Do you want to do better in the 2021 RazzSlam? I finished ranked in the 80s last year in the main even, and 40s in the qualifier. I certainly want to do better! I did a similar study to this after a dismal finish in the 2019 RazzBowl fantasy football tournament, improving my RazzBowl finish by nearly 200% and ultimately winning the DataForce Charity League against 12 of the best fantasy football minds in the business. I wrote up my findings in the 2020 RazzBowl Guidebook and my article How to Win an Industry Fantasy Football League. Last week, I showed you my methodology and findings on How to Draft Starting Pitchers in an Industry Fantasy Baseball League. This week, let’s take a look at the hitting landscape, and the strategies that succeeded for the best RazzSlam teams.
I’ll open with the same caveat as last week: teams drafted during the initial round of the coronavirus pandemic, nearly two months before the start of the MLB season. Some of the teams drafted would not represent the same outcome if the drafters drafted in July. However, the outcomes of the study coincide with the results of the strategies that you’ve been learning on Razzball for the past decade: don’t pay a premium for pitchers, draft hitters early, and SAGNOF.
This article is going to be pretty heavy on analytics and low on comedy. If you’re a fan of ol’ EWB (that’s me if you’ve never read this site before), trust me, I’ll get back to “my style” soon. I’ve got pitching ranks to do! For now, let’s dig into some fantasy baseball strategy to see what kinds of teams win this type of industry competition.
This article will cover:
- The common scoring patterns of the best teams in the 2020 RazzSlam.
- The roster composition strategy used by Ray Butler that gave him “the edge” to win.
- Best strategies for your 2021 RazzSlam draft.
Whether you’re “industry” or a “fan,” my goal here is to make everybody a better fantasy baseball player. As I noted in last week’s article, there are millions of ways to create a roster in a tournament this deep. There is no perfect way to construct a roster. There are merely methods which make your attempt at winning easier to construct, and methods which make your method more difficult to construct. If you spend your resources trying to construct a difficult roster composition, it leaves resources for other managers to build superior rosters. In my example last week, I indicated that many fantasy managers sit at a metaphorical card table trying to make a straight flush, and they ultimately fail. They’re trying for a low-chance, high-risk composition to give them a perceived edge, while failing to recognize they’re actually empowering other managers. If you’re a true draft jockey, you can certainly pull off these more complicated methods. However, there are 11 to 14 other fantasy managers at the same table take advantage of their opponents’ weaknesses and take the cards handed to them, winning with less flashy options.
So! Let’s dive in to the numbers. RazzSlam signups are now closed, and leagues will be announced this upcoming week. If you didn’t get in the RazzSlam, this article is still useful for you, because the RazzSlam follows the NFBC best ball championship cutline rules. If you want in a competition like that, use the code RAZZPOD15 to save $15 on your entry. Go win some money with them! I’ll also add one more caveat because this article drops on the draft day for The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational (TGFBI): the different scoring system of TGFBI does not benefit from the advice I’m giving here. Although I won’t be publishing my TGFBI research, suffice to say, pitchers matter more in that format; about as much as they do in a standard roto league. If you have questions on the RazzSlam, drop them down in the comments, and happy drafting!
Common RazzSlam Scoring Patterns
The RazzSlam scoring is as follows:
|Run Batted In||2|
First and foremost: every single team in the top 10 of the 2020 RazzSlam scored above average in all hitting categories except stolen bases. “Well, that seems natural, right?” says the pundit in the stands. Well, it’s notable because none of the top 10 teams had a similar finish in the pitching categories. Three of the teams were “average” in most categories and “plus” in two categories. The other 7 were actually underperforming in pitching scores as compared to the field. This matches with the information that I gave you last week: the top RazzSlam teams didn’t pay a premium for pitching. They drafted competitive pitching rosters, and the best teams did not draft a pitcher in the first round.
Let’s get into some more specifics, shall we?
The Tournament Mendoza Line
In the real world, the “Mendoza Line” is considered — roughly — to be a batting average of .200, where a playing who’s hitting worse than .200 will probably get benched. In the tournament world, you have each At Bat (AB) scored as a -1, and each Hit (H) scored as a 4. So, the “break even” point in this type of tournament is players with a .250 batting average (1 hit per 4 at bats).
