First off, I’d like to thank Mr. Parkes and those at The Score for allowing me to contribute regularly here at Getting Blanked.  I’m thrilled to be a part of what I consider to be among the most entertaining sports writing on the interwebs.

My job here will be to bring you a weekly look at fantasy baseball.  Once the season gets underway, I’ll be profiling a few players every week who you’ll either want to ‘buy-low’ or ‘sell-high’ and I’ll be using advanced statistics and modern critical baseball thinking to accomplish this.  This may seem odd since fantasy baseball really only looks at traditional counting statistics, but using modern metrics to form more objective viewpoints of players will allow fantasy players to get a better idea if a player’s numbers are legitimate or not.

For years I tried to outthink my opponents using what I considered to be superior knowledge of baseball and its players, but I found myself regularly occupying the basement of the standings and losing to hardcore football fans. So, after years of failing at fantasy baseball, I won my rotisserie league last year and dominated in the regular season in my head-to-head league before finishing third in the crapshoot that is the playoffs.

In both leagues, I employed the exact same drafting strategy after thinking objectively about certain truisms in baseball (both were auction drafts which seems to be the norm now).  I tried to take my subjective feelings about players out of the equation and remained rigid in my strategy.  My success last year has led me to believe that I should do this every year.

For my first “official” post here at Getting Blanked, I’ll let you in on the things I did to succeed last season.

When drafting players, I followed eight rules.  These rules were followed as rigidly as possible with few-to-no exceptions.  No more picking guys like Russell Martin because he’s Canadian, or Alex Gordon because this year is the year he breaks out.  If they do not fit within these eight rules, don’t even bid on them.  Most rules have exceptions, so I will acknowledge this where it applies.

1. Stay away from late-bloomers, especially ones that have had only one good year.

Chances are, they won’t repeat those numbers and late-bloomers tend to fizzle-out early.  Players to watch out for include Jose Bautista, Jayson Werth, and R.A. Dickey.  Take players that either have a proven track record or are at the age where a breakout seems imminent.  In my view, there is no exception to this rule.  Late-bloomers are risks that are not worth taking.  Will they repeat their numbers?  Maybe, but there are plenty of valuable players out there who’ll be cheaper and less risky.

2. Don’t draft any players over 33 years old.

Players older than that are no longer in their prime and could experience a rapid decline, even if they’ve showed no signs of that in previous years.  It’s just not worth the risk.

Exception: The super-elite.  Players like Roy Halladay (who’ll be 34 shortly after the season starts) are acceptable because even if they do decline, chances are they’ll still be very good.  Albert Pujols in a few years will also fit into this category.

3. Don’t follow convention.

The standard fantasy roster has nine pitchers, six starters and three relievers.  Screw that, draft a seventh starter and either go with a 10-pitcher team, or only take two relievers, the seventh starter allows you far more flexibility and allows for somewhat riskier picks that have more upside.  Saves are only one category; pick them up on the fly if you need to.  Also, don’t be afraid to overspend on pitchers.  I used more than half of my auction cash to build my pitching staff last season.  This carries the risk of getting nailed by injuries, but the fact is that valuable starting pitchers are far rarer than valuable position players.  Drafting seven solid starters will ensure dominance in the pitching categories and may give you some pieces to trade for areas of need later in the year.

4. Don’t spend top dollar on players whose most valuable asset is their speed.

Rajai Davis types will go for more than they’re worth and stolen bases are only one category which can be found cheaply based on need.  Players like Carl Crawford and Brett Gardner have worth outside of their ability to steal bases so they are more acceptable targets.

5. Stay away from the top-tier of catchers.

Players like Joe Mauer and Victor Martinez provide terrific numbers, but catchers are huge injury risks and blowing your budget on them could lead to disaster.  Look for value with catchers in cheaper options such as Carlos Ruiz or John Jaso.  Starting catchers get a lot of random days off so keep your money for players who aren’t as likely to get hurt and traditionally play more games.

6. Stay away from top-tier closers, too.

Closers are volatile and the best ones one year are the worst ones the next (see Lidge, Brad).  Stick to the mid-level guys that you can grab cheaply like Chris Perez or whoever ends up closing in Tampa.

Exception: None.  Not even Mariano Rivera.  Someone in your pool will want to spend like crazy getting him and, again, he’s only really going to provide you with efficiency in one stat category.  Also, Rivera violates the age rule by nearly a decade, so taking yourself totally out of running is the best plan.

7. Do not draft American League starting pitchers.

The AL always has a significantly higher ERA than the NL.  The hitters are better and the DH makes a huge difference.  Eliminating all AL starters allows you to concentrate on pitchers with traditionally lower ERAs.  All things being equal, NL starters turn out much more value.

Exception: Felix Hernandez.  It doesn’t really matter where he pitches, he’s going to be extremely valuable.  The only thing he may not get you is wins since he plays for the offensively inept Mariners.

