If the rest of your league is investing the majority of their resources into one or two categories, invest your resources elsewhere. That’s the gist of the argument I made last week in the article, “Exploiting Market Inconsistencies to Win Fantasy Baseball.” As I outlined in the article, the fantasy industry overvalues home runs and RBIs while it undervalues stolen bases and pitching categories. To exploit this in head to head formats, the solution is simple: punt home runs and RBIs.
While many scoff at the idea of punting home runs and RBIs, if done properly it can lead to absolute domination over your competition. Last season I used this approach in three leagues and I was rewarded with three league championships. I had a tremendous amount of success punting home runs and RBIs, but it’s not as if this strategy doesn’t have a number of pitfalls that can trip you up along the way. In today’s article, I will share ten important tips that will allow you to avoid these pitfalls while building a championship team.
However, before we delve into these tips, I need to correct one error that I made in my previous article. As my colleague, Tommy Landseadel, brought to my attention, when discussing categorical scarcity I used my projected stats for all of MLB rather than the projected stats for an actual fantasy league. I stated that there were roughly 4,000 home runs, 2,000 stolen bases, and 1,000 saves available, but I should have been using the numbers that will be accumulated in a typical fantasy league. For a Yahoo H2H league, the numbers I should have used were 2,303 home runs, 1,631 stolen bases, and 993 saves.
Tommy was absolutely right that I had overstated my case by using the wrong data set. Rather than a save being twice as valuable as a stolen base, as I had stated, it is only 1.6 times as valuable. And rather than a stolen base being twice as valuable as a home run, it is only 1.4 times as valuable. The good news is that while the ratios I suggested were overstated, the hierarchy of value remains the same. A save is still considerably more valuable than a stolen base, which in turn is considerably more valuable than a home run. Even more important is that when calculating PRV, I used the correct data set. In other words, since I made a mistake when explaining PRV, not when calculating it, everything else in the article still holds true.
Now that I’ve corrected my mistake, let’s get to the meat of today’s article. Here are ten tips you must consider if you decide to venture into the world of punting home runs and RBIs.
Tip #1: Avoid hitters who only contribute stolen bases
I’ve had friends who have tried punting home runs and RBIs, and I’ve even seen a few managers try it in public leagues. Unfortunately, most of these attempts fail because managers sacrifice runs and batting average to acquire stolen bases. Players like Eric Young, Billy Hamilton, Rajai Davis, and Leonys Martin will help ensure that you dominate stolen bases, but they will do so while hitting .240 and scoring 60 runs. Instead of drafting Eric Young and trying to offset his average and run production elsewhere, you are much better off targeting players who will help you in all three categories.
Because stolen bases are one of the most undervalued categories in fantasy baseball, leading your league in steals shouldn’t be a problem. Batting average and runs are far more difficult categories to win, and you need to keep this in mind when drafting. Although I don’t have a steadfast rule that I follow, I seldom will draft a player that I have projected for less than 70 runs or worse than a .260 batting average.
Tip #2: Grab at least one elite hitter in the first three rounds and two hitters in the first five rounds
Punting home runs and RBIs means building an elite pitching staff, but don’t get caught completely neglecting hitting early in your draft. Last year, eleven of the top 13 run scorers hit at least 21 home runs, and you are going to need a few of these elite bats if you want to win the category with any consistency. This means you may have to pay for a few home runs even though you won’t be using them. It also means you need to grab a few hitters in the first few rounds of your draft.
There are two types of hitters you should be targeting early. The first type is obvious: you want to target players who will score a lot of runs, steal a lot of bases, and hit for average. Players like Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, and Jacoby Ellsbury fit your team perfectly and are worth an early selection. The second type of player worth targeting are catchers, first basemen, and third basemen who hit for average and score runs. Don’t worry about getting stolen bases from these positions because chances are, it’s not going to happen. This means players like Joey Votto, Matt Carpenter, Adrian Beltre, and Joe Mauer should be on your radar in the early rounds.
