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Fantasy Baseball Advice from A to Z

by Andrew Gould | @andrewgould4 | Featured Writer
Jun 25, 2020

Here’s an A to Z guide to winning your fantasy baseball league.

Beyond our fantasy baseball content, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Baseball Tools as you prepare for your draft this season. From our Cheat Sheet Creator – which allows you to combine rankings from 100+ experts into one cheat sheet – to our Draft Assistant – that optimizes your picks with expert advice – we’ve got you covered this fantasy baseball draft season.

For a newcomer, winning your fantasy baseball league may feel tougher than reciting the alphabet backward while walking in a straight line blindfolded.

The rosters are larger than those of fantasy football. So is the normal season, and by quite a large margin. With so many positions, statistics, and strategies to navigate, fantasy baseball can be a daunting experience at first. While success may never feel as easy as one, two, three, here’s an A to Z guide to help gamers step up their game.

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Average Draft Position is a Helpful Guide … Not an Answer Key
Nobody wants to be the fool who spends a fifth-round pick on a player who may have been available in the 15th. That makes average draft position (ADP) an essential tool to acing your draft. ADP can help drafters determine whom they likely need to jump on now, as opposed to which player can conversely last until the next turn.

When drafting online, have the host site’s ADP handy. Don’t, however, fall into the trap of doing exactly what it says.

You probably shouldn’t take a player with a 250 ADP at pick 150, but don’t pass on your favorite breakout pick at that slot just because he holds a 160 ADP. Meanwhile, it’s not worth taking someone you don’t like just because his 135 ADP says you’re gaining a value. It’s one helpful resource, but not a cheat code.

Bet on Skills
Every year, drafters overlook a talented player just because he’s blocked from the starting lineup. They’ll typically curse their caution by the end of April.

D.J. LeMahieu didn’t seem like a lock for playing time to begin 2019, but who actually expected Troy Tulowitzki to stay healthy? Injuries tend to sap teams — real and fantasy alike — of any depth that initially banished a worthwhile starter to the bench. Even if a role doesn’t conveniently vacate, these players can merely force the squad’s hand and play their way into a full-time gig.

If you’re infatuated with a player’s skills but are worried about playing time, take a flier anyway. These issues tend to work themselves out, and such uncertainty will likely scare the competition away long enough to create a draft value.

Closers Can Wait (But Not too Long)
The fantasy community is often at odds over how to handle closers. Although not quite the kicker or defense of fantasy baseball, they’ve been an often overlooked group ever since Matthew Berry coined the “Don’t pay for saves” mantra when I was in middle school. Many drafters still abide by this rule. Others, however, see this resistance as a buying opportunity to fortify their ratios — and get a leg up on saves — by drafting an elite ninth-inning stopper.

Consider compromising. Anyone who invested a premium pick on Blake Treinen and Edwin Diaz in 2019 will testify to the position’s volatility. Meanwhile, Liam Hendriks, Taylor Rogers, Emilio Pagan, and Brandon Workman all transformed from preseason afterthoughts into tremendous options.

The thinking goes that closers can easily be found on the waiver wire. Perhaps that’s true in some cases, but don’t take this for granted in a deep, competitive league with high waiver-wire activity. While you don’t want to overspend at the draft table, you also don’t want to leave with no saves foundation. That’s why I recommend targeting one “A-minus” or “B-plus” closer early in the double-digit rounds. This way you have one reasonably steady anchor before throwing darts late in the draft.

Draft for Value over Need
This isn’t a tidbit to follow every round. Eventually, you’re going to have to address some stolen bases, and you unfortunately can’t ignore catcher forever.

Some drafters are terrified of coloring outside the lines. Position and category balance is helpful, but it’s OK to capitalize on early opportunities. If a third baseman you pegged as a fourth-round pick falls to the seventh, don’t let him slip any further just because you already have a star at the hot corner. Essentially every league has at least one utility spot, and plenty more start a corner and middle infielder.

