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Extreme Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategies: Hitter-Heavy Approach

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A few months back, I was just trying to kill time before a Thursday Night Football game. 

 

I flipped on an episode of The Simpsons hoping to put my mind on autopilot while I finished up dinner and checked my fantasy lineups. I wasn’t expected to be blown away with a 23-minute masterpiece. Since baseball is my target audience here, I have a good feeling many of you might know where this intro is headed.

The episode was “Homer at the Bat.”

If you haven’t seen it, here’s a brief synopsis. Homer Simpson works at a nuclear power plant headed by the evil, conniving Mr. Burns. The company softball team had been terrible for years, but eventually Homer crafts a magical bat in his garage that turns him into a HR-hitting machine – and the team into a juggernaut.

After a while, Mr. Burns gets wind that the company team is headed for the league championship game. So, naturally, over a few drinks, he ends up betting the opposing manager $1 million that his team will wallop the other executive’s team for the league title.

Once sobered up, Burns concocts a plan to hire professional baseball players and hand them token jobs at the power plant, all so that they could suit up for one game – the league title.

Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, Ken Griffey Jr., Steve Sax, Ozzie Smith, Jose Canseco, Don Mattingly, Darryl Strawberry and Mike Scioscia are all hired by Burns.

The problem is, they all end up missing the league title game due to unfortunate events that occur the night before the game. Sax gets arrested for a homicide he didn’t commit. Canseco gets preoccupied saving a woman and her child from a burning home. Scioscia, the only player who took his job seriously at the plant, gets acute radiation poisoning. Don Mattingly is kicked off the team for “not shaving his sideburns.”

Others fall victim to other extreme events. But despite the team being decimated, Homer ends up the hero and drives in the game-winning run. It’s a great episode. Insanely good writing.

But the overarching theme? Mr. Burns deployed an extreme strategy – perhaps cheating the system a bit – and won the league title. You won’t be able to build a superteam in your fantasy baseball draft, but if extreme strategies are for you, I urge you to read along.

It’s famously been said that, “you can’t win your draft in the first round, but you sure can lose it.”

Well, can you win your league by going all hitters in the first 4+ rounds? Can you win your league by “punting” pitching and relying on the waiver wire to save you down the road? Let’s find out.

This is Part 2 of a two-part series that examines “extreme” strategies for your fantasy baseball draft. Today, we’ll look at the hitter-heavy draft strategy and discuss how you can pull it off and still compete for a title.

The Hitter-Heavy Draft Strategy

Extreme strategies are never “easy” to pull off in a fantasy baseball draft. It’s toughest to execute in category leagues, like the NFBC. It’s easiest to utilize this strategy in an auction draft versus a snake draft. 

You get the point. Since I know our loyal FTN subscribers participate in all different kinds of fantasy baseball leagues, I’m going to dabble a bit with all of them. But let’s mostly focus on the NFBC, since it’s probably the most popular site with our audience.

NFBC Hitter-Heavy Strategy (Snake)

In my opinion, it’s more palatable to utilize an extreme-hitter strategy early in your drafts than an extreme pitcher strategy. That’s because hitters can contribute in all five categories (runs, HR, RBIs, AVG, SB) on a daily basis, while starting pitchers cap out at four categories and only appear once or twice each week. Relievers technically contribute to all five categories, but their usage is sporadic and they don’t contribute on a daily basis. 

So let’s take you through the first half of a hitter-heavy draft and see if you can make it work. Last week, I looked at a pitcher-heavy start from a theoretical No. 12 draft slot.

Today, I’ll look at a hitter-heavy start from the No. 1 spot to mix things up.

Note: Selections by your leaguemates may vary, and I’m using NFBC ADP as a reference. I’m also using general ADP (not last two weeks, last month, etc.). That’s because values will change week-to-week and month-to-month. Just FYI.

That’s a nice start to the draft. Based on FTN’s VDP projections, Trea Turner is going to provide you top-10 upside in stolen bases, along with a 20-HR/80-RBI baseline and close to a .300 average. Paul Goldschmidt is also a borderline .300 hitter who is projected for another 30/100 season. Both hitters are projected to score 100-plus runs. 

Stolen bases, power, RBIs, runs, batting average? Check, check, check, check, check. You’re already in a great spot.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Picking out of the No. 1 spot is nice because you get back-to-back selections. But once you clear the third round (and the 25th overall pick), there’s a long wait until the fourth/fifth rounds. But let’s forge through anyway.

I’m not crazy about J.T. Realmuto, but it’s a nice correlation play with Turner. Remember, mini stacks in the NFBC can be quite useful. Plus, you knock out one of your two catcher spots and gain an edge there. Realmuto gives you 20-plus homers/80 RBIs along with some more steals. Cedric Mullins gives you a bit of pop (16 HR projected) but will approach 90 runs or more and steal nearly 30 bags.

Cedric Mullins OF Baltimore Orioles

OK, let’s examine your lineup. Since you’d also have pick No. 49 right after the Mullins selection at 48, let’s add another hitter to make it five straight and go with Kyle Schwarber (another Phillies player, yay!)

I admit, as I was typing this article, I wasn’t expecting to like the lineup this much. This is a pretty incredible Philly stack with a ton of pop and will be near the top in stolen bases as well.

Now comes the rough patch. You have to wait 23 more picks before your next turn, and you still have no pitching.

Let’s break the seal with Zac Gallen. I believe Gallen is a safe selection to kick off your pitching staff. I’m bullish on the Arizona Diamondbacks this season, meaning Gallen won’t be at the mercy of run support as often as he’s been in the past. He’s coming off a career-best 2.54 ERA (perhaps there’s some regression coming) but has maintained at least a 26% K rate in all four major league seasons. He also increased his ground-ball rate to a career-high 46% last year, and his batted ball data paints a relatively optimistic picture coming off an excellent season.

