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2023 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide - Strategy, Tips and Targets by Jon Anderson

Aaron Judge - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB Injury News

Welcome to my 2023 draft guide! In this piece, I try my best to give you all of the biggest lessons I learned in my draft preparation.

I have put tons and tons of hours into fantasy baseball research this offseason, and I learned a lot in the process. I can't tell you everything here, and I surely won't end up being right about everything, but I think it's a good piece to write to give everybody my high-level view of things.

It is certainly an interesting year for fantasy baseball. We had our first "normal" offseason since 2019, which was a great thing to see. However, this season is anything but normal in that the game is changing a ton with all of the new rules being put in place. We will talk about that stuff and more as we go through this.

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Overall Draft Strategy Tips

Focus on Power

The landscape of the game has been changing rapidly since 2019. Back in the "juiced ball era," any hitter with a little bit of power was hitting 25+ long balls with ease. Ever since then, that has not been at all the case. Last year, we saw just 23 hitters clear the 30-homer threshold. That was way down from 58 in 2019, and down significantly from 43 even in 2021.

We don't know what the ball will be like in 2023, but it's a good bet that we'll be closer to 2022 than to 2019. You want to get your hands on some of the game's top raw power bats. In the early rounds, that might mean taking an Aaron Judge over a Trea Turner, and in the later rounds, it might mean moving Giancarlo Stanton and Eugenio Suarez up your draft board a little bit.

In a categories league, it's always a good idea to draft for homers because it correlates very highly with RBI and pretty well with runs as well. If you were to go ahead and just draft all of the top homer guys, you would do pretty well in runs and RBI as well.

If you want to win your league, of course, you are going to want to have a balanced team, but if you had to pick one category to focus on - homers is a great choice given the correlations. I want to be the top projected home run team when leaving the draft, and it's actually a little bit easier to make that happen now that homers are more scarce. Focus on those hitters that project more than 30 homers.

Change Your Steals Strategy

Nobody knows exactly how the rule changes will affect individual player steals. It's a certainty that steals will come up this year, and the most likely outcome is that the "middle of the road" players will get the biggest boosts.

Think of it like this. Tommy Edman was already attempting steals at a very high rate last year. That means there are fewer opportunities for him to attempt more steals. He still will probably attempt steals at a higher rate, and the success rate could very well come up as well, but the upside for his steals total to explode is limited because of how high it already was.

I think the best advice is to get players with good speed (average or better) that had middling steal attempt rates last year (the guys that stole around 10 bases last year are a decent place to look). You want to find the hitters that have shown their willingness to steal a bit but just haven't made it a big part of their game.

To me, this means I'm not likely to use an early-round pick on a player that derives most of their value from steals (think Cedric Mullins and Randy Arozarena). You can focus on power and pitching early on, and then catch up in steals just fine by drafting a bunch of the player types I just mentioned.

On the reverse side of this, I still do not want to draft many players that aren't going to be stealing bases. You will need 20-30% more steals this year to win the category, so you want to keep that in mind with every pick. Load up on players that stole 5-15 bases last year, and you should be just fine in the category even if you don't get one of the guys that will go on to steal 40.

Consider Replacement Level

Your draft strategy should be tailored to your league settings. One thing that you can really take advantage of is taking on more risk/reward when you're in a shallow league.

Say you're in a 12-team, 25-round draft. That means only 300 players will be drafted. There will be all kinds of useful players that become available on waivers throughout the year. You will practically be able to build a new competitive roster out of those names. If this is the case in your league, embrace that and shoot for some extra upside. Players like Mike Trout, Jacob deGrom, Bryce Harper, Byron Buxton, Carlos Rodon, etc. These players give you massive potential returns for discounts because of the inherent risk. But even if you hit the bad luck side of their outcome range (basically, injury), your season isn't over. You can make up for it on the waiver wire.

 

Position-by-Position Draft Strategy

Starting Pitcher - Depth!

The position is quite deep this year. I used standard categories and aggregate projections to cook up some dollar values for the SP player pool, and it shows a ton of great options at the position. Gerrit Cole leads the pack with a $23.54 value. The 100th-best SP is Jack Flaherty at $8.23. That gives us an idea of the spread here.

What we find is that there are 27 pitchers with values over $15. We get past pick 100, and in the average draft, a guy like Robbie Ray is still available. You get well into the double-digit rounds of your draft before you're looking at pitchers that you don't feel really good about.

There are a couple of ways to interpret this, but to me, it makes me a little bit less likely to go for the top guys (namely Cole and Burnes). It's perfectly fine to take one of those two in the second round, they do separate themselves above the pack, but in my normal draft, I am starting my draft with two or three hitters and then diving into SP. You can fade pitching for three or four rounds and still end up with a very, very competitive staff provided you grab 4-6 pitchers before pick 150.

