Fantasy Baseball Basics

Shawn Childs

Fantasy Baseball Basics

Fantasy baseball is a great game especially for a sports fan that loves to watch baseball. A season covers about 180 days or about 26 weeks. Most of my experience in the Fantasy baseball market has come in rotisserie style leagues. This type of league has ten categories to earn league points with five coming from batters and five from pitchers. Here is a list of the ten categories:

Batting Average (BA) – Each team adds up their total hits divided the number of at-bats by their starting players on their Fantasy team to come up with their overall team batting average.

If you have the highest batting average in your league, your team earns the first place points in this category. (Note: League points are determined by the number of teams in each league or competition. If you have 12 teams in your league, first place is worth 12 points. Second place is worth 11 points, and so on with the last place team earning only one point).

In a 12-team league, Fantasy owners trying to finish in the top 20 percent in batting average should set a goal of .266 based on the results of the high stake’s market in 2018.

Runs (R) – This is the total of all runs scored by the starting players on your team.

The goal for runs should be about 1,100 runs in 12-team leagues or 79 runs per player in leagues with 14 offensive players.

Homeruns (HR) – Each team adds up the number of home runs by their starting players.

A Fantasy owner will need over 315 HRs to finish in the top three in the HR category in 12 team leagues (about 23 HRs per batter).

Runs Batted In (RBI) – This is the total of all runs drive in by your starting lineup.

In a 12-team league, the target number should be about 1,075 RBI (about 77 RBI per batter).

Stolen Bases (SB) – Each team adds up the number of steals by their starting players.

Overall, stolen bases have trended downward over the last couple seasons in major league baseball. In 2018, a team only needed 145 steals to finish in the top 20 percent in an event with 1,764 teams. My sense is the goal in 2019 should be about 150 SBs (10.7 SBs per batter).

Wins (W) – This is the total number wins by your Fantasy pitching staff (only players in the starting lineup).

Typically, I try to manage my team to get enough starts in the year to earn four wins per week, which is 104 wins over a 26 week season. In 2018, the final number was 96 wins in the high-stakes market.

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Earned Run Average (ERA) – Each team adds up the number of earned runs allowed by their pitching staff divided by the total number of inning pitched times nine innings to determine their team ERA. The goal is to have the lowest ERA in the league.

A Fantasy owner needed an ERA of 3.469 to finish in the top 20 percent in 2018 with 1,764 teams entered in a 12-team high-stakes event. I would use 3.40 as my target number in ERA in a 12-team format this season.

Walks + Hits/Innings Pitched (WHIP) – This is the trickiest of stats for new Fantasy owners to get a handle on. Whip is a way to get the value of each pitcher skill set. All hits allowed are added to the total number of walks allowed divided by the total number of innings pitched by your pitching staff to come up with each team’s WHIP. The lowest WHIP earns the most league points.

A Fantasy owner needed a whip of 1.166 in 2018 in 12 team leagues to finish in the top 20 percent.

Strikeouts (K) – Each team adds up the total number of strikeouts from the pitchers in your starting lineup each week.

Some pitchers have posted some impressive strikeout totals over the last couple of seasons, which raised the bar to compete in this category. In 12-team leagues, a Fantasy owner will need about 1480 Ks to finish in the top 20 percent in 2019.

Saves (SV) – Each team adds up the total number of saves by their pitching staff to compete in this category.

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A Fantasy team will need about 90 saves to be competitive in saves in 12-team leagues.

A standard 12-team Roto league will consist of about 30 rounds. Each Fantasy owner will select a player in each round while filling in their starting line-up, which consists of 14 hitters and nine pitchers. The 14 batters consist of two catchers, one first baseman, one second baseman, one shortstop, one third baseman, one middle infielder (second base or shortstop), one corner infielder (first base or third base), five outfielders, and one utility (any batter). Most teams will draft seven starting pitchers and two closer (pitchers who pitch in close games that earn saves) for their starting pitching lineup.

The seven bench spots can consist of any players you desire. In 12-team leagues, it would make sense to have a couple of extra starters plus a third pitcher with a chance at saves. The last four bench slots could look like this: one upside young player with future playing time, one backup outfielder, one backup middle infielder, and one backup corner infielder.

Once a Fantasy owner has a feel for each category on the hitting and pitching side, it’s time to learn the player pool.

To help you get a feel for the possible value of each position in 2019, I put together a table of average stats for multiple positions this year based on our Projections (need the link for the 2019 projections added here – don’t believe they are up yet).

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Normally, first base, third base, and the first two outfield slots offer the most production to a Fantasy line-up from the hitting side. In 2018, the shortstop position became the third strongest offensive position. The value on the right under the TOTAL column shows the impact of each position’s stats within a 12-team environment using SFSscore. Just for comparison, here’s how each position stacks up based on impact value:

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The goal, when learning to develop a winning Fantasy roster, is building a foundation of strong batters and elite pitchers while finding complementary upside players later in the drafts. If you make your draft decisions based on the previous season results, you are in for a rude awakening. Each season, players rise and fall with plenty of them battling injuries. It’s important to find rising stars that will be drafted earlier the next draft season.

Here’s a look at three different skill set of players to give you a feel for some decision within the draft:

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The above projections are for these three players in 2019. Each player has a similar SFSscore – Betts > 12.88, Turner > 12.86, and Arenado > 10.25.

Last year Betts posted the highest SFSscore (12.89) in baseball followed by Max Scherzer (12.64). By drafting either player, a Fantasy owner would gain over Fantasy points in the standings if they were able to draft the average player stats for the remaining starting roster spots for the year.

In comparison, Trea Turner ranked 9th in SFSscore rankings (8.11), and Nolan Arenado finished 12th (7.23).

