What is the Right Amount of Risk to Absorb on Draft Day? (Fantasy Baseball)
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It’s draft day in your fantasy baseball league, and you’re picking toward the end of the first round. The two high-upside, low-floor batters you’ve had your eye on have both fallen to you at the turn. Should you take them both, or pick just one?
It can be tempting to swing for the fences in fantasy baseball, but the large rosters and small benches make risk-taking, well, riskier.
Here are some tips for balancing risk in your draft.
Avoid Taking Regression Candidates Too Early
When baseball players put together strong seasons, their value tends to shoot up in next year’s fantasy drafts. You can identify regression candidates by comparing their past seasons with each, as those numbers will make outlier performances more clear.
Advanced stats can also help you figure out players to avoid. You can compare a player’s batting average to their expected batting average to get a sense of how lucky they were last season. For pitchers, comparing stats like wBOA to xwBOA will make unsustainably lucky pitchers jump out at you. You can read about 2020 regression candidates here.
You don’t have to avoid every regression candidate, and they can even become high-value picks if they fall in the draft. After you have a core of three to four guys that you believe can maintain their pace, then it’s safe to consider using draft selections on riskier plays.
Don’t Sell Your Soul For a High-Upside Rookie
Let’s talk about 2019. Back then, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had an ADP of 38.59, but he finished with an unremarkable .272 batting average and 15 home runs. His ADP has corrected this season, as he’s now going at around 58.8 in fantasy drafts. But what if you got stuck with him last season?
Well, you probably spent a third or fourth-round pick on him, but you got replacement-level value from him for much of the season. The early-career breakouts from Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna likely skewed owners’ perceptions of rookies before last season, but remember, neither of those players went that early as rookies.
Treat rookies like you would a regression candidate — make sure you have a solid core before you invest tons of draft capital.
If You’re Drafting Early, Don’t Overpay For Pitching
If you drafted for the 2020 season back in January, you might’ve taken James Paxton, Luis Severino, Mike Clevinger, Chris Sale, or Justin Verlander in the first few rounds. While taking pitchers early can pay off, you incur additional risk when you do so before spring training has even begun.
We all know that pitching comes with added injury risk, but you should change your approach to the position when there are still months or weeks before the season begins. Lower pitcher value in your rankings relative to batters, but don’t punt the position entirely — just try to find value where you can and let your league-mates deal with the headache of a wasted early-round pick.
Don’t Punt Too Many Categories — And Don’t Punt Related Ones
In categories leagues, it can be smart to punt one of them to maximize your performance elsewhere. You can check out our series on punting categories here, but I’ll give you the skinny.
It’s a good idea to punt categories that aren’t heavily correlated with others, like saves, batting average, and steals. It’s a terrible idea to punt categories that are related to others, like home runs (related to runs and RBI) or wins (related to strikeouts), because you’re effectively punting multiple.
Stomaching some risk by punting one category won’t single-handedly sink your season, but make sure you choose the category wisely.
Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
If you’ve played daily fantasy sports (DFS), you’re familiar with stacking. It can be tempting to stack players from the same batting lineup or pitching rotation in year-long leagues, but you incur additional risk in doing so.
For example, if you drafted Manny Machado, Tommy Pham, and Fernando Tatis Jr., an injury to one would reduce the output of the two others. Also, a bad matchup would depress all their value, and that may not be something your roster can overcome on a given week. While stacks can be smart in some contexts — like if you’re targeting hitters who play at Coors Field — you should avoid taking too many players in the same lineup.
If You Do Break One of These Rules, Have a Plan
These are rules of thumb, not rules of the game, and there can be times when it’s smart to break them. If you’re going to draft aggressively, by, say, taking an expensive rookie, then do some scenario planning. Figure out both the best-case and worst-case scenario and try to draft a team that will allow you to be competitive in both.
For example, if you really wanted to draft someone like Fernando Tatis Jr., then you should find a strong backup shortstop. That way, you’re prepared if Tatis busts, and you have an excellent middle infielder if he doesn’t.
The best fantasy baseball rosters are well-planned, and the best fantasy drafts are deliberate. Don’t create a rigid plan that will force you to reach on players, but have a general idea of the categories or types of players that you’re targeting — and where you’re targeting them.