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Best-Ball Draft Strategy Overview for Fantasy Baseball

It's finally March, which can only mean two things: Spring Training and fantasy drafts. All the effort spent on rankings and draft prep finally come to fruition. Once your draft is completed, you then get to spend every day of the rest of the season analyzing player performances, scouring waiver wires and setting the best possible lineup.

For some, this proves to be too much of a time commitment to handle and those owners end up finding themselves at a disadvantage to those who are monitoring every second of every game. For those who love the prep and fast-paced action of a draft, but have trouble keeping up with daily lineup maintenance, best ball leagues are becoming a popular alternative to traditional leagues.

In best-ball leagues, the only control you have over your team is who you draft. There are no adds from the waiver wire, there are no trades, just draft your team and then an optimal lineup will be chosen for you every day throughout the season. This style of league provides some interesting challenges and aspects that are not found in traditional leagues, and as such normal draft strategies must be changed to adapt to this style. In this overview, we'll take a look at several strategies to consider that can give you the edge in winning your best ball league.

 

Best Ball Guidelines

Don't wait on catcher

Catcher is usually considered one of the worst-hitting positions in fantasy, with only a very few elite or even very good options available. On top of that, many catchers regularly get less playing time than other position players do, with backup catchers getting anywhere from 20 to 50 or more starts per season. In 2017 there were 22 catchers who played in at least 100 games, and only six catchers who played in at least 125 games. Of those six, only two — J.T. Realmuto and Buster Posey — appeared in at least 140 games. Owners should take this into consideration on draft day, by not only drafting a catcher early but also drafting at least two catchers. In a best ball league where you can't make any roster changes, you don't want to be stuck getting little to no offense for days at a time from any spot in your lineup, let alone catcher.

Consistency is key

When drafting, owners should place a premium on players who exhibit consistency in their performance as well as their durability. Since there's no trades or free agent pickups, you're stuck with whoever you draft — for better or for worse. So players who are consistently healthy and on the field will be more valuable to your team. For example, a player like Kevin Pillar — who has averaged 153 games a season since 2015 — would be more valuable because of his consistency at staying on the field than a player like Denard Span who has averaged 111 games over the same time frame.

Owners should also look for consistency in player's yearly performances. Jose Ramirez hit 29 home runs in 2017 — more than double his 2016 output. He could match or even surpass that total in 2018, or he could hit 10. If you won't be able to cruise the waiver wires or trade block, would you rather take the chance that Ramirez's 2017 season wasn't a fluke or would you rather draft Josh Donaldson — a third baseman who has averaged 33 HR over the last five seasons and is currently being drafted after Ramirez. The same question applies to pitchers: Would you rather own Robbie Ray coming off one outstanding season or Chris Archer coming off three consistently very good seasons? Who is more likely of the two to repeat last season's performances? These will be crucial questions to consider leading up to draft day.

Draft super-utility guys

After you draft your core starting lineup, make sure to draft several players with positional flexibility. Guys like Marwin Gonzalez, Andrew Romine and Eduardo Nunez should all be considered just for their ability to plug in throughout the lineup when your star players have days off. Will they put up amazing performances for your team that will rocket you up the standings? Not likely. But each at-bat they have as a part of your lineup could give your team another point in the standings. And if one of the cornerstones of your team misses time due to injury, these super utility players will make sure you get some value instead of nothing.

Avoid relievers as much as possible

Most owners already place an emphasis on drafting starting pitchers over relievers in standard leagues. In best ball leagues though, owners need to take that draft philosophy to the extreme and potentially draft only one or two relievers. Outside of guys like Kenley Jansen or Aroldis Chapman, closers have very little to no job security throughout the year. So drafting a closer — like Luke Gregerson for example — who may be passed up on the depth chart part way through the season would leave you at a disadvantage with a "dead" roster spot. Owners will be much better served filling their pitching staff with almost exclusively starting pitchers. While starters can and are bumped from the rotation every season, most starters that are relevant for fantasy purposes are able to maintain their position throughout the year at a higher rate than closers. Since owners can't replace players on their rosters after the draft, it's better to own a bunch of starters and punt on saves rather than draft multiple closers, of which half may not be contributing hardly any value to your team after the All-Star Break.

No waivers. No trades. No setting lineups. Best Ball leagues provide different challenges than most owners will have faced in previous drafts, but following these strategies can be the deciding factor in whether or not you end the season as league champion.

 

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RotoBaller Industry Expert Fantasy Baseball Mock Draft

On Thursday, February 15th, we brought together an illustrious group of industry experts to take part in the RotoBaller Friends and Family mock draft. We'll be playing this out as a best ball league.

Our participants represented sites like:

After the dust settled, we asked these fantasy baseball experts some tough questions about how it all shook out. The full draft board is available at RealTime Fantasy Sports: rtsports.com/rotoballer

 

The Big Board

 

It may have been a reach, but I'm glad I got _____ on my team.

"Christian Yelich. He's going to be a top-seven OF and return second round value." -Vlad Sedler

"Greg Bird. He's got a fantastic hitting tool and he'll be batting third in one of the most insane lineups in the game." -Howard Bender

"Xander Bogaerts. He's entering his age-25 season and I believe that his thumb injury played a huge role in his lower power and average. I see him flirting with .300, hitting 15-plus homers and swiping 15 bags." -Nick Mariano

"Michael Conforto as my 17th pick because once he returns he will prove to be an outstanding value at that level." -Scott Engel

"Khris Davis...it caused controversy." -Lawr Michaels

"Aaron Nola. He's so dreamy..." -Kyle Bishop

 

If I could hit the "Undo" button, I would not have taken ______

"Zack Cozart -- I would have been just as happy with Marcus Semien a couple rounds later and still have reservations as to how his power is affected by the move to LA." -Howard Bender

"Ronald Acuna - I could have used a better lock-down third OF, but the draft still played out well in the outfield so it ended up being fine." -Ray Flowers

"Mike Zunino - most catchers just aren't worth taking before round 12. I might have taken Salvador Perez in the 10th, but of course he was taken two picks before my turn." -Pierre Camus

"Michael Fulmer, because Ohtani went the very next pick. (crazy to think that it's become a 'where were you when Ohtani was drafted' kinda feel." -Andy Singleton

 

Not that I'm jealous, but I really like ____'s team because _____

"Alex Chamberlain. He grabbed several guys I like a lot - Pham, Osuna, Jose Martinez - and nailed the early rounds." -Kyle Bishop

"Howard Bender has a good early balance of power and pitching." -Scott Engel

"I like how Kyle and Ray filled out their teams. Kyle had a great first four rounds, and his mid-round run (from rounds 10-15, roughly) is delightful. Most of Ray's first 11 picks are excellent in aggregate." -Alex Chamberlain

"Tim Heaney....he swiped six of the guys I was planning on taking. RotoWire on RotoWire crime, indeed!" -Vlad Sedler

 

I greatly respect _____ as a colleague, but I'm not sure what he was thinking when he _____

"Lawr, took Alex Colome ahead of guys like Roberto Osuna and Aroldis Chapman. Colome's swinging-strike rate fell from 15.1% to 11.6% last season, prompting a drop in strikeout rate from 31.4% to 20.6%. His SIERA rose from 2.56 in '16 to 4.05 last year. I'm not seeing it." -Nick Mariano

"Pierre Camus, took Jose Berrios in the 7th. It's the first egregiously early pick, in my opinion. Glancing at the grid, I see probably 10 other starters I would've taken sooner." -Alex Chamberlain

"Ray Flowers - he took Willson Contreras in the sixth round. If this were a dynasty league, that would be reasonable, but I don't know if Contreras is an elite hitter just yet." -Pierre Camus

"Scott Engel -- drafted AJ Pollock in the third round. We continue to overrate the need for speed at the front end of a draft, but if you do, then at least overdraft someone with a better health track record." -Howard Bender

 

I was shocked that _____ lasted so long!

"Ryan Zimmerman ... Where I got him, there's little risk in hoping he has another season of 25-plus homers with run production befitting the Nationals' stacked lineup." -Tim Heaney

"Jake Lamb. Humidor or not, Lamb falling outside the top 250 (!!!) is crazytown. I had 3B well covered and thought he was already off the board anyway, so this is clearly everyone's fault but mine." -Kyle Bishop

"Evan Longoria - not that I expect from huge turnaround in SF, but he's stable in so many ways." -Ray Flowers

"Eric Hosmer" -Nick Mariano

"Kyle Hendricks" -Lawr Michaels

 

The late-round pick that will have the biggest impact is _____

"Jose Martinez and Derek Fisher." -Vlad Sedler

"Sean Manaea, Alex Reyes, and Joe Musgrove are all guys I'm betting the farm on." -Andy Singleton

"Aside from Lamb, probably Willie Calhoun. I might even prefer Calhoun to Lamb. Super-boring honorable mentions: Todd Frazier, Kendrys Morales, Evan Longoria. Wild cards: Tyler Glasnow, Nick Senzel, Derek Fisher." -Alex Chamberlain

"Maikel Franco. I believe a rebound is coming. His power is undeniable, and the issues he had last year don't fit with the stellar plate discipline he's had most of his professional career." -Tim Heaney

"Ryan McMahon - he's being given the chance to become the regular first baseman. He's the type of player you take at that point in the draft, with tremendous upside." -Pierre Camus

"Yoshihisa Hirano -- Will easily lead the DBacks in saves this year and could potentially finish top 5 in all of MLB." -Howard Bender

"Fernando Rodney's gonna somehow save 40 games again." -Kyle Bishop

"David Dahl. Hey, one can dream, can't he?" -Ray Flowers

 

In best-ball format, _____ is going to be a league-winner for me

"Nick Senzel." -Howard Bender

"Alex Reyes." -Vlad Sedler

"Chad Green 100%" -Kyle Bishop

"Brad Hand. The Saves will add up, and the elite ratios will matter." -Andy Singleton

"Nick Castellanos. Qualifies at two spots, plays daily, and could improve on last year's numbers" -Ray Flowers

"Dinelson Lamet - he may have the occasional wild start, but when he's on, he can be electric and rack up strikeouts. I was happy with where I got him even if this were a standard roto league, but in BB format, it's even better." -Pierre Camus

"Ian Desmond. 1B/OF eligibility for roster versatility, 20-20 potential, Coors Field for (hopefully) a full season to make up for his groundball tendencies. He could become my MVP." -Tim Heaney

 

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Using Sabermetrics For Fantasy Baseball Part 10 - Ballpark Factors

If you have ever selected a streamable pitcher based on home park or benched an otherwise must-start arm at Coors Field, you already know how much a stadium can impact a player's bottom line.

Ballpark Factors quantify the influence each stadium has, allowing you to make the most of your fantasy team's real life schedule.

Today, we continue our journey through baseball sabermetrics with a look at how each team's home stadium can play a factor in the fantasy baseball world.

 

How to Interpret Ballpark Factors

Ballpark factors are set to a base of 100, meaning that a park factor of 100 plays perfectly neutral. Factors greater than 100 signify that a given park allows more of that outcome, while numbers below 100 represent less of those outcomes.

There are multiple sources of ballpark factors, including FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, ESPN, and Statcorner. Each calculates their numbers a little bit differently, but they all use the base-100 scale listed above. There is no "correct" factor to use, as each system has its own merits. Just make sure you stick to a single source for any analysis to control for the variance.

The source you choose also dictates how much each point above or below 100 is "worth." A player only plays 50% of his games at home, with the rest of his schedule comprised of road games. Fangraphs halves all of their factors to accommodate this, making each point above or below 100 represent a one percent increase or decrease over a full season of stats. Other sources leave that job to you, making every point worth two percentage points in a player's final line.

If that's too confusing, it's fine to forget it. The only thing you need to know is that a park factor of 110 is considerably higher than a 105 mark.

When most fantasy owners think of ballpark factors, they think of homers. A park allowing plenty of bombs is viewed as a hitter's park, while parks allowing fewer dingers are more pitcher-friendly. Let's consider Yankee Stadium as an example.

Yankee Stadium is known as a home run haven for good reason. In 2017, the stadium had a Fangraphs HR factor of 112. However, this does not mean that the stadium played exactly the same for all hitters. The short porch in right field helps left-handed hitters (124 per Baseball Prospectus) more than right-handed hitters (111), creating a meaningful platoon split in how the park plays. Of course, a right-handed hitter with an opposite field power stroke could benefit like a lefty. The point is that all ballpark factors should be considered with nuance.

While most fantasy owners are familiar with certain ballparks allowing more or less homers than others, BABIP is an under-appreciated component of ballpark factors. Altitude, infield conditions, foul territory, batter's eye, and the size of the stadium can all influence how a ballpark plays beyond just home runs.

For example, the Colorado Rockies managed a .351 BABIP at home last season against a road BABIP of .311. Likewise, they posted a .348 mark at home vs. .302 on the road in 2016, .346 against .276 in 2015, and similar differences in every other season at Coors Field. Players tend to perform a little better at home, but Colorado's splits seem indicative of more than that.

Indeed, Coors Field promoted more singles (109 per FanGraphs), doubles (also 109), triples (132), homers (110), and line drives (107) than the average park in 2017. The sample size of triples is usually too small to mean anything, but Coors Field has many quirks to help explain its extreme offensive environment.

It's a gigantic ballpark, offering plenty of real estate for balls to find grass. Pitchers claim that breaking balls behave differently due to the elevation of the Mile High City, removing some of their weapons. Fatigue may set in faster for the same reason. The introduction of the humidor has decreased the ballpark's HR rates compared to the complete bandbox it was at the height of the Steroid Era, but it still consistently posts the highest BABIPs in baseball. For this reason, fantasy owners should be skeptical of  Colorado hurlers.

Colorado is the most extreme example, but every stadium has some quirk that makes it unique. Fenway's Green Monster, the Trop's artificial surface, and the miles of foul territory in Oakland all affect a player's fantasy stats.

That said, sometimes ballpark factors can lie. Eighty-one games is a relatively small sample size, so a park could play dramatically differently in a given season than it has in the past or should be expected to moving forward. FanGraphs offers a five-year average park factor for overall scoring environment that eliminates much of this noise.

If you're curious, Coors Field is well above other offensive parks with a five-year average factor of 116. Second place Arizona and Texas are tied with 105. Petco Park and Citi Field (95) are tied for most pitcher-friendly stadium. Obviously, you should pay more attention to the current year's data if there is a reason to believe the park changed. For instance, the installation of a humidor at Chase Field likely renders Arizona's previous ballpark factors moot.

Finally, it's worth noting that any ballpark factor worth looking at has a procedure in place to avoid being influenced by the home team's standout performers. For example, we have previously seen that Byron Buxton of the Minnesota Twins is an outstanding defensive outfielder. This fact does not slant Minnesota's ballpark toward pitchers because the performance of visiting teams in Minnesota is compared to their performance against Minnesota, not the league at large. Thus, a player like Buxton is not a variable.

Conclusion

Ballpark factors quantify how much influence a player's environment has on his final totals. A 100 factor is league average, with numbers above or below that indicative of more or less of whatever it is a factor for. Most fantasy owners think of homers when considering park factors, but singles, line drives, and even strikeouts have park factors as well. Platoon splits can also dictate where a given player is most likely to succeed.

 

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Using Sabermetrics For Fantasy Baseball Part 9 - BABIP For Pitchers

While FIP is a useful tool to predict a pitcher's future ERA performance, fantasy owners should remember that ERA, not FIP, is what really matters in most formats. This means that we are interested in the "luck" that separates the two statistics.

While some of this luck is unpredictable, we can and should predict some of what goes into a pitcher's bottom line. BABIP plays a big role in the variation of a pitcher's perceived luck, but it may not be as clear-cut as it seems.

Let's get to it!

 

How to Interpret BABIP for Pitchers

When calculating BABIP for hitters, we assume a neutral defense because they figure to see a balance of poor and skilled defenders as they travel around the league. This is not true for pitchers, as they always pitch in front of their own club's defenders. A team with Andrelton Simmons and his 32 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) figures to provide better defense to its pitchers than a team that lacks a platinum glover. DRS is a counting stat like HR or RBI that measures how strong a defender a particular player is, with zero corresponding to an average defender and negative numbers possible for weak gloves. A better defense helps pitchers outperform their FIP.

Statcast makes it even easier to look at the quality of a pitcher's outfield defense. Outs Above Average, or OAA, measures each outfielder's defensive contributions using Catch Probability. If a batted ball is caught by an outfielder, the outfielder receives OAA credit equal to 1 - the ball's Catch Probability. For example, a successful catch on a ball with a 40% Catch Probability is worth 0.6 OAA (1 - 0.4 = 0.6).

Outfielders also lose points equal to the batted ball's Catch Probability if they flub the catch. Missing the ball in the example above would therefore subtract 0.4 from the player's OAA. Byron Buxton of the Minnesota Twins led baseball with 25 OAA last season, making Minnesota the best defensive outfield in baseball (31 total OAA).

BABIP is also partially determined by a pitcher's style. An extreme ground ball pitcher may have a higher BABIP against because grounders have higher BABIPs than fly balls (.241 to .130 in 2017.) This stylistic difference also changes how much a given pitcher will benefit from (or be hindered by) a particular defender on his team. For instance, a fly ball pitcher would love to pitch in front of Buxton, while a ground ball specialist would benefit more from an elite infielder like Simmons instead.

While defense is largely out of a pitcher's control, some pitchers can control their BABIP to a degree. For example, Yusmeiro Petit's .267 BABIP against last year feels way too low, but he can might sustain it. First, his 48.9% FB% means that many balls put into play against him figure to post low BABIP numbers. Second, he induced pop-ups at an impressive 18.6% IFFB% last season. Pop-ups are almost never hits, so inducing them consistently enables a pitcher to post better than average BABIPs.

The same principle holds for pitchers who can limit line drives, but this skill is not quite as sticky as pop-ups. Liners post very high BABIPs but randomly fluctuate, as we have seen in a previous article.

Finally, a pitcher's own defense may allow him to control the BABIP he allows. For example, Dallas Keuchel is an extreme ground ball pitcher (66.8% GB% last year) who nevertheless limited the BABIP against him to .256 in 2017. The reason why is the incredible nine DRS he compiled in his 145 1/3 defensive innings. Simmons had 1,369 2/3 innings to post his DRS last year, so extrapolating Keuchel's performance to Simmons's workload yields roughly 85 DRS!

Extrapolations like that aren't necessarily valid, so Keuchel is probably not the equal of two-and-a-half Andrelton Simmonses with a glove in his hand. Still, it seems insane to discount Keuchel's defense with the track record he has put together (42 career DRS in 984 2/3 innings).

