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Fantasy Baseball Pre-Draft Game Plans

Senior Fantasy Baseball Expert Shawn Childs helps you game plan for your upcoming Fantasy Baseball draft so you can DOMINATE your league!

I can remember the first time I discovered the box scores in the newspaper. It was the summer of 1978 at the age of 12. I was a paperboy at the time for a local newspaper, but I found my great discovery in the Boston Globe. I would deliver my papers then stop by the local store and buy the paper. It was great to follow your favorite players and see how they did on a day to day basis. I can’t imagine that my love of the box scores led me to where I am today.

My first experience in Fantasy sports was football, but baseball was always my first love. I played in a mail-in salary cap baseball league in the early 90s. After one year, I knew the game required a huge commitment of time. In the best interest of my relationship with my girlfriend, I decided not to play the next year. After a few years, I was invited a couple of times to play in an AL only auction league. I was active playing Fantasy football since 1991, but I shied away from baseball. I finally gave in and decided to join the AL league in 1997. I won the poorly run league in my first season. I was hooked on the game.

After having success at the local level, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine Kevin Deckel while watching the 2004 Super Bowl. I expressed interest to Kevin that I was thinking about trying to find a higher level league to test my skills. The next week I bought the Baseball Weekly newspaper. There were a few options, but there was nothing that interested me. The following week there was an ad for the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC). I had Kevin call for me.  It just happened to be the first year of the event. The price level was a bit higher than I was looking for, but Kevin offered to be my partner. I had played with him in the local AL league, but he retired a couple of years before. I was already booked to be in Vegas the week the events were held. We decided to enter the main event and the $1250 AL auction league. We won both leagues and finished 3rd overall in the main event netting $19,500.

From that point on, Fantasy Sports have been a huge part of my life. I’ve won over $300,000 over the last 12 seasons between Fantasy Football and baseball without winning an overall title. The event I’ve had the most success in is the NFBC main event. I’ve won five league titles, and I finished in the top 5 four times.

This brings me to you. From day one, I’ve had an opinion and idea what I wanted to accomplish at the draft table. As time has passed, I have developed a better idea what I want to do on a weekly basis with my team. No matter how many leagues you play in, you are going to make mistakes. So to step up your learning curve, I have some things that might help you transition from the local level to the high stakes arena.

Every Fantasy owner has a different idea of how they want to play this game. There is more than one way to skin a cat. I have a running joke with Rick Thomas, who competes with me in the NFBC. We both have different styles. Let’s say I like chicken and he likes pork. In the end, we have a common goal. We want to draft a balanced team to compete in all categories. To win the overall title, you will need to be in the top 20 percent in every category.

Before you can come up with a draft strategy, you need to understand the player inventory. Every year the player pool changes. It is your job to determine strength and weakness at different positions. After you have a feel for the player pool, you have to develop a feel for draft structure. You can do this by doing some early drafts or following the trends of ADPs.  I am personally not a fan of doing mock drafts. I believe the best information comes from drafts when players have real money on the line. As the live drafts approach, you need to have a feel for draft trends and what players are moving up and what players are moving down. I like to look at any completed draft I can find. When I look at a draft, I can tell if it is good information or bad information. At the same time, it is important to stay on top of all player news. The better you are at interpreting this information and applying it to the draft; the more success you will have as a Fantasy owner. For example, a possible closer is experiencing a shoulder problem late in spring training. He is getting drafted in round 12. His backup is being drafted in round 22. The injured player will slide in the draft, but how far? And much should his possible replacement move up? A good feel for player information can help you find some buying opportunities and keep you away from something that might trip you up.

Once you have a feel for the player pool, you can start to come up with a draft strategy. The NFBC is a no trading contest. You can’t trade a strength for a weakness. You have to battle for every possible piece of the puzzle on the waiver wire. It is important to get a lot right at the draft table. Before you start your game plan, you need to establish targets for all ten categories.  These goals will help you develop your draft strategy.

I think there are five questions you need to answer before you start developing your plan.

  1. Who would you like to have as an ace to start your team?

This question decides which style player you are. If you want a Clayton Kershaw type of starter, you either think he will be an edge player or you have a tough time with pitching, and you’re looking for a security blanket to start your staff. Some owners like to wait on pitching and stockpile hitting early. If you wait, you will need to be right on almost every pick. You will also have to hope the pitchers you desire are still available when it is your time to make your selections. The player inventory has changed where many Fantasy owners in the high-stakes market are looking for two front line starters, which pushes back some of the hitting inventory.

  1. What is your plan for saves?

Saves are a tough part of the game. You need them to win in an overall contest, but they don’t come cheap. The high strikeout closers have started to rise in drafts while the second tier options have started to fade. I think there is a break point when they are fairly priced. If you draft your first closer before your first starter, you are looking for stability at the position. Saves are the easiest position to cheat because you can find players of equal value later in drafts if they end up with the closing job. If you are wrong, you get behind early in saves, and you have to spend a good portion of your free agent dollars if you want to compete in that category plus you will need to commit more bench spots to the position.

