It’s happening: you got your quarantine haircut, got a couple of doses of Moderna in your arm, you’ve put on the spray tan, and are still double masking. You’re ready to emerge into the world! 2021, here you come! And to go along with the “New Year, New You!” mentality, you’re finally — finally! — going to cross that last item off your bucket list: Join a fantasy baseball league. Maybe you’ve played fantasy football or basketball before, and you are just nervous about committing to a new sport. Maybe you’re a daily player on Draft Kings or Fanduel, but you’re nervous to commit to a 162-game season. Maybe you just like having three hypotheticals before making a decision. In any case, you’re in the right place! Let’s get you ready to play fantasy baseball.
Let’s get this out right away: this article is intended for the new fantasy baseball player, very likely arriving here via a Google search that said “How to play fantasy baseball and not suck at it.” However, it’s being posted on a site that’s intended for advanced fantasy baseball players. That’s OK! We’re here to take you on your trajectory from “newbie” to “Hall of Famer.” If this is your first time at Razzball, well, where have you been? Our motto is “Fantasy sports and sarcasm,” and we’ve been here since the Bush II administration. Our writing style is like if Tony Bourdain was a member of Wu Tang Clan. We’ve got some of the best fantasy analysts around, a massive community willing to help out, and the most accessible free tools and dollar-for-dollar the best fantasy baseball premium tools available in the fantasy sports community. If you have a question, shoot it down in the comments or find us on Twitter, and we’re happy to help you.
Your First Fantasy Baseball Draft
Runs, RBI, HR, AVG, K/9. Wow! So many acronyms, it’s like you’re playing with government agencies. “G’Morning, NSA!” you say, putting your fingerprint to the scanner and walking into your drone surveillance and nuclear warhead distribution cubicle. What if I told you that you could choose your fantasy baseball team without knowing what any of those acronyms meant? Because, you can!
Fantasy sports is a game, and like any game, it has rules. Within those rules are the ways to score your game. There are many ways to play fantasy baseball, and it comes down to either accumulating more or better acronyms than your opponent. Some scoring systems are points based, where each acronym earns a certain amount of points. Either way, your goal is to be the Wayne Gretzky of your league and accrue the most amount of something, whether it be points or categories. And like Wayne Gretzky — so I’m told — you’ll miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. You don’t win fantasy baseball by hiding meekly in the corner and drafting the players you hear about on talk radio. So! Just like you don’t have to predict your own weather, you don’t have to predict your own baseball analytics. Look around! We’ve done that for you! Let’s walk you through a couple of steps you can take to win your first fantasy baseball league.
Draft a Balanced Team
First rule of Fantasy Baseball Club: draft a balanced team. Your team will likely consist of 9 or more hitters — divided by position with some players being eligible at multiple positions — and 7 or more pitchers, divided by starters and relievers. You will choose these players in a draft, where you will enter a virtual room and take players one-by-one with your league mates. Maybe when Covid is done you’ll do this face-to-face.
For this article, let’s metaphor. You’re invited to the inaugural Cereal 200! Imagine like you’re standing in the cereal aisle at your grocery store, and there’s 200 cereals in front of you, and 11 other people with you, and you’re each choosing cereals, one-by-one. One lucky person will pick first and undoubtedly choose Cinnamon Toast Crunch, but that person then has to wait while everybody else takes their favorite cereal. The second person takes Golden Grahams and the third person takes Count Chocula and so on. Although the 12th person chooses last in the first round, they choose first in the second round as the draft snakes back toward the first person. Will the 12th person take both Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios? No, that’s kind of overlapping, right? There’s no award for having the most amount of oats. Well, other than a healthy heart. So, the 12th person takes Honey Nut Cheerios and Raisin Bran. A little bit of sweet, a little bit of savory, right? And by the time that first person gets to choose another cereal — with picks 24 and 25 of the Cereal 200 — they’re left with less-thrilling yet still possibly interesting options, like Captain Crunch All Berries and some fancy granola.
