Fantasy Baseball: 10 Mistakes Not To Repeat From Last Year’s Draft
As we officially close the book on the 2018 fantasy football season, it’s time to take a minute, sit back, and reflect on what a fun ride it was.
All done? Good, because it’s time to start prepping for your fantasy baseball season. Yeah, I get it – there’s still snow on the ground and it gets dark at around 3:00 p.m. But as fantasy owners, we never stop striving for greatness, because we know that finally, this can be the year we earn that trophy with the guy sitting on the recliner with the remote in his hand.
So, before we dive headlong into projections and tiers and how everyone is in the best shape of their life, let’s dip our toes in the water and talk about some general lessons learned. Here are 10 mistakes not to repeat from last year’s draft.
10) Having a “do not draft” list
Do you remember that 2012 season when Jon Lester went 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP? Probably because I live in New England and watched most of his starts, I don’t know if I’ve ever been more fantangry (a term I just coined meaning fantasy angry – patent pending) at a player than I was at him that season. Drafted to be an ace, he had nothing the entire year, and would fall apart the instant an umpire missed a call or one of his fielders failed to make a play. He single-handedly cost me multiple championships.
After that season, he was firmly on my do not draft list. I just was not going to be put through that misery again. And I continued to feel that way even as he slipped and slipped and slipped in every one of my drafts the following year. It was almost always to a point where if his name was anything other than Jon Lester, I would have snatched him up three rounds before he actually got drafted. But I refused.
Lester wound up with a more typical season in 2013, winning 15 games with a 3.75 ERA. Not a league-winner, but certainly a guy who would have helped my staff at the time. And I owned zero shares.
No matter how badly Player X hurt you last season. Everyone can be drafted if the price is right. Leave your options open. Also, to clarify, I probably won’t be drafting Jon Lester this season, but not because he’s on a do not draft list!
9) Not using your queue effectively
Putting aside that it’s the most insanely-spelled word of all time, a queue may be your best friend on draft day. Effectively using your queue in a fantasy baseball draft is an art form. First, once the on-the-clock selection gets about six picks from you, you need to have more players in your queue than will be drafted before your next turn. In other words, if you’re up in three picks, you need at least four guys in your queue. This is essential, both because you need to guard against the inevitable loss of WiFi that’s going to hit just before your selection AND because you need to be ready for all of your top remaining picks to be selected. And if you’ve done enough fantasy baseball drafts, you know how scary that moment is when you figured you’d be able to nab one of Joey Votto, Jose Abreu, or Matt Carpenter, and then bam, they all go in succession right before your pick.
In addition, always use your queue to have one or two players that you absolutely don’t want to forget as the draft goes along. Even with your own set of rankings, having your top sleeper’s name staring right at you pretty much ensures that you won’t miss him come the right time. But remember, always have at least one player in your queue who you’d be ok drafting in that round ahead of the Matt Olson player, lest the whole WiFi nightmare strike!
8) Not knowing your league settings in advance
How many games before a player gets catcher eligibility? Does he need to start 10 games at the position or is it 10 appearances? Are we playing with batting average or on-base percentage?
Again, there’s no shame in playing in several leagues. But if you do, you’re probably going to be dealing with a ton of different tweaks and oddities in your settings. Make sure you know what you’re dealing with before your draft starts. Because although it may not seem that way, little things can have a major impact on your draft strategy.
7) Losing focus
It’s the easiest mistake to correct, but probably the one we make most often. Trying to be in the zone for two hours or so is hard enough as it is. It’s made tougher when we’re trying to come up with the perfect zinger in response to your buddy who lives in Baltimore drafting Trey Mancini in the 5th Round, or looking up at the television during the draft because The Shawshank Redemption is on TBS AGAIN!
Fantasy baseball is for fun, obviously, so a little good-natured smack talk in the draft room never hurt anyone. But there’s a far cry from that to “What the? When did Eugenio Suarez get drafted?” Stay in the moment. There will be plenty of time to goof off later.
6) Drafting for safety in the late rounds
Sure, depth is important if you’re going to survive the onslaught of injuries that are bound to assault your team throughout the season. So having a player who you know can fill in for a few weeks is important. But for the most part, you need to be drafting for upside in the late rounds.
If you’re in an extremely deep league where there simply won’t be any legitimate players on the waiver wire, then sure, Jake Bauers makes a fine safety net. But other than that, you need to be thinking about home-run plays. Sure, many of these late-round picks will wind up getting cut after a few weeks. But drafting Blake Snell with one of your last picks probably directly led to an in-the-money finish a few years ago. It just takes one to pan out. Those mediocre guys who can tide you over for a few weeks during injuries will be out there waiting for you during the season.