  1. When would you like to draft your first catcher?

Catchers can be difference makers in this game. You don’t need the best in the league, but you don’t want to be fishing the waiver wire every week. If you like to draft power early, you might get away with below average catchers. A balanced player needs contribution from every position and probably needs to be stronger at catcher. The inventory should help you decide when the position has a huge drop-off.

  1. How do you want to structure your team with the first three picks?

The first question might lead a few teams to a pitcher in the first three rounds. It is all about edge. If you think a player gives you an advantage at a position or a category, you need to draft him. Your first pick starts your team in a certain direction. If you miss on a player, the next player off the board could change your thought process for the rest of the draft. The decisions you make early will determine where you are shopping later in the draft. With good decisions, you are hoping to be able to draft the complementary impact players you need later in the draft. Everyone would like to start with a five category star, but there isn’t enough to go around. You want to draft a solid foundation of players to start your team setting a base for multiple categories.

  1. Do you draft based on position scarcity?

You draft a 30/100 outfielder, and I draft a 30/100 middle infielder. Who has the edge? You will not know that answer until each player selects a player at the other position. Finding 20/80 player at each position is possible. It comes down to style and game plan.

Based on the 12-year history of the main event in the NFBC, you should be looking to draft a team that can hit .270+ home runs, 1025+ runs, 1000+ RBI, and 160+ steals. You will need 104+ wins, 90+ saves, 1375+ K’s, a 3.50 ERA and a 1.18 whip. Your average hitter would need to hit .270+ with 19 home runs, 73 runs, 71 RBI, and 12 SB. If you used seven starters, you would need your starters to average 14 wins, 175 Ks, and two closers to win three games each and save 45 games to reach your target numbers. The save total is very high, but it can be done. Most teams will have to use a third closer to achieve their save goal. The average closer saves 1.5 games per week. Many teams will need to use a third closer 8-10 weeks to reach their save goals, which puts the pressure on to manage the starting staff to achieve the targets in wins and Ks.

Here are three different draft strategies:

Balanced Team

A balanced player wants to draft a team that will have strength throughout the lineup. Ideally, he would like to have a solid batting average with 75+ home runs and 75+ steals after three picks. He is looking for a power hitter, a power/speed player, and a plus base stealer with double digit power. Every draft will be different. You might identify one of the key pieces in the later rounds, which would allow you to move up a pitcher if you see an edge. His first ten picks might look like this in no particular order: C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, OF, OF, SP, SP and RP. After ten rounds, he has a solid start at every position.

Power/Punt Catchers

This type of drafter would like to build a power base and draft a solid base for his pitching staff. His first ten picks might be 1B, 2B, 3B, OF, OF, OF, SP, SP, RP, and RP. He will wait on his catchers and two middle infield positions. By doing this, he will draft a third closer and one more starter before filling in his catchers and middle infield. He will take his edge in saves and starting pitching. He needs to hit on his catchers, and he might need to find a base stealer late. This drafter will be looking for middle infielders in rounds 16-20 when most owners will be looking for outfielders and pitching.

Pitching Strong

This player will draft five pitchers with his first eleven picks. He’s looking for an edge in pitching. He’ll look for an edge at the scarcity positions. His first eleven picks might look like this: C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, OF, SP, SP, SP, RP, and RP.  He’s looking to find his back end starters and outfield in round 12-20. He wants to be one of the top pitching teams in the league. He feels the easiest players to find on the waiver wire are outfielders.

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Each year the inventory changes and a Fantasy owner needs to adjust his game plan to the drafting opportunities. If you see think the eighth-ranked third baseman has equal value to the top players at his position, you should be building your draft strategy around drafting this player. You need to identify when that player is getting drafted. You then need to decide when is the right time for your game plan to select him. Some players you can finesse, but other players you need to jump in the draft. Each draft is different along with each group of drafters. A Fantasy owner will have more success if he has a good feel for whom his competition likes in drafts.  

Before you sit down at the draft table, you should have a pretty good idea about the general feeling of your key players in the draft. If a player has been flying up the draft board, you know there is a lot of interest. You have to decide if the popular player is worth his draft slot. If you aren’t aggressive, you will miss on this popular player in the draft. Other times a player will be stagnant in the early drafts. He comes off the board in the area of the draft when similar players are ranked. You know you can get him in a certain round if you want him. Sometimes this player is a wise guy selection. You need to pay attention to who is drafting him in the early drafts. There might be a more interest in this player than you think. You should always be aware of owners who share a common interest in players you like. Sometimes you like a player who is sliding in the drafts. You get the feeling that the overall Fantasy baseball community is down of a particular player. When this happens, you can just let the player come to you in the draft. There’s no need to force him.

The best part of Fantasy sports is everyone has an opinion. Some years you have a good opinion. In other years, you question why you play this game. We all need something to occupy our minds and Fantasy baseball will give you plenty to ponder. You need to sit back and study the inventory. When you know the players, you will then need to understand draft structure. The inventory and structure will lead you to your draft strategy. With a plan in hand, you will have to find a way to execute it on draft day. Just remember your success or failure will be decided a minute at a time.

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