Fantasy Baseball: 40 Fool-Proof Tips That Will Bring Home a Championship

Dan Tylicki@DanTylickiAnalyst IFebruary 13, 2012

Fantasy Baseball: 40 Fool-Proof Tips That Will Bring Home a Championship

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    With spring training just a couple weeks away, it's time to begin planning for this year's fantasy baseball season. Even if it's just a rough idea or how to go about drafting players, it's never too early to get started.

    That's just the surface of many strategies that many use when trying to obtain that elusive fantasy baseball championship. Some make perfect sense, while others are just stupid and end up hurting your chances.

    Here are 40 tips for a fantasy baseball championship that are not only easy to follow, but will actually help big time.

1. Have a Plan

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    That sounds silly on the surface, but how often does the new guy who comes in, randomly picks players and doesn't make any moves during the season actually win the championship?

    Exactly, never.

    It doesn't necessarily matter whether the plan is great or not. But if you at least have half an idea of what you're doing when draft day comes around, then you at least have a chance.

2. Don't Be Afraid to Modify Said Plan

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    It's great to have a plan. But if you stick with it to the letter from now through September, it's likely not going to work.

    For example, if you're planning on picking up a couple stars and using role-players around them, you'll need to change that if one gets injured.

    Likewise, if you spent most of your early picks on pitching and that's your weak spot partway through the season, then you'll need to modify who you pick up and start the rest of the way, since that clearly was not working.

3. Don't Be a Homer

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    I had a friend last time I played fantasy baseball who was a big Pirates fan. In the first round, he decided to take Andrew McCutchen. We all had a laugh about that.

    Yes, McCutchen is a good player and is certainly worth drafting at the right time (not within the top five though).

    But if you let your fandom take over proper judgment, then you already lost.

4. Know Your League

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    Every league can be slightly different in all fantasy sports. Some may penalize bat stats more than others, some may give more points to home runs and the list goes on.

    Whether the league is a rotisserie or head-to-head league is a must-know as well.

    If you're a big-time player, you may be playing on different websites, all of which could have very different default options.

    If you use the same plan for all three, then it's likely that two of those teams will fare poorly.

5. Embrace the Rankings . . .

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    As with all fantasy sports, the big board is a major help when it's draft day.

    It makes it a lot easier to pinpoint when you'll want to draft players and it gives you a rough idea of when it's too early to grab someone.

    Albert Pujols was the first overall pick in most leagues last year and for good reason. Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto likely followed for the same reason; they have the numbers and know how to put them up.

6. . . . but Don't Folow Them Blindly

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    It's good to use the fantasy rankings as a starting point, but if you automatically have the draft select the top guy every time, it's going to end up bad.

    If you have a bad feeling about someone or have a good reason not to draft them, don't do it.

    Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford were first-round picks in most fantasy leagues last year and look how that turned out. if you think you know who this year's Crawford is, then you know who to avoid.

7. Emphasize Durability

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    There are players that can put up great numbers in a short period of time, yet very rarely seem to be on the field the whole season.

    Under no circumstances should you reach for these players.

    If they become a steal where you're at, then that's another story. But you still have to be wary.

    Clay Buchholz, Jose Reyes and others are players you have to be extra careful about drafting. They should be passed on unless you're purposely doing high-risk, high-reward in your plan.

8. Know the Ballparks

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    If you see a fellow player reach for a Colorado Rockies pitcher or a San Diego Padres hitter, then he's not a threat in your league, plain and simple.

    That person does need this list, as they need some help.

    This works on a more advanced level as well. If you're scouting a player who mainly hits line-drive home runs to the left field side and he's playing in Fenway Park 18 times next year, then perhaps he should fall down a couple spots on your big board.

9. Value Consistency While Drafting

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    Let's say you're at the point in the draft where you're ready to grab a second first baseman or a third outfielder. Your options end up bring a guy who's had a couple great years and a couple bad years versus a guy who keeps hitting .230, yet has 25 home runs each year.

    At the right time, take the second guy. With him, at least you know what you're getting. It backfires at times (Adam Dunn), but it's far more rare.

