Draft Review: Rostering Up

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at St. Louis CardinalsSo, spring training is here, which also means the time has come to draft your fantasy baseball team(s). And it’s crazy trying to figure out all of those players, all of those positions, and all of the headaches that will probably come with each and every one as the season rolls along. Whether you’re in a rotisserie league with 11 other guys or a head-to-head league with 14, or an NL-only or AL-only league, whichever format you’re in, you always start with a draft.

I completely prefer a live draft to an automated one, simply because it’s fun, making those decisions on the fly, changing your mind, or going with the flow because the people around you made decisions that cause you to adjust your team. You need to be much more flexible with your fantasy baseball team than you were with your fantasy football team, because there are so many more players, and so many more positions to choose from. Then there are the questions.

Do you start with a pitcher? Do you build your team around pitching or hitting? When is the right round to grab a catcher? Who are the best relievers for fantasy purposes? Why is Jose Reyes going so low in your draft? All of these questions and more are perplexing, especially to new fantasy baseball drafters, but have no fear. I’ll help you the best way I know how, by showing you one of my own drafts and explaining the whyfores and reactions. In fact, I’ll go one better and show you two of my drafts, one from each primary format.

First, the rotisserie (and keep in mind the format is all about the long run, not about week-to-week, as it features absolutely no head-to-head competition, except when it comes to statistics). For perspective, it is a 10-team league and I drafted 5th:

Round 1: Robinson Cano (2B)
Round 2: Troy Tolowitzki (SS)
Round 3: Cliff Lee (Starting Pitcher)
Round 4: Aroldis Chapman (Relief Pitcher)
Round 5: Greg Holland (Relief Pitcher)
Round 6: Jean Segura (Middle Infielder)
Round 7: Jonathan Papelbon (Relief Pitcher)
Round 8: David Robertson (Relief Pitcher)
Round 9: Josh Hamilton (Outfielder)
Round 10: Casey Janssen (Relief Pitcher)
Round 11: Alex Gordon (Outfielder)
Round 12: Cole Hamels (Starting Pitcher)

And the draft continued, but I’ll explain just my top 12 picks so you can see where I was going with the team. As you can see, I placed a premium on relief pitchers. Four of the major pitching categories are wins, saves, ERA and WHIP, and I’ve found that good closers have a better chance at helping in each of those categories. Plus, the more closers I have, the less there are for other fantasy league owners.

Here is my final lineup:

Catcher1: Russell Martin (PIT)
Catcher2: Carlos Ruiz (PHI)
First Base: Ryan Howard (PHI)
Second Base: Robinson Cano (SEA)
Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki (COL)
Third Base: Pablo Sandoval (SF)
Corner Infielder: Chase Headley (SD)
Middle Infielder: Jean Segura (MIL)
Outfield1: Alejandro De Aza (CHW)
Outfield2: Alex Gordon (KC)
Outfield3: Josh Hamilton (LAA)
Outfield4: Austin Jackson (DET)
Outfield5: Nick Swisher (CLE)
Utility: Kelly Johnson (NYY)
Pitcher1: Cliff Lee (PHI)
Pitcher2: Cole Hamels (PHI)
Pitcher3: Hiroki Kuroda (NYY)
Pitcher4: Greg Holland (KC)
Pitcher5: Aroldis Chapman (CIN)
Pitcher6: David Robertson (NYY)
Pitcher7: Casey Janssen (TOR)
Pitcher8: Jim Henderson (MIL)
Pitcher9: Jonathan Papelbon (PHI)

Yes, six out of my nine fantasy pitchers are closers, and I am quite pleased with the ones I’ve chosen. Obviously I’ve had to adjust somewhat when it comes to hitters, but I was still able to get Austin Jackson, Josh Hamilton, and Alex Gordon in my outfield, which is a definite bonus. They will help me with HRs and RBIs, two other major categories. If I can get a turnaround season from Ryan Howard then I have a steal at first base, and Segura and De Aza can get me steals. Overall I’m pleased, even though I had to go with Kelly Johnson as my utility, because I can upgrade as the season progresses.

When it comes to rotisserie leagues, it’s key to make sure that you’re stocked at every position with players who can be flexible in case of injuries. Having Tulowitzki on my team meant I needed someone around who could slot into his position if necessary. I can use Segura for that and replace him at the middle infield position with Johnson, pushing Rajai Davis from my bench to the utility spot.

The overarching key to drafting a rotisserie lineup is deciding which spots you think are most important. For me it was the pitching spots, but someone else might think that they need to win with the home run and RBI spot so they place a premium on those. I think so long as you can stay competitive, meaning in the top 5 of the hitting spots, the pitching can carry you to the top spot overall. At some point I can even trade one of the dynamic closers for two top players at other positions if I am in the lead by then.

And the lead is where I want to start the very first week, so my closers are all in position. We’ll see what they do.

The Fantasy Ace

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