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Fantasy Baseball Basics

Senior Fantasy Baseball Expert Shawn Childs gives you an in-depth look at some Fantasy Baseball basics and reveals some guidelines to follow when building your roster.

Fantasy Baseball is a great game especially for a sports fan who loves to watch baseball. A season covers about 180 days over 26 weeks. Most of my experience in the Fantasy Baseball market has come in rotisserie style leagues. This type of league has ten categories to earn league points with five coming from batters and five from pitchers. Here is a list of the ten categories:

Batting Average (BA) – Each team adds up their total hits divided by the number of at-bats by their starting players to come up with their overall team batting average.

If you have the highest batting average in your league, your team earns the first place points in this category. (Note: League points are determined by the number of teams in each league or competition. If there are 12 teams in a league, first place is worth 12 points. Second place is worth 11 points, and so on with last place earning only one point).

In a 12 team league, Fantasy owners trying to finish in the top 20 percent in batting average should set a goal of .273 based on the results of 1,632 teams that played in the NFBC Online Championship in 2016.

Runs (R) – This is the total of all runs scored by the starting players on your team.

The goal for runs should be about 1117 runs in 12 team leagues or 80 runs per player in leagues with 14 offensive players.

Home runs (HR) – Each team adds up the number of home runs by their starting players.

A Fantasy owner will need over 325 HRs to finish in the top three in the HR category in 12 team leagues (about 23 HRs per batter).

Runs Batted In (RBI) – This is the total of all runs driven in by your starting lineup.

In a 12-team league, the target number should be about 1097 RBI (about 78 RBI per batter).

Stolen Bases (SB) – Each team adds up the number of steals by their starting players.

Overall, stolen bases have trended downward over the last couple seasons in Major League Baseball. In 2016, a team only needed 154 steals to finish in the top 20 percent in an event with 1500 teams. My sense is the goal in 2016 should be about 160 SBs (11.4 SBs per batter).

Wins (W) – This is the total number of wins by your pitching staff.

Typically, I try to manage my team, so I get enough starts on the year to earn four wins per week, which is 104 wins over a 26 week season. In 2016, the final number was 98 wins in the NFBC Online Championship.

Earned Run Average (ERA) – Each team adds up the number of earned runs allowed by their starting pitching staff divided by the total number of inning pitched multiplied by nine innings to determine their team ERA. The goal is to have the lowest ERA in the league.

A Fantasy owner needed an ERA of 3.554 to finish in the top 20 percent in 2016 with 11632 teams entered in the NFBC Online Championship. I would use 3.40 as my target number in ERA in a 12-team format in 2017.

Walks + Hits/Innings Pitched (WHIP) – This is the trickiest of stats for new Fantasy owners to get a handle on. WHIP is a way to get the value of each pitcher's skill set. All hits allowed are added to the total number of walks allowed divided by the total number of innings pitched by your starting pitching staff to come up with each team’s WHIP. The lowest WHIP earns the most league points.

A Fantasy owner needed a whip of 1.196 in 2016 in 12 team leagues to finish in the top 20 percent.

Strikeouts (K) – Each team adds up the total number of strikeouts from their pitching staff.

Some pitchers have posted impressive strikeout totals over the last few seasons, which raised the bar to compete in this category. In 12 team leagues, a Fantasy owner will needed about 1,424 Ks to finish in the top 20 percent in 2016.

Saves (SV) – Each team adds up the total number of saves by their pitching staff to compete in this category.

A Fantasy team will need about 100 saves to be competitive in 12 team leagues.

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A standard 12 team Roto league will consist of about 30 rounds. Each Fantasy owner will select a player in each round while filling in their starting lineup, which consists of 14 hitters and nine pitchers. The 14 batters are generally composed of two catchers, one first baseman, one second baseman, one shortstop, one third baseman, one middle infielder (second base or shortstop), one corner infielder (first base or third base), five outfielders, and one utility (any batter). Most teams will draft seven starting pitchers and two closers (pitchers who pitch in close games that earn saves) for their starting pitching lineup.

The seven bench spots can consist of any players you desire. In 12 team leagues, it would make sense to have a couple of extra starters plus a third pitcher with a chance at saves. The last four bench slots could look like this: one upside young player with future playing time, one backup outfielder, one backup middle infielder, and one backup corner infielder.

Once a Fantasy owner has a feel for each category on the hitting and pitching side, it’s time to learn the player pool.

To help you get a feel for the possible value of each position in 2017, I put together a table of average stats for multiple positions based on Scout's Projections.

Normally, first base, third base, and the first two outfield slots offer the most production to a Fantasy lineup from the hitting side. The value on the right under the TOTAL column shows the impact of each position’s stats within a 12 team environment using SCOUTscore. In 2016, the second base position became third strongest offensive position. Just for comparison, here’s how each position stacks up based on impact value:

The goal, when learning to develop a winning Fantasy roster, is building a foundation of strong batters and elite pitchers while finding complementary upside players later in the drafts. If you make your draft decisions based on the previous season results, you are in for a rude awakening. Each season, players rise and fall and injuries always impact the Fantasy Baseball world. It’s important to find rising stars that will be drafted early in the following draft season.

Here’s a look at three different skill set of players to give you a feel for some decisions within the draft:

The above projections for these three players are for the 2017 season. Each player has a similar SCOUTscore – Trea Turner > 10.57, Bryce Harper > 10.54, and Nolan Arenado > 10.32. For most Fantasy owners, the easy pick would be Arenado based on his 2016 stats (.294 with 116 runs, 41 HRs, 133 RBI, and two SBs). However, Turner is the third ranked option based on impact value headed into this year in 12-team leagues, while Harper is fourth and Arenado is ranked seventh.

