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How to Draft a Winning Fantasy Team
Every year, I see at least half of the managers in my leagues sign players that I try to avoid. They are players with a questionable track record when it comes to performance, league scoring format, injury history, and switching teams in the offseason. While I love the research provided by most fantasy sports sites, it’s easy to see managers who do little or no other research or who simply don’t know much about the game. keep it as short and simple as possible, but I couldn’t make it. So I’ve broken down the main topics that I think are the most important to research to give you the edge over at least 50% of your competing managers.
1. RATING SYSTEM Before drafting, head over to the rating system and free agent pool (which should include all players since it’s pre-draft). If you are in a points league, sort all players by total fantasy points. Don’t worry about position or any other subcategories. You have to separate the world of real sport and the world of fantasy sport. Tom Brady may be the NFL’s best player in real life, but he’s far from the best in the fantasy world. The goal (yeah, pun intended) is to have the most points at the end of the year. At the start of the draft, say the first 3-5 rounds, this factor (highest points overall) should weigh heavily in your decision-making process. You should focus on the positions and players that historically earn you the most points. Just because a player is the best at his position doesn’t mean you have to rush to draft him. For example, the 15th best running back will probably earn you more points than the 1st or 2nd ranked tight end. I always cringe when I see Joe Mauer or another receiver come off the board early. Receivers are almost always drafted too early in the leagues. I’m saving the receiver for the final draft pick. You’re still overpaying and the return is far lower than any other position at this point in the draft.
In head-to-head leagues, you will be able to rank most players by the criteria on this website. So, after sorting out the players (#1) being the best overall player, you’ll start to see which positions have the biggest talent pool, which positions will build your team in the most categories, and what you need to focus on. . Make a checklist or mental notes of the deepest positions and the shallowest positions. Also look at what positions the highest ranked players have. After an analysis, you will see where you can wait longer to write a post and which posts need attention earlier in the project.
At this point I want to re-emphasize that you should always focus on getting the best player available in the first 3-5 rounds as long as you have a free spot to put them in (meaning they won’t get on the bench because you don’t have an active roster spot to give them). I usually let these first turns determine the direction of the rest of my draft. Find your team’s strengths and weaknesses. DON’T BUILD A BALANCED TEAM. Balanced teams are mediocre. You must be strong in a fixed number of categories. If you drafted a group of guys who hit .300, averaged 25-30 stolen bases, and scored 90-100 runs, don’t start drafting some of the strongest guys left. Continue to hold positions with similar players.
2. INJURIES Now let’s look at the injuries. I always avoid players who have made multiple trips to DL in the past 2-3 years. It takes a bit of research if you’re unfamiliar with the sport and don’t follow the news. Once you’ve taken the trouble to identify the players you’re considering signing, start looking at their profiles and see how many games they’ve missed in recent years. It’s not a foolproof method and it doesn’t mean they’ll definitely head to the DL in the future, but I generally avoid them like the plague unless I can get them much later than they normally wouldn’t.
Players who fall into this category for me are Josh Hamilton, Troy Tulowitzki, Donovan McNabb, Ronnie Brown, etc. can cripple your team. It’s usually not a huge number of players, but the goal is to have these guys all year, not part of it.
3. PROGRESSION We will then discuss a player’s performance history. Typically, many fantasy baseball sleeper lists will tell you which rookies will make a big impact this year. I rarely find recruits who have a significant part in the success of my team. With baseball, I prefer to watch young players who are a year or two in the league and maybe were on a sleeper roster a year or two earlier. This is where your research will really pay off, as this type of research applies to all rounds of a draft.
Progression is simply improvement over a period of time. I like to see improvement over the course of a few years. For example, for my 2011 baseball draft, I was very high on Jered Weaver. In fact, I kept saying how I think he’ll be a Cy Young finalist this year. I shouldn’t have opened my mouth as he drafted it just before me in a draft we shared shortly after making that proclamation. Anyway, if you look at Jered Weaver’s profile, you’ll see how the overall trend shows a good amount of innings pitched, steadily improving ERA, and increasing strikeouts. Yahoo Sports had undervalued him in my opinion, so I was able to draft him in three other leagues. He started the year as the league’s top pitcher. There is still a lot of season left, but I would say things are looking good for this prediction.
Another baseball example is with Trevor Cahill. He is a later round pick, but someone who is becoming and will be a dominant pitcher for years to come.
Baseball-reference.com is a fantastic website for looking up minor league stats. After seeing the success he had in the minors and how he had played in his brief major league career, I was sold. He dominated the minors and that was reflected in the majors. His strikeouts were down, but those usually come back after being in the league a year or two. So far this year he’s been off, his K’s are up and his ERA is close to the best in the league.
4. OFF-SEASON STATUS: This last point to consider should not be overlooked. A player’s value may change if they move ballparks or their team adds additional free agents to their team. Again, I’m going to use baseball as an example since that’s the time of year we are. Adrian Gonzalez played in one of the worst batting parks in the league at Safeco. It was amazing the power he displayed considering the disadvantage he had spent half the year there. Moving to Fenway where it’s a very friendly batting park, especially for left-handers, will have a positive impact on his numbers. So far this year, I’ll be honest, it hasn’t been posted. However, by the end of the year, he will make fantasy owners (like me) very happy to have drafted him.
The same may apply to a pitcher who has changed leagues, teams, or ballparks. The Coors field is known for being a batting park and until Ubaldo Jimenez’s anomaly last year, it was known for chewing up pitchers. The American League is known to be the toughest league for pitchers. This is mainly due to the designated hitter rule that the AL has and the NL does not. This should and must factor into the equation of who to choose. Your NL pitchers will have a better time. Here is a simple example. We all know Roy Halladay is one of the best pitchers in the league. However, he only got better when he moved from the AL to the NL. His ERA, WHIP, SO’s, W’s, were either the best or 2nd best in his entire career at least the year, his first year in the NL. He is also not peaking as he is 33 and will be 34 next month.
In conclusion, to have a successful fantasy team, you need to follow these steps. They will go a long way towards making you one of the best in your leagues year after year. Before long, I’ll be writing a full novel about the art of draft fantasy, but until then, this “short” explanation will have to do. And hey, if you have any questions about who to recruit, who to pick up, who to drop off, send me a message. I am always in search.
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