It’s almost baseball season, which means a few things. First, it means hardcore baseball fans like me are about to get a lot weirder as we start worrying about all the ways we could potentially jinx or curse our teams. However logical or rational your baseball-loving friend may be, just try saying their team has got it locked up in the ninth and see how they react. It won’t be pretty. It also means it’s time to start thinking about putting your fantasy team together, if you haven’t done so already.
The common notion in fantasy baseball is that that there is a core group of fantasy superstars and that if you don’t get at least a couple of those players, you don’t have a chance to win your league. It is nice to have that five-category star, and the star power attached to certain names can be comforting. But drafting based on name recognition alone is a poor strategy. Players change. They get older and switch teams. Even big-name players can have bad years or start losing what made them great. However, there is always production to be found. When those big name players are gone, try going after lesser-known players or those who other owners don’t trust.
Injured players fall into that second category. Any injury that is devastating enough to end a player’s season will always cause owners to approach them with caution the following season. While caution is certainly reasonable, too much can be blinding. Take Marlins starting pitcher Josh Johnson. When healthy, he is one of the most dominant pitchers in the majors. Before he got injured last season, he was 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA and an 0.98 WHIP. The season before, he almost won the NL Cy Young award. Yet because of his injury, he’s being drafted later than he should be. Rather than being one of the first pitchers off the board, he is being left to the middle rounds. Injury-prone though he may be, Johnson’s upside is too big to ignore. Take injuries into account when planning your draft, but don’t let them scare you away from proven fantasy stars. A little faith can go a long way.
Rookies can be overlooked in the same way that players coming off injuries can be. The major leagues are very different than the minors, and performing well even in Triple-A never guarantees success in the majors. Yet rookies can contribute, and they can provide good draft value. If you are considering a rookie, do a bit of research. Look up their minor league record and see how they performed at each level. Consistency in the minors is a good indicator for potential success in the majors. If they joined the team for spring training and made the final roster, look at their spring training record. Those games may mean nothing for the season, but they can indicate how a player, especially a rookie player, will be able to cope with the major league pitching, or major league hitting if they are a pitcher, they will face throughout the season. Rookies can provide very cheap and sneaky production. The same thing goes for second-year players. Don’t fear the sophomore slump. If a player has performed consistently over their entire career and trains hard, there is no logical reason they should drop off in their second year. Phillies’ pitcher Vance Worley is a good candidate for a strong second year.
You should also be drafting for overall team production rather than relying on one or two players to produce for your team. Even if you can’t get superstars at every position, you can still make sure your starters can contribute significantly in at least one scoring category while doing little or nothing to hurt you in the others. Drafting players that hit for high average or have good speed will make sure each of your players will get you points in at least one category.
Finally, draft for defensive versatility. Defense doesn’t matter in fantasy baseball, but the ability to play multiple positions does. Most leagues don’t allow enough bench spots to back up every position. Players that are eligible at multiple positions allow owners to have a contingency plan for every position. Daniel Murphy of the Mets can play first, second and third base and hits nearly .300, meaning even though my starting second baseman, Chase Utley, will miss the beginning of the season, I won’t lose too much in terms of production. Many versatile players are also decent hitters, and their ability to play multiple positions makes it less likely that you will have to rely on an unreliable waiver wire to replace injured players.
With that, I must bring my first column of the new season to a close. Remember kids, big names alone won’t get you that fantasy crown. Digging a bit deeper will get you a team that has few, if any, real weak spots. Every player will be able to contribute in some way.
Daily Nexus Fantasy Columnist Joshua Greenberg will be here all season, giving you advice that always digs deeper than the surface, because that’s just he kind of guy he is.