One of the biggest challenges that fantasy baseball owners face is that they literally have to follow it every day. Unlike fantasy football, where you only need to check lineups once a week, baseball is on every single day and if you don’t pay attention your season will be in jeopardy. Most leagues are won not at the draft - but making smart decisions on the waiver wire, being the first person to jump on the rookie call-up from the minors, or sniping the player fresh off the disabled list is a huge mid-season advantage.
An increasingly popular type of fantasy format is the best-ball league. It rewards managers for how well they draft - there are no waivers, no trades, and no lineup changes. The players you draft pre-season are the ones you’ll have all year. It’s perfect for the casual fan who can’t commit to a full-year grind of checking box scores every night and setting lineups. It automatically selects the top players at every position and uses their stats for your season’s point total.
In a best-ball league, the strategy is much different than in a standard fantasy baseball draft. Taking risks on injury-prone players with depreciated value is encouraged and targeting high-ceiling players is crucial. We’ll look at four batters and four pitchers who may not be on everyone’s target list for standard drafts, but they should be on yours in a best-ball setup.
David Price (SP, BOS) - 97 ADP
Since going to the Boston Red Sox in 2016, David Price hasn’t found the groove that he once had in Detroit and Tampa Bay. He did, however, have his best year in Beantown last season with 16 wins, a 3.58 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 177 strikeouts in 176 IP. Always a strikeout threat, last season he had his third-best year in terms of K% with a 24.5% mark, also good enough for a top-20 league finish.
We know the punch-outs will be there for Price, but what makes him more valuable in best-ball leagues is his potential to return to Cy Young form. He flashed this excellence in the second half of 2018 with a 2.25 ERA and 0.97 WHIP after the All-Star break. What changed for the southpaw was keeping the baseball from hitting the bleachers. He reduced his HR/9 from 1.50 to 0.93 due to generating more ground balls and producing more soft contact.
Something we've also seen Price do in the postseason was adding a changeup to his repertoire. This pitch stifled the potent Astros lineup in the ALCS as well as the Dodgers in the World Series clincher. Visually, he looked as confident as ever and with that swagger carrying over into this year it could translate into a lot of victories on a Red Sox team that won 108 games last year. At 33 years old, Price does have some bust potential as he did miss most of 2017 with an elbow injury, but it appears it’s long behind him. Going as the 28th starting pitcher off the board, he can return top-20 value with his improved metrics in the second half.
Wil Myers (3B/OF, SD) - 111 ADP
The main drawback with the 28-year-old is his inability to stay on the field. In his last five seasons, he’s played in more than 90 games just twice, but those two healthy years were phenomenal. Averaging a .251 AVG with 29 HR, 90 R, 84 RBI and 24 SB in these years, this could just be a baseline for his 2019 production. If he can stay on the field for 150 games this year with the much improved Padres offense, he could easily eclipse all of these totals. A bonus to Myers' profile is his dual-position eligibility, which is even more of an advantage in best-ball leagues.
Projected to bat third or fourth for the Friars this season, his R+RBI total could explode with Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer, and Hunter Renfroe all batting around him. Petco Park also jumped from 29th to 16th in park factors making it more hitter-friendly than what it was during Myers’ healthy seasons. In his 83-game sample size in 2018, he set new career-highs in Exit Velocity (90.3 MPH) and Hard Hit% 45.7%.
Although he lacks a bit in the batting average category, he has a legitimate shot at a 35 HR, 200 R+RBI season. San Diego has also finished in the top eight in two of the last three years in stolen bases attempted per game, so Myers should still get the green light on the bases. At his ADP there’s no one in that neighborhood with as high of a ceiling, but the floor is low with the health concerns, making him a poster boy for this league setup.
Luis Castillo (SP, CIN) - 113 ADP
After a miserable first half to his season in 2018, Luis Castillo left his fantasy owners in a state of frustration after being pegged to break out in his first full year. He finished the season going 10-12 with a 4.30 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 165 K over 169.2 IP. Not a lot to like there, but his 3.69 xFIP and 3.85 SIERA are encouraging. Castillo had a Jekyll/Hyde performance last year. A remarkable second half turned his season around as he improved in every category:
Castillo had difficulty keeping left-handers in the yard last year as he gave up 2.09 HR/9 against these hitters compared to 0.99 HR/9 against righties. Giving up home runs was detrimental to his first half lack of success, but he improved on this as his HR/9 fell from 1.65 to 1.22 after the break.
