Fantasy baseball draft day is the first day of a journey — hopefully, a six- or seventh-month engagement of excitement, fun, wonder.
Okay, it’s not as much fun if you’re in the second half of the standings, but let’s see what we can do about that.
Here are some swing thoughts to get you started.
Thoughts Before You Settle In
• Listen to everyone you respect, but draft who YOU like. It’s your team. You’re the one who has to be satisfied with it.
•The day of the draft, travel light. You’ve done the homework. Some of the best fantasy players I know can draft off an index card, or one piece of paper. Others will lean into draft software. I know this: The guy who uses the most materials at the draft is almost always the person flustered and confused. You’ve done your homework. Now simplify.
•The better your opponents, the more risk you should be willing to embrace. The weaker your opponents, the less intricate and daring your strategy needs to be. (Just make sure you get those entry fees up front.)
•It’s no fun to read the rules, especially if they’re wordy and written in an ostentatious style. But leagues have different cadences and constitutions, and knowing them inside and out is critical if you want to do your best. What works just as well: Picking the brain of a league veteran who already knows the league-centric nuances that you don’t.
•You know your league better than I do, or any outsider does. Any outside advice has to be seasoned to taste, obviously. I know, your league is different.
• Put all the pickup deadlines in your calendar. Set reminders. The world is dynamic. Your life may be complicated. “Oh, I’ll remember that doesn’t work” — at least it doesn’t for me.
•Any strategy can work if you pick the right players. And any juggernaut on draft day is just a couple of mishaps away from a lost season. These are realities we have to accept.
A Few General Baseball Ideas
•When ERA and WHIP don’t tell the same story, trust the WHIP.
•We have endless new statistics, and some of them are even useful. But always remember, walks and strikeouts are the water of baseball stats. Simple but essential.
•Walks and strikeouts will stabilize quickly in the fresh season, which is why you never have to pay up for last year’s middle-relief hero. New relievers that you know nothing about will fall from trees all season. They’ll be easy to identify. And no, you don’t have to wait months for them to appear.
•The bottom part of your roster is where you churn, where you look for plausible upside, where you take the new information in-season and turn it into a more informed choice. It’s the Monty Hall Problem — once you have more information, switching is often a good idea. Wait for Proof is a dead fantasy strategy. Once you have identified plausible upside, you can justifiably act. And if you never have a regretful cut in season, you’re playing far too conservatively.
• Saves are more dispersed throughout the league, but this should comfort you, not make you anxious. You’ll need fewer saves to be competitive. And with lower expectations on your bullpen, you’ll find more pitchers who can potentially do what you want.
• If you have reasonable friends who are diehards of a team you don’t closely follow, they are outstanding resources. They might pass along subtle information from the last telecast, nuances picked up off the local radio. Information will always be king, and as much as we’re living in a stat-friendly world, reliable reporting isn’t always to come by (and some reporters aren’t looking for the same stuff you are). Some of the best tips I get every season are casual, observational notes I receive from friends who happened to have the game on.
• I can’t promise any two people would make a good partnership, but if you can find someone who shares roughly the same interest and level of commitment, partnering up is often a cheat code.
• I try not to draft into injuries unless the acquisition cost has come down significantly. Injuries will find you. I do not go hunting for injuries. And injury optimism has been a fantasy pox for years.
• The game is being able to see changes in player value before they are obvious to everyone. You don’t have to be omniscient, and you can be wrong an awful lot in the middle of a successful year. You just have to be a little bit better than most of your opponents.
Player, position, and other thoughts
• Drafters have become more proactive with pitching, which means you probably want to do that, too. You don’t have to jump in with both feet, mind you. And if you’re particularly skilled at finding undervalued arms mid-draft, I’d never try to take that away from you. Just be prepared; the days of a hitter-dominated Top 40 is vanishing in many leagues.
• Catchers are basically the tight ends of fantasy baseball, but there isn’t a Travis Kelce in the pool. I haven’t come close to drafting J.T. Realmuto once.
• When I’m drafting my early hitters, I generally don’t care too much about positions — I just want the numbers. But if you’re stuck between two players and can’t decide otherwise, lean towards the infielder.
• I love position-flexible players and the idea of having a positionless roster, where I can cycle in the best hitters and not worry about qualifications. But understand we’ve never seen as much position flexibility as we see today. MLB benches are tighter and players are asked to move around more often. A lot of leagues are grandfathering 2019 positional qualifications (in addition to last year) into the fresh season. Let me make this clear — I still love collecting these versatile players. But they’re all over the place. It’s not quite as useful as it used to be.
• Shortstop is especially deep and you can do well at any price point. This doesn’t mean you should intentionally not draft talented shortstops — just know that the position is bountifully stocked.
• Second base is full of appetizers but low on entrees.
• Stolen bases are like saves — you need fewer to compete, and that should be more freeing than nerve-wracking. I prefer a worker-bee approach, with a handful of players who can run over one or two primary speed sources. Be mindful of age and aging patterns.
• Remember the barrier for entry is low for save and speed options; if they’re filling that one category, we can overlook a lot. Possession of a closing role is almost as important as the player skill. And modern bullpen usage will commonly designate an ordinary pitcher for the ninth, while a more-skilled reliever might be asked to work out of jams, earlier in the game. A team’s best reliever does not have to be its closer.
• When in doubt, side with the player who’s done it more than once.
• I’ve made a career out of boring value jams, the Raul Ibanez All-Stars (Half the room right now: “Who’s Raul Ibanez?”). But you need some youth on your team, too. You need some players who are on the escalator.
• All that said, no one ever went broke on Nelson Cruz. He’s a right-handed David Ortiz.
• You don’t have to study it for weeks, but you should have a rough idea of how good players are on defense. A strong-defending player will often be given more time to work through a hitting slump, and you definitely want fantasy pitchers who are backed by credible defenses.
• Park Factors are always important in our game but understand there is variance to them, and parks can also change. Petco Park isn’t as pitcher-friendly as it used to be. San Francisco played differently last year, due to a bullpen change and an archway closing. Weather fluctuates.
• In most public leagues, RBIs will be more celebrated than runs scored. Follow the runs. They’re the invisible hand that will push you into better batting slots, even if you’re not consciously thinking that way.
• We definitely want to go after good players tied to deep lineups; that’s painfully obvious. I love the buoyancy of a deep lineup, the idea that my player is surrounded by players who will get on base for him and knock him in; lineups that will turn over regularly. But also make sure you know the lesser teams, too. The Pirates and Tigers will provide a few fantasy-friendly options simply because a few managers in your league won’t take the time to audit their rosters.
• Perfect is the enemy of good. This is all an open ticket. We’ll try to figure it out, together.
Spring Clips, Key References, Soul Food
The more recent an article, the better the information is — the more current it is. But you can decide what’s valuable to you. Here are some of my spring pieces:
And Finally . . .
When in doubt, my friends, listen to Lester Bangs. And ping me if you get in a jam. I stay up late.