Spring training is underway, so it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get down to the nitty gritty. Fantasy Baseball is upon us, which means you need help trying to decide a whole bunch of things. What round should I draft a pitcher? Should I spend high for a closer? Is Matt Holliday still a top 20 talent?
All of these are great questions, but before you jump into the pool, you need to know how to swim. So I’m here to offer you the top five fantasy draft rules for Baseball.
For the sake of this article, we’re basing this on a standard Roto league with 5X5 scoring and 12 fantasy teams. We’ll dive into head to head and keepers on a later date. We also take our research based on the 2009 rankings from ESPN, Yahoo, CBS, Fox Sports, and Sporting News.
1. Stay far, far away from starting pitching in your first five rounds
Take it from me; I’ve been burned by this far too many times in my 11-year history of fantasy baseball. However, starting pitching before round five creates headaches like you wouldn’t imagine. This includes 2009’s top studs like CC Sabathia, Johan Santana, Tim Lincecum, and anyone else you might put up there. Stay away from these players if you want to build a successful fantasy team.
It’s not that these guys aren’t good. Quite the opposite—but what you spend to get them is not worth it. Let’s look at the facts.
Let’s take a look at Johan Santana’s numbers against Ervin Santana’s. Based on all of the major rankings, Johan is being drafted in the first round, as early as pick seven and as late as pick 10. Ervin Santana is being drafted on average as high as the sixth round and as low as the seventh.
Here are both of their numbers for last season.
Johan: 34 games, 16-7 record with a 2.62 ERA, 206 Ks, and a 1.15 WHIP
Ervin: 32 games, 16-7 record, 3.49 ERA, 214 Ks, 1.12 WHIP
Stellar numbers for both of these guys, that’s for sure. Now let’s look at Johan’s last five years vs. Ervin’s last three years (he’s only been in the league for four seasons).
Johan: 33.6 games started, 17.2 wins and 7.8 losses, 2.82 ERA, 237.8 Ks, and a 1.02 WHIP
Ervin: 31 games started, 13 wins and 9.6 losses, 4.51 ERA, 160 Ks, 1.30 WHIP
There is no question Johan is the better pitcher; that much is obvious. However, we’re talking about Johan giving you 2.6 more starts, 4.2 more wins with 2.2 more losses, 1.69 lower ERA, 77.8 more Ks, and a 0.28 lower WHIP based on their averages. If you base it on their performance last season, Johan starts two more games, gives you an identical record, 0.82 lower ERA, eight fewer Ks, and a 0.03 higher WHIP.
This is a difference between a Porsche and a Camry. Both get you from point A to point B. You can even listen to the radio the same way, but one will cost you 70K while the other will run you about 30K with fancy options.
You have countless cases like this throughout the entire draft, but you want to avoid the urge of taking a big name pitcher in the first five rounds. I’ll take big Mark Teixeira in the 10 spot if he’s there over Johan—and that brings us to our next point.
2. Hitting, hitting and more hitting
Are you starting to get the theme of the article? I’m not against pitching; I just think there’s a certain place you take them. I cannot begin to stress how important it is to take an everyday player vs. one who plays every five days. I believe most people know that already. The key is not to panic when you see other GMs taking pitchers off the board.
We’ve all been a part of the “pitcher run” on draft day when one GM sets it off by taking Johan, the next one takes Lincecum, then Sabathia goes, and all of a sudden eight straight pitchers have been selected. You start thinking to yourself, “I got to get a SP too, now is the time.” This would be the single biggest mistake you can make.
Let the other GMs take; you need to stick to the script. If someone wants to take Brandon Webb over Manny Ramirez, you need to be very glad they did. Don’t worry about which GM’s are getting who, you’ll get your starters—and here’s why.
In baseball there are 30 teams. Each team starts five pitchers. That’s over 150 starting pitchers. Now for argument's sake, let’s say that only the first three starters for each team are the only ones worth starting on a fantasy team. That’s still 90 starting pitchers in the draft.
In a 12-team league, that means no matter when you start taking pitchers, every team in the league can have 7.5 really good starting pitchers. That’s more than enough to go around.
Look at the Yankees' first three starters, Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Chien-Ming Wang. Looks good to me. Take Boston’s rotation of Dice-K, Josh Beckett, and Jon Lester. All three will be drafted at some point. A small market team like the Royals brings Gil Meche, Zack Greinke, and Brian Bannister to the table. That’s not ideal, but I’m willing to bet that all three find their way onto someone’s fantasy team this season.
Here’s a quick test.
34 games, 14-11 record, 3.98 ERA, 183 Ks, 1.32 WHIP
25 games, 10-8 record, 4.18 ERA, 122 Ks, 1.35 WHIP
One is Gil Meche and the other is John Maine. I’m sure a lot of you think the first is John Maine upon first glance. He was on the Mets, more wins, NL park, yadda, yadda, yadda. But the first one is Gil Meche. What’s the over/under on Meche being drafted ahead of Maine this year?
