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Best Draft Tips for Fantasy Baseball (2021)

Feb 19, 2021

 
We’re creeping toward the MLB fantasy draft season and in normal years, one could apply the typical tried and true strategies for drafting. In case you’ve been living on a remote island with no connection to the world, though, we’ve been far from normal for nearly a year now. Following last year’s 60-game season, players who we haven’t seen play in over a year due to opt-outs and the pandemic still very much a part of our everyday lives, how one should approach a draft might be a bit cloudy. To provide clarity, we reached out to a group of industry experts and asked them two questions on how to approach drafts in 2021.

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Q1. What is the one draft tip specific to the 2021 season fantasy managers should know?

“Veteran pitchers with a history of pitching plenty of innings take on extra value this year. Last year, Lance Lynn led the league with 84 innings pitched, and considering all the stops and starts, teams are likely going to be extra careful with their starters’ innings this season. The Brewers have already declared that they will cap their starters at 100 innings more than they pitched in 2020, and many teams are discussing moving to a six-man rotation. Veteran pitchers with a history of big-inning seasons, including Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, and Lynn, should be valued beyond their raw numbers, in light of the discrepancy between their innings and what the vast majority of starters will pitch this season.”
– Dan Harris (FantasyPros)

“Ignore 2020 when doing your evaluations/projections and apply buy low/sell high principles to your analysis of this draft season’s Average Draft Position rankings. Players with ADPs impacted even slightly by a 2020 bust or breakout are players to target or fade. Randy Arozarena is a great example. He was nowhere to be found on prospect or sleeper lists prior to 2020 and after 23 games with Tampa Bay, he looks like he could be the real five-tool deal. He currently has an ADP of 59.3. If he is a true 30/20/.280 player with an OPS over 1.000 then that’s a great value. Let someone else take that risk. Kris Bryant and Eddie Rosario are being drafted 115 and 123. I’d much rather go there and then on them. They could, and I expect will, be better than Arozarena in 2021 at half the price. Shane Bieber (ADP of 7.8) is another example of a player to be cautious about. He broke out in 2019, but he established himself as a two-time elite SP in 2020 in under 80 IP. I love Mr. Bieber, but one season of over 200 innings pitched at a high level is not enough to put him in Gerritt Cole’s class and I’m not using a first-round pick on him instead of Jose Ramirez, Christian Yelich, or Trea Turner. 2020 is why Bieber is a top-eight pick. Fade him. J.D. Martinez is the opposite. He was awful in 2020 and has an ADP of 87.8 now – lingering right around where you can select Edwin Diaz, Salvador Perez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr, or Ian Anderson. Martinez may be in decline, but that’s an ADP with upside to dream on. That’s what 2020 has done to the 2021 draft season. Don’t get caught up in the numbers or the hype that 2020 has created. Instead, exploit it.”
– Chris Mitchell (FantasyData)

“Fantasy managers should be especially wary of paying a premium for hype. 2020’s sample size was so small that there’s likely to be a ton of noise in the results, and prospects are even more of a wild-card than usual due to the lack of minor-league action. That’s not to say you should completely avoid taking chances, but high floors should be prioritized, especially early in drafts.”
– Kyle Bishop (RotoBaller)

“Ignore uncharacteristic stat lines. In a normal year, 60 games of excellent or subpar play would be considered a streak. Be careful not to put the same amount of weight in 2020 stats as you would for a full season. If a normally good player like Christian Yelich or Cody Bellinger had a rough 60-game season, do not de-value them based on that slump. Conversely, if a player with a normally lackluster track record suddenly had a spectacular 60-game season, be careful not to overvalue them. Don’t ignore 2020 completely, but make sure to put the appropriate amount of stock in that season.”
– Tim Young (Brewer Rat)

“The starting pitcher cliff is steep, and if you’re not careful you could be staring into the abyss if you ignore SP early this season. COVID-19 limited innings of everyone last year, bring stamina questions to an already young, and mostly unproven, pitcher pool. I would lean on veterans with a track record when possible. Don’t avoid the youthful upside, but don’t make them the anchors in your rotation either. There’s just too much risk there.”
– Joe Pisapia (FantasyPros)

“BUY THE DIP. The 2020 season was 60 games, and far too many fantasy players are treating it as a regular season-long sample size, and ADP is showing that. Players like Jose Altuve, Austin Meadows, Charlie Morton, Javy Baez, Jake Odorizzi, and countless others are being drafted at massive discounts compared to their 2019 costs after just a 60 game sample. Each of these players and countless others have proven to be valuable assets and their 2020 seasons are being weighed too much. Take advantage and buy the dip on proven commodities.”
– Michael Petropoulos (BRoto Fantasy)