Passing on a starting pitcher you love solely because of team need would especially feel foolish if your staff ace gets injured. Take what the room gives you, and then plug in the holes later.

Eschew Early Risk
There’s plenty of time to swing for the fences. That time is not the first few rounds.

Rather than immediately ascertaining anyone with a wide of outcomes, build your squad around dependable stars who are as foolproof as possible. While this approach doesn’t eliminate aces altogether, it certainly tips the scales in favor of hitters. After all, they’re more projectable on a year-to-year basis and not as prone to injuries as their pitching counterpoints.

Nobody is 100% risk-free, but expose yourself to as little danger as possible when selecting your team anchors. Penciling in those high-floor studs also makes it easier to select some high-ceiling gambles in the later rounds.

FantasyPros, FanGraphs, and Other Sites to Favorite
Bonus points for alliteration? At this point, I might as well rent out some property on FanGraphs. Fantasy baseball success requires an appreciation of advanced metrics, and FanGraphs is essential for studying a player’s sabermetric profile and forthcoming projections.

Baseball-Reference is also a treasure trove of past and present data, especially if subscribing to the Play Index tool. Baseball Savant is now home to innovative Statcast data that has revolutionized the way we evaluate players. And of course, FantasyPros offers indispensable tools such as the Draft Wizard, Auction Calculator, and My Playbook to ace your draft and in-season management.

Give Auctions a Try
Sorry for being that snob writer who says you should try an auction draft, but you should absolutely try an auction draft.

When drawing the ninth pick in a snake draft, the random order has immediately eliminated eight players from your consideration. Picking near either end will lead to competitors decimating your queue before getting on the clock again. In an auction draft, however, every manager gets a fair shake at every player.

A snake draft is shorter and simpler, but an auction lends itself to more strategy and customizable roster strategy. Some will build around a select few superstars while others build a balanced squad. When and where to spend your money is an addicting chess game that will hook gamers who try an auction draft.

Have Patience with Prospects
Every once in a while, a rookie will exceed expectations and dominate the grand stage. Yet more often than not, neophytes need time.

The most famous example may be Mike Trout, who hit .220/.281/.390 in 2011’s debuting cup of coffee spanning 40 games. He certainly did not require much draft capital the following season, during which he batted a sterling .326/.399/.564 with 30 homers and 49 steals.

A blue-chip prospect yet to reach the majors will often draw ample attention from drafters, only to become an afterthought the following year because of a disappointing first act. Time and time again, these post-hype prospects present fantasy’s greatest buying opportunities.

Injuries are Inevitable
This isn’t MLB The Show. Unfortunately, we can’t turn off injuries in real life.

A season is often a battle of attrition as much as it a test of knowledge and fortitude. Every team will endure some injuries; some might experience them before Opening Day. On the bright side, that means a couple of IL stints shouldn’t be enough to decimate your squad’s championship pursuit.

While injury risk must be weighed when drafting, it’s impossible to truly avoid any health hazards. Prince Fielder, Felix Hernandez, and Robinson Cano were all remarkably durable veterans before Father Time abruptly came knocking. On the flip side, Michael Brantley and Patrick Corbin escaped the injury-prone label to each put forth full and fruitful campaigns in 2018 and 2019. Giancarlo Stanton had averaged 118 games played per season over seven years before carrying 2017 investors to glory with 59 homers in 159 contests.

Your entire staff shouldn’t be filled with Tommy John recipients and hitters with nagging back ailments, but sprinkle in some injury risk when those fears create a discount.

Join a Keeper/Dynasty League
For the ultimate fantasy experience, take part in a keeper or dynasty league. Rather than drafting from scratch every year, participants retain some (or all) of their players for the following season. This way, you’re thinking in terms of current and future roster construction — often including prospects — like an actual MLB general manager.

