For many of us, the beginning of February means only one thing: two more months until baseball. And if you’re like me, a knows-what-to-expect Mets fan, fantasy baseball could very well be the only redeeming treasure to take out of the upcoming 2011 season.
Fantasy baseball differs from fantasy football and basketball in one specific way: it’s not always best to draft the best player on the board. In basketball, as long as you lock up a solid center, you can pretty much take the best player available each round and get away with it. In football, the order is almost always as follows: running back, quarterback, wide receiver. Positions will inevitably fill out as you draft. However, in baseball, it’s crucial to go in with a specific strategy detailing where and when you draft each position.
For example, if I had the first pick in my draft, I would definitely consider taking either Hanley Ramirez or Troy Tulowitzki. However, after about five seconds, I would remember that Albert Pujols is the only absolute in fantasy and draft him before I did something crazy. The point is that shortstop is a much more valuable position in fantasy baseball than first base is. There will most likely be seven first basemen in the top 30: Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder, Mark Teixeira and Ryan Howard. Ramirez and Tulowitzki are the top two shortstops and will be the only ones inside the top 30, with Jose Reyes ranking as third-best and Derek Jeter as fourth. Talking about the question marks surrounding Reyes’ health would be as redundant as telling you that Jeter is on the downslope of his career. If you’re lucky enough to get a chance at either Ramirez or Tulowitzki, don’t hesitate. Having a consistent shortstop could be the key to winning your league.
Second base will also prove to be an obstacle on draft day. Robinson Cano and Chase Utley are probably safe investments, but I’d have a problem taking either of these two inside the top 10. I don’t expect either of them to have much more than 30 home runs and 100 RBI. Numbers like that from the second base position are great, but you can get the same production (or potentially even more) out of a player like Dan Uggla, who will go at least two rounds later. His batting average won’t be ideal, but the tradeoff is worth it if you can save yourself a first- or second-round pick. You could also wait a few more rounds and take a chance on Brandon Phillips or Ian Kinsler, who, if drafted late, could be major steals. There’s always a significant health risk with a guy like Kinsler, but he’s the kind of player I would take a chance on if he fell far enough.
With third base and catcher, you pretty much know what to expect. Third base is a lesser version of first base, while getting any consistent production from your catcher would be a miracle. Joe Mauer is the fan favorite that will most certainly be drafted higher than he ought to be, so let someone else reach for him. Next to go will be Victor Martinez and Buster Posey. Although I’m not particularly crazy about either of these two, I might feel obligated to take one of them in the fourth round. If you decide to pass on these two, you absolutely have to do everything you can to pick up Brian McCann in the next couple of rounds. Otherwise, Carlos Santana and Geovany Soto are your last reasonable options before you’re staring down the barrel of obscurity.
Drafting pitchers and outfielders may seem like a cakewalk because of how deep each position is, but they require the most attention. The most productive use of your picks would be to use the upper rounds for shortstop, second base and catcher, while using the lower rounds for your outfielders and pitchers. Don’t be the guy who takes Roy Halladay inside the top 10 when there are three other starters on the Phillies rotation alone who are capable of putting up similar numbers to his. The same concept applies to outfielders, except to a lesser extent. For example, Ryan Braun posted a .307 batting average, 103 runs, 28 home runs, and 108 RBI in 2010. He’ll be drafted inside the top 10, maybe even inside the top five. Nick Swisher, on the other hand, batted .288 with 91 runs, 29 home runs and 89 RBI. He’ll be lucky to make it inside the first 10 rounds in a 12-team league. I’m guilty of drafting an outfielder in the first round in the past, so I can understand the temptation. But you’re just not going to win if you draft: outfielder, first baseman, pitcher, or any variation of that order. The most successful teams in fantasy baseball tend to draft players from the scarcer positions first. There’s plenty of value to be had in the later rounds of your draft, you just have to put yourself in a position to benefit the most from it.