Tip #3: Identify your targets and make a cheat sheet
Some players are going to be far more valuable to you than your opponents. Take, for example, Daniel Murphy. Last year Murphy scored 92 runs, stole 23 bases, and hit .286. His average draft position in Yahoo leagues is 172. Murphy will play second base on almost any other team in your league, but in Yahoo leagues you have the opportunity to play him at first base, a position where his 20 stolen base potential gives him significantly more value to you.
Before you head into your draft, create a cheat sheet which includes players like Daniel Murphy who you are targeting. Beside each player’s name, include the players’ ADPs, as this will give you an idea of when you need to grab these players. This cheat sheet will be indispensable on draft day.
Below are 15 hitters who you will find on my cheat sheet. Since everyone plays in different leagues, it’s not useful for me to include ADP. Instead, I’ve included my hitter rank for each player. This rank signifies how valuable the player is when punting HR and RBI.
- Jacoby Ellsbury (2)
- Ben Revere (3)
- Elvis Andrus (8)
- Alex Rios (10)
- Jose Altuve (11)
- Dustin Pedroia (18)
- Norichika Aoki (20)
- Joe Mauer (22)
- Matt Carpenter (23)
- Denard Span (30)
- Daniel Murphy (31)
- Adam Eaton (32)
- Angel Pagan (39)
- Kolten Wong (40)
Tip #4: Have a plan (and a backup plan)
If you don’t have a plan entering the draft, you shouldn’t expect to win, and if you expect to win, you should have a plan. One of the beautiful things about punting home runs and RBIs is that you can immediately narrow your draft board down to around fifty players, and this allows you to build a detailed draft plan. For example, my draft plan tells me that in round five I should target Matt Carpenter and in round six I should target Joe Mauer. If Carpenter is gone in round five, I will target Joe Mauer instead. If I completely miss out on Mauer, I have a backup plan to target Salvador Perez or Jonathan Lucroy in round twelve. If I miss out on Perez and Lucroy, I know that I will target Yan Gomes in round 19 or 20, and if I miss out on Gomes, I will draft a replacement level catcher such as Carlos Ruiz in round 23.
Obviously your plan doesn’t need to be this detailed, but the more detailed it is, the more likely it is that you will draft a great team. At the very least, you should draft a mock team using ADP as a guide, and you should know the replacement level players at each position. Anything less than this, and you are putting your dreams of a championship at risk.
Tip #5: Be flexible during your draft
While you should have a detailed plan for your draft, you must be flexible. For example, my plan is to draft two starting pitchers in the first three rounds, but if I drafted Andrew McCutchen in the first round and Jacoby Ellsbury fell to me in the second round, I would still draft Ellsbury. Ellsbury is actually more valuable to my team than McCutchen , and if I put McCutchen on the trading block following the draft, I should have no problem getting an elite pitcher and a low-end closer for him in return. Sure, I skewed from my plan, but after a quick trade, I will have a better outfielder, a better starting pitcher, and a low-end closer to show for it. Be flexible.
Tip #6: Draft four or five closers
Or six or seven. Saves are cheap. As I outlined in my previous article, winning saves requires the least draft day investment of any of the categories. Since you are punting home runs and RBIs, you will have plenty of money to grab an extra closer or two and make certain that you are a heavy favorite to win saves each and every week.
When punting home runs and RBI, I typically try to draft one elite closer and several good closers who will bring my ERA and WHIP down while contributing in strikeouts. Then, towards the later rounds, I will grab as many low-end closers as possible (in one strange draft, I ended up with eight). Managers refrain from drafting closers because of the volatility at the position, but with how inexpensive saves are compared to the other categories, it makes more sense to draft a few extra closers. If you have six closers and a few lose their jobs, you are still in position to win saves regularly. If fortune is on your side and you avoid the gauntlet of injured and demoted closers, you can trade one of your closers to someone who wasn’t so fortunate. Either way, drafting too many closers isn’t going to be a problem.
