By creating an imaginary team composed of real baseball players, you have your very own fantasy baseball team. A typical fantasy baseball league is usually comprised of 10 or 12 teams, each complete with a full roster. But before you pick the players on your team, you need to familiarize yourself with the rules, roster settings and scoring system.
This article will help you do this and more, including how to develop your drafting strategy and how to identify the next breakout using BABIP. It is also my goal to help guide you through the long season with tips on making critical trades and how to effectively play the waiver wire. Let’s get started.
- 2013 FANTASY BASEBALL KIT -
Understanding your Settings
Do’s & Don’ts
Playing the Waiver Wire
Trading to Improve
Sleepers and Undervalued
Player Analysis with BABIP & Drafting with ADP
Top 50 Links & Twitter feeds
Before I talk about drafting and strategies, here is some information on the two traditional scoring systems in fantasy baseball: rotisserie (“roto”) and head to head (“H2H”). Within each style, the league commissioner will select which statistical categories will be used. The traditional stats are called the “5×5″ stats. In a 5×5 league, the league would count runs, home runs, runs batted in, stolen bases and batting average for hitters and wins, saves, strikeouts, earned run average and WHIP (walks + hits / innings pitched) for pitchers. The stats used can vary from league to league. Each league will also have the aforementioned waiver wire, which you can use to add free agents to your team.
“Roto” leagues accumulate ranking totals for each stat. So say your league has 10 teams and your team leads the league in home runs, you would earn 10 points. The team with the fewest home runs would earn 1 point. You add up all the points for every stat and the player with the most points wins the league!
Head to head
Each week you compete against a single team. If you score more than your opponent, you win the category. Each category gives you a win or loss in the standings. So if you were better in 6 of the 10 stats in any given week, you finish that matchup with a record of 6-4. Each week adds to your total and the team that finishes with the best record wins. The commissioner can also select whether to allow daily or weekly changes to your roster.
Now that the league’s format is understood, there are three methods of conducting a draft: autopick, live and auction.
Each owner creates a list ranking all the players in the game. Your league host will automatically assign players to each team based upon the rankings. This league is best for a more casual style of play or if the owners prefer this option over a live draft.
If you can congregate your friends in a centralized location, bring your laptop and a six-pack for a live draft. Each owner receives a short window of time to make a player selection.
For the ultra-competitive and most strategic fantasy players, an auction can be a lot of fun. Each owner is allotted a pre-determined amount of money for which he can use to bid on a player. The highest bid wins the player and they can usually select the next player to auction. This method incorporates a lot of strategy as each owner must properly budget to field a competitive team.
No matter what type of league you are in, you need to understand the settings and stats. This will go along way in determining your draft strategy. How many roster positions do you have? How many bench spots are offered? Can you make daily roster changes? What are the rules on dropping and picking up players? How many innings are your pitchers allowed to pitch? Is there a minimum amount per week? The answers and your understanding to all these questions and many more will help you formulate your plan and help you win your league. This game is a blast, but to win it, you have to be in it.Top of Page
There are literally hundreds of different fantasy sites on the web, and they all will talk about strategy. There is no “one size fits all” approach to drafting; however one thing is a constant. Planning. Success in acquiring your team for fantasy purposes involves planning. Simply going into a draft and “taking the best player available” is not likely to result in a competitive team. The primary reason is that by focusing on players, you are not focusing on positions. The end result is a team that is strong at some categories and positions, but decidedly weak in others. There is a lot of debate about what is more important, player research or following a draft plan. They are equally important, but you have to be flexible in your plan.
A Balanced Approach
A standard Rotisserie league is like many mini-competitions in one. The competition in batting average is separate from the competition in home runs is separate from the competition in ERA. Yet because they’re all happening simultaneously, you can’t divert your attention from any of them. You have to balance all them. When it comes to Head to Head scoring and points leagues, a balanced approach will also help you win.
Using a balance approach, you will draft players looking at all the stat categories. For instance, if one player performs well in 3 categories but poorly in one then you would draft a player that is good in the category of your previously drafted players’ weakness. This strategy will hopefully help your team be balanced and strong among the categories.
Pitching vs. Hitting
It goes without saying, but your goal is to draft great offensive players that can rack up the totals in your hitting categories and great pitching that racks up totals in the pitching categories. You can have a hitter that is decent in all five categories, but if you have a pitcher that is great at all four categories then it is more beneficial to have them on your team even though they can only score in four categories.
As I said before, it can be better to focus more on having a balance of different players rather than one very good player that can dominate in one category. What will sometimes happen is that your team will be great in one category and so low in others making your team not competitive. Having more of a balance in players can help you more in the long run at times.
So what do you do? Before you can formulate a detailed plan, you need to decide how to treat pitching. In shallow leagues (those capable of having a full-time player in all positions), there is enough pitching to go around so that theoretically all teams can have several closers as well as a vast pool of starters from which to choose; in deep leagues, this in not the case. Whatever your strategy, you must recognize this essential difference. If your plan is to wait on pitching early, it is more advisable to do so in shallow leagues.