Every pitcher allows a few hits, and the sequencing of these events may also cause a difference between a pitcher's FIP and ERA. Allowing three base hits over three innings is probably harmless, while allowing three hits in one inning and then nothing in the next two frames likely puts a run on the board.

Sequencing luck is measured by strand rate, or LOB%, and research shows that it is largely an unstable, luck-driven stat. In 2017, the league average LOB% was 72.6%, with higher numbers generally forecasting a higher ERA moving forward. Elite strikeout guys tend to be the best at getting the K "when they need it," and as such may sustain slightly elevated strand rates.

 

Conclusion

To conclude, a pitcher's BABIP includes some unknown variables but also some predictable inputs. The quality of his defense can help or hurt him. Sequencing does not affect BABIP necessarily, but can impact a pitcher's ERA substantially. A given pitcher's style, as a ground ball or fly ball specialist, may also impact his performance. Ballparks can have a substantial impact on a pitcher's ERA as well. We'll take a closer look at ballpark factors next time.

 

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Using Sabermetrics For Fantasy Baseball Part 8 - FIP and xFIP

The first advanced pitching stat most fantasy owners encounter is FIP. FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching, and attempts to measure a pitcher's actual skill instead of the effects of luck or his supporting cast. According to the DIPS theory that the metric is based upon, pitchers control only Ks, BBs (and HBP) and home runs allowed. Therefore, Ks, walks and dingers are the only inputs to determine the number.

Calculating FIP requires way more math than most fantasy owners are comfortable with, so don't worry about the formula. For fantasy purposes, it is sufficient to understand the three primary inputs listed above and the fact that the stat is on the ERA scale. That means that if a FIP would be a good ERA, it is a strong FIP. The math is perfect, meaning that the league average FIP and ERA are identical (4.36 in 2017).

Sometimes xFIP is cited instead of FIP. The x stands for expected, and the stat is rooted in the fact that HR/FB varies for pitchers just as much as hitters. While FIP uses a player's actual homers allowed, xFIP charges him with a league average amount of homers based on his fly balls allowed. Some pitchers are consistently more or less homer-prone than average, but studies show xFIP is a more reliable predictor of future ERA than regular FIP.

 

How to Use FIP and xFIP to Draft and Manage Your Team

This predictive nature of FIP and xFIP is the reason fantasy owners should care about them. Both metrics predict future ERA more reliably than ERA itself, making them a good go-to stat to determine if an early breakout may be for real or if a struggling superstar is likely to rebound. All things being equal, it is generally expected that a pitcher's ERA will regress towards his current FIP and xFIP over the long season.

For example, some panicked when Trevor Bauer got off to a bad start in 2017 with ERAs of 6.26 and 5.82 over the first two months. FIP and xFIP could have reassured them, as his FIPs (4.46 and 3.86) and xFIPs (3.49 and 3.03) in the same time frame suggested that Bauer was actually approaching his potential. He went on to post a dominant second half (3.01 ERA) en route to a solid season (4.19 ERA, 3.88 FIP, 3.60 xFIP). Advanced metrics helped prevent Bauer's owners from dropping him too early.

There are certain types of pitchers that may consistently defy FIP. The first is knuckleball guys, who have challenged DIPS theory since its introduction. Atlanta's RA Dickey had a 4.26 ERA last year despite a considerably higher FIP (4.72) and xFIP (4.79). Regression should not be expected however, as he did the same thing in 2016 (4.46 ERA vs. 5.03 FIP and 4.76 xFIP), 2015 (3.91 vs. 4.48 and 4.72), 2014 (3.71 vs. 4.32 and 4.14), etc. For Dickey and other knuckleballers, there is no need to bother with FIP.

The other type is simply called a "FIP-beater" that manages to control the quality of contact against him to the point that he outperforms his peripheral stats. Johnny Cueto has been a poster boy for this group for a while. He posted a sterling 2.25 ERA in 2014 before following it up with a solid 3.44 mark the next year. The 2016 season saw Cueto return to ace status with an ERA of 2.79.

Sabermetricians never saw Cueto that highly, however. His 3.30 FIP and 3.21 xFIP in 2014 made that campaign's 2.25 ERA look like a fluke, while his regression in 2015 (3.44 ERA, but 3.53 FIP and 3.78 xFIP) seemed like a harbinger of things to come. His sterling ERA in 2016 (2.79 ERA) was again undermined by considerably larger FIP (2.96) and xFIP (3.42) marks. Many analysts projected his demise in each of these years only to be proven wrong.

In 2017, they were proven correct. Cueto struggled to a 4.52 ERA, with a FIP (4.49) and xFIP (4.45) to match. Some are blaming health concerns for Cueto's struggles, but I struggle to see the upside in doing so. Strikeouts are a key component of FIP, so pitchers who defy it are still lacking in a common fantasy category. Why risk another poor ERA for two category upside?

Personally, I'm leery of anyone's ability to consistently defy FIP, knuckleballers notwithstanding. Matt Cain's story is very similar to Cueto's, and we know that it did not have a happy ending. There is an ongoing debate in the sabermetric community though, so my word is not gospel on the subject.

To conclude, FIP and xFIP are metrics that try to determine the ERA a given pitcher deserves based only on the outcomes he actually controls: Ks, BBs, and home runs allowed. While FIP uses the pitcher's actual homers allowed, xFIP regresses it to the league average figure. Both metrics are on the ERA scale, and may be used to predict future ERA with more accuracy than ERA alone. Of course, we can also predict how some of the "luck" that separates ERA from FIP will play out. BABIP for pitchers will be discussed in Part 9.

 

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The Most Profitable Pitchers of the Last Five Years

If you missed last week’s column on the most profitable hitters of the last five years, you can find it here.

That post explains the methodology behind this work, and acknowledges the considerable help I received from colleagues throughout the process.

Today I'm here to take a look at the pitchers - players who have offered fantasy owners the greatest return on investment since the 2013 season

 

Single-Season Leaders

2013: Hisashi Iwakuma, $23.96 ($28.10 AV | $4.14 EV)

Iwakuma’s first full season in the Mariners’ rotation resulted in a fantastic performance (14 W, 2.66 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 185 K). This showing provided roughly equivalent value to fantasy owners as Cliff Lee, Yu Darvish, and Adam Wainwright. All three of those pitchers were top-50 picks by ADP, while Iwakuma barely cracked the top 250.

2014: Johnny Cueto, $34.39 ($41.50 AV | $7.11 EV)

Cueto had a career season in 2014, winning 20 games with sparkling ratios (2.25 ERA, 0.96 WHIP) and nearly a strikeout per inning over an NL-high 243 2/3 frames. Despite his success in 2011 – 12, an injury-shortened 2013 scared owners off and made him a bargain in the 14th round of standard league drafts. This year, an injury-shortened 2017 has Cueto’s ADP in the 12th round. Hmmmm…

2015: Jake Arrieta, $38.05 ($51.20 AV | $13.15 EV)

No surprise here; we all remember how fantastic Arrieta was in 2015. His 2014 breakout had caught owners’ attention enough to make him a seventh-round pick and the #21 starting pitcher off the board that year. Those who made the investment were rewarded with the most valuable pitcher performance in fantasy baseball over this five-year sample. Shout out to Dallas Keuchel, whose 2015 was one of only three pitcher seasons to deliver at least $30.00 in profit during that time – Arrieta and Cueto, of course, being the others.

2016: Rick Porcello, $27.44 ($29.1 AV | $1.66 EV)

In the future, scientists will study Porcello’s 2016 season and be baffled by how a mediocre pitcher came out of nowhere to win a Cy Young. His 22 victories (tied with Arrieta the prior season for the most in the last five years) were a driving force behind his value, but Porcello also posted tidy ratios (3.15 ERA, 1.01 WHIP) and a respectable 189 strikeouts over 223 innings.

2017: Luis Severino, $27.63 ($28.20 AV | $0.57 EV)

In this sample, there have been 42 pitcher seasons that returned at least a $25.00 actual value. Along with Porcello the prior year, Severino’s 2017 is one of the only two which came from a pitcher drafted outside the top 300. If you want the Yankees’ young ace for 2018, you’ll need to pony up a third-round pick.

 

2013 – 2017 Leaders

5. Chris Sale, $27.79 ($139.20 AV | $111.41 EV)

Sale has only been drafted outside the top 10 starting pitchers once in the last five years (17th in 2013) and has been top 5 in each of the last three. It’s tough to turn a profit at such a high draft cost, but Sale has managed to do so. Only Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have produced more value than Sale over the last five seasons.

4. Zack Greinke, $35.47 ($120.60 AV | $85.13 EV)

Greinke would rank even higher here if not for his injury-marred 2016, in which he finished about $18.00 in the red. He’s fifth in actual value over the five-year sample anyway, and has turned a profit in every season besides 2016.

3. Jake Arrieta, $46.30 ($108.70 AV | $62.40 EV)

Almost all Arrieta’s profit margin came in his incredible 2015 season; he’s actually underwater the last two years. At his current price, though, he’ll turn a slight profit even if he just maintains last year’s level of production. Of course, he doesn’t have a team yet.

2. Max Scherzer, $47.78 ($172.00 AV | $124.22 EV)

Outside of 2014, when he essentially broke even, Scherzer turned a profit for his owners every year in this sample. Over those five years, he leads all pitchers in innings, wins, and strikeouts, while ranking fifth in ERA and second in WHIP. He’s obviously been priced like an ace for most of that time, but he’s stayed healthy and maintained that elite production throughout. That’s been enough for him to make an appearance on this list.

1. Corey Kluber, $50.35 ($123.70 AV | $73.35 EV)

Kluber accumulated the bulk of his surplus value in 2014 and 2017, his two Cy Young seasons. He also finds himself on this list thanks to finishing on the positive side of the ledger in all but one season. That was 2015, wherein a lack of run support and some crappy luck led to a 9-16 record for Cleveland’s ace. Kluber’s typically excellent ratios and high strikeout total kept him within spitting distance of earning his draft cost anyway.

 

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Using Sabermetrics For Fantasy Baseball Part 7 - Lineup Slot

To this point, this series has focused exclusively on trying to predict and validate home runs and batting average. There is a reason for this--modern sabermetrics tend to reject the idea of a "clutch RBI guy" and therefore do not bother inventing predictive metrics for it. Runs and RBI are team-dependent stats, and are unhelpful in ascertaining a given player's real value.

That might work for stat heads, but fantasy owners frequently see 40% or more of a player's value tied to his RBI and run totals. We have to care about them.

Drafting hitters from strong offenses can help pad the totals, but as you'll see, an even bigger advantage can be found by looking at a player's slot in the batting order.

 

Lineup Slot & Counting Stats

In the table below, each batting order slot's PA, RBI and Runs are presented from the 2017 season. The final number is simply R + RBI, an approximate measure of that slot's overall value to a fantasy team.

Slot PA RBI R RBI+R
1st 22,678 2,142 3,276 5,418
2nd 22,136 2,413 3,005 5,418
3rd 21,632 2,919 2,854 5,773
4th 21,153 3,097 2,672 5,769
5th 20,621 2,816 2,559 5,375
6th 20,110 2,350 2,290 4,640
7th 19,581 2,243 2,146 4,389
8th 18,978 1,931 2,037 3,968
9th 18,406 1,647 1,743 3,390

Each batting order slot loses around 500 PAs compared to the slot before it. If we divide this total by the 30 current MLB clubs, we get a difference of around 17 PAs between consecutive hitters on one team. That may seem insignificant, but it compounds. For example, there is an average of 34 PAs separating a team's leadoff man from the three hitter. Counting stats like Runs and RBI require opportunity to accumulate, and hitters earlier in the batting order have more opportunity. Bear this in mind when comparing similarly skilled players on draft day.

RBI are highest from the cleanup spot, and trend downward in both directions from there. Leadoff hitters only get more RBI than the eighth and ninth spots despite the largest PA total. This is because they never have runners on base before their first PA of the game, and need to rely on the weaker eighth and ninth hitters to get on in front of them after that. Since good hitters are usually clustered early in the order to maximize their PAs, leadoff men get minimal help from their teammates in producing RBI.

Runs peak at the leadoff slot and decrease from there. This decrease is not linear, as 151 runs separate the second and third spots while 269 separate fifth and sixth. For this reason, fantasy owners want to stick to the early batting order slots where teams cluster their best hitters if possible. Leadoff guys have the most opportunity and the team's best hitters hitting behind them, so they score a lot of runs for the same reason they do not register many RBI.

Finally, the R+RBI column refutes the idea that a team's heart of the order is 3-4-5. It is actually 1-2-3-4, the only lineup slots to exceed 5,400 combined R+RBI. The 5th slot is solid with 5,375 R+RBI, but the others clearly lag behind. This means that a player in the middle of a weaker offense may outproduce a player on the periphery of a stronger one. Platoons, injuries, and lineup shuffling can change these numbers, but in general the earlier the slot, the better for fantasy purposes.

The only counting stat left is stolen bases. A player's success rate must generally hover between 65 and 75 percent to keep the green light, as otherwise he is costing his team runs. Players that consistently fail to reach this benchmark, such as Colorado All-Star Charlie Blackmon last season (58%), are poor bets to steal a lot even if they've swiped 20 in the past. This is particularly true of contending teams, as weaker clubs may run with reckless abandon just to see what happens.

To conclude, counting stat production depends on opportunity and team support. Players that bat early in the order tend to get more of both, though leadoff men give up RBI potential for increased runs scored. This concludes the offensive portion of learning to use sabermetrics for fantasy purposes. Next time, we'll move to the mound and try to understand what the heck FIP is, and why it sometimes has an x in front of it.

 

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Using Sabermetrics For Fantasy Baseball Part 6 - Pull%

Earlier in this series, we saw that fantasy owners generally prefer batters to hit the ball into the air in order to have a chance at a home run. Yet, all fly balls are not equal for this purpose. A player can maximize his power production by pulling the ball in the air.

Today we'll look at how to utilize Pull% for fantasy baseball analysis and, ultimately, win your 2018 fantasy baseball leagues.

If you aren't familiar with using sabermetrics to gain an advantage on your fantasy leaguemates, check in on the rest of our series. Learn how analyzing stats related to batted-ball distribution and more can help improve the performance of your fantasy baseball team entering the 2018 season.

 

How to Interpret Pull%

In 2017, roughly 62% of all home runs were to the batter's pull side. Only 13% of homers went to the opposite field, with the remaining 25% going out to center. This distribution is fairly consistent year-to-year, so it's safe to count on going forward.

In a way, this makes intuitive sense. Pulled baseballs tend to be hit with the highest exit velocity, making it easier for them to leave the stadium. The power alleys next to the foul poles on either side of the ballpark also present the shortest distance to the cheap seats. If a player's HR/FB dramatically improves, a change in approach involving more pulled baseballs could help explain why.

Boston's Xander Bogaerts provides a good illustration of this kind of change. In 2015, he pulled only 16.7% of his fly balls, producing a HR/FB of 5.3% and a total of seven dingers. He significantly upped his power game in 2016 by pulling 28.1% of his flies, leading to a much higher 11.4% HR/FB and 21 bombs on the campaign. The increased power was not exclusively the result of the Pull% spike, as he upped his FB% as well (25.8% in 2015, 34.9% in 2016). It helped to validate his HR/FB increase, though.

Unfortunately, the change in approach did not last. Bogaerts pulled only 24.5% of his flies last season, dropping his HR/FB to 7.2% and his season HR total to 10 in the process. Once again, the raw number of fly balls Bogaerts hit decreased (30.5% FB%), so the change in Pull% was not solely responsible for the loss of power. This example illustrates that while a change in Pull% can support an increased HR/FB, it will last only as long as the player wants it to.

You should also avoid looking at raw Pull%. Of all pulled baseballs in 2017, 59.3% were grounders. Pulled grounders might have a higher average exit velocity than other ground balls, but the shift still eats them up with minimal difficulty. They will never turn into home runs. By contrast, only 21.3% of pulled baseballs were classified as fly balls last season. Ideally, fantasy owners want their hitters to pull fly balls while limiting how often they roll grounders to their pull side.

This is much easier said than done, as all players pull many more grounders than flies. Let's consider Giancarlo Stanton as an example. His raw Pull% of 44.6% was only marginally higher than the league average 39.8%, and he pulled 56.9% of his grounders compared to 32.6% of his flies. At first glance, you might think that Stanton was making himself vulnerable to the shift without significantly boosting his power potential.

That assumption would be wrong. The shift was designed for batters who pull much more than 56.9% of their ground balls, allowing Stanton to hit a solid .284 against it last year. Many batters fail to pull even 20 percent of their flies, so Stanton rated well above average in that regard as well. Stanton is the rare hitter who can go deep to any field, but 31 of his amazing 59 bombs were still pulled last year. Pulling more grounders than flies is far from a death sentence.

 

Conclusion

To sum up, pulled fly balls tend to perform better than other fly balls. This means that pulling more flies can produce an increased HR/FB, but you should never use raw Pull% to determine this. Most pulled balls are hit on the ground, where all of the exit velocity in the world cannot turn them into home runs. Therefore, you should filter a player's Pull% by batted ball type to produce the most reliable results. The next part of this series will look at lineup slot as a predictor of counting stats such as RBI and runs scored.

 

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The Most Profitable Hitters of the Last Five Years

As you may have heard me mention on Twitter or the fantasy baseball subreddit, I recently acquired the last five seasons’ worth of average draft positon (ADP) data for NFBC and all three of the major fantasy platforms (Yahoo, ESPN, and CBS). I am terrible at Excel, so it’s taken a lot of trial and error along with a healthy dose of help and/or cribbing from others to get the data formatted well enough that I can start writing about what it says. Before we dive in, I’d like to first take a moment to thank those people.

KV Singh of PitcherList graciously troubleshooted me through what should have been a quick fix as it ballooned into a 90-minute ordeal, and helped me get a better grasp on formulas. Tanner Bell of Smart Fantasy Baseball read my rambling, possibly incoherent e-mail request for help and provided some valuable guidance on next steps, while also pointing me toward some prior work in the area by Jeff Zimmerman of RotoGraphs. I’ll make significant use of Jeff’s formula in this and probably most future articles on the subject. I’m grateful for their efforts.

To kick off this series, today we’ll look at the players who have offered fantasy owners the greatest return on investment since the 2013 season. I first generated end of season values (Actual Value/AV) using the FanGraphs auction calculator with the default settings for a 12-team league as outlined in Jeff’s piece. Then, using the formula, I converted the average ADP across all platforms for each season to auction dollars (the Expected Value/EV). The profit margin is simply the difference of the two.