“The biggest draft tip is to know your league rules. This is the first step fantasy managers should take before entering or preparing for any league draft, but many make the mistake of treating every league the same. Enter the settings manually or sync to the FantasyPros MLB Draft Wizard (shameless plug) and practice drafting using the mock simulator. This will give you an idea of where players are being selected based on your league rules. Fantasy managers should have an overall list as well as a position-by-position breakdown based on tiers. With the Draft Wizard and a custom cheat sheet, fantasy managers should have enough to dominate their 2021 fantasy draft.”
– Brad Camara (FantasyPros)

Q2. What is the one thing fantasy managers should take away from last year’s shortened season?

“That not everything fits into one basket. You can’t discount everything or credit everything you saw, but instead you need to look under the hood. Corbin Burnes finally tapped his potential, and rather than being the result of a small sample, it was more likely due to a tangible pitch-mix change. Zach Plesac made some gains but he allowed a ridiculously low .224 BABIP and had a 91.7% LOB rate with a FIP and xFIP more than a run higher than his ERA. Fantasy managers need to parse through the underlying data from last year, and not wholeheartedly ignore or adopt as true what we saw in 2020.”
– Dan Harris (FantasyPros)

“Players at the highest level can do extraordinary things in small samples. That’s how Major League Baseball and Daily Fantasy Sports are different and should be judged differently than yearly leagues. The true test of a player’s fantasy value is how they perform as the sample sizes become informative and definitive. In DFS, use the trends, apply wOBA and all the best metrics when chewing through the matchups for any given slate but don’t ignore current performance and current data. In yearly leagues and Dynasty formats, do the opposite. Exploit small sample hysteria by buying and selling at the right times but never lose sight of the long game, the larger samples, and player profiles. And, don’t disregard circumstances. MLB players rely on routine and when those routines are thrown up in the air in disarray it impacts their ability to perform consistently. 2020 taught us that too.”
– Chris Mitchell (FantasyData)

“Context matters. While 60 games shouldn’t mean much for most players, certain players had breakthroughs that we should not ignore because there is an objective reason for their improvement. For instance, newly signed closer, Trevor Rosenthal looked like trash in 2019, but was stellar in 2020. His improvement can be attributed to being an extra year removed from Tommy John surgery, a procedure which oftentimes causes players to need time to regain their control. Combine that reasoning with his pre-TJ track record, and it’s reasonable to expect big things from Rosenthal.”
– Tim Young (Brewer Rat)

“A 60-game pandemic season doesn’t give us a lot of actionable data. Fantasy managers shouldn’t completely ignore what happened last season, but they should be careful to avoid putting too much stock in any extreme performances – good or bad. Even the best players can slump for weeks at a time and even fringy guys can run hot over the same span, and that’s in a normal year, which 2020 decidedly was not.”
– Kyle Bishop (RotoBaller)

“2020 was one big, small sample size. Yes, that’s an oxymoron, but you’d be an actual moron to put too much stock (good or bad) on what you saw last season. Take both with a grain of salt. I would especially be kind to the surprisingly ‘bad’ seasons certain players had. Baseball players are creatures of habit and the start/stop nature of 2020 threw a lot of routines off the norm. Don’t forget the track records when applicable.”
– Joe Pisapia (FantasyPros)

“The 2020 regular season of 60 games was just 37% of the typical 162 game regular season. We have seen stars struggle and unproven players shine year after year in small samples. Do not count entirely on 2020 stats when preparing for the coming season and be very cautious in trusting the shortened season players who went from unknowns to stars with big-time ADPs heading into 2021. Specifically, Zach Plesac, Randy Arozarena, and Framber Valdez have huge costs after not even being considered in drafts in 2020. Do your research and be cautious with the small samples!”
– Michael Petropoulos (BRoto Fantasy)

“Fantasy managers should use the 2020 shortened campaign as a small sample and not draft based on last season alone. Some will look at last year’s stats and try to project what that player would have done over a 162 game season. I believe using a 2-3 year average would give fantasy managers a better baseline of what to expect from that player in 2021. Treat it as a small sample size and not as a be-all end-all.”
– Brad Camara (FantasyPros)


Thank you to the experts for giving their draft tips for the upcoming season. Be sure to give them a follow on Twitter and check out our latest podcast episode below for more great advice.


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