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Everyone has their own specific strategy for fantasy baseball, but there is more than one way to ensure you earn bragging rights against the competition when the season comes to an end.
Baseball requires a level of attention that no other sport can boast because it happens every single night. One roster move on a random Tuesday isn’t going to sink your team. It can put you in a significant hole to climb out of if it happens early enough, though.
With mock drafts ramping up across fantasy baseball, here are some easy-to-follow tips that will go a long way toward helping you be victorious this season.
Don’t Overdraft Starting Pitchers
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With Major League Baseball coming off a record-setting year for power in 2017, the average draft position for even the best starting pitchers hasn’t really taken off.
Per Fantasy Pros, only 12 starting pitchers rank among the top 50 overall players. Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who has only reached 200 innings once in the past four seasons, is the only one among the top 10.
One added benefit for MLB’s home run spike last year is pitchers were able to rack up strikeouts at alarming rates. Each of the past 10 seasons has set new MLB records for total strikeouts, including 40,105 in 2017.
Excluding pitcher victories, which are largely dependent on the team around a starter being good enough to win a lot of games and a bullpen strong enough to hold a lead late, it’s not hard to find even second-tier starters good enough to carry a fantasy staff.
There were 20 starters who averaged at least nine strikeouts per nine innings last season. Kershaw, Yu Darvish, Chris Sale and Corey Kluber were among the usual suspects on that list. The list also included Jose Quintana, Trevor Bauer, Drew Pomeranz and Aaron Nola.
Building a strong starting staff doesn’t require a lot of reaching. In a standard 10-team league, you could have a starting five with Darvish, Jon Lester, Marcus Stroman, Sonny Gray and Bauer all drafted after the fifth round.
Relievers Are Also Your Friends
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Piggybacking off the starting pitchers, a strong case could be made that relievers have more value in fantasy than real life.
After all, the Houston Astros just won a World Series by having Lance McCullers throw the final four innings against the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS, and Charlie Morton pitched the last four innings against the Dodgers in Game 7 of the World Series.
Assuming your fantasy opponents go wild with starters too early, one potential strategy to follow is build a pitching staff around relievers. It’s difficult to do because they are largely limited to one-inning stints, but there is plenty of value offered in other areas.
For instance, a total of 28 relievers threw at least 70 innings last season. Of that group, 12 averaged at least 10 strikeouts per nine innings. Boston Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes was 29th among relievers with 69.2 innings and would also qualify for the latter list with 10.72 strikeouts per nine innings.
Keep in mind that list doesn’t include traditionally dominant relievers like Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, Cody Allen and Andrew Miller because they all fell short in the innings category.
Jansen is the first relief pitcher going off the board at 50 overall. Even going down the list of top closers, Washington Nationals left-hander Sean Doolittle isn’t being drafted until No. 135 overall.
A bullpen is an easy way to make up for a starting staff you aren’t completely satisfied with, and it’s easier to build by waiting than going all-in on starters who will come off the board sooner than they need to.
Don’t Jump on the New Kids
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One qualification is this rule doesn’t apply to dynasty leagues, for obvious reasons.
It’s difficult to temper expectations with rookies because of how many new superstars have emerged just in the past three years.
Kris Bryant, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Andrew Benintendi, Trea Turner and Noah Syndergaard are among the players who weren’t in MLB on Opening Day in 2015.
Now, it will be nearly impossible to get halfway through a fantasy draft without each of those players off the board.
Shohei Ohtani is going to be the first rookie off the board this year. His current average draft position is 97. There are other obvious candidates to have breakout debut seasons in 2018.
Outfielder Lewis Brinson didn’t impress in his cup of coffee with the Milwaukee Brewers last season (.106/.236/.277). He was traded to the Miami Marlins as part of the Christian Yelich deal, all but assuring him a starting job on Opening Day.
Outfielder Ronald Acuna, MLB.com’s No. 2 prospect, went through three levels in the minors last season and posted a .325/.374/.522 slash line in 139 games, including 54 at Triple-A. The Atlanta Braves are still rebuilding and could delay the 20-year-old’s arbitration clock by not having him start in the big leagues.
As enticing as it can be to bet on the new kids with all kinds of tools, there’s no reason to do it at the expense of valuable players with proven track records. Dexter Fowler isn’t the most dynamic player, but his .264/.363/.488 slash line last season would have Acuna owners salivating.