 

[Aside: Quite probably this is imperfect methodology, but it should be close enough for government work and capture the general gist of things. If you are better at math than me and have suggestions for how I could improve upon it, I legitimately would like to hear them.]

 

Single-Season Leaders

2013: Chris Davis, $38.54 ($47.60 AV | $9.06 EV)

Davis produced more value than any player besides Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. Unlike those two, who were the top two players off the board in most drafts, Davis had an ADP in the 12th round. If you were wise enough to make that modest investment, your reward was Davis’ career year (literally, he had career highs in all five standard cats): .286, 53 home runs, 104 runs, 138 RBI, and four stolen bases. The following season, he was a first-round pick and one of the biggest busts in the game.

2014:  Michael Brantley, $39.83 ($43.70 AV | $3.87 EV)

Like Davis the year before, Brantley finished 2014 as the third-most valuable player in fantasy, behind Trout and Clayton Kershaw. Brantley’s counting stats weren’t as eye-popping, but he was essentially the Platonic ideal of a five-category stud. He hit .327 and put up a 20/20 season while also finishing in the top 15 hitters in both runs scored and RBI.  Brantley was also even more of a colossal bargain than Davis, because his ADP fell well outside the top 200.

2015: A.J. Pollock, $41.40 ($48.00 AV | $6.60 EV)

Pollock did essentially what Brantley had, just with his run production slanted toward scored rather than driven in plus 15 more stolen bases. Unfortunately, the parallel continues when you consider that injuries have prevented both players from coming anywhere close to those heights since. A few guys drafted ahead of Pollock that year – Joc Pederson, Matt Wieters, and Alex Rios.

2016: Mookie Betts, $29.24 ($54.80 AV | $25.56 EV)

The only single-season leader who required a substantial draft-day investment (a second-round pick), Betts had the most valuable fantasy season of any player in this sample until two players outearned him in 2017. He got there by doing his best Trout impression, putting up a .318-31-122-113-26 and finishing a close second to the genuine article in MVP voting.

2017: Aaron Judge, $51.32 ($53.60 AV | $2.28 EV)

Who else? Judge was an afterthought in drafts last year (282 ADP, 358 NFBC) and we all remember what he did in 2017. In terms of this exercise, no player in the last five years has earned a greater return. A word of caution for 2018, however: All four of the season leaders from 2013 – 16 failed to turn a profit the following season.

But what about the player who has earned the greatest profit over the entire five-year period? This was one of the early questions that inspired me to seek out this data in the first place, which in turn is why this is the first article in the series. You probably have some theories, a couple of names that leapt immediately to mind. I won’t tell you that the name at the top comes as a shock, because it doesn’t. The shock is in just how far ahead of the pack that player was, according to this method. We’ll cover the top five, counting down for maximum suspense.

 

2013 – 2017 Leaders

5. Marcell Ozuna, $41.41 ($62.70 AV | $21.29 EV)

While most of Ozuna’s surplus value results from his 2017 performance – only four players delivered more fantasy value – he also produced positive value in 2014 and 2016. The 2015 season, which memorably featured a brief demotion to the minor leagues, suffered the double whammy of being his worst season and the one that required the most significant investment to land his services on draft day. That high-water mark was only a 125 ADP; if you want him in 2018, you’ll need to grab him inside the top 50.

4. Khris Davis, $43.11 ($71.40 AV | $28.29 EV)

Davis popping up here came as a surprise, but he’s managed to turn a profit every year. One of the things that jumps out from this data is how difficult it is for a player to do that over a five-year span. Players who perform well for a sustained period of time will naturally be more expensive to acquire, making it tougher for them to exceed their expected value. Injury is also a huge obstacle, as any significant amount of missed time can make it difficult, if not impossible, to recoup the investment. To consistently outperform his draft cost for years at a time, a player must be both good and durable, with the latter being especially important once the player’s price tag begins to rise.

Back to Davis. Khrush has accrued most of his surplus value in the last two seasons, during which he trails only Giancarlo Stanton in home runs (by one), ranks third in RBI, and sits just outside the top 30 in runs scored. He came cheap in 2016 because he’d never played a full season; his profit margin in 2017 fell only slightly because he was a top-25 player with an ADP just inside the top 100. The sub-.250 average and lack of track record seemingly kept owners from opening their wallets. His 2018 NFBC ADP so far is around 70, so he’s got a great shot at keeping the profit streak alive.

3. J.D. Martinez, $58.52 ($106.40 AV | $47.88 EV)

Martinez is one of only two players to produce at least a $20.00 profit three times in this five-year sample (the other is #1 on this list). He’s suited up for more than 123 games just once in that time, and the specter of injury has kept his draft cost down most years. Other than 2016, his ADP has never risen above the sixth round. That will change this year, though.

2. Nelson Cruz, $80.57 ($157.80 AV | $77.23 EV)

Cruz has finished in the top 15 players in AV each of the last four seasons, yet his highest ADP during that time is 36. We’ve been habitually undervaluing him. Is it because of his age? What else could it be? Surely, he’s shaken the injury-prone label from his early days, seeing as he’s played at least 152 games in five of the last six years. Since 2014, Cruz leads MLB in home runs, ranks third in RBI and 12th in runs scored, while carrying a .287 average that falls just outside the top 40.  Of course, now he’s a DH entering his age-38 season, so nobody’s going to start drafting him in the first or second round at this point.

1. Charlie Blackmon, $100.48 ($162.20 AV| $61.72 EV)

Blackmon has gotten better every year, but his presence atop this list shows that it took fantasy owners a while to start treating him like a star in drafts. This will be the first year he has a first-round ADP, despite producing at that level in each of the last two years following a pair of second-round value seasons. Blackmon was on virtually no one’s radar before his 2014 breakout, and only rose to the back of the eighth round the following year. He’s turned himself into a superstar, contending for batting titles while increasing his power and trailing only Paul Goldschmidt, Mookie Betts, and teammate Nolan Arenado in R+RBI over the last two years.

 

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Using Sabermetrics For Fantasy Baseball Part 5 - Plate Discipline

No matter how high a particular player's BABIP may be, his average will be mediocre at best if he strikes out too much. This is why fantasy owners have known for years that players like Adam Dunn and Chris Davis are potential drains on a fantasy team's batting average. Furthermore, players that whiff a lot tend to continue to do so - it is a very sticky trait.

In 2017, the league average K% was 21.6%, meaning that roughly one in five MLB PAs ended in a whiff. Players that K significantly less than this have an advantage in hitting for a higher average. Players that whiff more often tend to post lower averages. This is relatively common knowledge for most fantasy owners.

Let's learn how analyzing stats related to plate discipline can help improve the performance of your fantasy baseball team entering the 2018 season.

 

How to Interpret Plate Discipline

Sabermetrics may be used to determine whether a given player "deserved" his K% over a particular period, avoiding misleading data the same way BABIP is used to see through a fluky average. The first number to check is SwStr%, alternatively called whiff rate. This metric simply tracks what percentage of a batter's swings fail to make contact with a pitch. The league average was 10.5% in 2017, with higher numbers indicating a proneness to K.

SwStr% tends to increase if a batter swings harder, making power hitters more susceptible to the strikeout than other players. If a player improves his strikeout rate without a corresponding improvement in SwStr%, the improvement is unlikely to stick moving forward. Likewise, a career-worst strikeout rate backed by a normal SwStr% is likely to regress in the player's favor.

Further detail is offered by O-Swing%, a measure of how often a batter swings at a pitch outside of the strike zone. Generally, swinging at pitches outside of the zone is a bad idea. Batters usually want to hit "their pitch," which they never get to see if they pop-up a fastball over their head early in the count. In 2017, the league averaged an O-Swing% of 29.9%. Numbers significantly higher than this indicate an increased likelihood of chasing a bad pitch and making poor contact or striking out.

This stat is also used to examine a player's walk rate, or BB%, in much the same manner as SwStr% is used to double check K%. A strong walk rate when a player is still chasing too many pitches is not based in any repeatable skill, and will likely be normalized moving forward. Likewise, a lower walk rate paired with a career average O-Swing% indicates that the walks should come back. Fantasy owners should always care about walks even if their format does not directly reward them. Every BB is a chance to steal a base or score a run, and players that know the zone tend to hit for higher averages to boot!

Let's look at some examples of advanced plate discipline stats in action. Joey Votto is widely regarded as the master of plate discipline, and his surface stats support the assessment. His 19% BB% was actually greater than his 11.7% K% last year, after all. Digging deeper, we find that these numbers are completely justifiable. His 15.8% O-Swing% was over 10 percentage points better than the league average rate, and his 5.7% SwStr% was roughly half the average average as well. It is safe to conclude that Votto will continue to demonstrate outstanding plate discipline in 2018.

Tampa Bay's Corey Dickerson does not measure up as well. He hit a solid .282 in 2017 despite chasing a ton of pitches outside of the zone (45.6%) and whiffing regularly (15.4% SwStr%). His 24.2% K% was slightly higher than average, but the swing-and-miss in his game could produce a lot more strikeouts in 2018.

Aggression or passivity at the plate can confound the analysis slightly. For example, Dickerson was extremely aggressive last year with a Swing% of 58.7%. The league average was 46.5% in 2017. Even if a hitter has a high whiff rate, he can't strike out if he resolves the PA before three pitches are thrown. Votto is on the opposite side of the spectrum, as his refusal to swing at borderline pitches (41.9% Swing%) puts him in more two-strike counts leading to more Ks than his SwStr% numbers would suggest.

Other plate discipline metrics exist, such as Z-Swing%, O-Contact% and Z-Contact%, but SwStr% is usually a good enough proxy for fantasy purposes. One exception to this rule is if an older player sees a decline in Z-Contact%, indicating that he can no longer make contact on pitches he used to hit in the zone. Another is a change in SwStr% rooted exclusively in pitches outside of the zone. Sometimes, missing those pitches is better than hitting them.

To conclude, both K% and BB% are useful for fantasy purposes but fail to tell the whole story. SwStr%, or how often a batter swings and misses, is a better indicator of a player's future strikeout rate than K% alone. O-Swing%, or how often a batter chases pitches outside of the zone, performs similarly concerning BB%.

 

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Should Fantasy Managers Swipe Left and Chase Steals?

Steals are an important statistic in fantasy baseball. They represent 10% of scoring categories in 5x5 leagues and earn an equivalent value or more to singles, runs and RBI in points leagues. Comparing runs and stolen bases, the fantasy significance of a steal is certainly overvalued versus its real baseball relevance.

The Run Expectancy table (RE24) appears to frown upon stolen base attempts. RE24 quantifies changes in run-scoring probability throughout an inning based on number of outs and runners on base. Essentially, the incremental increase in run expectancy by stealing a base is less impactful than the detriment if that player is caught for an out. RE24 prioritizes outs over base position.

However, swipes are a fun stat. Bonus basepath robbery from Miguel Cabrera or Nelson Cruz just makes managers giddy. Similarly, on a .150 evening with negligible counting stats, scraping out a steal by Jose Altuve or Dee Gordon is salve and aesthetically soothing. Watching a steal is also thrilling. Rickey Henderson, Dave Roberts and lately Billy Hamilton all have inarguable reputations in baseball lore as exciting speed demons.

 

Stolen Base Background, Stats and Ponderings

How has the Stolen Base evolved? Looking at recent history, stolen bags have declined -22% from 3,229 in 2012 to barely 2,527 last season. The average number of steals per team have dropped by over 20 SBs per season. Barring a renaissance, the stat is getting scarcer and fantasy managers must adjust accordingly.

wSB is an advanced stat developed to illustrate whether a player has contributed or detracted runs by attempting steals. Unlike RE24, wSB is context-neutral (game situation is irrelevant). wSB matters because more successful steals result in higher wSB and conceivably, more green lights. wSB also penalizes getting caught so it’s another helpful measure for points leagues. As the SB gets rarer, efficiency becomes the key where fantasy managers can capitalize on the category.

To stay simple and applicable, let’s use the Billy Hamilton Era (2014-2017) as a historical observation period. The tables below display top-down steals data and individual leaders by season.

Table 1 – Aggregate steals data (Source: ESPN)

Table 2 – Individual steals leaders (Source: ESPN, Fangraphs)

Table 1 shows the extremes of team steals but also notes that average steals have stabilized over the past few seasons. Baltimore has been dead last for four consecutive seasons. It’s probably manager’s discretion, but why Baltimore prefers glacial baserunning is a question best left for O’s fans. Intuitively, success rate matters. The better teams steal, the more they run. The league average has hovered around 70% with the worst teams near 60% and the best teams at approximately 80%. There is a negligible difference between NL and AL totals.

Team data is useful but individual stats are handier, especially in fantasy. Table 2 is dominated by two players, Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon. Since it is a cumulative stat, SB leaders are normally atop the wSB leaderboard too. wSB gives the nod to efficiency over volume and Hamilton’s superior success rate supports his high wSB rank.

For fantasy purposes, SB/PA is a helpful measure. SB/PA observes steals efficiency in the form of opportunities. Even though Hamilton is a .248 career hitter, he’s running whenever he gets on base. Of course, SB/PA ignores situational circumstances and the fact that PAs resulting in XBHs lower stealing chances. It’s best to look at SB/PA for soft-contact hitters. Hamilton and Gordon were last in Hard% last season and top-6 in Soft%. Success rate argues that ineffective players will get limited opportunities as managers put up the brake signal. In points leagues, success rate represents risk reward and could be a less scientific and worthy proxy to wSB.

Steals concentration is important considering the tapering of aggregate steals to this lower steady-state. Since 2014, the Top-10 players in steals have accounted for over 15% of all stolen bags in a given season! Basically, locking down a Top-10 guy puts you in very strong position for SBs. However, that may be more challenging than thought. Aside from Hamilton, Gordon and Altuve, the year-on-year steals leaderboard is a rotating door. Injuries (A.J. Pollock), slumps (Byron Buxton) or playing time (Rajai Davis) could all erode players’ value from draft day through the season. Luck, changes in team approach or countless situational variables could also steamroll perceived candidates (Jonathan Villar, Hernan Perez). Likewise, players like Whit Merrifield and Cameron Maybin often emerge from the waiver wire rubble to provide fantasy relevance. Considering the emphasis on drafting consistent and balanced players, chasing SBs exposes managers to a set of external risk factors they must weigh. A miscalculation on stolen bases could lead to a black hole in other offensive categories and frantic decision-making in the trade market or waiver wire.

 

Draft Strategy

Undeniably, Hamilton and Gordon are gods of the stolen base so criticism should be limited for drafting SB deities. However, due to externalities discussed, there are too many risks that argue against prioritizing steals. Pulled hammies, part-time roles, ample waiver-wire substitutes, proliferation of advanced stats and RE24 gurus are just a few examples. Focusing on steals could mean sacrificing other valuable categories like average, HR and RBI so be aware of the tradeoffs on draft day.

Alternatively, it’s better to benefit from steals as a by-product of broader hitting ability. This is why Altuve, Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt, Charlie Blackmon and Mookie Betts all project as first round selections. If you can’t get a five-cat stud, not all is lost. Emerging players like Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Andrew Benintendi, Wil Myers and Alex Bregman could be candidates for over-20 swipes to complement other very strong categories. Speedy vets Elvis Andrus and Lorenzo Cain are reliable and should remain serviceable. Even Anthony Rizzo and Travis Shaw got in on the action with 10 apiece. Specialists like Jose Peraza and Delino Deshields could be drafted but the wire should provide plenty of options for recruiting replacement level players. Although guys like Hamilton and Gordon are outliers, there is a high distribution of outcomes in the 10-20 SB range.

Below is a brief discussion on steals specific to formats, from most to least important.

Weekly rotisserie, head-to-head leagues – the argument against steals rests primarily on unpredictability and churn over a longer term. This doesn’t mesh with weekly leagues. Managers should ensure they have a handful of players that can nab a base or two on a weekly basis if they want to win the category.

Season-long rotisserie leagues – steals are still a 5x5 category so although they should be de-emphasized on draft day, swift decision-making and trendspotting will be greatly significant to remaining competitive. Managers will and should have to chase steals at some point during the season to pick up valuable roto points.

Points – steals matter the least here especially considering the CS penalty. The skewed nature of points for SBs compared to runs, RBI and hits should be evaluated but apples to apples, HRs outpaced SBs by 2.4x in 2017 and they’re worth more. Points leagues are category-impartial and SBs should be treated solely in the context of a player’s overall profile.

As always, manager strategy should be dynamic and shaped to league tendencies. If you love the steal, go for it. But that doesn’t mean you should reach for Eduardo Nunez in the 5th. Be patient, let the game come to you and when it does, run Forrest, run.

 

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Using Sabermetrics For Fantasy Baseball Part 4 - Batted Ball Distribution

Fly balls can turn into home runs. Ground balls never do. It would seem as though fantasy owners want their batters to hit nothing but flies, yet this is not the case.

Why would this be? The answer, of course, comes down to batted ball distribution and the manner in which batters make contact.

In this article, we'll continue evaluating the most effective way to use sabermetrics to get an edge in your fantasy baseball leagues.

 

How to Interpret Batted Ball Distribution

Let's first look at how all major leaguers fared on each of the major types of batted ball in 2017. Grounders generated a BABIP of .241. Flies were not as productive, posting a .130 figure. This makes sense, as popups almost never fall in, cans of corns to the outfield are only slightly better, and homers are considered out of play and do not count toward BABIP. Line drives turned into base hits far more frequently than either of the others, posting a .682 BABIP. The difference between liners and anything else is startling. Batters want line drives.

Oakland Athletic Jed Lowrie provided a good illustration of what a few extra liners can do in 2017. He posted a .277/.360/.448 triple slash line last year against a career line of .261/.332/.408. The reason was a 27.1% LD%, nearly seven full percentage points better than the league average mark of 20.3%. That may not seem like much, but look at the massive difference between liners and anything else above. That 7% was enough to make a mediocre hitter fantasy relevant.

A player's LD% tends to bounce around the league average with random spikes and drops, none of which offer much predictive value moving forward. Lowrie has a 22.8% LD% over a career lasting 3,812 PAs, so luck was almost certainly the primary driver of his 2017. When BABIP is driven by luck, LD% is usually why.

This is not to suggest that no one consistently posts above-average LD% rates. For example, Joey Votto's career .354 BABIP is driven by his career 25.2% LD%. Considering the length of his career, it would be stupid to suggest that Votto has enjoyed a lucky decade. Therefore, we give credit to Votto for being a plus-BABIP guy due to a LD% skill, just like we give Jose Altuve BABIP credit for his blinding speed. This distinction has to be earned over numerous full seasons, however. Most LD% surges are more fluky Jed Lowrie than sustainable Joey Votto.

