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Fantasy Baseball Best Ball Draft Strategy & Targets (2024)

Fantasy Baseball Best Ball Draft Strategy & Targets (2024)

The Major League Baseball season (and the fantasy baseball season by proxy) is a marathon, not a sprint. That is part of the beauty of the game, but it can also turn managing a team into a chore. That is especially true in leagues with daily transactions. Many fantasy managers simply do not have the time or patience to deal with the constant upkeep.

The good news is that there is a way to enjoy fantasy baseball without the grind of constant lineup decisions, waiver wire claims and awful trade proposals from leaguemates. Enter Best Ball leagues.

Best Ball leagues are quickly becoming one of the most popular forms of the hobby. You can draft until your heart’s content and then sit back and watch your handiwork unfold. In Best Ball leagues, there are no lineup changes for the entire season. The team you draft is the team you have from the first pitch on Opening Day until the 27th out of the 162nd game is recorded.

This format presents its own unique set of challenges. That’s why I’m here to provide some strategy tips and a few players to target in Best Ball leagues.

Fantasy Baseball Best Ball Strategy (2024)

My No. 1 rule in all fantasy baseball leagues is to have a thorough understanding of your league’s settings before participating in a draft. That is especially true in Best Ball leagues because you cannot undo any mistakes you make during a draft. If you ignore a position group, you will be playing shorthanded for the entire year. The same goes for drafting injured players or those who do not have a path to consistent playing time. These are pitfalls that can prevent you from winning your league before the season even begins.

Best Ball leagues are essentially Points leagues at heart. That means you do not necessarily have to focus on a balanced roster, nor do you have to worry about protecting ratios. Volume is the key here. With that in mind, there are a few tenets that I like to keep in mind when drafting.

Positional Depth

Having depth at each position is arguably the most important thing to consider when drafting in Best Ball leagues. In traditional Roto leagues, you can get buried by a hitter who goes 2-for-20 in a given week or a starter who allows six earned runs in three innings. But in Best Ball, having those players is better than taking a zero. You must have adequate volume at each position.

Some sites allow players to earn eligibility at multiple positions. Others do not. This can greatly alter the value of a particular player. If you play on a site that allows multi-position eligibility, those players get a massive bump in value.

Hammer Hitting Early

I value hitting way more than I do pitching when it comes to Best Ball leagues. Hitters score at a much higher and more consistent rate than pitchers do. Using Fantrax Best Ball scoring as an example, 39 hitters scored at least 500 points last season, and 95 scored at least 400. In the last three seasons combined, 40 pitchers have scored 500 points, and 98 have scored 400 or more. Last season, Ronald Acuna Jr. scored 894 total points. No starting pitcher has scored even 600 points since 2019.

This trend will likely only widen with how the game has changed in recent years. Starting pitchers are not asked to finish games, and most aren’t even expected to pitch more than five or six innings. In 2003, 44 pitchers threw at least 200 innings. Last year, there were five. As a result, wins have become harder to rely on. Forty-three pitchers recorded at least 14 victories in 2003. Only 12 hit that threshold last season. Hitters taken early in Best Ball drafts are much more likely to provide value than pitchers. When drafting in Best Ball, I would only take one or two starting pitchers in the first 10 rounds.

Let’s look at George Kirby as an example. The young fireballer is a consensus top-10 starting pitcher in early 2024 fantasy baseball drafts, and with good reason. He is a solid source of innings and strikeouts, and he finished third among qualified starting pitchers in WHIP last season. However, he was outscored in Best Ball last year by the likes of Carlos Santana, TJ Friedl and Esteury Ruiz. You would never draft any of those players ahead of Kirby in a million years in a Roto league.

Starting Pitching

In Fantrax Best Ball leagues, drafts are 40 rounds long, with a starting roster of 22 players, including nine pitchers. There is no designation among pitchers between starters and relievers. That is important for reasons I will unravel momentarily. In the meantime, let’s examine the starting pitcher landscape.

Innings are of particular importance in Best Ball leagues. I would argue that quantity is even more important than quality, which generally contradicts how we assess value in a traditional Roto league.

Last season, Dylan Cease, Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn all finished outside of the top 95 starting pitchers, according to ESPN’s Player Rater. Still, all three underperformers finished inside the top 40 in Best Ball scoring. There is almost a direct correlation between innings pitched and fantasy points. Forty-two of the 45 hurlers who pitched at least 160 total innings scored at least 300 fantasy points in 2023.

As more teams place stricter limits on starting pitchers and employ six-man rotations, two-week starts are quickly becoming passe. This is another reason starting pitchers are devalued in Best Ball leagues. Spencer Strider averaged an MLB-best 18.55 fantasy points per game last season. Kyle Gibson averaged 10.35, which is on the lower end of the spectrum. Nobody is questioning which starter you would rather have in a vacuum. But is an 8.2-point weekly difference worth roughly 400 draft picks? Probably not.

