With fantasy baseball draft season underway, there’s plenty of rumors floating around about executing the perfect draft: don’t draft a pitcher before the seventh round! Make sure you grab a closer early! Michael Beller lays down the law.
Everyone has heard the famous quote, “Never let truth get in the way of a good story.” Sometimes it’s quoted as “facts” instead of truth. It frequently gets attributed to Mark Twain, but there’s no actual proof that he ever said it. No matter who coined the phrase, though, it’s clear that person never played fantasy baseball. We need facts to get in the way of a good story, or we run the risk of believing the myths that perpetuate year after year.
Know the facts. Dismiss the myths. We give you five of each below.
Fact: Second base is deeper than you think
You know all about Jose Altuve and Dee Gordon, both of whom have recently won a batting title and have the ability to swipe 50 bags. You know about Robinson Cano who, while definitely on the back side of his career, still hit .287/.334/.446 with 21 homers and 79 RBI last year. Then there’s Brian Dozier, who has straight seasons with at least 23 homers, 33 doubles and 101 runs. There’s Anthony Rendon, who gave us a .287/.351/.473 season with 21 homers and 17 steals the last time he was fully healthy. There are veteran stalwarts Jason Kipnis and Ian Kinsler, ascending talents with legitimate breakout potential in Rougned Odor and Addison Russell, and steady options in good offenses, such as D.J. LeMahieu, Kolten Wong, Starlin Castro, Dustin Pedroia, Ben Zobrist, Daniel Murphy and Neil Walker. Second base is as deep as it has been in a long time. Somewhere, Ryne Sandberg, Jeff Kent and Joe Morgan all nod approvingly.
Fiction: You need a pitching ace to lead your staff
Sure, it’s great to have Clayton Kershaw or Jake Arrieta at the top of your fantasy rotation, but it isn’t necessary. Let’s say you eschew pitchers early, and then grab five between rounds five and 13 in a typical draft. You know what your rotation might look like? How does Chris Archer, Adam Wainwright, Tyson Ross, Francisco Liriano, and Lance McCullers sound? How about Felix Hernandez, Danny Salazar, Marcus Stroman, Masahiro Tanaka and Raisel Iglesias? Some combination of these players is entirely possible.
Fact: You want to chase power early
Power hitters enjoyed a resurgent 2015. Nine players hit at least 40 homers, while 20 circled the bases at least 30 times. That was the most 30-homer hitters since there were 27 in ’12. You have to go all the way back to ’06 to find the most recent season, before last year, with at least nine players with 40 home runs. That season, 11 players achieved the feat.
Despite that, you still want to pack your team with power hitters in the early rounds. At the risk of stating the obvious, there is just one play in all of baseball that contributes to four categories. That, of course, is the home run (runs, RBI, average/OBP and, yes, homers). If you miss out on the elite power hitters early in drafts, you’re going to be chasing at multiple offensive categories all season.
Fiction: Everyone can find a third baseman
Third base is a top heavy position, with four legitimate first rounders in Josh Donaldson, Nolan Arenado, Manny Machado and Kris Bryant. It has valuable players in the middle rounds, from Todd Frazier to Matt Carpenter to Kyle Seager. It has a legitimate breakout candidate in Maikel Franco, and two if Miguel Sano is eligible at the position in your league, which brings us to eight or nine players.
Where do the owners who missed out on those players go? Adrian Beltre is still a palatable option, but his numbers really took a step back last season. Evan Longoria? Mike Moustakas? Matt Duffy? Those aren’t players I’d trust as regular starters, and they are the best of the rest. Make sure you act early at third base this season.
Fact: Strikeouts are all that matter for pitchers
ERA and WHIP are secondary concerns. Pitchers have little control over wins, so don’t even bother yourself with them on draft day. Save opportunities have little correlation to overall team performance. Want proof? Brad Boxberger, Huston Street, Craig Kimbrel, Francisco Rodriguez and Santiago Casilla finished fourth through seventh (Rodriguez and Casilla tied) in saves last year. Did you see any of them pitching in the playoffs? Strikeouts, especially strikeouts per inning, are what you should be looking at when you evaluate pitchers. You can look at K/9, strikeout to walk ratio, strikeout rate minus walk rate and a host of other metrics. Just make sure you’re valuing strikeouts over everything.
Fiction: Buying top-tier closers makes good sense
The elite closers certainly fit the criteria above with respect to being dominant strikeout pitchers. The issue, however, is that the price just isn’t right. As good as they are, I am not in the business of using a sixth-, seventh- or eighth-round pick on a player who’s going to give me 60 to 70 innings. There’s an argument for them in leagues that use K/9 or have an innings limit, but outside of that, there’s no justification for the top-tier closers at their respective ADPs. There are just too many valuable hitters and starting pitchers still on the board at that stage of a draft.
Fact: Injury optimism is dangerous
Remember when Anthony Rendon was going to be totally fine last year? Remember when it made all the sense in the world to draft and stash Drew Smyly, even though he was going to start the season on the DL? Being optimistic about pre-existing injuries always gets fantasy owners in trouble. Remember this when you’re considering the likes of Yu Darvish, Cameron Maybin and Brad Boxberger during your drafts.
Fiction: Positional scarcity matters
It just doesn’t, I promise you. There’s never been anything to prove that it matters It’s just a notion—albeit a totally intuitive one—without any empirical backing. It’s what fools people into using a second-round pick on the excellent Buster Posey, when guys like Jose Abreu, Edwin Encarnacion and Chris Davis are still on the board. It’s why Kyle Schwarber has an average draft position in the low-30s, despite the fact that he has had all of 304 plate appearances in the majors and slashed .143/.213/.268 against lefties last year. Best available, regardless of position, should be your mantra.
Fact: Taking calculated chances in the outfield is worthwhile
What do A.J. Pollock, J.D. Martinez and Charlie Blackmon have in common? They all had comically low ADPs last season, and are now among the 10 or 12 best fantasy outfielders in the game. Outfield is deep and it produces new stars every season. You want to do what you can to identify these stars before the season starts, and then target them aggressively in your drafts. Some contenders for 2016: David Peralta, Randal Grichuk, Kevin Pillar and Nomar Mazara.
Fiction: Drafts are better than auctions
If you’ve been playing fantasy sports for at least three years, you can draft an autopilot. There’s nothing fun about that, at least beyond the baseline of fun that goes into assembling a fantasy team at the start of a season. Auctions, on the other hand, are truly an event. Want Mike Trout and Bryce Harper? You can make that happen in an auction. Want to team up Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant? An auction is for you. Want to build a pitching staff that includes Noah Syndergaard, Carlos Carrasco, Chris Archer and Felix Hernandez? That’s impossible in a draft, but very doable in an auction. Stop taking the path of least resistance and start enjoying the finer things in life.