Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: Applying Redraft Strategy And More


Image credit: Vinnie Pasquantino (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

In Part 1, I discussed my high-level observations of the positional landscape when planning out my Draft Champions draft. In this article, I will provide a firsthand account of how I applied the redraft strategy with the NFBC “Super” draft that I participated in last week (prior to the big “Main Event Weekend” in Las Vegas), drafting online with Jordan Rosenblum (whose byline includes fangraphs, Prospects Live and Scout the Statline in between providing back-end support for Eno Sarris’s Stuff+ driven pitching projections). A “Super” is identical to a Main Event but without the additional chance to win the Overall, meaning that the prize for winning the individual (15 team) league is larger: the entry fee for a Super is $2500 with a $20K prize for 1st place, whereas the entry fee is $1750 for Main Events with a $7K prize for 1st place but with a chance to win $200K in the Overall.

The fact that there is no “overall” component does not significantly impact strategy too much, but it does mean that having “balance” across all scoring categories is no longer a “prime directive” of the draft, as you can still win a league while being mediocre in some categories. For this reason, targeting two closers before the 8th round no longer was a priority when determining our draft plan. This, coupled with the additional uncertainty surrounding the health status of Jhoan Duran and Jordan Romano, the way that the draft room would address the closers was unclear. Would they push them up because of the new scarcity at the top or would they wait to gauge how the “room” was reacting? Our pre-draft strategy was the latter—to wait, tentatively planning to take our first closer in the 7th round—where potentially Tanner Scott or Clay Homes may be (or perhaps Jhoan Duran)—and then pencil in Jose Alvarado, Robert Suarez (who got a Save in Korea already), or Mason Miller in the 11th round as our second closer.

We were drafting out of the 6th slot—so that meant we could immediately cross off Ronald Acuna Jr, Spencer Strider, and Bobby Witt Jr. from the list of players we could potentially draft with our first pick. That essentially left us to choose between Julio Rodriguez, Mookie Betts—though they were probably going to get taken before us—Fernando Tatis Jr., and Kyle Tucker as the options we were most interested in. For us, it was a coin flip and we ended up taking Tatis (as Betts and Rodriguez were taken before our pick). But I’ll get to that later. For now, let’s dive into “the plan.”

Penciling In The Details Of The (Pre-Draft) Plan

The way I like to plan out a draft is to determine valuations for the player pool—fangraphs’s auction calculator is a good place to start—and compare these values with ADP to get a feel for how the market seems to be valuing (1) stolen bases, (2) closers, (3) catchers, (4) positional flexibility and (5) rookies. Every year, it seems like “the crowd” has been mapping projection valuations with ADP more and more closely, with most discrepancies primarily being for players considered to be injury risk (and not being expected to meet their full-season projection) or players who could potentially have a huge breakout to the upside that projections aren’t capturing (which often includes rookies or second-half performers from the previous year…or hot spring training performances). Some players falling in the former category are (perennially) Byron Buxton, Eloy Jimenez, Giancarlo Stanton and Chris Sale. Players who the market likes better than their projection are trendy breakouts like Cole Ragans, Bobby Miller, Jackson Holliday and Nick Pivetta.

The trick, of course, to a successful draft is to maximize being right, minimize being wrong and executing on these decisions in as cost-effective a manner as possible. By this last point, I mean if you think that Ryan Weathers, as the Marlins fourth starter, will pitch at the same effectiveness as the pitchers available in the 10th round, but the market isn’t taking him until the 20th round, you are not optimizing by drafting him in the 10th round…but you also need to be careful to ensure you get him before someone else does. So…17th?

I tend to start from the “bottom” of the draft and see if there are any values that stick out—and, this is important, that I would be comfortable drafting. For this draft, we liked Brendan Rodgers as a second baseman who seemed to be going in the 22nd round, but who, if he met his projection, should be more of a 10th-round pick. We also liked a group of first basemen who all seemed to be being taken in the 19th round: Josh Bell, Jose Abreu, Nathaniel Lowe and Ty France. We assumed that we would get one of the first basemen who we would put at “corner infield” and we wanted to use Rodgers at “middle infield.”