Unlike LD%, both GB% and FB% are stickier--a player with an elevated rate in one is likely to repeat a similar rate moving forward. By BABIP alone, grounders are better. However, this changes significantly if slugging percentage is considered. In 2017, grounders offered a slugging percentage of .262, only slightly higher than the .241 BABIP they posted. Flies had a .751 slugging percentage, easily offsetting the lower BABIP for most fantasy players. This is why Giancarlo Stanton is so good, as his 40.4% career FB% is much higher than the 2017 average of 35.5%. He hits with much more power as a result.

The ideal batted ball mix therefore varies with the player. Elite speedsters like Billy Hamilton want more grounders than flies, as his career 3.4% HR/FB despite a favorable home park is never producing a lot of homers anyway. Sluggers like Albert Pujols want fly balls, especially since the shift and his lack of speed prevent him from realizing the larger BABIPs associated with grounders. Fantasy owners usually prefer players with power and speed potential to have a higher FB%, as the extra power is more beneficial than a few extra times on base. Incidentally, line drives averaged a ridiculous .901 slugging percentage to go with the .682 BABIP in 2017, so they are still the batted ball of choice.

 

Conclusion

To conclude, line drives are by far the most productive result for hitters. BABIP's luck-driven fluctuations are driven by LD%, a largely random stat. GB% and FB% are more predictive, and which one is favored depends on the hitter in question. Grounders offer a higher BABIP, but almost zero power. Flies result in base hits less often, but generate much more power when they do. The intricacies of BABIP could be a never ending topic, but the information provided so far is generally enough for fantasy purposes. Next up, we'll look at the other major component of a player's batting average: plate discipline.

 

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Using Sabermetrics for Fantasy Baseball Part 3 - Statcast for Batters

If you've watched a baseball broadcast in the so-called Statcast Era, you have undoubtedly noticed the broadcasters commenting on a batted ball's exit velocity, or EV. Many have taken to using stats like Hard% and Soft% to forecast how a player should be performing, expecting larger Hard% rates to produce larger BABIP and HR/FB figures. There is a relationship there, but it is not as clear-cut as you might think.

The hardest batted ball of the 2017 season was struck by Giancarlo Stanton. It was clocked at 122.2 mph but only recorded a single. Eric Hosmer's best hit traveled 118 mph (15th highest in the league), but he only received a ground out for the effort. It is possible to torch a baseball only to make an out. The best way to get a feel for how hard a given batter usually hits the ball is to look at his average exit velocity. The league average mark in 2017 was 91.9 mph, but that stat is of little value. Exit velocity on airborne balls (both flies and line drives) is all you need when evaluating a player's HR/FB rate, while ground ball exit velocity is the best indicator of a high BABIP on ground balls.

The two metrics should almost never intersect, but a lot of analysts ignore context and use overall average exit velocity (or its even worse approximation, Hard%) to evaluate HR/FB and BABIP. You really shouldn't do that unless you believe that Hosmer's grounder above had a chance of going over the fence. Baseball broadcasts will cite Launch Angle (LA) to complement their EV figures, but it is given in terms of degrees. Am I evaluating a baseball player or trying to find the hypotenuse of an isosceles triangle? Let's simplify things a bit to see how these numbers can actually benefit our analysis.

 

How to Interpret Batted Ball Statistics

They do not do a good job of publicizing it, but LA is actually fairly simple to understand. Here is the batted ball type produced by the various degree measurements:

Batted Ball Type Launch Angle
Ground ball Less than 10 degrees
Line drive 10-25 degrees
Fly ball 25-50 degrees
Pop-up More than 50 degrees

Most batters want to live in the 10-50 degree range, as grounders rarely produce power while pop-ups rarely produce anything other than easy outs. Well-struck balls in this range of launch angles are the batted balls that fantasy owners are most interested in. A new stat called "Barrels" filters out everything else, allowing us to evaluate who is hitting the most of these high-value batted balls.

A Barrel is defined as "a ball with a combination of exit velocity and launch angle that averages at least a .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage." It should be noted that the numbers above are only a minimum threshold, as Barrels produced an .835 batting average and 2.937 slugging in 2017. In this respect, the stat is like a Quality Start. It is possible to register a QS with an ERA of 4.50, but the actual average ERA of all MLB Quality Starts falls well below 4.50.

The range of EVs and LAs that combine to form Barrels is called the Barrel Zone. This means that higher EVs can compensate for less ideal LAs to produce the .500/1.500 minimum. At a minimum, it must have an EV of at least 98 mph and fall within the 10-50 degree LA range. We care about fantasy production, not the intricacies of a mathematical relationship. You don't need to worry about the math.

With this in mind, Aaron Judge led baseball in Barrels last year with 86. He was followed by Stanton (76), Khris Davis (65), and J.D. Martinez (60). This group passes the sniff test, as it seems like a collection of guys who consistently make high quality contact. Likewise, Billy Hamilton managed only two Barrels all year, living up to his reputation of weak contact. Still, we already knew this. What do Barrels add to the equation?

They become more instructive when you stop looking at them as a counting stat and start examining them as a rate stat. By taking the number of Barrels and dividing by the total number of Batted Ball Events (BBE), we get a percentage that tells us how frequently a player's batted balls are Barrels. Judge topped this list in 2017 with a 25.4% Brls/BBE figure, followed by Joey Gallo (21.7%), Martinez (19.5%), and Stanton (17.4%). Gallo didn't have the raw BBEs to crack the Barrels leaderboard (253 in all), but the rate stat suggests that he's an intriguing sleeper this year.

This data helped identify sleepers in every year of its existence. Chris Carter had an 18.7% Brls/BBE in limited 2015 playing time. He led the NL in homers the next year with 41, so he was a sleeper worth owning based on the prior year's Brls/BBE. Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez ranked eighth in the league with a 15.8% Brls/BBE in 2016, foreshadowing his ascension to the top of the catcher rankings after a strong 2017. Comparable names on the 2017 list include Matt Olson (16.3%, 7th), Matt Davidson (15.4%, ninth), and Randal Grichuk (14.9%, 11th).

Like BABIP, Brls/BBE also seems prone to random fluctuation. Giancarlo Stanton's amazing 2015 (he hit 27 bombs in 318 PAs) was fueled by a 32.5 percent Brls/BBE, over 10 points higher than the league's second best performance that year (Miguel Sano's 22.4 percent rate in limited time). A rate that high was almost certainly an outlier. Sure enough, he regressed to a still strong 17.3% Brls/BBE in 2016 before his 17.4% rate last season. This suggests that Judge won't be able to completely replicate his 2017 season, but he'll come pretty close.

 

Conclusion

Statcast is an interesting tool, but it's not yet enough to form the sole basis of your analysis. Exit velocity is one thing that goes into BABIP, but many other factors also play a part. Batted ball distribution is one of the most important among them, which we'll take a closer look at in Part 4!

 

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Kill the Quality Start?

“Kill the win” entered the baseball lexicon years ago. It originally referred to the disproportionate attention a pitcher victory got from the casual fan, and it was one of the major arguments advanced during the rise of analytics. The phrase has been adopted by fantasy owners as well, as more and more leagues ditch – or at least consider ditching – one of the game’s standard categories since its inception.

Typically, leagues that abolish the win will instead use quality starts. The rationale behind this choice is that a pitcher has more control over whether he earns a quality start, as opposed to a victory. After all, a pitcher can spin a gem and still wind up missing out on a win, or even saddled with a loss, depending on how his teammates perform at the plate. To reference an extreme example, a few years ago Cliff Lee threw 10 scoreless innings and didn’t get a decision. He damn sure got credit for a quality start, though.

The name of the stat is something of a misnomer, however. While that example and countless others were indeed high-quality performances, the criteria for a quality start is six or more innings pitched with three or fewer runs allowed. A pitcher who met those minimum requirements every time out would run a 4.50 ERA for the season. That doesn’t scream “quality,” particularly when you consider that a 4.50 ERA has been below the league average in all but 10 seasons in MLB history.

 

QS? Quit! Stop!

Clearly, neither statistic is perfect. The question, then, is whether one is less imperfect than the other – a question that's becoming more interesting and difficult to answer with the way the game is evolving. As we all know, major-league teams are changing their approach to pitcher management. Starters are being pulled earlier and more frequently than at any point in the history of the game. The times through the order penalty is well-established, and shorter outings both allow for a greater percentage of max effort pitches and limit overexposure for tired starters or relievers who may not have more than one plus offering. They may also be beneficial to a pitcher’s short and long-term health.

Lightening the workload of starting pitchers has been a general trend for most of baseball’s modern era, but it has accelerated in recent years. For most of the millennium, the leaguewide QS% hovered around 50 percent. Somewhat surprisingly, its post-2000 peak came quite recently, with a 54% mark in 2014. Since then, however, the rate has plummeted to 44%. Only two teams last season had a QS% above the 2014 rate. One was the Nationals, at 61%. Not shocking given the strength of their rotation. The other was the Red Sox, at 54%. That's a bit harder to believe, just because it means somebody other than Chris Sale managed to log a quality start 64 times. Sale’s 23 quality starts tied him with Justin Verlander for the MLB lead. He won 17 games, which was one fewer than the four pitchers who tied for the top spot there.

Sale had eight games where he notched a quality start without also earning a win (0-3 with five no-decisions) and only two games where he got a win without producing a quality start. He was plenty valuable regardless, of course, but those numbers do reflect a larger picture of what one might refer to as injustice. Per the Baseball-Reference Play Index, there were 629 instances last season of a pitcher earning a quality start without a win, while only 158 times did a pitcher get credit for a victory without meeting the parameters for a quality start.

That would seem to be a strong point for using QS over wins, but of course things aren’t that simple. With fewer starters routinely getting out of the sixth inning, eliminating wins in favor of quality starts can significantly ding the value of many of them. Take Brad Peacock, for instance. He started 21 games last season, and only completed the sixth inning in nine of them. That’s how you end up with eight quality starts but 13 wins. Swingmen like Peacock are quickly becoming precious commodities in today’s game, and the old-school workhorse is a dying breed. There’s also the fact that relievers – be they multi-inning types or your more traditional one-and-dones – can earn wins as well, but not quality starts. Some, in fact, win games at similar W/IP rates as mid-tier starters. Going back to Peacock, three of his 13 victories came in one of his 13 relief appearances. The case can be made that using quality starts instead of wins limits the number of viable winning strategies in a league.

Using pitcher wins also introduces the added dimension of having to consider the quality of a pitcher’s team. The correlation isn’t perfect, though obviously pitchers on good teams are more likely to win games than those on bad teams. (That’s the kind of hard-hitting baseball analysis you’ve come to expect from the experts here at RotoBaller!) Maybe that appeals to you because wins are tougher to predict. Maybe it just annoys you, to introduce more uncertainty with another variable. But either way, it adds to the degree of difficulty.

Ultimately, like everything else with this game, it comes down to personal preference. Both options have their merits and their downsides, and there really doesn’t appear to be a viable alternative. If baseball continues to trend in the current direction, though, we might need to develop one.

Thanks to Harris Yudin for the Play Index data.

 

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2018 Dynasty Baseball Strategy - Discovering Closers

When looking to develop talent in a dynasty league, there are two paths to follow. The first is to select prospects. The depth of your league will determine how far you have to reach into the minors. In a 12-team league, you're probably looking to find the next Fernando Tatis Jr. In a 20-team league, you might be scrounging around for a premium 15-year-old. Alternatively, you can search for a post-hype or no-hype breakout. The owners of Zack Godley, Chris Taylor, and Justin Smoak are feeling pretty happy these days.

That serves as a general rule of thumb for most positions. It's different for closers. Go ahead and try to organically grow a closer from a relief prospect. It happens from time to time. Ken Giles comes to mind. So does Bruce Rondon. And Joe Jimenez. Those latter two are bad examples.

Most relief prospects wind up in setup or middle relief roles. Many of the best closers were actually starting pitcher prospects who never found a third pitch. It's a tricky proposition, so how do you determine which relievers have the best chance for future success?

 

Searching for Saves

Looking around the league, current closers follow one of three archetypes: former starting pitcher prospect, former relief prospect, or non-prospect reliever. The latter category includes veterans like Brad Ziegler, Luke Gregerson, and Brad Brach. You can think of them as opportunists - they've earned saves mostly because somebody had to do it. They happened to be the best option on hand.

In some ways, these are the easiest to acquire even though they're relatively rare at the start of a season. All you have to do is search for a merely decent veteran who regularly works the eighth inning. They aren't sexy targets since they're often blocked by an established closer. However, even Aroldis Chapman briefly lost his job last season. Anybody could suffer an injury or a sudden decline in performance.

While you can pick up a couple fistfuls of saves from these players, they're temporary solutions. Their real world team will eventually find a shinier alternative. And for the few who continually find opportunities like Ziegler or Fernando Rodney, well... nobody wants to waste a roster slot on them.

When searching for a lasting solution for your saves needs, it's useful to identify currently vulnerable closers. Again, let's use Ziegler as an example. Assuming the Marlins eventually trade him, either Kyle Barraclough or Drew Steckenrider appear to be next in line. Both have most of the raw attributes you want from a closer candidate, although they also have their flaws. Unless they improve, the Marlins bullpen is a great place to monitor for an unsuspected breakout.

Scuffling starting pitchers on teams with overly deep rotations are another useful asset class to monitor. While the Yankees certainly don't lack elite relievers, the emergence of Chad Green is due in part to not needing him in the rotation. Even though he's blocked, he's a closer-quality pitcher.

 

A Bunch of Recommendations

This offseason is a little unusual. Most teams appear to have a stable back end of the bullpen. Actual games action will quickly put the lie to that analysis, but for now there aren't many obvious places to go prospecting for saves. Here are a few I'm watching closely.

Ryan Madson - Nationals incumbent Sean Doolittle has a history of shoulder issues. While Doolittle deserves to close, Madson actually out-pitched him in 2017.

Anthony Swarzak - Jeurys Familia suffered from terrible command after returning from a blood clot. A.J. Ramos always felt like a weird closer due to a terrible fastball. Swarzak was better than both last year.

Marlins bullpen - As covered above, I'm waiting for a dark horse to emerge. For now, it doesn't hurt to snag shares of Barraclough and Steckenrider.

Braves bullpen - Arodys Vizcaino appears to be the lone high leverage reliever on that team. He's battled many injuries over the years. Search for the next guy in line.

Cardinals bullpen - I think they'll sign Greg Holland to supplant Gregerson.

Carl Edwards Jr. - He may be fourth in line for the Cubs job, but nobody ahead of him has his elite upside. Perhaps their 'pen depth will help to keep his cost reasonable.

Archie Bradley - Does anybody believe Brad Boxberger can close? Then again, they got away with using Rodney last year.

Carson Smith - Buried behind Craig Kimbrel. Injuries happen.

Orioles bullpen - A three-headed mini-monster of Brach, Darren O'Day, and Mychal Givens will vie for saves. At least until Zach Britton returns.

Rays bullpen - See Marlins and Braves. Alex Colome seems destined for the trade block.

Brandon Maurer - Kelvin Herrera also seems destined for a trade.

Nate Jones - Is he finally healthy? He's been teasing us forever. Currently behind Joakim Soria on the depth chart.

Addison Reed - Is Rodney really going to hold back another closer?

Tiger bullpen - Gross. Maybe somebody finally steps forward besides middle reliever Shane Greene. Jimenez couldn't buy an out last season.

Santiago Casilla - One of those boring vets who could be needed to close games. Blake Treinen is far from consistent.

Rangers bullpen - For the amount of talented relievers they produce, Texas sure has a hard time finding a closer. Alex Claudio is more of a multi-inning middle reliever.

Cam Bedrosian or Blake Parker - Mike Scioscia is inscrutable when it comes to bullpen strategy.

 

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Using Sabermetrics for Fantasy Baseball Part 2 - HR/FB for Hitters

Using BABIP to predict a player's batting average is great. Average is a category in many league formats, and every hit is an opportunity to steal a base or score a run. But most owners find the long ball sexier.

Every HR comes with a guaranteed run scored and at least one RBI. Many owners build their teams around power for this reason. Yet fluky HR campaigns can happen just as easily as fluky batting average ones.

How do we tell the difference between a legitimate breakout and a fluke?

 

How to Interpret HR/FB

HR/FB measures the percentage of fly balls that leave the park. Last year, 13.7% of all fly balls ended up in the seats. Like BABIP, an experienced player's personal benchmark in the stat is a better indicator of his future performance than the league average. For example, Giancarlo Stanton is generally regarded as one of the top sluggers in the game today. His HR/FB was 34.3% in 2017, nearly triple the league average rate. If this number regressed to the league average, Stanton wouldn't be very good. However, he has a career rate of 26.9%. Clearly, above average power is something Stanton just does. Last year was special, but he should continue to crush bombs with regularity.

Large spikes or dropoffs in HR/FB are generally temporary, meaning that the stat is usually not predictive of a power breakout. Fantasy owners want to know the next power breakout, so this may be somewhat disappointing. Future power production may be predicted, however, by an increase in fly ball rate, or the percentage of a batter's flies as opposed to liners or grounders. Elite sluggers generally post a fly ball percentage of around 40%. Subjected to this test, Stanton had a 39.4% rate in 2017 and a career mark of 40.4%. These rate stats, combined with a consistently above average HR/FB, make Stanton the player he is.

Stanton doesn't really illustrate the distinction between HR/FB and FB% because he excels at both. For a predictive illustration, consider his former teammate Christian Yelich. His HR/FB last season was a strong 15.3%, suggesting that he should have hit a few bombs for fantasy owners. Yet he managed only 18 big flies in 695 PAs last season. The reason is a tiny 25.2% fly ball rate, a rate too low to do anything with even Stanton's power.

Yelich managed 21 big flies in 2016, but his underlying 23.6% HR/FB was considerably higher than his career 16.2% rate. He hit very few balls into the air that year (20% FB%), meaning that any loss of HR/FB would cripple his fantasy value. Yelich wasn't a complete bust thanks to an uptick in FB% last season, but he still failed to clear the 20 HR plateau in a year where seemingly everyone hit 25+.

Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins provides the best illustration of trusting HR/FB without regard for FB%. In 2009, Mauer went bonkers with a .365/.444/.587 line and 28 bombs. His HR/FB% spiked to 20.4% that season, but nothing in his history indicated he could maintain a level that high as his previous career best was 10.8% in 2006. Meanwhile, his 29.5 FB% was far too low to expect any real power production moving forward. He received first round attention from fantasy owners in 2010, and the Twins gave him an extension they could not really afford. Mauer morphed back into the singles hitter we know today, ruining many 2010 fantasy seasons and saddling the Twins with one of the worst contracts in MLB.

