Welcome to our fifth season of fantasy baseball coverage. During the next month we will help you get ready for your drafts and prepare for the upcoming season so you can become a champion. The recent trend in baseball has been free agents signing after the start of spring training so it's becoming more beneficial to draft closer to the start of the season.
Throughout the month of March, I will dive deep into fantasy baseball draft strategies, reveal my breakout players, bounce-back candidates along with undervalued and overvalued players.
As a refresher for those who followed our coverage last year and to any new readers, in fantasy baseball there are different league formats that 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 who are not familiar with what that means, there are five hitting categories: batting average, home runs, runs scored, RBIs and stolen bases. For pitching, the categories consist of wins, strikeouts, ERA, walks plus hits per innings pitched (WHIP) and saves. On-base percentage (OBP) 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 you 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 from March 2-3 with the top fantasy baseball minds in the industry.
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.
Due to multiple position eligibility -- which is always critical in fantasy because it allows roster flexibility -- the third base and shortstop position seem to be the deepest in 2019. Cleveland Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez is in a tier all by himself due to his ability to perform at an elite level in all five categories, but the second and third tier are extremely strong.
Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado begins the second tier with an average draft position of seven, but we can stretch all the way down to Eugenio Suarez of the Cincinnati Reds and even Matt Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals in the third tier. Suarez and Carpenter are being drafted in Rounds 4 and 5, and we can be comfortable with either on our roster. The second and third tier for third base is about eight players which is a nice group to target.
This is also good to know because it allows fantasy owners to attack positions that aren't as deep earlier in drafts.
Let's use Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon as an example. Throughout my draft, I will scratch off each player as they come off the board. I consider Rendon as a strong second-tier option. As Rendon comes closer, that is when I will know when to strike to draft the third baseman. That could be in Round 3 or that could be in Round 4. 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 third base is deep, I may be fine with drafting two players from the second and third 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 than not that 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 your team with players who are helping you 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 third in baseball in home runs. However, if we look closer, Gallo had just three stolen bases and finished tied for 51st in runs, tied for 24th in RBIs and 138th in batting average. Even with the high home run total, Gallo killed fantasy owners with the .206 batting average and was below average in the other categories.
However, players like Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story and Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Starling Marte are better options to target, as they will help in all five categories. They will never lead the league in any stat, but they will be above average with the chance to be elite in some of the categories that will help keep your team competitive.
Here's a tip I have learned over the last few years in my drafts. If you are in a league that has been together for a couple of seasons, look back at the final stats for those that finished in the top three in each category in the previous years.
For example, if 270 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 270. 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 you at least built a strong base in the early-to-mid rounds you can withstand a guy who may not have a high average. This can be said for the other categories as well.
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