Mookie Betts is the second rated player in the SFSscore system (12.88) based on his projections at ScoutFantasySports, which is a clear step below the best player in baseball – Mike Trout (16.28). Trea Turner is the 3rd ranked option based on impact value headed into this year within a 12-team league with Arenado coming in 5th.

Based on this year’s projection, Turner would help a Fantasy owner gain about 9.13 Fantasy points in the standings in SBs while adding another 4.72 points in batting average and runs. His skill set sets your foundation in stolen bases if he delivers on his expected production in speed, which will allow a Fantasy owner to commit more roster slots to power. Also, Trea will allow a team to except some batting average risk at some point in the draft.

In the case of Betts, he has a middle of the order opportunity with a chance to contribute in all five categories never mind more upside if he makes a further step forward. Based on his 2019 projections, he’ll offer about 12 more HRs, 34 more RBI, and 33 less SBs than Turner with batting average and runs falling in a range where either player should post a winning total.

Arenado dominates Turner in HRs and RBI while offering strength in batting average based on his low K rate. His steals fall short in this comparison, but his total SFSscore will rank better than 98 percent of the 2019 batter inventory.

Each decision a Fantasy owner makes early in the draft dictates direction for future picks. Building a strong offense requires multiple picks with favorable timing needed at various times during the draft.

If you play in a trading league, sometimes it becomes more about acquiring assets. As the season unfolds, each player’s performance will set up future trades. Trading in Fantasy baseball is never easy, and most Fantasy owners overvalue their players.

The starting pitching inventory appears to be deep at the front end in 2019, which leads to huge target SFSscores for a Fantasy ace. Here’s a look at the average projections for the top 12 starters and top 12 closers in 2019:

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All starting pitchers will have negative production in saves, and each closer will offer minimal value in wins.

Following up with earlier examples for batters, a Fantasy owner will need to decide between a batter or a pitcher in the second or third round in many drafts in 2019. Any starter with 15 wins or more with a sub 3.00 ERA and 200+ Ks is going offer an edge from the starting pitching position. A new Fantasy owner won’t understand the high failure rate of pitchers due to injuries until he plays the game so this decision isn’t as easy as clicking a button in the draft room. Pitching comes with a ton of injury risk.

Using the SFSscore, a Fantasy owner can get a feel for a player’s possible value between different positions. It will help identify possible underlying value. Here’s a look at the pitchers selected over the first six rounds in most 12 and 15 team drafts with our projections:

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Each one of these pitchers is projected to win between 13 and 17 games with over 200 Ks. A couple of these arms will breakout while a couple could end up being busts. If you pay for an early starting pitcher, he has to offer an edge for your team to win.

Note: Clayton Kershaw and Luis Severino have injuries in mid-March, but they haven’t been downgraded as of yet. I will update the projections at the end of this week and two more times before the start of the season.

These are the type of decision a new Fantasy owner will embrace once he develops a feel for the game and becomes more passionate about the player pool.

Top closers will get drafted in the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds in most 15-team Fantasy drafts while being discounted slightly in 12-team leagues. They offer an edge with 40+ saves and elite Ks when added to a low ERA and whip. Unfortunately, saves can be found in all areas of the draft plus be available in the free agent pool. It’s just a matter if a Fantasy owner wants security over the ensuing battle for closers later in the draft and on the waiver wire.

In some cases, a top starter and top closer may offer a better foundation than the Dual Ace Strategy written earlier on

As great as each name may look on your roster, names don’t win Fantasy championships. It’s about acquiring the best stats in each category, which comes down to drafting, free agency, and team management.

In today’s Fantasy games, Fantasy owners will have ADPs (average draft position) to help understand draft flow and completed results from previous seasons to show what it takes to win at all levels.

I know this is a lot to take in on the surface, but it almost comes down to feel once you get into the game.

Here are some early guidelines I would go by when you start building your Fantasy roster:

1 – Batting Foundation – Focus on trying to find three batters that combine for 75 HRs and 75 SBs with my first three batters plus offer an edge in batting average. This goal could be achieved with three of your first four picks if you believe draft flow creates the right path for your team structure.

2 – Pitching Foundation – Try to roster two aces plus one solid closer. By doing this, you position yourself in all five categories on the pitching side.

3 – One Solid Catcher – Invest in one solid catcher inside the first 12 rounds. It’s important not to get beat at the catcher position. A Fantasy owner may find one catcher on the waiver wire, but two would be a tall order.

4 – Batting Order – The batters that hit in the top of five spots in the batting order offer the most value if they get full time at bats. You need leadoff type hitters for runs and cleanup type hitters for RBI.

5 – Backend Pitching – Make sure you finish your pitching staff. It doesn’t make sense to invest in early pitching if you are going to give away your edge later in the draft. Pay attention to WHIP as it is the most important Fantasy category.

6 – Closers in Waiting – If you happen to roster a strong second closer, it’s always nice to have a third option on the bench. League size will determine the availability in the draft pool. If you are weak at the second closer position, it’s important to follow the closers who are struggling and try to roster the next option in line for saves.

7 – Double Starters – A new Fantasy owner can easily get beat in wins and Ks by not pitching enough starters in weekly line-up leagues (These are leagues when you set your lineup once for the week). Starters that pitch twice a week give you two chances at wins and Ks. If you live on the waiver wire, you will invite ERA and WHIP risk, so there is a fine balance between a strong roster and the waiver wire when deciding to add a double starter each week.

To win in Fantasy baseball, a Fantasy owner must understand what it takes to win, learn the player pool, get a feel for draft flow, and most of all make good decisions while on the clock in drafts. It all starts with coming up with a draft plan or style, which varies from year to year and from Fantasy owner to Fantasy owner.

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