Fantasy baseball is the art of making your guesses as educated as possible.
Look, none of us can predict which players will suffer season-ending injuries and which won't. We all like to think we can predict breakout seasons on the horizon, but players always come out of left field that many of us miss. And sometimes, players have down seasons after years of steady production.
So on this list, I've identified five things you must know to ensure you'll be as educated as possible on draft day. These aren't specific players to target or anything of that nature—these are five broad rules to follow to ensure that you are the smartest guy in the room come draft day.
Know the Average Draft Position of Your Primary Targets
I know what a lot of people do at both live and online drafts: They use player ratings as a gauge to determine when they will be able to draft certain players, or they make their own ratings and simply pick the top player that falls to them in each round.
Both of those approaches are a mistake.
If you want to make your own rankings—and you probably should—go for it. But the best way to know which rounds you should be targeting players you really like is by studying average draft positions.
For example, I know I want to target Jacoby Ellsbury this season since he's dropped down draft boards. Based on his ESPN ADP of 47.7 and his Yahoo! ADP of 40.9, I know there is a possibility I could land him in the fifth round, but I'll have to target him in the fourth round if I want to guarantee I'll get him. And if I want Jose Reyes, I know he won't be around after the third round.
Average draft position generally doesn't sway too far from most rankings (since casual players rely on them), but they will give you an advantage if you've picked out players you really want on your team or value picks you believe will help you get the most bang for your buck.
Follow the Injury Report Like a Hawk
Okay, so you probably don't need to check on all of them every day—I know, I know, you have a life—but make one of those your friend, both before your draft and all season long. I recommend Rotoworld, since it also provides player news in general, but go with the one that works for you.
Remember, nothing is worse than being the guy who selects a player that will be out for three months to start the season or overpays for a pitcher that has experienced elbow soreness in the spring.
Information is power, people. Know your injury report.
Know What Matters in Spring Training and What Doesn't
Some players traditionally struggle in the spring, and you should disregard those numbers. After all, most veteran players use spring training to iron out mechanics or learn new pitches, fix hitches in their swing or work on another specific aspect of their game.
But sometimes, you can learn a whole lot by studying a player's spring. Three years ago, I read that Francisco Liriano was having a great spring. I targeted him very late in the draft and ended up with a pitcher who finished 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 201 strikeouts.
Two years ago, I read that a rookie by the name of Michael Pineda had really nice stuff. I targeted him in the last round and ended up with a pitcher that went 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 173 strikeouts.
Based on this spring, here are a few things I've learned:
- Roy Halladay should not be relied on as an ace any longer in fantasy leagues.
- Domonic Brown looks like he will finally have a breakout season.
- Ditto for Rick Porcello.
- Julio Teheran of the Atlanta Braves could be one of the pitching steals of the season.
- Adam Eaton is another excellent young sleeper.
- Mike Moustakas could be ready to show off his talents this season.
But do your own research. Generally, if young guys or players who have struggled in the past are having big springs, that's a good sign. If you read that pitchers look strong, have mastered a new pitch or have always had electric stuff but mastered their control, target them.
And if old guys look, well, old, or injury-prone players have battled nagging injuries throughout the spring, stay away. If you study spring training correctly, you can learn quite a bit.
Know Your Draft Strategy and Follow It
Every year, my draft strategy goes as follows:
I select my small group of elite players that I plan on drafting no matter what position they play (this year they are Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun, Mike Trout and Matt Kemp, in that order). If I can get one of them in the first round, I do it.
After that, I try to target players who represent major value at weak offensive positions. Thus, I will slightly overpay to land players like Robinson Cano, Buster Posey or Troy Tulowitzki this season.
I generally don't select pitchers in the first four rounds unless a major ace slides down the board or an early pitching run dictates I add an ace early or miss out on entirely on the top tier of hurlers. Then, between the fifth and 10th rounds, I try to add three or four pitchers, trying to identify pitchers with the most potential to reach elite status.
I try to maximize value, not total production with each pick. If I don't have a shortstop, I'm more likely to add Reyes in the third round, not Jason Heyward. Heyward may put up better overall numbers, but I can get value in the outfield far later in the draft than I'll get at shortstop.
I always target veterans returning from injuries that have been stars in the past, since those players are almost always undervalued the following year. Here's a few I like this season.
I ignore closers until I can't ignore closers any longer.
Those are just a few tenets of my draft strategy, and you should certainly develop your own. By the time the draft rolls around, I know exactly what my plan is and I never really feel panicked if things don't go exactly as I hoped. As long as you have your own strategy, you'll never find yourself scrambling at the draft.
Know Thy Enemy
Every league has one guy that overpay for players on his favorite team. If you also like one of those players, be prepared to overpay to land him.
Some guys believe in focusing on pitching in early rounds. If they are drafting behind you, that ace you really want probably won't slide a round. Other guys love home run hitters. You better take Jose Bautista in the second round in a league with that guy.
In a league with that guy who always nails his sleepers? Take your sleeper picks a round early.
It's a bit easier to know your opponents in fantasy baseball, where less players are selected and drafting trends are more obvious. But every little advantage helps, and knowing the mindset of your opponents will help you on draft day.