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Building the perfect bench (Fantasy Baseball)

by Bobby Sylvester | @bobbyfantasypro | Featured Writer
Jul 1, 2020

Before he became a closer, Edwin Diaz was a lights out reliever

In fantasy football, your early-round picks are crucial and if you don’t nail each of them, you can’t win your league. Fantasy baseball is an entirely different story. Now, it helps to not flub these picks but the draft is won throughout, as there will be a handful or even a dozen picks outside the top 150 that make just as large of an impact as your second and third round picks. If you can secure two to four of them, you are without question in the driver’s seat for your league. Today, I’ll tell you about the type of players I’d recommend targeting for your fantasy baseball bench.

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Strategy differs with roster construction

Fantasy baseball does not allow for a cookie-cutter approach. Some leagues have 3 bench spots while others have 7 or even 20 in some dynasty leagues. In the more shallow leagues, you have to build for depth, especially if your league only allows weekly pickups, which would prevent you from streaming. That means you need to build your bench as if they are all starters for your team, because you will need to use them as such if you want to compete in the volume-based categories (RBI, R, HR, SB, Ks, Ws, SVs). In a deeper league (anything with 5 or more bench spots), the correct approach is much different, as you’ll want to target upside exclusively. We will get to that with the next bullet point, but there are still other questions to ask.

Upside starting pitchers win leagues

Every single season we see a young starting pitcher breakout into an absolute monster. More often than not, it is three or four of them. Everyone knew it was possible for Shane Bieber, Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, Trevor Bauer, Walker Buehler, Mike Clevinger and Chris Paddack to become that guy, but their ADPs fell because of the perceived risk associated with drafting them. Frankly, though, the upside and likelihood of striking that upside far outweighs the risk in having your 16th round pick not work out. So what if you have to cut them, you’ll find out quick, and perhaps you’ll end up with two aces for virtually no draft capital if you invest in three or four of these player archetypes.

Your “bench” can be an ace starting pitcher

What you are about to read is going to sound fake. It is so easy to accomplish that it feels like cheating.

You can draft three dominant non-closing relief pitchers in the last three rounds of your draft and they will return better performance combined than a top-tier ace will. For instance, look at three “free” relief pitchers from 2019:

Seth Lugo: 80.0 IP, 104 Ks, 2.70 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 7 W, 6 SVs
Nick Anderson 65.2 IP, 110 Ks, 3.32 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 5 W, 1 SV
Ryan Pressly 54.0 IP, 72 Ks, 2.32 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 2 W, 3 SVs
TOTAL: 199.2 IP, 286 Ks, 2.80 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 14 W, 10 SVs

61.1 IP, 64, 22, 70, 3, 1

Max Scherzer: 172.2 IP, 243 Ks, 2.92 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 11 W, 0 SVs
Stephen Strasburg: 209.2 IP, 251 Ks, 3.32 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 18 W, 0 SVs
Clayton Kershaw: 178.1 IP, 189 Ks, 3.08 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 16 W, 0 SVs

It is quite clear that this trio of relievers combined is better than any one of those second-round pick type aces, and granted, you have to spend two extra roster spots, but those final roster spots are throw-aways in terms of above replacement value. So instead of grabbing a seventh starting pitcher who will drag down your ratios in exchange for some extra wins and K’s, grab the wins, Ks, a few saves and drop your ratios in the process with your final bench spots. After all, you can start these types every day while your starting pitchers have four days off between starts.

Managing a top-notch platoon

If your league allows for daily lineup changes, there is another trick you can put together. MLB teams use it all the time, where they build a platoon for one position where one hitter dominates lefties and another dominates righties. Neither, in themselves, are a star but combined, they are better than many stars. For instance, Jose Martinez has obliterated lefties throughout his career. He is ok against the righties, but virtually replacement-level. Ji-Man Choi, meanwhile, is below replacement-level against lefties but is spectacular against righties. If you pair them together, Martinez never has to play against a righty and Choi never has to against a lefty. Their splits combined make them more valuable than even Freddie Freeman in both real-life and fantasy. If you try this, though, you’ll have to pay attention to the Rays’ opposing pitcher every day and adjust your lineup accordingly.

When to stash prospects

If your bench is big enough, you may just be able to snag the next Juan Soto, Ronald Acuna, Trea Turner or Fernando Tatis Jr. who comes up mid-season and performs like an elite fantasy hitter. The problem is, you don’t want to hang onto these guys for too long and waste a roster spot all season. Instead, you pick them up weeks before they are called up so you don’t have to waste your whole FAAB budget acquiring them. It will require you to do some additional reading, but the top prospects are easily to find and prognosticators are typically able to forecast when they are close to being called up.

Advanced streamer strategy

If your league allows for daily pickups and lineup changes, you can get ahead of the system by looking one day in advance and grabbing the starting pitcher in that great matchup or the hitter who is about to play in Coors. Otherwise, you’ll get beat out for their services more often than not or have to waste precious FAAB to acquire them. A little extra research can go a long way, as the top streamers every day are usually a full standard deviation or two above the second tier of options.

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Bobby Sylvester is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Bobby, check out his archive and follow him @BobbyFantasyPro.

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