Other targets we wanted were Alex Cobb, who was projected to be an 11th round–type pitcher but, likely because of the uncertainty surrounding his health, was not being taken until the 23rd round. Because of some favorable injury reports, we wanted to take him somewhere in the 20th round as our 9th pitcher (of 9).

Another interesting circumstance was that Yoan Moncada and Anthony Rendon—third basemen who are expected to play full-time and hit near the top of the lineup—were being faded until the 23rd round (or later) by the market who seemed rightly concerned that either would come anywhere close to what projections were foreseeing (13th to 16th-round value). We felt that it would be worth a gamble—and our hedge would be by targeting Luis Rengifo in the 17th round, a utility bat with third-base eligibility, and who would be the most likely to gain from an injury to Rendon.

As mentioned in Part 1, there was a nice pocket of potential shortstops in the 12th round of Trevor Story, Ezequiel Tovar, or Willy Adames—and we felt that we would select one of them as our shortstop. We also liked Zach Neto in the 16th round as a target.

In the 14th round, there was a pocket of outfielders whose projections all seemed to be solid for the draft round: Starling Marte, Tyler O’Neill, Daulton Varsho, Taylor Ward and potentially Brandon Nimmo and Masataka Yoshida (who potentially would make it to us too).

There is a reiterative element to all of this, where one has to make sure the targets in aggregate make sense together too. For example, it wouldn’t make sense to build around a collection of hitters with big power, poor batting average and no speed. So far, the collection of players looks okay, with potentially only a few of the options having double-digit stolen bases. More on that later.

One thing to note is that the obvious risk to this type of planning is that the other managers in your league may also be following a similar approach and targeting the same players as you in the same round. To mitigate this risk, it is helpful to target “pockets” where there are multiple simultaneous options who should be available. As mentioned, we like a handful of outfielders who “should” be available in the 14th round. Luckily, if our primary target is selected, there should be other options available that would help us stick to our plan. The same approach holds true for first base (in the 19th round) and shortstop in the 12th round, with several options fitting our planned build.

For the six picks in the 2nd through 7th rounds—after we select our outfielder in the 1st round—following the advice from Part 1, we felt that we should take four to five pitchers, leaving us one or two hitters in these early rounds. Also from Part 1, we felt drawn to the potential first-base targets of Josh Naylor or Yandy Diaz in the 8th and 9th, or Vinnie Pasquantino and Rhys Hoskins in the 13th. We decided to target Pasquantino in the 13th, betting that he will be fully healed from his shoulder surgery, and would provide above-average batting average with 20+ home runs.

Now that we’ve locked in two first basemen (Pasquantino in the 13th and one of the options we mentioned in the 19th) and likely Anthony Rendon and (hopefully) Luis Rengifo in the 23rd and 17th rounds, we were “set” at corner infield. The plan was solidifying.

Now, when deciding on the hitters in these first few rounds, we didn’t need to consider first base or third base. By process of elimination—and by following the “multiple options available” approach—it seemed like a good pocket would be Gleyber Torres, Andres Gimenez or Ketel Marte as a second baseman option in the 6th round.

You may have noticed that I have not mentioned any players as targets who are the best options for stolen bases: Esteury Ruiz, CJ Abrams, Nico Hoerner, Bryson Stott and Ha-Seong Kim. This is not because we are planning on punting stolen bases—though that might be a reasonable strategy in a “Super”—but really it was because these players were all being drafted in rounds earlier than we would feel comfortable taking them. To counteract the fact that we would likely not be leaving the draft with any of these players, we made a conscious effort, in choosing between various options, to lean toward the player who would likely steal more bases. In other words, for our expected roster build, we would prefer Gimenez over Torres, Story as the top shortstop option and probably Tyler O’Neill or Starling Marte over Taylor Ward or Masataka Yoshida. For this reason, we also decided to target Cedric Mullins in the 10th round and his potential 30 stolen bases as our second outfielder.

