By Jeff Trusdale, special contributor to Fantasy Baseball Dugout
Building a winning fantasy baseball team all starts with the draft. Whether it is live or over the computer you should always make sure that you are present and ready to draft. Numerous teams I’ve seen people who forget about their scheduled fantasy draft and the computer ends up taking center fielders for the first three rounds. Before you do any draft preparation be smart and make sure you can be there.
Before you can decide what players you want to target you need to know the layout of the league your playing in. Three basic types are head to head record, stock, and rotisserie. In a head to head league you will be matched up against another player for a week. In the end of the week whoever the outcome of each category will result in a win, loss, or tie for your overall record. In theses leagues you need to be start about your lineup because typically it will be locked for the entire week.
In a stock league you start out with a “payroll” and you choose players based on the dollar amount they are worth. Throughout the year player’s price will fluctuate either higher or lower just like how the stock market works. I tend to stay away from theses because I don’t like the idea of other teams being allowed to buy the same players as other teams have. One of the great things about fantasy baseball is being able to find that “diamond in the rough” early in the year and watch him become a fantasy force.
Basically all fantasy baseball is rotisserie although it is not advertised as such. Rotisserie is the system of categories that score games. The most common is a 5×5 meaning 5 batting and 5 pitching categories. 6×6 is also common and sometimes you might even encounter 7×7 or more. The most common categories are batting average, home runs, runs batted in, steals, runs, and obs (or obp and slugging) for batting. For pitching it’s wins, losses, era, strikeouts, whip, innings, and holds. Holds is often used in leagues with more teams because its measures a non closing relief pitcher.
After you know what type of league you’re playing in its time to start to prepare for the draft. You’re not going to be able to win every category every week. That’s just not happening unless everyone in your league is unresponsive. In my opinion you have to best prepare your team to be competitive in every category and be able to win in the ones that people will look past. Mainly I’m referring to the steals and holds categories. Often times people draft a team that will try to bash as many homers as possible and not give any attention to steals or average. In the end that’s great you won home runs by 6 and in rbi for the week, but you lost steals and when your bashers are not hitting home runs their striking out. Home runs are great in baseball. There’s a reason as to why the teams that win every year are typically ranked high in home runs, but the same isn’t for fantasy baseball. Think of your fantasy lineup as a stock portfolio. You need to diversify your investments to get the most in return. Also by having guys in your lineup who can succeed at each category you won’t be giving up wins yourself. If you don’t have any steal threats on your team then you go into each week with virtually one loss. After a whole season those can add up and be the difference between a bye and consolation bracket.
When it comes to drafting I have come to the conclusion that for the knowledgeable fan, draft preparation is a waste of time. The past few years I have spent a decent amount ranking players and getting some type of plan ready only to see my top targets and potential breakout players gone before it came around to my turn. The truth is that you’re playing with people who might make decisions that will throw you off for no apparent reason other than the hat they wear. For those who are nothing more than the casual fan however, take some time to read up on the players involved. Past and present stats and information is easy accessible. No one wants to be the guy taking Carlos Delgado or Ken Griffey Jr. only to be ragged on by your buddies for the rest of the year.
A strategy I follow for drafting players is take the best positional players early then move to pitching when the time feels right. Normally pitchers done come into play till late second/third round depending on how many teams are in your league. After a few rounds of grabbing the best player available I like to grab an above average catcher or middle infielder because those are positions that can be weak if you wait too long. After you’re about done filling out your starting lineup and looking for your bench players on offense I always take multiple position players into consideration. Guys who are eligible at two or more positions are a great asset to have. For instance back in 2008 when Mark DeRosa had his career year, you would be able to put those numbers at second, third or outfield depending on what website you were using. This allowed for great flexibility if you have guys slumping at certain positions or you needed to fill out a position after a trade. Being able to slide him over to another position other than his usual second base allowed you to basically take him into consideration when looking to improve five positions. Another guy like that is Victor Martinez who you can put at catcher or first. If you had Martinez at first and your starting catcher went down with an injury, you can slide Martinez to catcher and find someone else to play first because chances are you can find someone to give production at first a lot easier then catcher.
On the pitching side of things there’s many ways to look at things. You can take starters who may also be eligible at reliever and put them there, you can fill your reliever spots with all closers, or you can put in a set up guy to help diversify. Putting starters who are eligible to relieve at reliever helps you win innings for sure, but the thing to remember is most starters who at the beginning of the season were also eligible to relieve are most likely not very good. This is putting your era and whip at risk if they get shelled around. On the flip side if they are great it helps solidify those numbers but id take the former on that one. When deciding if you want to fill out your relievers with all closers its really personal preference. I like to have a set up guy in there to get holds because chances are he’s going to give you more innings then a closer would and holds are easier to come by than saves since a save an only happen in a win by 3 or less. I would suggest seeing what your opponent is doing. If he’s got Wilson, Bell and Soria as his closers it’s foolish to try to combat that with three other closers when you can just put in a set up man and offset that with a hold.
My last piece of advice is keep up with your team. The last thing you want to do is set your lineup with a injured player in it.