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Feb 28

Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: Seek balance, hedge bets, and play for five categories

I won’t try too strongly to make the association that fantasy managers are anything like real life managers, nor will I try to suggest that the jobs are at all similar lest Clint Eastwood’s “Gus” character from Trouble with the Curves head explode but I will say that there are some elements of player valuation that are similar.

Our chief goal is pretty similar: to put together a balanced roster, ready to compete with all opponents and win in any given week (game) with complimentary players that balance one another’s strengths.

The idea for this piece actually came together when discussing why I’m OK valuing (and drafting) a pitcher like Cliff Lee ahead of his peers at the position who find themselves in more favorable team context’s than Lee’s Phillies who won just 73 games last season. Lee is going to produce some of the best ratios (ERA, WHIP and we’ll also include K/9 as it relates to standard Roto scoring) in the league on a yearly basis, he’s been one of the more consistent pitchers in those areas for a number of years running. He won’t however win many games. The same could be said of Felix Hernandez in recent years. Still, if they are the best player available you take them, and it doesn’t mean the expense of overall wins throughout your staff.

Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: Seek Balance

(Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

(Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Selecting a pitcher like Lee early means that you’re putting a fairly low win ceiling on your staff ace, it doesn’t mean that you’re giving up on winning the weekly W battle (or scoring a 2/12 in the category in true rotisserie leagues) but it does mean that you have to be mindful of that later in the draft. When considering another hurler (not necessarily the next one you select) it is important to keep the overall context of your team in mind. In this scenario, I know I have strong ERA, WHIP, and Ks from Lee so when considering pitchers later an important tie breaker will be wins. Specifically, I’ve ranked Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester back to back, and who FantasyPros experts have ranked 36th and 41st among SPs respectively, this season but if faced with the decision after drafting Lee, I’d choose Lester over Samardzija given team context and the fact that I anticipate Boston to pick up more Ws than Chicago.

The same can be said for hitters of course, if you go all home runs early at the expense of steals are left with a decision on who to select as a late round Shortstop you probably wan’t to go with a guy who runs a lot over a Jed Lowrie type who will hit for pop, but won’t steal you a single base.

Simple logic yes, but as much as I advocate for best player available drafting you’ve got to think like a manager assembling a team, aim for balance when all things are equal. This doesn’t mean that I’d take Everth Cabrera over Troy Tulowitzki because I knew I’d need the steals, but it does mean with two comparable players the stat I’m lacking breaks the tie over the stat I have in spades.

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Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: Hedge Bets

The same sort of thing can be said within positions as well, balancing upside with dependability. I’m a value hunter as much as anyone, and that means that I may take a few chances throughout the draft. I’m really high on Jurickson Profar this season, and I’ll likely own him as a starting 2B more than once. In that situation, as the draft progresses and I’m into the backup range I’m likely to take a dependable low-ceiling, safe-floor second baesman to pair with Profar in case he gives us 2013’s production all over again if the gap in perceived value between players available at that point in the draft isn’t overwhelming.

It’s OK to go all in on players when you think there is potential, it’s even OK to reach a bit if you must. It isn’t good practice to wear rose colored glasses when it comes to your risky decisions though. If you’ve got a low ceiling guy, or an injury risk, or whatever the case may be I won’t judge you for man-crushing away, but I will warn you to hedge that bet and back him up – taking a risk is expected, but not mitigating it is foolish. Better to do so if you can on draft day than to find yourself scrambling on the waiver wire.

Again, the above points are less about overall draft perspective as they are useful things to keep in mind when building a roster. If you’re faced with a truly tough decision the reaction shouldn’t be “I like Player A more than I like Player B” for whatever reason, it should be “Player B’s statistical profile is more useful given the current makeup of my roster than is Player A’s”. Let logic and context guide your decision making on draft day and you’ll find yourself with a balanced roster capable of competing across all categories this season.

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