Ks & WHIP Only
With your pitchers you can whittle the categories down to just strikeouts and WHIP. Granted, luck has some say, but as long as you balance the stats a player can directly control ( home runs, stolen bases, strikeouts and WHIP) the others should fall into place.
Every year there are roster positions that are low in truly talented players. (in ’13 one of those positions is 2B). If you are using position scarcity as a strategy, drafting these positions first may make you feel safe in knowing that they are filled with good players. But keep in mind that scarcity says that the #1 player at the position is far above the rest, people will tend to draft him sooner than his numbers say you should.
One way to get a leg up on the competition is to select players that can play more than one position because they are extremely versatile. He doesn’t have to perform the best in all the positions he plays, but having him is better then having no one and you will be able to move him around in case of injury and scheduled off days. Having a player with multiple eligibility is good but your best bet is pick someone that you know can dominate at one position if you are using position scarcity as a drafting strategy.
Average Draft Position
Selecting the best available player in your draft uses the Average Draft Position (ADP) strategy. This method is one where you pick the best available player regardless of position. You may end up with two top tier 1st basemen, or two top tier outfielders to start your draft, just keep in mind that you will have to fill holes at other positions later. Plus, you need to know your settings. Having three top tier 1st basemen won’t do you any good, if you can only start one, however having three allows you the flexibility to make a trade to fill those holes created by punting on positions.
With this strategy you first need to find a list of how many points each of the top 20 players at each position scored during the past season. Break down the points into categories, like 300 points to 399 points and so on. When you are done, you will have a chart for each position and where the players are ranked in each category or tier. You can use these tier rankings to determine which positions you should draft first. For example, the shortstop position only has 2 players who scored more than 600 points and you have them in Tier 1 and when you look at Tier 2, there may be 8 shortstops, which scored 500 to 576 points. Once the shortstops from the Tier 1 category are gone, there would be no rush to select a shortstop in your draft until the Tier 2 players start to dwindle.
A strategy that I have seen used often is not drafting a first pitcher until Round 9 or 10. Instead teams focus on grabbing the best hitting talent they can over the first eight rounds of the draft, knowing that there still will be quality pitching available even if they wait.
From here you have two ways to go. When you get to that round ( lets say round 9) either you can go through the balance of the draft normally, picking up whatever player you deem to be the best value on the board at that point, whether it’s a position player or a pitcher. Or you could grab one more pitcher in Round 10 or 11 if there is a good option, and then wait until your absolute last picks to fill out the rest of your staff. In a standard 12-team mixed league, that would mean using your picks from Round 17 until the end of the draft to grab the best hurlers available, focusing on hitters in the rounds before that. You’re basically rolling the dice on some late-round pitchers with upside and hope a few break through, while also following the assumption that hitters are more reliable than pitchers.
Experience has shown me that there are plenty of nice starting pitching bargains in the middle and late rounds every year, and if I’m diligent enough, I can also add pitching via the waiver wire during the season. All of which allows me to load up on as much hitting as I can in the early rounds, understanding that the more offensive firepower I have on my roster, the easier it will be to trade for a top-line starter should I find myself in need of reinforcements for the stretch run.
Of course, that doesn’t mean I ignore pitching on draft day. Far from it. Those SP bargains I mentioned above are available each year, if you know what to look for.
The pitchers you should target fall into one of four categories: Young Guns, Rebound Vets, Undervalued Arms and Late Steals. Look for upside but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fall for any promising youngster with a lively arm. Everyone loves a good revival story so seek out veterans with a solid track record whose stock has fallen because of an off year. Pitchers in the undervalued category tend to fly under the radar despite their consistent production. If you are going to use this strategy try to wrap your draft with one or two late-round picks that could pay off big in the long run.Top of Page
It is imperative in Roto leagues to stay away from high-WHIP or low-batting average players. This is the difference between Roto vs. H2H, because these sort of average stats can vary from week-to-week and the yearly stats are not as crucial to pay attention to in H2H leagues. In Roto you need to maximize your chance to win by focusing on guys who don’t kill you in these departments. This is where one tool players who only offer stats like steals and average, or middle relievers who have a low WHIP come in.
Target Closers in Waiting
In standard 12-team leagues, nearly every owner should be able to get two reliable closers, but getting a third productive reliever could really put your team ahead of the curve. However, the bottom of the closer barrel doesn’t offer the most appetizing options. Sure, they will get you saves, but they will kill your ERA & WHIP. Whether you’re in this situation or you’re an owner in a deeper league just trying to get a decent second reliever, your best alternative is probably to target a pitcher who hasn’t yet been anointed as a closer. Recall that three of last season’s (’12) best closers — Fernando Rodney, Aroldis Chapman and Rafael Soriano — did not enter the regular season as their team’s ninth-inning specialist. Several opening day closers are likely to lose their roles due to injuries or ineffectiveness, and that opens the door for a “closer-in-waiting” to emerge from the setup ranks. Not only does it pay to identify teams with shaky closer situations, but to find the relievers on those teams who post closer-like ERAs, WHIPs and strikeout rates.
