanley Ramirez Eric Hosmer Albert Pujols Will Myers

 

So let’s say I need both positions in round 5 and I am OTC and the following situation occurs. (Red meaning already drafted)

Jonathan Villar Jean Segura Aledmys Diaz Troy Tulowitzki Trevor Story

 

Hanley Ramirez Eric Hosmer Albert Pujols Will Myers

 

If I know I want someone from each of these tiers then my best chance of doing that is to take Wil Myers in round five and there is a chance one of the four SS are available in round 6 for me to take. However, if I take Villar here then there is next to no chance Myers is available so that is something you have to consider.

In a roto league I will then combine my projections with my tiers and write next to each player what category/categories I think he can be a help to me in. For example Villar SB/runs I underline SB as I am fairly confident he can be a major contributor there and don’t underline runs because whilst I think he can score 90+ I am not as sure about that.

Once you have your rankings or tiers or both you can then take ADP into account and that will allow you to build a strategy pre-draft of roughly who you think you are going to take when based of who should be available at tiers at each of your picks. Again with ADP be flexible and look around but be aware of different formats and tendencies of your league mates based on favourite teams and tendencies etc.

ADP is just a guide but combined with rankings or tiers it can all be a very valuable set of tools which can easily be printed and won’t be overly complicated on draft day.

Mock Draft

Once you have done your research you should then try and do a mock draft which uses your leagues settings so you can get a rough feel for how your strategy will play out. It isn’t perfect because you’re not drafting with your league mates so their likes and tendencies aren’t coming into it but it will give you a general feel of what you are going to do.

I personally do multiple mocks if I have the chance and in two or three I will go with my strategy and in another couple I may try a different strategy (e.g. hitter, pitcher, pitcher) just to see how it plays out and whether I like the value later in the draft and my team come the end. This allows me to either go back and revisit my planned strategy or just allows me to know I can be flexible if for example I find something completely unexpected such as Kershaw and Scherzer available in the 2nd and 3rd rounds where it would be crazy not to take them. I will discuss this further in my next article referring to the draft itself  but you will only know if you’re comfortable with this flexibility if you practice and see the outcome during your draft prep.

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