The same goes for fantasy baseball: when you’re starting out, draft a balanced team. That means if you start out with one or two hitters, you’ll probably want a pitcher as your third player. You don’t need to start with two shortstops; start with a shortstop and an outfielder. Don’t draft Trea Turner and Francisco Lindor and Adalberto Mondesi (three shortstops). You simply can’t field a complete team when you overload on one position. Do you need three kinds of Cheerios? No. Instead, draft Trea Turner (SS), Manny Machado (3B), and Aaron Nola (P). Two hitters from different positions and a pitcher. Keep drafting a balanced team by distributing your positions as you go without overlapping. Easy enough? Let’s move on.
Draft Pitchers, Catchers, and Relievers Later
The highest paid player in Major League Baseball is pitcher Trevor Bauer. Pitchers are the face of baseball franchises. However, in fantasy baseball, they are generally less reliable to return draft value than hitters. Pitchers like Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, and Shane Bieber are going to be drafted in the first round, and people will cheer for them. But — and it’s a Blair’s been sitting on his Covid couch for too long-sized but — pitchers like Aaron Nola, Jack Flaherty, and Kenta Maeda will likely return nearly equal value while being chosen much later. Imagine you’re back in the cereal aisle, and you’re one of those people who really likes oatmeal. You know that not many people like oatmeal, so you’re confident that you can wait in the Cereal 200 — possibly until 50-60 cereals are picked — until you get your oatmeal. The same thing goes for pitchers. There are a lot of good pitchers who go much later in the draft that return similar value to the pitchers taken early in the draft. So! Unless you have a very good reason, don’t take a pitcher in round one. My pick for the best pitcher to draft in 2021 fantasy baseball is Jack Flaherty. Your oatmeal pitchers are guys like Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Zack Wheeler, Marco Gonzales, Kyle Hendricks, and Joe Musgrove. People aren’t searching for those pitchers, but they’ll give you a good return on investment.
Catchers, like pitchers, don’t play everyday. Few catchers play even 70% as much as their infielder/outfielder counterparts. Therefore, they produce less valuable stats than those players. So, you might be hearing a lot about J.T. Realmuto, the Philadelphia Phillies catcher, as the best catcher out there, even he will produce about 80% as much as another hitter being drafted nearby him. So, wait to draft catchers until later. Look for catchers like Austin Nola and Gary Sanchez, and even then, you should draft them after you have most of your pitching staff. Consider catchers like that expensive box of granola that’s only 60% as full as the box of Wheaties. You get the same nutrition but only half as much content for the same price.
Use a Good Ranking System
Fantasy sports is part analytics (all those acronyms and their accompanying data), and part social engineering. The social engineering part is this community [waves hands around]. You can talk, ask questions, convince people of your answers, and so on. The analytics part is, well, confusing if you’ve never done it before. Ultimately, you’re choosing players based on your prediction that they will perform at a level that represents your value of investment (where you take them in the draft). Imagine the Cereal 200, only this time, you have to pay for every cereal that you take. The first cereal taken off the shelf costs $100, second cereal taken costs $98, the third costs $96, and so on (what is this, March 2020?). Additionally, you find out that each cereal has variable quality: the big name cereals are 9/10 likely to be manufactured well, the middling brands are 6/10 likely to be good, and the cheapo brands are just 2/10 likely to be good. But, lucky for you, you’ve got your copy of Cereal Consumer Reports, which tells you which cereals are likely to be made well — even those middling and cheapo cereals — which helps inform your decision.
The same principles apply to fantasy baseball. Not every player is guaranteed to perform well at their draft position. The players you want to take first are the ones who are most likely to produce well for their draft value. You want the big name players who have a 90% chance of being good. All sorts of things can happen to derail a player’s performance — injury, contract disputes, off-the-field things, punching a clubhouse wall — but for the most part, you want to start with your sure bets. Most ranking systems are all pretty much in agreement on who the sure bets are, and in betting lingo, these players are called the “chalk.” “Board is all chalk!” Smitty from Accounting shouts out at his Zoom window to let you know he visited Vegas once and placed bids on how many wildfires would occur in 2021.
