Welcome to another season of PressBox's fantasy baseball coverage. Throughout the next month, I will help fantasy owners get ready for drafts and prepare for the upcoming season.
This is the earliest start to the regular season in Major League Baseball history, so there's a lot of information to dish out in a limited amount of time.
Throughout March, I will dive deep into fantasy baseball draft strategies and reveal my bounce-back candidates, breakout players and sleepers, along with those players who are being overvalued.
As a refresher for those who followed our coverage last year and to any new readers, in fantasy baseball different league formats are used, but the most popular is the five-by-five rotisserie league format, and that is what I will base my opinions on.
For those unfamiliar with that format, there are five hitting categories -- batting average, home runs, runs scored, RBIs and stolen bases. For pitching, the categories consist of wins, strikeouts, ERA, WHIP and saves. On-base percentage continues to become more popular as a replacement to batting average, so I will refer to that stat as well, since it could change how we evaluate certain players.
When referring to draft rankings for particular players, I will use the average draft position compiled by many of the experts on FantasyPros.com.
To get started, I have listed the consensus rankings and auction values from FantasyPros.com, along with the draft results from the L.A.B.R. (League of Alternative Baseball Reality) American League-only auction and National League-only auction held in Phoenix with the top fantasy baseball minds in the industry March 3-4.
In case you aren't familiar with positional tiers, it simply means ranking players by position who you think will put up similar value, and it helps avoid drafting players based on their overall rankings. The elite players at their position go in the first tier, the next level in the second tier, etc. Some positions may have five elite guys in the first tier, and others may have two. Some positions may have a strong second tier, while others are deep and have three tiers of players who make sense to draft. Instead of targeting a certain player, target a certain tier.
Fantasy owners get so caught up in drafting a player based off their average draft position, they lose sight that they could fill that position later with another player who could give you similar value.
The first base position is usually deep, and that's no different in 2018. The first tier begins with the Arizona Diamondbacks' Paul Goldschmidt, who has an average draft position of four, and ends with the Chicago White Sox's Jose Abreu, who has an average draft position of 37. What this means is fantasy owners who would like to attack the top tier at the first base position could theoretically wait until the end of round three/beginning of round four to draft that position.
This is also good to know because players in the first tier for positions like shortstop and third base are being drafted from the middle of round three and earlier. This allows fantasy owners to attack those positions in their drafts sooner.
Using Abreu as an example: Throughout my draft, I will scratch off each player as they come off the board. As Abreu comes closer, that is when I will know when to strike and draft him. That could be in round three or that could be in round five. It all depends on how your league drafts.
Deciding which players fall in to each tier is the responsibility of the fantasy owner. Also, when to draft that position falls on the fantasy owner. Since we mentioned first base is deep, I may be fine with drafting two players in the second tier, which will allow me to build around other positions. This is why we love playing fantasy sports. Usually, if you put in the work, you will be rewarded at season's end.
In summary, don't let the average draft position be the only resource you use. If drafting solely on player rankings and not positional rankings, it's more likely you're going to reach on a position that you probably could have drafted later and gotten similar value from a player you drafted a couple of rounds earlier.
Drafting Multiple Category Players:
This strategy can still be used in head-to-head leagues, but it becomes the focal point when constructing a roster in the traditional five-by-five rotisserie league format. The goal is to build a team with players who are helping in every category, even if they aren't performing at an elite level in any.
For example, last season Texas Rangers infielder Joey Gallo finished fifth in baseball in home runs. However, if we look closer, Gallo only had seven stolen bases and finished tied for 48th in runs, tied for 61st in RBIs and 141st in batting average. Even with the high home run total, Gallo killed fantasy owners with the .209 batting average and was below average in the other categories.
However, players like Houston Astros infielder Alex Bregman and Boston Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi are perfect to target, as they will help in all five categories. I'm not sure they will ever rank near the top of the league in any category, but they will be above average in each which will go a long way in remaining competitive.
Here's a tip I have learned throughout the last few years in my drafts: If a fantasy owner is in a league that has been together for a couple of seasons, look back at the top three finishers in each category's 2017 stats.
For example, if 300 home runs would have been enough to finish third in the home run category, while you are drafting, keep track that you are on the path to get around 300. If you are in the final few rounds and you find yourself needing power, then you may have to reach for a guy who will provide that, despite the fact that they may lack in other categories.
This is something we do throughout the season when we attack the waiver wire, but if fantasy owners at least built a strong base in the early-to-mid rounds, they can withstand a guy who may not have a high average. This can be said for the other categories as well.