Tip #7: Track where pitchers are being drafted
There are two curveballs that can completely alter the way your draft unfolds, and you need to be cognizant of them. To do this, make sure you are tracking what managers select which pitchers. If you notice a manager has drafted two or three relief pitchers but hasn’t targeted any starting pitchers, it’s likely that he is punting wins and strikeouts. This means you need to get ready for closers to start jumping off the board much earlier than their ADP, and when that happens, don’t hesitate to jump into the mix. Saves are undervalued, so if you have to draft a few closers a round or two earlier than you hoped, so be it. They are still going to be a bargain. And more importantly, as someone who is already punting two categories, there is absolutely no way you want to punt to third. Even if closers are being drafted early, you still need to find a way to draft four or five.
The second curveball that I have encountered when punting home runs and RBIs is that someone else in the league decides to take the same unconventional approach. Although this is rare, it has actually happened to me twice (once last year and once this year), and it can have major repercussions on the way the draft unfolds, especially if the other manager is reaching on players. Fortunately, both owners who I have seen try this approach drafted pitching for the first four or five rounds, so their strategy will be clear early. Just know that to keep up with them, you are going to have to adjust your expectations of when players will be drafted.
Tip #8: Stream starting pitching as much as possible.
As the power balance in Major League Baseball continues to shift from batters to pitchers, streaming pitchers becomes increasingly attractive. If you play in a shallow league that allows streaming, such as a Standard Yahoo League, you absolutely must take advantage of it. In the first ten days of this season, I was able to stream Nathan Eovaldi against the Padres, Corey Kluber against the Padres, and Tanner Roark against the Mets. On Wednesday night, I got shut-out performances from Garrett Richards and Zach McAllister. These pitching matchups are simply too good to pass up.
I realize it’s easy to get hung up on the idea that you can’t cut certain players. I get it. I struggled with it too. In the end, there is absolutely no way that holding onto the worst player on your bench is more valuable than streaming pitchers. In shallow leagues where quality replacement players are always available on the waiver wire, I even suggest using two spots to maximize value when streaming. That way, if there are two great matchups available on any given night, you can play them both.
Tip #9: Value ERA and WHIP over wins and strikeouts
We hear over and over again that when you are building your pitching staff, you should target pitchers with high strikeout rates. While this may be true for leagues with innings cap or for leagues that prevent daily roster changes, it’s not true for leagues where you can stream pitchers. If you stream five or six pitchers a week, as I just suggested in the previous tip, you should get two or three extra wins and close to thirty extra strikeouts per week. Since you will already have one of the best starting rotations in your league, winning strikeouts and wins is basically a lock. For that reason, you need to target pitchers with low ERAs and WHIPs when building your staff. In the earlier rounds, this might mean drafting Jordan Zimmerman rather than Gio Gonzalez. In the later rounds, it might mean drafting Kyle Lohse instead of Tim Lincecum.
Tip #10 – Draft Ben Revere
I believe Ben Revere is undervalued in fantasy baseball in general. He should hit close to .300, score close to 80 runs while leading off for the Phillies, and steal 40 or more bases. For whatever reason, Revere has a rap as a one category player, but make no mistakes about it – Revere is a three category player. It also just so happens that the three categories he excels in are the same three you are targeting on draft day.
When punting HR and RBIs, Ben Revere projects as the third most valuable hitter in the entire league. The most valuable player is Mike Trout. The second most valuable player is Jacoby Ellsbury. In Yahoo League’s, Trout’s ADP is 1, Ellsbury’s ADP is 20, and Revere’s is 204. There is not another player who will offer your team as much value on draft day as Ben Revere, so whatever you do, make sure he is on your team.
Punting home runs and RBIs is not a magic potion you can use to make fantasy championships magically appear, but if you put in the preparation and follow the ten tips I’ve outlined here, I’m confident that you can make it work. If you are considering trying this strategy, and you must be if you’ve read this far, don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions or requests for projections and cheat sheets. Most fantasy baseball sites are still holding drafts, and if nothing else, I’d suggest giving the strategy a try in a free league or two. After you win, you will have the confidence to try the approach in more competitive leagues next season.