Fantasy Baseball: 10 Mistakes Not To Repeat From Last Year’s Draft
It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been playing fantasy sports. You always need to evolve.
At one time, fantasy managers who realized that they should be looking at BABIP when evaluating a player’s batting average were well ahead of the curve. Now, there are expected stats and advanced metrics and 600 acronyms that fantasy managers are increasingly familiar with. Life moves fast.
Part of evolving as a fantasy player is realizing some of the mistakes you made along the way and trying to correct them. 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 Zack Greinke‘s first season with the Diamondbacks back in 2016? He was coming off an historic 19-3 year where he pitched to a 1.66 ERA and 0.84 WHIP. Fantasy managers certainly expected some regression, but Greinke was, and should have been, drafted as an elite starter. Greinke put up numbers that year that would charitably be described as mediocre (4.37 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 20.1% strikeout rate). Even if you drafted him only at a discounted price, as I did, you were still left thoroughly disappointed and fantangry (a term I coined meaning fantasy angry – patent pending).
The following season, I couldn’t stomach drafting Greinke again. Normally, he’s the exact type of player I’d like to target – a veteran coming off a surprisingly down year with nothing specific to suggest that his skills have eroded. But, I just couldn’t. Even in those rare drafts where Greinke slipped to the point where I felt he was a value, I just simply could not bring myself to make the pick.
You know what happened the next year: Greinke went 17-7 with a 3.20 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP, and the second best strikeout rate of his career. His 2016 was just an anomaly. And had I not drafted him that year, I would not have avoided him the following year.
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 Greinke this season, but he’s still not on my do not draft list!
9) Not using your queue effectively
Putting aside that it’s the most insanely-spelled word of all time (don’t come at me with “colonel,” ok? Queue looks like kew-woo-ee), 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 taken. 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 three players at your turn 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 at your pick instead of leading with your last-round sleeper, 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. And that is particularly true this year because of 2020’s shortened season. 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 Detroit drafting Miguel Cabrera in the 5th Round, or looking up at the television during the draft because on of the Marvel movies 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 Luis Robert 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 in a mixed league.
If you’re in an extremely deep league where there simply won’t be any legitimate players on the waiver wire, then sure, Kole Calhoun 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 Peter Alonso with one of your late-round picks probably directly led to an in-the-money finish in 2019. 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 high 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 completely lose 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, as many others have written, 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 each of 2017, 2018, and 2019 (and we’ll throw out 2020 given the shortened season, but you get the point).
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.
The strategy I most often employ is to try to get one of the truly “reliable” closers. Players whose contract, past performance, and/or overall situation gives them a long leash as their team’s sole stopper. After that, feel free to ignore saves entirely, and simply try to be hawkish when it comes to one of the 10-15 relievers who are not drafted but who will get significant save opportunities for their teams at some point. If you leave yourself without one reliable option, you’re employing too much risk in my opinion.
2) Neglecting speed
In 2018, MLB teams stole 2,474 bases. That was the lowest total for a full season since 1973. That is, of course, until 2019 came around, in which MLB teams stole just 2,280 bases. In 2020s shortened season, the number of steals rebounded slightly but only to a full-season pace of 2,390, lower than in 2018.
Since 1976, the five full seasons that saw the fewest amount of steals were 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 (and 2020’s pace would have been the second lowest). This is not your father’s version of fantasy baseball (probably because your father didn’t play fantasy baseball, but still). This is the new normal. Steals are scarce.
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, particularly in light of the dearth of reliable stolen base threats.
No, that does not mean you need to draft both Jonathan Villar 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 Anthony Rizzo 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 managers 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 2019, Jorge Soler had played in just 96 games the previous two seasons because of injuries. In 2019, he played in all 162 games and bashed 48 home runs. Similarly, prior to 2019, Adam Eaton had played in just 118 games the previous two years combined, but played in 157 that and was a key contributor for fantasy managers. Often times, injury-prone players are simply unlucky, and it takes very little for them to put together a 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 managers can work around. Banking healthy stats, and then being able to replace a player’s production with someone from your bench or the waiver wire, is far better than having a mediocre player clogging up a roster spot just because he stays healthy.
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.