If you're looking for the 2018 version of 2010 Mauer, Eric Hosmer (22.5% HR/FB, 22.2% FB%), Tommy Pham (26.1% FB%, 26.7% HR/FB), and Domingo Santana (27.7% FB%, 30.9% HR/FB) all seem like strong candidates for power regression.

 

Conclusion

HR/FB is considered the BABIP of power because it can be used to evaluate whether a given player is outperforming his true talent level. A player with a large spike or decline in HR/FB should generally be expected to return to his established baseline moving forward. Ballpark factors may alter HR/FB, but in general raw fly ball percentage is a better tool to identify potential power breakouts.

Of course, it is possible for a batter to legitimately change his approach and permanently boost his HR/FB. Statcast allows us to measure precisely how hard a player is hitting the ball, potentially validating a performance that would otherwise be labeled a fluke. We'll take a closer look in Part 3!

 

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January Expert Mock Draft Analysis - Best of the Rest

Here at RotoBaller, 12 of our expert writers recently took part in an early mock draft for the 2018 fantasy baseball season. We've already shared those draft results, including our big board from RT Sports, accompanied by a series of articles analyzing each round. Here's the complete list of recaps, in case you missed it:

Round 1
Rounds 2-4
Rounds 5-9
Rounds 10-15
Rounds 16-23

To finish things up, let's take a look at some of the biggest potential sleepers, busts, and players who did not get selected in our 23-round mock draft, as some may prove to be important waiver wire selections during the course of the season.

 

RotoBaller Mock Draft Results

Values

Jose Berrios in round 11 doesn't seem like a steal, but it very well could be. He didn't have the breakout season many envisioned, but he did maintain a sub-4.00 ERA and struck out nearly a batter per inning. He's got a nice mix of pitches and could parlay another year of experience into SP2 value.

Jon Gray in the 14th round and Dinelson Lamet in the 19th round are prime examples of power arms with high strikeout upside that should reward fantasy owners this season. Both had their ratios inflated by a couple of disastrous starts last season, but were solid in the majority of their starts. While Gray pitches in the worst homepark possible, it hasn't bothered him so far (3.13 home ERA vs. 4.06 road ERA). Lamet, on the other hand, must learn to pitch better away from Petco, but definitely has the stuff to do so.

Jonathan Villar was a huge bust in 2017, but he may have been a victim of his own success. Pressing to maintain 2016 power numbers that he had never experienced before, he struck out 30% of the time and dropped from 19 home runs to 11, while falling off a cliff in the speed category, from 62 steals to 23. Villar did have some injury problems during the season and the Brewers are upgrading their lineup all around him, so this is a perfect rebound candidate to buy in the later rounds. Anybody who is almost guaranteed for 25 steals and has multiple position eligibility should be taken in the first 15 rounds at least.

Reaches

There weren't too many reaches in general, but a couple of picks may prove to be costly if this were a money league. David Dahl was a trendy sleeper last season, but it wasn't meant to be. Injuries prevented him from taking a single at-bat for the Rockies last year, which means there is plenty of rust to shake off. Even in his enticing rookie debut, his plate discipline wasn't too impressive. Dahl is not someone worth grabbing in the top 120 picks.

Ozzie Albies should turn out to be a fine player for the Braves, maybe even this year. The question you should be asking is: what will he do in fantasy leagues? Albies should bring a high average and score a fair amount of runs, but that's about it. Considered a speed threat, he stole 30 bases just once in the minors, where those come in far greater abundance with more aggressive managers and inexperienced pitchers. If he replicates last year's .286 average and steals 20 bases with 80 runs scored and forgettable power numbers, he's really no different from Andrelton Simmons or Orlando Arcia, who were both available several rounds later.

I hate to call Miguel Cabrera a reach, simply because he's one of my favorite players and I really want to believe in a bounce-back year. Even if it was a matter of injuries to blame and he's somehow over it, there's no need to grab him in the fifth round like Nick did. Miggy's current ADP sits in the 90s in early expert drafts (he was taken 94th in FSTA), so that bet could have been hedged a little more.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents

Let's look now at the players who did not have the privilege of being selected by our expert staff. The first thing to keep in mind when looking at the list below is that these are the default rankings from the host site, not custom rankings by RotoBaller or its writers. You can find our very own up-to-date rankings right here.

The first thing you might notice is that this would make a mighty fine All-Star team... three years ago. Pujols could very well drive in 100 or more runs again, but his .241 average is no help and his on-base skills are just getting worse with age. His completely lethargic speed and worsening walk rate (5.8% in 2017) contributed to an ever-declining OBP that dropped to .286 last season. If he isn't even close to 30 homers, he's helping you in one category only. Matt Kemp also has a power stroke that remains his only valuable tool. He might beat Pujols in a foot race, but would probably get lapped 10 times over by the Freeze.

Add Victor Martinez and Jose Bautista to the list of aging veterans that will draw little interest on draft day from anyone who isn't a full-fledged homer hoping for a rebound from their childhood idol.

On the younger side, a couple of shortstops stand out as surprise free agents. Top overall pick Dansby Swanson has a lower ADP entering this season than he did as a rookie, thanks to a sad .232/.312/.324 slash line. He did show improvement in his contact rate and plate discipline over the second half, but the power disappeared with it. He may still be a work in progress, but if it suddenly clicks, you could have a gem on the waiver wire.

Addison Russell had troubles on and off the diamond, but remains an important part of the Cubs infield. At just 24 years of age, this former top 10 prospect is too talented to be left in limbo. He too will need to make more advances at the plate in order to improve a .240 career average over three MLB seasons, but there's enough power potential to make him worth a bench stash at least.

Finally, my two pet sleepers from a year ago that didn't pan out, Keon Broxton and Jose Peraza, were not even considered by our drafters. Given the dearth of players who can give you 20+ steals, it's a bit surprising that nobody even took a chance on either one. For my part, I'd rather get ridiculed for a new set of sleepers that didn't pan out than the same ones over and over.

It's safe to say we can ignore those players with an ERA above 5.00 without remorse, even if one is nicknamed "The Dark Knight." Julio Urias and Vince Velasquez are both pitchers that get great movement on their fastballs, but must develop their other pitchers to become less hittable. Each comes with injury concerns entering the preseason as well, which is why they are best ignored in re-draft leagues.

Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn were definitely serviceable as lower-end rotation arms for fantasy teams, but the fact that they don't have homes yet just leaves too much uncertainty. Landing in a place like Milwaukee would make for rougher home starts in either case. Meanwhile, J.A. Happ has been rock solid, if not exciting, for the Jays two years running and is entering the last year of his contract.

It's usually a surprise to see a reliever who could enter the season as his team's closer go completely undrafted, but it would appear that Alex Claudio will be free to own in 2018. When you have a fastball that doesn't touch 90 MPH and about three better arms behind you in the bullpen breathing down your neck, that tends to happen though. Just ask Jeanmar Gomez, if you can find him these days.

 

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Using Sabermetrics For Fantasy Baseball Part 1 - BABIP for Hitters

Hello fellow RotoBallers! Sabermetrics have become an integral tool for fantasy baseball draft prep, but a concise resource for understanding the basics can be difficult to find.

This series attempts to define and explain all of the metrics fantasy owners may find useful, citing examples of how to use them in the process. Twenty degrees in applied mathematics are not required to use advanced metrics effectively, and this will be a no-math zone. We also won't bring in many of the metrics that are synonymous with advanced stats, most notably the fantasy-useless WAR, or Wins Above Replacement.

Instead, the focus will be on sabermetric statistics and ideas that are useful for predicting the standard stats the vast majority of leagues care about, such as batting average.

 

BABIP for Hitters

The most accessible of the fantasy-relevant advanced stats is BABIP, or Batting Average on Balls In Play. It simply measures a player's batting average on balls in play, with outcomes such as strikeouts and home runs removed from consideration. In general, the league average hovers around .300, a nice round number to remember. Many know BABIP as an approximation of luck, with either a very high or very low number indicative of a major batting average regression in the future. That is partially correct--the stat can be used to predict batting average fluctuations. However, a player's skills may allow him to run a better than average BABIP, or doom him to a consistently below average figure. One example of this is Jose Altuve.

Altuve has been a fantasy force for a while now, but he took it to a new level with his MVP slash line of .346/.410/.547 in 2017. A .370 BABIP helped him compile those numbers, and Altuve loses a lot of value if we regress that all the way to .300. Should we really do that?

Altuve is an elite speedster--this is why he is known as a steals guy in the first place. It makes sense that someone with Altuve's wheels could beat out more base hits than other players, while most catchers would lag in this regard. Therefore, an established player's baseline BABIP should not be the league average .300, but whatever that specific player's career BABIP is. Altuve's career BABIP is .339, clearly indicating a sustainable ability to beat the league average .300. Of course, .339 is still a lot lower than the .370 figure from last year. If we assume Altuve can beat the average BABIP, how do we know if he was in fact lucky?

The answer is to look at BABIP by batted ball type. Altuve gets his speedster hits exclusively on grounders, as running really fast does nothing to prevent a fielder from catching a ball in the air. While the league averaged a .241 BABIP on grounders, Altuve posted a .339 mark on them last year. His career rate is only .296. Therefore, we can conclude that Altuve will continue to outperform the league average on ground balls because his .296 career BABIP is much higher than the league average. However, he is unlikely to do so to the same extent he did in 2017.

Comparing BABIPs by batted-ball type year over year, Altuve also benefited from more fortunate fly balls and line drives in 2017. His fly balls had a BABIP of .150 against a career mark of .129, while his line drives beat their career average by 10 points (.716 vs. .706). Regression should be expected to reduce Altuve's BABIP toward his career .339 rate, but he still projects to beat the league average mark of .300 by a considerable margin.

The same trend is possible in a negative way. For example, Anaheim's slugging DH, Albert Pujols, is well known for being an all-or-nothing batter that pulls the ball at every opportunity. This makes him susceptible to the shift, as the infield defense knows where the ball is likely to go and can set up accordingly. He also lacks the speed to beat out infield hits most other major leaguers can, finishing dead last in Statcast's Sprint Speed metric last year. These factors figure to hurt his BABIP on grounders, and Pujols's .192 last year indicates that it did. In 2016, it was .217, and in 2015 it was .179.

Clearly, projecting regression toward the league average would be wrong, as his pull tendencies and subpar speed allow the defense to consistently perform better than average against him. Pujols's overall BABIP was .249 last year, a number that should be expected moving forward due to his consistently poor production on ground balls.

To conclude, BABIP can be used to indirectly measure a player's batting average luck by comparing it not to the league average of .300 but to an established player's career number. Foot speed, batted ball authority, LD%, and defensive positioning all give players some ability to manipulate BABIP. Players with these skills may still overachieve, and this regression can be predicted by examining BABIP by batted ball type. Younger players without an established baseline are generally regressed to the league average, but these predictions are less reliable than those based on a player's personal history. Next time, we'll look at a stat called the BABIP of power, HR/FB.

 

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January Expert Mock Analysis - Rounds 16-23

From the middle rounds, we segue into the tail-end of our early bird mock draft. The 12-team draft was done by RotoBaller’s MLB writers with order as follows: Chris Zolli, Harris Yudin, Troy Klauder, Kevin Luchansky, Pierre Camus, Max Petrie, Nick Mariano, Max Brill, Connor McEleney, Kyle Bishop, Mario Hernandez, and Andrew Le.

As mentioned in commentary for Rounds 10-15, Rounds 16-23 could disproportionately impact teams’ early-season performances. Early rounds are for high-floor studs, with pick variation dependent on manager preferences and biases. Middle-to-later rounds require extra TLC. The player pool gets incrementally diluted with each selection and managers must weigh volatile upside picks with commoditized players that may contribute towards only one or two categories. Both options might bust entirely, but the choice matters. Managers that passed over Aaron Judge for Carlos Gomez last year know the swing factor of these later rounds.

The format for this draft consisted of a 23-player team with nine pitchers, two catchers and no bench spots. Unlike most drafts, players picked need to provide immediate returns and that likely prevented excessively hoarding of unproven youngsters or potential May or June call-ups.

 

RotoBaller Mock Results

Round 16

Leading off, Zack Cozart and Scooter Gennett were two surprising sources of MI slugging last season. The anomaly in Cozart’s numbers last year was his 0.79 BB:K compared to a career mark of 0.40. His newfound patience led to career highs in ISO, BABIP and wOBA by a wide margin. One risk was his high 15.6% HR:FB but if he can retain his grasp of the strikezone another shot at 20 HRs seems realistic. Gennett went pull-happy last season (42.4% vs. 35.7% career). Great American Ballpark is a friendly confine for lefty power hitters, putting Gennett in position to follow-up his breakout year. Pull the trigger on Archie Bradley if you buy the bearded closer philosophy, the guy looks the part. 2017 was by far his best season (1.73 ERA, 1.04 WHIP) helped by major improvements in fastball and curveball effectiveness.

Round 17

Despite being Top-13 NL starters last year with over 140 IP, there’s skepticism surrounding Gio Gonzalez and Chase Anderson. Gonzalez has started over 30 games in every season but one since 2010, averaging almost a strikeout per inning. He also plays on a team that puts him in position for wins. Haters can point to the lucky BABIP and LOB% last season but Gonzalez has been a winning pitcher his whole career, supplying Ks and staying around the plate. Anderson is a tougher sell considering his irrelevance until the 12-4, 2.74 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 8.47 K:9 line last season. Doubters may believe the 8.6% HR:FB is low but Anderson appears a low-risk backend fantasy starter on a competitive Brewers squad. Andrelton Simmons is baseball’s best defensive shortstop by a mile and last year turned in his first strong offensive campaign (.278 AVG, 14 HR, 77 R, 69 RBI, 19 SB). Simmons pulled the ball more last year resulting in a jump in Hard% from 23.4% to 29.2%. Playing daily, he is a relatively cheap option as a set-and-forget SS.

Round 18

Kyle Schwarber loses catcher eligibility in 2018 and his resulting fantasy value plummeted. He may not start daily and strikes out a ton, but crushes the ball when he makes contact (36.4% Hard%). Schwarber is a near lock for over 25 HRs if he surpasses 400 PAs. Sean Manaea and Blake Snell look like younger iterations of Julio Teheran. All three are satisfactory streaming options but their K:BBs are unflattering and solid-contact rates too high to be regular fantasy starters. Mike Zunino is a whiff-machine (36.8% K%) and didn’t play enough (124 games) but went yard 25 times last year. Basically, he’s a prototypical catcher whose value should be buoyed by slugging ability. Zunino could return Schwarber-esque power numbers without requiring a precious OF slot.

Round 19

No one drank the Yonder Alonso koolaid and he fell to Round 19. Compared to a 9.2% career HR:FB, the ridiculous 19.4% rate is a red flag but notably his plate approach was more swing-happy in 2017. Owners burned by Jonathan Villar last year may bury him too deep in the doghouse. The unsustainable .373 BABIP masked a 25.6% K-rate in 2016. Heading into 2018, owners should reset expectations of Villar as a source for SBs and occasional pop. If he moves up the order, upside in runs is also a reasonable forecast. Dinelson Lamet debuted with a 10.94 K:9 last season and could be a popular sleeper. He struggled with consistency but should have a long leash in San Diego. Jake Faria is less flashy (8.72 K:9) but allowed four or more runs only twice in 14 starts last season. Compared to Lamet’s power style, Faria is a solid three-breaking pitch guy. It’s a tossup and both kids could make a run at double-digit wins while offering strikeout potential.

Round 20

In 5x5 leagues, it makes sense to anchor your pitching with rock steady ratios and Dellin Betances achieves exactly that (career 2.29 ERA, 2.42 xFIP, 1.04 WHIP), logging over 15 K:9 and 22 bonus saves the past two seasons. Luis Gohara is a prodigal power pitcher; the RotoBaller team recently discussed his promise. Mark Trumbo remains a perennial power hitter and still managed 23 HRs in 2017 despite a collapse in Hard% and ISO. Aaron Hicks was on the verge of a breakout until an oblique injury steamrolled his season. Hicks was on pace for a 20 HR, 20 SB year but managed just an .715 OPS after the All-Star break. He will try to get back on track if he finds playing time in the crowded Bronx outfield.

Rounds 21-23

The final rounds of the long draft mostly consisted of filling mandatory slots with players like Brandon Phillips and Chris Owings or making homer picks like Tyson Ross (courtesy of yours truly). Blurred vision had firmly set in at this stage so we did our best to finish strong by layering our teams with depth or young lottery picks.

Cole Hamels may be a bargain if you believe the bulls (unlucky 70.2% LOB% in 2017) or value trap if you buy the bears (career-worst 1.98 K:BB). Zach Davies struggled early last season with an ugly 5.03 ERA and 1.50 WHIP by July, but bounced back to end the year with 17 Wins and a 3.90 ERA. Davies won’t miss a ton of bats (6.55 K:9, 7.9% SwStr%) but should be a serviceable backend starter. David Peralta is an underappreciated player in a good offense. He hits for average (career .293 AVG, .340 BABIP) and could threaten double-digit HRs and SBs if he plays regularly. Gleyber Torres is the No. 5 MLB prospect whose debut last year was stalled by injury. He hopes to crack a roster spot but the starting Yankees SS position currently belongs to Didi Gregorius. Pressed into service last season, Phillies catcher Jorge Alfaro hit 5 HRs with a .874 OPS in 29 games, but a BABIP of .420 screams negative regression unless the 24-year-old cuts down on the 28.9% K-rate. Russell Martin will end up on half the teams in your league this year, again.

The lack of bench spots in the mock supported the idea that player turnover is a common occurrence in fantasy. Holding and hoping usually doesn’t pay off in fake baseball and this format encourages a higher degree of scrutiny on a regular basis. Most players outside of the first three rounds will probably face a degree of cut risk throughout the season and that’s normal! Baseball is a marathon in both real and fantasy versions and will take steady doses of patience and swift decision-making to achieve victory.

 

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January Expert Mock Analysis - Rounds 10-15

Spring training is getting closer and the RotoBaller MLB team opened up our first bags of peanuts and cracker jacks with a 12-team mock draft last week. For consideration, this 23-round mock draft was a traditional 5x5 league consisting of nine pitcher spots and the rest starting offensive slots (including two catchers). The lack of a bench certainly affected choices throughout the draft. The order went as followed: Chris Zolli, Harris Yudin, Troy Klauder, Kevin Luchansky, Pierre Camus, Max Petrie, Nick Mariano, Max Brill, Connor McEleney, Kyle Bishop, Mario Hernandez, and Andrew Le.

