I hate intros. Nobody takes the time to read these things. I could say whatever I wanted and it would literally pass zero sets of eyes. Watch.... I have hemorrhoids! See? No one. But in the rare occasion that one of you sad saps does in fact read this paragraph before jumping to the meat and potatoes, allow me to admit that I am no one special. I have never enjoyed the financial freedom to enter high stakes fantasy leagues. You won't find my name on any NFBC leader boards this year. When I finally close the laptop for good down the road, I will not receive any votes to the Fantasy Baseball Hall of Fame.
But what I have is almost 20 years of fantasy draft experience, keen observation skills, and the ability to run the table in the RotoBaller Experts staff league the past two seasons. Do I win my leagues by scouring the waiver wire and fleecing the other managers in trades? Not even close. I have been on Active Duty for the past seven years and am a father of two, so I have very little time for in-season management aside from the 10 minutes I set aside in the morning to set my lineups (enter the new obsession of my life, Best Ball drafts). I have found 90% of my success in fantasy baseball comes from D-Day, or as it is more commonly known, Draft Day.
For the first time ever, I sat down and thought about how I handle fantasy drafts. I broke down all that information into my Top 10 Draft Tips. I hope you are mentally prepared on how you plan to spend all those winnings this year.
Top 10 Fantasy Baseball Draft Tips
1. Become an expert on your league's settings
I see it EVERY year. The draft room is filling up, the countdown reaches 10 minutes, and someone in the chat asks a question about the League scoring or categories. Welp, that's one less guy you have to worry about this season. If you can't recite the league's settings as if you were the commissioner, you aren't ready to draft. This is why you see so many commissioners win leagues in less-competitive leagues. They created the league's settings, the other guys learn it as they go.
Let me try a real-life metaphor. I play softball and flag football year-round. There is one quick way to tell if a player is good/experienced when you ask them if they want to play on your team. Player A says, "Sure I'd love to play, I played ball in high school." Then in the first game, they get six consecutive penalties for flag guarding, illegal contact, and not fastening their flags on correctly. Player B, on the other hand, replies to your question with five other questions, "Is it 7-on-7 or 8-on-8? Is it contact blocking or screening? USFTL rules?" You see the difference?
Serious fantasy players know that an entire draft strategy revolves around the league settings. Points leagues, H2H, Roto, they all should make you draft differently. Even breaking that down further, what point value does the league award each statistic? Plug those numbers into Mike Trout and Max Scherzer's projections real quick. Does the league favor hitting or pitching? Is it an H2H Categories overall record or One-Win league? Will you need to win as many categories as possible or can you stack up on 60% of the categories to ensure the W each week? Does the league have a weekly transaction limit that will prevent you from streaming SP every day? STUDY YOUR LEAGUE'S SETTINGS BEFORE DRAFT DAY!
2. Know your opponents
Rarely in this day and age does your average fantasy baseball manager join a random draft filled with completely random people. The league is either filled with your friends, or you are invited by a friend to join a league that is filled with his/her friends. This can and should be used to your advantage. If this is your league of friends, you probably already have all the data you need; who values RP higher than any other human on the planet, who tries to draft a full squad from their favorite team, who ends up letting the timer run out to auto-draft every other pick because they are too cheap to upgrade their internet package. If this is a league you were invited to, make sure you ask your mutual connection for a manager rundown.
All of this seemingly useless data, if in the right hands, can be used and analyzed to form a draft strategy. I understand this tip will not be applicable in every league. If you join a DC on NFBC, chances are you won't know anyone you are drafting with. But even if that is the case, do some investigative research on the manager names and Twitter handles. You might be surprised how much you will learn. Hell, you might even find that manager's public rankings available. Now you know your late-round sleeper target won't make it past Team 4 in the 6th round. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.
3. Have a hand-picked rankings list
This is a fairly obvious tip. But it is probably my most OCD-driven task for my draft set up. First, building off Tip #1, make sure the rankings you choose/build are specific to the league type. Standard rankings won't be of much use in a Points League draft. For the majority of managers who do not have time to make their own rankings, find a set of public expert rankings that match your thoughts the closest. THESE RANKINGS WILL PREVENT REGRETFUL PANIC PICKS with the clock winding down, so while searching through sites to find a set that resembles how you would want to draft, make sure you filter by position to ensure they won't cause you to take any guys you don't like over some guys you are high on for the season.
During my drafts, I use split-screen with half my screen showing the draft board and half showing my exported rankings on an excel spreadsheet. Having a printout to follow along is just as good as long as you are able to keep your friends at your draft party from seeing who you have circled and teed up as your next target.
4. Stay focused....and sober?
I know this may hurt some feelings, because alcohol and fantasy drafts seemingly go so well together, especially if you have an active trash-talking league. But if you have money on the line, why would you be willing to throw that away for a few drinks that can be reserved for celebrating immediately following a great draft? Thoughts on adult beverage use aside, remaining focused throughout the entire draft is a necessity.
