Tout Table: Short Season Strategies

Hey everyone, we’re back! Let’s jump right in with this week’s query:

Are you changing any general draft strategies compared to spring drafts?

Scott Engel (Rotoballer, @scotteTheKing): Yes, I am focusing more earlier on hitters with high batting averages and less on guys who strike out a lot. Cold streaks can be much more dangeous in a shortened season. I’ll risk the up and down tyoes later on. Also, I am going for more middle relievers late because some starters deeper in the rotations may be yanked quicker this year

Phil Hertz (BaseballHQ, @prhz50): Depends on whether it’s a keeper league or not. If it’s a keeper league, my decision will rest on whether I’ve got a really good core or not. If my roster doesn’t look like a winner, I’m going to draft for 2021. If it’s not a keeper league, aside from setting aside guys with known health issues, I’m going to draft as I usually do.

Brad Johnson (Patreon/BaseballATeam, @BaseballATeam): Absolutely. The most glaring is how I’ll approach closers. I usually trust myself to find a goodly chunk of my saves during the season. This year, I’ll aim to address as much as I can during the draft. I’ll also have a few daily moves leagues where I’ll experiment with avoiding premium starters.

Ryan Hallam (Fighting Chance Fantasy, @FightingChance): With so much uncertainty on pitching, I want to hit those few elite pitchers who I believe will be treated as usual after the first time around, and then after that going after value pitchers as I could see cycling pitchers a lot this season. Bullpens will be a big concern and managers might not have as long of a leash. I’d focus on the guys with rock solid holds on the job and not trying to find those fliers later in drafts

Tristan H. Cockcroft (ESPN, @SultanofStat): I’m not making any dramatic changes to my strategies, but I’ll be willing to take more chances, reaching for ceilings (especially the “innings-capped” pitchers who no longer are). We preach not to buy into small samples, but 2020 in itself is a small sample, and to win, we’re going to have to embrace a more reactionary approach. If some of my draft picks go bust, I’ll be more prepared to act more quickly on the waiver wire.

Tim McCullough (Baseball Prospectus, @TimsTenz): I’m emphazing hitting over pitching in the single-digit rounds and taking my chances with the upside pitchers available in the middle and later rounds. Overall, pitching looks like more of a crapshoot given the different ways teams are approaching their staff size and use. I’m also adding a few middle relievers that could end up with wins if starters are pulled early. For offense, I’m avoiding batting average sinkholes (think Joey Gallo) and looking for upside among the hitters on the better offensive teams.

Perry Van Hook (Mastersball, @): I agree with Brad and Ryan on making sure to ge the elite starters and better closers – you won’t have time to look for saves in bunches on the waiver wire. The one thing I don’t see here that I would target in any leagues yet to draft is multi-position players. You really want guys like Jeff McNeil, Max Muncy, and (if healthy) D.J. LeMahieu that you can move between MI and CI vacancies that will occur in this short season. Middle range and even lower range players (Luiz Arraez, Howie Kendrick, and Starlin Castro) who will be playing almost every day with that flexibility will really help your lineups.

Jason Collette (Rotowire, @jasoncollette): I don’t have any new drafts, but if I did, I would enter the teen rounds with a hoss SP and closer, then load up on second-man in relievers and high-skill relievers in the back half of the draft.

Anthony Aniano (Rotoballer, @AAnianoFantasy): Defintely, Drafts will focus on power and batting average with deemphasis on starting pitchers. In a 60 game season a SP will have at most 12 starts and most likely 10-11 starts which will mean about 70IP. A hitter will have a significant more impact just based on innings played. On this short a season, starting pitching can be successfully streamed if done properly.

Doug Dennis (BaseballHQ, @dougdennis41): Simplifying everything, because of the enormous error bar over 60 games. In a draft, it is imperative to get balance across the roster immediately, but I might be tempted to punt wins and strikeouts if there is no innings requirement. In an auction where trading is permitted, that is typically less important across 162, but this year it is more important early. I am going to use FAAB liberally and be prepared to buy whatever I need through trade or FAAB for each week until I run out. It feels possible to be out of the running in just 3 or 4 weeks, so getting that good start and adjusting from there is critical. If I hear that owners in my league are making closers a priority, I may go the opposite way. Just have to be very flexible.

Todd Zola (Mastersball, @toddzola): Lots of talk about getting a stud starter or two, a solid closer and productive bats. It all sounds good, and sometimes the draft falls in your lap perfectly, but it’s really hard to pull all three off. Of the three, I’m willing to play chicken with closer. I want a couple of foundation arms and steady bats so I can steer into the variance later in the draft. There’s also a bit of supply and demand involved. With so many wanting to avoid trawling for saves, I can fortify offense while others are taking supposed better closers, then I’ll have my pick of the crappy litter. Not to mention, I’ll be willing to spend a little more in FAAB and saves should be more bunched as some teams spread them out more.