On the surface, pitching in the hitter-friendly confines of Great American Ballpark looks concerning as it ranks first in park factor for home runs. The 26-year-old actually fared better at home than on the road in 2018 with a 3.51 ERA at GAB and a 5.03 ERA everywhere else. With the improvements to the offense of the Reds, Castillo will benefit from more run support and should see a win total in the mid-teens. He may not completely match his second-half numbers, but even a slight regression on his ERA and WHIP will have him flirting in the top-25 pitchers.
Yoan Moncada (2B, CHW) - 159 ADP
Since his debut in the majors, it's been a parade of discontent for Yoan Moncada. The former number one prospect has shown flashes of his excellent offensive ability, but he’s also exposed some glaring weaknesses. His 33.4% K% in 2018 was third-worst in the majors, making it difficult for him to generate anything for a batting average. Hitting just .235 last year he popped 17 HR with 73 R, 61 RBI, and 12 SB as he showed when he did put the ball in play, it was impactful.
Building on his rookie season, he saw his Exit Velocity jump up two MPH to 90.6 MPH and his Hard Hit% went up nearly 9% to 44.1%. A very encouraging gain, this led to a top-20 finish in BABIP at .344. Of these 20 batters, Moncada was the only player with a batting average lower than .250, and he was the only one lower than .240 in the top-50. If he can limit his strikeouts to under 30%, he’s a regression candidate to improve his average to at least the .250 range. That may not be sexy, but when you factor in his power and speed, this makes him a threat. Moncada has two seasons to his credit of 45 or more thefts in the minors, and with getting on base more often, his number should exceed 20 this year.
With his power still maturing at age 23, hitting at least 25 HR is feasible especially with the improving hard contact rates. Projected to bat ahead of Jose Abreu in the two-hole, Moncada should see a wealth of run opportunities and also an improvement in RBI if the power translates. The youngster has been a letdown so far in his career making his value affordable at his ADP. He’s a perfect fit for best-ball when we don’t need to worry about the floor hurting us, just the ceiling helping us.
Paul DeJong (2B/SS, STL) - 186 ADP
Paul DeJong followed his rookie campaign with just as stellar sophomore season in 2018. After missing time from a hit by pitch on his hand, DeJong still managed to swat 19 HR with 68 R, 68 RBI while batting .241 in 115 games last year. What makes the 25-year-old so appealing in a best-ball league is his 162-game career-pace (.263/32 HR/89 R/97 RBI).
DeJong played in only 108 games in 2017 due to a late-May call-up, so he’s yet to eclipse the 115 game threshold. Therefore, he’s getting extremely undervalued. He’s a career .283 hitter in the minors, and he batted .285 as a rookie. DeJong's .241 average last season attributes to dealing with the lingering effects of the hand injury as he hit just .228 after his return to the lineup. His BABIP plummeted to .260 during this span as it was a .331 rate pre-injury, right in line with his previous yearly rates.
The right-hander is slated to bat third in a potent Cardinals lineup this year, and he’ll be in charge of driving in the on-base machines Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt. Barring another unfortunate injury, DeJong is set to play his first full year, and he has all the opportunity to exceed his already attractive 162-game pace. This mid-round shortstop pick is a smart choice especially if you miss out on the elite options in the first few rounds. DeJong can outproduce most players at the position in power numbers making him a best-ball beast.
Zack Godley (SP, ARI) - 246 ADP
Zack Godley burned many fantasy owners in 2018 after being selected just outside the top-100 in last years drafts. He produced an ugly 4.74 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and 185 strikeouts in 178.1 IP. Not a lot to like in the ratio categories, but the strikeouts were appreciated, and he did manage to get 15 wins under his belt.
The bad with Godley was his horrid walk rate last year (10.2% BB%). This mark was a bottom-five league number and the main factor in his WHIP jumping from 1.14 in 2017 to 1.45 last year. The 28-year old was also second-last in strand-rate with a 67.5% LOB%. His above-average ability to get the strikeout should make this number regress in 2019 and his 50.5% GB% will also help him induce some double plays getting him out of jams. Godley did pitch to a 3.82 FIP last year, almost a full run lower than his actual ERA, so there is some silver lining.
Wins will be challenging to come by on a rebuilding D’Backs team, but the humidor added in 2018 turned Chase Field into a more neutral-hitting park. It dropped from third to 11th in park factor in terms of runs which is more than encouraging. If Godley can build on his 8.8% BB% from the second half, this will furthermore increase his value, and the strikeouts can reach 200 with a few more IP. Godley can return a sizeable value if everything goes right for him in 2019.
Trevor May (RP, MIN) - 270 ADP
With half of the league’s closer situations in flux, taking a late-round gamble on Trevor May could pay you dividends. Failed as a starting pitcher, May worked exclusively out of the bullpen in 2018 following his recovery from Tommy-John surgery. He was lights out in his 25.1 inning sample size with a 36/5 K/BB, 3.20 ERA, and 1.03 WHIP.