    For example, I'll take Billy Butler over Freddie Freeman or Paul Goldschmidt this year, since I at least know how Butler will fare.

10. Pick More Well-Rounded Players

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    By this time, you're thinking that these tips are rather obvious. The more advanced ones will be down the road.

    Besides, sometimes returning to the basics is what wins championships.

    If you're playing in a rotisserie league, then grabbing a guy such as Juan Pierre is a bad idea. Yes, he can steal bases, but that's about it, and that's without factoring in his age or the fact that he won't play every day with the Phillies this season.

    A five-tool guy such as Matt Kemp is always a viable selection.

11. Have Plan B Options for Each Position

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    The odds of a draft going perfectly for someone, with everyone happening to fall to them, is practically zero.

    As a result, one has to make not just one plan B, but several.

    If you want shortstop to be your top position, keep Asdrubal Cabrera or Starlin Castro in mind, as Troy Tulowitzki will be off any draft board quick.

    Likewise, it you want an elite ace, perhaps target Tim Lincecum or Felix Hernandez rather than Justin Verlander or Roy Halladay.

    Of course, if you get the top players then that's great. But be prepared if that does not happen.

12. Have a Couple Sleepers in Mind

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    Every year, people have their idea of who will have a breakout year out of nowhere. As a result, they will draft a person late who probably wouldn't have been drafted at all.

    It's pretty rare to keep that guy you drafted in the last round on your roster all year, so don't be afraid to take that plunge. If you miss, then there will be a free agent out there who's putting up better numbers then that guy anyway.

    After all, I'm sure Justin Upton fell a lot lower than his stats would have indicated last year, even though it's tough to call him a sleeper.

13. Acknowledge Slip-Ups and Move on

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    Going off of that, it's almost a certainty that you will have players that don't pan out.

    I had the misfortune of picking up Carl Crawford last year, so I get it. Naturally, you'll have the desire to try and ride it out for most of the year.

    It's uncommon that a player will magically rebound from a bad start, and the handful of players that do are well-known already. Pick up a solid role-player to replace him or perhaps trade him to someone who did not read this slide.

14. Stay the Course

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    Moving away from draft tips for a while, I'll note something that should be obvious.

    The MLB season is long and it's likely that people will slowly fade from the scene, stop making roster changes and fall to last place.

    It's a long journey, but obviously you can't win if you get bored by the end of May. If you want bragging rights, you have to continue playing until it's over, especially since those late pickups tend to be the difference between winning and losing.

15. Update Your Roster Weekly

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    Very frequently in fantasy sports, a breakout performer will pop up out of nowhere, and the player ends up playing not for the team that needs him most, but simply the player that got to him first.

    While this is less true in baseball, it still applies.

    If a player replaces someone who's injured and lights up the diamond, there will be a mad rush to get him. If you have the room on your roster, then you want to be the guy that wakes up first and makes the changes.

    Of course, if you have nothing to update then that's great. But you should be checking anyway.

16. Keep a Close Eye on Rookies

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    Every year, a rookie or two is drafted as they are projected to nearly be sure things. Jeremy Hellickson was chosen late last year and it ended up being a smart move for that team.

    Meanwhile, those who picked up Michael Pineda and Vance Worley did just as well, perhaps better, once they got them before they really started dominating.

    There are a few players like that every year and you have to be able to pick up the ones that are the real deal.

17. Read Injury Reports and Any Troublesome News

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    In this case, I'm not just talking about getting rid of players who will be gone for the year. Everyone knows that.

    If one of your main players gets injured though, keep an eye on what it is.

    Even a day-to-day injury can have a major impact on a player's performance that year and even non-injury situations can cause problems. Such was the case for Roy Oswalt last year.

18. Don't Pick Up Any Pitchers with Shoulder Trouble

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    Just don't. Every time I hear of a comeback by a pitcher recovering from shoulder surgery, they are either ineffective or get injured again. Even players who have had it already and seem to be doing alright should be avoided, as that's the kiss of death for quality pitching.