To help with the decision on whether we take a third hitter in the first seven rounds, we looked at catcher. In the 9th round, Willson Contreras or Salvador Perez are usually available, and if not, Gabriel Moreno, Logan O’Hoppe, Cal Raleigh, Francisco Alvarez and Sean Murphy are also options. We wanted to make sure we had power, runs and RBIs (meaning plate appearances), but hopefully without harming our batting average. We, therefore, narrowed it down to Contreras, Perez, or if they were gone, selecting O’Hoppe or Murphy. Ultimately, we decided to target William Contreras, J.T. Realmuto (or Will Smith) in the 5th round as our first catcher (to pair with our 9th-round catcher). Not having to (hopefully) worry about catcher is an undersold experience. 

Now, because rounds 9 and 10 (and 12, 13 and 14) were likely going to be hitters, we planned on taking a pitcher in the 8th round.

I understand that the above—especially to a reader who is not as intimately familiar with current ADP—is a lot to hold in, let alone follow. So here is what all of the above looks like as a pre-draft plan:

1st rdOF1: Julio Rodriguez, Mookie Betts, Fernando Tatis Jr., Kyle Tucker
2nd rdSP1
3rd rdSP2
4th rdSP3
5th rdC1: William Contreras, J.T. Realmuto, Will Smith
6th rd2B: Andres Gimenez, Gleyber Torres, Ketel Marte
7th rdRP1: Evan Phillips, Clay Holmes, Tanner Scott, Jhoan Duran(?)
8th rdSP4?: Carlos Rodon, Sonny Gray
9th rdC2: William Contreras, Salvador Perez, Logan O’Hoppe, Sean Murphy
10th rdOF2: Cedric Mullins
11th rdRP2: Mason Miller. Jose Alvarado, Robert Suarez
12th rdSS: Trevor Story, Ezequiel Tovar, Willy Adames
13th rd1B: Vinnie Pasquantino
14th rdOF3: Tyler O’Neill, Taylor Ward, Starling Marte, Daulton Varsho
15th rd
16th rdSS (MI): Zach Neto
17th rd3B (OF4): Luis Rengifo
18th rd
19th rd1B (CI): Josh Bell, Jose Abreu, Ty France, Nathaniel Lowe
20th rd
21st rdUT:: Brendan Rodgers (if we get Neto) or an SP6
22nd rd3B (or UT): Yoan Moncada, Anthony Rendon
23rd rdSP7: Alex Cobb

Now, a shape is starting to form. We can see that we still will need two starting pitchers and two outfielders. In the 15th, 18th and 20th rounds, there were some reasonable options from which we could choose and so we felt okay.

The Actual Draft

As mentioned, we got Tatis in the first round and with everyone but Strider and Zack Wheeler gone, we chose Pablo Lopez as our SP1.

As our third pick was approaching, it looked like Edwin Diaz—our top Closer target, but whom we could not expect to be available to us in the 3rd—might fall to us at pick No. 36. The quick repercussions were that if we chose to take him, then we wouldn’t need to use the 7th round for a closer. Looking at available (starting pitching) options in the 7th, we saw Shane Bieber likely available. The quick calculation was whether we would prefer the pair of Edwin Diaz and Shane Bieber to the pair of…Luis Castillo (or Skubal or Yamamoto) with Clay Holmes (or Tanner Scott or Evan Phillips). We decided and selected Edwin Diaz, our first pivot of the draft.

In the 4th, we took Framber Valdez as our second starting pitcher. In the 5th, our catcher options were J.T. Realmuto, William Contreras and Will Smith (as only Adley Rutschman had been selected by that point) and we chose J.T. Realmuto as he, amongst other things, could steal 15 bases.

