The best fantasy baseball advice I’ve come across is “when they zig, you zag”. In a snake draft that means when there’s a run on pitchers instead of following the masses, take a hitter. When a slew of top closers are taken in a row, grab the next top starter.
On a larger scale, it means going against the grain when it comes to most of the fantasy baseball advice you’ll read in the average magazine or fantasy website. According to popular theory, the three first commandments of fantasy baseball are:
- 1) First round picks are to be used on hitters than can help in all 5 offensive categories. Think Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Gonzalez. Guys that can all hit for average, power and steal a couple dozen bases.
- 2) Don’t draft pitchers early. A case can be made for the Clayton Kershaws of the world but for the most part, pitchers run hot and cold season to season and there are just too many team associated factors involved for a pitcher to have a truly great season worthy of a #1 pick.
- 3) Don’t waste picks on closers. They only give you one stat – saves. Closers have the least reliable jobs in baseball. Whether it be injuries or ineffectiveness, managers have quick hooks when it comes to their ninth inning guys, and there’s always some schmo on the waiver wire you can pick up when the regular loses his job.
And that’s where the problem lies. The popular theories of fantasy are just that – popular. Every experienced player knows these rules and for the most part abides by them. If everyone is playing by the same rules it’s as if you’re going in to the draft with the same cheat sheets – you may as well let Yahoo auto-draft for you and let luck decide the winners and losers. To swing the odds a little more in your favor you have to think outside the box – to zig where others zag.
Let’s dispel the second and third myths together. You can dominate pitching. You just have to do it at the expense of the power categories. When everyone is buying up the 5-tool stars you have to load up on 4 category pitchers, both starters and relievers. The key is to get several front line guys so that if a few don’t pan out whether to injury or ineffectiveness, you still have plenty of top starters. Depending on your league’s inning requirements, you’re going to want to have 50-100% more top-line starters than the other teams. This means you don’t necessarily need to grab Clayton Kershaw or Yu Darvish with your first pick. But you do need to have 6-9 solid guys that you can count on to amass nearly 200 innings each and as close as you can get to one strikeout per inning pitched. Remember, the more options you have the better – injuries are a fact of life in baseball but the goal here isn’t to eek out a victory in pitching it’s to DOMINATE! In addition to the front line starters, go ahead and grab 2 of the top 5 closers available. These are the guys whose roles are settled, have done it before and you can count on for 40+ saves, miniscule ERA and WHIP and off the charts K/9. If you can get two of Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Greg Holland, Kenley Jansen and Joe Nathan or Sergio Romo you’ll not only have a great head start in saves but you’ll have made up any losses in strikeout rates in case you’ve had to roster a Kris Medlen or Doug Fister type starter.
Now comes the easy part. Every year there are plenty of quality players left undrafted, sitting on the waiver wire because teams are only looking for guys who have either great power, speed or both. Often overlooked are the players who can hit for a decent average, hit atop good lineups and can steal a dozen or so bases. Remember, to win a category like steals, you don’t need Billy Hamilton – whoever drafts Hamilton will be averaging in every other player on his team to make up for Hamilton’s lack of power and will basically neglect the stat after him – what you do need is a roster full of players capable enough to steal some bases. There are a ton of outfielders that can steal 25-30 bases, a lot of middle infielders who can steal 15-20. At corner infield and catcher you’ll run in to some more problems. My advice for a catcher is find someone who hits .280 and hopefully has the chance to hit atop the lineup and for an American League team (that way he’s at least got the possibility of batting as DH on days when he’s not catching). If all you’re looking for is runs, steals and average you can find players that have first or third base eligibility but are really middle infielders or have middle infielder like stats.
Here’s a lineup comprised solely of players that fit the scheme and are currently have an average draft position of greater than 150:
C – Carlos Ruiz (257)
1B – Justin Morneau (205)
2B – Howie Kendrick (167)
SS – Erick Aybar (217)
3B – Aramis Ramirez (154)
CI – Kendrys Morales (168)
MI – Alexei Ramirez (150)
OF – Angel Pagan (234)
OF – Austin Jackson (152)
OF – Norichika Aoki (195)
Util – Michael Bourn (187)
Util – Alejandro De Aza (182)
Based on some pretty reliable projected stats I use these 12 players combined would score 926 runs, steal 183 bases and hit for a combined .281 average, definitely enough to compete for the lead in all 3 categories – and that’s with not taking an offensive player until the tenth or fifteenth round (depending on your league size). Of course, you’ll also end up with 157 homeruns and only 764 RBI, but remember two very important points – 1) you’ll still get at least one point in each category no matter how far behind in the standings you end up and 2) you can always use your surplus speed and/or pitching to trade for some power help if you think you can catch up with the big boys. There’s also of course the waiver wire and prospects that come along and light up the league so be mindful and stay on the lookout for the next Yasiel Puig and even the undervalued post-hype breakout star and you yourself can easily steal a championship.