Fantasy baseball success begins with draft strategy

By: Steve Miller – Staff Writer

The 2014 Major League Baseball season started Sunday, March 30. Teams announced their opening day rosters, to the delight of fantasy baseball managers. It is a time in which managers are finalizing their player rankings leading up to the draft.

Hours of dedicated research and statistical analysis will hopefully lead to the perfect draft strategy, but perhaps throughout all of the examination, some key themes to remember about fantasy baseball drafts were forgotten.

Imagine a fantasy baseball draft as a blueprint – the players obtained represent the architectural design for the season. In a perfect world, blueprint layouts would be replicated flawlessly into a final product.

Unfortunately, that is rarely the case in both the real world or fantasy baseball. Fantasy baseball is a war of attrition. It is more of a marathon than a sprint. Championships are won in August, not April. Still, the draft is of vital importance. Managers cannot succeed in fantasy baseball without properly constructing their courses of action.

It is important to look first at the peripheral numbers. There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball and each team has five starting pitchers within their starting rotation.

This means that fantasy managers have 150 starting pitchers to choose from when drafting. That is five times the amount of any individual infielder and three times the amount of available outfielders. Based on the severe discrepancy between available fielders and pitchers, fielders should have a higher priority come draft day.

It is easy to be smitten with the superstar pitcher at the beginning of the draft, but locking down the infield is more of a necessity, based on the lack of depth at infield positions. Similarly, there is a wider gap between the average infielder’s statistics and the elite level statistics, when compared to the range between an average pitcher’s and the elite level pitchers.

Also while drafting, it is essential to remember fantasy teams earn points across multiple categories. The best strategy is to try to be average at all categories rather than dominant in one. Instead of drafting an entire team based on home run prowess, it would be better to draft a team that is average across all categories, in an effort to win as many categories possible each week or throughout the season’s entirety.

Finally, do not be afraid to use sabermetric statistics. Perhaps two of the most useful sabermetric statistics, as it pertains to the draft, are WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play).

WAR represents how many more wins a team can expect to earn with a certain player starting each game, as compared to the backup. This is important because it allows fantasy managers to understand the value of players on their team and players on free agency. The higher the WAR is, the higher the value of that player towards their position and their team.

BABIP is a good indicator of future statistics. BABIP statistics measure the amount of times an infielder had a chance to get the hitter out. It could be done by leaping for a line drive, scooping a bouncing grounder, or by stretching for a ball just out of range.

If a hitter was fortunate to have many of those plays not count toward outs, either because of their speed or luck, then they will likely regress towards the norm the following season. This means that their overall statistics across many categories could similarly reduce. The same is true of pitchers.
If many players reached base on pitches in play during one season, then the next season those same pitches could result in more outs, which would increase the value of that pitcher for the following year. Managers should target hitters who had a low BABIP percentage the previous season and they should target pitchers who had a high BABIP percentage.
The construction of a fantasy baseball team varies depending on the league settings and roster sizes, but core construction should be similar across leagues. Do not overpay for elite level pitchers, try to spread value across multiple categories, and do not overlook certain saber metric statistics.
Managers who follow these tips will have a strong blue print in place as they pursue a league championship.

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