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Fantasy Baseball 2021: Quick tips for drafting a winning team

Fred Zinkie
·Yahoo Fantasy Contributor
·7-min read

I need to start this article by saying that I rarely toot my own horn. I’m uncomfortable being anything other than modest, and I also firmly believe that someone can jinx their fantasy team by being prematurely boastful. But I’ve also come to realize that I can help others have more fun and success by sharing lessons that I’ve learned over more than 20 years of playing this game.

Few people have written more fantasy baseball articles than I have. And few people have won more industry (“expert”) leagues than I have. I sit atop the All-Time Leaderboard for the Tout Wars Expert Leagues, having finished first or second in eight of my nine seasons in the contest. And I am one of few people to accumulate multiple LABR titles. I’ve taken my lumps at times, but things have gone well overall.

Alright, now I’m blushing, so it’s time for me to move on. I’m going to give you my best tips for drafting a successful roster. Agree with whatever you want and throw the rest away. But while there are multiple ways to win in this game, this is how I have managed to start off successful seasons.

Create your own projections

This article likely started off on the wrong foot, since I know most of you won’t do the first thing I mentioned. Creating your own projections takes an immense amount of time, but it creates a knowledge of the player pool that can’t be matched by any other endeavor. It takes me several weeks to create projections, and I am continually making adjustments to them as news flows in during Spring Training. I know most fantasy managers won’t make this time commitment, but I wanted to be clear that it’s a big part of the process for me.

Read, read, and read some more

Whether you create your own projections or not, staying up to date on injuries and position battles is so important during the weeks prior to your draft. Also, learning about lineups, new pitches, recovery from old injuries etc. As G.I. Joe once said, “knowing is half the battle”!

Limit in-draft clutter

Many fantasy drafters suffer from paralysis-by-analysis. They’re checking websites, looking through projections, flipping through magazines; clouding their minds while the draft clock is ticking down to zero. Wise managers start their draft with a blank roster sheet and a rankings list. All other information will only serve to clutter the mind, which should be focused on in-draft strategies and adjustments. And if you know the player pool, you have a good idea of your team’s strengths and weaknesses without having a pile of stats in front of you.

Draft players you believe in

Picks can be mostly based around player projections, but there is also an art to fantasy baseball. Your team is yours, and yours alone. When your number is called, pick a player that you believe in, because you have to live with that decision all season. Being wrong on a player you liked is better than being right and not having had the guts to benefit from your correct prediction.

Draft two aces

This is the part of the article where we get into the nitty-gritty of draft strategies. The industry has mostly moved past the “wait on pitching” strategy that was popular several years ago. I never bought into that plan, as basic fantasy-related math shows that aces are immensely valuable. Also, starters are not as risky as some make them out to be. My approach will vary a bit based on league size, but generally I like to have two starters in my initial five picks.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 26:  Jacob deGrom #48 of the New York Mets pitches against the Washington Nationals during game 1 of a double header at Nationals Park on September 26, 2020 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
Only one fantasy manager will be lucky enough to pick Jacob deGrom, but you should still prioritze starting pitching early in drafts. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

Don’t get cute with closers

If you can get all the saves off your waiver wire, you need to find a better league. With more teams moving away from having a full-time closer, the value has increased for the few relievers who will compile 35 saves. I love to hear other fantasy analysts say that “saves are saves, and you can get them cheap” because that mentality keeps closers at a reasonable ADP. Your goal should be to get one save anchor (someone very skilled with a secure closer’s role), one solid closer (someone with a secure role and skills that are good, rather than great) and one late-round pick who has good skills and a possible path to saves. Using all your FAB resources and waiver wire claims on unsuccessful closer bids is a great way to lose your league.

Target players in their prime

Fantasy baseball is all about playing the odds, and the odds say that players from ages 25-30 are at or near their prime. Players who deviate far from that age range should be treated with more skepticism. Granted, there are obvious exceptions, such as Juan Soto or Nelson Cruz. But in general, age is a good tiebreaker when it’s your turn to pick.

Limit risky early round selections

You’re going to have early round busts. It’s unavoidable. But you don’t need to increase the odds of drafting busts by chasing players who have glaring weaknesses in terms of age, experience, injuries or skills. Drafting boom-or-bust players is a fine idea in the second half of your draft, but your early round picks need to form the basis of a championship squad.

[Draft Rankings: C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]

Have a catcher plan

This one is tricky for me, because league settings are so important at the catcher position. For leagues with one catcher, my best advice is to wait until the late rounds before grabbing one. I’m not in favor of starting the season with the worst catcher in your league, but it’s fine to not have a great one. My strategy is different in two-catcher leagues, where I am happy to spend two significant picks on backstops. The bottom of the catcher pool in these formats is so bleak that productive catchers hold a major advantage. And the belief that catchers are too risky for a major draft investment has proven to be false.

Find five-category hitters

During the COVID-19 lockdown last spring, I ran some articles on Yahoo about the repeatability of elite power or speed seasons. To summarize, the odds of repeating something in the range of a 35-homer or 35-steal season aren’t good. Therefore, basing your team around a couple power bats or one speedster is a risky plan. You are better off to have an army of players who will get you 15-30 homers and 10-25 steals, with the obvious exception that your catcher and first baseman likely won’t steal bases.

Target strikeouts, WHIP

When deciding between pitchers, trend towards the ones who should provide more strikeouts and a lower WHIP. We all know that wins are a fickle stat, and many factors cause ERA volatility. The pitchers who have a great WHIP typically have a great K:BB ratio, and that is the stat I rely on most when evaluating arms.

Draft for value

My last tip is one of my best ones, so hopefully you read all the way to the bottom! I am an incredibly stubborn drafter in leagues that have trades. I draft for value, meaning that I try as much as possible to take my preferred player at every draft point, regardless of position or skill set. Unfortunately, this plan sometimes leads me to coming out of my draft with an imbalanced roster. I’m fine with April imbalance, as I can trade my way out of it as long as my players are succeeding. Go ahead and start your season with too many steals, or not enough saves, or lacking a good second baseman. You can address any deficiencies in the first half of the season. Also, you don’t need to win every category — you need to win your league.

I hope this helped. If you ever need a specific tip, please contact me through my Twitter account, @FredZinkieMLB. Good luck this season!