You need to have a plan on how you are going to treat closers. Do you actively pursue the best or do you wait until later and try and pick up anyone who has the title? The closer position is the most common position in which to see a run. (Much like team defenses in fantasy football). It is important to monitor carefully the availability of closers. If there already was a run, or if closers have been picked more frequently than you anticipated, do not hesitate to grab your first one a round or two earlier than you had originally planned.
Round by Round
Some teams adopt a round-by-round approach, usually for the first 10 picks. It may look something like this: a hitter in rounds one and two, starting pitcher in three, hitter-hitter in four and five, closer in six, hitter in seven, pitcher-hitter-pitcher in rounds eight through 10.
Within each round may be additional guidelines, such as looking at specific positions. The end result is that this team will have six position players, three starting pitchers and a closer at the end of 10 rounds. The advantage of this approach is that it allows you to provide a broad base of talent upon which you can build the rest of your team. The disadvantage is that it lacks flexibility.
A better approach is to block your picks. It is an approach that issues general guidelines and is not rigid in enforcing them. For example, you can plan on taking hitters with your first five picks. However, if either a really good pitcher is available in round five take them instead. It’s a good rule of thumb to come out of the first 10 rounds with four pitchers and six position players. This approach also allows you to target certain players in specific rounds. This is where ADP (average draft position) rankings can come in handy, helping you approximate who will be available with each pick of your draft, all the way to the very last round.
Set your player rankings, and then compare them to ADP data to identify groups of players to target with each pick. Ideally, you want to draft players as much after their ADP as possible in order to maximize the value of your draft as a whole. But don’t plan your entire draft around players sliding to you each round, or you’re bound to be disappointed.
Give yourself three choices for each pick. If someone that is better than any of the three choices you have targeted slides to your pick … well, that is just a bonus. Do this for each round until your roster is full, and you’ll have your draft planned out well in advance.
Obviously, things are subject to change, depending on the flow of the draft, but at least you have set some guidelines for yourself to keep you on track. If you’ve ever felt you didn’t come out of a draft with as strong a team as you should have, this strategy can be a powerful tool.
Create your own Cheat Sheet
A cheat sheet is essential, take the time and create your own. This will help you have a summary sheet of certain desirable players by round that will help facilitate your choices. This will also help you create tiers by position, which will show you if there is a significant drop-off in player production between who is available and those that follow him. Using this technique is a great aid in timing your picks and avoids missing those truly crucial ones.
Timing is Everything/Be Flexible
It is crucial to get your timing right. If, for example, you decide to use your first six picks for position players, be aware of what is happening at the table. If there is an earlier run on pitching than you expected, use that sixth pick, or perhaps even the fifth one, to get a pitcher. Better to start a round too early than a round too late.
Choosing your Bench
This strategy may be one of the most important out of all the above. Don’t disregard your bench, just because it consists of your back up players and the players that are not going to play for you everyday. When a player is injured they can’t play anymore, so with your bench you can take a back up player off of it and switch him with the injured player. If you have a great bench, you don’t have to use the waiver wire. When you have multiple pitchers, they aren’t all going to pitch on the same day, so you don’t want them in your starting line up if they are not playing because that doesn’t earn you any points. This is where player research and keeping track of Free Agents (FA) come into play.
Power and Speed
After declining in four of the last five seasons, home runs made a comeback in 2012, as major leaguers swatted a total of 4,934 of them, up from 4,552 a year before. They also maintained most of the spike in stolen bases they created in 2011, but these trends didn’t generate an explosion of speed/power threats for fantasy. Only 10 players made the 20/20 club in 2012, as compared with 12 from the prior season. In other words, despite the recent uptick in homers and steals, there are still just a handful of players who can be counted on to make a sizeable impact in both categories. Currently only 14 players are projected to have least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases for the 2013 season, and on draft day, owners should keep an eye on the members of this list as the draft progresses. Target these players early and use the middle-round picks on others despite their questionable ability to help with batting average. It may be worth it because of their unique speed/power combination. Also, bear in mind that if you plan on targeting spots on your roster for these players, you will most likely be using outfield, second base or shortstop slots on them.Top of Page
Don’t Chase Wins
It’s true that pitchers on MLB teams that win tend to do better in the wins category than their counterparts on losing MLB teams. That doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to target pitchers based on which uniform they wear or their history in the category. For one thing, it’s not always easy to tell which teams will be good. An able pitcher can post a good record on a team that doesn’t score many runs and there will always be the hard-luck losers who suffer from unexpectedly poor run support and are saddled with losing records despite low ERAs. Owners are best off to draft pitchers who do well in the other categories, and typically, the wins will follow.
There will be times when the player you want is right within your reach but is selected right before your turn. Do not dwell over the missed chance and move on to your next selection. Do not panic. If you took the advice listed above, then you will have another player in mind and ready to take their spot in your fantasy baseball draft. You need to be able to adapt to the other owners in your league. You do not necessarily need to change your strategy, but as mentioned before have multiple players for each round that you want to target. Drafts rarely ever go as planned, so preparing multiple options can be a draft saver during the draft when time is limited.
Be Aware of off-season Moves
Make sure you have good knowledge of off-season moves that have taken place. A hitter going from friendly hitters park to a pitchers park could effect his value moving forward, and vise-versa for pitchers.
When Deep into a Position, Take a Flier on Upside.