Mike Podhorzer (Fangraphs, @MikePodhorzer): The smaller sample of games means more ratio category volatility. More volatility means I don’t want to pay as much for it. So focusing more on buying counting stats and paying less attention to ratios (AVG, ERA, WHIP) seems like the right strategic decision on draft/auction day.

James Anderson (Rotowire, @RealJRAnderson): Just thinking about it as a sprint vs. a marathon will naturally change your strategy a little bit. For instance, I don’t want Giancarlo Stanton or Aaron Judge at their current prices because I can’t afford to take a guy in the first five rounds who may be limited early in the season or may only play 4-5 days a week, especially early on. Plate appearances are now a stat I care about as much as any other stat for a hitter. Over 162 games, if you’re active and you’re smart, you’ll finish high in your league in PAs even if you are using a few part-time players. In a 60-game season, every owner in every serious league will be active for all or most of the season, so just being active isn’t enough of a leg up. There’s just no margin for error with regards to missed time. I also think closers/saves are as difficult as ever to navigate, because saves will be as spread out as ever, which makes the elite guys more valuable. On the flip side, there’s more landmine potential (in my opinion) with early closers, as one or two blowup outings (ratio damage), a couple missed weeks, or one positive coronavirus test makes it a bad pick. I don’t think there is a “right” way to navigate saves, I just know it’s stressing me out more than in a typical year.

Justin Mason (Friends with Fantasy Benefits, Fangraphs, Fantasy Alarm, @JustinMasonFWFB): Use this shortened season to use outside of the box strategies and practice pivoting versus other crazy draft strategies.

Eric Karabell (ESPN, @karabelleric): No major changes, but lean more on hitters over pitchers early, bypass batting average killers and later on be more willing to take a chance on a prospect that after one week is likely to get his shot and shine, like a Nate Pearson or Dylan Carlson.

Michael Florio (NFL Network, @MichaelFFlorio): This season is really going to be impossible to predict on many levels, so I am cutting out as much uncertainty as possible early on. I will take more proven, safe players and I am still emphasising elite starting pitchers in the earlier rounds. The way my strategy will be changing for the most part is I will be going after steals and closers more aggresively. Typically I try to draft a player or two who can steal 20+ bases and then add complilers who can give me 10-15 in 162 games. But with the reduced season and less time to try and find speed off of waivers, I have no problem rostering a speed speciliast. Also, with closers, the shortened season means less time to find closers off the waivers. That is why those high end closers, the one who have the ninth inning job locked down plus help ratios and strikeouts are so valuable. I will try to get 2-3 closers I trust and an elite middle relief arm or two. Avoid those backend closers that you only roster for cheap saves. In a 60 game season they could lose the job quickly, while blowing up your ratios.

Ryan Bloomfield (BaseballHQ, @RyanBHQ): Individual player evals will change, but at a macro level, I’m only making minor adjustments to my draft strategy. Like others here, I’m prioritizing at-bats and trying max out as many counting stats as possible on the hitter side (leagues WILL come down to an RBI here, SB there, etc.). Placing an emphasis on starters who are more apt to go deeper into games early in the season, and trying to get an established closer or two. There’s no time for minor league stashes or closers in waiting; those spots are much more valuable as roster depth this year.

Rick Wolf (Fantasy Alarm, @RickWolf1): You have to draft differently based on what is going on. There are so many things to consider here that you never had to. As I said on Colton & The Wolfman, you have to know which guys are more likely party or find lovin’ and who will be reading scripture. Need to know whose wife is expecting. You need to value Verlander, Ohtani and Clevinger higher as they are now over injury. You have to value guys who now will have no innings limits higher like Luzardo. You have to listen to the managers who are saying that they will be doing with pitching and their relievers. You have to understand the number of days to get their service time another year who may opt-out. Everything matters. You won’t get it all right, but why not try to make the best analysis of the situation for each player.

AJ Mass (ESPN, @AJMass): This season is a complete “dart throw” with way too many variables to even concern myself with a strategy. If anything, I’m going to have way more fun with the process, going well more with my gut and taking chances on the extremes — loading up with unproven rookies who may or may not get the call, as well as long-in-the-tooth veterans who may be seeing this 60-game stretch as a last hurrah.

Jeff Zimmerman (Fangraphs, The Process, @jeffwzimmerman): I’m more likely to de-emphasize a stat if the price is too high at the draft table. All the categories, especially counting, are going to to so bunched up I want to pull away as much as possible from the crowd in whatever categories I can. Also, I’m focusing on the early season scheulde and will draft players knowing I’ll drop them after the favorable matchup.