8. Don’t draft any players with a walk-rate under six percent.

I know this one sounds drastic, but players who never walk like Delmon Young and Ivan Rodriguez are only going to hurt you in the end.  You’ll end up overpaying for counting categories that are one semi-down year from total collapse.  Guys who walk at a higher rate are traditionally more consistent and able to repeat most of their numbers.

These rules are very difficult to stick to and you’ll find yourself wanting to bid on players who fall outside of them, but if you can remain stubborn, it may very well pay off.  These of course aren’t the only considerations you need to take into account during your draft.  You’ll need to set a budget and target players who you’re willing to overpay for and there are going to be players who fit in the rules, but are still guys you want to stay away from.  And I understand that just because this worked for me last year, doesn’t mean it’s certain that it will work for you.

There are as many strategies in drafting as there are players available to draft, picking one that works for you is half the battle.

Comments (18)

  1. 9. Don’t draft Aubrey Huff or Derek Lee…ever (have always been burned by these two guys every single time).

  2. 11. Don’t set it on “auto draft” unless you want your team to comprise of 6 catchers and 8 relievers/closers.

  3. My new fantasy team name is too long for Yahoo!: Buster and the Poseycats.

  4. Shit. I mean Posey and the Bustercats.

  5. I fought the Lawrie, and the Lawrie won.

  6. I see a major caveat that applies to many of your rules is “except at the right price”.

    I will take a gamble on elderly one-time wonders if the price if the price is right IMO.

    Also, the rules of your league are extremely important for strategy. For example, my league counts holds, and this makes it much more difficult to find saves in the cheap since the best middle relievers and set up men are not as cheaply available.

  7. @JRock: Yeah, there are so many league formats out there so I just stuck to the standard one.

    Also, the rules I use for drafting don’t have the caveat “Except at the right price”. My point was to take out most subjective thought including that one and only draft players who fit the bill. There are certainly other strategies that work, but this one worked very well for me last year and I’m using it again this season.

  8. can someone give me some sites that are good to get started in fantasy drafts and such. I’ve always wanted to get involved in it, but I’m from Toronto and naturally most of my friends hate baseball.

    If anyone has any specific sites they use, please post them! Thanks..

    Also this was a great article.

  9. we’ve been using fantasy pools for 8 years now. Great site and keeps excellent stats.

  10. I find the “don’t draft over 33″ rule only works if you also apply the opposite “don’t draft under 27″ rule. Otherwise, you’ll have a roster full of young breakout players who won’t breakout At least that’s what happened to me in nearly all my leagues last year when I first started applying said rule. Also the age limit only applies to hitters. With pitchers experience matters more than age. First and second season pitchers are rarely good investments.

  11. Where you finish in your fantasy league depends on two things: how active you are on the WW, and how good the competition is. I’ve played fantasy for years, but in my hardcore league I simply don’t have the time or the energy to sit on the wire and wait to snap up every Strasburg and Heyward that becomes available, so no matter how good my draft was I usually end up at the bottom of the standings. Against half-assed players, though, a decent draft-day strategy (and I’ve been following the first six of your recommendations almost to the letter since 2003) can give you the league in a walk.

    One caveat: in a LOT of leagues, the over-33s get undervalued and the under-26es get overvalued. If a guy hasn’t done it before, no matter how much you hear about him, the chances are rarely greater than 50% that he’ll do it all at once. Remember all the people that drafted Weiters in the ninth round in 2009? How do you think that worked out for them?

    Also: draft Mark Buehrle. He’s the most reliable pitcher who will almost definitely be around through the 20th round.

  12. damn, noisyflowers beat me to the punch

  13. @DC: Ottoneu fantasy baseball is crazy awesome and for advice and stuff this site is good, as is this one.

    Yahoo and CBS offer more conventional fantasy baseball and they’re very customizable. Yahoo is free which is awesome. ESPN has a decent one too.

  14. Sorry, here`s the Ottoneu site

  15. I agree with spending on a top pick/big money on an ace, but I think you are dedicating too much to your pitching staff… Top hitters are far more consistent year to year than top pitchers… and with starting pitching in baseball so ridiculously deep these past couple years Ill wait to fill out my staff near the end of the draft and on the waiver wire.

    Also NEVER draft A.L. pitchers? This is a bit extreme.. AL pitchers other than Felix are capable of putting up useful fantasy numbers. I wouldnt mind having a staff that included Lester, CC, Price, Verlander, Liriano… even Morrow and Romero have potential to be solid. To eliminate the whole league based on a generalization takes you out of the running for a lot of good potential value plays.

    Anyways decent guidelines, just a bit too dogmatic for my liking.

  16. I’m quite pleased with myself for coming up with this super goofy team name:

    Lincecum is Awesecum

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