Ultimate strategy guide for building a winning fantasy baseball team for MLB's short season

Fred ZinkieYahoo Fantasy Contributor
Yahoo Sports

In some ways, the 2020 fantasy baseball season is one that I have wanted for many years.

Of course, I didn’t want a global pandemic, fewer baseball games, or any other aspects of the societal upheaval that has come in recent months. But from a pure fantasy sports perspective, I relish chaos.

With so many great minds in this industry, the playbook for how to build and manage a team across a 162-game season becomes more refined each year. But we can now throw that playbook out the window and enjoy a chaotic two-month stretch where we try to figure things out on the fly — and figuring things out starts with a draft plan.

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[Still time to join or create a fantasy baseball league for the short season]

Let’s take a look at some ways fantasy managers could alter their selection strategies in this unique season.

Fade starting pitchers early

Starters contribute to four categories in a roto league: Wins, strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP. Wins are extremely hard to predict in a shortened season and ERA is going to be volatile. Additionally, many starters will be on shorter pitch counts during their initial outings. Fantasy managers may not want to deal with uncertainty from their premium investments, instead opting to load up on hitters before attacking the starting pitcher pool in the middle rounds.

Fade high-value closers

Yes, I know that I have now explained in two parts that 2020 managers could fade the entire pitching pool. But the rationale for drafting elite closers is usually that they are better bets to hold their roles all season. And although some stoppers will still fail in 2020, more should be able to navigate 60 games than would have been able to do so across 162 contests. As much as we worry about the predictability of ratios for starters across 50-80 innings, the ratios for relievers who throw 20-30 frames will be even harder to nail down. Managers could play the odds by grabbing a trio of cheap closers rather than a pair of expensive ones.

Fade batting average

As Kevin Costner taught us in Bull Durham, the difference between a .250 and a .300 average is sometimes random luck variance. And of course, luck will play an even bigger factor in batting marks when hitters log just 37 percent of their plate appearances. As the only non-cumulative hitting category, batting average is the area where managers are most likely to fluke their way to a few standings points without making a significant draft day investment. The recommendation is not for managers punt the category by avoiding those who typically hit for a high average, but they could make batting average their lowest priority when evaluating hitters.

At this point, you’re likely thinking, “I can’t fade everything. What should I target?!” Well, time to figure out which areas you ought to steer into.

Get one ace

Although I’m on board with the plan to fade pitching overall, I believe it makes sense to grab one early starter whom you expect to throw plenty of innings. Established workhorses such as Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer will likely be the first ones to have the training wheels taken off, and their results should remain excellent.

Reigning world champion Max Scherzer should enjoy success this shortened season. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Reigning world champion Max Scherzer should enjoy success this shortened season. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Target high-strikeout starters

Strikeout rate is one of the stickiest stats from month to month and season to season. Smart managers will cross their fingers on ratio stats while grabbing a handful of starters who own high whiff rates. Matt Boyd, Lance Lynn, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Sonny Gray are among the hurlers with reasonable costs and plenty of strikeout potential.

Don’t get cute with base stealers

Simply put, there aren’t enough base stealers to go around. Wise managers will target some five-category contributors early in the draft and then chip away at the steals category later on. Fantasy experts have already questioned whether or not managers will let their players risk injuries on the basepaths when an IL stint would constitute a substantial part of the season. My best guess is that baseball’s weakest teams will give their speedsters the green light, as they have nothing to lose. We will need to assess the base-running aggressiveness of winning teams on a case-by-case basis as the season unfolds.

Collect counting stats

Grabbing some speedy players is just the tip of the iceberg for the offensive plan, as managers will want to get many sluggers who fare well with homers, RBI, and runs scored. Overall, managers who fade the batting average category should see a collection of counting-stat stars surge up their draft lists, such as Adalberto Mondesi, Gary Sanchez, Pete Alonso, Max Muncy, and Cavan Biggio.

Trend younger with position players

Players in their 20s with solid health histories should handle playing nearly all 60 games. The heavy workloads ought to be especially prevalent on bubble postseason teams who know that every win will be crucial to their chances. Additionally, young players who remained in shape during the layoff period should have the best ability to get ready for Opening Day during a shortened preparatory period.

[Positional Rankings: Overall | C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]

At this point, I have laid out the basis for a successful draft plan. I’m sorry if you opened this article looking for “draft players X, Y, Z and you will win your league," but this game just isn’t that simple. As an added bonus, here is an oddball idea to consider:

Stack a team

With the shortened season, we could see a Major League team have a hot stretch that pushes many of their players simultaneously to new heights. Managers can think of this plan as the season-long version of a common DFS strategy, as they try to grab several hitters from one team or a few starters and closer from a specific squad. A fantasy manager who correctly locates one Major League club that will far exceed expectations in this oddball schedule could ride their prediction all the way to the bank.

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