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What’s changed in fantasy baseball for 2018

Some tips and sleepers to win fantasy baseball fame and glory.

IndyCar: Indianapolis 500-Practice Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 fantasy baseball draft season is happening. Each season brings its own challenges and unique opportunities. The following points highlight some of the major differences owners may see compared to previous seasons.

Rosterable starting pitching is scarce

In past seasons, owners could cycle starters during their two-start weeks to maximize their wins and strikeouts while hoping to maintain a low WHIP and ERA. This strategy is becoming less viable for three reasons.

  1. Pitchers aren’t facing a lineup for the third time much anymore. Hitters perform better after facing a pitcher twice in a game so unless the pitcher is a top-30 talent (or Rick Porcello), many pitchers just face a lineup once and head to the showers. Limiting their innings leads to few strikeouts and a declining chance for a win.
  2. The juiced ball-induced offensive surge weighs on starters. With home runs and scoring up, starters are going fewer innings as they allow more runs to score. Again, few innings for starters limiting their counting stats.
  3. A struggling pitcher may go on the 10-DL with “soreness” or a “dead arm” at any time. Unless the pitcher is a top talent, expect more to need rest.

For these reasons, don’t overlook the value of many multi-inning middle relievers. These forgotten guys can strikeout over 100 batters with excellent rate stats. I’ve gotten to the point of streaming in these guys when one of my suspect starters has a tough assignment.

Owners should use minimal resources for these pitchers has many will pop-up during the season. If an owner does want to jump the gun, here are some possible targets.

  • Andrew Miller
  • Chad Green
  • Brad Peacock
  • Chris Devenski

Owners must be ready for top starters to go off the board early.

No matter how a person looks at it, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, and Max Scherzer make up a top tier with all four likely gone before the end of the first round. I’ve never seen pitching drafted so early. With all the rest of the pitchers being limited in their starts, these four will produce a ton of elite starts if they can stay healthy.

After these four are owned, owners can still focus on a deep group of top hitters and get their top arm one to three rounds later.

Draft a top closer early or wait.

The top two closers, Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrell, are usually gone by the end of the fourth, and sometimes by the third round. After these two, the talent flattens out with several available options slowly being taken. If an owner misses out on one of the top two closers, I find it best to wait until the 8th to the 10th round and get the last one of this first tier.

Here are my top-10 closer coming into the season.

  1. Kenley Jansen
  2. Craig Kimbrel
  3. Aroldis Chapman
  4. Felipe Rivero
  5. Edwin Diaz
  6. Ken Giles
  7. Roberto Osuna
  8. Brad Hand
  9. Raisel Iglesias
  10. Corey Knebel

No positional scarcity exists

I’ve run the detailed numbers for a half dozen league types and no positional scarcity exists except with catcher. An influx of great middle infielders, especially shortstops, means owners don’t need to give a premium at any position.

It’s a tough concept to come to grips as some industry “experts” still reports on scarcity. I’ve moved to a plan of “Production Then Position”. Owners need to focus on getting the best hitters and pitchers possible and deal with filling positions later in the draft when the talent curve flattens out.

Have a stolen base plan

Stolen bases are becoming scarcer and are being accumulated by few guys. Teams understand that a runner needs to be successful around 75% to 80% to help their team score more runs so fewer guys are being given the green light. With fewer contributors, owners have three options.

  1. Pay up for one of the rabbits, Trea Turner, Dee Gordon, and Billy Hamilton. The steals from just one of these three are enough to carry a team to a top half finish. They also make great trade chips later in the season.
  2. Acquire hitters who provide at least a handful of steals. A little at each position can quickly add up to a middle of the pack finish. And if one or two “breakout”, a high finish is possible. One additional advantage of going with a mixed approach is if one hitter goes down, it’s easier to replace a 20 HR/10 SB hitter with a 15 SB/7 SB than find a replacement for a hitter projected at 40 plus steals. No 20 SB hitters will be sitting on the waiver wire.
  3. Just ignore steals. Concentrating on decent batting average power hitters can help an owner to win four roto categories or great accumulators in points leagues.

Keep a couple outfield spots open for later in the draft

While each position provides enough stats to provide value, these stats are not divided equally. Owners won’t be able to find steals late at catcher or power from a middle infielder. Outfield tough provides both options depending helping with a team’s needs. Here are some late round options in each category.

Steals (projected total)

  1. Delino DeShields (34)
  2. Bradley Zimmer (26)
  3. Cameron Maybin (23)

Home Run (projected total)

  1. Adam Duvall (28)
  2. Mark Trumbo (27)
  3. Scott Schebler (25)

Understand your league’s Shohei Ohtani rules

With the possibility of Shohei Ohtani pitching and hitting, websites had to come up with a way to handle him. Owners should look up their own league rules but here are some of the most common options.

  1. Just a pitcher. Simple.
  2. A separate hitter and pitcher. This one is a little weird in my opinion. Both are in the draft pool. With Ohtani possibly only hitting two to four times a week, the hitter should probably not be drafted except in the deepest of leagues.
  3. Either a pitcher or hitter. The usefulness of this option depends if the league has daily or weekly transactions. With weekly transactions, he’s likely to only be used a pitcher. With daily transactions, he can be slotted into the lineup on his off days. This option maximizes his value.

No matter the option, I believe Ohtani is being way overvalued in re-draft leagues. He’s only going to throw once a week which will limit his innings. Right now, he’s coming off the board as the 20th starter overall.

With his limited innings and unknown production, I have his valued with pitchers who are likely to throw limited innings like Lance McCullers and Rich Hill who are around the 35th pitcher off the board. His price is just too high for me.

Players I’m targeting outside the top 100

  • Zack Godley (SP): Everything points to a potential breakout. Of the 75 pitchers who threw 150 IP, his K/9 was 17th highest. His GB% was the 4th highest. Pushing his FIP to the 13th best value. And Arizona just added a humidor.
  • Ozzie Albies (2B): As a 20-year-old, he hit 15 HR and stole 29 bases between Triple-A and the majors with a .286 AVG. After this season, he might become a perennial top-20 hitter.
  • Jeff Samardzija (SP): Before thinking I wrote this drunk, hold on. The Shark possesses one of the last rubber arms in the league. Last season, he threw 207 innings (3rd highest) with an 8.9 K/9 so he’s going to post a lofty strikeout total. Also, he doesn’t walk anyone. Of the 58 qualified starters, his 1.39 BB/9 was the league’s lowest. While his ERA was a lofty 4.42, it drops under 4.00 if his two Colorado starts are removed. He’s not sexy but useful.
  • Evan Gattis (C): Fantasy owners still need to roster at least one catcher. Gattis has been my 2018 target. He’s got 30-HR power if given enough plate appearances as a catcher and designated hitter. Additionally, his .252 batting average is not a drag like with some other catchers.
  • Eduardo Nunez (everywhere): After signing with the Red Sox, Nunez’s value dropped. Then Dustin Pedroia does what he always does, get hurt, and Nunez now has a job. Considering where Nunez is going in drafts (nearly at pick 200), he can get a decent number of steals until (if) Pedroia returns.
  • Greg Bird (1B): While Stanton, Judge, and Sanchez are dominating the headlines, Bird is finally healthy and will be in the lineup somewhere around these three. No matter where he ends up, he’s going to be driving in the three or being driven home by them.

What are your fantasy baseball strategies? Any favorite sleepers out there?