(4AB = -4pts) + (1H = 4pts) –> -4 + 4 = 0 points
In other words, if you fielded a team of players that just hit singles every four at bats, you’d have zero points from your hitters at the end of the season. Pretty boring, right? Well, it could be worse. If you have true Mendoza Line hitters — batters with a .200 average — you’re losing 2 points per 10 at bats in the RazzSlam:
(10AB = -10pts) + (2H = 8pts) –> -10 + 8 = -2 points
Now, let’s compare with MLB-wide batting averages from the past years: 2020=.245, 2019=.252, 2018=.248. So! On average, your theoretical average MLB hitter who hits .250 is actually a Tournament Mendoza Line hitter.
In other words, in this scoring format, fantasy managers need to put a premium on hitting in order to capture those players who return a positive value on the most basic hitting category. What’s better, is that the tournament is best ball style, so you capture only the really good days of the hitters while losing the bad days of the hitters. Let’s transition to that!
The Best Ball Effect on Batting Average
Because you’re only getting the highest scores in the best ball tournament, you’re getting elite numbers returned by your players. If you drafted properly, you’re getting a good game from every position, and you’ll be decidedly above average on your statistics.
Can you guess what Ray Butler’s championship team had for a cumulative batting average? Yeah, it’s probably higher than what you’re thinking. Definitely not the 2020 league average BA of .245.
Butler’s team batting average was .323. Three-twenty-three. His team was basically Tony Gwynn at every position. And he wasn’t alone. Four out of five of the top finishers last year had a team batting average above .310. The second place finisher, Derek Rhoads, had a .297 team batting average, which was equal to the average BA for the Top 100 teams. In other words, Ray Butler created an edge for himself by having the best batting average in the tournament. Of the nearly 220 teams in the tournament, he had the second most AB and the most hits, too. So, his tournament-best batting average created the best score in the simplest, most guaranteed scoring category: hits. That created his floor, or the base upon which all of his other hitting scoring categories built upon.
All that work, though, netted him only 859 points. That’s like, 12% of his total. Thing is, there’s no difference for a triple or a single in RazzSlam. Just home runs. So let’s take a next look at the kind of hits his team had.
Smart readers already know how to maximize the value of a hit, and if you haven’t realized that already, I’m not going to call you dumb. I’m going to call you, “Waiting patiently for the writer to make his point before making assumptions.” Or, how about Walter for short? K, Walt? Take a look at the hitters points above. Yup, just a quick flick of the finger up…no don’t swipe right…up…yup. Back here now? OK! Did you see what a home run can add up to? Let’s do the math:
(1AB=-1pt)+(1H=4pts)+(1R=2pts)+(1RBI=2pts)+(1HR=6pts) –> -1+4+2+2 6=13 points
So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the top 4 teams in the 2020 RazzSlam were all in the top 10 in overall home runs. In fact, 11 out of the top 14 teams placed in the top 10% for home runs (there were some ties).
“Aha!” you think. EWB has given away the secret of the RazzSlam! Draft the home run hitters and do nothing else! [you run away, thinking the tournament is yours]
OK, now that we lost those readers, let me tell you the other factor that played a role in the winning teams.
Because Ray Butler — the 2020 RazzSlam champ — had the lowest Home Run to Hit ratio in the top 10 finishers, and he won by a 2% point margin. So, there’s yet another hidden edge to his hitting output. So, how did he win while having the least home runs as a percentage of his hitting output?
The “Edge” to Winning
Do you play daily fantasy sports? DFS? Like, FanDuel or DraftKings or Yahoo? No? OK, we’ll get you set up in a month. Who’s got two thumbs and is going to be the co-editor of DFS content with Truss this year? But right now, you need to know the following: every DFS champ looks for an “edge” to win a tournament. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel; you only need to do better than your competition by a 1-2% margin to win. And when you get it right, you walk out with a lot more money and fame than you had before. When you get it wrong, you continue in obscurity with nobody knowing your name and a much easier time with your tax bill. So, what was the edge that Ray Butler found that gave his team the 2% margin to win the 2020 RazzSlam?