You don’t win your league by playing it safe in the late rounds. You play it safe in the early rounds. You take solid contributors early. You take fliers late. They are often called sleepers (more on that later), but call them what you want, just make sure they have upside.
Don’t Play Favorites
Everybody knows the hazards of bidding on their favorite players or guys on their favorite team, but it’s a more common mistake to have a man crush on who “everyone” says is going to be the next best thing. You should become dispassionate about the players themselves during the draft and instead focus on buying the stats that they provide. The biggest mistake you can make is to fall in love with certain players and get into an insane bidding wars or jump up and select them way too early. Don’t chase anyone, anywhere, anyhow, anytime.
Too often, Fantasy managers owners see that scarcity at a position, draft players too high and then are forced to scramble later or in the case of an auction draft get into that foolish bidding war. The ‘loser’ of the bidding war most of the time will then get a comparable player later for cut rate. The winner is left to scramble and revise his strategy because he is missing critical money down the road.
Use Conservative Projections
Ideally, you should average preseason projections together from five different sources. This drastically reduces the risk of overrating or underrating a player. It also reminds you that last year isn’t everything, players can bounce back and drop off.
Ask Yourself these Questions Before Every Pick
If you want to maximize your draft and pick the best team possible, there’s two questions you should ask yourself before every pick.
“Is there a player of equal value still available in the draft and, if so, what round is that player expected to be drafted?”
If the answer to the questions are yes, then you have to figure out which round that player is expected to be drafted in. If it is two or more rounds later, then you should seriously consider not drafting the player you have in mind and holding off for the latter player. If the answer to the first part is no, pull the trigger.
Quick Hits Draft Do’s & Don’ts
In real baseball, Base stealers generally bat at the top of the lineup and, therefore, score more runs. Home run hitters generally bat in the middle of the lineup and, therefore, drive in more runs. Sure, you’ll find some exceptions, but the correlation is strong enough that you can use it as a crutch on your draft day. It also goes without saying if a pitcher misses bats and keeps runners off base, he won’t allow many runs, and if he doesn’t allow many runs, he’ll win his share of games.
Pay careful attention to daily match-ups. Parks have a huge impact on statistics. Playing at home is a substantial advantage. Favorable lefty/righty match-ups are important (not to mention often affecting whether a hitter may sit that day or not). For pitchers, the opposing team’s offense is important. And nothing makes more of a difference for hitters than the opposing team’s starting pitcher. Ideally, you should be calculating the impact of each of these factors (and more) to determine which players on your team or available free agents should be played that day. Even if you don’t actually do any calculations, you need to consider the impact of as many of the key situational factors as possible.Top of Page
Players that teams do not draft or the ones that they drop may appear unappetizing, but you cannot discount them. You may feel that you have selected the best players and do not want to make any changes, get over yourself. You might also think that you do not want to give up on a player and would hate for them to play on a rival’s team and even worse light it up for them. While I certainly understand these feelings, you cannot let it dictate how you play the game. The bottom line is this: In this game, don’t worry about what other teams are doing, after your draft, just take care of business and focus on how you can continue to improve your team.
The waiver wire is a perfect tool to do this. No team will win its league with only the players that they draft. Injuries happen and players disappoint. That is the name of the game. Some will tell you to leave your team untouched until May, because early stats can be deceiving. This is bad advice. Leave your stars alone, but be aggressive and pick up decent-looking players. Every roster has a few spots to allow for turnover. If you’re not aggressive, you’ll miss out. Pick up now, ask questions later. Waiver wire aggression is also how you accumulate closers.
But before you start getting crazy with waivers, you have to know the rules. What are your league settings when it comes to the wire? How many days does a player have to wait to clear waivers? What are the rules on the claiming process? How many moves are you allowed to make per season/week? It is vital to have a firm understanding of the answers to all them.
If you happen to be in a league with other good players, some of them will be combing the free agent pool for players with favorable match-ups. This is particularly true of starting pitchers. So you may need to pick up players a day or two early in some cases. Some of the time, that may require you to put in a waiver claim if you want to get a player. If you’re holding onto your No. 1 waiver priority in hopes of landing a star later, you’re going to be passing up lots of small opportunities to accumulate better statistics. Most of the time, that won’t be a worthwhile tradeoff for you to make.
Just like in Fantasy Football, every day there is a mad dash to pick up and drop players, and if you do your homework, you will be able to identify the best ones. League winners and losers are often separated by a couple of stolen bases or a handful HRs, so doing everything possible to mine the waiver wire for potentially beneficial players for the entire season is a critical strategy. Every week I’ll help you by providing insight about who might tip the scales in your fantasy league.Top of Page
Streaming is using as many starting pitchers as you can to try to accumulate as many counting stats as possible (Wins and Ks). It is a method to make up make up quite of bit of ground quickly, with little draw back. There is nothing wrong with streaming if your leagues rules allow it. It could be done by any owner during the season. It usually comes to the fore front at the end of the season, because managers are able to dump starters that are done for the season. Dumping these pitchers is especially done in single season leagues. In keeper leagues, the dumped pitchers can be picked up for next year, so streaming is limited. The main complaint is teams may be seeing an entire season of work lost to an owner that is able to start a stable full of pitchers over the last few days.
