Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide: Fantasy Baseball Draft & Hold League Strategy
Ray Kuhn offers up a variety of successful draft strategies for those doing Draft and Hold fantasy baseball leagues during the 2023 MLB season.
You get what you get and you have to like it. I’m sure all of us have been told that too many times in our lives, and now we have to hear it again in fantasy baseball. That’s just not cool, but it’s also the cold unfortunate truth.
Don’t think the situation is out of your control though, because it isn’t. While at least prior to and during the draft it isn’t, as at that point you have as much control as one could have in preparing for and completing a fantasy baseball draft.
But then once the 50 rounds of marathon drafting are over, everything is out of our control other than setting your lineup each week. At that point, Draft and Holds are just like any other fantasy baseball league when it comes to choosing who will be in your starting lineup each week, but then the similarities end. There is no trading, free agency, or waivers. What you leave the draft with is your team.
So then, how should we approach the draft? Let's dive in!
Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy
I want to start off with the fact that there are always going to be exceptions to every rule as I won one of these leagues two years ago with Austin Barnes, Kyle Higashioka, and Wilson Ramos as my catchers. Based on that, I’m sure you get a pretty good idea on how I feel about catchers, but I promise you, it’s not personal. For the record, I also was victorious despite Eloy Jiménez’s spring training injury, so the process is very important here and managing depth is crucial as well.
Due to the fact that you don’t get the opportunity to head to the waiver wire to replace players that have lost playing time due to injury or poor performance, there are some qualities that we should pay careful attention to here. These characteristics happen to apply more to catchers than other offensive positions based on the nature of both the player pool (defense is valued over the offense and there are responsibilities teams weigh more than what a catcher does at the plate) and the injury-risk associated with donning the tools of ignorance.
Depth is very important here, and it is for a multitude of reasons. Obviously, you want to make sure that you have healthy players to fill all 23 starting roster spots, but we want choices. That is the bare minimum, but we want more, right?
While you want to play this as close to straight to a traditional draft as possible, you also need to acknowledge the specific format here.
Drafting good baseball players, the best in fact is still the goal here, but we need depth. Once the draft is over, your team is set, so it is imperative that you are covered, at least twice, and hopefully three times at all positions. With 27 bench spots, how do we get there?
My first thought is to split the bench down the middle between offense and pitching. I know we start with 14 hitters and nine pitchers, but pitchers (both starters and relievers) are more volatile in general based on matchups, struggles, injuries, and role changes. Whereas a hitter moved to the bench is still going to get some at-bats each week, a starting pitcher moved to the bullpen is likely out of the running for wins and a reliever moved out of the closer’s job will no longer earn you saves.
Before we go any further, I didn’t forget how to do the math. I know that you can’t evenly split a player in half (27 bench spots means 13.5 each for hitters and pitchers), so let’s start with 12 each and go from there. Use the final three bench spots to fill in any holes, take a chance or two, exploit value, or stash an injured player or top prospect. Go for the upside here.
Doubling each of the four infield positions and drafting a backup catcher leaves us with three bench outfielders. In a perfect world, you will want more than that, but you also have the utility, middle, and corner infield spots to utilize here. Plus, this is where you can make use of the aforementioned spots, so that leaves us with two “fliers” to take, 13 bench hitters and 12 bench pitchers.
The important thing to remember when it comes to pitchers is that there often is a law of diminishing returns as the deeper we get into the player pool, the worse the pitchers are and their results could hurt your team more than help.
The main focus here is talent and production, but we want options. If two players are essentially even in your rankings, multi-position eligibility should come into play here as should positional scarcity. But just don’t force anything although players that can be used at multiple positions can very much help ease depth concerns.
Since you don’t have trades or the waiver wire to help improve your team, minimizing risk is important here. Of course, you want that upside, but too much risk without a solid floor of productivity could very easily backfire.
When it comes to a solid floor we look at health, playing time, and a stable skill set. There are going to be points during the season where you will find yourself looking behind every curtain for at-bats and playing time and that could ultimately make a real difference in the standings. With that being so important, minimizing how many injured players or injury concerns you draft from the start is vital as you don’t want to start the season off playing from behind from that perspective.
Despite all of the best plans, we truly never know where the season will go, so as we look to minimize risk where possible, I don’t recommend punting categories here. At the same time, I’m not saying we need to overdraft any categories (if there is an overall component to your contest then this does change some), but you don’t want to put too much emphasis on one particular player for a specific category. If that player gets injured or underperforms, things could go downhill pretty quickly without any avenues for improvement.
We spent a lot of time talking about general strategy and hitters, but there are a few things we also need to keep an eye on with pitchers.
As usual, the general thought process here is to go with either six or seven starters with two or three closers. From a bench perspective, the sweet spot is generally around seven or eight starters and four or five relievers. I would be open-minded about this, as while you need depth and multiple innings pitched, it can get to that point where bad starting pitchers can hurt more than they help.
You are going to want multiple options on your bench that can get you saves, and bullpens can be finicky situations. We also want to be mindful of middle relievers, as even if they aren’t in line for saves to start the season, that can change pretty quickly. But if it doesn’t, there is still value here as you want to smooth out injuries, bad matchups, and underperforming starting pitchers. With that said, draft for skills here, especially on the bench, and the rest has a way of working itself out.
Balance and depth are going to be very important takeaways and the most important thing to worry about is that what you draft is what you get so plan accordingly.
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