With just one week to go before the start of the 2013 Major League Baseball season, fantasy drafts have really kicked into high gear. Most roster decisions have been made, players have been released or won starting jobs, making it easier to fill out your big board.
But even as you prepare to enter your war room to make all the picks you hope will carry you to a championship (and bragging rights over the minions who tried to challenge you), there are still several things you need to know about drafting a successful fantasy team.
If it was just as simple as making picks, then everyone would be great at fantasy sports. No, there is an art to this whole thing that makes certain players great and others scrambling to figure out the secrets.
Ask and you shall receive. Instead of leaving you in a lurch, we are going to give you an outline of everything you need to do, as well as things to avoid, when your draft starts in order to make sure you are successful.
Fantasy Baseball Do: The first round is your best friend
As you move deeper into the draft, you start taking chances on young players or looking for bargains that others might have overlooked. But right off the bat, the first pick you make will shape the direction of your team.
Since there is a clear drop-off once you get past the first 10-12 players in baseball, it is imperative that you nail the first pick. It is obviously much easier to do if you have a top-3 pick, where you can grab the likes of Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout.
Things get a bit more tricky if you are picking after those three players are gone. You have plenty of options to choose from, which makes your job a bit easier, but it all depends on what you are looking for.
Don't always look at the gap between the top player at a position and the second-best player available. Everyone knows that Troy Tulowitzki will be, by far, the best fantasy shortstop if he plays 140-150 games. That could skew your opinion, especially when you consider that he missed 115 games last year and has played in more than 140 games just twice in the last five years.
Instead, focus on finding the player in the first round who is going to produce the best numbers and comes with the lowest risk. That is more important than the gap between Tulowitzki and the No. 2 fantasy shortstop.
You need to hit the nail right on the head in the first round so you aren't scrambling to find that superstar-level production through a trade or on the waiver wire with the hot rookie who gets called up.
It is imperative that you don't overthink the first pick to the point where you convince yourself of something that isn't really there.
Fantasy Baseball Do: Keep an open mind
In my fantasy-playing days, I always tried to go in with a set plan. I had everything filled out exactly as I wanted it. The picks were fair and reasonable; I wasn't just loading up with stars and thinking everyone else had no clue how to play.
But then I actually got into the draft, and I saw the way a draft plays out. The only pick that you can really plan out is the first one, because you know where you will be picking and everyone has an idea of who the top 10-12 players are.
After that, everything becomes a free-for-all and you have no idea what direction things are going to go. You always have to be willing to adapt to where the wind is blowing on draft day.
If you see a run on closers going in the sixth round, you have to at least entertain the idea of taking one that high. I have never been able to bring myself to draft a closer that high because the volatility of the position makes it too risky, and teams are going to make changes if their closer struggles right out of the gate.
Obviously, closers like Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel are special cases because of their ability to miss bats better than anyone else at the position.
It is not just closers, but any position you see a huge run on should give you pause to think about what you want to do. Now is not the time to be so steadfast in your resolve to get what you want—the people around you don't care about your needs.
Fantasy Baseball Do: Follow the trends you see
One of the best things about having so much information at your disposal when it comes to stats is you can easily follow the different ways that players improve and regress.
Some players have a career year no one sees coming—Melky Cabrera last season—that can be explained due to a lot of luck (look at batting average on balls in play, compare it to their career average, line-drive percentage, strikeout percentage and walk percentage).
Unless there is a noticeable difference in the strikeout and walk ratios, which could signify a better approach and make the change last longer, odds are good that the player's BABIP will be an anomaly that will regress to the mean.
Old players who have a down year, either due to injury and/or a natural regression of skills (like Philadelphia's Roy Halladay last season), even though they might have a great track record of past success, it is time to pay attention to what is happening right now.
Baseball is a strange game, in that players so often get paid based on what they have done in the past rather than what they will do in the future. It is why players like Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols are signing 10-year contracts when they are in their 30s.
Fantasy players have to be—and usually are—mindful of what is happening on the field. Rookies who have broken into the league with the tools to succeed are going to trend upward. (For the record, no, there won't be a rookie like Mike Trout or Bryce Harper this year.)
Keep an eye on young players like Eric Hosmer, who entered the league like a house on fire, struggled last season due to a mechanical issue, looked better mechanically this spring and could be great bargains in the mid-rounds of the draft.
Age should always be on your mind when making picks. This information age in baseball has made it so you can, with some degree of certainty, predict upward and downward trends to make your fantasy experience as rewarding as possible.