The rules are the rules and if your league allows for streaming you have to roll with the punches. It may not seem “fair”, but every owner has the same opportunity. If you are in a weekly roster change format, you will want to do your research to find those free agent pitchers that will have two starts for the coming week, giving you a bonus start in which those stats will count in your H2H matchup.
The conventional wisdom holds that streaming is good on your wins and strikeouts, but no good for you ERA and WHIP. This certainly seems to make sense: as you add starts throughout the week you add strikeouts with them. This increases your chances of “lucking” into wins or jumping up in a stat category. Of course, since you’re picking up the players that aren’t considered worthy of a permanent roster spot, you’re going to get some ugly starts that drag your rate numbers down. Stream out your own risk.Top of Page
One of the most exciting aspects of fantasy baseball is trading. It can also be the most frustrating. There will be stupid early season offers where people are constantly testing your knowledge and your patience. Once you are knee deep into the season and you have settled in, your waiver wire has been picked clean, it is even more vital to improve your squad via the trade.
I understand that to some people, the initial offer is just a springboard to the negotiation process. However, if your first offer is so far off, you’re going to turn off any and all potential trade partners. Have the sense to offer something worthy of a negotiation. If you’re going fishing, what do you think is going to lure in the big fish? Answer: good bait. A bad trading reputation spreads quicker than a good one and if you’re always known for offering up your garbage for their best player, no one will ever want to deal with you.
Don’t make an offer you are not willing to have accepted immediately. There’s nothing worse than someone sending you an offer and then watching them pull it back when you agree. If you don’t intend on actually making the deal, then put a disclaimer in the offer that says something like “Not set in stone, but what do you think of…?” You look like a fool or a potential swindler by pulling back an accepted deal.
During negotiations, don’t try to run down the guy you are asking to trade to you in an attempt to get them to lower their asking price. If you can give them all of these reasons as to why you should just get rid of this guy, then why are you trading for him? Are you really doing them a favor by taking him off their hands?
Never offer up a hurt guy. If he’s on the disabled list and in a walking boot for three weeks, don’t tell them that he’s going to be great down the road and try to get full value for him in a deal. And if he just got hurt and word hasn’t spread yet as to the extent of the injury, don’t try to deal him thinking that they haven’t done thier homework. And if they haven’t had a chance yet to do their homework and you swindle them on a guy who just went down with a back injury, you’ll never trade with them again. This is how you will get that bad reputation.
When making an offer, actually look at the other team’s needs. Make the offer enticing. Make it look like you will be actually getting something out of this and that you are not just helping them out by doing the deal. If you are in first place in stolen bases in your roto league and your lead is fairly solid, then why offer a steals guy for a slugger? Have the good sense to find a trade partner that has a surplus of what you need while you have the same for him.
Never tell another owner how to run their team. You can say something like, “Hey, it looks like you need saves, so I have some guys that may help you,” but there’s no need to tell someone what they should or shouldn’t be doing with their squad. Unless they solicit advice, mind your own business. That said, I am not saying how to run your team but I have always found that pitching is easier to find on the waiver wire, so I recommend trading pitchers for star hitters whenever possible.
If someone makes you an offer, have the decency to respond whether you like the deal or not. If you have no interest in the deal, then just say so. A simple email will suffice. You may have to turn them down two or three times, but they should get it rather quickly and end up leaving you alone.
Conversely, if someone doesn’t respond to an offer that you’ve sent three times, then walk away and look for a new trading partner. They obviously have no interest or they are a dead team. You can ask your commissioner if they are active, but sending them a barrage of emails in an attempt to illicit a response is a waste of your time and energy.
If you make a deal, honor it. Everyone has a certain amount of buyer’s remorse when they make a big trade, but you don’t come back the next day and try to cancel it because you’ve slept on it and made yourself crazy. And if the deal is up for a league vote, you don’t go running to league members and lobby for them to vote it down. This happened to me a couple of years ago, I came off looking like a fool after the trade that I accepted was voted down by the league thanks to my vote. No amount of buyer’s remorse it worth the way it makes you look. Mistakes may happen throughout the course of the fantasy baseball season, you have to be willing to be flexible and work with the commissioner of your league to work out the best result. If that means nixing the deal, it’s better to be on board then come across as an ass. You will not have any fun the rest of the way, and either will your competitors. Remember this is a game and that is the point. There is enough stress in real life, leave it out of fake baseball.Top of Page
AS I said before, if you are focus on players, you are not focusing on positions. In order to win your league, you must have the best stats from EVERY position. That is your goal. You don’t want to end up with a team that is strong at some categories and positions, but decidedly weak in others. Earlier in “High Heat” provided my take on every position for the 2013 season and you can read about them if you like to help formulate your plan for the year.
