Best Ball Leagues Draft Strategy & Advice (2023 Fantasy Baseball)
Would you like to play fantasy baseball without making a single daily/weekly decision about whom to play during the 2,430 regular season games? Do you find it masochistically fun to look back at the roster you drafted in January of 2022 and wonder what possessed you to draft Jose Berrios as early as you did? If either of those is true, then you are an excellent candidate to enjoy MLB best ball contests.
The popularity (and financial stakes) of MLB best ball continues to expand with each passing year, and the number of strategies that managers have developed to excel at these competitions expands right along with it. Best ball combines the complexity of fantasy baseball with the simplicity of fantasy football-like scoring. It’s a perfect combination for many. And did I mention the “fun of drafting with no responsibility for managing?”
2023 MLB Best Ball League Strategies
Let’s take a look at some of the best ball strategies to try for 2023.
Deciding Where to Play
First things first: Best ball leagues are points leagues, and the points, categories, and roster sizes differ depending on which platform you’re using. Choosing the site and knowing your specific league’s rules/setup are the first two steps toward building any sort of strategy. The three most common best ball sites are Fantrax, Underdog, and the higher-stakes NFBC leagues. Here is a quick overview of the scoring for each:
|Hits||1.0||3.0 (1B), 6.0 (2B), 8.0 (3B)||4.0|
|Earned Runs Allowed||-1.5||-1.0||-2.0|
|Hits Allowed + Walks||-0.5||-1.0||-1.0|
The beauty of best ball lies in roster construction. Considering there are no pickups, drops, or trades, drafting enough of each position to backfill in the case of injury or demotion is imperative. Every “period” (Underdog & NFBC go by week, Fantrax is the entire season), your score will be determined by the best players on your roster. If you have a pitcher give up eight runs in 2 2/3 of an inning <stares at Berrios>, it is not as detrimental in best ball as it is in H2H because the hope would be you have other pitchers on your roster whose points would count that period instead.
Using those same three sites, here is a look at the positions that get counted in each respective period.
No matter which site you choose, you must know the roster size, categories, and scoring before you do anything else. A good suggestion is to play them all (depending on your budget) and find out which one you gravitate toward most. That in itself is a strategy.
But wait. There’s more.
To Stack or Not To Stack
For those who play large GPP DFS tournaments, you know that stacking is typically an integral part of taking one of those to the bank. In best ball, small stacks (three to five players) from the highest-scoring teams make sense since it presumably requires multiple members of the lineup to score those runs. Stacking a team like the Dodgers, Yankees, or Braves (the three highest-scoring teams per game in 2022) makes sense. Stacking the Tigers, Marlins, or Pirates, on the other hand, probably isn’t going to have enough positive correlation to make it worthwhile.
I don’t feel the need to warn you against stacking the A’s since even naming a small stack worth of their players would be a pretty massive feat.
This does not need to be a focus, per se, but if you feel torn between two players of equal value, picking the one who fits in with those you’ve already chosen is a viable option.
Pitchers, Catchers, and Outfielders: Have Back-ups for Your Back-ups
Ignoring Underdog’s small format for a minute, both Fantrax and NFBC count five outfielders and nine pitchers. When you think about building deep rosters, recognize the premium on these two positions based on sheer volume alone. On top of that, those two positions can provide elite production in best ball leagues.
Looking at the average ADP in NFBC drafts during January 2023, you can see this in action. Two pitchers went in the first two rounds total, and then 20 pitchers went in Rounds 3-5. Meanwhile, outfielders occupied many slots in those first two rounds before being more sporadic thereafter.
If you can, you want at least one backup for each position that will be counted in your period scoring, meaning you need to draft 10 outfielders and 18 pitchers. These are not the positions to scrimp on in best ball drafts.
Even though I thought we had all agreed to make two-catcher leagues illegal, NFBC leagues still require them. Research what the previous winners did with this position before deciding how much draft capital you want to spend on the backstops. (Hint: They don’t typically win your league.)