DO NOT WAIT UNTIL YOU ARE ON THE CLOCK TO DETERMINE WHO YOU ARE DRAFTING.
The second I have made my pick, I instantly move on to my next set of targets. I am looking at my roster to determine positional leagues, I am looking at my projections to determine statistical needs, I am looking at each manager that stands in the way of my next pick and analyzing what they need and who they may take away from my queue. Continuously updating your rankings list by removing drafted players is a great forcing-function to stay focused and up to the second during your draft. I simply delete the players from my excel spreadsheet. You could also cross them off your printed out list.
In order to execute this tip flawlessly, you also need to have some emergency scenario prep-time before the draft starts. Have snacks and drinks readily accessible. Have your phone ready with the draft app pulled up, just in case you lose wifi with your laptop or in case you need to go mobile and make a run to the bathroom. Make sure your significant other is fully aware that you are unavailable for the next X hours so you are not called away to let the dog out or put the kids to bed. Every second counts.
5. Don't let site ADP and rankings control you, let them pace you
If you follow Tip #3, you are already ahead of the curve on not drafting based off the draft board rankings provided by the site. But what is important to realize here is that I am not telling you to ignore the site's list, because it is very easy to use it to your advantage. Rarely in life do you get to see what your opponents see. In a fantasy draft, you are all looking at the same board, you know who is at the top and what players someone would have to scroll four times to even find. So instead of using the draft board to decide who to choose, use it to decide when to choose your guys. I knew I was drafting Chris Paddack in every draft last season, but I never went into a draft with a specific round I would target him. Instead, I analyzed the league and draft board to determine when to draft him while maximizing the value.
This is when Tip #2 really comes into play as well. NFL teams do this all the time during the draft. They may have a "projected third-round player" rated much higher than other teams and have them as the best available player when they are picking late in the first round. But for the most part, even though I know there are some terrible GMs in NFL, you don't see them making the reach. Because they know he will still be available at their next pick based on, I don't know, Mel Kiper's board, and knowing the other teams in between their next pick don't need a player at that position or didn't even bring in that player for a workout. DON'T REACH UNTIL YOU KNOW YOU NEED TO.
I always use the term, take what the league gives you. This is exactly what I mean by that. Go in with a strategy, and use your opponent's tendencies and the draft board to fine-tune it as you go. Lastly, don't forget reverse psychology. That chat function in drafts can be a gnarly tool for PSYOPS. You don't want to let a player you label as a huge bust drop far enough for an opponent to actually still get value out of him. So once that player is near the top of the board, maybe drop a little "I can't believe player X is still available". Poof! The player is drafted within the next three picks.
6. Understand team needs vs. best player available
This is a hard one to force during a draft, and is probably pretty unpopular. But I will say this, fantasy leagues are not won by the best players, they are won by the best team. Do not be the team that has a stud on the bench every week because you decided to draft three first basemen because they were the best players available. But also don't be the team that passes on a great bench bat to draft a catcher that is going to ultimately hurt your overall stat lines because you don't have one yet. It has to be a perfect balance (foreshadowing Tip #7!) that unfortunately can only come with experience. In order to gain/refresh that experience for each season, MOCK DRAFT YOUR BUTT OFF. But even if you have zero available time to mock, at least go into the draft cognizant of this understanding.
7. Balance, balance, balance
This is my bread and butter right here and it really shows in Roto leagues where, obviously, balance across all statistics is crucial for those points in the standings. If a player does not benefit my team in over 50% of the hitting/pitching categories, I don't want them. Punting categories, even in a H2H cats league is a dangerous and high-risk operation. When you willingly accept a weakness on your team, you are guaranteeing an L in a certain category, while subsequently needing everything to go right over a full season to overcome the guaranteed weakness.
As we all know, nothing in fantasy ever goes right over a full season. So you punt steals as a team, and then Joey Gallo gets hurt for a month. Now your team is mediocre on power and still has nothing for speed. Let's say that team is in a H2H cats league and avoids injury somehow, but there are still the ebbs and flows that go with the law of averages. So your team will go on a power cold-streak at some point, and they aren't stealing bases still, so you lose four match-ups in a row and miss the playoffs by one win. So statistical balance not only benefits Roto leagues, it acts as a safety net that will keep you from plummeting in any league. Let's take a look at hitters I drafted in one of my winning Roto Leagues last year; RotoBaller Experts League - Standard Roto Auction:
Starling Marte (23 HR/25 SB), Xander Bogaerts (great in 4 of 5 cats), Tim Anderson (18/17), JT Realmuto (25/9 at my Catcher position), Yasiel Puig (24/19). Cody Bellinger (47/15), Marcell Ozuna (29/12), Ryan Braun (22/11), Austin Meadows (33/12), Fernando Tatis (22/16)... sure I probably wouldn't have been able to pull that off in a snake draft, but you get the point of the skill balance I target. Even when it gets late in drafts when these kinds of players no longer exist, you can still keep the balance with off-setting one-dimensional hitters. After I drafted the above hitters, I then grabbed Franmil Reyes (37 HR) and Jose Peraza (23 SB....in 2018).