Alex Bregman 3B Houston Astros

Meanwhile, let’s toss another hitter in there for kicks, simply because I couldn’t pass up on Alex Bregman in this theoretical spot. If you’re going to go hitter-heavy, swing for the fences and try to fill every hole in the lineup with an elite producer.

Now your lineup looks like this (plus Zac Gallen at P):

For this exercise, we’ll go with two more selections to take you through nine rounds.

Both players are projected north of 24 HR/83 RBI. You add a Cardinals mini stack with Contreras/Goldschmidt and easily have the top catcher duo in your league.

One more look at your updated lineup (with only Gallen at P):

That’s certainly an extreme hitter-heavy lineup. But boy, it is loaded. I struggle to see how you wouldn’t finish the year above-average or near the top in all five hitting categories.

So how do we still compete for the league title (or overall title?). Well, you’re going to need to strike gold at pitcher in the later rounds. Here are some names I’d target with your next four selections (120,121, 144, 145).

Note: At this point, I’m punting saves. This team passed up elite closers early, so your entire focus should be on starting pitching and then RP dart throws in the final rounds.

Remember, your team is so hitter-heavy at this point, that you need to go for broke at pitcher. So imagine this…

Blake Snell builds off his dominant stretch at the end of the 2022 season. Clayton Kershaw stays healthy and does … well, Clayton Kershaw things. Lucas Giolito proves last year’s struggles were just a blip on the radar. Freddy Peralta is more like 2021 Freddy Peralta.

Clayton Kershaw SP Los Angeles Dodgers

I know, that’s a lot to ask. But is it impossible? For what it’s worth, all of these guys seem like values based on their VDP projections. I’d argue that Giolito and Peralta are due for bounce-back campaigns. I’d also argue that Kershaw’s ADP already has injury risk baked in (he’s still elite when on the mound). Snell is the biggest wild card, but are you really going to pass up that K upside with just one pitcher on your roster at pick 120?

Here’s the final update:

Hitters

Pitchers

There’s absolutely no reason this team can’t compete in an NFBC league. In fact, I doubt anyone would be able to pull this off. And if they did, I’d be jealous. But based purely on ADP, it’s possible.

The final four pitching spots can be a mix between high-upside starters and dart-throw relievers. You can probably snatch a Jeff McNeil, Luis Arraez, Josh Rojas type to fill out your 2B hole and then shoot for upside with the remaining outfield spots.

I like that squad a lot. It was much easier to build a competitive squad (in my opinion) with this hitter-heavy approach as opposed to last week’s pitcher-heavy build.

As long as you understand that you’re going to need to take some risks in the middle-to-late rounds, you can roll with this strategy and still succeed. Perhaps even excel.

Other Formats

NFBC Auction

In case you missed it last week, I walked you through my NFBC Online Auction Championship team that took 12th place overall.

I didn’t plan to do this, but I ended up executing a hitter-heavy strategy to perfection. Keep in mind, auction drafts are different from snake drafts. Every owner has an equal chance at every player. And depending on who’s nominated, how much money is spent, things can vary wildly. But here’s what I ended up with last year and why it succeeded.

That was my lineup. I spent most of my money building it while sprinkling in an elite starter and elite closer along the way. Where I really struck gold, however, was later in the draft when I addressed pitching. Some of my late $1 dart throws included Nestor Cortes, Andrew Heaney and José Urquidy. I also snagged Clay Holmes, Tyler Anderson and Félix Bautista at various points of the season off the waiver wire before they were hot commodities. In essence, I made FAAB decisions ahead of time based on what could happen if injuries hit or roles changed.

Here was the pitching staff on draft day (bench included):

As I mentioned earlier, Holmes, Anderson and Bautista were critical FAAB pickups. I also picked up Martín Pérez and Jeffrey Springs, who were extremely valuable for portions of last season.

The moral of the story is, you can utilize the same general philosophy in an auction draft if your goal is to load up on hitters. Build your lineup, hit on some cheap dart-throw pitchers and outwork your opponents on the waiver wire.

That last piece is key. With any extreme fantasy baseball strategy, you’re going to need to make up ground in the areas you neglected. The best way to do that is become an expert on the waiver wire and make predictive moves before your opponents do. 

Hitting on your $1 pitchers and securing the hot FAAB pieces isn’t a foolproof method to succeed. It worked for me last year, but that could be the exception to the rule. Just keep that in mind if you decide to execute one of these extreme strategies. 

Points Leagues

I’m going to keep this one short and sweet. I wrote a three-part series in January on H2H Points Leagues strategies. If you’re interested in seeing which players I’m targeting and avoiding, that will help you make decisions later in the draft if you begin with a hitter-heavy approach.

However, I wouldn’t advise a hitter-heavy approach in points leagues. Unlike the NFBC, pitchers tend to hold more value in points leagues. Punting on that position is too risky for me. In my home league, pitchers typically account for 60-70% of the selections in the first 2-3 rounds. Sometimes it’s been even higher than that.

Of course, that could be based on my league settings. But the point remains – pitching is typically more valuable in points leagues than in the NFBC. I strongly discourage you from attempting this extreme strategy in a points format.

Looking Ahead

That’ll do it for this week’s hitter-heavy approach. As the offseason chugs along, I’ll be tasked with churning out more articles on draft strategy.

So hit me up @Adam15Young on Twitter, or DM me in the Fantasy Baseball Discord channel if you have any topics you’d like to read about. There’s a lot of intelligent discourse going on, so don’t hesitate to reach out. Perhaps your idea could become the topic for the next strategy article.

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