Based on this year’s projection, Turner would help a Fantasy owner gain about 7.45 Fantasy points in the standings in SBs while adding another 4.3 points in batting average and runs. His skill set really sets your foundation in stolen bases if he delivers on his expected production in speed, which will allow a Fantasy owner to commit more roster slots to power. In addition, Turner allows an owner to accept some batting average risk at some point in the draft.

In the case of Harper, he has a middle of the order opportunity in a strong Washington Nationals offense with a chance to contribute in all five categories. Not to mention, his upside is off the charts if he takes a step forward and repeats his 2015 success. Based on his 2017 projections, he’ll offer about 19 more HRs, 45 more RBI, and 38 less SBs than Turner with batting average and runs falling in a range where either player should post a winning total.

Arenado dominates Turner in HRs and RBI while offering a neutral batting average (about league average) with more upside based on his low strikeout rate. His steals fall short in this comparison, but his total will still offer a positive score over most of the 2017 inventory. His obvious shortcoming is his ability to provide stolen bases.

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Each decision a Fantasy owner makes early in the draft dictates direction for future picks. Building a strong offense requires multiple picks with favorable timing at various points throughout the draft.

If you play in a trading league, sometimes it becomes about acquiring assets. As the season unfolds, each player’s performance will set up future trades. Trading in Fantasy Baseball is never easy and most owners overvalue their own players.

The starting pitching inventory doesn’t looks as deep on the front end in 2016, which leads to huge target SCOUTscore for a Fantasy ace. Here’s a look at the average projections for the top 12 starters and top 12 closers in 2017:

All starting pitchers will have negative production in saves and each closer will offer minimal value in wins.

Following up with earlier examples for batters, a Fantasy owner will need to decide between a batter or a pitcher in the second or third round in many drafts this season. Any starter with at least 15 wins, 200 strikeouts and an ERA under 3.00 is going offer a significant edge from the starting pitching position. A new Fantasy owner won’t really understand the high failure rate of pitchers due to injuries until he plays the game so this decision isn’t as easy as clicking a button on the draft board. Pitching comes with a ton of injury risk.

Using the SCOUTscore, a Fantasy owner can get a feel for a player’s possible value between different positions. It will help identify possible underlying value. Here’s a look at the pitchers being selected in the second and third round in most 12 and 15 team drafts with our projections:

Each one of these pitchers is projected to win between 16 and 19 games with over 200 Ks. Bumgarner and Syndergaard will draw the most interest on draft day based on their success in 2016. A couple of these arms will breakout while a couple could end up being busts. If you pay for an early starting pitcher, he has to offer an edge for your team to win.

These are the type of decisions a new Fantasy owner will embrace once he develops a feel for the game and becomes more passionate about the player pool.

Top closers usually get drafted in the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds in most 15-team leagues and can be slightly discounted in 12-team leagues. Closers offer an edge with 40+ saves and elite Ks when added to a low ERA and WHIP. However, saves can be found in all areas of the draft plus in the free agent pool. It’s just a matter of whether a Fantasy owner wants security over the ensuing battle for closers later in the draft and on the waiver wire.

In some cases, a top starter and top closer may offer a better foundation that the  Dual Ace Theory written about earlier on Scout.

As great as each name may look, names do not win Fantasy championships. It’s about acquiring the best stats in each category, which comes down to drafting, free agency, and team management.

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In today’s Fantasy games, Fantasy owners will have ADPs (average draft position) to help understand draft flow and completed results from previous seasons to show what it takes to win at all levels.

I know this is a lot to take in on the surface, but it almost comes down to feel once you get into the game.

Here are some early guidelines I would go when you start building your Fantasy roster:

1 – Batting Foundation – I would focus on trying to find three batters that combine for 75 HRs and 75 SBs with my first three hitters plus offer an edge in batting average. This goal could be achieved with three of your first four picks if you believe draft flow creates a better path to your team structure.

2 – Pitching Foundation – I would try to roster two aces plus one solid closer. By doing this, you position yourself in all five categories on the pitching side.

3 – One Solid Catcher – I would try to roster one solid catcher inside the first 12 rounds. It’s important not to get beat at the catcher position. A Fantasy owner may find one catcher on the waiver wire, but two would be a tall order.

4 – Batting Order – The players that hit in the top five spots in the batting order offer the most value if they get full time at-bats. You need leadoff type hitters for runs and cleanup type hitters for RBI.

5 – Backend Pitching – Make sure your finish your pitching staff. It doesn’t make sense to invest in early pitching if you are going to give away your edge later in the draft. Pay attention to WHIP as it is the most important Fantasy category.

6 – Closers in Waiting – If you happen to roster a strong second closer, it’s always nice to have a third option in the bench. League size will determine the availability of the draft pool. If you are weak at the second closer position, it’s important to follow the closers who are struggling and try to roster the next option in line.

7 – Double Starters – A new Fantasy owner can easily get beat in wins and Ks by not pitching enough starters in weekly lineup leagues (These are leagues when you set your lineup once for the entire week). Starters who pitch twice a week give you two chances at wins and Ks. If you live on the waiver wire, you will invite ERA and WHIP risk, so there is a delicate balance between a strong roster and the waiver wire.


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