Point is, you’ll get your pitching. Don’t panic and get into draft day “runs” because everyone else is doing it.
3. PUNT a category
No matter how hard you try, you will not get 10s in every category. It’s hard enough to get 7s and 8s all year. If Baseball were a one-month season, then you would have no problems. Since it’s a six-month season, the odds of you maintaining a 10 you have in HRS after the first two months are low at best.
You can’t draft everyone. You can’t be heavy on the hitting and expect to dominate the pitching numbers. That would take finding an abundant number of gems in the later round, along with waiver wire gold during the season.
Everyone has a category they will do badly in. So why not go into the draft punting a category to strengthen the others? The two categories to punt are SB and SAVES. You punt HR, then you can say goodbye to RBIs too since they go hand in hand. If you punt ERA, say goodbye to having a good WHIP. Stolen bases and saves stand on their own. So you can lose either category, and you’re only losing in one area.
However, it is not a good idea at all to punt SB. Here’s why.
Stolen bases are like fantasy gold. You hold on to it when you have it. Then when you need to make a deal, there’s always someone who needs it badly. It’s incredibly valuable, and you only get it during the draft.
Try finding a 40-50 SB guy on your wire. That’s not happening, because even if that guy is there, you got 11 other GMs licking their chops for him. Plus, chances are he probably hurts you in other areas like maybe having a .208 avg. or something like that. Looking at you, Juan Pierre.
Saves, however, can be found everywhere.
Let’s say after May your team is down by 40 SB already. Jose Reyes has 20 SB to start the season. He’s a lock to get another 40 the rest of the way. Sounds like the perfect trade target for your team, right? Now ask yourself if you think the GM holding Reyes would give him up. Probably not!
But even if he was available, do you know what you would have to give up to get him? It’s just not happening. That’s how valuable stolen bases are. PUNT the saves and focus on shoring up everything else. Which leads us to...
4. Do not spend high for closers
This one is short and self-explanatory if you’ve been reading the whole article. But delve into it deeper, and this is why you don’t spend high for closers.
You have 30 MLB teams, and that means 30 closer jobs. In a 12-person league, that means 2.5 closers for everyone. There are probably 10 teams with closer by committees, so for argument's sake, there’s 20 rock solid closers. That’s still close to two per team.
But closers lose jobs like bankers on Wall Street. Every week there’s a guy on your wire picking up saves. Pitchers go down more frequently than hitters. Imagine spending a fifth round pick on Mariano Rivera only to watch him hit the DL (he is almost 40 years old). Then you see a savvy GM pick up his replacement and gobble up all those saves you expected Rivera to get.
Obviously injury hurts everyone. But a hitter plays in 150 games a year if he’s healthy. He hits the DL and misses 15 games, and you still have 135 games with him. He still has a chance for some multiple home run games to make up for what he lost. Same with RBI.
However, you can’t have multiple save games. Two weeks for a closer is 5-6 saves lost. Yet you drafted Rivera primarily for the 40 saves you expect out of him. That’s 15 percent of his total gone. Spending a fifth through ninth rounder on a closer is the second biggest mistake you can make. Not to mention all of the laughter you hear from GMs once you do it.
5. Always draft the all-around player
This one is tricky, but benefits you in the long run. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It happens all the time during the draft. You’re midway through, and you’re looking at your team. You realize, “Man, I need more HRs.” So against better judgment, you go ahead and select Adam Dunn two rounds earlier than he should be going rather than Vernon Wells.
You’ve fallen in love with the 40 dingers because you feel you “need it” after looking at your team. In theory it should work, but in actuality you’re making your team worse.
Here’s the line on both for 2008.
Wells: .300 avg, 20 HRs, 78 RBI, 63 Runs, 4 SB
Dunn: .236, 40 HRs, 100 RBI, 79 Runs, 2 SB
Wells missed 54 games last season. Project his numbers over a full season, and you have:
.283, 25 HRs, 100 RBI, 88 Runs, 8 SB
Any way you look at it, Dunn will get you about 10 more HRs, probably 20 more RBI, and nearly identical runs, missed games or not. Yet his average absolutely kills you. It’s like working out your arms and neglecting your stomach. You’d have big pythons with a beer gut. For me, I’ll take the well-rounded body, thank you very much.
It’s the same thing for SB. You pass on Matt Holiday for Ichiro Suzuki, even though that makes more sense because Suzuki really helps you in average and runs along with the stolen bags. He’s still a three-category player, while Holliday is a four-category player.
Now you are ready to swim in the pool. You still need to have a good draft. You can’t use this strategy and then go out there and draft Carlos Lee with the third overall pick and expect things to work out for you. You also have to work your waiver wire and make some trades along the way. Everyone has bad years, and some players may be drafted in the first round but actually perform more like a fourth rounder.
But if you follow these golden principles, you should have a very good team ready to compete.