It's January and fantasy players everywhere are anticipating the new season. There are still plenty of big questions which haven't been resolved out there, such as where free agent Prince Fielder is going will sign and how the new Marlins ballpark will play, but those aren't the type of questions which should stop serious players from laying out their fantasy strategy for 2012.
Good fantasy owners are those who take the time to prepare for their drafts and walk in to the room on draft day with a plan. The best fantasy owners, however, are those who walk in not just with a single plan, but with a backup and a backup for their backup just in case things don't go as planned in the early rounds.
That said, let's take a quick look at some basic strategies. At the top of the this list are ones that work equally as well in serpentine or auction drafts, but as we go down the list, the strategies will apply more and more to auction style drafts.
- Focus on hitting. Perhaps the most popular of fantasy strategies, since most fantasy owners realize that a pitcher only helps every 5 days, but a hitter can help you every day. Worrying about pitching only after you've built a strong offensive backbone has paid dividends for many owners over the years. It's also led to a lot of auction style variant strategies such as allocating 70% to offense and 30% to pitching or only buying $1 pitchers.
- Focus on pitching. Pretty much the opposite approach to No. 1 above. Those who focus on pitching don't look at the once-every-five-day help the same way. They see the same number of points available for pitching as there are for hitting and plan on winning a lot of those points. They also feel that there are fewer ace pitchers than elite hitters.
- Seeking balance. Not looking to focus on either hitting or pitching, but to end up with a team average or better in both categories via the draft and to plan on finding some guys who are undervalued or with upside that might be realized in 2012 to take your team to the next level.
- Focusing on position scarcity. Realizing that at certain positions (think shortstop) that the production gap between the top few guys and the rest of the pack is immense, owners who employ this strategy tend on dominating at those positions, while still being strong at others spots.
- Building a cornerstone. This one is a very simple strategy but it's much more practical in an auction draft as players you covet won't come off the board while you watch helplessly. Still if you use a tiered draft list, and don't get too caught up in names you can make this work, though instead of hypothetically targeting Albert Pujols, Matt Kemp, Jose Reyes and Roy Halliday, you target a tier one first baseman, a tier one outfielder and a tier one pitcher as your first three picks.
- Just draft the best player available at any moment. This is a strategy which requires a league where wheeling and dealing is common and fair or advantageous trades can be worked out, but if that's the kind of league you are in, it's a strategy which can work. If you haven't done your research come draft day, you could do worse than target players who can produce when you aren't sure what to do. Combining this with the position scarcity approach can make it even more effective.
- Benchmarking. Going into your draft with an idea of either who the lowest acceptable player at a position off your draft list is or what the minimal statistical value you want at a given position, and draft based on that.
- Focus on statistics. Another simple strategy is to almost not care about the names of the players but to focus simply on the numbers. It's actually harder to do than you think, as we all tend to even subconsciously lean towards certain players. But if you can go into a draft with an idea of how many home runs, runs, RBIs, steals, strikeouts and an approximate idea of ERA and WHIP that you want to get and to pick guys based only on that, it can be a very successful way to draft.
- Seeking value. This is the sit-back-and-wait approach that doesn't work well in a serpentine style draft, but is an auction draft staple. In this style of team building the idea is not to pay premiums for players, but to get players at relative bargains compared to similar players based on production. That leaves you strong at all positions, and reduces the risk inherent in a key player going down and leaving a huge gap between that superstar and a replacement level player. The downside of this style of draft strategy is that it is the most labor intensive and requires the fantasy to have done a lot of research before going into the draft.
Even if these strategies aren't for you, you can bet that some of your opponents on draft day will be using some of them. Being aware enough to recognize what they are doing can be as advantageous in figuring out ways to thwart them on draft day -- and in fantasy ball never turn down an advantage.
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