Fantasy Baseball 2013: Complete Guide to Acing Your Draft

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2013

Fantasy Baseball 2013: Complete Guide to Acing Your Draft

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    It's test time. With Opening Day a week away, any fantasy baseball drafts yet to take place are likely days, maybe hours ahead. 

    Maybe minutes if you're a serious procrastinator.

    Sorry to say, but you're probably in trouble if you're just initiating your preparation as you opened the draft window. They say nothing sparks more fear than a nightmare in which you're taking a test and don't know any of the answers, but not knowing what to do during a pitcher run comes in a close second. 

    I'm guessing, however, that most of you have been inundated with rankings and sleeper lists. It's great that you opened the books (or probably links), but can you identify what material you'll need to know for the exam?

    Here are some guidelines to help point you in the right direction. Now let the cramming begin. 

    All statistics, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of FanGraphs.com

Know Your League

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    Before you can delve any deeper into draft preparation, you must study the ins and outs of your league.

    How many teams? Is it a rotisserie league, head-to-head or points based? Is it a keeper league? What are the categories?

    Do your peers stay active? If not, it’ll be much easier to find talent (particularly pitchers) on the waiver wire. But it also dampers the trade market, so be careful not to overload on a particular position or category.

    If your league consists of the same crew, peruse past draft results to uncover any trends. Maybe starting pitchers fly off the board. Maybe your leaguemates hunt for closers like flashlights before a major storm.

    Either way, you’ll need to prepare accordingly.

    You can read every fantasy baseball article on the Internet, but unless you’re playing in a standard league with no tweaks to spice things up, none of them are speaking to your particular format.

Do Your Homework

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    Once you know every nook and cranny of your league's setup, it’s time to hit the books.

    Well, hit the websites is more accurate now. And you’re probably better off reading them instead of attacking.

    Don’t enter your draft without studying. Sure, nobody can give you an “F,” but you’ll feel ashamed when you finish the year near the cellar.

    Glean as much data as possible before assembling your own rankings for the big day. Don’t live and die off of one particular person's (or site's) order.

    The fortunate owner can capture a fantasy football league title with a break here and there, but it’s much tougher to steal a fantasy baseball championship. You’re going to have to earn it.

Practice Makes Perfect

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    Studying is not enough on its own; you should also take a practice test or two.

    I know what you’re thinking: “Andrew, unlike you, I actually have a life. There’s no time for countless mock drafts.” Well, I have a quick fix to share with you, even though you were kind of mean to me just then.

    CheatSheetWizard.com's Draft Simulator, powered by Fantasy Pros, allows you to test out different draft strategies while eliminating the monotony of waiting for others to pick. This tool allows participants to mock draft against automated teams steered by consensus expert rankings or the average draft position from a site of your choosing.

    You can tailor the league size and roster requirements to your league and obtain a report at the end that determines how well your draft went. And it will only take 10 minutes.

    Entering your draft cold increases the likelihood of suffering a panic attack induced by a mini-catcher run in the eighth round. After plowing through a few mocks, you’ll realize that there’s no need to grab a backstop that early.

Go in Depth

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    There’s a fountain of information on the Web to chug down. Anyone who is serious about winning needs to go beyond the basics.

    You are well aware that Johnny Cueto posted a 2.78 ERA and 1.17 WHIP last year. Great, but what about his strikeout and walk rates? What was his BABIP? FIP? How many ground balls did he generate?

    For the next week, treat FanGraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com as your best friends. Don’t leave their side.

    While nobody could have anticipated the atrocity of Ricky Romero’s meltdown last season, his 4.20 FIP and .242 BABIP were strong indicators of a regression from his breakthrough season. People who only saw 15 wins and a 2.92 ERA overpaid for a colossal bust.

    Most gamers are playing with the standard five-by-five categories, but that doesn’t mean those are the only stats drafters should research prior to the big day.

Take Some Chances...

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    This game is boring for those who never venture toward the edge.

    Filling your team with Adam LaRoches and Alfonso Sorianos offers some stability, and it’s not a terrible idea to stop and take an occasional veteran.

    But to win your league, you’ll need to cash in on a couple lottery tickets.

    Open the draft with some secure options in order to comfortably take some shots during the middle rounds. Gamble on Tim Lincecum or Dan Haren returning to ace form while they only have to serve as a No. 3 or 4 starter to justify the selection.

    Go look at draft results from a prior season. How many of your bench selections survived the entire 162 games on your squad?

    Probably only a couple that distinguished themselves as draft-day steals, so don’t waste your final picks on Michael Young and Jason Vargas when you can swing for the fences on Chris Carter or Erasmo Ramirez. At worst, they don’t pan out, you drop them and move on with your life.

...But Don't Go Crazy with Risks

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    With all that said, there’s definitely a danger of going overboard on flashy, hyped names.

    Most leagues have at least one guy who floods his team with glossy, high-upside selections. The players who draw “oohs” and “ahhs,” and maybe even an angry desk-pound.

    If all, or even a considerable portion, of those risks pays off, that person will run away with the league.

    Keep in mind, however, that Brett Lawrie and Eric Hosmer do not always take the next leap to superstardom. Despite annually claiming that this is the year the ace from within is unleashed, Francisco Liriano usually spends the season breaking hearts.

    Like most things in life, proceed in moderation. Toss in a few low-risk picks between the exciting ones that will grab everyone’s attention.

Last Year's Trash Equals This Year's Treasure

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    When small-market clubs can’t afford the big-name free agents, they seek out damaged goods who can make good on a one-year contract.

    These bargains typically emerge from players who were derailed from injuries the prior season. The New York Mets shelled out a one-year contract to Shaun Marcum, a solid pitcher who will deliver a considerable return if he stays on the mound. He could do the same for fantasy owners who scoop him up late.

    Everyone is signed to a one-year deal in re-draft fantasy leagues, but blemished names can be had much later in the game. 

    So who are some of this year’s other top candidates for a bounce-back season? Victor Martinez, Ike Davis, Brett Gardner and Jon Lester are a few players who are affordable targets because of injuries/poor production last year. 

Don't Be Afraid to Go off Script

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    Many experts implement locked-in drafting plans that they feel generates the best results. While it’s certainly wise to form an intelligent strategy, don’t hold yourself captive to the blueprint.

    Sometimes it’s necessary to react to circumstances and go against the grain. Most of us hate drafting closers early, but if 18 closers are off the board by round 15, it’s time to swallow your pride and chase some saves.

    Maybe you didn’t plan on grabbing a starting pitcher for another few rounds. Then R.A. Dickey fell to the 10th round, and at that point he’s way too appealing of a bargain to pass up.

    Don’t be held hostage by a draft strategy or rankings. At a certain point, team needs often hold greater precedence than overall value.