ROTISSERIE: Draft preparation with a full-season mindset

You don’t win the season on draft day, (unless you are in a draft and hold league, and can’t touch your roster all season…) but you can lose it, particularly if you view that day’s events in a vacuum. Therefore, the astute fantasy participant will look at the six-month marathon that is the major league (and fantasy) baseball season, and develop a draft day plan in concert with a season-long strategy for success. There are several reference essays in the BaseballHQ Strategy Library that we will touch on here, as we discuss a variety of relevant factors for your consideration.


League Variations

The original rules of the Rotisserie Baseball Founding Fathers have evolved along several different dimensions in the past 30+ years, each having in-season management implications that can drive draft day tactics. Your league variations could include one or more of the following:

  • A player pool covering the AL only, the NL only, or a mixed (AL/NL) league, or some other variant.
  • The presence and size of a reserve list. Larger reserve lists result in a smaller Free Agent pool, which is a minor consideration for mixed leagues, but significant in AL- or NL- only leagues.
  • Transactional type and frequency (daily, weekly, monthly).
  • Scoring categories: 4x4, 5x5, others. Specifically of note here is the balance between counting stats and “average” stats. In traditional 4x4, one of the four categories (batting average) can have a negative impact on team scoring, but two of the four pitching categories (ERA, WHIP), can drag your team down. In 5x5, those impacts are reduced from 25% to 20% for hitting, and 50% to 40% for pitching, but still twice as impactful on the pitching side of the ledger.

Each of these individual dimensions can (and should) impact your draft day plan, but it may also be helpful to look at them in combination. Using a matrix format, the groupings can raise some interesting considerations.


Sources of Additional Stats after Draft Day

                        League Player Pool
Rsv List |     Mixed 15 Team     | AL- or NL-only 12 team |
Short    | free agents           | trades, free agents    |
         |                       |                        |
Long     | free agents, trades   | trades                 |
         |                       |                        |

The above comes with a bit of a disclaimer, as all leagues are different, but the general tendencies should hold. Whether you are the “new guy” or a long-time league member, be sure to look at the prior season’s transactional summary for your league, to analyze the proportional category contributions from trade acquisitions and free agent pickups for the successful teams. Trades are often necessary to add specific stats in only leagues, as the player pool penetration is generally much deeper (whether auction or straight draft), and the size of a reserve roster further reduces the help possible from the free agent pool. Based those scenarios, how should the prepared drafter approach the draft?


Draft Strategies related to In-season Player Acquisition

                          Trade Activity
FA Pool  |                 Lo    |   Hi                   |
Shallow  | solid foundation (STR)| tradable commodities   |
         |                       | surplus counting stats |
Deep     | gamble on upside (S&S)| ultimate flexibility   |
         |                       |                        |

Trading activity is a function of multiple factors. Keeper leagues tend to keep owners engaged longer during the season by providing trading opportunities to “play for next year” when success in the current season appears unlikely. However, those increased opportunities are often controlled by special rules to prevent undesirable “dump trading.” On the other hand, stratification of the standings, especially in a redraft league, can cause owners at the bottom of the standings to lose interest, reducing the number of effective trading partners as the season goes on. In either the keeper or redraft formats, category prizes or second half champions may also be used to boost trading during the latter stages of the season.

When deep rosters create a shallow free agent pool in a league with little trading, the onus is squarely on the draft day acquisition of solid contributors. In this case, a Spread the Risk strategy designed to accumulate at bats, innings, and saves would be the recommended approach. If the free agent pool is deep, the drafter can take more risks with the Stars and Scrubs approach, acquiring “lottery ticket” players with upside, knowing that replacements are readily available if the upside plays don’t hit in a reasonable amount of time.

In leagues where trading is prevalent, a shallow free agent pool means you should acquire players on draft day with the intent of trading them. This could mean a traditional strategy of acquiring a category surplus (frequently saves and/or steals), and then trading them in mid-season to shore up other categories. In a keeper league, this includes grabbing a few bargains (to interest those who are rebuilding) or grabbing top performers to flip in trade (if you are already on “the two year plan”).


Draft Day Considerations for In-season Roster Management

Rsv List                    League Format
Txn Freq |                  4x4   |   5x5                  |
Daily    | Careful SP mgmt        | RP (K, ERA, WHIP)      |
         | Batting platoons       | Batting platoons       |
         | Positional flexibility | Positional flexibility |
Weekly   | SP (2 start weeks)     | SP (2 start weeks)     |
         | Cover risky starters   | Cover risky starters   |

Leagues with weekly transactions require the owner to manage in weekly buckets, putting a premium on everyday, productive batters (or at least batters on the strong side of a platoon). Reserve lists should contain backups for particularly risky starters, and starting pitching options to take advantage of two-start weeks.

On the hitting side, daily transaction leagues may want to look at platoon situations (LH bat in auction/draft, with RH platoon partner in reserve) to maximize production in a given roster spot. Players with multiple positional eligibility are also particularly desirable for daily transaction leagues, in order to optimize hitter deployment.

Taking this concept further on the pitching side, owners must be careful with pitching, due to the negative impact potential of ERA and WHIP. Blindly streaming pitchers on a daily basis can be counter-productive, particularly in 4x4 leagues. In 5x5, the addition of the Strikeouts category can make a foundation of high Dom relievers a useful source of mitigation for the invariable starting pitching disappointments. 

The degree that these recommendations can be implemented is also dependent on the depth of the reserve list itself. Obviously those with longer reserve lists can do more than those with a shorter list, but the key is deciding upfront how you plan to use that reserve list, however long it is, and then tailor your draft strategy toward that usage.

Of course, it is frequently more complicated than just two dimensions. A 15-team, mixed, 5x5 league with a seven player reserve list will roster about 180 pitchers on draft day, or the six best pitchers on each of the 30 MLB teams. If this is a keeper league, it is likely that many of the starting pitchers with positive ERA and WHIP contributions are already rostered. If this league has daily transactions, the owner could consider loading up on high Dom starting pitchers at the draft, planning to churn them daily to build up strikeouts and hope for wins, while relying on skilled middle relievers to mitigate ERA and WHIP damage.

Conversely, a drafter in an only league, with deep reserve lists and weekly transactions, may want to target a wide range of starting pitchers during the draft. That will provide a greater choice of options when selecting starting pitchers for weekly roster decisions, and leave the relievers in the free agent pool.

These are only some of the combinations that are possible as Rotisserie baseball has evolved. The key is to actively consider the specifics of your league, and how those nuances of in-season management provide insights into your draft day preparation, through analyses similar to the above.

Happy preparation!

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.