Fantasy Baseball Don't: Overrate players from your favorite team
One thing about fantasy baseball—or just fantasy sports, in general—is the way drafters rate the players who are on their favorite teams. We have all seen it—the guy who loves the Brewers and is convinced that Carlos Gomez will finally have a breakout season.
If you are playing fantasy baseball for the sole purpose of drafting all 25 players from your favorite team, enjoy that last-place finish. The rest of us in the real world are going to be battling it out for a championship.
There is nothing wrong with drafting players from your favorite team, as long as they are actually worthy of the pick. If you are an Indians fan, Carlos Santana would be a great choice because he is going to hit for power and have the chance to drive in runs.
But don't oversaturate your team with players from the Major League team you root for. If you have a chance to get Ben Zobrist or Jimmy Rollins, only to make the decision based on your love of Philadelphia, you have just made a mistake.
Going all the way back to keeping an open mind, this follows in that same vein. You need to find a way to put aside your loyalty for one moment. Sports is a business, with teams having no loyalty to players if they don't produce.
Where is your obligation to be loyal in a fantasy draft? Do you really think if you don't draft a player from your favorite team, it is going to change anything about the way he plays? If you do, I have a timeshare in Florida I would like to sell you.
If you want to win, you draft the best players. Don't worry about what team they play for, even if you are a Yankees fan and Dustin Pedroia is sitting in your lap in the second or third round.
Fantasy Baseball Don't: Expect Rookies to be great
As the way that prospects are written and talked about has increased over the last decade, the way that fans see those prospects, either ready to make their debut out of spring training or on the verge of getting called up when teams can delay arbitration, has overinflated their sense of worth.
Unless you are playing in a fantasy keeper league, where you can control a player for as long as possible, don't get it in your head that they are all going to translate their incredible tools to the big leagues right away.
I also fear that some rookies in 2013 are going to be hurt by what we saw from last year's class. Let's take Mike Trout and Bryce Harper out of the equation, because they had historical seasons as rookies that you can't possibly predict anyone to duplicate.
But go a little deeper to players like Yoenis Cespedes, Yu Darvish, Norichika Aoki, Jarrod Parker, Wade Miley and Matt Moore. When you have that kind of depth from a rookie class, you are looking at a historical group that any year will be hard-pressed to replicate.
There is some great talent on the way to the big leagues this season.
Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran, Adam Eaton (even though he will miss 6-8 weeks with an elbow injury), Trevor Rosenthal, Dylan Bundy, Oscar Taveras, Jurickson Profar, Wil Myers and many more will start the season in the big leagues or are highly likely to at some point.
Fans have heard and read about those players ever since they were drafted, so you get it in your head that Bundy is going to be an ace right out of the gate, or Taveras and Myers are going to hit 25 home runs.
An overwhelming majority of rookies don't have that kind of impact. I remember reading so much about Josh Beckett back in 2002. I took him near the end of the draft, only to see him throw just 107.2 innings. He pitched fairly well, with a 4.10 ERA and 113 strikeouts. He also gave up 13 home runs and 44 walks.
It is important to put a rookie or two on your team, on the off-chance they do find their footing as the season goes along. But keep expectations in check.
Fantasy Baseball Don't: Lose focus at the end of the draft
As a society, we are all about the marquee players. You can see it in the television ratings--with the exception of football, which is bulletproof—casual fans only pay attention to the biggest names and teams.
Even though we like to think that only the hardest of hardcore fans play fantasy baseball, that casual group is starting to sneak in on our fun. As they try to learn more about the game—and yes, I know how pretentious this sounds—they are going to pay more attention to what happens in the later rounds.
When I first started playing fantasy baseball, I was one of those people. I was so ready for the draft to start, I had plans for what I was going to do in the first 10 rounds. Then, as things kept going on, I drifted in and out because I wasn't finding anyone that tickled my fancy.
But as is the case with a real baseball team, in order to win your league, you need to find the depth. Sleepers are all the rage in fantasy baseball, so if you hit on one, then you are in much better shape than most of your fellow players.
Fantasy baseball is all about excitement and passion. When things first get started, you are full of optimism and ready to conquer the mountain that has kept you down for years. As you get going, you don't always pay as close attention to what is happening.
Keep your eyes open as you head towards the finish line. You might find that breakout player who carries your team to a championship. You never know what direction the wind blows until you get in the draft room.
For more fantasy advice from someone who has never won his fantasy league, or baseball talk in general, hit me up on Twitter.
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