It looks like we have a 60-game baseball season in 2020. We don’t know exactly what the schedule will be. We don’t know who will be Puig’s friend. And we don’t even know where the Blue Jays will play.
But the mere thought of real Major League Baseball games has put a hop in my step this week. So I thought I’d share my thoughts on how to approach this weird wacky season, and what fantasy baseball strategies to employ.
I’ve been participating in a few industry mock drafts, and spent some time examining updated projections. After a bit of back and forth on #FBT (Fantasy Baseball Twitter) and some research, this is how I will be approaching this Sixty-Game Sprint. I hope these tips are helpful in your renewed fantasy baseball prep.
1. Grab a couple of aces early, preferably with a little gray in the beard. I’m all in on the “pocket aces” strategy popularized by Batflip Crazy. This year more than ever, I want established arms who have shown that they can carry a fantasy team. Most of these guys are in their 30s. I trust them more to get into game shape, and I also don’t think clubs are as likely to limit or pamper their vets. Note: this doesn’t necessarily mean I draft pitchers with each of my the first two picks. I just want to land two of my top 15ish arms.
2. Avoid the messy middle, and draft a plethora of cheap arms. MLB teams are going to have many different ways of approaching pitching this season. Some have announced their intentions. Most have not. And they can always change their minds. Because no one has any idea what they’re doing (except maybe the Rays).
There are now more roster slots, new rules, taxi/travel squads, and the NL DH to boot. It’s going to be a hot mess to try to predict openers, two-start pitchers, innings limits, etc. I’m attacking this challenge with volume. I’ll get my pocket aces early, maybe add a boring vet in the middle to stabilize my rotation, and then wait to take pitching late. While other managers are speculating on breakout arms like Joe Musgrove and José Urquidy, I’ll be stacking solid bats who contribute across the board, and then speculate on late starters and high-skilled relievers with my late picks. My bench will be pitcher-heavy as well.
3. Go cheap with closers, but don’t miss out. Bullpens have enough annual variance without all the new rules in place and an even tighter sample size. I’ll be targeting a couple of middle-to-cheap closers with roles to start the season.
4. Prioritize plate appearances. We’re always targeting players who hit in a good spot in a lineup that thumps. But over a regular season, I also like to take shots on some high-skilled players without clear paths to playing time. Skills usually win out in the long run. But this ain’t the long run. This is a sprint. I want players with jobs who will rack up at-bats.
5. No early plodders. Matt Williams of Rotofanatic and Turn Two Podcast made a great point about the big difference in value between 0 and 5 steals in a 60-game season. You won’t likely see me taking J.D. Martinez or Yordan Álvarez. The early bats I’ll be targeting are well-rounded hitters who can chip in a minimum of 3-5 steals in a short season. Those should add up, making me competitive in the category, and allowing me to pick from the slew of late sluggers.
6. Avoid the Mendoza-types. Look, anyone could have a terrible batting average for 60 games. But some hitters are more likely than others. I’m not chasing high-average hitters (a bad two-week stretch could turn them from batting title contender to below average), but I am trying to avoid those bats where the upside is .250, especially with valuable early picks.
7. Treat rookies the same as normal. There’s been a lot of debate about this on #FBT. I’ve always believed major-league-ready offensive players on contenders like Dylan Carlson and Nick Madrigal would play this season. But I wasn’t sure about others who may have some growth yet. Turns out, service time manipulation will be easier than ever this year.
According to Jeff Passan, if the Blue Jays decide to keep Nate Pearson down on the taxi squad for the first seven days of the 2020 season, that will give the franchise an extra year of club control.
So don’t be shocked when Pearson, Mackenzie Gore, et. al get “just stretched out enough” to be called up for week two. Most prospects on non-contenders, especially hitters, are unlikely to see major league action since their clubs will likely wait until 2021 to manipulate their service time.
8. Bump up MEPs. I’m pretty sure it was Todd Zola of Mastersball who advised us to start using “MEP” for “multi-eligible position” players (if it wasn’t you, Todd, apologies). Whoever said it, I’m here for MEPs, especially in 2020. I’m anticipating more injuries than normal this season due to a quick ramp-up, and you know, a global pandemic. I want more flexibility than normal to fill those holes. Per my pitching strategy above, I’ll also want more bench arms than normal, so MEPs are key.
9. Try to be closer to the head of the snake. If you play in leagues where you can rank your preference of where to pick in a draft (Kentucky Derby Style or “KDS”), in this shortened season, I strongly prefer the 1-8 slots. It puts you in an excellent position to get two elite starters and a foundational bat coming out of the first three rounds. In our previously-scheduled 2020 162-game season, I was setting my draft order preferences for something like 1-6, 15-12, 7-10 because I wasn’t pushing aces up as much in the top of my draft, and liked what you could do near the turn.
10. Do your homework, grind, and embrace the chaos. My bet is that the majority of fantasy owners will not put in the time to make ample adjustments in their drafts to this 60-game sprint. There’s a clear opportunity to separate yourself from the herd this year if you put in the work beforehand.
FAAB is the hardest part of the game for many because it requires a constant grind and consistent dedication over six months to be successful. While it will likely be crazier than ever this year on a weekly basis, it’s also only two months. Commit to the grind.
This will be like nothing we’ve ever seen before, and hopefully, it’s the last time we see a season like this. Luck has always been a big part of our game, and it will play a larger role than ever. Maybe you need to find a lower-stakes league, or maybe you look at your home league rules and make some “2020 only” changes. Establishing crystal clear rules and ensuring universal understanding of them has never been more important in this chaotic environment.
Do whatever you need to do put yourself in a position to enjoy baseball this season, but understand that this will be different.