Take a Walk
Fantrax and Underdog both reward players who can take walks as equally as they do hits/singles. (The faint cheering sound you hear is coming from that group of three-true-outcome guys over there.) This is quite different from typical roto leagues, where walks are a hidden asset and not specifically rewarded.
In best ball, however, walks can be an excellent tiebreaker later in the draft. Juan Soto and Aaron Judge finished 1-2 in free passes in 2022, but do you know who was third?
Max Muncy. Muncy had a batting average of .196 and a comfortable spot on waivers in most fantasy leagues last season. But he took 90 walks, which turned him into a useful best-ball player. Christian Yelich and Alex Bregman (who actually had more walks than strikeouts) rounded out the Top 5.
Free passes shouldn’t figure in much for your first 10 picks, but late in a 40-round draft? Sure.
Speed + Power = Happy Hitting
I know that it is shocking, out-of-the-box advice to suggest finding the players who excel at both power and speed, but in best ball, that is the combo you are looking for with almost every offensive pick you make. A player who hits a solo home run and steals a base in a game gives you eight points in Fantrax, 15 points in NFBC, and 18 points in Underdog. Those totals are difficult to cobble together with any other combination of scoring.
When looking at those much later rounds, take a gander at the player’s projected totals in those two categories. A 15/15 guy in the 33rd round should find a place on your roster.
Innings + Strikeouts = Happy Pitching
A strong pitching strategy in best ball is to focus on pitchers with a high number of innings and a high number of strikeouts while adhering to the “don’t chase wins” ethos that applies to almost every fantasy format, no matter how many points are attached to it. A great place to begin is looking at quality starts. While Fantrax and Underdog assign bonus points to this specific stat, it also shines a light on the pitchers who accumulate a lot of innings and whose managers let them pitch deep into games.
Only eight pitchers reached the 200-inning plateau in 2022, and all of them had 18 or more QS. We’re not chasing this category, but it definitely shines a light on some underlying stats that can help you find those pitchers who should tally some great scores on a game-by-game basis.
But Saves are Worth So Much!
Each format that uses relievers (Fantrax and NFBC) entices you to think relievers are worth as much, if not more, than starters because of the inflated points awarded to the category. The traditional strategy will definitely tell you to load up on the starters and maybe grab some relievers later.
Guess what, though? You can be assured that most of your fellow drafters adhere to the same strategy. It becomes a literal “arms” race to grab all the starting pitching you can. However, if you employ a reliever-focused strategy, it can work.
Don’t hear me wrong: You want two or three high-quality starters on your squad before you begin to do this. Don’t skip that part.
The key is to let those relievers just keep falling in the draft until they become as valuable as a starter further down the draft chart. For instance, I am in a Fantrax best ball draft right now, and we are at pick 180. Looking at only pitching, the next starter available is Sonny Gray, with an ADP of 189. He is projected to get 328 fantasy points for the season, which is the entire “period” on Fantrax.
However, Raisel Iglesias is still available with an ADP of 152 and a projected 367.5 fantasy points. Instead of continuing in the starter arms race, I can take Iglesias a full three rounds after his projection. That is three hitters (or other relievers with value) on my roster because I stepped out of everyone else’s strategy.
Be the Best Best-Ball Player You Can Be
One of the benefits of playing best ball is finding out which players you’re drawn to, which can lead to better picks in other traditional fantasy baseball drafts. In the end, there are a number of strategies you can try and get wildly different results depending on factors far outside your purview when you draft your roster in the dead of winter. But the joy of drafting baseball teams will override the doldrums waiting for Spring Training.
Have fun with it, and as always, good luck!
Beyond our fantasy baseball content, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Baseball Tools as you prepare for your draft this season. From our free mock Draft Simulator – which allows you to mock draft against realistic opponents – to our Draft Assistant – which optimizes your picks with expert advice – we’ve got you covered this fantasy baseball draft season.
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Kelly Kirby is a featured writer and the lead copyeditor at FantasyPros. You can check out her archive here and follow her on Twitter at @thewonkypenguin.