The double-digit rounds are the heart of a fantasy baseball draft. You’ve established where your studs are locked in and the majority of name brand players are long gone. By Round 10, you’re weighing the categories you have an advantage and where you’re deficient. You might also be considering which offensive positions to start adding depth and when to pull the trigger on upside and mid-tier pitching. This is the most fun portion of the draft and when owners need to dig in and trust their research.

Therefore, it’s almost impossible to judge individual picks in the middle rounds without context. We’re not mind readers, but can observe and attempt to decipher why decisions were made. Let’s take a look at each round and highlight some picks that stood out, ones that generated buzz, or if any might’ve been a straight up “Vicente Padilla” moment.

 

RotoBaller Mock Results

Round 10

Kyle took Gerrit Cole as his third starting pitcher, which seems reasonable. Surprisingly, there’s not much value erosion for pitchers between PNC Park and Minute Maid Park. However, Cole does transfer to a more hitter-friendly league coming off a season where he struggled with consistency and set a career high 1.37 HR:9. The Rougned Odor pick was a possible reach (ADP 13.9) but the HR and bounce back potential certainly merits the risk, especially in standard leagues. The Michael Conforto pick is classic high risk-reward for a player with an uncertain rehabilitation timeline. No arguments on the starters and tier-2 closers taken this round, unless your philosophy is to wait for saves late or on the wire.

Round 11

Round 11 was bookended with two quality SPs. Jose Berrios (SP29) could slowly creep up draft boards after making meaningful strides in his second season. He was a shade under a strikeout per inning and his middling K:BB of 2.90 could improve if he develops a third pitch to complement his above-average fastball and curve. Jameson Taillon (SP44) could’ve been in the Top-25 discussion had he not endured a cancer scare that interrupted his season. Taillon will look to build on two or fewer runs in seven of his last 10 starts in 2017 and is worth a look especially in QS leagues. Didi Gregorius is a Top-10 SS (6.6 WAR since 2016) but rarely merits as much discussion as his counterparts, his ADP could slip in drafts providing good value for owners waiting on the position.

Round 12

Adam Duvall should provide excellent three-category contributions as an OF2 or OF3, averaging 32 HRs, 82 R, 101 RBI over the last two seasons. His primary and peripheral numbers are eerily similar across the two seasons. Joey Gallo is a polarizing player and will probably provoke divergent opinions and rankings throughout spring training. Nick’s pick of Gallo was five rounds ahead of his ADP, but it seems he was going after homers after setting a fairly balanced team to that point. The HR argument applies for Kevin’s selection of Chris Davis, but that pick was a bit more puzzling since his team was already loaded with sluggers. Ronald Acuna (ADP 17.3) generated significant buzz when picked, so readers should prepare their sleeper or hype vision goggles accordingly.

Round 13

Yoan Moncada arguably headlined this round. The 22-year-old pubescent certainly has underwhelmed in 619 career PAs but 2018 will be his first full season in the bigs. He’s your typical high-potential pick in the middle rounds. Ozzie Albies was taken immediately after Moncada and signals are also bullish despite the minuscule 57-game sample. It appears the RotoBaller staff is also on the bandwagon: see here and here. Moving on, Steven Souza will look to parlay his improved BB:K ratio from last season into another serviceable three-category season (30 HRs, 78 R, 78 RBI, 16 SBs). Perhaps the designation of Souza as the third wheel in the Wil Myers and Trea Turner deal was premature.

Round 14

Round 14 was mostly comprised of vanilla vets (Dexter Fowler, Shin-Soo Choo) and promising youngsters (Javier Baez, Manuel Margot). Since we all know sexy points are worthless in fantasy, it’s notable that while the speed and average have dropped off, Choo has hit over 20 HRs and scored over 90 Runs in three of the last four seasons (excluding 2016 when he played only 48 games). This includes a tasty 22-HR, 96-R, 78-RBI, 12-SB line last season. Margot is a lock for playing time in San Diego and will make a realistic run at double-digit homers, over 25 SB and over 80 runs. Former top-tier ace Johnny Cueto (ADP 14.8) fell from grace in 2017 when he struggled with walks and gopher balls that were way above career marks. Cueto is a year removed from 18 wins and could provide solid value in the mid-rounds if the revamped Giants play up to expectations this year.

Round 15

Finally, let’s focus on two Indians. Jason Kipnis (ADP 19.8) could be and has been a Top-10 2B but he’s been a volatile performer with injury risk throughout his career. Bradley Zimmer stole 18 bases last season in 332 PAs and provides Run upside but his nearly 30% strikeout rate makes him borderline unwatchable. Miguel Sano will be a steal if he fully rehabs from shin surgery and avoids a lengthy suspension for disciplinary actions. Greg Bird hasn’t put it all together yet, missing all of 2016 and playing only 48 games last year but his stats exude a Joey Gallo-lite aura. Whether that is a good or bad thing remains the readers’ discretion.

The thing to remember is drafts are initial outlooks and subject to revision. Don’t hesitate to reassess when results are unfavorable after a couple months. Fall victim to conservatism bias, and you might end up like managers that held onto Stephen Piscotty or Jerad Eickhoff last season. Happy drafting!

 

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January Expert Mock Draft Analysis - Rounds 5-9

The 2018 MLB season is approaching ever faster and draft season is already here! RotoBaller recently gathered 12 of our baseball writers to conduct a 23-round mock draft in order to evaluate current ADP values. We will break down those draft results in detail throughout the week.

This article will take a look at rounds 5-9 of our early mock draft. The mock draft was for a traditional 5X5 league, but rules did call for a two-catcher format, much to the chagrin of our staff. These were the owners, in draft order: Chris Zolli, Harris Yudin, Troy Klauder, Kevin Luchansky, Pierre Camus, Max Petrie, Nick Mariano, Max Brill, Connor McEleney, Kyle Bishop, Mario Hernandez, and Andrew Le.

To start with Harris' breakdown of Round 1, click here and then follow up with Chris' recap of rounds 2-4. You can also see the full draft results here, which took place on RT Sports.

 

RotoBaller Mock Results

 
Round 5

The round started with a slew of power bats flying off the board. Edwin Encarnacion, Yoenis Cespedes, Jonathan Schoop, and Robinson Cano are known commodities that should provide a high floor for their owners. Things got interesting when Nick Mariano took a chance on Miguel Cabrera at the 55th overall pick, far exceeding his current NFBC ADP of 90. If 2017 proves to be a fluke and vintage Miggy returns, this could actually be a steal, but it's a big question mark for an aging slugger so early in the draft. His OPS has dropped in two straight seasons, down to a lowly .728 last year.

Alex Bregman was taken later here than in most drafts, but it's where he should be. Bregman's ADP will benefit from recency bias, as anyone who watched the World Series will remember his two homers and five RBI. He didn't exactly have a breakout regular season, however, as he failed to deliver either 20 HR or SB and hit a good-not-great .284. He's an exciting young player for sure, but our writers were wise not to overpay for potential.

Yu Darvish is still without a home, but no matter where he winds up he should be an elite SP. He had kept a strikeout rate about 30% for three straight seasons and finished at a 30.2% K% with the Dodgers. If he lands in the NL, it can only help.

Round 6

The first real reach of this draft goes to Mario Hernandez with his selection of Jake Lamb with the second pick of the sixth round. He hit 30 bombs and drove in 105 runs, proving 2016's power surge was no fluke, but that comes with a .249 average and 152 strikeouts, which hurts him a bit in points leagues. Lamb is a solid 3B for sure, but the increasing prevalence of power bats available in the middle rounds somewhat minimizes Lamb's value.

What up, Pham? Kyle Bishop was the one to pull the trigger on Tommy Pham, one pick after Lamb. It's hard to call him a reach because the thought of getting a .300 hitter with 25-25 potential is hard to pass up. We have to remember that this season looks like a complete outlier on Pham's otherwise lackluster resume and he'll start this year on the wrong side of 30. This pick will turn out to be either brilliant or terrible.

At the tail end of the round, Chris Zolli saved me from myself in the next round by acquiring Byron Buxton. The enigmatic prospect also has tantalizing talent, but hasn't proven he can produce on a regular basis. This is about as boom-bust as you can get, but if you want to take a chance on Buxton, you can't wait much later than this.

Round 7

It's quite a juxtaposition to see Billy Hamilton last until the seventh round in our draft, whereas he was taken in the third round in this month's FSTA draft. His ADP will be all over the place depending on how conservative your leaguemates are on draft day. This group decided he wasn't worth burning an early pick on, until Max Petrie decided to corner the market by adding BHam to his earlier picks of Paul Goldschmidt and Justin Upton, before sealing the deal with Whit Merrifield a round later.

At the time of this draft, Lorenzo Cain was not yet a Brewer. His selection by Andrew Le could prove to be a bargain relative to an ADP that's sure to climb. The Brewers ranked second in stolen base attempts last season, down a tick from 2016 when they easily led the league in that area. With Wil Myers getting selected earlier in the round, it appears that speed will become a rare commodity around the 90th pick or so.

Witnessing Aaron Nola selected before Jose Quintana might be a surprise, but Kyle was just not going to be denied his home team pick. He's sure to provide a strong K rate... for the 10 games he's healthy.

Round 8

The question of how long Shohei Ohtani would last was finally answered with the 86th pick. His selection immediately drew some disdain from other owners who had him queued up in the eighth round as well. The starting pitching at this level of the draft is less than desirable, as some players with good numbers from a year ago also come with major warts, or in the case of Rich Hill, blisters. Zack Godley was a waiver wire savior last season, but must prove that he can keep it up.

Matt Carpenter's 2017 was a huge disappointment, but it's obvious injuries were to blame for his sudden decline. He should bring great value and multi-position eligibility to round out any infield. Mike Moustakas, on the other hand, is still a question mark due to his sketchy track record and unknown landing spot for this season.

Round 9

And then the closers started to come off the board. Aroldis Chapman is the first pick of the ninth round and Roberto Osuna was the 10th pick of the round. We also saw some of the injury-plagued hitters of last year find a home. Adam Eaton and David Dahl sandwiched the 100th overall pick, with Eaton taken by yours truly. He's a player that inherits the leadoff spot and starting CF job for a legitimate contender; he can contribute across all categories and should bring great value compared to a player like Gregory Polanco who went a round earlier.

The ninth round ended with a Pirate I'm much more bullish on - Josh Bell. In any normal year, Bell would have garnered real consideration for NL Rookie of the Year, but any hope of that award was squashed the moment Cody Bellinger was called up to the majors. He became the 10th first baseman to be drafted by our RotoBaller staff, which indicates how much risk there is in being the last to draft the position in a league of 12 or more teams.

 

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January Expert Mock Draft Analysis - Round 1

We at RotoBaller love to draft. In fact, we love it so much we couldn't wait until March or even February to start drafting! So we decided to share the results of our latest fantasy baseball mock draft, taking place on RT Sports, accompanied by a series of articles analyzing each round. Here's the complete rundown:

Round 1 
Rounds 2-4 (coming Sunday, Jan. 28)
Rounds 5-9 (coming Monday, Jan. 29)
Rounds 10-15 (coming Tuesday, Jan. 30)
Rounds 16-23 (coming Wednesday, Jan. 31)
Sleepers/Busts/Values (coming Thursday, Feb. 1)
Snake Bitten (coming Friday, Feb. 2)

It’s hard to nitpick too much in the first round, as everyone will have different views of the top 12-15 players, but here’s a pick-by-pick breakdown of how things started:

 

RotoBaller Mock Draft Results - Round 1

Pick 1

Chris Zolli picked first and grabbed Mike Trout, who, BREAKING NEWS, should be the No. 1 overall pick in every league. EVERY. SINGLE. LEAGUE. He paced all hitters in wOBA (.437) and wRC+ (181) last season, slashing a modest .306/.442/.629 with 33 homers, 92 runs scored, 72 RBI and 22 stolen bases despite missing 48 games. Of course, Trout is not a lock to finish as the top fantasy contributor in 2018, but a healthy Trout has both the highest fantasy ceiling and the highest fantasy floor. Don’t get cute, just take Trout and grab a drink as you wait 15 minutes for your next selection.

Pick 2

Next, I went with Jose Altuve, who is not only the No. 2 player on my board, but also the player with the widest gap above the next best player at his position (not including catcher). Among middle infielders (at least 50 percent of plate appearances), he finished tied for sixth in home runs, second in runs, ninth in RBI, fourth in stolen bases and first in both batting average and on-base percentage (both by a pretty wide margin). Altuve was a top-10 fantasy player in all formats last year (top-five in most), and is one of the safer bets to repeat his 2017 success.

Pick 3

Troy Klauder made what was probably the surprise choice of the draft, yanking Nationals shortstop Trea Turner off the board with the third pick. The 24-year-old speedster appeared in only 98 games, but still managed to finish third in baseball in steals, behind only Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon. Prorated over a full, 162-game slate, Turner’s 11-75-45-46 stat line would give him 18 HR, 124 R, 74 RBI and 76 SB. Although his .284/.338/.451 slash line was simply pedestrian, he did hit .342 with a .937 OPS in his first real taste of the bigs in 2016. However, while his fantasy potential is through the roof, spending a pick this early on a guy with just 815 plate appearances under his belt is a sizable risk.

Pick 4

Nolan Arenado went fourth overall to Kevin Luchansky. The degree to which Coors Field inflates Arenado’s number are irrelevant in fantasy-- the man flat-out produces. Over the last three years, he sits second in home runs, sixth in runs scored, first in RBI and in the top 20 in batting average. He is among the leaders in fly ball rate, and boasts well-above-average marks in home run to fly ball rate and hard hit rate. Arenado has only missed 10 games over that three-year span, and is a near-lock to be an elite fantasy contributor in 2018.

Pick 5

Pierre Camus swooped into the draft room at the last minute and plucked out Bryce Harper with the fifth pick. At the time of his injury in mid-August, Harper was fourth in baseball in wOBA and fifth in wRC+, and was one of just four players with 25 homers and a .400 OBP. His rate stats at season’s end were still incredibly impressive, and while he doesn’t seem to run as much as he did when he first came up, he did swipe 21 bags in 2016, so a five-category contribution is not out of the question. He is just now entering his age-25 season, and a healthy Harper should easily return first round value.

Pick 6

At sixth overall, reigning Rotoballer Experts League champion (I announce, begrudgingly) Max Petrie selected first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Entering September, Goldy owned a massive .319/.428/.607 line with 33 HR, 100 R, 109 RBI and 17 SB, and had a real shot at the top spot for 2017. However, an uncharacteristically cold final month -- .171/.250/.305 with three homers and 11 RBI -- plagued fantasy owners down the stretch and ruined his MVP chances. Despite the late-season disappearance, Goldschmidt remains one of the top five-category contributors, and deserves a spot in the front-half of the first round for 2018.

Pick 7

It’s pretty difficult to hit 50 points lower than your previous career average, not reach 30 homers or 30 steals, and still end up as a top-10 fantasy hitter. That was the case last year for Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts, who was drafted seventh by Nick Mariano. Betts nearly doubled his walk rate (10.8 percent) while maintaining his already stellar strikeout rate (11.1 percent) as he put up a modest .264/.344/.459 slash line with 24 HR and 26 SB. He also scored 101 runs and knocked in 102 more. Betts’ abnormally low BABIP (.268) and improved hard hit rate (35.7 percent) indicate some bad ball-in-play luck last year, and I expect a full bounce-back in 2018.

Pick 8

Max Brill ended the run of hitters by taking Clayton Kershaw next. Kershaw was a top-four pitcher last season despite throwing just 175 innings, and should once again be viewed as the top arm on the board in 2018. While I have him 13th and will almost never draft a pitcher in the first round, eighth overall is perfectly reasonable -- and actually a steal in others’ eyes -- for the three-time Cy Young Award winner.

Pick 9

Charlie Blackmon went ninth, taken by Connor McEleney. Blackmon’s 2017 ADP sat well outside the first round, yet somehow he finished as the top overall fantasy player. By “somehow,” I mean with massive career highs in home runs (37), runs scored (137), RBI (104), batting average (.331), on-base percentage (.399) and slugging percentage (.601). He sat in the top 15 in each of those categories, tacking on 14 stolen bases for good measure. A .371 BABIP and 19.6 percent home run to fly ball rate scream regression, but Blackmon is a five-cat dynamo who should once again post a staggeringly robust stat line in 2018.

Pick 10

With the 10th pick, Kyle Bishop chose Manny Machado. Machado endured a down season overall, posting just a .259/.310/.471 slash line, but still managed to crush more than 30 dingers for a third consecutive year. His 39.5 percent hard hit rate and .265 BABIP were the highest and lowest, respectively, of his career, so it’s reasonable to expect a significant improvement in his rate stats going forward-- especially if he can get his line drive rate back around his career average. Machado’s ADP currently sits in the second round, but at just 25 years old, he still possesses the upside to become a top-five fantasy player.

Pick 11

Mario Hernandez followed with Max Scherzer, the second pitcher off the board in the first round. The National League’s Cy Young Award winner each of the past two years, Scherzer boasts baseball’s best strikeout rate, fourth-best ERA and second-best WHIP over that span. Despite approaching his 34th birthday, Scherzer continues to display remarkable consistency, both with his process and his performance. As mentioned previously, I will almost never take a pitcher in the first round, but with 200 innings in each of the last five seasons, Scherzer is an ideal workhorse around whom to build your staff.

Pick 12

Andrew Le capped off the first round with Astros shortstop Carlos Correa. Last year, the then-22-year-old slashed .325/.402/.577 with 20 long balls, 62 runs scored and 65 RBI in the first half before missing six weeks with a thumb injury. With only two steals on the year, it appears he has stopped running, but even as a four-category guy, Correa has a chance to make a real impact from a relatively weak shortstop position.

I’ll let Chris Zolli take it here from here with the next few rounds, but just know that Andrew’s 12/13 turn has made me want the last pick in every draft.

 

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Snake Drafts and the Subtle Art of the Snipe

For the last several years, I’ve played almost exclusively in auction leagues. It’s a personal preference that isn’t unique or “correct.” I have a lot of reasons for this preference. That’s not what we’re going to talk about today, though. Instead, let’s spend some time touting one of the virtues of traditional snake drafts – the sublime schadenfreude of sniping other owners’ picks.