Here are the quick links:Top of Page
A big part of each spring’s draft preparation is spent trying to identify the next breakout player, the game-changer who will lead you to your league title. We all know who the top players are, but who is going to be that guy that takes your team into first place that you got in the middle rounds or off the waiver wire. A few years ago, that player was Carlos Gonzalez and if memory serves me right, I got him after round 8. Mike Trout is a perfect example of this type of player who propelled teams last year (’12). The best way to find these players is to do your research, keep a list and refer to it often. Every fantasy baseball blog has their ideas of who can be considered “sleepers”. This is not a bad thing, read as much as you can about them and keep a list of them and what round you would select them. Don’t count on them to anchor your squad, but be ready to pick them up if need be.
You can find them by examining known breakout players’ previous season and develop a set of criteria that might highlight some other players with a similar skills progression. With apologies to Mike Trout (whose 20-year-old season was so unexpected that we won’t find a comparable any time soon), it’s important to find a subject whose breakout performance was somewhat, but not completely, unexpected. Here are some criteria for you to use in your search.
Those broad parameters will give you a bunch of names but it is a start.
Baseball is played by players. Fantasy baseball is played with numbers. But the numbers never really tell you the whole story about a player. Every fantasy baseball season is loaded with potential sleepers that could ultimately decide whether or not you win your fantasy league. The key to success is to have a deep team. There is very little chance of winning without hitting on a couple of late-round steals. Championships aren’t won in the first few rounds of fantasy baseball drafts. Winning selections come in the middle and late ones, when fantasy baseball sleepers and undervalued players pop up.Top of Page
We’re in the midst of a statistical revolution in baseball, a fascinating time in which next-level measures give us a greater understanding of player skill, and in which statistical advances every year teach us new things about the game.
Player analysis has become quite different in the 21st century: These statistical innovations provide us a virtual toolbox giving us a variety of tools with which to measure player skill. BABIP is one such tool in the box, rather than the only tool.
I stated in my OF column that Andrew McCutchen has little to no chance at batting .327 again in 2013 because of his absurdly high .375 BABIP in 2012.
Before you get deep into your player analysis, make sure you fully appreciate such tools at your disposal as BABIP
What is BABIP?
BABIP, or Batting Average on Balls In Play, measures both a hitter’s success producing hits or a pitcher’s ability to prevent them only on batted balls put into the field of play. It’s a recalculation of batting average only on those batted balls in play, meaning excluding the “three true outcomes” of home runs, walks or strikeouts. Home runs might be the puzzling exclusion; yes, those are batted balls, but they depart the field of play, and therefore aren’t a useful measure of defensive influence on batted balls.
The formula is Hits minus Home Runs, divided by At-Bats minus Home Runs minus Strikeouts plus Sacrifice Flies, or:
H – HR
AB – HR – K + SF
Voros McCracken is widely credited with having “invented” BABIP, but others contributed to the research behind the theory, and many since then have offered their varying opinions on its importance as well as its formula. Some sources exclude sacrifice flies (SF) from the formula, and others give it a different name, such as Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster, which calls it Hit Percentage (H%).
What purpose does BABIP serve?
The most significant pitfall of BABIP for fantasy owners is to equate the category with “luck.” BABIP is not that one-size-fits-all measure of luck that many believed in the past. If you’re quick to say that Dexter Fowler was the “luckiest hitter in baseball” in 2012 because of his major league-leading .390 BABIP, Justin Smoak was the “unluckiest hitter” (league-worst .242 BABIP), Jered Weaver was the “luckiest pitcher” (league-low .241 BABIP) and Rick Porcello was the “unluckiest pitcher” (league-worst .344 BABIP), without doing any deeper examination, you are misusing the stat.
While it’s true that luck contributes to BABIP performance, it is only one of several such influences. Luck can come into play when a player gets a fortunate bounce on a ground ball, squeaking between a third baseman or shortstop, or a line drive or fly ball dunks in front of an outfielder. In either of those scenarios, though, the defenders’ abilities presumably also contributed to the result.
The purpose of the category, therefore, is not to identify outliers, but rather illustrate a player’s success when he put the ball in play. And to extract value from it, you must understand the context — how he got there and why he will or will not repeat it — by which the player came to that result.
What is the major league average for BABIP?
It varies, which illustrates a critical aspect of BABIP: annual fluctuations, both by individuals or the league as a whole. For example, in 2012, the major league average for BABIP was .297, up two points from its 2011 number (.295). Since the turn of the century, the league’s BABIP has varied, ranging as high as .303 in a single year, in 2007, to as low as .293, in 2002. And if you flash back before the Steroid Era, league BABIPs were even lower — as low as .282 exactly 25 years ago (1988).
It is often assumed that a league-average BABIP is .300, and that every player should therefore regress to that mean. Not so: While it has typically ranged between .295 and .300 the past half-decade, it can often change depending upon era.
What other factors influence BABIP?
There are several, and we keep getting more reliable data on new ones each year. Let’s address each of these contributing factors one by one:
among the 11 leaders in batting average the past three seasons combined (among those with 1,500-plus plate appearances), seven also ranked among the top 11 in BABIP. Meanwhile, none of the players with a .300-plus batting average during that time had a BABIP beneath .310.
There is no question that the better the hitter, the better the BABIP. It is for this reason that a player’s single-season BABIP should never be analyzed without comparing it to that individual’s history in the category.
