I’ve cracked the fantasy baseball code and I feel inclined to share the wealth. Like me, you can win your fantasy baseball league just following these ten easy steps. And RULE #1 is – Draft Albert Pujols.
RULE #1 (Cont.) – Draft Albert Pujols
In case you haven’t noticed, Albert Pujols is the best (and most consistent) hitter in baseball, which makes him the best fantasy player available, too. Even better – he doesn’t get hurt, but if he does get hurt, he plays through it. He has 9 seasons in the big leagues and never played in less than 143 games, hit less than .314, had less than 32 home runs, and never driven in less than 103. If you draft Fat Albert, your chances of winning your league increase by at least 30%. There are lots of other good options at 1st base, but Albert is a sure-thing.
RULE #2 – Don’t draft any players on your favorite team or any of your favorite players on other teams
The only way to win fantasy baseball is to be as objective as possible. These aren’t real people with real lives doing real things off the field. They are only numbers representing probabilities, both historical and projectable and that is it. If you draft players on your favorite team or even worse, favorite players on other teams, you are more than likely to over-draft them or keep them too long if they stink.
RULE #3 – Draft with knowledge of other owners in mind
As a follow-up to RULE #2, you can easily use your knowledge of the other league owners to benefit on their subjectivity. The more serious the league and the less you know your fellow owners, the harder this is to pull off. Example – if you are in a group of Yankee fans and you are trying to decide between draft Jeter or a comparable player, take Jeter. You know that down the line you will at least be able to get something above-value in a trade.
RULE #4 – Only use early draft picks on players that help you in every category possible.
The best fantasy players are guys that help you in every category, so make sure you pay attention to the non-speed positional guys that can offer 10-15 stolen bases, or middle infielders that can get you 15-20 home runs, etc. Regardless of whether you are playing rotisserie or head-to-head, you want players that can help you win each category. On the flip side, if you end up drafting lots of one-dimensional players, you will be in trouble if your “batting average guy” has a down year or your one “stolen base guy” tweaks a hamstring. This is what makes guys like Pujols (16 SB) and A-Rod (14 SB) so valuable early on in power spots and Hanley Ramirez (24 HR) and Chase Utley (31 HR) in stolen base spots (SS/2B). Every time they take the field they have a chance of helping you in every category. Even if they go 0-4 with one BB, they can still steal a base for you. Late in the draft, you can evaluate your weak spots and draft category specific players.
RULE #5 – Draft middle infielders and catchers the first chance you get
If you don’t get Albert Pujols, you need to get Hanley Ramirez. If you don’t get either of those guys, you can wait on 1B/OF despite some of the attractive sluggers out there, and go for players in this order SS, C, then 2B. These are the three hardest positions to fill and the ones that have the steepest decline. After the top 5 in each position, you start getting into the guessing game, and you can’t guess your way into 1st place. When drafting catchers, put emphasis on American League catchers, because they at least have the chance to get a start at DH on their day off behind the plate (the exception is iron-man Brian McCann, who is good for at least 135 games behind the dish in Atlanta). EDIT – If you happen to miss out on the front-line players at positions with few impact players, it is not advisable to overpay or overdraft by 20+ spots in the overall rankings to get a mid-tier player. Example – if you miss out on Mauer, McCann, and V. Martinez, you’re better off chalking up catcher as a loss and shooting for a long shot late in the game then to spend your money/draft pick on anyone in the next 5-10 catchers after that.
RULE #6 – Never draft starting pitchers from the American League (or Nationals, Rockies, and Pirates) early
If you pitch in the American League you have to face the DH, the Red Sox, and the Yankees. In the National League, you get to take one of the best hitters in the lineup (DH) and replace him with a pitcher that barely knows which end of the bat to hold. You also don’t have to pitch at Fenway or the New Coors, I mean, Yankee Stadium. Sure, there are some good options in the American League that you might want to draft early, like Sabathia, Burnett, Lackey, Beckett, etc., but numbers will always fluctuate more in the American League than the National League, and wins are only one statistical category, and you can always get wins from starting pitching late in the fantasy draft (regardless of league), while ERA, WHIP, and Ks go much faster up the board. Don’t draft any pitchers on the Rockies due to the park factor of Coors, and never draft any pitchers on the National or Pirates just because they stink and you never know how much of their defense or offense will be traded away mid-season.
RULE #7 – Draft closers based on projected save opportunities (not ERA, WHIP, or Ks)
Closers are tricky because the proven ones go fast and everyone comes prepared with names of the lesser known guys to take later on in the draft. During the season, there are always injuries to closers and the really active leagues have guys hawking the waiver wire when roles change in the back-end of the bullpen. That’s why while you might be tempted to look at a guy like Andrew Bailey from the Oakland A’s, but you never know how many opportunities he will get with the Mariners and Rangers much improved in their division and the Angels set to dominate again. Instead, look at the projected division leaders, starting with the best teams first – Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Twins, Angels, San Fransisco, Phillies, Brewers, etc. Never draft closers based on ERA and WHIP because they fluctuate too much with relievers since they don’t pitch many innings (don’t look at Ks either for the same reason). You want closers for one reason and one reason only – the SAVE – and you can’t get saves if you don’t get save opportunities.
RULE #8 – Don’t panic if one specific position goes fast (outside of SS/2B/C)
Just because your league takes a dozen closers off the board in the first three rounds doesn’t mean you have to rush in to get your guy. Positional scarcity at SS/2B and catcher should be taken into consideration, but it doesn’t mean you should jump 100 spots down the overall rankings just to get 20 saves. Remember, SV is just one category and you can never count on closers for their ERA, WHIP, and K. The main thing to keep in mind is RULE #4 – draft players that will help you in the most categories.
RULE #9 – Master the claim, start, waive process based on match-ups
Once again depending on the depth and scope of your fantasy leagues, you will usually be pretty weak in your last couple pitcher spots, so I recommend using the waiver wire to claim, start, and quickly waive any pitcher that has the opportunity to start against some of the league’s worst offenses or in the best pitcher parks including the Nationals, Padres, Giants, Pirates, etc. Example – Pitcher A starts on Wednesday and isn’t the type of pitcher that anyone else in the league will pick up off waivers. After Pitcher A’s start, I put him on waivers, clearing a spot for Pitcher B, who will pitcher at Petco Park vs. the Padres on Thursday. I start Pitcher B on Thursday and immediately put him back on waivers to repeat the process. This only works if Pitcher A is an average pitcher without much long-term value, otherwise you would just want to hold on to him.
RULE #10 – It’s a loooong season – Top 5 teams draft well, but championship teams are claimed on waivers
Depending on the size and scope of your league (AL, NL, Mixed, # of teams) it becomes more and more important to know not just who is injured, but who is lined up to take their place. The deeper the league, the more you’ll have to stretch for those last couple of rosters spots and consequently, the guys who accumulate the most ABs and the most IP are the most valuable to you. Watching the waiver wire during the season is absolutely essential, especially if you are in a league with some inexperienced fantasy players that want to dump good players based on slow starts. In 2008, you better believe that the green fantasy owners couldn’t trade Manny Ramirez fast enough when he went a month plus with a sub .200 batting average, and fantasy winners scooped him up and laughed their way to the championship when he finished at .332 with 37 home runs and 121 RBI. Equally important is the early season disabled list, when unknowing owners will waive guys who go on the 15 or 60-day DL in April – the season goes through September, which still leaves those guys with June, July, August, and September to help your fantasy team. If you have DL slots in your league – use them!