Fernando Tatis Jr., Trea Turner are cornerstone players (2024)

Fantasy baseball is a great game, especially for sports fans that love to watch baseball. A season covers about 180 days or about 26 weeks. Most of my experience in the fantasy baseball market has come in rotisserie-style leagues. Most formats have 10 categories to earn league points, with five for batters and five for pitchers.

Rotisserie (Roto) Categories

Batting Average (BA) – Each team adds up their total hits divided by the number of at-bats by their starting hitters on their fantasy team to come up with their overall team batting average.

If you have the highest batting average in your league, your team earns the first place points in this category. (Note: League points are determined by the number of teams in each league or competition. For example, if there are 12 teams in a league, first place is worth 12 points. Second place is worth 11 points, and so on, with the last-place team earning only one point).

In a 12-team league, fantasy managers trying to finish in the top 20 percent in batting average should set a goal of .2645 based on the high-stakes market results in 2021 (2388 teams).

Runs (R) – This is the total of all runs scored by the starting hitters on your team.

The goal for runs should be about 1,125 runs in 12-team leagues or 80 runs per player in formats with 14 offensive players.

Home Runs (HR) – Each team adds up the number of home runs by their starting hitters.

A fantasy manager needed over 338 home runs to finish in the top three in the home run category in 12-team leagues (about 24 home runs per batter).

Runs Batted In (RBI) – This is the total of all runs driven in by your starting lineup.

In a 12-team league, the target number should be about 1,077 RBI (about 82 RBI per batter).

Stolen Bases (SB) – Each team adds up the number of steals by their starting players.

Overall, stolen bases have trended downward over the last few seasons in Major League Baseball. Last year, a fantasy manager only needed 125 steals to finish in the top 20 percent or nine steals per hitter.

Wins (W) – This is the total number of wins by your fantasy pitching staff (only players in the starting lineup).

Typically, I try to manage my team to get enough starts in the year to earn four wins per week, which is 104 wins over a 26-week season. In 2021, the final target number was 90 wins in the high-stakes market.

Earned Run Average (ERA) – Each team adds up the number of earned runs allowed by their pitching staff divided by the total number of innings pitched times nine innings to determine their team ERA. The goal is to have the lowest ERA in the league.

A fantasy team needed an ERA of 3.538 to finish in the top 20 percent. I typically use a 3.50 as my target number in ERA in a 12-team format.

Walks + Hits/Innings Pitched (WHIP) – This is the trickiest stat for new fantasy managers to get a handle on. WHIP is a way to get the value of each pitcher's skill set. All hits allowed are added to the total number of walks allowed divided by the total number of innings pitched by your starting pitching staff to come up with each team’s WHIP. The lowest WHIP earns the most league points.

A fantasy manager needed a whip of 1.145 in 2021 in 12-team leagues to finish in the top 20 percent.

Strikeouts (K) – Each team adds up the strikeouts from the pitchers in their starting lineup each week.

Some pitchers have posted some impressive strikeout totals over the last few seasons, raising the bar to compete in this category. In 12-team formats, a fantasy team needed 1,450 strikeouts to finish in the top 20 percent last year.

Saves (SV) – Each team adds up the total number of saves by their pitching staff to compete in this category.

A fantasy team will need about 76 saves to be competitive in saves in 12-team leagues.

League Structure

A standard 12-team Roto league will consist of about 30 rounds. Each team selects a player in each round while filling in their starting lineup, including 14 hitters and nine pitchers. The 14 batters consist of two catchers, one first baseman, one second baseman, one shortstop, one third baseman, one middle infielder (second base or shortstop), one corner infielder (first base or third base), five outfielders, and one utility (any batter). Most fantasy managers will draft seven starting pitchers and two closer (pitchers who pitch in close games that earn saves) for their starting pitching lineup.

The seven bench spots can consist of any players you desire. In 12-team leagues, it would make sense to have a couple of extra starters plus a third pitcher with a chance at saves. The last four bench slots could look like this: one upside young player with future playing time, one backup outfielder, one backup middle infielder, and one backup corner infielder.

Player Pool

Once a fantasy manager has a feel for each category on the hitting and pitching side, it’s time to learn the player pool.

To help you get a feel for the possible value of each position in 2022, I put together a table of average stats for most of the positions (No DH Slot) this year based on the final 2021 stats.

