Written by: Ray Butler
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Let’s face it: baseball season can be exhausting.
Whether your favorite team’s games are appointment television for six months every year, or you play in competitive, daily fantasy baseball leagues, or both (raises hand), we’ve all experienced the grind of maintaining our continuous fandom and virtual starting lineups.
Baseball is a beautiful sport. It was genuinely my first love, and I wouldn’t trade it for any other sport in the history of the world. There are thousands of people around the world who share my sentiment. The aforementioned exhaustion is something we choose. Something we love. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.
And the grind is coming.
As of the day of this article was published, there are 74 days until Opening Day 2019. Most of you are already neck deep in player rankings, sleeper and bust articles and prospect lists. We look forward to helping you with your prep beginning February 1st. The grind is well underway for a lot of you, and it won’t stop until the last week of October. October. That’s north of 275 days from today for those of you doing the math.
I’m far from the world’s best fantasy baseball player. There will be someone who reads this article who’s better at it than I am. You might be better at fantasy baseball than me. But I would like to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned in the fantasy baseball world over the years, and how it’s affected my teams specifically. You’ve already learned a lot of these lessons, but I do hope there’s at least one thing listed below you can add to your mental arsenal leading up to the 2019 season.
Behold. The everyman’s guide to surviving the fantasy baseball grind:
Draft a team you can easily root for
Make it easy on yourself. If you despise your favorite team’s rival with every fiber in your being, don’t draft a player from that team. Is there a certain attribute of some MLB players you can’t stand? Take those players off your draft board. Sometimes, depending on the type of fantasy player you are, the tiebreaker between two players you’re debating on drafting needs to be which one you’ll have more fun rostering. Agreeing to play fantasy baseball should mean you’re in it for the long haul (regardless of league format), and it’s easier to become entrenched when your lineup is packed with players you actually like.
Don’t reach for catchers or closers
Yadier Molina, Yasmani Grandal, Evan Gattis, Kurt Suzuki, Robinson Chirinos and Yan Gomes were all top-12 catchers in my fantasy league last season according to Fantrax’s ‘Score’ rating. Blake Treinen, Shane Greene, Brad Boxberger, Bud Norris, Keone Kela, Fernando Rodney and Sergio Romo were all in the top-20 amongst relief pitchers in Net Saves last season. The catcher position in general is a fantasy black hole, and unless you snag an elite catcher fairly early in your draft, there’s plenty of high-floor players who will still be available in the latter stages of the selection process. Kurt Suzuki probably didn’t hoist your team on his shoulders at any point last season, but he positively contributed to a lot of offensive categories without ever single-handedly losing a weekly matchup (.332 OBP, 11.1 K%).
‘Closer’ is an endangered role in real-life baseball, and it’s inherently the most volatile position in fantasy baseball. Aroldis Chapman, Cody Allen and Corey Knebel were all drafted as top-5 closers last preseason. All were significantly underwhelming. I’m fine with grabbing one top-tier closer in your draft (I grabbed Craig Kimbrel last season), but your other closer(s) should be the final pick you make before exiting your league’s draft lobby.
Don’t panic if you’re weak at starting pitcher post-draft
Walker Buehler, Nathan Eovaldi, Jack Flaherty, Mike Foltynewicz, Andrew Heaney, German Marquez, Miles Mikolas, Anibal Sanchez, Tyler Skaggs and Zack Wheeler (and way more) were all widely considered as afterthoughts in redraft leagues heading into the 2018 regular season. All eventually became game-changers that played a pivotal role for championship teams. Personally, I grabbed Heaney and Skaggs on the waiver wire early last season, and the duo played a critical role on my staff throughout the season. Other pitchers, such as Patrick Corbin and Blake Snell, became complete steals across-the-board after being taken in the mid-to-late rounds of drafts last season.