Keeper and dynasty leagues also lend to a more customizable experience. In addition to roster sizes and scoring, these leagues have different rules and settings in terms of keeper term limits, contracts, and farm systems. Each one is a unique and immersive experience.

Far more trading also takes place, as buyers and sellers often see their needs align. Regardless of their place in the standings, some managers prefer young blood to veterans, and vice versa. By joining a deeper dynasty league, gamers will also end up refining their redraft skills by expanding their baseball knowledge.

Know Your League
This general advice applies to essentially any strategy column for any fantasy sport. It may seem obvious to most (and cliche for those who have read it a handful of times before), but somebody else’s foolproof blueprint to domination may be useless in the confines of your unique league.

Player evaluations change drastically if playing with on-base percentage instead of batting average. Fantasy managers must judge relievers in a more realistic way if adding holds on top of the traditional saves categories. And of course, every keeper and dynasty league contains a multitude of layers impacting a player’s long-term worth.

Before blindly using someone else’s rankings, make sure you understand how the formula changes for your particular league.

Listen to Varying Opinions
We’re all guilty of seeking out analysis confirming our preexisting beliefs and ignoring voices that challenge our comfort. It’s invigorating to hear your favorite expert validate your enthusiasm for a late-round sleeper. If that same person pokes holes in another one of your top targets, however, you may simply brush it off.

Beware of confirmation bias when absorbing fantasy (and all other) content. That’s not to say you need to always concede to the almighty scribe or podcast host. They’re human beings who will be wrong sometimes. Just don’t lock yourself into certain opinions. Days and weeks of draft prep won’t mean much if you’re only finding thoughts that echo your own.

Mock Draft Early and Often
Practice makes perfect. Well, probably not, but you’ll be more prepared for draft day by conducting mock drafts.

Before making an irreversible mistake during the actual draft, test out different strategies with disposable mock drafts. You may find a certain approach yields a better final roster, and you’ll get a better sense of when to target certain players.

If this feels too time-consuming, FantasyPros’ Draft Wizard has you covered. Each draft, conducted against AI using rankings or ADP of your choosing, will only take minutes. In addition to logging multiple reps, you’ll receive instant feedback with projected standings and a final draft grade.

Numbers You Need to Know
This article has already looked at the main sites to locate advanced metrics, but which of those stats are important? Such a topic requires far more space to cover. Luckily, this handy dandy Sabermetrics Glossary provides definitions and articles breaking down dozens of key numbers. Here are just a few worth highlighting:

Weighted on-Base Average (wOBA): Consider wOBA an improved form of OPS (on-base + slugging percentage) weighed on a scale in line with OBP. It’s a useful catch-all stat to gauge a hitter’s overall worth at the plate. Statcast also offers an expected wOBA for batters and pitchers based on batted-ball quality.

Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+): Another catch-all stat for hitters, wRC+ factors in park effects to measure everyone on a scale where 100 is average. Anything higher is better, and lower is worse.

Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP): A player’s batting average when removing home runs and strikeouts. This can help determine if a hitter or pitcher has experienced some poor fortune on balls in play. Beware though: Players (hitters especially) have more control over BABIP than initially believed. It’s best examined when the player in question has a past baseline to use for comparison.

Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP), and Skill Interactive Earned Run Average (SIERA): ERA can swing wildly from year to year and is a poor predictor of a pitcher’s future ERA. These metrics all evaluate a pitcher’s effectiveness by isolating factors in his control. FIP neutralizes a BABIP to league-average, while xFIP does the same with home run to fly ball (HR/FB) ratio. SIERA, meanwhile, considers the type of batted balls (grounders, line drives, fly balls) in its formula. Statcast has also recently unveiled an expected ERA (xERA) that takes quality of contact into greater account.

Swinging-Strike Rate (SwStr): Strikeouts are the most important skill in fantasy for pitchers. Therefore, it’s quite useful to locate ones who are inducing a high percentage of swing and misses. A hitter, meanwhile, may struggle to hit for a decent average with a bloated SwStr rate.

