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Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: Focus on Hitters Early

by Michael Waterloo | @MichaelWaterloo | Featured Writer
Feb 13, 2019

J.D. Martinez’s four-category stability represents an advantage of targeting hitters in the early rounds.

When you head into your draft, you should have a plan outlined in pencil, not pen. The key to any draft isn’t nailing your first-round pick or drafting the shiny new toy who’s “absolutely going to break out this year.” No, it’s being able to adjust your strategy. It’s the case for a standard snake draft, slow draft, or an auction. Being able to deal with a draft’s ebbs and flows is a crucial skill.

This isn’t fantasy football, folks. Luck won’t carry you half of the way.

But with that penciled-in plan, you should have a general strategy that you want to adhere to. It can be a mix of targeting pitching and hitting early, focusing on hitting, or focusing on pitching. For this piece, we are going to look at the pros of prioritizing hitting early in your draft.

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Injury Risk

No player is safe from injury. None. However, a pitcher–by the sheer motion of throwing–has more injury risk than a hitter does. One pitch and a pitcher can go on the shelf for 18 months. For a hitter, a tweak can put them on the 10-day injury list.

Risk Averse

Adding to the injury risk, hitters are, more or less, more predictable with their year-by-year production. Taking hitters early allows you to build your team with high ceilings and tremendous floors with your first- and second-round picks.

There will be exceptions, of course. Take Trevor Story. Last year’s numbers seem more sustainable than his initial breakout in 2016, which was fueled by torrid home-run pace in April. If he regresses to his 2017 numbers (.239 average, 24 homers, seven steals), he has no chance to return value.

There will always be outliers in the first few rounds who could come back to bite you, but in all, you know what you are getting with the elite and near-elite bats.

Positions to Fill

It would make it easier on us if hitters were given a designated UT tag instead of their respective position, but here we are still worrying about drafting catchers. There are more hitting spots to draft, and while position scarcity isn’t something that we necessarily need to buy into, there are more positions to fill rather than just SP and RP.

More Categories

Points are a different monster. There, you just need to get your points however you can, and not worry about positions as much. There are strategies to take with hitters and pitchers, but for any category-based league, you need to worry about a position player filling out more categories than a pitcher.

Starters can help in wins, ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts. Closers can get saves, strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP. The hitters who go early, though, are often five-category contributors.

That’s why players like Trea Turner, Jose Ramirez, Starling Marte, and Whit Merrifield are so valuable in drafts. They are true five-category contributors. Even J.D. Martinez, who doesn’t offer any speed, will fill four categories at an elite level, making him worthy of a late first- or early second-round pick.

Value, Value, Value

If you want to see some great value, pull up the NFBC ADP page. The middle-teen rounds are filled with absolute values at starting pitching, many of whom possess high ceilings.

Going, on average, after pick 100 are pitchers like Luis Castillo, Robbie Ray, Carlos Martinez, Kyle Hendricks, Chris Archer, and Charlie Morton. Those are just some of the attractive names.

Looking for some more names? No problem. How about J.A. Happ at pick 139 (as of Feb. 12)? He is as consistent as they come each year, but is always overlooked. Or Nick Pivetta, who by most advanced metrics should have been a top-20 pitcher last season, at pick 153. Tyler Glasnow and his second-half breakout with the Rays can be yours for the low price of pick 165. Jon Gray, who should have a bounce-back season, is a steal at pick 190.

Between picks 200 and 250 are high-ceiling guys like Josh James, Joey Lucchesi, Joe Musgrove, and Zack Godley. Between 250 and 300, Jesus Luzardo, Jimmy Nelson, Marco Gonzales, Julio Urias, and Collin McHugh can be had.

There are more names up to pick 500 worth rostering for either boring safety, bounce-back potential, or high upside. The point is, with so many great pitchers available later in the draft, it’s worth waiting on some of these targets after grabbing one ace and two solid No. 2 or No. 3-type pitchers to anchor your staff.

It seems that every other year, it rotates whether pitching or hitting is easier to find on the waiver wire. Last year, and what looks to be the case this year, pitching was much easier to find for long-term strategy or short-term streaming.

Flexibility

While you have to be flexible in your draft approach as pitchers and hitters are concerned, you also must adjust to team needs for your hitters and pitchers. Following?

With pitchers, it’s hard to find inning-eaters or high-strikeout hurlers without hurting your WHIP. But with hitters, it’s easier to identify what they bring to your team as far as categorical help is concerned.

If you draft someone like Martinez in the first round and Aaron Judge in the second, you know you have a nice jump on power. You are, however, behind in steals, making guys like Marte and Merrifield attractive options in the third or fourth round.

There are pros and cons to focusing mainly on hitters or pitchers early in your draft, but if you want to take a safe approach, taking hitting early is the best approach to take to compete all season long.

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Michael Waterloo is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Michael, check out his archive and follow him @MichaelWaterloo.

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