Fernando Tatis Jr., Trea Turner are cornerstone players (1)

In most seasons, first base, third base, and the first two outfield slots offer the most production to a fantasy lineup from the hitting side. However, the shortstop position moved to the second most impactful offensive position in 2021. The value on the right under the TOTAL column shows the impact of each position’s stats within a 12-team league environment using (SIscore). Just for comparison, here’s how each position stacks up based on SIscore value:

Fernando Tatis Jr., Trea Turner are cornerstone players (2)

When learning to develop a winning fantasy roster, the goal is building a foundation of solid batters and elite pitchers while finding complementary upside players later in the draft. If you make your draft decisions based on the previous season's results, you are in for a rude awakening. Each year, players rise and fall, with plenty of them battling injuries. Therefore, it’s crucial to find rising stars drafted earlier in the following draft season (as in a 2022 eighth-round selection being a second-round pick in 2023).

Compare Players with Different Skill Sets

Here’s a look at four different skill set of players to give you a feel for some decision within the draft:

Fernando Tatis Jr., Trea Turner are cornerstone players (3)

The above stats are from my earlier projections at Sports Illustrated. Fernando Tatis (1.9) and Trea Turner (1.7) have similar ADPs while also ranking first and second in my first release of the projections. Turner owns the higher ceiling in speed, but Tatis brings an electric five-category skill set. His only question is staying healthy. With fewer strikeouts, his batting average would move into an elite area. He should be the first player drafted for someone building a balanced team.

I’ll focus on Turner matched up with Juan Soto and Vladimir Guerrero for this comparison. Each player brings a projected edge in batting average while ranking second (11.03), third (10.17), and fourth (9.66) in SIscore.

The attraction of Turner comes from his balanced skill set. Unfortunately, he can’t match Soto or Guerrero in RBIs, plus his power output probably has more regression than upside. However, Turner plays in a high-scoring offense, allowing him to be a difference-maker in runs.

Soto offers the best approach in baseball, leading to a massive total in walks and potentially in runs. He has a league-leading batting average upside while still looking to unlock his power stroke. He can’t match the other top three players in speed, but Soto has an underlying upside in this area.

Guerrero turned into a beast last year, and his approach suggests his bat will be a factor for the next decade or so. In addition, the Blue Jays have a young cast around him helping his floor in runs and RBI.

The question for any team manager is how they see the player pool unfold in future rounds. For example, is batting average more important than speed? Is owning a foundation ace a better path? Each option is a building block that sends your team down different avenues to finish your roster.

Building Blocks

Early in the draft, each fantasy manager's decision dictates direction for future picks. Building a potent offense requires multiple selections with favorable timing needed at various times during the draft.

If a fantasy team started with a power/average hitter such as Guerrero, the goal would be to find another speed player later in the draft while also searching to find as many power/speed players as possible over the next few rounds.

A team that starts with Turner will turn to power-hitting outfielders or corner infielders with his following few selections in drafts.

The idea behind drafting Soto is to start with a balanced foundation (assuming he runs this year) to allow your team building to have more flexible paths during each draft.

Foundation Pieces to the Offensive Puzzle

I listed Turner, Guerrero, and Soto as my comparable players as these three players all fit my game plan to build the foundation of my offense. After my first three batters, I want to have a high batting average base with a combination of 75 home runs and 75 steals. By doing this, I can create easier outs in some categories while also adding more flexibility in my decision-making in each draft.

Elite Speed with Power and Average: The player that comes to mind for me is Carl Crawford in his prime. From 2004 to 2007, he hit .304 while averaging 97 runs, 14 home runs, 73 RBI, and 53 steals. His skill set is one of the most unique in fantasy baseball. He set a massive floor in speed while adding four categories with league average stats or better. In 2022, Trea Turner has the talent to be a better piece to start a fantasy team with a high ceiling in stolen bases if he wants to run. Remember, typically, there is only one player that fits this category in many draft seasons. Unfortunately, the only 15/55 player I see this year is Adalberto Mondesi. He doesn’t meet batting average criteria, and staying healthy has been a problem.

High Average/Plus Power: The players I think of when trying to identify this skill set in my team development are Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, and Miguel Cabrera. These players had a chance to hit well over .300 with a floor of 100 runs, 30 home runs, and 100 RBI. Juan Soto is the new anchor to a fantasy team in batting average and power, plus he adds some steals. Vladimir Guerrero also fits into this category after his outstanding 2021 season.

Balanced Player: The goal here is to find the best 20/20, 25/25, or even 30/30 player to start as a top three-piece to your hitting offense while adding help in batting average. Fernando Tatis, Ronald Acuna, and Luis Robert are the best three options for me in the 2022 draft season.

Sometimes, it becomes more about acquiring assets if you play in a trading league. Each player’s performance will set up future deals as the season unfolds. Unfortunately, trading in fantasy baseball is never easy, and most fantasy managers overvalue their players.

Top 25 Hitters in 2021

Fernando Tatis Jr., Trea Turner are cornerstone players (4)

On the Pitching Side

Based on last year’s results, here is a look at some of the pitching slots to build a fantasy roster for a 12-team 5 X 5 Roto format:

Fernando Tatis Jr., Trea Turner are cornerstone players (5)

All starting pitchers will have no production in saves, and each closer will offer minimal value in wins and some success at times in strikeouts.

