Winning Yahoo fantasy baseball leagues

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.

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  1. Michael Lerra said...

    I like the list, and actively follow #2 through 7, but I think #1 needs more explanation.

    Since middle relievers get maybe half the innings of a starter, your WHIP and ERA may improve but your K’s and W’s are going to suffer, right?  How do you deal with this?

    Personally, since ERA and WHIP are so much more variable from week to week, I like to load up on SP in Yahoo leagues, and give myself the best chance at Wins and almost guarantee winning Strikeouts.  Even an ERA of 4.5 is good enough to win somewhere between 25%-45% of weekly matchups.  Or are you talking rotisserie?

    • junk said...

      Not so, since you start several middle relievers daily you are in fact getting 1 start from that group of middle relievers. The strategy works because middle relievers tend to be lights out type pitchers who get almost non-existant whip/k rates. They also get the occasional win. You have to remember that burning a start on a pitcher that is only mediocre will eventually lead you to getting 5+ runs scored against you so it’s best to stick with the best starters and fill the rest of the innings with lights out guys.

      If you can swing it go for relief pitchers instead of middle relievers BUT don’t overspend on them, the real value of the middle relief guys is that they are almost free and let you spend more on your starting pitching. This strategy requires you to set your lineup daily, if you don’t check in daily it will not work.

  2. Donald Trump said...

    Thanks for posting this.
    How many middle relievers will you have on your team at one time?  So you draft that many?  How much are you trying to find starters with good matchups to throw in for a spot start, or are you just focused on streaming RPs?  How many starting pitchers would you envision carrying for the bulk of the year?

  3. Ed S. said...

    With a daily league, you can have 4-6 MR/CL guys and keep them in the lineup most of the time (exceptions being when you have 3 or 4 start days). I find that you get a boost in K and often snag those MR wins. Combine the good MR with some cheap SPs for a recipe for victory smile

  4. Ashley Marshall said...

    I am in a 12-team Yahoo! league that drafts 25 players, including 2 SP, 2 RP, 3 P and then 9 bench guys which can be made up from bats or arms.

    In my last mock draft I took Mo Rivera in the 7th or 8th and then waited for Greinke and Myers in the 12th and 13th.

    My next pitcher was Qualls who I love, followed by Wandy Rordiguez, Pettitte and Meche and then Putz in the 21st.

    This was only a 21-round mock draft, so I didn’t get a chance to get other guys I like, but in my real draft I’ll also be looking at Rafael Perez, Jerry Blevins, Cla Meredith, Hong-Chih Kuo, JP Howell and Bill Bray as possibilities.

    Streaming starters has been a hot topic in my league, with the concensus that even though people overdo it, we are still going to keep it.

    People suggested extending the time dropped players spend on waivers to stop people streaming starters, but that was refused.

    I think park effects are massive in fantasy terms, so I would happily pick up a starter against a weak offense if he was throwing in a pitchers’ park.

    I wouldn’t be hesitant about getting a guy playing at Petco, Busch Stadium or the dome in Minnesota for example, as long as he had shown good K/BB ratios, above average control and the ability to keep the ball in the park.
    There are a few other AL parks I like for streaming pitchers in, like Kaufmann and Angels Stadium, but it would all depend on the opposition of course.


  5. dylan said...

    I’ve been trying a couple of different strategy’s with the mock drafts this year, and found one interesting. Doing the exact opposite and only drafting picthers with my first 7 picks
    1. Johan Santana (NYM – SP)
    2. Tim Lincecum (SF – SP)
    3. Jake Peavy (SD – SP)
    4. Jonathan Papelbon (Bos – RP)
    5. Dan Haren (Ari – SP)
    6. Francisco Liriano (Min – SP)
    7. Joakim Soria (KC – RP)
    8. Garrett Atkins (Col – 1B,3B)
    9. Robinson Canó (NYY – 2B)
    10. Carlos Peña (TB – 1B)
    11. Jhonny Peralta (Cle – SS)
    12. Chris Young (Ari – OF)
    13. Justin Upton (Ari – OF)
    14. Brad Hawpe (Col – OF)
    15. Mark DeRosa (Cle – 2B,3B,OF)
    16. Jorge Posada (NYY – C)
    17. Rick Ankiel (StL – OF)
    18. Hideki Matsui (NYY – OF)
    19. Ryan Theriot (ChC – SS)
    20. Adam LaRoche (Pit – 1B)
    21. Brandon Lyon (Det – RP)