Since my pillars (players) are all spread out and balanced throughout my building (team), when Starling Marte goes down or gets cold, the building still stands. When Fernando Tatis Jr. goes down, the building still stands. Even when Cody freakin' Bellinger goes down, the building still stands. When you build a team solely on skillset and punt others, and one of your pillars goes down, the building starts to sway because all the pillars are on one side of the building. If two pillars go down at the same time, it's probably going to collapse. This tip obviously does not just apply to hitting categories, but I will save my spiel on pitchers for Tip #10.
8. Start the trends, don't join them
"If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?" Well, then why are you drafting a lower-tiered closer in the eighth round just because everyone else is? Joining a run can destroy any chance at a player returning value, it throws you off your strategy, and frankly just makes you look silly. Back to the TAKE WHAT THE LEAGUE GIVES YOU, bob when the others weave. Everyone is frantically trying to get a closer? That opens up an opportunity to snag your SP3. You're in a points league and the top-five picks are SP because the league favors pitching? SP6 or Ronald Acuna.....thanks for the money folks.
9. Use the queue for "off the page" players
My draft queue is always loaded with my late-round flyers/sleepers/targets. I don't want to forget them. Even if I am following along with my rankings, sometimes stuff happens. Also if I were to lose connection exactly as my pick came up, at least I would know that the impending auto-pick would be one of MY guys. Using the queue in conjunction with the site rankings board is also a fun strategy I like to utilize it to time my picks. Once one of my guys I have "starred" rolls up into visibility on the draft board, I know everyone in the league was just reminded of their existence. I try to keep them "off the page", aka snag them just before that moment.
10. *JB's Special Advice*
For the most part, these last nine draft tips were fairly general, not even geared specifically to baseball. But Draft Tip #10 is a strategy I use in baseball every single year and kills Roto/H2H Category leagues. I call it JB's Bullpen method.
Back in Tip #7, I spoke about the importance of balance on a team. For your pitching staff, I find this even more important. You need steady, solid, balance and to be frank with you, that is not possible with a bunch of SP on your roster. Yeah, you can attack W and K, but your ERA and WHIP have no chance. There are like 10 SP in all of baseball I would trust with my team's ERA and WHIP all season and you want to fill your roster with them? In a standard league, I will roster ~13 pitchers. Of the 13 pitchers, I will NOT have more than five SP. That means the other eight are RP - and I don't care if they are closers right now or not. For years, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller were my anchors, then Josh Hader emerged, and every year a new crop of setup studs emerge like Giovany Gallegos.
Let's look at some examples, shall we? The eight RP I ended the season with in that Roto league I mentioned previously were:
- Seth Lugo (7 W, 6 SV, 104 K, 2.70 ERA, 0.90 WHIP)
- Emilio Pagan (4 W, 20 SV, 96 K, 2.31 ERA, 0.83 WHIP)
- Will Smith (6 W, 34 SV, 96 K, 2.76 ERA, 1.03 WHIP)
- Keone Kela (29.2 IP - 2 W, 1 SV, 33 K, 2.12 ERA, 1.01 WHIP)
- Brandon Workman (10 W, 16 SV, 104 K, 1.88 ERA, 1.03 WHIP)
- Julio Urias (4 W, 4 SV, 85 K, 2.49 ERA, 1.08 WHIP)
- Giovanny Gallegos (3 W, 1 SV, 93 K, 2.31 ERA, 0.81 WHIP)
- Drew Pomeranz (2nd half - 57 K, 1.96 ERA, 0.82 WHIP)
Take Brandon Workman and Emilio Pagan. Both were for the most part undrafted in leagues, or late stashes because Boston's bullpen situation was sketchy. Combine their end of season stats and you have 14 W, 36 SV, 200 K, 2.10 ERA, 0.93 WHIP. I just created a bonafide ace that also acts as his team's closer - created from two under-the-radar RP - and I can do this three more times with my other guys!
How hard do you think it was to draft this group of relievers last season? Extremely easy, and very cheap. All below 2.80 ERA and all below 1.09 WHIP. Sprinkle in all the saves you pick up along the way as they change roles in the bullpen and you've just won three of five pitching categories. Now you just grab some SP to get over IP Minimums and get mid-range points in W and K. They don't even have to be studs, because like I said your ERA and WHIP are nailed to the top of the standings already. Take some chances on some young flyers. Enjoy the flexibility and the relief from the stress of seeing your starters get blown up all week. Go ahead, make that call to the bullpen.
More 2020 Fantasy Baseball Advice