The same lesson also applies to pitchers. Unlike hitters, pitchers exercise less control over batted-ball outcomes, a point illustrated best by the range of BABIPs posted on either side of the ball: From 2010-12 combined, among pitchers who faced 1,500 or more batters, the major league low for BABIP was .245 (by Jeremy Hellickson) and the high was .329 (by Jeff Francis), and 87 of the 112 pitchers to meet that minimum (77.7 percent) posted a BABIP between .280 and .320.
Meanwhile, among hitters to come to the plate at least 1,500 times from 2010-12, the major league low for BABIP was .251 (by Carlos Pena) and the high was .370 (by Austin Jackson), and only 60 of the 114 hitters to meet that minimum (52.6 percent) posted a BABIP between .280 and .320.
Again, make sure to compare a pitcher’s history in the category against his individual-year numbers … but understand that fluctuations are a bit more telling on their side because of diminished control over their results.
Whether a batted ball becomes a line drive, ground ball, fly ball or bunt has a bearing upon its result. Naturally, a line drive is the most likely to result in a hit, a fly ball the least likely, so a player’s percentage of batted-ball types have influence upon his BABIP.
These were the major league averages for each batted-ball type in 2012:
Ground balls — bunts included (46.0 percent of all balls in play): .230 BABIP
Ground balls — bunts excluded (43.8 percent): .226 BABIP
Fly balls (35.7 percent): .132 BABIP
Line drives (18.3 percent): .714 BAIBIP
Bunts (2.2 percent of all balls in play): .402 BABIP
Remember that these averages, like overall BABIP numbers, vary from season to season: The 2011 line-drive rate was 18.5 percent and BABIP was .707, for example. So, again, it isn’t a hard-and-fast rule that a player’s BABIP should result in a number identical to the league average, even when breaking down batted balls further.
This is another area in which a hitter exercises greater control than a pitcher, specifically pertaining to line drives: Joey Votto was the majors’ leader in line-drive percentage from 2010-12 combined (24.2 percent) and Mark Reynolds (15.1 percent) had the majors’ worst number; on the mound, Kyle Lohse (20.7 percent) afforded the highest line-drive rate, Kershaw the lowest (15.7 percent). And of the 114 hitters to come to the plate 1,500 times during that span, 81 managed a line-drive rate between 16 and 20 percent (71.1 percent). Of the 112 pitchers to face that many hitters, meanwhile, all but six managed line-drive rates between 16 and 20 percent.
Here’s where that “well-hit average,” or statistics related to hard contact, comes into play. Generally speaking, the harder the contact, the greater the potential results for the hitter — with the one minor exception being that speedy ground-ballers probably want to generate weaker contact to use their speed to leg out infield hits. Last season, these were the league average BABIPs by the three classifications of quality of contact:
“Hard” contact (24.8 percent of all batted balls last season): .623 BABIP
“Medium” contact (18.7 percent): .370 BABIP
“Soft” contact (56.5 percent): .146 BABIP
This isn’t difficult math: Players, on average, generate soft contact more than half the time, and more than twice as often as they make hard contact. When they make hard contact, however, they are more than four times more likely to get a hit.
The quicker the runner, the more he can drive batting average (and with it BABIP) with his legs, beating out bunts and ground balls for base hits. To that end, three of the four players to steal 40 or more bases in 2012 had BABIPs of .325 of greater, and all four had a BABIP higher than the major league average of .297.
This is a key aspect of pitching analysis, and it needs be stressed that a pitcher’s BABIP allowed might not be the best measure of his ability. It might instead tell us more about the quality of the defense behind him. For example, a pitcher isn’t necessarily “unlucky” just because neither Yuniesky Betancourt nor Delmon Young had the range to catch that blooper to shallow left field; he is only “unlucky” because this was the day that Charlie Manuel decided it was a good day to start both Betancourt and Young, both poor defenders.
To illustrate how defense can influence BABIP, consider that, of the 13 teams to post a BABIP beneath .290 last season, six ranked among the 10 best in terms of Defensive Runs Saved. Those six teams featured five of the top six ERA qualifiers in terms of BABIP: Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels (.241, 1st); Ervin Santana, Angels (.241, 2nd); Mike Minor, Atlanta Braves (.252, 3rd); Jason Vargas, Seattle Mariners (.254, 4th); Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays (.261, 6th).
The Rays are perhaps the best example of a team’s defensive influence on BABIP. They have ranked among the two best squads in the category in three consecutive seasons, leading the way in each of the past two, and have finished among the 10 best teams in Defensive Runs Saved in each of those years, leading the way in 2011. Hellickson’s critics, in particular, need to take this into account. His oddly low BABIPs in back-to-back seasons are driven in part by the quality of his defense.
This might seem an obvious one — hit a line drive barely fair within the outfield foul lines and you’re effectively 100 percent certain to get a hit — but it runs deeper than merely “hit it where they ain’t.” Hitters can exercise some degree of control over the direction of their hits, and pitchers can throw pitches to a certain area of the strike zone in an attempt to get a batter to pull the ball, just to name two examples.
But this influence is most relevant when coupling it with the previous one. When defenses shift to cover the area of the field where the opposing hitter is most likely to hit the ball, the hitter’s margin for error decreases..