He finished the 2018 season with the Twins closer job sealing three games in the last week of the regular season. The 6’5” right-hander is an intimidating presence on the mound, and his 94 MPH heater mixed with his 78 MPH curveball is the perfect combination to keep batters off-balance. May generated his highest Whiff% of his career at 32.7%, also the highest of any pitcher on the Twins roster. His 2.46 xFIP and 2.17 SIERA backed up his impressive return to game action, and he's the early front-runner for the closing job in Minnesota.
The 29-year-old’s main competition this spring will be Addison Reed and Trevor Hildenberger, who both had an ERA north of 4.50 last season. May is clearly the best arm in the pen, but early drafts have him going unnoticed. This cost is a salivating buy-low opportunity as he could get upwards of 30 saves with a full season under his belt. If you miss out on the run of established closers early in your best-ball draft, May will be there in the late rounds ready to return just as much value of those going in the top 10 at the position. Act soon though; his ADP is sure to soar up once his role is ironed out in spring training.
Kevin Kiermaier (OF, TB) - 315 ADP
When it comes to injury-prone players, Kevin Kiermaier may be the headlining example. Playing over 110 games once in his five big league campaigns, Kiermaier has been tabbed as a breakout pick for the last two years only to leave owners disappointed by mid-season. With only 88 games played in 2018, numerous people have thrown in the towel on the soon to be 29-year-old, and his price has plunged as a result of it. Still the same player with the same skillset, it’s an excellent opportunity to take a shot on a player this late who won’t hurt you as much as he might in a re-draft league.
Kiermaier has the power and the speed to go at least 20/20, and he’ll bat at the top of the Tampa Bay Rays order to get his share of run opportunities. A .263 career batter before the start of the 2018 season, he spiraled down to a measly .217 last year due to a slow start to the season that he couldn’t recover from entirely. Whether it was his thumb injury or not, he only batted .163 before being placed on the DL, another reason for being valued so low.
It seems like a long shot, but if Kiermaier can play in 140 games, he will redeem himself for all the lost seasons of glowing potential. At his price in the draft, there’s less than a handful of options that can go 20/20 at that cost. Combine that with a R+RBI total around 160 and he could sneak into your best-ball lineup as your last outfielder.
More 2019 Fantasy Draft Strategy
Best ball leagues are one of the latest variations of fantasy baseball that are quickly growing in popularity. Draft day is the only day of the year where owners will have control over their roster. There is no waiver wire and there are no trades. Owners won't even set daily lineups, as they will instead be chosen automatically by computer. With this added emphasis on having a successful draft in order to have a chance at winning, finding sleepers who will come through in a big way for your team is absolutely crucial.
As mentioned earlier this week in our Best Ball draft strategy overview, consistency in both health and on-field performance will be key to winning in a Best Ball league. Going down this list, we will take a look at one player from each position who has displayed that consistency over the course of several seasons and can be picked up late in drafts.
While these players may not have as high a ceiling as those ranked and drafted ahead of them, they also don't have as low of a floor, which could mean the difference between first place and tenth place in 2018.
Best Ball Sleepers and Draft Targets
Catcher: Yasmani Grandal—ADP 225
Let's play a game. Here are the 2017 stat lines for a pair of catchers:
Player A currently has an ADP of 225, while Player B has an ADP of 97. If you want to wait to draft a catcher, then you might want to pass on Player B — Salvador Perez — and instead pick up Player A — Yasmani Grandal. Since becoming a starter in 2014, Grandal has averaged 124 games per year, with 20 home runs, a .234 batting average and a .768 on-base plus slugging percentage. Grandal set career-highs in 2017 with 108 hits, 27 doubles and 201 total bases, and this uptick in production combined with his already established consistency could point to Grandal being one of the bigger steals in Best Ball drafts this season.
First Base: Ian Desmond—ADP 112
A hand injury followed by a lingering hamstring injury derailed Desmond's 2017 season, as he appeared in only 95 games. Despite that, he was still able to put up decent numbers, stealing 15 bases for the seventh time in his last eight seasons while hitting .274 with seven HR and a .701 OPS. Now that he has had the off season to recover, he should rebound and outperform where he is currently being drafted. From 2012 to 2016, Desmond averaged 151 games per season with 80 runs, 22 HR, 78 RBI and 20 stolen bases. In 2017, there were three first basemen who had at least 80 runs, 20 HR, 75 RBI and 10 stolen bases: Paul Goldschmidt, Edwin Encarnacion and Cody Bellinger. Of those three, only Goldschmidt had at least 15 steals.