Andy Behrens (Yahoo! Fantasy Sports, @andybehrens): I’m trying to lean into the weirdness to a certain extent. Given the unusual circumstances for most starting pitchers this season, I’d say it’s overwhelmingly likely that a bunch of relievers are going to surface on the wins leaderboard. I think it’s entirely possible to construct a competitive fantasy pitching rotation this season that doesn’t involve any starters. If ever there was a year to attempt an extreme LIMA build, this might be it. I’d like to snag 3-4 sources for saves (including at least one elite option), then target various quality non-closing relievers (Castillo, Pomeranz, et al). That sort of build could play well in a mini-season like this, while allowing extra resources for hitting stats. Really, this is just a perfect year in which to try various odd strategies.

Zach Steinhorn (CreativeSports2, @zachsteinhorn): I’ve always favored hitting over pitching in the early rounds and in this shortened season, I’m even more convinced that deemphasizing starting pitching is the smarter route to take. I’m not going to pay for the elite starters as much of their value is tied to a combination of quality and quantity. With the quantity of innings limited and the quality of those innings less certain (even Gerrit Cole can have a so-so five-start stretch), I’d rather take more risk and invest in less pricey (but high-strikeout) starters with breakout potential. As for saves, it’s important to adequately address the category on draft day rather than depending heavily on the waiver wire. There will be less opportunities to stumble upon a reliable closer and the FAAB prices for potential saves will be a lot higher than in a normal season.

Ray Murphy (BaseballHQ, @RayHQ): I don’t have a stock answer here. ADPs are moving a lot since March (esp. closers), but I think the straight draft quandary is the same as it ever was: you’re going to come out of your first ~10 rounds short of something. Be intentional about what that is going to be (or be open to a couple of possiblities), and know how you want to address that in the back half. Maybe you decide current closer prices are ridiculous. Maybe you want to fish in the lower tier of SP. I think there’s a wide variety of strategies for the short season, and I’m not convinced any one of them is more right than the other. The key is to pick the path that you believe you can execute the best.

Charlie Wiegert (CDM Sports, @GFFantasySports): The value of starter other than perhaps the top 10, has gone down…and even DeGrom and Buehler have issues already. Starters will be limited their first few starts, and most will be lucky to get 12 starts. Strike outs will be down, and the chance for wins will be limited. So I’ll be drafting starters latter. Closers should still have value.

Steve Gardner (USAToday Fantasy Sports, @SteveAGardner): I’m making closers with especially high strikeout rates a priority like I never would in a normal season. I think we’ll high-leverage relievers used a lot — and they’ll help fantasy teams more in a short season because they can contribute in all five pitching categories. On offense, I’m looking for guys with particularly high upsides because those hot streaks could be a deciding factor. That said, in-season moves may be more important than ever in a short season.

Frank Stampfl (Fantasy Pros, @Roto_Frank): I agree with the sentiment of many others here that this season will be like no other. It will be wild and unpredictable. We’ll probably have somebody hit over .400 and a starting pitcher with sub-2.00 ERA. What’s changed most for me this season is putting an emphasis on high-volume stolen-base contributors and closers with job security. My plan in Roto has always been to chip away at steals with a bunch of guys who will contribute 10-15. In a 60-game season, we may only get 2-3 steals from said group of players. I’ve basically accepted I need to come out of a draft with one of Trea Turner, Adalberto Mondesi, or Mallex Smith. With Mallex, please have a plan for power beforehand. With saves, we know there is a lot of volatility. As a result, I’ve put more of an emphasis on closers I feel strongly about in terms of job security: Roberto Osuna, Kirby Yates, Kenley Jansen, Ken Giles, and Craig Kimbrel. Notice, I did not list Josh Hader.

Patrick Davitt (BaseballHQ, @patrickdavitt): I’m not drafting before the sprint season, but if I were I think I might be more willing than usual to try players with wider error bars. I might also look harder at setup guys and other non-closer relievers, on the basis that it might be a while before a lot of starters get to five innings consistently, and in the meantime the RPs could generate some good ratio foundations. That depends on your league’s innings minimums, of course. I might also lean towards teams with realistic hopes of playoff success, thinkinig that teams that are out of the running might start seeing players throwing in the towel and going home once the cause is lost (ie for BAL and MIA, July 27).

Mike Gianella (Baseball Prospectus, @MikeGianella): The one draft I’m doing is a shift from a keeper league 12-team AL-only auction to a 10-team AL-only draft so I’ve had to make a lot of adjustments. I’m more likely to focus on one or two pitchers early since pitching is thinner at the bottom in the AL and fill in later. I’m pushing harder for more relief arms because of the wins.

Scott Swanay (FantasyBaseballSherpa, @fantasy_sherpa): For leagues that haven’t drafted yet, I’ll be taking a look at how the standings have looked after ~60 games in recent years – that might give me a better idea of which categories to prioritize differently than I would in a regular-length season (i.e. – I’d give more weight to the categories that tend to be more tightly bunched earlier in the season than they are later in the season). Since injuries and COVID-related absences are going to make team-level success harder to predict than usual in a shorter season, I may also decide to put more weight on categories that are less team-dependent (e.g. – AVG, HR, K, ERA, WHIP)