Ballparks can influence BABIP, which makes sense, considering no two have identical combinations of outfield dimensions, playing surface, foul territory and weather conditions. The total area of the field of play — foul territory included — in particular influences batted-ball results.
For instance, the O.co Coliseum, home to the Oakland Athletics, is widely regarded as one of the more pitching-friendly venues in baseball, mostly thanks to its spacious foul territory that swallows up a healthy number of harmless popups. As those drive down BABIPs, it’s understandable that the O.co Coliseum has ranked among the five worst ballparks for BABIP in each of the past three seasons, in 2012 ranking 29th-worst with a .272 number. Conversely, Colorado’s Coors Field had the highest BABIP in baseball at .345, understandable if you consider the thin air coupled with the spacious outfield dimensions at the venue. There is plenty of space in those outfield gaps for hitters to send those doubles and triples.
Is BABIP a more valuable evaluation tool for pitchers than for hitters?
As hinted above, BABIP is more valuable in your analysis of pitchers, and the reason is that, due to all the influences above, random fluctuation impacts the category more on that side of the ball. Pitchers have less control over the outcomes of individual plays than hitters — at least those that are not walks, strikeouts or home runs — and you can expect more year-to-year BABIP variance as a result.
What conclusions can we draw from BABIP?
The best use of BABIP in your analysis is to examine a player’s history in the category, as well as investigate how he got to that season’s number. What kind of hitter or pitcher is he? Was his 2012 BABIP radically different from his previously established career norm? If it changed, is there an obvious reason why, such as a shift from being a ground-ball to fly-ball hitter, a change in ballparks, a change in the defense behind him (if he’s a pitcher), or perhaps even an injury that might have resulted in diminished skills?
BABIP is a valuable, underrated and often misunderstood tool. And with this information, hopefully you’ve now mastered it.Top of Page
Fantasy baseball average draft position shows you where players are being drafted on average in fantasy baseball drafts and mock drafts. An ADP Report tracks each player’s average draft position throughout the off-season and Spring Training from the main Fantasy Baseball hosting platforms. These reports will help you find players that are being either overvalued or undervalued. You can find ones that are sortable by position and overall. ADP comes in handy later in your draft when you have all of your positions filled and looking for players at the same position and players who are comparable regardless of position. Even after your draft you can use ADP early in the season to help you evaluate trade offers and when you are proposing ones that you think are fair.Top of Page
In general, nothing of any value comes without some work. To maximize your chances for a successful fantasy season, a good deal of work will be necessary. But if you love baseball as I do, the hours will go by quickly, because the work is also fun. And when you reap the rewards of success later, you will be very glad that you put in the extra time.
Finally, keep your eye on the ball. If you aren’t watching baseball games, it’s going to be tough. It’s easy to see when a player is in a real slump or perhaps got lucky. Did your player drive in three runs because of poor defense or a lucky bounce? You may overestimate his strong performance because the box score doesn’t tell the whole story. Reading articles online also can only tell a small part of the story.
Enjoy the game by watching the game.
As Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot by watching”
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While Twitter may have started as a micro-blogging service, it is grown into much more than simply a tool to type in quick status updates. It as a cross between blogging and instant messaging.
Turn on ESPN or MLB network and you’ll see that ticker streaming across the bottom of the television set. In a digital world that is relying on the Internet more and more for news, that streaming ticker is Twitter. Why wait for that information to scroll if you can get it instantly?
As I mentioned before, navigating the waiver wire during the season is vital to success and you’ve got to pick up and drop players and make trades along the way. Anyone that has played fantasy baseball before knows that it’s fun to make transactions, especially when they pay off for you in a big way. It’s a simple fact that injuries happen in baseball, and in order to adjust to this in fantasy, you’ve got to stay on top of things.
By using Twitter as a fantasy owner, not only are you able to chat about your feelings and learn about those of actual baseball players, you’re able to find out the latest news in no time.
Why is Twitter so much faster? When news breaks and the first beat writer gets a hold of it, it probably takes 10 or 20 minutes to pump an article out. Then, unless you’ve got an immediate RSS feed to every single newspaper and website on the internet, you’re going to have to wait until a major site like ESPN runs with it or until a site like RotoWorld picks it up. Then, you’ll still have to be in the right place to read about it at one of these sites before your opponents do. Whatever the case, we’re often getting news third-hand and dealing with the associated lag time.
With Twitter, you can get instant updates sent to your computer or phone, sometimes by the people breaking the news in the first place. At the very least, you’re receiving access to the omnipresence of thousands of people surfing the web, and all it takes is one to be in the right place at the right time.
People on Twitter don’t need to take the time to write a full article. They can shoot off a Tweet in five seconds and from anywhere since it can be done via cell phone. I can easily foresee every last beat writer in the country jumping on the Twitter bandwagon in the near future. They’re in an extremely competitive business themselves, and Twitter seems like the quickest way of getting the news out.
To give you that much needed leg up on the competition, why not try twitter to get that breaking news. It helps to use a program that will allow you to filter those you follow into many categories. For example, you can have one section for each major sport you follow and others.
Here are some twitter feeds you can follow:
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