Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: Saves & Steals
Howard Bender employs his "saves & steals" draft strategy in a 12-team fantasy baseball industry mock draft and shows you just how successful it can be for the upcoming MLB season.
For those of you who live and die by draft grades, allow me to start this piece off by telling you to throw them away. Yes, that’s right. Chuck ‘em. I know we have them to evaluate your drafts here at Fantasy Alarm and many people like to use them as a way to see where they may be short category-wise, but I don’t believe in them. Why? For a multitude of reasons ranging from an inability to properly project rookie performances to intangibles we know are evident in the game of baseball but cannot be quantified. But most of all, draft grades are poor indicators of how you did if you are using a very specific strategy.
Take this mock draft I just completed with our friends over at Rotoballer – 12 of the top fantasy baseball players in the industry got together and I decided to draft according to my “Saves & Steals” strategy. The object is to accrue enough saves and steals to not only lead both categories, but to also have an excess which will allow me to trade both stats away later in the year for help in other categories while also maintaining my place atop the standings. Go back and look at any roto league in the past 20-odd years. In an era where steals are way down, power is way up, closer jobs remain volatile and starters are seeing fewer innings-pitched and wins, this strategy, on paper, appears to be a winner.
On the offensive front, dominating steals doesn’t mean you ignore power. You just focus more of your early attention on stolen bases and take an extra guy or two to ensure you are in the very top end of your league. Speed guys tend to do well in batting average and OBP while also accumulating steals and runs scored. That’s three categories where you’re getting a boost. Fill around them with guys who hit for power – something there is plenty of as you move through your drafts – and you can maintain a respectable place in the standings for home runs and RBI.
On the pitching front, grabbing extra closers, particularly ones you have identified as having the strongest job security, will not only lock you in at the top in saves, but will help keep your ERA and WHIP totals down. Four or five closers should suffice, especially if you are in a league with daily roster moves and can move them in and out of your starting lineup regularly.
Now, you’re not punting wins or strikeouts here, just like you weren’t punting the power categories on offense. Your focus, for starters, should be high-strikeout guys regardless of ERA. I’m not saying add in someone who posts a 6.29 ERA but has a 10.58 K/9, but maybe a guy whose ERA sits around 4.50 and is capable of striking out close to a batter per inning. Your closers will fix the WHIP and ERA while the starters accrue strikeout totals. Get the right closer – someone like Josh Hader and/or Aroldis Chapman – and your closers will help augment your strikeout totals as well.
As for wins, we’ll pick some up, but one struggling category out of 10 isn’t the end of the world. And remember, you now have a major excess of saves and steals. If you find yourself in a spot where a handful of wins can gain you four or five roto points, you have the luxury of trading off one of the two categories and the loss of one closer or one speed guy probably won’t hurt you.
So that was the idea coming into this mock draft. I have experience with this strategy and have won a number of leagues using it. That was back in the late 90’s/early 2000’s during the height of the steroids era and things have come somewhat full-circle here. Lots of power, very little speed and strong bullpens are all the rage.
Now here are the results:
As you can see, I picked 5th in a 12-teamer.
Round 1: Mookie Betts – it’s a no-brainer pick and with word that manager Dave Roberts is going to lead him off and green-light him on the bases, he’ll see a boatload of stolen base opportunities.
Round 2: Aaron Judge – too much power to pass up given my strategy. Still plenty of speed available.
Round 3: Starling Marte – likely to bat leadoff for the Diamondbacks this year and should clear 20 steals with ease. Possibly 30.
Round 4: Jonathan Villar – middle-infield SB-specialist. Hoping Don Mattingly’s lack of stolen base attempts last year was strictly due to a lack of personnel.
Round 5: Matt Olson – more power, baby! He and Judge are going to keep my power totals up all year.
Round 6: Aaron Nola – couldn’t believe he was still on the board. Perfect pitcher for this strategy. His ERA can sit close to 4.00 for all I care, so long as he’s fanning 200-plus this season. A lower ERA and WHIP are just gravy…and you know how much I love gravy!
Round 7: Kirby Yates – top closer in the game with strong job security. Padres should be even more competitive this year which should increase opposrtunities.
Round 8: Trevor Bauer – another surprising pick to make as I never thought he’s be available. The ERA and WHIP should actually come down this year and he is all about the strikeout. Tandem with Nola, he puts me in a great spot to continue the strategy.
Round 9: Eduardo Escobar – good power, solid average and run production. Position flexibility at second and third will help out
Round 10: Brad Hand – another high-end closer with strong strikeout numbers.
Round 11: Dinelson Lamet – another high-strikeout starter
Round 12: Willson Contreras – well, if everyone is going to leave me such a strong catcher, I may as well take advantage at a thin position and just one required.
Round 13: Scott Kingery – need help at the hot corner and as a projected full-time starter, he should be good for 15 steals.
Round 14: Alex Colomé – closer with strong job security.
Round 15: Archie Bradley – another closer with strong job security.
Round 17: Caleb Smith – high-strikeout starter who stands a great chance of being dealt to a contender.
Round 18: Starlin Castro – solidifies my middle infield with a full-time player. Power is ok, speed is meh, but the average will help.
Round 19: Adam Eaton – a 15-steal outfielder is nice to have as depth.
Round 20: Luis Arraez – infield/outfield eligibility with a strong batting average and high runs scored. Any speed is a bonus, though not really banking on him.
Round 21: Michael Kopech – high upside, high strikeout starter to take a chance on
Round 22: Shin-Soo Choo – routinely overlooked outfielder capable of 20 homers and 10-12 stolen bases. Love the OBP contributions as well.
Round 23: Johnny Cueto – another good strikeout starter easy to take a chance on. If he produces as Jim Bowden thinks he will, I have myself a legitimate asset on the mound. If he doesn’t, it’s pretty easy to cut your 23rd-round pick.
Round 24: Dylan Carlson – high-upside outfielder who could/should land a starting job in St. Louis in not time.
Round 25: Zach Davies – solid late-round arm
Round 26: Emmanuel Clase – a handcuff to Brd Hand, but also a huge supplement to strikeouts and ERA- stabilization.
Round 27: Michael Chavis – eligibility at 1B and 2B which gives me a guy I can also slot into my corner and middle infield.
Round 28: Michael Pineda – Once he returns, he should be a legitimate asset to my starting pitching.
So there’s the team. Dominant in both saves and stolen bases while still grabbing enough power and starting pitching to keep my team competitive in those categories throughout the year. Once I get to the top in stolen bases and steals, I can re-evaluate my team and see who I can easily trade off and for what. You don’t win your league on Draft Day. In-season maintenance is paramount to your success and having the right game plan for a six-month grind can make it all the easier.
Oh, and how did I do on my draft grade? I got a C and was projected to finish 10th out of 12 teams. Doesn’t look great, does it? But I’m projected to finish first in both saves and steals and that’s what my goal was today.