The Major League Baseball season kicks off on Sunday, April 3rd. For most people, this is the de facto start of spring, and it also means that fantasy baseball season is in full swing as managers get ready to draft their teams. If you haven’t drafted your team yet, or you are keeping your options open for daily fantasy baseball leagues, we’ve broken down some of the most important things you need to know before that first pitch of the year is thrown.
Pitching is the Key
In most leagues, your pitchers are your most valuable resources, so we’ll start there. Do realize that you need to look at your league’s particular method of awarding fantasy points, too. If half of the fantasy points are dedicated to pitchers, as they are in most roto leagues, then half of your salary should be allocated toward your pitching staff. And because you will tend to have fewer pitchers, that means you can spend more per pitcher than you could on a position player.
When it comes to selecting a pitcher, the best predictive stat that you can use is the number of strikeouts that a pitcher had the year before. This is better than ERA, and it’s even slightly better than WHIP. Both of those take into account how the pitcher’s defense did, while Ks look solely at the pitcher’s ability to perform. For this reason, players like Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer are going to be better than someone like Zack Greinke. Greinke led MLB in terms of ERA last year, but his strikeout number was low, and this puts him at a big handicap for repeating his great performance. However, Kershaw and Scherzer had the two best strikeout numbers in all of MLB last year, indicating a more reliable performance this coming season.
Batting is Big
When you begin to draft your hitters, always start with power first. Homeruns are going to be far more expensive than consistency, but ideally, you want both. Looking at slugging and on base percentage combined in the OPS category is the best way to go here. You want the highest OPS numbers throughout your lineup that you can afford.
A nice balance of a high OPS number with a high batting average is your best choice. If you look at Bryce Harper, you will see that he had the highest OPS in all of MLB, plus a .330 batting average. This makes him the best possible choice for your roster, but also probably the most expensive. Instead, you can look at someone like a Joey Votto or a Miguel Cabrera. Both had great OPS numbers, had power, and were consistent hitters. Nelson Cruz is also a top pick.
When in doubt, and two players have similar OPS numbers and similar projected salaries, the younger player is typically the better choice. Studies show that players reach their peak in their late 20s. So if you are up between a 32 year old and a 26 year old, the 26 year old will have more upward potential than the other. Also, younger players tend to have more stolen bases, and although drafting specifically for stolen bases isn’t the best strategy, going with younger players rather than older will prove to be to your benefit.
Our top sleeper choice is Mike Trout. He’s one of the most athletic players in MLB, he’s young, and he’s nowhere near his potential. Even with this, he batted .299 last year, with an OPS of 0.991. And because o these deflated numbers, he’s going to be much cheaper than what he’s truly capable of. Draft him if you can.
Looking for a More Intensive Assessment of the Season?
Matthew Young’s Fantasy Baseball Manual: 2016 Edition is out now. This goes into the statistics of what makes a good fantasy baseball team a great fantasy baseball team. Season long leagues, dynasty leagues, and daily fantasy sports leagues are all examined, along with how you should change your approach as you participate in each of these types of fantasy sports. With up to date statistics, Young goes through what you should be looking for so that you can make your own well-informed decisions as your season begins.