Don't throw away your entry fee before the season has even begun. Before you study players, study the format.
You have to know whether it is a Rotisserie league with ranked categories (5x5 -- AVG, HR, R, RBI, SB; W, ERA, K, WHIP, SV) or a Head-to-Head points league where all that matters is the total points accumulated in a given period. The differences in those two standard structures can wildly alter how your draft will unfold.
In general, Roto puts more emphasis on rare commodities such as steals or saves. In points leagues it doesn't matter which stats you gather; the goal is just to put together the most points possible.
So, let's point you to the most fundamental difference between Roto and points leagues: Starting pitching. In Rotisserie, pitching matters far less and pitchers go far later in drafts and cheaper in auctions. In points leagues, stud pitchers should get the upper hand.
It is pretty simple to see why. There are just more chances to rack up big numbers for the staff workhorses, especially if your league rewards three points per inning pitched (one point per out recorded). Two-start pitchers in Head-to-Head formats are gold mines, especially aces.
The staff at SI.com teamed with some analysts from the fantasy baseball industry in a mock draft Feb. 9. The format was a H2H points-based league with the following scoring categories:
Let's break down what transpired round-by-round, outlining the reaches, steals and notable runs on positions.
This is a fairly standard first round, perhaps even something closer to how a Rotisserie draft might go. Pitchers didn't crack until Halladay at No. 11. In this format last year, Halladay was the No. 1 scorer (698.5) over Albert Pujols (676).
Reach: It is tough to call anyone a reach in Round 1, but it was surprising to see the Red Sox's Gonzalez go No. 7 overall. He is finally in a great ballpark and is slugging for a long-term contract, assuming he doesn't sign one before the start of the season. Warning: Be careful of offseason hype. It is the perception that can overrate reality. Also, Zimmerman isn't a first-rounder on that team and in that ballpark.
Steal: Halladay shouldn't have fallen out of the top five in this format. The Phillies are too good and a healthy Halladay can be the No. 1 scorer in this format again. Wins make a big difference in H2H points leagues.
[Editor's Note: This mock draft took place before the season-ending injury to Adam Wainwright.] We see the run on starting pitchers here. You will find more differing opinions on how the order of pitchers should go than any other position. It is very important to know how your favorite pitchers slot. There is a lot more ambiguity among them.
Reach: Howard. He is a monster run producer, but he has shown some wear and tear and he costs himself with a high strikeout rate. This is a format that penalizes strikeouts. Howard not only wasn't in the top 17 of fantasy last year, but he wasn't even in the top 45 of hitters -- mostly due to an injury-plagued finish and the Ks.
Steal: Cano. He should be a first-rounder. Twitter fans even thought he should be a candidate to go No. 2 overall. But he should certainly go in the top 10, which is where the previous star of the 2B position, Utley, used to go.
The catcher seal gets cracked in Round 3 as Mauer falls out of Round 1 from a year ago. Rightly so. This is a much better round for Mauer.
Reach: Choo is a strong multi-category pick, but outfielders in points leagues tend to bunch up a whole lot. There tends to be little difference between the Round 3 outfielders and the Round 6 ones in the final numbers. Waiting is usually better after Braun, Gonzalez and Hamilton go off the board.
Steal: A-Rod falls from Round 1 all the way to Round 3. He is still a great run producer and should be more of an early second-round pick.
This is a pitcher-heavy round and it should be like that in many formats, Rotisserie included. It is the point where the biggest sluggers are off the board, so the aces have to follow before the middlin' hitters come in.
Reach: Haren is an innings-eater and he should be much better with the Angels for a full season, but he still shouldn't go before the likes of Weaver, Carpenter and Oswalt. Heyward went a little early for a player that hasn't hit 20-plus homers yet or reached 100 RBI. He should get those this season, though.
Steal: Price somehow doesn't get enough love after that huge sophomore season. He is a top 5 starter that went after 12 starting pitchers were already off the board.