Ignore Closers & Prospects

If your head exploded a little bit upon reading that headline, it’s OK; I’ve been there.

Let’s begin with closers. They are a highly valued commodity in standard Roto leagues, but they do not always score a ton of points for Best Ball purposes. Over the past three seasons, 74 pitchers have recorded at least 425 points in a season. Only five of those were listed as relief pitchers, and only four were their team’s primary closer.

Speaking of the number 74, Felix Bautista registered one of the best years for a closer we have ever seen in 2023. The Orioles’ closer posted eight wins, 33 saves and 110 strikeouts with a 1.48 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. Still, he was outscored by Mitch Keller, who finished the season as the overall SP36 in Roto value.

In addition to their relative lack of scoring, closers are easily the most volatile position group out there. If your average position player or starter encounters an inevitable slump, his manager may give him a game or two off. Maybe they put him on the IL for 10 days to help clear his head. But rarely is his job or role threatened. That is not the case with closers. Every year, several closers outright lose the gig after a rough patch. There is so much ambiguity and interchangeable parts nowadays among MLB bullpens that managers will call on the next man up.

If you cannot wrap your head around the concept of ignoring closers entirely, at the very least, please do not draft closers from bad teams. Not only is their upside capped even more than other closers, but they are at greater risk of losing value towards the end of the season. Again, you will not be able to make any lineup changes throughout the year. Teams who are out of contention in July often trade their closer to a contender, especially if that reliever is on an expiring contract. That closer usually ends up in a setup role for the contender, which all but kills whatever value he had for the remainder of the season.

When it comes to prospects, we all love to be the first at the table. We want to be able to puff out our chests and claim that we knew that a given prospect would break out. However, that does not happen nearly as often as we would like. And in Best Ball, that can mean a whole lot of nothing.

Again, you must start a certain number of players at each position every week. If you draft 40 players for 22 starting roster spots, you must extract the most value from every draft pick. This is especially true in today’s game, where injuries seem to happen at an increasing rate. In 2015, there were 73 instances of a starting pitcher hitting the Injured List. By 2021, that number was up to 179. If you are looking to fill nine pitching slots each week (ideally with starting pitchers), you will probably need to draft twice as many.

MLB organizations are often hesitant to call players up to The Show early in the year, thus risking losing a year of control. That means many top prospects do not get called up until later in the season. Plus, even the prospects who pan out do not always represent the best bang for your buck.

Last season, Jeff McNeil outscored Elly De La Cruz. Patrick Corbin, arguably the worst starting pitcher in baseball last year, outscored Eury Perez. In Best Ball leagues, I would avoid drafting any player who is not penciled into his team’s Opening Day lineup or rotation.

Fantasy Baseball Best Ball Targets (2024)

Now that I have explained my Best Ball strategy and theory, let’s identify some of my favorite Best Ball targets for 2024.

Early-Round Hitters

Elly De La Cruz (3B, SS – CIN)

The budding Reds superstar can be tough to manage in Roto leagues because of his 25.5% K-BB ratio. That resulted in a .235 batting average, which is less than ideal for a high fantasy draft pick. But when De La Cruz puts the ball in play, he scores fantasy points at a rate rivaled by few. His elite mix of power and speed is the perfect blend for a Best Ball target. He is also eligible at both third base and shortstop, making De La Cruz even more valuable in leagues that allow for multi-positional eligibility. I would consider De La Cruz as a second-round pick in Best Ball leagues.

Pete Alonso (1B – NYM)

“The Polar Bear” had an ice-cold .217 batting average in 2023. That type of drain on a batting average is problematic in Roto but less so in Best Ball. Alonso smacked a career-high 46 long balls last season. More importantly, Alonso has only missed 24 games in his five-year MLB career. It is often said that availability is the best ability, and that is certainly the case in Best Ball formats. Even if Alonso cannot improve the batting average, he is still an elite Best Ball pick. His .251 career average also suggests that some improvement is possible, if not likely. Alonson is another player who should provide top-25 overall value this year.

Kyle Schwarber (LF, DH – PHI)

While there is optimism regarding Alonso’s ability to improve his batting average, that is not exactly the case with Kyle Schwarber. Schwarber has hit .218 or worse in three of his last four seasons. Yet, he and Alonso managed to outscore the Cy Young Award-winning duo of Gerrit Cole and Blake Snell last season in Best Ball. Schwarber contributed by posting career-bests in homers (47), runs (108) and RBI (104). He did so largely on the strength of playing 160 games. Schwarber has been fairly reliable in that department, playing in 155 or more games in three of the last four full MLB seasons. Schwarber often goes in the seventh round of Roto leagues, but I would feel comfortable drafting him two rounds earlier in Best Ball.

