By Brookes Britcher
There are generally 3 elements to success in a fantasy baseball season: (A) 1st & 2nd round draft picks, (B) identifying undervalued middle-to-late picks and (C) intelligent waiver wire workings. (B) and (C) can be a bit more dynamic and fluid. Drafting VMart or Ortiz in the late rounds paid major dividends last season. As did finding some early gems like Velasquez off the early Waiver Wire or drafting Justin Verlander late.
However, none of those moves can exist without strategy – and that begins at the top of the draft. Like some variation of the “Butterfly Effect”, the first two moves you make will ripple and determine the rest of your draft, how your team is constituted, and how often you need to dip your toes into the FA or Waiver Wire pool.
The first pick of the draft is often where players make the biggest mistakes, and set their team down a poor draft process. It seems easy. Just take the best player with the best numbers available. It all depends on your league, league settings, etc., but for this discussion I’ll be entertaining a draft strategy in a H2H, Total Points / Week, Snake Draft league – the most common format available on ESPN.
THINGS TO CONSIDER WITH YOUR 1ST PICK
- This is probably the most important, as I listed it first. How many OF’s are playing in MLB? Roughly 90 starters over 30 teams. Starting pitchers? Roughly 150. How many 3B, 2B or SS are starting in MLB? Roughly 30. Which of these positions do you imagine will be easier to fill with a quality, continually productive player after the 1st round?
- Who do they play for? Who else is on the team? If you choose to draft a pitcher, are they going to get run support to turn their QS outings into W’s? If you are drafting a field player, where do they bat? Who else is in the lineup? Do they bat 3rd with 2 guys ahead of them with suspect steal ratios? Great players become superstars if they are in the proper scenario. I would take Edwin Encarnacion every year over the past 6 years in the late first round. Never got the “superstar” moniker, so always fell to late 1st round or early 2nd.
- Your 1st pick is precious thing. But don’t cherish it like losing your virginity. It could be a beautiful sequence of events where the player you want is there – or not so much.
- Ideally you want to obtain the most metrics out of this pick as possible. There is a reason why Chris Carter waited and waited to get signed to a one year deal. How is that possible? In 2016 he scored 84 R, had 94 RBI and hit 41 HR. Great numbers – until you look at how many “outs” he contributed to. 206 SO, .222 BA and a .321 OBP. A lot of negative numbers for your team. For all of the great things Carter does, he hurts the team equally. If you are going to spend a 1st round pick on a player – make sure they will help you in multiple categories. If they go into a power slump, are they still walking on base? Can they hit for average? Are they solidified in a lineup position to get RBI’s even when the team is scoring less runs? Embrace diversity.
WHO TO NOT DRAFT WITH YOUR 1st PICK
- Don’t draft a 1B with your 1st pick (maybe Goldschmidt). Why would you do this? Because you want HR’s and you don’t want to worry about where they will come from later in the draft. You get to check it off your list. Until injuries happen. Then the 30-40 HR’s you were counting on are suddenly gone. Plenty of people hit HR’s – and you will most likely get next to nothing beyond that in points categories from this position. I promise, someone this year is going to hit more HR’s than someone thought. So be diligent on the FA pool. You’ll find your HR’s.
- Don’t draft a Pitcher with your 1st pick (except maybe Kershaw…). That’s a lot of pressure to put on a player. You’re drafting on the bet that a player (given 1-2 opportunities to play per week) will outperform a player playing 6-7 days per week. There are exceptions, but you are also then tethered directly to the lineup behind the pitcher. Ask Cole Hamels how one of his many brilliant seasons for the Phillies went when they couldn’t score runs and he hovered around a .500 pitching record. If you take a pitcher in the 1st round, it’s kind of like marrying your in-laws too. Know the family too.
- Don’t draft an OF with your 1st pick (…maybe Trout…). OF is one of the most plentiful positions in MLB, and usually the first place top-talent gets promoted to play. Unless you are in love with a player, there is no real reason to draft an OF player until the 3rd or 4th round. Chances are whoever you drafted will get replaced in your lineup by the end of the season. Major value position, so don’t waste your 1st on one.
- Don’t draft a C with your 1st pick. This should go without saying, but some people just love Buster Posey. Don’t do it.
WHO TO DRAFT WITH YOUR 1st PICK
I’m not going to go into numbers here as this post is already setting length records for this blog, and we all know about Google and BaseballReference at this point.
If I had a Top 5 pick in a draft, these are the players I would take. Duh, huh?
#1 Arenado (3B)
#2 Machado (3B)
#3 Correa (SS)
#4 Goldschmidt (1B)
#5 Kershaw (P)
The only real advice I can provide is to draft high in the weakest positions, draft for players who can consistently impact multiple categories, take risks on players you like and enjoy watching, ride with a rookie you have a feeling about. Take Trout with your 1st pick if you’d like, but I’ll guarantee your SS or 3B productivity will suck all year.
One last thing…
NEVER draft for Steals or Saves. Outside of the “elite”, you can find them anywhere. Closers rarely finish a season, and another player will take their place. At 1 point, Steals are practically worthless. Take a player who hits doubles. Less chance of getting thrown out at 2nd for negative points.
STEAL OF THE DRAFT: Andrew McCutchen (OF) [2nd or 3rd round…] / Hunter Pence (OF) [5th or 6th round…]