    The main player that concerns me here is Tommy Hanson. His shoulder injury is minor, yet most people don't seem to mind as he's owned in 96 percent of leagues. He's a guy to pass on though.

19. Avoid Guys Who Had Great Contract Years

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    If a guy comes out of nowhere to have a breakout year, then signs a long-term deal, it's almost a certainty that they'll fall back to earth next year—sometimes they fall further.

    Adrian Beltre was a prime example of this with the Mariners. But there are others out there and those should be avoided unless they tumble down draft boards.

    Players such as Jose Reyes need to be picked with extra caution or avoided.

20. Don't Freak out over Small Slumps

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    This is something we all do subconsciously, but it always causes a downward spiral.

    If a player has a 1-for-23 slump, then suddenly the guy moves in or out of the lineup. He then gets the reputation in our minds of a guy who sucks when we keep him in and does great when we leave him out.

    Those are the kinds of small issues that can do damage to a team big time.

    Slumps happen to the best of players. Even Albert Pujols had one early in 2011. You just can't let them take over your head.

21. Be Careful About Following the Herd

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    Going back to the draft, no matter what sport you use for fantasy, there's always a time where a position suddenly flies off as everyone goes into panic mode.

    The worst offender when I've played tends to be closers.

    If you see four guys take closers before you and the one you want is a ways down yet, then you don't have to overbid for him. All it takes sometimes is one person picking another position to break the combo.

    Of course, if the guy you want is the top closer left, then that's precisely the time to grab him.

22. Keep an Eye on Age

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    When the Yankees signed Bartolo Colon last year, it was surprising to see him suddenly look good again. His decline late in the season, however, was to be expected.

    With perhaps the exception of the ageless Mariano Rivera, try not to pick guys who are in their late 30s or 40s, as it's tough to think that they'll be able to hold up for 162 games. Besides, they'd falter in September and that's when they are needed most.

23. Don't Pick Catchers Too Early

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    The big draft board has taken care of this for the most part. But even so, it may be tempting to take some of the top catchers in the third round or so, earlier than they are projected.

    This is a huge mistake. While some of them may see playing time at first base, most will only pay 130 games or so, which means 30 games that you aren't getting any stats in.

    It's those small things that can create many losses.

24. Ignore Spring Training

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    Every year, there are players who get red-hot in spring training and as a result people pick them up after the draft. This is one of the stupidest things you could do.

    Yes, Ryan Roberts was amazing and ended up being rather good for a third baseman during the season. But for every Roberts, there are five others that perform poorly during the season or don't crack 100 games like Jason Kubel.

25. Don't Panic

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    I'm surprised I haven't brought this up yet. Often in a fantasy league, you'll see someone around the .500 mark at the trade deadline making a huge move or completely overhauling their team to try and win.

    Unless your team went the way of the Twins last year, that's a terrible idea to panic and start shipping players left and right.

    That doesn't mean you can't make a major trade or two for precisely what's needed. I won a fantasy championship that way last year.

    It's a long season and you won't have to worry about their salaries, so don't panic and give up on the season.

26. Don't Pick Pitchers Too Early

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    Starting pitchers tend to be hard to gauge and, as a result, I am against taking them in the first or even  the second.

    Yes, Justin Verlander and Roy Halladay seem like great pickups that early. But even slight slumps are deadly to a pitcher's stats.

    If you have to pick a starter that early, the only pitcher I'm comfortable meriting a second round pick with is Halladay, who has proven to be consistent enough.

    Besides, a player reaching will likely select Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander in the first round anyway.

27. Don't Pick Pitchers Too Late

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    Hey, you just said don't pick them too early, now you're flipping. Make up your mind.

    I have done just that. After that first wave of elite pitchers, there's that tier of solid pitchers who will give you wins and strikeouts without quite as much luster.

    You want them to make up the majority of the rotation if you can, rounding it out with a couple innings eaters.

    Championships often come down to pitching. Yes, don't reach for Clayton Kershaw with your first pick. But don't wait until the tenth round to finally start addressing the rotation either, much of the talent will be picked away by then.

28. Pass on Justin Morneau

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    Now that we're deep into the list, I'll throw out a few players to take and pass on. While I'd rather not do, but there are a few that need to be emphasized.