Obviously this can happen in auctions, too. The traditional draft structure just lends itself much more easily to the practice. Until you’ve blown your budget in an auction, you can at least in theory have any player on the board you want. In a snake, you can only watch in horror as your rivals, seeming to have a direct pipeline to the NSA agent currently monitoring your home, demolish your queue. Everyone reading this knows the feeling of utter helplessness. When you’re on the other end, though? Delightful.

On Wednesday, I participated in an early mock draft with 11 of my RotoBaller colleagues. You can find the results here. We’ll have articles covering the blow-by-blow over the next couple of days, so keep an eye out for those if you’re so inclined. It’s a convenient jumping off point for this discussion, given that I likely won’t participate in too many more snakes this year.

That means I will largely miss out on the moments when the draft chat fills with capital letters and swear words after a pick. It’s most fun to see the room collectively groan when you’ve made the pick in question, but it can still be entertaining when someone else inspires jealousy. Provided, of course, the player wasn’t someone you wanted.

A well-timed snipe is a thing of beauty, but it’s not easy to pull off. You need to parse a lot of information quickly. How many teams still need to fill a given position? Do the default rankings on whatever draft client you’re using make sense, or are they tilted into the realm of the absurd? What about ADP? Have the other owners in your league expressed a fondness for this player, consciously or otherwise? Are your rivals susceptible to hype, or are they risk-averse? Is anyone inebriated? (Somebody is always inebriated.)

You also have to be careful about trying too hard. Reaches often actively harm your roster, but more importantly for this exercise, you’ll have failed to successfully troll your leaguemates. You want that to be the source of their derision, not the fact that you misread the room and took Byron Buxton way too early. It’s an occupational hazard, but it also defeats the purpose.

The best time in the draft for a snipe is the middle rounds. At that point in the draft, all the obvious choices are off the board, and almost everyone’s priorities are different.  It becomes more acceptable, more interesting, and arguably safer to make bold choices. This may not hold true for owners who assembled a volatile portfolio with their early picks, but in general, the middle of the draft is when you begin to see more people taking caution and chucking it deep.

Mocks and ADP data are useful to a point, but there’s a lot of value in “get your guy.” After all, if you’re right about his 2018 performance, you’ll feel even better about the pick at the end of the year than you do right now, listening to your competition grumble about how they were totally gonna take that guy next. Don’t get me wrong – while it wasn’t premeditated, I thoroughly enjoyed how many of my colleagues were dismayed by the Ronald Acuna pick. When my next pick rolled around and Ozzie Albies was still available, I cackled at the reaction of RotoBaller’s resident Braves fan, Max Petrie. But I also made those picks because I believe in those players. That’s what makes a snipe truly satisfying.

Those two certainly made me feel a lot better about both Noah Syndergaard and Zack Greinke going to the teams that picked right before me in those rounds.

 

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2018 Dynasty Baseball Strategy - Basic Asset Valuation

Dynasty baseball is a beautiful thing. In a redraft league, everybody is trying to win now. You all have the same goal. Dynasty formats allow for long-term planning. If your team is competitive, you'll value players differently than a rebuilding owner. This discrepancy makes it much easier to find mutually beneficial trades. Unfortunately, this same dynamic can lead to serious issues.

When dynasty leagues turn sour, it's because rebuilding owners get stuck in Minor League Land, becoming a farm system for the better owners. This is why it's essential to consider asset valuation. You want to be the guy preying upon the flailing rosters, not the other way around.

Let's talk methodology in order to gain an advantage in dynasty baseball leagues for the 2018 season.

 

Talking Methodology

I'm a big proponent of "soft" rankings. You might also call them "good enough" rankings. Basically, baseball has made a fool of my rigorous and carefully cultivated rankings enough times that I no longer believe in expending the effort. With a few general guidelines, you can get 95 percent of the benefit with 10 percent of the effort and a whole lot of flexibility.

I explain this because what follows isn't a guide to Standing Gain Points or another popular valuation method. There are books for that. Instead, let's talk about some soft concepts to inform your own "good enough" valuations.

First, it's important to understand your team's goal. Have you built a legitimate contender? Do you have quality pieces but need to retool? Is a complete rebuild in order? Once you answer those questions, you can determine the type of players to target. Player values are always affected by the talent already on your roster. Think of this as the fantasy baseball version of the win curve.

In a vacuum, only a few factors inform dynasty value.

  • Is it a position player or a pitcher?
  • Age
  • Performance (majors or minors)
  • League level (i.e. High-A, Double-A, etc.)

 
Positions players are much safer long-term assets. While a true contender needs good pitchers, you can always try to build a rotation around James Paxton, Zack Godley, and Charlie Morton. By jumping on those players early, they were nearly free in my 20-team dynasty. They performed like top-20 pitchers on a rate basis. In most leagues, a quality pitcher costs much less than a quality hitter. And owners are always keen to convert their pitchers into safer hitting assets. In short, you'll have no trouble trading depth for pitchers when it's time to contend.

Age is the most obvious factor to consider. Ideally, you want a player who will thrive for the next decade or more. However, this isn't an automatic invitation to race to the youngest players. Joey Votto is 34 and damn incredible. A contending owner in need of a first baseman should be willing to at least consider trading Ronald Acuna or Victor Robles for him.

It's also dangerous to dive into the minor league end of the pool as if those players are fully actualized major leaguers. Especially if you don't have much exposure to minor league prospects, it can be safer to stick with young major league assets rather than their unproven, volatile cousins.

To that end, success in the majors should be valued over success in the minors. Byron Buxton destroys minor league pitching. Despite positive signs last season, he's still yet to truly establish himself as a major league hitter. Buxton, at one point, was a consensus top-20 dynasty asset. He still ranks very highly despite mixed results. Acuna, while extremely valuable, could very well be the next Buxton. When targeting minor leaguers, success in the upper minors tells us a lot more than success in the lower minors where the range of talent is truly massive.

You can think of this as an optimization puzzle. A dynasty asset is graded by what the player does now and what he'll do in the future. Personally, I like to weight the present much more than the future. Baseball players are rather fickle. Some of my colleagues prefer to take a longer view. It's up to your decide how far into the future you want to hunt for value.

For example, I usually look at the next four years, weighted such that future seasons are valued diminishingly. For example, I might value year 1 at 100%, year 2 at 90%, year 3 at 75%, and year 4 at 50%. This reflects the uncertainty of the future. Again, you may wish to be more aggressive or conservative based on your own preferences and the shape of your league.

For players likely to produce beyond that window, I'll simply label them as a plus. Older guys - think Adrian Beltre - get a minus. Basically, I want to know if my asset will have value in four years or if he'll be spent. When possible, convert soon-to-be spent assets into guys with a future.

 

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Fixing A Broken Fantasy Baseball League

Coming into last season, my home league of 13 years had a problem. Since becoming a rotisserie league, adopting an auction draft, and instituting a new keeper system six years earlier, only one person had won it: Me.

Let me state up front and unequivocally that I don’t intend or want for this article to be hundreds of words of bragging. You don’t want to read that and I don’t want to write it. Besides, you don’t win a league for six years running without considerable luck.

Case in point: The first year, 2011, was the year of the twin collapses of the Braves and Red Sox, each of whom entered the season’s final day needing only a win to make the playoffs but instead lost in devastating fashion while rivals won to knock them out. While that insanity was going on, I was glued to StatTracker, watching impossibly thin margins fluctuate. Ultimately, after multiple tie breakers, I had completed a 14-point comeback in the final two weeks and edged out my cousin for the title. This is the reason why if anyone mentions Ted Lilly, a grateful tear comes to my eye. (No one ever mentions Ted Lilly.)

The next year was much less eventful and produced another narrow but undramatic win. For the next four years, though, the margin of victory grew. Every spring, I figured the keeper system ($5/year inflation on draft cost, with a cap of $180 on keepers (60% of the overall $300 budget) would finally do what it was designed to do and keep me from winning again. Another owner had finished second multiple times and been a strong contender every season; I always expected this to be the year he finally got past me.

As the 2016 season entered its final month, I posted my usual thread on the league discussion board, posting my proposed rule changes and inviting ideas from everyone else. I wanted to expand from from 10 to 12 teams and to bump dues from $20 to $25. The first response from a leaguemate was blunt: “This league is pretty broken right now.” He pointed out that the bottom feeders had checked out long ago, so why should we expand?  He added that it was a bit presumptuous of me to propose a dues increase when I was cruising to a sixth straight win by my largest margin yet.

I didn’t disagree with much of what he had to say. In fact, the changes I had suggested were what I hoped were solutions to those same problems. In my view (Tim McCarver’d), there were four major areas to attack, and they’re easily applicable to other leagues and the various ways in which they might be broken.

 

Make Your Fantasy League Better

1. Trim the fat.

I wanted not just to expand the league, but to remove a notoriously absentee owner. While he was and remains one of my best friends, he just wasn’t participating much after the draft – during which he’d often entertain me with troll bids and other shenanigans. It was fun to hang out together while we drafted, but he put no effort into managing his team and had to go.

Unfortunately, there was a second  and unexpected departure of an incumbent owner. My cousin told me after the season ended that he was bowing out. Only three people, me included, had been around since the league’s inception in 2004, and he was one of them. But he just didn’t have the time to devote to the league anymore, and he pointed out that his recent results were indicative of that. It was a bummer to lose an original member, but it presented an opportunity to improve the level of competition further.

 

2. Recruit quality replacements.

To replace the two departing members and add two new ones, I wanted to bring in some combination of RotoBaller colleagues and Reddit users from r/fantasybaseball. This being my home league, I didn’t want to alienate my friends who had been playing for years by turning it into the functional equivalent of an industry league. I’d just be running into the whole ship of Theseus thing after they all quit, which is precisely what I was looking to avoid here. I just wanted some new blood that would put up a good fight.

 

3. Tweak the rules, if necessary.

The keeper system had been designed to prevent exactly the sort of run I was on, and so it had clearly failed and some sort of adjustment was in order. A few ideas were floated: Increasing keeper inflation by a dollar or two per year, limiting the number of players a team could keep, and lowering the amount of money a team could spend on keepers. I opted to implement the latter, cutting the keeper cap from $180 to $150. This would strike a blow to my roster without hurting most of the other teams in the league.

We also had two expansion teams, and they deserved to not be thrown into a situation where 10 other people had a head start. Enter the expansion draft, which I weighted so that every team that hadn’t finished in the top three could lose only one player, second and third could only lose two, and I would lose four. Both new owners would therefore end up with seven players. Every incumbent owner would be able to protect eight players on their roster.

 

4. Introduce (or increase) an entry fee.

I received no pushback from any of the other owners when I brought it up again in preseason and it made the math easier for payouts, so I bumped the league dues from $20 to $25. A modest increase, but between that and the expansion, the prize money for both first and second place had nearly doubled as a result.

While instituting an entry fee or raising an extant one may chase an owner away, it’s possible – perhaps even likely – that this departure would qualify under item 1 of this list. Sweetening the pot or putting more than simple bragging rights on the line can also help increase owner engagement.

 

Bottom Line

Did being both the commissioner of the league and the owner of the team that had broken it put me in an awkward position? It sure did, particularly with that dues increase. But it can be a tough needle to thread even if you’re just the commissioner. The other owner could get upset if he feels you’re punishing him too heavily for success. And as we all know, even just one person getting mad has the potential to throw the entire league into drama and chaos.

I hadn’t cheated. No one was threatening to quit or really even complaining. The league simply needed to evolve to get out of a competitive rut, and doing that required that I handicap myself. At the same time, I didn’t want to scorch the earth, either for my own roster or the league as a whole; the only suggestion that came up in conversation that I immediately shot down was putting every player back in the draft pool and starting from scratch.

So what happened, you may be (but are probably not) asking? Did these changes work? Did any of it matter? Does anything matter?

Well…

Again, though, luck played a role. One of the four players I lost in the expansion draft was Starling Marte, who ended up missing half the year with a PED suspension. Another was David Dahl, who missed the entire season. I gambled and won on a few trades that could easily have backfired, and I made it through the season relatively unscathed by injuries. I also spent most of the season in second place, only taking the lead for good in September.

Should I have made things harder on myself? It’s an argument you could make. But my leaguemates seemed happy with the way I handled the situation and that was all I really cared about. That, and making the game more fun for as many people as possible.

I look forward to going for my eighth consecutive win, and hopefully providing good enough advice in this space to help you start or maintain a streak of your own.

 

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Forgetting The One That Got Away

If you’re a voracious consumer of baseball analysis – a judgment that, if you’re reading one of my articles almost three months before the season starts, I would deem fair – you’ve heard the following phrase plenty of times:

Better a year too early than a year too late.

This, of course, refers to older players’ inevitable decline. The sentiment is simple and sensible. You’d rather miss out on a player’s last good year in the sun than risk suffering through paying full freight on a season where the bottom falls out. It’s more common in the realm of actual baseball than fantasy, given the involvement of contracts – which some leagues do use – and millions of dollars – which…well. But it remains a decent guiding principle in our game.

Change the subject from “old quality player” to “breakout,” though, and that’s a special brand of pain –  regardless of format, but particularly in deep dynasty leagues. Take it from someone who watched Marwin Gonzalez, Aaron Altherr, Eddie Rosario, and Chase Anderson become highly relevant in 2017 after giving up on them in a super-deep 20-teamer filled with some of the best fantasy analysts around. That, uh, doesn’t help the ol’ rebuilding efforts.

It doesn’t even have to be somebody you rostered at one point before they turned into the player you thought they could be. It can be a worse feeling to have not done so. You’ll find yourself staring at another owner’s roster, filled with a mixture of envy, longing, and rage as he enjoys the fruits and future of the guy on whom you had your eye but didn’t pull the trigger.

Why, though? Why didn’t you snag that player at the end of the draft or pluck him off the waiver wire when you had the chance, if you really believed? Perhaps you didn’t truly think their chances were good enough. But the beauty and cruelty of the game is the host of reasons for this lack of decisive action on your part. Too many variables factor into the daily calculus of maintaining a roster to simply write it off as, “If you love it then you shoulda put a ring on it.”

For instance, many owners found themselves kneecapped by a spate of early injuries last season and in leagues that hadn’t revised their allotment of disabled list slots upward to anticipate the consequences of the new 10-day DL. It’s a lot harder to give an unproven guy a shot when your roster looks like an overcrowded M*A*S*H unit.

Maybe you were outbid. Did your feckless, Yankee-loving coworker dump his entire FAAB into Aaron Judge a week into the season or wait until just after you got stuck in Dollar Days to nominate Luis Severino in the auction? You might have had a lower waiver priority. Even worse! Your most bitter rivals now own Cody Bellinger and Jose Berrios for the next half-decade because you chose the worst possible time for yet another fruitless save spec add (Kyle Barraclough, we hardly knew ye). Perhaps you were sticking with a player you already had, either to your credit (Never doubted you for a moment, Justin Verlander!) or your detriment (Trevor Story, why hast thou forsaken me?). The possibilities for excruciating failure are truly endless! ¯_(ツ)_/¯

The point is, making the right calls early in the season can be tough, even if you’re an experienced player. You’re dealing with small samples, decision paralysis, and more cognitive biases than you can shake a stick at. All of which is to say, you gotta cut yourself some slack. You’ll never stop making wrong decisions, nor will forces stop occasionally conspiring again you when you’re on the right track for a change. As a wise man once said, “Existence is pain. Please enjoy Arby’s.” There’s too much happening out there these days that’s legitimately serious to get all twisted about this game. Besides, letting your emotions get the better of you is a surefire way to compound the error with more irrational moves down the line.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be over here totally not stewing about the time I waited five minutes too long to pick up Mike Trout in April 2012.

 

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2018 Dynasty Baseball Strategy - There Are No More Wins

Pitchers have always made for awkward dynasty assets. There's no denying that you need some highly productive arms if you want to win your league. However, pitchers - both starters and relievers - have this bad habit of turning into pumpkins with very little warning.

It's relatively rare for a hitter to pull a Prince Fielder. Pitchers go full Cliff Lee all the time. As a reminder, Lee was a stud in 2013, pretty damn good in an injury-shortened 2014, and forever gone from baseball thereafter. Take Felix Hernandez or Adam Wainwright. They're still in the majors, but they aren't anything like their former selves.

As the most volatile position in fantasy baseball, how do you attack starting pitching on draft day in an effort to reap maximum rewards without taking on too much risk?

 

Choose Your Starters Wisely

The danger of paying for top starting pitchers is doubly important in the current environment. Teams are handling their highly-touted pitching prospects with kid gloves. Some pitchers like Lance McCullers have a leave-it-on-the-table approach. They're basically long relievers who happen to pitch the first inning. Starters are pitching fewer and fewer innings, earning fewer wins as a result.

The results is a general decline in pitcher wins. The trend really became noticeable between the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The most recent campaign was the only recent year to include zero pitchers with at least 20 wins. Only 17 hurlers reached 15 wins.

A paucity of wins means that scoring in that category is likely to condense. Since veteran pitchers with minimal innings limitations are most likely to earn decisions, pitchers like Ervin Santana and Jason Vargas gain sneaky value simply because their clubs aren't carefully managing their workload.

Let's think about the prospect side of the equation. A top-rated hitting prospect is fairly likely to develop into a fantasy asset. There are roughly as many players like Cody Bellinger as there are like Byron Buxton or Amed Rosario. Now consider recent top pitching prospects. Luis Severino struggled in 2016 before rebounding in a big way. Noah Syndergaard was superb, then missed nearly all of 2017. Michael Fulmer is presently hurt. Jose Berrios, Tyler Glasnow, Alex Reyes, Julio Urias, and Lucas Giolito were among the biggest looming prospects in 2015. They're still trying to break into the league.

Of those prominent prospects, Severino and Berrios led with 14 wins apiece. Severino averaged just over six innings a start. Berrios typically worked just over five innings. It's relatively difficult to record victories without regularly reaching the seventh frame.

You have a few options to address the wins category. One is to load up on pitchers like Chris Sale and Stephen Strasburg. When healthy, they'll continue to threaten the 20-win plateau. The supply of pitchers in that asset class is somewhere between 10 and 15 arms.

Alternatively, roll the dice trying to acquire next season's version of Vargas (18 wins), Trevor Bauer (17 wins), Zach Davies (17 wins), or Alex Wood (16 wins). All four of those pitchers were surprise top performers. They also had their share of flaws. All besides Wood posted a roughly 4.00 ERA. Vargas and Davies hurt their owners in the strikeout column. Wood disappeared in the second half.

A third choice is to attempt pairing frequently-used middle relievers with short outing starters. For example, we know McCullers and Brad Peacock often fail to complete the fifth inning. If we know Chris Devenski is usually first out of the bullpen, we can vulture some easy wins with him. Of course, those scenarios aren't very common.

