Fantasy Baseball On The Digital Diamond

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I’ve played fantasy baseball for years and love it dearly. I play fantasy football too, which is fantastic in its own right, but fantasy baseball is a whole other kind of animal. It’s a six-month-long marathon filled with exalting highs and excruciating lows that—depending on how your league is set up—requires daily attention and action to win.

It’s beautiful and brutal, equally.

Now, despite winning my league a few times and consistently making the fantasy playoffs, the depth of commitment from half of the other players in my league is suspect, suggesting that it may not be competitive enough to validate my claims to fantasy baseball skills.

Having said that, I think I’m good because I love the real game of baseball and digging into fantasy-relevant data and performance trends for 750 active players (plus likely callups and injured players) is something I genuinely enjoy.

I’ve lived around Seattle my whole life, cherishing my beyond-overdue-for-the-playoffs Mariners more than any other franchise. But, when it comes to fantasy baseball, I challenge myself to learn about every starting player, on all 30 teams, including current batting orders, position eligibility, recent performances, match-up projections, and the result of almost every game played during the regular season.

In my opinion, you don’t have to follow MLB closely to succeed in fantasy baseball. In fact, a large percentage of all fantasy sports success is blind luck, but putting all that time and attention into it certainly helps. Or, it helps me because my style of play involves a lot of waiver moves.

If you’re like most folks, and the only fantasy sport you’ve tried is fantasy football, I can’t accurately describe the marathon of playing a daily-lineup version of fantasy baseball. It can be an unforgiving and relentless exercise in stamina. Instead of setting your lineup once a week, like most of us do in fantasy football, my style of fantasy baseball play is an everyday exercise in researching player matchups, making waiver moves, and setting my lineup before the first game of the day begins. Including east coast day games!

A quick bit of background about fantasy baseball.

Leagues can be configured differently, but you gain or lose points based on actions from batters (positive: hits, runs, steals, multiple base hits, and RBIs | negative: strikeouts) and pitchers (positive: strikeouts, innings pitched, and wins or saves | negative: walks, hits, and earned runs). Some leagues score these each day toward a weekly head-to-head matchup, others score them on a season-long total, and there are probably many other ways they’re scoring that I haven’t tried playing. Regardless, the basics are all roughly the same; good players who do the most good baseball things are the players you want. They’ll win your league.

As I mentioned, I make a lot of roster moves throughout the season. In 2018, I made 266 waiver moves, which was by far the most in my league. The next highest was 109 moves.

Some fantasy players are more conservative by nature and they tend to evaluate for weeks before deciding on a move. Not me. I cut and move on within a few days of a player underperforming. Occasionally, this behavior is to my own detriment, because I may drop a player who was only temporarily slumping and the next person who picked them up benefitted from a months-long resurgent performance. But that’s the thing about baseball. The season is so long with so many games, that players—even the greats—will have both hot and cold streaks and knowing when to hold them, trade them, or cut them is a real trick.

But knowing that’s how I like to play, I tend to under-value the draft process. While it’s obviously critical for securing top-level players who won’t be dropped during the season, I can almost always find decent replacement players on the waiver as the season progresses—and injuries, callups, and performance streaks set in.

My league drafts in an auction format, so each team can target and bid on the players they really want without the random snake-draft order unfairly disarming your team before the season even begins. So, I entered the 2019 draft with a new strategy: grab as many of the top guys as possible and replace them with bottom-barrel scrubs as the season develops. And it worked out pretty well.

I took Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, Freddie Freeman, Garrett Cole, Chris Sale, and Max Scherzer with the bulk of my budget and filled out the rest of my roster at the end of the draft. With those players powering my squad, I ended the season in third place. Also, I only made 72 moves, compared to the 147 and 158 that the first and second place finishers made.

Maybe I overcorrected from 2018?

Now that the 2020 season is approaching, and my fantasy draft has been officially scheduled, I’ve begun developing a new, revised draft strategy. As I did in 2019, I plan on gathering several of the top-end players, but also grabbing a few mid-level guys I think will have better-than-expected seasons.

For batters, in addition to Trout and Betts, I plan to go after Ronald Acuna Jr. and Cody Bellinger with everything I’ve got. Also, I’m planning to pass on Christian Yelich, Francisco Lindor, and ALL Astros, each for different reasons. Yelich because I think he’s going to regress, Lindor because I don’t believe in the Indians this year, and the Astros because they’re garbage players who are going to have the roughest year in recent memory. Even if they’re good, they’re going to be bad to me. No thanks. Hard pass.

For pitchers, in addition to Cole (my one Astros-related exception), I plan to go after Jacob deGrom, Walker Buehler, and Jack Flaherty as hard as I can. Besides obviously passing on Justin Verlander, I worry about Scherzer and Sale this year. Both due to questions about their age and how much they have left in the tank.

Sadly, as a result of the Mariners being in the middle of a legit rebuild, there aren’t many fantasy-relevant players to consider. Having said that, I love having guys on my roster who I will consistently watch, so I’ll likely consider Marco Gonzalez, Mitch Haniger, Kyle Seager, and Mallox Smith, depending on the prices and where they fall in the draft. Given my strategy, they very well may wide up in my end-of-the-draft group.

Of course, this is just a plan and it’s derailed as quickly as someone else targeting the same players. So, I’ll have to wait a few weeks to see how my roster shakes out. But at this point, with spring training underway and fantasy baseball drafts approaching, one thing is crystal clear…

Baseball is back.

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About Author

Jon Aiken

Born and raised in Seattle, Jon developed a deep love for the Mariners and Seahawks and continues to watch, analyze, and discuss them on a daily basis. As a professional advertising copywriter, the blending of these two loves (sports/words) seemed like a natural creative evolution. He recently moved south to Tacoma, fully embracing his new hometeam, the Rainers.

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