Middle-Round Starting Pitchers

Justin Steele (SP – CHC)

Justin Steele posted a 16-5 record with a 3.06 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in his breakout 2023 campaign. However, he barely struck out a batter per inning. This gives many fantasy managers pause, especially in this day and age where it seems like every starter worth his salt is striking out at least 10 batters per nine innings. Steele is going well outside the top 100 overall players picked in early 2024 fantasy baseball drafts because of this relatively low strikeout rate. I think that is far too low, especially in Best Ball, where innings are of primary importance. Twenty of Steele’s 30 starts were quality starts last year. That rate was bested only by Cole and Logan Webb, another example of a starter I believe is more valuable in Best Ball formats.

Chris Bassitt (SP – TOR)

The soon-to-be 35-year-old appears to be getting stronger later in his career. Chris Bassitt has set a career-high in innings in each of his last three seasons. I do not expect him to top the 200 IP he posted last season, but he was tied for third in the Majors with 21 quality starts last year. Every out helps in Best Ball leagues. Bassitt is generally valued as a borderline SP3 in 12-team Roto leagues, but I think he deserves a bump in Best Ball. I think he is a top-30 starter and would draft him in the ninth or 10th round instead of the 11th or 12th.

Boring Hitters/Batting Average Risks

Max Muncy (3B – LAD)

Max Muncy is normally being drafted outside the top 150 overall picks in early Roto drafts. That seems odd when comparing him to the likes of Schwarber. I do value Schwarber more in Best Ball because he is Philadelphia’s primary leadoff hitter. More plate appearances lead to more points. However, I do not think the gap between these two players is that great.

Muncy has an outstanding 15% career walk rate, giving him a bump in Best Ball leagues. He is also hitting behind the most fearsome trio in the game: Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman. The only issue is that Muncy may sit when the Dodgers face a left-handed pitcher. That prevents me from ranking Muncy inside the top 100 overall in Best Ball formats. Still, I think he is worth a pick in the 10th or 11th round.

Jeimer Candelario (1B, 3B – CIN)

When you draft Jeimer Candelario, none of your leaguemates will pound the table in frustration or offer you praise for making such a savvy pick. But Candelario is a switch hitter who can play multiple positions on the diamond. He is also projected to hit in the middle of a potent Cincinnati lineup and gets a sizable upgrade playing in a hitter’s park. He will not hit .300, smack 40 home runs or swipe 20 bases. However, barring injury, I think he is a borderline top-100 hitter who you can currently draft several rounds later. That is exactly the type of player to target in Best Ball leagues.

Ryan McMahon (2B, 3B – COL)

Ryan McMahon checks off a couple of Best Ball boxes for me. First, he is eligible at both second base and third base. Not only does that give him dual eligibility, but he offers even more flexibility in leagues with a corner infield and/or middle infield slot. He also plays half of his games in Coors Field. In 149 home games over the past two seasons, McMahon has hit .262 with 28 home runs, 90 runs and 90 RBIs. Imagine getting a player of that caliber in the 20th round of a standard draft. Sure, the road games are a drain, but that’s why we draft for depth at each position. McMahon can be drafted three or four rounds earlier in Best Ball leagues and still provide value based on his home upside and infield eligibility.

Later Starting Pitchers

Seth Lugo (SP – KC)

Seth Lugo transitioned from reliever to starter in 2023 with very positive results. He posted 17 quality starts last season in just 26 total starts. That is extreme efficiency that is not always easy to come by. Lugo does not strike out a ton of hitters, and the move to Kansas City from San Diego is probably a net negative. However, his 3.76 xFIP ranked 23rd among 76 starters with at least 140 innings pitched last year. That suggests that he may have some staying power. Lugo is widely available late in drafts. I haven’t seen anyone rank him inside the top 250 overall, which means you can grab him well after round 20 in 12-team leagues. He will not make or break your squad but is a solid depth arm.

Kyle Gibson (SP – STL)

Kyle Gibson is going even later in drafts, usually well outside the top 300 overall. Gibson was 12th in the Majors in innings pitched and tied for sixth in wins. He is another pitcher whose offseason move (in this case from Baltimore to St. Louis) will probably lessen his value somewhat, so a repeat of those numbers in 2024 is unrealistic. However, he should grab the ball every fifth or sixth day for the Cardinals, which has plenty of value in Best Ball leagues. Gibson also has the occasional spike game, seemingly more often than other pitchers in this range. The veteran struck out eight or more five times last season, including two games with 11 punchouts. I would much rather draft Gibson than take a flier on speculating on a Minor League player or a would-be closer.

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