You can quite easily end up with a team something like this:

  1. Aaron Judge
  2. Bo Bichette
  3. Jose Altuve
  4. Max Scherzer
  5. Kevin Gausman
  6. Yu Darvish
  7. Logan Gilbert

Those aren't my favorite targets or specific recommendations, but it shows you a perfectly feasible top seven picks in a 12-team league, and you can see that the pitching staff ends up pretty darn strong despite not getting into it until the fourth round.

Focus on Strikeouts

We are expecting many more steals and a higher BABIP this year league-wide due to the rules changes. That makes the average ball put in play much more damaging to a pitcher. We always want to draft high-strikeout pitchers, but it's even more important this year. We do not want balls in play.

Some of the names to avoid with this information would be the pitchers that benefited from low BABIPs last year that didn't have high strikeout rates. Some of those names, for your consideration:

  1. Tony Gonsolin (.207 BABIP, 24% K%)
  2. Julio Urias (.229 BABIP, 24% K%)
  3. Nestor Cortes (.232 BABIP, 26.5% K%)
  4. Triston McKenzie (.237 BABIP, 25.6% K%)
  5. Alek Manoah (.244 BABIP, 22.9% K%)
  6. Miles Mikolas (.249 BABIP, 19% K%)
  7. Tyler Anderson (.256 BABIP, 19.5% K%)

I'm not saying you have to avoid all of those names, of course - but you may want to take a higher strikeout pitcher with a similar ADP over them.

Keep an Open Roster Spot

I've said this a lot throughout the offseason, but you really want to keep your options open early on in the season. Remember last year, we saw Spencer Strider, Nestor Cortes, and Kyle Wright as pitchers that were likely available for free in your league in April turn into fantasy studs.

Favorite targets: Brandon Woodruff, Shane McClanahan, Max Scherzer, Kevin Gausman, George Kirby, Lance Lynn, Luis Severino, Dustin May, Jeffrey Springs, Jon Gray, Hunter Brown

Catcher

This is as deep as the catcher position has been in my memory. There is still a clear top tier (J.T. Realmuto, and then Daulton Varsho is not all that far behind), but it takes quite a long time before you get to the catchers that don't give you much to like offensively.

By my count, there are 10 catchers I think can be positive impacts on a fantasy team's offense. That takes you from Realmuto down to Sean Murphy. If you're in a 10 or 12-team league where just one catcher is started, I think it's pretty foolish to spend a top pick on a catcher. I would so much rather get Sean Murphy in the back half of the draft than spend a top-five pick on Realmuto.

Favorite targets: Alejandro Kirk, MJ Melendez, Willson Contreras, Sean Murphy

First Base

First base is the position I am most likely to wait on. By ADP, Rowdy Tellez is the 16th first baseman off the board, and his projection isn't crazy different than that of Pete Alonso, who goes in the second round on average. This position is loaded with great power bats, so take advantage of that late.

This is not to say don't draft Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Freddie Freeman, or Pete Alonso, those three are obvious fantasy studs and there should be no knocking on taking them after pick 10 or so, but if you are looking at position scarcity, the logic says that first base is the one to wait a bit on.

In leagues where you start a corner infielder, first base is definitely the position you're going to want two of. As stated, the 16th-best first baseman is Rowdy Tellez. Over at third base, the 16th-best name is Josh Rojas. Big difference in the fantasy value there, so I would be trying to grab two of the top 16 first basemen on my team.

Second Base

It's a bit of a shallow position at the top, but unlike some other spots - there are a good amount of upside picks later in the draft. The top four are pretty clear - Marcus Semien, Jose Altuve, Jazz Chisholm Jr., and Ozzie Albies. I do like getting one of those four, but it's not a must-get situation like outfield and third base are for me.

After pick 130, you still have names like Max Muncy, Gleyber Torres, Jorge Polanco, Brandon Lowe, Thairo Estrada, and Jeff McNeil hanging around. And then after pick 200, you can still get your hands on bounce-back candidates like Ketel Marte, Whit Merrifield, and DJ LeMahieu.

Favorite targets: Jose Altuve, Ozzie Albies, Thairo Estrada, Jorge Polanco, Brandon Lowe, Jonathan India, Ketel Marte

Shortstop

Arguably the most loaded position in the game. There are six studs at the position (Trea Turner, Bobby Witt Jr., Bo Bichette, Fernando Tatis Jr., Francisco Lindor, and Corey Seager). After that, you have a large group of quite good fantasy players (Oneil Cruz, Tommy Edman, Dansby Swanson, Wander Franco, Xander Bogaerts, Tim Anderson, Willy Adames, and Jeremy Pena).

Once again, I will say that you are not doing things right if you just don't take any of the great players at a position because there are good options later. You absolutely shouldn't pass on Trea Turner if he would fall into the second half of the first round, and Bo Bichette is a phenomenal target in the second round. However, it's another position that will not completely murder you if you're one of the last teams to take one.

