2020 is a year like no other in a myriad of ways, including baseball. MLB is adjusting to a scheduled 60-game season, and fantasy baseball owners are adjusting with it. While the full baseball season is often referred to as a marathon, we're headed for a nine-week sprint beginning July 23. Even common midseason fantasy baseball leagues that draft around the All-Star break are longer than the scheduled 2020 season.
This is a type of season we've never seen before and will hopefully never see again. As a result of the changes, some common fantasy baseball strategies will need adjustment. These are some of the ways I plan to adjust my usual strategies going into draft day.
Adjusted Risk Tolerance
Unless they come at a severe draft day discount, I generally avoid "injury-prone" players. Especially in the early rounds, I've long found that oft-injured players like Carlos Correa and Giancarlo Stanton are just too much risk to stomach when there are more durable and productive players available at the same price.
This year I'm somewhat more willing to take those risks with one big caveat: The player must be healthy on draft day. It's true that the best predictor of future injuries is past injuries, so I'm not overlooking past injuries like Stanton's nightmarish 2019 season or Correa's average of 98 games played over the last three years. However, it takes less imagination to project a player to stay healthy for what's effectively 37 percent of a full regular season, and the per at-bat rewards are handsome. The fact is that there's bound to be more variability in performance this year, and health luck will arguably be the biggest determining factor between success and failure in a season like this one.
Using similar logic, I'm less likely to take the risk on already injured or ill players who will certainly miss time. A one week absence now holds almost 3x the usual weight, and with expanded rosters early, it seems unlikely teams will push the envelope if a player isn't 100 percent.
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Investing in Key Backups
A common strategy in fantasy football is to invest in No. 2s at running back. Running back is ultimately a volume position in today's NFL, and the decline from the starter to the backup is rarely all that significant. We can't exactly follow that some strategy in fantasy baseball across the board, but we can identity particular situations where linking hitters or closers in the shortened season makes sense this year with the uncertainty of COVID-19 possibly leading to more IL stints. More than ever, it's advantageous to be aware of the depth charts going into the season and draft skill, even if it resides on the bench or in a role that's not as profitable in fantasy.
Investing in Rookies
I've long taken an approach that I'm happy to invest in rookies if the price is right. Last year the price was far from right for me to take the plunge on Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who was being drafted as high as the fifth round in some leagues and failed to net a profit almost anywhere. This spring White Sox outfielder Luis Robert has been in a similar position, with an ADP of 82 in NFBC. That particularly price is still too rich for my blood with the high variability of possible outcomes for his MLB debut, but there are many other rookies I'm more willing to buy at their current costs. The prices of rookies such as Gavin Lux, Sean Murphy, Jo Adell, Dylan Carlson, and Dustin May could start to look more reasonable the deeper we get into Summer Camp, as they're likely to be in favorable roles from the start of the year and show off big upside for a relatively reasonable price. Similarly, some players who were only expected to be September call-ups like MacKenzie Gore, Casey Mize, and Cristian Pache look like they could play a bigger role in the 2020 season and on fantasy teams.
Taking Advantage of the Schedule
There's always a bit of an advantage for players in bad divisions like the AL Central, but the new regional schedule makes that an even bigger factor this season. Teams will now only play within their own division and the same region of the opposite league. It might not sound like much of a difference, but players in the Central divisions should benefit with more games against the likes of the Pirates, Tigers, and Royals, while teams in the deep East divisions could suffer aside from the extra games against the Marlins and Orioles. In other words, I could have a couple more shares of Trevor Bauer and Shane Bieber than I was planning in March.
Category Goals and Unorthodox Roto-Scoring Strategies
During the draft, I add up the projected stats of each player on my team and try to reach a set tally or rate for each stat. This is a common strategy for creating a balanced team that can compete in every rotisserie scoring category. Rarely do I dump a category like saves or stolen bases, as it leaves too little margin for error in other areas of the roster.
With the 60-game sprint, I'm more willing to go with the flow during the draft and do something different. Counting stats like wins and saves could be tougher to come by with the luck associated with those stats, especially over a short timeframe, and there's not enough time for players to "regress to the mean" and be patient. At the same time, there will also be fewer opportunities to make in-season waiver moves and trades that pay off in the standings and in building up to those category goals. While I'm not setting out to dump a category before draft day, I won't rule it out if a particular stat, position, or role is under- or overvalued.
2020: A Season Like No Other
There's no getting past the fact that there will be more luck involved than ever in fantasy baseball leagues this year with the shortened season and unpredictability of COVID-19. Ultimately, MLB and fantasy players are just trying to make the best of a sub-optimal, unfortunate, and uncomfortable situation. As you approach your draft, this is a better time than ever to be bold and hope some of that luck comes your way.