Major League Baseball’s Opening Day is a month away, and with it the long and arduous fantasy baseball season. It’s a six-month, grueling trek that could be called the toughest fantasy season of any sport.
In terms of players, fantasy baseball pales in comparison to basketball and football, with MLB clubs allowed to carry 40 players on their roster at a time, though up until the end of August teams can only use 25 players. All told, however, fantasy baseball owners have to wade through a potentially 1,200-player deep pool throughout the season, and that’s not even counting the players who could be called up from the minor leagues.
Along with simply monitoring starters throughout the season, and even scouting the minor leagues, fantasy players have to come up with both long and short-term strategies to win their leagues, and those can vary greatly whether it’s a weekly matchup or rotisserie format.
One silver lining is that despite the wide breadth of the season, players to watch, and league construction, drafting your fantasy baseball team is highly tantamount to your team’s success, just like football and basketball.
Here are a few key tips that all prospective fantasy owners, at varying levels of experience, can use in the draft and throughout the season.
Don’t Panic on Draft Day, and Have Backup Plans
It’s a rule of thumb for any fantasy league. Chances are you won’t be able to land all of your targeted and prized players, but just because they went earlier then you expected doesn’t mean all hope is lost.
The best way to combat this is to create your own rankings of players, for example 10 at each position by valuing them based off your league’s stat categories and your own projections for the season. This gives you contingency after contingency and avoids crying if you missed out on Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez despite having the No. 5 overall pick in the first round.
If He’s Not Named Clayton or Felix, Avoid Starting Pitchers in the First Round
This one has a lot to do with the stat categories in your league. WHIP and ERA have become standard in most leagues, but others count complete games, innings pitched and even home runs allowed by pitchers.
But drafting a top slugger like the Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout (the consensus top pick in every mock draft), Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera or Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton affords owners the chance to hit the majority of categories in fantasy leagues.
Volume of starts is also something to consider. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and the Mariners' Felix Hernandez are amazing pitchers, but they can really only contribute every five days or so, whereas a Trout or Cabrera can stack up numbers almost every day.
Don’t Rely on Your Catcher or Catching Prospects
The top ranked catcher by most fantasy experts is San Francisco Giants' perennial-MVP-candidate Buster Posey, and for good reason. He hits for power and average, with 22 home runs and 89 RBI with a .311 average last season, and his OPS hasn’t dipped below .821 over the last three years.
But after Posey, the catching position falls off a cliff in terms of production from anyone else. Posey’s average draft position (ADP), according to ESPN, is 25.6, meaning he’ll go in the late second or early third round in most 12-team leagues.
After Posey? You have to drop all the way down to Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy with an ADP of 71.2. And the next two down are the Cincinnati Reds’ Devin Mesoraco and the Houston Astros’ Evan Gattis, back-to-back at 94.6 and 96.4 ADPs, respectively.
Simply put there’s Posey and everyone else. But just because you missed out on him, doesn’t mean you have to immediately snag Lucroy or Mesoraco too early in the fourth or fifth round. There’s good value catchers in the seventh round and beyond, and it’s a position where even a minor league prospect could provide serviceable numbers.
Not Every Cuban Player is a Superstar
MLB clubs chased and are continuing to chase Cuba’s top players, with the last year especially noteworthy given the $72 million the Boston Red Sox gave to Rusney Castillo, the $68.5 million the Arizona Diamondbacks agreed to pay Yasmany Tomas, and whatever infielder Hector Olivera gets from the numerous teams chasing him.
But owners shouldn’t get hung up on the millions being thrown to Cuban-born prospects. Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig burst onto the scene for an incredible start to his career, but that doesn’t mean the same will happen with Castillo or Olivera.
Puig is the exception, but Red Sox outfielder Yoenis Cespedes is the rule. The slugger will likely give owners more than 20 home runs and about 100 RBI this season, but he strikes out a ton (122.3 times on average over three seasons) and he’s hit no better than .260 since his rookie year.
There are some fine Cuban players like Puig and the Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, but after them, don’t get too hung up on a player’s passport stamps.
Very Few Guys (if any) are Worth Half Your Auction Budget
Auctions drafts can begin and end with fisticuffs, and it’s probably the most volatile way to draft a team in any fantasy league, but that doesn’t mean owners shouldn’t try to control their emotions when it comes time to bid.
It happens every year. An owner thinks they can corner the league by outbidding everyone for a superstar like Trout or Pittsburgh Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen, say bidding $80 of a $200 auction budget, and in the later rounds they realize no one else is surrounding the guy. Do yourself a favor and don’t overbid in the first two or three rounds. There’s a ton of value in the middle rounds for guys who are far less expensive and allow you to maximize your auction budget.
Set Reminders for Your Reminders
It should be a rule or laid out in your league’s by-laws that every fantasy owner set Google Alerts for their Google Alerts on their Outlook or Gmail accounts, but like every year owners lament about forgetting to set their lineups.
Some leagues allow you to set your lineup only once a week, while others let you tinker daily. Whatever your league format, create helpful reminders around your home, tie ribbons around your ankles or wrists, doodle on your hands with a Sharpie, put Post-It notes on your work computer monitor, or throw your kid off to school rather than dropping them off in order to set your lineup.
Most fantasy league sites also give you the option to set up email reminders to set your lineup daily or weekly. It’s the best possible way to maximize your entire roster throughout the season.