Fantasy Baseball: Draft strategies 101 — Should you ‘punt’ saves?

Fantasy baseball draft season is in full swing with just two weekends left before Opening Day.In everyone’s desperation to win their league titles, a great many strategies are being bandied about as the secret to success.I’ve always been partial to a straight-forward approach where I am going for balance with an emphasis on power and speed on offense, and strikeouts for pitching.I’ll admit there are other ways to take home a league title, so I tried some of them in mock drafts – a perfect proving ground to test out different strategies. Punt batting averageInstead of punting saves, some fantasy owners have touted the strategy of ignoring batting average to focus on winning the other four traditional offensive categories (runs, homers, RBIs and steals). This means you’ll be pursuing low-average sluggers like Chris Davis, Chris Carter, George Springer and Carlos Santana.The problem is that it’s hard to ensure that you will still have enough runs and RBIs to win those categories. The idea is that average has the most variance from year to year, so if enough of your low-average sluggers enjoy one of their better years in the category then you’ll be able to win four offensive categories while finishing in the middle of the pack in average.In the mock draft, I wound up with Springer as well as other potential low-average guys Brian Dozier, Mark Trumbo, Evan Gattis, Kris Bryant and Brandon Moss. By getting Dee Gordon to go with Dozier and Jacoby Ellsbury, I got enough steals to win the category and I certainly got enough power. But indeed my runs and RBIs weren’t able to carry the day and the mock draft room projected my team to finish in ninth place. My pitching staff was strong, anchored by Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, and I wound up with four closers, but even it fell short of being any better than in a normal draft.What I would take from this strategy is just not to be afraid of taking on a few of these low-average types who can help you big-time in power or steals, but don’t go overboard.BalancedJust to make sure I wasn’t losing my touch as a drafter, I did a mock using my normal approach of getting enough of everything and fared much better. I got an elite ace in David Price, my top-rated closer in Craig Kimbrel, and power galore in Jose Bautista, Anthony Rizzo and Prince Fielder. I focused on getting steals from guys who also have some pop in Starling Marte, Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo. I landed a bunch of my favorite breakout candidates in Betts, Manny Machado, Jorge Soler and Yasmani Grandal.The mock draft room projected my team to finish in fourth place, but I would expect it to do better than that if some of those breakouts happen. The primary weaknesses wound up being at the three thinnest positions – second base, shortstop and catcher, where I got Neil Walker, Danny Santana and Grandal, respectively.In one-catcher, 12-team leagues, I don’t have a problem with waiting since there isn’t much difference between the No. 12 catcher and everybody except Buster Posey. In two-catcher leagues, I would make sure to get both my catchers from the top 15, as it drops off precipitously after that point.So the lesson I learned from the balanced approach is that you may have to reach to get one of the elite at second base and shortstop. In the second round, grabbing one from among Troy Tulowitzki, Robinson Cano, Jose Altuve and Anthony Rendon will go a long way toward avoiding this pitfall.I like to think of a rotisserie baseball league as 10 separate competitions, where the goal is to do as well as possible in each. In standard “5×5” leagues, that means you’re trying to load up in every category while being as strong as possible at each position.One last tip is to come to your draft with a list of favorite sleepers that you figure will be available late. For extra credit, using tiered rankings that allow you to know when to wait on a position and when to pounce is highly recommended. But at least knowing the players that you would feel comfortable with as fall-backs will help you come out of your draft happy with your team.Some late picks I made in those mocks included Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel, Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders and A’s shortstop Marcus Semien, who already qualifies at second base and shortstop as well. I was surprised to find Semien still around that late, but outfield and starting pitcher are deep enough to still find sleepers very late.For more help preparing for fantasy drafts, including rankings by position, visit my blog at Punt savesThis strategy is pretty simple: Since saves are just one category and in chasing them you have to forego strikeouts and wins, by completely ignoring closers you can strengthen yourself everywhere else. The problem is that good closers tend to help bring down your ERA and WHIP, so with only starting pitchers you run the risk of punting three categories, which would make even contending nearly impossible.When I tried it out in a mock, I took two aces in the first five rounds (Corey Kluber and Jeff Samardzija) but wound up having to take setup relievers late to try to keep my ERA and WHIP down. One of them – Tyler Clippard – will be getting saves to start the season as a fill-in for injured Sean Doolittle, so I didn’t even completely punt the category. I took hitters in 11 of the first 14 rounds, building an excellent offense anchored by two power-speed guys in Carlos Gomez and Anthony Rendon.In the end, I didn’t feel that either my pitching staff or my offense was significantly better than had I drafted closers. The mock draft room projected my team to finish in 11th place, so it doesn’t seem to have worked.I would save this strategy for in-season emergencies, when you need to breathe life into an otherwise dead-in-the-water team by trading closers to address specific needs. Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error

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