Fantasy Baseball 2013: 10 Last-Minute Facts You Need to Know Before Your Draft
Many baseball fans—myself included—will be engaging in an MLB fantasy draft this week. With just one week to go before the 2013 season begins, fantasy baseball lovers will be looking for any last-minute tips that can help them win their leagues this year.
For those who engage in paid fantasy leagues, drafting can absolutely make or break their season. They pore over stat lines with the the aim of predicting just how that player will perform in the coming season.
In fact, draft strategy is important in any fantasy league, paid or otherwise.
It can be an exhilarating feeling when the seconds leading up to a fantasy draft tick away. Us fantasy freaks are armed with our various sheets of the players we're looking for, and then feverishly cross them off when someone else drafts them ahead of us, hoping that our next favorite player will still be available.
There are some facts that are important to consider, however, when approaching your draft.
Here are 10 last-minute facts that might come in handy before you draft your 2013 MLB fantasy team.
Avoid Drafting the Player Who Had One Hot Season
Oftentimes fantasy baseball aficionados become infatuated with a player that had one hellacious breakout season, making him attractive in the early rounds of the draft.
Take for instance the case of A.J. Pierzynski. Before last season, Pierzynski had never registered a 20-home run season. Yet, he hit a career-high 27 long bombs last year.
Seems like a great early pickup, right?
Not so fast.
It can be a slippery slope when drafting players who suddenly came up with huge seasons and rose above their historical numbers. In Pierzynski's case, he's also 36 years of age—well past his prime. To consider drafting him based on last year's statistics alone could be a huge mistake.
Drafting Players Based on Using Their Home Park as an Advantage
Oftentimes, fantasy baseball lovers become enamored with players without specifically looking at home/road splits.
While Houston Astros pitcher Bud Norris might look like an attractive pickup in the middle or later rounds of your draft, consider how he performed last year away from Minute Maid Park.
At home, Norris looked like an All-Star, posting a 1.71 ERA in 11 starts with an attractive 10.0 K/9 rate. But away from the friendly confines of home, Norris was 3-12 with a 6.94 ERA and 1.69 WHIP.
On the hitting side, Carlos Gonzalez—who's always an attractive hitting option in the top rounds of fantasy drafts—bashes at Coors Field. Last year alone, Gonzalez hit .368 at home with 13 home runs, 58 RBI and a 1.046 WHIP. But away from home Gonzalez hit just nine home runs with a .234 average and .706 WHIP.
The more active fantasy guys might still go after Gonzalez early and then just sit him when playing on the road.
But for the more casual fantasy players who aren't as diligent in making changes to their starting lineups, it might make more sense to go after players who have splits that aren't quite so radical.
Be Careful in Considering Players Who Traditionally Start the Season Cold
There are a number of players who are traditionally slow starters. For some unknown reason their games don't start heating up until June or so.
For instance, last season, Kansas City Royals closer Greg Holland got off to a miserable start. He posted an 11.37 ERA with a 2.68 WHIP. He's been a bit sluggish this spring as well with a 4.70 ERA, 1.70 WHIP and a high walk rate.
Holland could look attractive as a saves option for your fantasy team, but keep in mind that those saves and other stats might not start coming until later in the season.
Be Careful of Drafting Stars Who Are Known to Be Playing Hurt
Every player works through varying degrees of pain throughout the rigors of a long season.
But some stars may be battling through early injuries before the season even starts.
Take for instance San Diego Padres left fielder Carlos Quentin. Quentin has yet to appear in a Cactus League game because his surgically repaired knee has been bothering him for most of the spring.
Quentin has recently played in several minor leagues games and played six innings in the field as recently as last Saturday.
But Quentin also admitted that the pain is still lingering.
“It got better as the game went along,” Quentin told Bill Center of the San Diego Union Tribune. “It felt the best it has. It’s still not where I want it to be, but we’re getting there.”
For a power hitter who needs his legs to help hit the long ball with consistency, that's definitely a red flag. It's important to consider taking a close look at players like Quentin who have been dealing with nagging injuries during spring training.
Stay Away from Emotional Decisions
Many fantasy baseball lovers fall into a pattern of drafting their "favorite" players.
Oftentimes they'll draft that player despite disturbing numbers from the previous year.
In 2011, Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford had a breakout season with 46 saves and a 1.95 ERA. But in 2012 Axford struggled with an up-and-down campaign, registering 35 saves with a 4.67 ERA. His WHIP jumped from 1.14 to 1.44 as well.
Some might think that Axford will just simply bounce back this year, especially considering the Brewers beefed up the bullpen around him.
Numbers are there for a reason. It's just plain silly to avoid them. Be careful in making emotional decisions based on personal preferences.
Don't Base Your Draft Strategy on Using Just One Expert Fantasy Ranking Tool
Many fantasy baseball fans use an expert ranking list to help formulate their draft strategy.
However, in using just one list, it could be that you might miss out.
While that's not a huge disparity in itself, it can affect how you set up your own draft board.
Take some time to look over several different player ranking boards. Some sites may value players in a different light, so it's important to get the full picture before you make a decision on where that player ends up on your draft board.
How Will a New Home Venue Affect a Fantasy Player's Numbers in 2013?
Well over 150 players switched teams this offseason, and many of them went to vastly different home ballparks.
Take for instance new Los Angeles Angels slugger Josh Hamilton.
Angel Stadium is particularly stingy at night when the cooler air hits and winds are blowing in.
It's certainly a fact to consider when drafting. Hamilton's numbers last year (43 HR, 128 RBI, .930 OPS), could potentially take a hit.
It can work for the good as well. Jonny Gomes is going from playing half his games at O.co Coliseum in Oakland to Fenway Park in Boston—a haven for right-handed power hitters like Gomes.
Follow Drafting Trends in Your League's Fantasy Draft
Every fantasy baseball fan uses a different strategy when drafting. Some prefer to draft elite pitchers in the early rounds while others go for the big-time power bats.
Following trends in drafting can definitely be of great benefit. If the vast majority of players drafted in the first round in your league are elite starting pitchers, switch up your strategy to grab those big bats that have been unclaimed.
If the elite power hitters are being snagged quickly, considering going for the Alex Gordon-type player, the one who gives you solid numbers across the board. Or a Melky Cabrera, who offers up a higher average, steals, runs scored and stolen bases.
Keeping an eye on drafting trends in your league can lead to picking up players you never thought would be available.
Follow Trends of Fellow Fantasy Team Owners
If you've been in the same fantasy league for a period of time, you may have noticed some trends that your fellow fantasy team owners may have.
For instance, a fantasy team owner who is a Tigers fan may historically load his team with as many Tigers players as possible. Or, a team owner has historically drafted hitters through the early rounds, waiting to snatch up pitchers later in the draft.
It can be of great benefit to understand exactly how each team owner decides to choose their team. By understanding their trends, you can formulate your own draft strategy that uses that information to your advantage.
Be Very Careful in Over-Relying on Spring Training Stats
Fantasy team owners can become enamored with a player who's put up gaudy numbers in spring training.
For instance, last spring Miami Marlins pitcher Wade LeBlanc started out in the Grapefruit League with 15 strikeouts in 14.2 innings pitched. However, during the regular season LeBlanc posted just a 5.6 K/9 rate.
The same for Detroit Tigers infielder Ryan Raburn. He was on fire last spring with a .462 average and six home runs by late March. He was a disaster in the regular season with a .171 average and searching for a new home at the end of the season.
Drafting based on a player's spring start is simply foolhardy. Do not fall into that trap.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.