How to Play Fantasy Baseball: Tips and Advice for Your MLB League

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2021

New York Yankees designated hitter Clint Frazier bats during the team's baseball game against the Boston Red Sox, Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020, in New York. Frazier is hitting .571 with two homers and eight RBIs in four games since rejoining the Yankees. He is distinctive not for his red hair that used to be long but for a team-logo gaiter that covers nearly his entire face. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

The 2021 fantasy baseball draft season is upon us.

Spring training is in full force, and we're less than a month away from games that matter taking place. 

Most leagues will be drafting or headed to the auction block in a couple of weeks, so now's as good a time as any to break down some important tips for winning your league. 


2021 MLB Fantasy Tips

Draft a SP in Round 1 or Wait

Drafting a pitcher with your first pick is always a risky proposition. The position has a high injury risk, and there's really not much year-to-year predictability on when a guy will get hurt. All it takes is one sore elbow to wipe your top draft pick out for the season.

However, that makes the pitchers who are both durable and elite all the more valuable. Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole and Shane Bieber are all clear first-round picks who should be taken within the first 10 picks of your draft. If you can get one of them, particularly deGrom or Cole, it's worth a shot once you get to about pick 5 or 6.

If you miss out or wind up taking one of the superstar hitters in the first round, load up on hitting in the first few rounds before focusing on pitching in Rounds 4-6. Guys like Yu Darvish or Trevor Bauer may be tempting, but both have variance in their performances not necessarily seen in deGrom, Cole or Bieber. The bust potential is too high to use a high second-round pick.

It would be better to focus on shoring up your lineup first and then looking at guys such as Brandon Woodruff, Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow, all of whom will be available and have solid ceilings. Taking one of those three and then following up with a Carlos Carrasco, Sonny Gray or Corbin Burnes a round or two later would eliminate some of the disadvantages of waiting on your first starter.


(Pretty Much) Throw Out Last Season

Baseball is a game of large sample sizes. The 2020 season provided none of that. No pitcher started more than 13 games, and no hitter reached 250 at bats. While the sample was enough to provide at least a general look at how things are going, a little more than one-third of a season against divisional opponents isn't very strong correlative evidence.

In a sense, we have to look at 2021 as 2020 part two when drafting players. If a guy shot up several rounds or dropped several rounds in value, that's something worth monitoring for value plays. Kris Bryant was taken in the 40s or 50s in most drafts last year and is currently being drafted outside the top 100. Bryant didn't suddenly become terrible at baseball; he just suffered through a nightmare shortened season. Other names like Jose Altuve and Giancarlo Stanton are also being undervalued versus what their healthy, full-season performance would be.

While Stanton has injury issues, getting someone with 50-home run potential in a loaded lineup in the 100s is a steal. 

The opposite can be said for a guy like Bauer, who took advantage of a weak division and is being taken as a second-round pick a year after being well outside the top 100. Bauer will probably be good this season but not good enough to justify taking him where he's being selected, given his career history.

You have mountains of evidence of past seasons at your disposal. Use the larger sample size to inform your decisions.