It’s a solution well-known to any DFS player: leadoff hitters. DFS and best ball scoring have a lot in common: you want to maximize your at bats in order to get the most opportunity for your hitting categories. Now, I mentioned above that Ray finished second in the tournament in total AB; the fourth place finisher, Keith Willingham, finished first in total AB. 50% of the top 10 finishers placed in the top 10% of AB in the tournament. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that maximizing your AB brought dividends.
In the case of Ray Butler, he had 7 “leadoff” hitters (who batted either in the 1 or 2 slot) on his team, and drafted 6 of those leadoff hitters in round 10 or later. In other words, in those rounds where many managers were looking for home run upside, Butler went looking for AB upside, and hit on several players (Luke Voit in round 19, Hanser Alberto in round 29, Dansby Swanson in round 20, and David Fletcher in round 26). Voit, of course, ended up hitting a ton of home runs, which paid dividends doubly.
The “edge” that these leadoff hitters gave Ray Butler were seen in the two categories that he lead the tournament in: Hits and Runs. As stated above, he had the highest BA of any team in the tournament, and a top 10 finish for home runs. Coupled with his leadoff hitters getting on base and getting home more often than his competition, he captured more points than his competitors.
But Ray didn’t just have to beat the field; he had to beat the top players. What set him apart from the nearest competition — the players who finished second through fourth? That’s the final edge (no, not a video you watch late at night): SAGNOF. The steals kind. Ray snared nearly 10% more SB than his nearest competitors. And, 30% of his SB came from SAGNOF-style players: Trent Grisham, Joey Wendle, and Robbie Grossman. Wendle and Grossman were FAAB pickups. He didn’t focus on elite steals players in the draft, but rather grabbing players who nickel and dime’d steals. Although at the end of the competition, 3 out of the top 4 teams were above-average in steals, it was Butler that stood on top because he captured even more steals than his nearest competition.
In summary: the top teams grabbed bats early in the draft, maximized their AB, maximized their home runs, and the edges that won ended up being hits and stolen bases. These were coupled with competitive but not overpowering pitching rosters. As I’ve stated numerous times: there’s no guarantee that the strategy that won in 2020 will win in 2021. However, the principles we see at work at vetted and tested strategies that have worked to produce tournament champions before.
The Best Strategies for your RazzSlam Draft
Continuing the metaphor I’ve been using since last week: remember that a deck of cards be shuffled in millions of winning ways. There’s no perfect way to draft a fantasy baseball team. However, there are better and more efficient ways to construct your roster.
Here are the trends that we see from the 2020 RazzSlam (and I’ve double-checked against similar competitions as well) that should hold for the 2021 tournament as well as other NFBC best ball and similarly-scored tournaments:
- Don’t draft pitchers at a premium to their estimated return on investment.
- There’s no evidence of pocket aces aiding teams.
- Maximize your at bats with players capable of hitting above .250 for significant periods.
- Maximize your home run potential.
- Draft hitters who appear early in the batting order to fill out your roster.
- Don’t draft closers at a premium to their estimated return on investment.
- SAGNOF: get saves and steals as late as reasonably possible. Don’t punt them.
- Use your FAAB to remedy team deficiencies.
“Good Start!” Teams
OK, I know I’m gonna hit 3,000 words on this beast, but it’s really more of a reference article. Keep coming back here! Let’s give you an idea of some team starts that would follow the above rules. To create these teams, I’m using ADP from NFC, Rudy’s Premium Fantasy Baseball Draft Helper War Room (get access to yours at that link), and the rules I made above. Again, there’s no perfect team (even Grey admits that in his Best 2021 Fantasy Baseball Team article), but here are some team compositions that would be on track to meet your needs. Because the RazzSlam uses the same scoring system as the NFBC BestBall Cutline Championships, so you can try your hand at winning some money with these teams if you want. Which team is your favorite? Drop a note in the comments!
So which team do you like the most? How about that mystery team on the right — how does that look? Because it’s most of the first ten picks in Ray Butler’s 2020 winning team, except I just adjusted the players to match this year’s ADP. Wow! It’s like ADP is entirely psychological!
Let me know which team catches your eye down in the comments!
Of course, stay tuned for more RazzSlam content, and take a look at Rudy’s Premium Fantasy Baseball Tools to help you prepare for your 2021 fantasy baseball drafts. Drop your questions and comments below and I’ll see you next week!
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.