There’s value to be found at the starting pitcher position in fantasy baseball, and it’s value that is often not evident until after the season has started. If you’re researching in effort to find hidden-gem starting pitchers you can draft, start by examining things like K-BB% (hello, 2018 Nick Pivetta) and disparities between a pitcher’s ERA and xFIP (hello again, 2018 Nick Pivetta).
If you are weak at starting pitcher after your draft, take a deep breath, settle in and dissect pitching lines over the first few weeks of the regular season. You can easily overcome it.
Create a versatile bench
Positional versatility is just now coming to the forefront of ideology for a lot of Major League organizations, but it’s been utilized by the best fantasy baseball players for awhile now. The concept is simple to understand: the more versatile your players are defensively, the easier roster decisions become. Flexibility is a key to life, and it’s a key to fantasy baseball as well.
In all likelihood, the best players on your fantasy team only carry single-position eligibility. That’s fine. But you’ll be surprised how much more dynamic your team becomes when your bench players or fringe starters can be slotted at different positions. I traded A.J. Puk for Scooter Gennett in May of last season. On Fantrax, Gennett was eligible at second base, third base and outfield in 2018. Rafael Devers is the third baseman of my team’s future, but he struggled mightily at times last season and also had multiple stints on the disabled list. Gennett basically became my everyday third baseman during those stretches. But when Devers began to show signs of life towards the end of the regular season, I was able to utilize Gennett’s 2B and OF eligibility and play hitter vs. pitcher matchups on a daily basis (my other second baseman is Whit Merrifield, who, coincidentally, also carries outfield eligibility).
At times the past few seasons, Marwin Gonzalez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Joey Wendle, Daniel Descalso, Brock Holt and Yangervis Solarte have played unsung roles on my team largely because their multi-position eligibility. Possessing high-floor versatility meant I didn’t need a deep position-player bench in order to be protected around the diamond on rest days or when my stars missed a few games with bumps and bruises, so I used the extra roster spots to stockpile starting pitchers instead.
You never want to feel backed into a corner as a fantasy player, and utilizing positional versatility gives you options and freedom with your roster. It’s depth without quantity. Give it a shot this season.
Take the best available player in prospect drafts
This one’s for you deep keeper and dynasty league players. I know it’s easy to look at a 19 or 20-year-old player and quickly anoint them as “my future __________”, but consider a few things first. The miss rate on prospects is nightmarish. The best prospect evaluators in the world miss on prospects all the time, mostly because there’s so many variables with players so young that can’t be accounted for in evaluations or on-field performance. Furthermore, most people read and examine prospect lists as though there’s a noticeable, wide gap between prospects slotted next to each other; in actuality, evaluators split hairs, agonize and lose sleep over multiple decisions on each prospect list they release. I know this from personal experience. Even with prospects slotted 5-10 spots away from each other on lists, the difference in talent and potential is often microscopic.
With that being said, while the risk with prospects will always be enormous, you can help your chances on ‘hitting’ with a prospect by drafting the best available player in your prospect drafts. Unless a prospect is in Triple-A or obviously knocking on the door of a big league promotion, don’t consider the positional needs of your active roster. If you do, you’ll find yourself eventually targeting top 200 prospects when top 150 prospects are still available (or, just as worse and more embarrassing, targeting a prospect who will eventually change positions defensively), and that’s needlessly compounding your risk. Believe me, you won’t need any help missing on prospects regardless of your draft philosophy, and drafting the best available player (regardless of position) gives you a fighting chance and is undoubtedly ‘good process’ in a facet of fantasy baseball that leaves us constantly looking for ways to find peace with bad results.
PS: Make sure you utilize different prospect lists from a variety of sources/evaluators, and don’t be afraid to put your own twist on the resource you keep in front of you while you’re actually drafting. Just make sure you base it on talent, projection, and skillsets and not the premise of “my active roster is weak at second base, and this teenage prospect in Low-A might become my everyday second baseman in 2023”.