By getting Realmuto’s stolen bases, we chose Gleyber Torres over Andres Gimenez in the 6th round, for what we believe will be better batting average and power.

And, just as we had planned with the Edwin Diaz pick, we took Shane Bieber in the 7th. There had been a bit of a closer run in the 5th and in the 6th, and the closer options we could have had were Ryan Helsley and Tanner Scott. We will see if Diaz/Bieber ends up being a better pairing than Castillo/Helsley, but we were satisfied with how it turned out.

As our 8th-round pitcher, we chose Carlos Rodon. His velocity fluctuations in spring training have been a roller coaster ride, but we are betting on/hoping for the upside.

The 9th round was earmarked for our second catcher, and after Contreras was taken three picks before us, we chose Salvador Perez. The 10th and 11th rounds went to plan with Cedric Mullins and Mason Miller (as Alvarado and Suarez were taken).

The 12th and 13th round plan was shortstop (Trevor Story or Ezequiel Tovar) and then first base (Vinnie Pasquantino…or Rhys Hoskins), but our first forced pivot occurred. In the three picks leading up to our 12th-round pick, both Story and Tovar were taken. The easiest solution would be to take Willy Adames (our third option), but we were reluctant because this would likely be too damaging to our batting average. We decided to take Jeremy Pena instead, but to ensure we didn’t get sniped on Pasquantino, chose Pasquantino first (a round earlier than ADP) and then Jeremy Pena in the 13th. All in all, a plan B that didn’t diverge us too much from the overall roster-build strategy.

In the 14th round, the plan was our third outfielder. Again, because we took JTR as our catcher, we didn’t have to lean toward the stolen-base option, and started keeping an eye on our batting average. Just before our pick, Marte and Varsho were taken, and so we chose Taylor Ward over Tyler O’Neill, as we expected a better batting average.

The 15th round was always a floater round where we could go with a starting pitcher (Kenta Maeda, Yusei Kikuchi, Louie Varland and Luis Severino were potential options), relief pitcher spec or another outfielder. Unexpectedly, when it came back to us in the 15th round, Tyler O’Neill was available. We decided to go with O’Neill as our OF4, with a plan now to use the 18th round to take our fifth starting pitcher (e.g. Garrett Whitlock, Sean Manaea or Jordan Hicks) and our sixth starting pitcher in the 20th (Steven Matz or Erick Fedde).

Our second forced pivot happened while waiting to make our 16th-round pick of Zach Neto when he was grabbed in the late 15th. The domino effect was that (1) we could take a pitcher in the 16th instead of the 18th if the options were better and (2) Brendan Rodgers in the 21st would now be our MI instead of UT (without Neto on the roster), giving us a bit more flexibility on who would be our UT hitter. Both Yusei Kikuchi and Kenta Maeda—who were potential 15th-round targets—were both available to us in the 16th. We chose Kikuchi over Maeda (as we felt that adding Maeda to Bieber and Rodon was a bit more risk than we wanted to take).

The 17th round remained on plan by taking Luis Rengifo. For the 18th, we were considering Nick Lodolo, Garrett Whitlock and DL Hall, but Hall got taken just before our pick—but with getting Kikuchi in the 15th, we took Kris Bryant as our fifth outfielder (and who should gain first base eligibility early on in the season) to help with our batting average, and then Ty France in the 19th as the first baseman with the likeliest highest batting average amongst the options.

In the 20th round, we selected our second-to-last starting pitcher, Erick Fedde. The reigning KBO MVP remade himself overseas, gaining velocity and a new pitch, and we are gambling that his success will carry over to his MLB return.