The good news about shorter starts is that it helps to keep rate stats attractive. If you find your roster is heavily built around high quality young pitchers, you can probably plan to struggle in the win category. However, you're well-positioned to thrive in strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP. Wins happen to be the most volatile and difficult to predict category; there are many ways to make your own luck.

Last but not least, owners in leagues that use quality starts have a similar conundrum. Unlike wins, quality starts are easily predicted and managed. These McCullers-class pitchers are leaving their quality starts on the table. You can't pick them up from relievers, leaving just two options - studs or durable veterans. In these formats, I do recommend grabbing some late draft shares of pitchers like Santana - whoever typically pitches deep into a game, but fell way down the draft board.

 

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2018 Dynasty Baseball Strategy - The Batting Average Nightmare

Last week, we discussed prioritizing power hitters when constructing your roster. In order to compete, most leagues require an average of roughly 25 home runs per active roster spot. Hitting that target requires a plan. However, power alone will not win a championship.

Roster too many Joey Gallo types and you'll be left with a minimum score in batting average. Category management is always a careful balancing act.

It's wise not to ignore those hitters that provide a steady stream of base hits, even if they don't stand out in the highlight-worthy stat categories such as home runs or steals. In fact, you may want to make it a focal point of your strategy for the upcoming 2018 fantasy baseball season.

 

The Case To Prioritize Batting Average

Personally, I've always found that if I manage home runs and stolen bases, the other categories naturally follow without any special effort. I've been doing this for years with plenty of success. Some of my colleagues have espoused the opposite viewpoint. They focus on locking down batting average and run production.

There is a certain logic to this approach - home runs are readily available on the waiver wire. In fact, I wrote five columns a week pointing out where to find power and speed for free. Even if you're just occasionally streaming a power bat on Mondays and Thursdays, it's pretty easy to pick up some no-cost category juice. All but the deepest dynasty leagues have these opportunities (weekly lineup leagues miss out on the fun).

Batting average is much more difficult to strategically target on the waiver wire, especially for streaming. For one, it takes a ton of volume to produce a positive effect on your seasonal average. Here's a scenario to demonstrate just how little a single individual affects the category.

Imagine you have DJ LeMahieu and 13 other players with a combined .270 average. LeMahieu had a .310 average - the 12th best total among qualified hitters. His near-elite production in the category would have boosted your team average a whopping 2.9 points. In a shallower league, you would have gained only four points of batting average.

Now consider trying to accomplish similar gains with waiver wire bats. You're left with hitters considerably worse than LeMahieu, making it an uphill battle to clear a .300 average. Moreover, you're working with a lighter volume of plate appearances, diluting any benefit you happen to gain. While scrounging 25 home runs over a full season is child's play, earning just one point of batting average is a fraught and dangerous endeavor. It's very easy to actually lose ground in the category - especially in deeper formats.

 

Power or Average?

It's exceedingly difficult to win a fantasy league without strong numbers in every category. Ultimately, you need to focus on building power, batting average, and stolen bases in your lineup. Oh, and don't skimp on run production either. However, it helps to set a focus when designing your roster.

For me, that means ensuring I have a strong backbone of power hitters with speed. The types of players I prefer tend to have a solid batting average and run production - hence why I don't need to put much effort into managing those categories. I've optimized for my personal strengths and weaknesses.

You probably have different strengths and weaknesses. If you're somebody who likes to gamble with risky, massive ceiling players like Gallo or Keon Broxton, then you'll need to pay careful attention to batting average on draft day. Similarly, if you league is shallow enough to frequently stream useful power hitters, there is added benefit to securing a few extra points in batting average.

 

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All-Star Break Rest-of-Season Strategy: Head-to-Head Leagues

Happy All-Star Break to all you fantasy baseball nerds out there. As we sit through what seems like the longest four days of the summer, I thought it might be helpful to discuss some general season-long strategy for the rest of the year. Of course, strategy can differ greatly based on your league type, so I'll be supplying some thoughts for both rotisserie and head-to-head leagues.

In head-to-head leagues, the goal is to find a way into the playoffs while also preparing for them. I'm going to assume we are working with a weekly matchup, redraft format in which points are accrued weekly, walks and HBPs help batters, and strikeouts hinder them. At the end of the week, you get a win, loss, or tie for that week, and a certain number of teams make the playoffs. This format is much like the majority of fantasy football formats. With that in mind, it's much more likely that a middle-of-the road team  can find it's way to the championship than in a roto league (which I've discussed in depth in a previous article). Likewise, it's very possible that the best team in the regular season can lose in the first week of the playoffs. While this nerve-racking amount of parody and varience disturbs me, there are plenty of fantasy baseball players who enjoy it.

So, let's look at three different, general scenarios that you may be in right now in your head-to-head league and talk about how you might effectively go about making the playoffs and continuing your success through to the championship matchup. If you have specific questions or you want to chat more strategy, I'm always open. You can find me on Twitter @BellRoto. Best of luck to you in the home stretch!

 

H2H League Strategy Rest-Of-Season

Top 33% - Two Games or Less Out of First Place

The variations of head-to-head leagues that exist make specifics very difficult in this type of article, but there are a few main foundations that need to be taken into account at this point in the year if you'd like to have success in these next few months. First, the playoffs allow for more owners to be in the running for money and the championship. Thus, as long as owners don't give up on their teams, there should be more competition for a longer period of time than in roto leagues. Second, the fact that the playoffs exist means there is a shorter regular season. This means that h2h leagues are likely close to 65% or 70% over by now instead of roto's 55% or so. Lastly, the fact that you're matching up against one player each week provides variance in that you could both go on a huge run, winning five or six weeks in a row against poor opponents, or go on a cold streak, playing the top point-scorer three times in a row and losing mulitple weeks despite your team performing well compared to the league as a whole.

This is why I no longer play head-to-head fantasy baseball, and it's also why I would jump at the chance to play in a sensible roto-type fantasy football league. Even still, there is plenty of strategy that goes into h2h leagues, allowing for us to analyze such strategy for the rest of the year.

Let's assume, for simplicity's sake, that you're in a 12-team head-to-head points league (no divisions) that has six playoff spots. This category, then, would likely identify the top four teams in the league at the All-Star Break. These teams are likely going to make the playoffs by season's end, so their main concerns right now are getting as high as possible in the standings, but also preparing for the (likely) three weeks of playoffs. In this case, the top two teams would likely receive a first-round bye. That concept can also bring in a whole different bundle of strategy.

Aside from picking up high-upside waiver fodder to fill your bench, DL, and NA spots, you should also be looking to handcuff important pieces of your team if you're in this position. An example of this, similar to picking up the back-up running back in fantasy football, is stashing the set-up man for your closer. This move makes more sense in some scenarios than others (possible trade, closer struggling, set-up man really good numbers, etc.), but it should be mentioned regardless. If there is not an opportunity to handcuff one of your closers, perhaps picking up a speculative, future save-getter like Archie Bradley would be a good move.

Another non-trade piece of advice that makes sense for a team like this is fine-tuning strategy and studying opponents. Depending on the restrictions in your league, you may be able to successfully deploy a zero-RP or zero-SP approach, altering the types of players you start each week dramatically. Perhaps you're beginning to notice that speedy, stolen base threats constantly have better weeks than streaky home run hitters. Now is a good type to explore those strategies to ensure you aren't leaving points on your bench or on the waiver wire. If you can begin to guess who your first playoff game will be against, you can try to undermine their strategy as well. The list goes on in terms of mini-strategies that you can use to incrementally better your winning chances once the meaningful matchups begin.

Lastly, trading is an obvious method of improving your team, and you can amplify the waiver wire strategy above by trading risky players for predictably reliable players that better compliment the foundation of your team. You can also begin to look ahead to the playoff weeks and cater trades for those matchups specifically. This works great for starting pitchers, as you might be able to trade Jon Gray at home against the Diamondbacks for Sonny Gray at home against the Angels.

I could go on for hours on how to prepare for the playoffs, and still it might not be relevant for your specific combination of rules and regulations. My point with this section is simply that you should begin looking forward to the playoff weeks as soon as you can without hindering your chanecs at a good regular season finish. Variance and parody makes things very interesting in head-to-head points leagues that include playoffs, so preparing for those weeks when your opponents are just trying to make the playoffs can give you a slight advantage.

 

Middle 33% - Between Three and Five Games Out

It's go time, folks.

If you're in this category (likely between sixth and eighth in the specific league we outlined above), you can't afford to wait any longer for regression to come. Perhaps the player who's still barely making the playoffs can wait-and-see for another week or two. But remember that playoffs cut down the regular season tremendously, and you would rather not have to "win-or-go-home" in the final week of the season if you can avoid it.

Fantasy owners in this category should be seeking out possible consolidation trades in order to buy stud players that can help you big time on a weekly basis. You should be able to find some solid replacement value on the waive wire, and hopefully the move you made to get Manny Machado in Week 16 pays off in the first round of the playoffs in the form of five home runs and 12 RBI. Don't be afraid to be risky here, either. The owners in the section above might be looking to get rid of what we thought were slow starters because they would prefer a safer bat in the playoffs. Rougned Odor, Nick Castellanos, and Yoenis Cespedes are three relatively risky hitters that I could realistically see hitting 20 home runs between now and the time your playoffs start. If they don't, you might miss the playoffs by one game. But if they do, you might be looking at a first-round upset on your way to a big payout.

Streaming should become more prevalent for fantasy owners in this category as well, as you can no longer afford to trot out John Lackey with the hope that the Cubs score enough runs to at least get you a win. Choosing hot, lesser-known hitters with good matchups over veterans who might sit out a game can be a viable strategy to steal a few extra points as well. Whatever you can do, risky or not, to potentially steal you a win each week should be considered. You are not at the all-or-nothing stage yet, especially in the leagues that send a lot of teams to the playoffs, but you're not sitting pretty either. Buck up and make some moves if you still want a legitimate chance at winning this league.

There's not nearly as much to say about these teams because the path they should be taking is pretty clear at this point. Good luck to those of you in playoff-limbo right now, and please don't be the guy who misses the playoffs by one game because he refused to trade (or drop) the fading player on his favorite team.

 

Bottom 33% - More Than Five Games Out

While I still will promo RotoBaller's great fantasy football content that is already pouring onto our great website, there might still be time for these folks in head-to-head fantasy baseball leagues. Depending on the playoff size in your league, a nice winning streak could put you right in the thick of things. On the other hand, if you're seven games out of a playoff spot with seven games left, you can probably rip the band-aid off now and hit that "Football" tab up top.

With that being said, and this is even more important here than it was in the roto write-up, please do not completely forget about your team now that you're mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. With weekly matchups determining playoff status each week, you need to at least check-in every Sunday to make sure there aren't any injured players on your roster and that the best players on your team are starting. If you don't want to touch waivers or field trade offers, fine. But don't ruin everyone else's fun by giving the sixth place team a free win in the second-to-last week.

For those cellar dwellars that still do have a chance at a playoff spot, you better hit your league's group chat platform now and start talking some trades. Make some risks, buy some players that nobody wants, and pretend like every week is a must-win week... Because it pretty much is. I shouldn't have to tell you much more than that. The majority of fantasy advice on podcasts and in articles will be catered towards the owners in the two sections above, but you don't have to be reasonable anymore. If you think Luis Castillo and Joey Gallo could explode the next two months, go trade Jake Arrieta and Jonathan Lucroy for them. You can't afford to wait on those guys at this point. YOU NEED TO WIN NOW!

You get the gist. Rankings or buy-low/sell-high trade advice won't help you now. Go with your guy and try to make a movie-worthy miracle happen in the next handful of weeks. Good luck, soldier.

 

Conclusion

Again, hit me up on Twitter with any questions or comments you may have (@BellRoto). I love talking strategy about fantasy baseball.

For those of you looking for roto strategy advice, there should be an article posted nearby with a very similar title but a very different body. I wish you all the best of luck, except of course my fellow writers and editors here at RotoBaller with whom I share a very important set of standings.




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2020 Fantasy Baseball Advice 2020 Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy & Tips Editor Note MLB Analysis RotoBaller - All Fantasy Sports Articles

All-Star Break Rest-of-Season Strategy: Rotisserie Leagues

Happy All-Star Break to all you fantasy baseball nerds out there. As we sit through what seems like the longest four days of the summer, I thought it might be helpful to discuss some general season-long strategy for the rest of the year. Of course, strategy can differ greatly based on your league type, so I'll be supplying some thoughts for both rotisserie and head-to-head leagues.

In roto leagues, and I'm going to assume we are working with a standard, 5x5 category, redraft format without playoffs, the goal is to get to the top of the standings by the beginning of October. Whether you're playing with 9, 11, 13 or more opponents, this is usually a difficult task. Sure, most leagues recognize and/or payout second and third place finishers, but, let's be real, we all want that championship belt.

So, let's look at three different, general scenarios that you may be in right now in your roto league and talk about how you might effectively go about finsihing above the rest of your colleagues. If you have specific questions or you want to chat more strategy, I'm always open. You can find me on Twitter @BellRoto. Best of luck to you in the home stretch!

 

Roto League Strategy Rest-Of-Season

Top 33% - Within 14 Points of The Leader

As you can tell from this sub-heading, it's tough to distinctively decide who should be considered "in the money" and who should be considered "on the outside looking in" at this point in the season. However, if you feel like you legitimately have a shot at claiming the first place spot before August ends, then this category is for you.

*Caution: Humble brag incoming*

This is the part where I brag about my recent success in the RotoBaller Experts' League. I was in the thick of it this time last season, and ended up the runaway champ thanks to a few big trades and a second-half boom from my hitters. I'm in first by 6.5 points this season, and I'm hoping my pitching can keep it together just long enough for my hitters to once again carry me to the promised land. Two years ago I finished in second place; although I was able to maximize profits by making a deal in August with Kyle Bishop to minimize the gap between first place and second place winnings. Is it too early to start using that infamous D word?

Anyways, if you're in this category, you have a big decision to make. The trade deadline, for most leagues, is coming at the end of July. Do you need that last big deal to put you over the edge? Or will the team you have now be able to keep you in first or propel you a few places by season's end? This decision is very much a case-by-case one, but I will say that injuries make a big impact, and you need to factor in whether returning injured players will benefit your team or the teams that are also trying to capture that first place crown. Obviously it's nearly impossible to predict the injuries and setbacks that will happen in the next few months, but at least factoring in the ones we already know about will help brighten the big picture.

If you are going to make a deal before the deadline ends, I almost always recommend consolidation. If you can find someone who will trade you their struggling stud for a few of your middle-of-the-road players, give it a real look. More often than not, you can find solid replacement value for your 15th ranked second baseman on waivers, and in the mean time you can get a massive upgrade at another position.

Catering to specific categories is also very important for these late-season trades. If you're 20 steals behind the person in front of you and 17 steals ahead of the person behind you, you can probably feel pretty safe about that category. Make some deals from points of little potential movment to upgrade categories that can quickly shoot you up the ranks. Are you currently in a pack with six leaguemates all within seven home runs? Go get a power bat!

Oh yeah, and you should probably avoid trading away players who help another contending team's weakness if possible. Sometimes a deal makes too much sense for your team to consider this angle, but it's definitely something to keep an eye on.

If you are going to sit tight and ride this thing out, best of luck to you. At least you won't regret trading for a player who gets injured a few days later. However, you should continue to scour the waiver wire for handcuffs and big upside names. If injuries do happen to your squad, you'll have a nice replacement. And if a guy like Luis Castillo or Sean Newcomb does pitch like an ace the rest of the year, you can throw him in and reap the benefits.

Woof, that was longer than expected. But then again, this is the position that I have the most experience with. 🙂

 

Middle 33% - Between 15 and 29 points out

So you're sayin' there's a chance!?

You have about two and a half months left of baseball to shorten the gap between you and the money. At this point, you'd probably be happy with a third place finish, possibly getting your money back. However, there have certainly been times when perceived nobodies make a big second half move and take the 'ship. But that's going to take some big risks and a lot of good luck/regression.

Obviously, you want to trade from points of strength (if you have them) to improve categories that might be getting you five points or less. I would also recommend taking risks on players whose owners have lost faith. Hitters like Gregory Polanco, Jonathan Lucroy, and Ian Desmond come to mind. As for pitchers, risky names like Noah Syndergaard and Madison Bumgarner along with Cole Hamels and Jake Arrieta might provide some good value over the next couple of months. Could these players continue to dissapoint and tank your season even further? Well, sure. But the amount of reward you might get for trading Trey Mancini and Zach Britton for Jake Arrieta could be huge as well.

It should be noted that dynasty leagues change this entire conversation, and obviously there are different decisions to be made if your actions this year have an effect on your chances next season. I'm approaching this article mostly from the perspective of a re-draft player, and if you have dynasty questions I will be more than happy to answer them personally on Twitter (@BellRoto).

All-in-all, players in this category are probably not going to be happy with their finish if they sit on their hands and hope for positive regression in every category. So, decide how risky you want to be, find a leaguemate who's looking to be risky as well, and make a move that could make or break your season. You know that player that you've had a good gut feeling about all season but he's yet to show any signs of improvement? Now's the time to go get him for 5o cents on the dollar. After all, scared money don't make money.

 

Bottom 33% - At Least 30 Points Out

Hey, the good news is that RotoBaller is already churning out fantasy football content. You probably should head that way instead of reading this fantasy baseball pieces.

But really, for the sake of your league, especially if it's for money, please try to set your lineup at least once a week even if you have no shot of winning. This is certainly less of an issue in roto leagues, but you'll want your opponents to do the same when you're in the thick of things and they are on the losing end next year.

If you are in this position and want to get crazy with the hope of miraculously landing a third-place finish, by all means go for it. That trade strategy would look something like the one I outlined in the section above, except you should repeat it three or four times. However, please don't trade every stud you have to the second place team, sending the first and third place owners into a catastrophic rage and ruining the integrity of the league forever. Be stiff with your valuable guys, even if I'm usually the one asking you to dump them off to me.

Again, I'll mention that dynasty leagues change this conversation dramatically. In those formats, now would be the time to sell the guys you can't afford to keep for next season to the contenders for draft picks or low-priced breakouts. But hey, that's a completely different article for a different time.

For most of you in this situation, you can safely waive your white flag, eat the rest of your FAAB, and start preparing for football season. Thanks for this year's donation.

 

Conclusion

Again, hit me up on Twitter with any questions or comments you may have (@BellRoto). I love talking strategy about fantasy baseball.

For those of you looking for head-to-head strategy advice, be on the lookout for a second article coming soon. I wish you all the best of luck, except of course my fellow writers and editors here at RotoBaller.