Desmond won't put up as high of numbers in some categories as Goldschmidt, Encarnacion and Bellinger, but he can put up numbers that are comparable to theirs. With an ADP of 55 or more picks lower than those three, he could be a significant bargain that allows you to focus on other positions early on in your draft.
Second Base: Ian Kinsler—ADP 187
After spending the last four seasons in Detroit, Kinsler makes his return to the AL West in 2018 as he joins an Angels team looking to take the next step towards a postseason run. While he posted a .236 average and .725 OPS in 2017 — both career-worsts — Kinsler was still able to hit 22 HR and scored 90 runs for the fourth straight season. What's impressive about that is that based on advanced metrics, Kinsler was very unlucky at the plate last year. His .244 BABIP was significantly lower than his career mark of .286, and with negligible changes in his batted ball and contact percentages across the board, signs point to Kinsler rebounding back to number closer to his career averages in 2018. Kinsler has averaged 100 runs, 20 HR and 13 steals with a .275 average and .764 OPS since 2014. Returning back to those numbers in 2018 will cause Kinsler to easily provide more value than his current ADP of 187 suggests.
Third Base: Kyle Seager—ADP 139
Out of everyone on this list, Kyle Seager is probably the most consistent player that owners should look at taking late in a Best Ball draft. Since 2012, Seager has played in 155 games every season except last year when he appeared in only 154. Since 2014, Seager has had at least 70 runs, 25 doubles, 25 HR, 74 RBI and an OPS of .770 or higher. 2017 was the first year of his career in which he did not hit at least .250 — he hit .249. Like Kinsler, Seager's .262 BABIP in 2017 was down from his career .285 BABIP, and it was also the lowest of his career. There really isn't much more to say about Seager. His consistency will likely make him the late round pick that contributes the most to a team's success in 2018.
Shortstop: Elvis Andrus—ADP 59
Andrus isn't as much of a sleeper as others on this list — his ADP of 59 is the highest of anyone on this list — but he makes this list because he can put up numbers as good or better than the four shortstops being drafted 20 or more picks ahead of him. Andrus has at least 20 steals every year of his career, has never hit below .250 and averaged 81 runs and 60 RBI from 2011 through 2016. These numbers are all reasons to own Andrus, but what is most intriguing is the potential he showed at the plate last season.
After reportedly making some adjustments to his batting stance prior to the 2017 season, Andrus set career-highs across the board with 100 runs, 44 doubles, 20 HR (his first season with double-digit home runs) and 88 RBI, while posting an .800 OPS for the second year in a row. It remains to be seen if he will even come close to matching his 2017 campaign, but based on what is known he can do along with the potential he displayed last year, Andrus is worth waiting on to draft as your starting shortstop.
Outfield: Jay Bruce—ADP 161
Selecting Bruce on draft day will likely not get any attention from your opponents. You probably won't have owners complimenting you on a smart pick or complaining that you sniped him just before they could take him. But what drafting Bruce will do is pad your stats in all the right places for a low cost. This is what he has done in six of the last seven seasons: Hit 25 HR and 25 doubles, drive in 85 runs and record an .800 OPS. In 2017 there were only 10 outfielders besides Bruce to put up those numbers, and Bruce is the only one of those who currently has an ADP placing him outside of the first 10 rounds. Drafting Bruce will give you high-end production at a bargain price, and that is the kind of investment you need to look for in a Best Ball league.
Pitcher: Jose Quintana—ADP 72
With 161 starts, Quintana is one of six pitchers to start at least 160 games since 2013 — only Max Scherzer and Jeff Samardzija have started more games during that time. Quintana has averaged 201 innings and 181 strikeouts with a 3.50 ERA over that span, and has also put together an 8.1 K/9 rate. While Quintana has been consistent with 32 starts, 185 innings and 175 strikeouts in each of the last four seasons, what's intriguing about him is that he could be improving. Starting off last season with the White Sox, Quintana was striking out batters at a higher rate than previously in his career. After his trade to the Cubs, not only did he strike out batters at an even higher rate (10.5 K/9 with the Cubs vs 9.4 K/9 with the White Sox) but both his ERA and FIP dropped more than 70 points. Quintana was already a good pitcher to draft in any league, but with his track record and the potential he showed in the second half, he could be on his way to becoming a borderline top 10 starting pitcher.
Each one of these players has shown that they can put up the same numbers year in and year out. Take advantage of their consistency in your drafts, as all of these players will be more valuable in a Best Ball league than in other leagues, and other owners may not realize that come draft day. Players like Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw and Giancarlo Stanton will carry your team, but it's the players on this list that can make the difference between finishing first or second in your league.
More 2018 MLB Draft Strategy
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.