5) Being too concerned with position scarcity early
It’s the old adage: you can’t win your draft in the early rounds, but you can lose it. Of course, position scarcity matters during your draft. But early on, you really want one thing – production. There will be plenty of time to think about the depth of middle infield or how you can, if you so choose, wait on third base. But you need to be thinking about getting as much safety and production as you can in the early rounds, before considering how your roster is filling out as the draft goes on.
Note: A player’s position is obviously baked into his value at the start – i.e., a player’s expert consensus ranking is surely dependent at least somewhat on his position eligibility. That’s not what we’re talking about here, of course. Just don’t pass on a player who you might have ranked higher in the first few rounds because you’re thinking about filling positions right out of the gate.
4) Not having an alternative to your host site’s rankings
You know what I’m talking about here, right? If you play in many leagues, chances are you play on several different sites. That can present a few problems, including having even a basic understanding of how the draft room works – I am not joking when I say that one time I played on a site and it took me two rounds to figure out how to actually draft a player.
But one of the most critical problems is the ranking of players in the draft room. Often times they’re so out of whack that you lose complete track of who is and who is not available. You’re sitting there in Round 10 when suddenly a fifth-round-caliber player, who you didn’t realize was still around, gets drafted. Do yourself a favor and take an hour or two before draft day and just input either your own rankings or rankings from a site you can trust. Also, you can, and in my opinion should, use the FantasyPros Draft Wizard, which legitimately connects to your draft and gives expert consensus rankings suggestions in real time. That way you’ll never miss a beat.
3) Waiting too long to draft a closer
In previous iterations of this article, I’ve legitimately advocated for the opposite of this. In prior years, it’s always seemed like a fairly obvious suggestion to wait on drafting your closer. The excellent ratios you may get from the elite closers won’t make that much of a difference given their limited innings, and plenty of relief pitchers come from out of nowhere to be viable options.
But things are different. From 2014 through 2016, there were 54 pitchers who registered at least 30 saves in a season. That’s an average of 18 per year. But there were just 11 such pitchers in 2017 and 11 in 2018.
Simply put, with an emphasis placed on analytics, fewer and fewer teams are paying big money for closers or relying on a single pitcher to get the lion’s share of their save opportunities. More than ever, bullpens are mixed and matched. So, waiting forever for a closer might result in being short on saves.
This year, be smart and make sure to grab at least one top-10 closer. It will make your fantasy baseball season far less stressful.
2) Neglecting speed
In 2018, MLB teams stole 2474 bases. That was the lowest total for a full season since 1973. 1973! Indeed, since 1976, the four full seasons that saw the fewest amount of steals were 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.This is not your father’s version of fantasy baseball (probably because your father didn’t play fantasy baseball, but still).
Now go back and look at your league history and see what it takes to compete in steals. Although we don’t always realize it at the time, it is a preposterously high number, one that is impossible to reach unless you are constantly thinking about speed during your draft.
No, that does not mean you need to draft both Dee Gordon and Adalberto Mondesi. But it does mean that you need to be thinking about where you are in steals when you consider every pick. You know those five to 10 thefts Travis Shaw will give you this year? Those matter!
1) Entirely avoiding injury risks
It’s incredibly frustrating to see a key cog on your fantasy team miss substantial time with an injury. Your projected stats from draft day go out the window; your perfect draft is shattered. And that’s why many fantasy owners entirely avoid players who they deem at a high risk of injury.
But there are two problems with that philosophy. The first is that you’re injury-prone until you aren’t. Coming into 2017, Giancarlo Stanton had missed significant time to injury in four of the previous five seasons. Since, then, he’s missed just seven games total. Similarly, prior to 2017, Jed Lowrie had topped 136 games played just twice since 2008. In his previous two seasons, he’s played 153 and 157 games. Often times, injury-prone players are simply unlucky, and it takes very little for them to put together a full healthy year.
The second problem with the “avoid injury-prone players” philosophy is that although losing a player to injury is a bad break, it’s something that fantasy owners can work around. After all, even in the seasons Stanton did get injured, he almost always gave outstanding production when he was healthy. Having him in your lineup for half the season, and then being able to replace his production with someone from your bench or the waiver wire, is far better than having a .265-67-12-67-2 healthy Joey Votto in your lineup all year (that is not to say you should avoid Votto – it’s just an example).
In other words, even though injury-prone players feel like they bring instability to your team, there’s little reason to avoid them like the plague. But, side note, DO try to avoid the actual plague. It does not go well during fantasy baseball season.