    The first is Justin Morneau.

    Morneau is owned in 87 percent of Yahoo fantasy leagues despite continuing concussion problems that rendered him completely ineffective when he did play. And there's no guarantee he can play much of this season yet. He could end up being good, but it's a huge if right now.

29. Pass on Carlos Quentin

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    Carlos Quentin, meanwhile, is owned in 83 percent of fantasy leagues.

    That may confuse me more for two reasons. First, he's playing in San Diego in 2012, aka where hitters go to die. His numbers are going to take a hit.

    Second, he doesn't play close to everyday. His 131 games in 2010 are about as good as you can hope for with him, which is a big concern.

30. Pick Up at Least One Hitter on the Rangers or Tigers

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    Have you seen how loaded those two lineups are with home run hitters, especially at premium positions?

    Players from those teams have the benefit of likely drawing in and scoring a lot of runs, so make sure you get someone from them. The Yankees work here as well.

    The point really is to get some players from good teams, even if the players themselves are not necessarily elite.

31. Read as Much as You Can

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    Moving back to more general knowledge, you could ask 100 different people how you should manage your fantasy baseball team and end up with 100 different answers.

    Read up on many different guides to help understand what does and does not work for you and get yourself ready for the season by doing that.

32. Don't Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

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    This advice is twofold. You can't rely on one statistic pushing you over in fantasy baseball, obviously, as the way the game works would make that a horrendous strategy.

    Likewise, don't rely on one person for fantasy advice, no matter how reliable or official it may be. Use your best judgment when reading over everything and deciding on what moves to make.

33. Go with Your Gut

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    It sounds silly on the surface, but if you have a really good feeling about a player, then pick him up.

    As long as it's not at a bad time in the draft and as long as you have room for him on the roster, it certainly can't hurt.

    Of course, that doesn't mean picking Jhonny Peralta in the first round or something like that; you still have to play smart. If you think Prince Fielder will flourish in Detroit though, then go ahead and pick him first.

34. Go with Prince Fielder

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    Speaking of going with one's gut, when hitters move from the National League to the American League, they generally tend to perform better.

    While this is not always the case, given the lineup Prince Fielder joins, he should have no problem putting up great numbers.

35. Pick Up a San Diego Padres Pitcher

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    If you're looking for a fourth or fifth starting pitcher come draft time and you see a Padres starter on the board, grab him.

    For whatever reason, they always seem to pitch solid baseball. They won't put up amazing numbers, but they'll be more than good enough for a fifth guy.

    The same applies for the Padres' new closer, who should have no problem putting up solid numbers.

36. Pick Up a Colorado Rockies Hitter

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    If you're looking for an extra bat late come draft time and you see a Rockies starter on the board, grab him.

    After all, Coors Field provides a great opportunity to put up some nice numbers, whether it's from Michael Cuddyer, Dexter Fowler or someone else.

37. Don't Grab Anyone Contemplating Retirement

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    To be blunt, if a player is contemplating retirement, then they either have diminished skills or they have already checked out mentally.

    Either way, they're not going to put up the type of numbers you need come crunch time.

38. Watch for Sophomore Slumps

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    I'm sure a bunch of people selected Jason Heyward rather high in 2011 after he had a great rookie year. He then went on to struggle. This will likely happen again with Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel.

    Be wary of grabbing guys with one great year under their belt, as it is very likely they'll regress. Of course, others will likely overpay for these guys so you should not have too much trouble avoiding them.

39. Have Fun

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    It sounds silly, perhaps, but you have to be at your best in fantasy baseball.

    If you go at it too seriously and forget to enjoy it, that's when panic and bad decision making start to set in.

    Just relax and enjoy the season and it will make the championship that much sweeter.

40. If You Have the First Pick, Select Albert Pujols

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    Albert Pujols is the closest thing to a sure thing in baseball that you'll find.

    Even with the transition to the American League, he should provide a lot of fireworks. It's risky to call anyone a sure thing, but if there's one guy I feel okay saying about that, it's Pujols.