What you — yes you! — want to care about are the “sleepers.” These are the players who are drafted later that will make or break your team. This is where your copy of Cereal Consumer Reports — I’m sorry — I mean, your 2021 Razzball Fantasy Baseball Rankings does the work for you. The ranking I listed is from Fantasy Master Lothario and professional bread maker Grey Albright, who just happens to run this site, and all of his projections are free! Maybe you just read a couple of Grey’s posts and said, “That dude is too California for me!” Maybe you’d prefer to Gamble…Rudy Gamble! Rudy runs the Razzball Premium Tools, which have tiers starting as low as [breaks out the calculator] $1 a week. Seriously? One cup of gas station coffee a week, or Rudy’s constantly updated fantasy baseball rankings? I know what I’m buying!
But sales pitch aside: rankings really do help you. You’re having somebody who plays, writes about, and analyzes fantasy baseball as the biggest passion in their life organize their thoughts and help you out with your draft so you can have fun. A good set of rankings is invaluable to performing well in fantasy sports, and it’s almost impossible to beat the value of the free and premium tiers of the Razzball Fantasy Baseball rankings. By knowing that you should draft a balanced team, starting with hitters, and then catching up with pitchers later, you can follow the rankings and pick your team by simply seeing who is next on the list. Grey actually even has a Pitcher Pairing article, where he tells you which pitcher to draft next based on your current rotation. You simply click on your pitcher, and Grey will tell you which player to draft next. How cool is that?
There’s no right or wrong way to draft a team. Instead, there are better or worse ways to improve your chances of winning the league. When you take players who are likely to produce in respect to their value, you are more likely to win the league. If you have 10 players in a league, everybody starts with a 10% chance to win. With 12-team leagues, everybody starts with about an 8% chance to win, right? But you can give yourself advantages by taking reliable and upside players to better your chances of winning. Take a look at Grey’s recent AL-only fantasy baseball draft as an example of player valuation: His top 7 players — as valued in auction dollars — are all hitters.
Here are some starts to the draft that I would be fine to have, using a combination of Average Draft Position (where most people pick the player) and Grey’s free fantasy baseball rankings.
|Pick 1||Pick 6||Pick 12|
|Round 1||Ronald Acuna Jr.||Trea Turner||Trevor Story|
|Round 2||Adalberto Mondesi||Bryce Harper||Cody Bellinger|
|Round 3||Luis Castillo||Jack Flaherty||Luis Robert|
|Round 4||Marcell Ozuna||Ozzie Albies||Blake Snell|
|Round 5||Vladimir Guerrero Jr.||Rafael Devers||Kenta Maeda|
If you’re still feeling mystified, our own Rudy Gamble has the War Room, a fantasy baseball draft tool that shows you where you stand in terms of creating your team. Imagine you’re at the Cereal 200 and you can’t figure out your ratio of sugary cereals to healthy cereals to hot cereals to cold cereals. You’ll need something to organize your choices, right? The War Room does that for you, and helps you choose your next steps as you draft. It’s available for season-long premium subscribers, and it’s an awesome tool that our own Son (one of our writers, not, like, my son) has used to placed 3rd overall in the multi-year standings of The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational.
Have Fun, Ask Questions, and Join the Community
Fantasy baseball is a game, and we play it socially. It’s great that daily fantasy sports (Draft Kings, Fanduel) have opened up the world to fantasy sports like never before, but it’s all very transactional, don’t you think? Dink, the sound of another quarter plopping into the Draft Kings account for a lineup that’s instantly forgotten. There are communities out there that love this game and want to bring as many people into the fold as possible. And there are so many ways to play the game. New strategies are being developed and taught all the time. But! You don’t need to learn all of them right now. The basics of drafting your winning team are listed above, and if you want to learn more, stick around the community and we’ll help you. Razzball has been around a long time and we’d love to have you stick around and become part of the community. If you’re thinking, “I like this article, but this place ain’t for me,” then, let’s help you find a place that is for you, where you can grow as a fantasy player and enjoy the game that we all enjoy. Either way, we’ll be making daily updates throughout the year and have a ton of tools to help you start your journey playing fantasy baseball. We hope to walk along with you.
Aye, you made it this far, didn’t ya. EverywhereBlair is, well, located at home right now. He’s a historian and lover of prog-metal. He enjoys a good sipping rum. When he’s not churning data and making fan fiction about Grey and Donkey Teeth, you can find him dreaming of shirtless pictures of Lance Lynn on Twitter @Everywhereblair.