Despite the proliferation of fantasy baseball formats, Yahoo’s free fantasy baseball leagues remain the most popular. They’re free, easy, and have enough features to satisfy most players. Although leagues can be customized, by far the most popular option is the default configuration public leagues, where 12 strangers are matched against each other. These leagues use “5X5” scoring and daily transactions. What follows are some tips that will help you win these leagues. In fact, these tips should work equally well in any daily transactions leagues with similar scoring and roster configuration rules.
1. Make heavy use of middle relievers
My entire strategy in these leagues springs from the ability to use middle relievers with favorable matchups each day to lower my team’s ERA and WHIP and add to my strikeouts and wins totals. As much as possible, I’ll fill my active roster with middle relievers. I’m looking for middle relievers with high strikeout rates, low walk rates, and facing teams with bad offenses in pitchers’ parks. I usually try to have three or four closers on my team, so any additional pitching roster slots that aren’t filled with starting pitchers are generally going to have middle relievers in them. Those with starting pitcher eligibility are especially valuable, because they can be used in the roster slots devoted to starting pitchers.
2. Draft hitters with your early picks
Most good fantasy baseball players tend to pick hitters early in any case, but in these leagues that’s a particularly good idea. You’ll be able to improve your pitching statistics dramatically through your use of middle relievers, so you can be among the top teams in most pitching categories with an otherwise average staff. Or you can be in the middle of the pack in the pitching categories with an otherwise inferior pitching staff. That’s generally going to be good enough, since you can virtually guarantee that you’ll have one of the top offenses by loading up on hitters with your early picks.
3. Do not become attached to marginally valuable players
Rather than keeping your 20th round draft pick on the team for the entire year, you’re almost always going to be better off if you’re willing to drop him at the appropriate time. You’ll compile much better statistics by rotating whichever undrafted or dropped players have favorable match-ups that day.
For example, a hitter who will be at home in a hitters’ park against a bad pitcher. Even if the hitter wouldn’t normally be roster-worthy, he may be equal to far better players for that one day. By being willing to drop marginal players, you’ll also ensure that you have bench space to put your starting pitchers… allowing you to move middle relievers into your active roster for the day. You should also be willing to drop marginal starting pitchers when you’re not using them. Like hitters, you’ll do better by rotating slightly inferior pitchers with good match-ups into your rotation on a daily basis.
4. Pay careful attention to daily match-ups
I’ve mentioned this a few times already, but it’s worth emphasizing. Daily match-ups matter. Parks have a huge impact on statistics. Playing at home is a substantial advantage. Favorable lefty/righty match-ups are important (not to mention often affecting whether a hitter may sit that day or not). For pitchers, the opposing team’s offense is important. And nothing makes more of a difference for hitters than the opposing team’s starting pitcher. Ideally, you should be calculating the impact of each of these factors (and more) to determine which players on your team or available free agents should be played that day. Even if you don’t actually do any calculations, you need to consider the impact of as many of the key situational factors as possible.
5. Do not save your waiver pick for the future
If you happen to be in a league with other good players, some of them will be combing the free agent pool for players with favorable match-ups, too. This is particularly true of starting pitchers. So you may need to pick up players a day or two early in some cases. Some of the time, that may require you to put in a waiver claim if you want to get a player. If you’re holding onto your No. 1 waiver priority in hopes of landing a star later, you’re going to be passing up lots of small opportunities to accumulate better statistics. Most of the time, that won’t be a worthwhile tradeoff for you to make.
6. Use your late-round picks on players with high fantasy upside
Since you’re probably going to be dropping most of your late-round picks at some point anyway, there’s no sense using those picks on marginal players. Take someone who has a shot at being really valuable, even if he has a high risk of ending up worthless. Instead of a player who’s going to take up bench space on your roster, take someone who has an outside shot of becoming a closer by the start of the season, or a top prospect who has a slight chance of making the major leagues out of spring training. Obviously, the earlier your draft takes place, the more chance there is that these speculative picks will be successful.
7. Do not use a strategy that will require you to complete trades
These leagues are notoriously unpredictable when it comes to trade activity. Some of them are filled with active traders, while others have owners who never trade or become completely inactive early in the season. With all the other strategy options available in daily transactions leagues, there’s simply no reason to go into the season with a strategy that can only work if you’re able to complete trades.