Favorite targets: Corey Seager, Xander Bogaerts, Tim Anderson, Willy Adames, Jeremy Pena, Javier Baez

Third Base

This is the most important position to get right in my book. I want one of the top seven names on every single team I draft. Those names are:

  1. Jose Ramirez
  2. Bobby Witt Jr.
  3. Manny Machado
  4. Rafael Devers
  5. Austin Riley
  6. Nolan Arenado
  7. Alex Bregman

I really want to prioritize the top five there, but Arenado and Bregman are certainly fine (Bregman is especially good in OBP leagues). Where I don't want to be is relying on names like Eugenio Suarez, Ke'Bryan Hayes, and Alec Bohm as my starting third baseman.

There are a few names that you can get away with late if things go right (Ryan McMahon, Anthony Rendon), but this is undeniably the most shallow position for fantasy goodness - and I'm not allowing myself to miss out on the top couple of tiers there.

Outfield

There's a pretty big difference here depending on if your league uses three or five starting outfielders. If you need to start five outfielders, you absolutely should be looking to get two outfielders quickly, and I would want three or four by pick number 150.

It makes the most sense to use your first-round pick on an outfielder. Of the top 12 players by ADP, seven of them are outfielders (Ronald Acuna Jr., Aaron Judge, Julio Rodriguez, Kyle Tucker, Juan Soto, Yordan Alvarez, and Mookie Betts). After the top 25 outfielders are gone, the names you're looking at are guys like Taylor Ward, Steven Kwan, and Christian Yelich. Those players are fine for what they are, but there's a clear lack of safety and upside with those names.

It should also be noted that a ton of useful outfielders will become available on waivers this year, that's just the nature of things since there are more outfielders than the other positions (since most leagues use OF rather than LF, CF, and RF). That means you should not panic or make a hasty trade if you come out of the draft with a weak outfield, but I really don't want to be stuck starting three outfielders after the ADP of 120 or so.

Favorite targets: All of the first-rounders, Teoscar Hernandez, Tyler O'Neill, Anthony Santander, Hunter Renfroe, Lars Nootbaar, Riley Greene, Andrew Benintendi, Ramon Laureano, Bryan De La Cruz, Jesse Winker 

Relief Pitcher

I am not one to pay up for one of the top closers, and that applies to all league types. To me, spending a premium pick on a reliever is just putting too many eggs in one basket. The primary reason I say that is relievers do not affect your ratios as much as you might think.

This changes depending on how your starting roster looks, but let's just take a standard example. Let's imagine you're starting six starting pitchers and three relievers all year long.

Let's say you get about 180 innings on average from those six SP spots and about 65 from the three reliever spots. That gives you 1,080 innings from your starters and 195 from your relievers. That means your relievers make up just 15% of your total innings pitched, a very small percentage.

Let's assume your six SPs average a 3.50 ERA for your fantasy team. If you get a 2.50 ERA from your three relievers, your team era ends up at 3.35. If your relievers are significantly worse and give up a 3.50 ERA, that brings your team ERA to that 3.50 ERA. Losing an entire run of ERA from your relievers only makes a 0.15 run difference on your team's overall ERA. It's just not something you should worry about very much.

Therefore, when you are drafting a reliever, you are essentially drafting for one category. Starters will affect four categories and hitters will affect five categories in standard leagues. That's a significant difference that we need to keep in mind.

That said, we still want to draft actual good relievers because those are the guys that get saves and keep the job. I'm not going to end up with top relievers in most of my drafts, I prefer to wait until some teams dive into that and then pick up the "scraps" for my team. This is all especially true in a league where you can make adds in-season. Saves will come available, and you can do just fine if you leave the draft room last in projected saves.

Favorite targets: Felix Bautista, David Bednar, Andres Munoz, Paul Sewald, Evan Phillips, Alex Lange, David Robertson

So there you have it, a general culmination of the biggest takeaways from my 2023 draft prep. Hope this helps, here's to another great fantasy season ahead!



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In 2024, fantasy football managers are all about wide receivers, but we’re also about value. With prices skyrocketing everywhere else, we don’t want to pay above market value for a player. We also don’t want to pay for a player at the cost of their 90th-percentile outcome. We need the potential to get a positive... Read More


Ty Chandler - Fantasy Football Rankings, Waiver Wire Pickups, Draft Sleepers

Aaron Jones, Ty Chandler - Fantasy Football Outlook for Minnesota Vikings RBs in 2024

The Minnesota Vikings offense will look a little different in 2024. Quarterback Kirk Cousins left in free agency, and the team replaced him with first-round pick J.J. McCarthy. McCarthy or free-agent signing Sam Darnold will start the year as the Vikings quarterback. Even the running position has changed for Minnesota this offseason. They released Alexander Mattison -- who started the 2023 season... Read More