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Brendan Tuma’s 2021 Fantasy Baseball Roto Draft Strategy: SPSB

by Brendan Tuma | @toomuchtuma | Featured Writer
Mar 5, 2021

Shane Bieber is part of Brendan Tuma’s SPSB roto strategy for the 2021 fantasy baseball season.

I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t believe there is any one “correct” draft strategy to ensure success in fantasy baseball. Aside from the usual caveats that it depends on your league settings, roster sizes, and scoring; I also believe that the flow of your draft can and should change your approach. Sure, there might be some universals truths such as “don’t pay for saves” and “shortstop is deep this year”, but in general flexibility and malleability are critical to building a winning fantasy roster.

All that being said, I’m going to give you the 2021 fantasy baseball blueprint that I believe will yield the most +EV results. What I mean by this is that if everything falls a certain way, then this is the best approach to take for roto leagues in 2021.

It’s never as simple as “draft the best players.” I certainly have my takes on who we should be targeting at certain points in the draft, but this piece is focusing on the bigger picture. When it comes to player analysis, we’re aiming to be right most of the time but it’s important to accept we won’t hit on 100% of our picks. Therefore, what plan of attack will produce the best results should we be fortunate enough hit on enough of the right players? Let me pitch my case.

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What is SPSB?

Good question! Throughout the years Major League Baseball has changed, which means our fantasy analysis should adjust with it. For example, it’s no secret that the game has shifted more and more towards plate appearances ending in the three true outcomes – walks, homers, and strikeouts. Additionally, the increase in data throughout front offices has led to starting pitchers being pulled earlier into starts, as well as stolen base attempts becoming more rare.

We also know that home runs are up. While 2019 might’ve been the all-time outlier, power as a whole has increased over the past five seasons.

Year Home Runs
2015 4,909
2016 5,610
2017 6,105
2018 5,585
2019 6,776

Oddly enough, what the league wide increase in homers hasn’t done is produce any 60-homer hitters. Instead, the homers appear to be more evenly distributed, which has led to a rise in 20-homer types.

This is a long way of saying we can find power later in the draft – and that’s before factoring in the absolutely massive discounts the shortened 2020 season has created with many prominent stars who slumped. What we cannot get later in the draft are aces and stolen bases. In other words, SPSBs.

Why SPSB?

Take a look at the latest ADP consensus and tell me how many starters outside the top-15 or so can be relied on for a big innings total AND plenty of strikeouts/good ratios. There just aren’t many. There are pitchers who could total a lot of innings (Zack Greinke) and there are those who might provide elite ratios (Dinelson Lamet) but it’s going to be a struggle to find true aces outside the top ranked names.

While I personally think Stephen Strasburg is undervalued and could fit this description, remember that we’re focusing on the big picture here. We need to acknowledge that our player analysis is going to be wrong sometimes, and therefore the SPSB draft strategy isn’t about pinpointing specific pitchers to target. Instead, we’re looking at things holistically to create the best roster construction. I can get power in the mid-to-late rounds? Great! All the aces are going early? I better get several. I compare aces this year to three-down running backs in fantasy football. They’re the most irreplaceable fantasy commodities in each sport.

Stolen Bases

So what about stolen bases? This is where we will actually be “pinpointing” players to draft, because while any of the early-round starting pitchers are theoretically serviceable, there are only two base-stealers who can pull off this blueprint: Trea Turner and Adalberto Mondesi.

Okay, fine. If you’re lucky enough to draft Ronald Acuna or Fernando Tatis Jr, then maybe you don’t need to be so aggressive on Turner or Mondesi. After all, we want to be flexible based on our draft position and how the first round is going. I highlight Turner and Mondesi, however, as they’re “must haves” if you don’t wind up with Acuna or Tatis.

Turner’s value comes with the fact that he’s the only hitter outside of Acuna/Tatis who has 40-steal upside and who won’t kill us in the other categories. He’s a known commodity and the perfect selection late in the first round of 2021 roto drafts.

Then there’s Mondesi. I’ve already written a lot about him this offseason. To summarize, Mondesi’s 2020 campaign was a tale of two seasons:

Plate Appearances Batting Average wRC+ Steals
July 24 – Sep 3 140 .179 15 8
Sep 4 – Sep 27 93 .376 202 16

I don’t think Mondesi is a good hitter so I don’t think we should expect anything close to those final 93 plate appearances (though a big season is at least in his range of outcomes). I also don’t think he’s as bad as he was in July and August. The stolen base upside is just so immense. Mondesi’s 24 thefts were eight more than the second-place finisher in 2020. Over the course of a full season he could lap the field.

The reason Mondesi is such a pivotal player with this approach is that after he gets selected it becomes impossible to catch up in steals without sacrificing value elsewhere. It’s possible to pull off, of course, but we’re seeking the highest upside approach when implementing SPSB. We want to finish first. If that means we might have to bank on Mondesi having a 75th percentile or better season for himself, then so be it.

When should I use SPSB?

This is where the article requires some nuance. As I’ve hopefully made clear by now, live drafts are fluid situations and the SPSB approach should only be heavily emphasized if the board falls a certain way (although I think early-round SPs need to be a priority no matter what this season, but that’s a topic for another day).

If you land a top-five roto pick you should try and get Acuna/Tatis. If you don’t get one of those two then you should target either one of the top-3 starters (Jacob deGrom, Shane Bieber, Gerrit Cole) or Turner. If you don’t wind up with one of Acuna/Tatis/Turner in the first, then you hopefully got one of the Big 3 SPs and are therefore in position to get Mondesi.

Tying it all together

Coming full circle, the biggest reason we can spend so much early draft capital on starters and steals is that the shortened 2020 season has led to some WILD average draft positions this spring, particularly when it comes to power hitters. Below are some mashers currently being drafted in Round 5 or later:

This doesn’t even include historically well-rounded hitters that are also going late such as Gleyber Torres, Jose Altuve, Yoan Moncada, Austin Meadows, Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, etc.

I need to reiterate – the SPSB strategy is not about knowing which of these hitters are surefire bets to produce like early-round studs. Our player analysis is going to be wrong sometimes. The thought process is that the values later on in drafts are power hitters and hitters coming off a down 2020. There are far less potential aces or high-end stolen base options.

If we wind up with Trea Turner, Trevor Bauer, and Luis Castillo with our first three picks, then we’re in fantastic shape to target value the rest of the way.

Other examples of variations:

Once this SPSB core is built it’ll be time to start hammering hitters through the middle and late rounds.

“But what about saves?”

As always, there are ways to work around saves without investing too heavily in high-end closers. We’ll get to that another day, though.

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Brendan Tuma is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Brendan, check out his archive and follow him @toomuchtuma.

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