This is usually were the elite closers should start to go. They didn't, curiously. It could be because the top of the closer board is a bit less stagnant than it was been in the Rivera heyday.
Reach: Liriano is a great talent, but he shouldn't go before Carpenter.
Steal: Oswalt could win 20 games in a full healthy season with the Phillies, especially since he will be pitching for a $16 million option to get picked up.
Still no closer, eh? And we finally see last year's breakthrough homer leader go off the board, Bautista.
Reach: Napoli might have been the reach of the draft. He might not belong in the top 10 of catchers, but he was the fifth catcher off the board here.
Steal: Morneau is a steal with a caveat: He has just started swinging the bat after his latest concussion ending his past season. If he is healthy and falls this far, wow. Spring training should give us plenty of information.
Still no closers. The differing opinions on pitchers continue and have some arms going that might not have been as sure of picks as the elite closers.
Reach: Beckham should bounce back from an awful season, but his number and resume don't yet justify this high of a pick.
Steal: Ellsbury could be it. He was the No. 2 outfielder in fantasy to Braun in 2009 before a broken rib wiped out his 2010. Remember what was said above about outfielders? There are still some values on the board at that position.
Finally, closers! Interestingly, Marmol goes before World Series hero Wilson, not to mention Rivera, Papelbon Bell and Feliz.
Reach: Picking Andrus this high is a function of overrating position scarcity in the middle rounds. Don't do it. Overvalue the top few shortstops. After that, punt and scramble late.
Steal: Wilson should be rated the No. 1 closer, and he should probably crack a standard draft well before Round 8.
There is a justifiable run on outfielders here. Keep that in mind. Start hitting your outfielders before Round 9 if you take the advice above to wait on them after the top trio.
Reach: Alvarez is a great young talent at a position that needs a new superstar, but it would have been advisable to wait a few rounds for him. It still isn't certain he can get his strikeouts in check and hit above .260.
Steal: Perhaps Stanton, another sophomore like Alvarez. Stanton could hit 35-plus homers with 100-plus RBI in his first full season. Not bad value for a late ninth-rounder. He should certainly go before Alvarez.
If Round 9 was one for outfielders, Round 10 is one for pitchers, starters and relievers alike.
Reach:Daniel Hudson should not go before Tim Hudson, despite what a great stretch run the sophomore had. He is overrated here. Hellickson and Bumgarner had some moments, too, but they can't go before Beckett, Lackey and, say, 10 other pitchers.
Steal: A lot of people are down on Papelbon, but if there is one player willing to play mercenary and earn a highest-bidder free-agent deal, it has to be Paps.
The closers are getting gobbled up faster now. You will want to have your first closer before this time.
Reach: Nathan is potentially great, but you need to see him pitch this spring and go back-to-backs before you draft him in this lofty area. Matt Capps is still slated to be the Twins opening-day closer until Nathan proves otherwise.
Steal: Anderson is an immense talent that could enjoy the breakthrough Cahill had a year ago. He and Cahill should be a pretty good 1-2 punch for the resurgent A's.
After this round, a fantasy draft tends to morph into collecting pitchers and outfielders or back-filling the other positions. It is noteworthy Wieters goes in Round 12. That is roughly the round he has gone in each of the past two disappointing years. Maybe this is the year he puts it together.
Reach: Span can be considered one only because he really doesn't stand out in one real category. His scoring gets up there with his regular at-bats, though.
Steal: Suzuki is one of the unsung studs of the catcher position. He gets more of his value by playing a lot and racking up at-bats, but that counts all the same in points leagues. He has been a top-five catcher in scoring, even if his numbers and ceiling aren't as great.
Here is the back half of the draft:
There is not much in the way of surprises here, but the quality depth of the outfielders and pitchers should be noted. There are good values to be had at those positions after the midway point.
It certainly raises the question why anyone should go stud pitchers early. But, finding those mid-round guys that perform like aces isn't an easy thing.
The best advice in this format is to draft pitchers early and often, even if yours truly didn't do that above.