So You’re In Your First Fantasy Baseball League…
A lot of people I know will be playing in their very first Fantasy Baseball league this year. Most of these people are very familiar with Fantasy Football and while the base concept is the same, Fantasy Baseball is a whole different animal for any number of reasons. I’ve been playing Fantasy Baseball for well over 10 years now & while I’m far from an expert (my best finishes ever have been 2nd & 3rd) I still remember my first Fantasy Baseball draft & having no clue what I was doing. So here are some tips & advice for those who have asked, especially those that don’t follow baseball all that much in the first place.
Who Are All These Guys? – Have you ever drafted someone in a Fantasy Football league who’s name you have never heard before? Right, didn’t think so, that’s about to change here. Even if you’re a big baseball fan you’ll inevitably end up with someone on your roster that you had no idea even existed before you read their name off. This will occur most likely in the late rounds as you’re trying to fill your last Outfielder or Middle Infielder slot. Don’t feel bad about it, unless you work for the MLB Network you’re not required to know the name of every player on every roster. Hey, if you’re stuck just make up a name, say whatever team just added him to the Spring Training roster & worry about it later. I actually did this one year & it didn’t get caught until the Commissioner was inputting rosters.
Position Availability – Most Fantasy Football players are familiar with the concept of the Flex position. Fantasy Baseball takes this one further with the Middle & Corner Infielder & Utility positions. Middle Infielder roster slots can be filled with players who have position availability at Shortstop or Second Base. Corner Infielder roster spots can be filled with players who have availability at First or Third Base. Utility can be filled pretty much with any hitting positional player.
When it comes to position availability generally the rule in most leagues is that a player is available to be slotted into a position as long as they played a minimum of 30 games at that position the previous year. This is important when filling in the MI, CI & U spots (think Craig Counsell when he was still playing, could fit in any infield position) but also in another instance. Let’s take Joe Mauer from the Twins as an example. Mauer is primarily considered a catcher but may see some action at first base this year. However, because Mauer didn’t play first base for a minimum of 30 games last year he most likely won’t be able to be drafted as a first baseman in most leagues. Of course, Mauer will just end up on the DL for most of the season anyway so I would avoid drafting him in the first place, unless you’re drafting for the dreamy factor, then by all means you want him on your roster.
The Homerism Rule Still Applies – We all want to have our favorite team’s players on our fantasy rosters. The nice thing about Fantasy Baseball is that you can actually get players from your favorite team a lot easier due to the number of players available. That being said, don’t reach for a player just because they play on your favorite team, especially in the early rounds. I did this last year with Rickie Weeks & it’s a rare instance where it actually paid off for a while, until he went on the DL. Trust me when I say there will be better options available in rounds 4 – 7 at the outfield position than Nyjer Morgan, no matter how entertaining a player he may be.
Pitchers & Saves vs Wins – I have this argument with myself every year when it comes to drafting pitchers, is a Save better than a Win? In most leagues Saves will be its own scoring category so getting a closer is pretty important, right? Yes & no. The problem here is that there are more pitching categories than just Saves and Wins. In the standard & most commonly used 5×5 scoring system your pitchers will be scored on: Wins, Strikeouts, ERA, WHiP (walks and hits per innings pitched) & Saves. So while Closers will help you get Saves, they’re not going to help you out (generally) in strikeouts as much because of the fewer innings pitched. So don’t wait too long to secure a closer but I would suggest if you’re going pitching early on, spend those picks on quality starters who will contribute to more of the pitching categories than a closer which has more value in really only one.
How Do I Say This? – Another big difference between Fantasy Football & Fantasy Baseball is there is a much larger contingent of International players. Just get used to the fact that, especially if you don’t pay attention to baseball that much, you will mispronounce Jair Jurrjen or Koji Uehara. This is also another really good opportunity to make up player names. If you mispronounce Albert Pujols though, you should just pack it in.
Don’t Forget About Stealing – Above I mentioned the standard 5×5 scoring system and the ‘five’ that make up the pitching categories. For hitting the standard five categories are: HRs, Runs, Batting Average, RBIs & Stolen Bases. I inevitably forget about stolen bases every year. I don’t think you should target players who will get you stolen bases early on, but it’s definitely something to think about after you’ve locked up your sluggers which should hopefully carry you in the first four categories. Players like Dee Gordon, Brett Gardner or CoCo Crisp in the mid-rounds are some base stealers projected in the 40+ range that may/should be available & can help make up some ground for you in that category.
Reaching for Major Minors – Towards the end of your draft you’ll be looking to fill some reserve spots, players that may come in handy should one of your starters go on the DL. Two ways of thinking of this: Do you go for a proven, journeyman who is a lock to make a big league roster & get playing time or gamble on a hot player that’s still in the minors who may get called up early in the season? If you’re in a Keeper league, gambling on the minor leaguer makes sense, if you’re not…I wouldn’t waste a roster spot on them. Bryce Harper from the Nationals or Mike Trout from the Angels will be two players which will be picked in a lot of leagues this year even though they’ll be starting the season in the Minor Leagues. If you feel good about your starting players & can afford to stash one of these guys I guess go ahead but you may very well end up releasing them if you have a lot of players go on the DL & you need to fill spots. Trust me, because I’ve done it before. There’s nothing like patting yourself on the back for thinking you were smart in getting the new hot shot player in the minors then have to release them a week later because your 3rd outfielder tweaked a quad. And then have your Uncle pick that player up two weeks later when he actually is called to the Majors & beats you that week. True story.
So there you are, hopefully you’ve found the above at least nominally helpful as you prepare for your upcoming draft. Enjoy yourselves during the draft & season. More importantly, welcome to ‘The Show’.