My Approach to Drafting a Winning Fantasy Baseball Team

This past weekend I completed my fantasy baseball draft as the reigning Regular Season Champ... yeah, I'm going to rub it in while I still can.  Most likely, that crown will belong to someone else next year but for now, I'd like to present you with my formula for drafting a successful team.

Draft Safe in the First Two Rounds

I believe that fantasy baseball leagues are won and lost in the first two and later rounds on draft day.  The anchor of your team will be the first two players you pick.  It makes no sense to take risks in the first two rounds.  You'll want to earmark guys that are as close to "can't miss" as possible.  Guys without a track record, those with lingering injuries and players with a history of inconsistency aren't the guys you want to spend your first two picks on.  You'll also want to be aware of depth at a certain position (I'll get into this later when I discuss tiering).

Prepare For Later Round Picks (or prepare to fail):

Knowing the auto-ranking of your league and ADP numbers are critical.  ADP stands for "Average Draft Position."  Essentially, it tells you when players are heading off the boards.  Using these tools will allow you to effectively plan out the later rounds on draft day and target players that you know you want.  On draft day, your competitors will have access to their cheat sheets but the rankings in front of them almost always play a huge role in what players they'll take.  If a player is forty or fifty slots away, that player might not be on his mind and that's where your targets can come into play.  There is nothing worse than seeing someone else take your guy before your pick.  I would much rather draft a guy that I really like a round earlier than his  projections (or his rankings) than lose him in the round he was "supposed" to go.  For that reason, I'll often target two rounds ahead of rankings in later rounds.  In the middle rounds you can usually get away with one round ahead (for instance, if a player is a projected 7th rounder, you can probably get away with targeting him in the 6th round) but if there's a guy that you can't live without, go with your gut.

Get An Anchor in Your Rotation

To some extent, this rule depends on your league settings but there are very few fantasy leagues that are set up where starting pitchers aren't really important.  There are very few top tier starting pitchers in fantasy baseball and given the severity commonality and frequency of injuries among starting pitchers, it's important to get one guy that is battle tested.  Guys like CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay and Justin Verlander are often picked very high but an ace is integral to the success of any fantasy team.

Don't Pay for Catching or Relief Pitching

Some may disagree with me but I think there are few catchers that are worth their weight in fantasy baseball and relievers are simply too unpredictable to waste a high pick on.  Brian McCann, the NL Silver Slugger in 2011, had only 466 at bats in 2011- that's 20% less than most every day players (and catchers are the most oft-injured position players in baseball, by nature of the position).  There always seems to be a catcher on the free agent wire that can adequately fill the position.  As for relievers, I'm just not that into relievers.  There are thirty teams and every team needs a closer and a set-up guy and a decent portion of those teams will go through two or three closers throughout the course of a season.  If your league has a holds category, that gives you less of a reason to reach for a closer.  It's a commodity position - saves are saves and they are dependent upon the team more than the closer (if the team is in a slump or is blowing teams out, the closer doesn't get a shot).  I prefer to draft relievers based on peripheral numbers.  It is somewhat dependent upon your league rules but I'd almost always lean towards picking up a guy like Brett Myers on the waiver wire than using a fifth round pick on Craig Kimbrel.

Tier Your Players and Know Which Positions are Weakest

After going through the exercise of targeting players by round, go back and set up tiers to see which positions are weakest. That is, which positions are toughest to find value in later rounds.  If there is a position you just can't seem to fill with your target picks, you might want to lean in that direction for one of your first two picks.  This should not dictate your first two rounds (don't go reaching for Hanley Ramirez in round 1 just because you feel like there aren't many shortstops out there); I'd still say that you want to be risk-free in your first two rounds but if you're deciding between Adrian Gonzalez and Ryan Braun and feel that you'll have a tougher time filling your outfield spots with later picks, then you might want to go with Gonzalez.  Tiering will also help you determine where to go in those tough middle rounds; think of it this way - you'll want to get as many "A" and "B" tier players as possible so knowing when the last of this breed is available (and what round that should be in) might help you make tough decisions in those earlier rounds.

Know the Injury Situation

When Ryan Madson starts falling, you should know why.  Have the most recent injury reports available and don't draft a falling stock before you make sure that there's a clean bill of health (or one that you can live with).

Have an Idea of How to Fill Cheap Categories and Don't Overpay for One-Stat Wonders

SV, SB, H, K/9, K's, R, WHIP, BA, SLG%... there are late round guys that can help fill your bench to compliment in areas where your team is deficient.  If you end up with a bunch of power hitters that don't steal bases, you can almost always find guys that can give you help in that category (a guy like Ben Revere will be on the waiver wires).  Same goes for HR, somewhat.  I love Mike Stanton (aka Giancarlo Stanton) and the power is as real as it gets but unless he hits +45 HR or gets his batting average up, there's no way he's worth a second round pick (Dan Uggla will give you similar production and might only cost you a fourth or a fifth).  As I mentioned earlier, relievers are great for bolstering some of those peripheral numbers that your starters might lack and believe it or not, there will be some high strikeout starting pitchers on the waiver wires.

Draft a Team You Can Live With

I have personal rules... I don't like drafting Phillies (a superstition) and I will never EVER draft Grady Sizemore (again).  Things happen on draft day that are out of your control and players will fall (so you'll want to be flexible) but that doesn't mean YOU have to be the guy that drafts the player you despise.  You control your own destiny so pick a team that you can root for and have fun.


  1. I learned that the LIMA strategy is far better than wasting picks on RPs and even some SPs. I always get my saves from the waiver wire, and always draft stud setup pitchers (Last season: Romo, Venters, Robertson, Adams) with my last few picks. Sure, they aren't sexy names yet, but if you look at their numbers, they keep ERA and WHIP pretty low, while also striking out a lot. I'd rather have Sergio Romo over a pitcher like Dempster. I just load up on offense, maybe two "one-cat" studs, a few solid SPs, then my LIMA pitchers. Although, it's a little different if there is no innings cap, especially in H2H points leagues. Good article, and you have a great strategy!


  2. Thanks, Rob. I have never heard of that term (LIMA)... I suppose I am sort of stealing that theory but I do think you need an anchor- not sure you can win with a roster full of Brandon Morrow's and Kenley Jansen's.


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