    1. Johan Santana (NYM – SP)
    2. Tim Lincecum (SF – SP)
    3. Cole Hamels (Phi – SP)
    4. Brandon Webb (Ari – SP)
    5. Jake Peavy (SD – SP)
    6. Jonathan Papelbon (Bos – RP)
    7. Brad Lidge (Phi – RP)
    8. Corey Hart (Mil – OF)
    9. Ryan Zimmerman (Was – 3B)
    10. Jermaine Dye (CWS – OF)
    11. Vernon Wells (Tor – OF)
    12. J.J. Hardy (Mil – SS)
    13. Robinson Canó (NYY – 2B)
    14. Chris Young (Ari – OF)
    15. Conor Jackson (Ari – 1B,OF)
    16. Pablo Sandoval (SF – C,1B,3B)
    17. Justin Upton (Ari – OF)
    18. Adrián Béltre (Sea – 3B)
    19. Pat Burrell (TB – OF)
    20. Kevin Slowey (Min – SP)
    21. Nick Swisher (NYY – 1B,OF)

    There were both auto drafts, first with pick 12 out of 12, and the second pick 9 out of 12 just to get a feel of what they could look like, but it seems like this could work by being average in hitting, and dominating the pitching cats.

  6. Kevin Witt said...

    Dylan- Only one problem with that strategy.  Since pitchers are subject to not only injury but so many things out of their control (run support, bullpen, BABIP etc) there is no guarantee that you will “dominate” those categories.  That is why you should always draft hitters early in the first place.

  7. dylan said...

    Yeah, I usually follow that plan of action, and wait til like round 7 or 8 before I draft a starter, unless I can get very good value for the pick. Just wanted to share what the opposite approach looks like, especially this year when to me it seems like picthing seems to be a little lower valued.

  8. Ashley Marshall said...

    Hi Alex,

    Very good advice there. It follows a very similar stategy to Rod Shandler’s LIMA Plan which I will be utilizing this year.

    I’ll be stocking up on bats for the first dozen rounds, with the exception of getting a closer around Round 8 after the initial run has died down.
    From there on, I;ll be targeting SPs with high Ks, low walks and HR/9 ratio below 1. After that, it’s all high-end middle relievers for me with plenty of upside.


  9. Kyle Mathews said...

    I really enjoyed reading this article. I think that since there are a lot of h2h yahoo players, it will be interesting to do a similar article on h2h draft strategy as there is very little content on this subject.

  10. David Boyce said...

    All sound advice, thanks for the article, but the article could be called “How to beat a league of novices”. Do people really enjoy just joining a league of strangers? Do you guys really do and enjoy this? My experience with theses leagues was that it wasnt’ fun, or competetive. Only a handful of owners actually participated actively. That may have changed, it was a few years ago. All your tips are sound advice. My leagues added holds after a few years of LIMA strategists winning. In H2H leagues, 7×7 and other formats can help keep things competetive. Using waiver periods (yahoo uses 2 days), or putting limits on innings pitched, both a minimum and maximum, can keep things competetive. Regarding drafting all pitching early, pitchers only contribute to 3-4 categories at best, hitters contribute to 5 (sometimes!). That to me is the best arguement to draft hitters early. That, and the stud hitters are not available late. Stud pitchers are. Last year I drafted Ervin Santana in very late rounds in all my leagues. Edison Volquez too. Hitters of that quality are much rarer. Keep up the good work!

  11. Kyle Mathews said...

    David, Ludwick, Huff, and McLouth were all drafted late and were stud contributors. The true reason that drafting hitters early is the smarter strategy is because how I interpret what Derek Carty says, pitchers are not valued properly in drafts and go much later than they should, thus making it easier to assemble a solid staff of pitchers late than a solid lineup of hitters late.

  12. David Boyce said...

    Dempster, Billingsley, Harden, Greinke, blah, blah, very late too. It’s a personal opinion, but I do not think I will easily find a stud hitter this year in round 23. I will look for both!

  13. gantsec2003 said...

    I agree with Dylan on the all pitching, or at least think it’s interesting enough to give it a try, I did a mock draft and used the first 8 picks on pitchers and was still able to put together a competive team

    1. Roy Halladay (Phi – SP)
    2. Tim Lincecum (SF – SP)
    3. Ubaldo Jiménez (Col – SP)
    4. Clayton Kershaw (LAD – SP)
    5. Brian Wilson (SF – RP)
    6. CC Sabathia (NYY – SP)
    7. Carlos Mármol (ChC – RP)
    8. Justin Verlander (Det – SP)
    9. Justin Morneau (Min – 1B)
    10. Carlos Santana (Cle – C)
    11. Pablo Sandoval (SF – 1B,3B)
    12. Mike Stanton (Fla – OF)
    13. Asdrubal Cabrera (Cle – SS)
    14. Curtis Granderson (NYY – OF)
    15. Chone Figgins (Sea – 2B)
    16. Vladimir Guerrero (Bal – OF)
    17. Jacoby Ellsbury (Bos – OF)
    18. Mark Reynolds (Bal – 3B)
    19. Travis Snider (Tor – OF)
    20. Neil Walker (Pit – 2B,3B)
    21. Carlos Beltrán (NYM – OF)
    22. Starlin Castro (ChC – SS)
    23. Jose Tabata (Pit – OF)

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