National / Sports / March 2, 2011

Topsy-turvy fantasy baseball advice for 2011

I know what you’re thinking. Who is this guy? What makes him think he knows anything about fantasy baseball? What place did he take in his league last year?

For your information, I finished seventh in my league last year. In the several years prior, however, I’ve been a late-playoff guy. I do it with a strategy that is completely bass-ackwards from traditional head-to-head strategy. Last year simply wasn’t my fault. I swear.

I draft pitchers early and often. Now, you could say this is because I’m biased. A pitcher drafting with a pitchers-first prejudice doesn’t seem too farfetched. Bear with me. I’ll explain myself.

In a head-to-head fantasy league, you are paired against an opponent in your league of generally around 14 teams. It must be an even number of teams to do head-to-head. Bye weeks don’t exist here. For one week, you must do everything you can to defeat your opponent in categories like batting average, home runs, RBIs, wins, ERA and strikeouts, among many others. To do this, you’re forced to change your lineup daily in order to get the best production out of your team depending on who is starting and getting the day off.

Whoever wins the most categories wins the week and a cumulative win-loss record for the season is kept. For instance, if you have 12 categories and defeat your opponent in eight of them, you have an 8-4 record.

My general strategy, then, is to win each week, even if it’s by the slimmest of margins. In almost every league I’ve played, a 7-5 record each week gets you, at worst, the final playoff spot. Because I see myself as pretty knowledgeable about pitching, my goal is to sweep all the pitching categories and win one or two of the hitting categories.

Think about it. If I do this every week and continue to do so in the playoffs (where you advance by simply winning more categories than your opponent for the given week), I’m the league champion.

That being said, rule one: You NEVER draft a pitcher first unless that pitcher is Philadelphia ace Roy Halladay. That guy is the epitome of a complete fantasy starting pitcher. He’s almost always in the top five MLB pitchers in wins, ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and innings pitched.

Unless Halladay is available (and even this is situational), always draft hitter in the first round. Especially this year, when there will be so many quality pitchers available now that Major League Baseball appears to have returned to a pitching-dominant game.

Rule two: I’m a big believer in, unless it’s Pujols or A-Rod, saving corner infielders for rounds 3-5. Essentially every team has a power-hitting first baseman. Instead, draft a shortstop or catcher first. These positions are rare for big-time performers. Your best fantasy catching prospects are Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez and perhaps Buster Posey.

Of these, Mauer’s power numbers have fallen back to earth, Martinez is aging and Posey is still young and therefore unpredictable. Sorry Giants fans, I love the guy, but I can’t put all my fantasy hopes on him quite yet. After that, catching prospects fall to Brian McCann, whose average has fallen off significantly and who has little protection in the lineup.

For the shortstops, it’s even worse—Hanley Ramirez is, at worst, the third-best player in fantasy ball (and I’d argue first or second because of his stolen base prowess), and Troy Tulowitzki is a stud. Beyond that, though, you drop to injury-prone José Reyes and 36-year-old Derek Jeter. No matter what ESPN or Yahoo projections tell you, those two are not top-tier fantasy prospects. It’s a long fall from the top-tier to tier two.

Rule three: If you draft a closer higher than the 15th round, you’re a bonehead and deserve to lose the league. Other than that, there are four closers who deserve to even be drafted at all—Brian Wilson, Mariano Rivera, Carlos Marmol and (assuming he’s healthy) Joe Nathan.

“But, why, Colin? Why can’t I sell my soul for closers?”

Well, Bonehead, there are two reasons for that. First is that the closer position in general is so fluid. It’s the most “what have you done for me lately” position in baseball. Two bad outings in a row, and the closer is on the chopping block. Consider the Brian Fuentes/Huston Street controversy in Denver three years ago. Street was the obvious choice to start the year, but it was Fuentes’ job by mid-June. Instead, be mindful of trends and be prepared to pick up a closer (or soon-to-be closer) off waivers when the time is right.

Second is because, quite honestly, they don’t matter enough to sell a high draft pick for them. Ideally, you want closers to cover four categories—saves, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts. However, the middle two stats are based on how many innings a pitcher throws. Closers typically throw one inning per outing, and maybe four total in a good week.

Therefore, even if they are shaky in the ERA (here, we’ll say, 4.00 or above) and WHIP (1.40 and above) categories, because they throw such a few amount of innings, a mediocre ERA and WHIP won’t hurt your overall staff. As long as they get saves, it doesn’t matter.

Instead, I look at two categories when getting closers—saves and strikeouts. The aforementioned four are your top strikeout closers. Solid ERAs and WHIPs are simply a bonus with closers.

Best of luck in your drafts. I’ll be back from time to time (perhaps, next issue, even?) to add more tips.

Colin Davis

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