Exit Velocity: The speed at which the baseball travels off the bat. Hard-hit balls have a better chance of becoming hits.

Barrels: A ball hit with an exit velocity of at least 98 mph and the optimal launch angle, depending on the exit velocity. Barrels have a high chance of becoming extra-base hits, so they’re a strong sign of success.

Open the Door to Meaningful Trade Discussions
If you send a trade offer through the host site without comment, you’re likely to get rejected without any explanation. Even if the other party isn’t feeling your initial proposal, a simple sentence or two can spark a dialogue.

Sending a concrete offer is often a more productive conversation starter than asking “What do you want for Player X?” However, it helps to also leave a quick message to let the manager know who/what you could give back instead.

For harmonious trade talk throughout the league, consider setting up a chat for all members on the host site, Twitter, Discord, Slack, MySpace (just in case MySpace made an improbable comeback by the time someone is reading this in 2025), or platform of your choosing.

Player Projections Will Improve Your Drafting
Projections are an arduous process. It’s also a far from perfect science that amounts more to a realistic guess plotted in the middle range of outcomes. It’s also super helpful when drafting a squad.

If entering a draft with precise statistical targets, gamers can keep tabs on those goals by consulting projections. You don’t necessarily need to make your own. Pick your preferred source, or combine several of them via FantasyPros’ projection page.

While most proper projections take the middle ground rather than boldly proclaiming boom or bust, this conservatism often works in their favor. This way, drafters aren’t getting blinded by their own optimism and penciling their fourth outfielder for 30 homers and 15 steals. Like ADP, projections are not a cheat code, but they’re a valuable tool.

Quitters are Lame
Any experienced fantasy baseball player can likely recall a plethora of leagues where activity waned in September. The season is long (like, really long), so everyone’s enthusiasm tends to fade. It’s no coincidence that a sea of abandonment coincides with the NFL’s arrival.

By all means, enjoy fantasy football. It’s far easier to spend 16 weeks — assuming you make the playoffs — preparing for a singular matchup revolving largely around one day. Baseball, on the other hand, requires a daily commitment for six months. Don’t let five of them go to waste because you’ve lost steam before reaching the finish line.

Runs and RBIs Get Overlooked
When evaluating hitters, home runs and stolen bases tend to jump off the page. Those are the flashier stats that are far more in a player’s control.

Since we now realize that RBIs aren’t the best gauge of a batter’s actual worth, fantasy gamers have over-corrected and devalued them too much. A high RBI tally may account for someone staying healthy and batting in the heart of an order behind OBP fiends. Yet as long as RBIs are one of five categories in a fantasy league using standard scoring, an everyday player driving in 80-90 RBIs is valuable despite middling advanced metrics.

Runs might get even less attention. Identify players poised to bat near or at the top of a lineup who aren’t receiving enough attention due to limited power and speed. A leadoff hitter with a decent batting average, but stellar batting eye will especially not get enough credit for frequently scoring runs. Targeting these position players is a great way to accumulate value while others are chasing boom-or-bust options with high power or speed ceilings.

Stay on the Pulse
Is a pitcher tinkering with a new curveball? If your starting left fielder battling through back tightness? What possible trades, promotions, or lineup changes are percolating? A successful fantasy manager is often hungrier for news than the gang at Paddy’s Pub.

Stay as informed as possible by keeping tabs on all developments. Keeping track of everything may seem like a full-time job, but our news desk has you covered. For all its foibles, Twitter is also an indispensable resource when following the right reporters and analysts.

Information is now so prevalent that a fantasy news junkie won’t necessarily be one step ahead of the pack. Someone completely in the dark, however, will definitely find themselves at a major disadvantage.

Trust Your Process
This doesn’t mean you should tank. But hey, if you consistently finish in the middle or bottom half of a dynasty, maybe it’s time to tear it down and undertake a grand, long-term rebuild a la the 76ers or Astros.