The 21st and 22nd-round prophecies were fulfilled with Brendan Rodgers and Alex Cobb, the latter of whom will begin the season on the Injured List, but hopefully for less time than the 30 days that pessimistic estimates expect. For that reason, we focused our bench rounds on a pitcher to fill in for Cobb (Miles Mikolas in the 26th and Jakob Junis in the 28th) and some relief pitcher options to help pick up some saves in case Mason Miller falls short (Jeff Hoffman in the 27th, Chad Green in the 30th). We also took Andrew Benintendi (24th) and stashed Tommy Edman’s 2B, SS and OF eligibility in the 23rd. And, as prophesied, to pair with Rengifo, we selected the mercurial Anthony Rendon in the 25th.

All in all, because of the detailed planning, the draft went relatively smoothly with few required pivots or snipes. See below for how close we were to expectations.

RoundThe PlanThe Execution
1st rdOF1: Julio Rodriguez, Mookie Betts, Fernando Tatis Jr., Kyle TuckerOF1: Fernando Tatis Jr.
2nd rdSP1SP1: Pablo Lopez
3rd rdSP2RP1: Edwin Diaz
4th rdSP3SP2: Framber Valdez
5th rdC1: William Contreras, J.T. Realmuto, Will SmithC1: J.T. Realmuto
6th rd2B: Andres Gimenez, Gleyber Torres, Ketel Marte2B: Gleyber Torres
7th rdRP1: Evan Phillips, Clay Holmes, Tanner Scott, Jhoan DuranSP3: Shane Bieber
8th rdSP4: Carlos Rodon, Shane Bieber, Justin SteeleSP4: Carlos Rodon
9th rdC2: William Contreras, Salvador Perez, Logan O’Hoppe, Sean MurphyC2: Salvador Perez
10th rdOF2: Cedric MullinsOF2: Cedric Mullins
11th rdRP2: Mason Miller. Jose Alvarado, Robert SuarezRP2: Mason Miller
12th rdSS: Trevor Story, Ezequiel Tovar, Willy Adames1B: Vinnie Pasquantino
13th rd1B: Vinnie PasquantinoSS: Jeremy Pena
14th rdOF3: Tyler O’Neill, Taylor Ward, Starling Marte, Daulton VarshoOF3: Taylor Ward
15th rdOF4: Tyler O’Neill
16th rdSS (MI): Zach NetoSP5: Yusei Kikuchi
17th rd3B (OF4): Luis Rengifo3B: Luis Rengifo
18th rdOF5: Kris Bryant
19th rd1B (CI): Josh Bell, Jose Abreu, Ty France, Nathaniel Lowe1B (CI): Ty France
20th rdSP6: Erick Fedde
21st rdUT:: Brendan Rodgers (if we get Neto) or an SP62B (UT): Brendan Rodgers
22nd rd3B (or UT): Yoan Moncada, Anthony RendonSP7: Alex Cobb
23rd rdSP7: Alex CobbBench: Tommy Edman

In retrospect, because Alex Cobb is starting the season on the IL (and potentially Junis too) and Mikolas has a tough matchup against the Dodgers, perhaps we should have taken a “week 1” starting pitcher instead of Edman. Also, we may be chasing saves all season—but hopefully we should be able to stay in the middle of the pack. Finally, we do have some wide variance on our starting pitching, but hope that our hitting depth (and positional flexibility) should allow us to focus on our pitching week to week.

One final note, in case one planned on following a similar approach in any final drafts in the days leading up to Opening Day, is that the market is catching up and seemingly taking on a similar draft approach as the above. For Main Events that were drafted over the weekend (in the days immediately following our Super), Shane Bieber is now being taken in the 5th round, Carlos Rodon in the 7th, Trevor Story in the 9th (up from the 12th) and Vinnie Pasquantino is being taken in the 11th (up from the 13th). In other words, the market is filling in these inefficiency gaps that have been there in the previous three weeks.

As always, one has to stay nimble—knowing that original targets may no longer be feasible options and new value targets may emerge—as draft trends shift. That’s the beauty (and anxiety) of fantasy drafts. And next, the in-season work begins.

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