Follow beat writers on Twitter
Perhaps the most underrated portion of this list. I follow beat writers in part because reading a wide-variety of content from baseball journalists assists me in creating my own content for Prospects 365, but the extra resources are invaluable in the fantasy baseball world as well. First of all: if you don’t have a Twitter, get one. End of story. Assuming you already have an account, follow one beat writer per MLB organization that is represented on your fantasy team. If you have a subscription to The Athletic, I personally suggest following as many beat writers from that site as possible. If not, no big deal. Expanding your portfolio of the baseball people you follow on Twitter often gives you the edge in discovering breaking news, injury updates and prospect call-ups before your opposition does. The more competitive your fantasy league is, the more crucial it becomes to take heed of this recommendation. It’s impossible to overstate how much it’s helped me as a fantasy baseball player the past few seasons.
Give MLB.tv a try
Invest in the sport of baseball itself as well as your fantasy team. The 2019 season will be my fourth with an MLB.tv subscription, and I’ve never regretted paying the fee. Purchasing the subscription allowed me to fall in love with the way Vin Scully called baseball games. Now, I consistently check Giants games to see if Jon Miller is on the call. I also currently roster J.D. Martinez, Andrew Benintendi, David Price and Rafael Devers, so the subscription allows me to follow nearly half of my starting lineup live on my laptop or iPad whenever I want. Having access to watching every single game around the league live (excluding blackouts) allows you to keep your fingers on the pulse of players and teams that you would miss otherwise. If nothing else, pay a monthly fee and give it a try during April of this season. I bet you become addicted. If you’re looking for ways to light your prospect fire, look into purchasing MiLB.tv.
Enhance the communication in your fantasy league
The grind of fantasy baseball is easier to endure if you can experience it with your league mates. It’s possible for redraft leagues to thrive with very little dialogue between players, but it’s my honest opinion that keeper leagues and dynasties really thrive when you communicate with your league consistently. My fantasy league has a GroupMe that we use on a daily basis. We have rosterers who live in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, so a group chat of some sort is absolutely necessary for us to communicate with each other. The app has allowed us to become a tight-knit group, and we’re able to easily create extracurriculars like college football bowl pickem and March Madness bracket challenges because communication within our league is so easy. Of course, there’s also a healthy amount of relentless smack talk, which every group needs over the course of a long season.
Overcome the lull
I saved the most important for last. At some point during your fantasy season, your care-level is going to plummet. Maybe your team has lost multiple match-ups in a row during a pivotal time of the season. Maybe your team is rebuilding, and you’re tired of getting smacked around on a weekly basis. Maybe you’ve become busier in other facets of your every day life.
For me as a teacher and coach, my lull is in in August, when school is back in session and the football regular season begins. I slack on knowing who’s available on the waiver wire. I don’t always catch lineup decisions I could make that would swing weekly categories in my favor.
No matter the reason, the lull happens to us all. Finding a balance and overcoming the lull might be the difference in a deep playoff run and a relegation to the consolation bracket for your team. In the midst of football season, I pull out of my driveway at 7:15 AM and often don’t get back home until 7:15 PM or later. In the past, I’ve felt my fantasy baseball team falling by the wayside, so I forced myself to begin looking at my league’s adds and drops and the intricacies of my weekly matchup every day during a portion of our thirty-minute lunch period. It quickly became a staple of my schedule, and it helped me regain control of a roster I had worked hard to create and maintain. Last season alone, Nick Pivetta and Matt Chapman were dropped as victims of roster crunches by contenders in my league in the waning moments of our fantasy season. They were both added by rebuilders who had overcome their mid-season lull; this offseason, the pair has been traded for Nathaniel Lowe and (in a package for) Eloy Jimenez. Maintaining focus and commitment matters if you’re truly serious about fantasy baseball. Find what works for you and push on until you see the light at the end of the tunnel you’ll inevitably find yourself in at some point this season.
Keep up the good work preparing for the 2019 season, become a VIP member, and have a great week!
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Featured image courtesy of Binge Sports