The bigger point here is not to panic and abandon your plan. Don’t give up on your favorite breakout hitter after a lukewarm April. If an offense that you expected to lead the way in home runs has underwhelmed, look deeper into that gap before acquiring a star slugger. It might only be a matter of time before your big batters catch fire.

You’re going to question yourself a lot during the season. Sometimes, that warranted self-criticism will lead to change. Other times, it pays to reflect back on a sound process and not overreact to misleading waves.

Upside Isn’t Everything
In fantasy football, full seasons are often swung by a select few stars. You could have drafted a balanced, well-oiled machine in 2019 that still fell way short of first place simply because you didn’t roster Lamar Jackson or Christian McCaffrey.

Baseball, on the other hand, follows an entirely different blueprint. Sure, snagging Cody Bellinger in the fourth round of 2019 drafts was swell, but that was merely one essential piece to the puzzle. For the same reason Trout can’t carry the Angels to the World Series, he (or any other superstar) can’t drag a fantasy squad to glory on his own.

While you obviously still want to hit the jackpot on some upside selections, there’s also value in gradually collecting value throughout the draft. That still isn’t enough unless a handful of players also deliver a modest return on investment. Balance those dart throws with overlooked steady hands who are safe bests to exceed their draft cost. It may sound boring, but stockpiling boring value is pivotal to fantasy baseball success.

Vetoing Trades is Wrong
Unless it reeks of obvious collusion, there’s no reason to ever veto a trade. Doing so just to block somebody else from improving their squad is bush league. And just because you see an obvious winner doesn’t mean that history will tell the same result.

Stop for a second and accept that possibility that maybe, just maybe, everyone else isn’t way dumber than you.

Win Leagues on the Waiver Wire
Still no on the alliteration bonus? Drafting is a timely, but fun endeavor that goes a long way to determining who claims first place. The waiver wire, however, is where true champions shine.

Making the right in-season acquisitions is a particularly strategical juggling act in leagues with a Free-Agent Acquisition Bidding (FAAB) system. Do you spend aggressively in hopes of gaining more service time from an unlikely breakout? Or do you save your spending power for prospects waiting for a call-up or players who benefit from mid-season trades?

Dig into the advanced metrics before jumping on a hot hand or dumping a struggling star. While you don’t necessarily need to stream pitchers with reckless abandon or do an entire roster overhaul, a champion will occasionally take some chances, and simply keep churning if one maneuver doesn’t fare well.

X-Factors Drafted Late Can Win Leagues
I don’t know. You come up with something good for “X.”

You’re in Charge
You have a trade offer on the table that you’re leaning toward accepting. However, after researching rankings and trade-value charts across the web, you find that the consensus believes you’re giving more value than you’re getting back.

Is it time to reassess? Maybe, especially if the gap is wide enough to ask for more. But hey, it’s your team. If your gut is telling you to hit “Accept,” don’t decline just because someone else said so. Back to knowing your league, those outside sources don’t see your specific story. Maybe this deal is beneficial for your particular scoring system or roster construction. Or maybe they’re just wrong, and your hunch will pay off.

Zig When Everyone Else Zags
The year everyone else is waiting on starting pitching could be the perfect time to buy an ace in the opening rounds. Is everyone reaching for high-end speedsters? Chip away at the category by identifying five-category contributors who can collectively keep you afloat in stolen bases.

There’s no singular way to win a fantasy baseball league. Every method has its setbacks and benefits. Ultimately, it all comes down to execution … and a bit of luck. Rather than sticking to a stringent plan, read the room and be ready to adapt when necessary. Fortune often favors the bold, so don’t be afraid to deviate from the pack and take your own path to glory.

2020 Draft Kit: View printable cheat sheets, sleepers & mistakes to avoid >>


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Andrew Gould is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Andrew, check out his archive and follow him @andrewgould4.

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