Here’s how the closer position would rank when compared to the starting pitching inventory:

Fernando Tatis Jr., Trea Turner are cornerstone players (6)

Last year only four pitchers finished with over 200 innings, and only 16 other arms reached the 180-inning mark. The drop in inning in lead arms pushed the value to the top 12 closers despite only nine pitchers recording 30 saves or more. The early draft season in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship supports this change in each player’s fantasy value.

Learning to Build Your Pitching Base

Fantasy managers can see the edge created by drafting an ace starting pitcher based on the above grid of pitchers. Each year, the starting pitching pool will change, forcing drafters to make different evaluations on who to take in drafts.

By following this chart, it suggests a top closer is more valuable than a second-tier SP2. On the flip side, a second ace arm with the ability to pitch over 200 innings would be a significant score if he ranks highly in wins, strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP. If starting pitching flies off the board early and the depth looks questionable, a move to an elite closer like Josh Hader or Liam Hendriks does make sense. The next decision comes when to start adding your second closer.

Based on the SIscore rankings last year, the second group of closers ranked fifth in roster construction for pitchers. Most fantasy managers will take the second closer before their fourth starter and sometimes before their third starting pitcher. This decision is dependent on league size and draft flow while also considering the changes in the value of the player pool from year to year.

How to Identify an Ace

Using the SIscore, a fantasy manager can get a feel for a player’s possible value between different positions. In addition, it will help identify potential underlying values. For example, here’s a look at the top 24 pitchers from 2021 based on SIscore rankings:

Fernando Tatis Jr., Trea Turner are cornerstone players (7)

By looking at the highlighted yellow line, a fantasy manager can see the baseline of an ace. Last year, a pitcher needed 14 wins with a 2.79 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, and 219 strikeouts to be considered an ace.

The orange line shows a pitcher with 11 wins, a 3.08 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 182 strikeouts for an SP2.

For a drafter to create a winning pitching staff, he should be looking to beat both target lines of stats, which SIscore is expected to help fantasy managers to see.

Following up with earlier examples for batters, a team must decide between a hitter or a pitcher over the first three rounds of drafts in 2022. Any pitcher with 15 wins or more with a sub 3.00 ERA and 200+ strikeouts will offer an edge from the starting pitching position. A beginner fantasy manager won’t understand pitchers' high failure rate due to injuries until he plays the game, so this decision isn’t as easy as clicking a button in the draft room. Pitching comes with a ton of injury risk.

These are the type of decisions a drafter will embrace once he develops a feel for the game and becomes more passionate about the player pool.

A Look at the Closers

Fernando Tatis Jr., Trea Turner are cornerstone players (8)

In 2021, the top 12 closers averaged five wins, 32 saves, and 90 strikeouts with a 2.42 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. Liam Hendriks gained his edge in strikeouts (113) with an advantage in WHIP (0.73) and saves (38). His SIscore (7.15) was well above the rating (2.78) for the average of the top 12 closers. Overall, the closing inventory had a second down season.

The second group of 12 closers averaged six wins, 18 saves, and 80 strikeouts with a 2.86 ERA and 1.105 WHIP. When adding a closer one option to a closer two selection, it made it difficult to reach the medium target number for saves (60). Fewer saves produced by two relievers required fantasy teams to add a third closing option to be competitive in the save category, which came with an expense in wins and strikeouts.

Top closers climbed to the third and fourth rounds in most 15-team fantasy drafts while being discounted slightly in 12-team leagues. They offer an edge with 40+ saves and elite strikeouts when added to a low ERA and WHIP. Unfortunately, saves can be found in all draft areas plus be available in the free-agent pool. It's just a matter of whether a fantasy manager wants security over the ensuing battle for closers later in the draft and on the waiver wire.

In some cases, a top starter and top closer may offer a better foundation than the Dual Ace strategy.

As great as each player may look on your roster, names don’t win fantasy championships. It’s about acquiring the best stats in each category, which comes down to drafting, free agency, and team management.

In today’s fantasy games, fantasy managers have ADPs (average draft position) to help understand the draft flow and completed results from previous seasons to show what it takes to win at all levels.

I know this is a lot to take in on the surface, but this insight will be more evident when playing fantasy baseball.

Final Thoughts

Here are some early guidelines I go by when building my fantasy roster:

Batting foundation – I focus on trying to find three batters that combine for 75 home runs and 75 stolen bases with my first three batters plus offer an edge in batting average. If draft flow creates the right path for my team structure, this goal could be achieved with three of my first five picks.

Pitching foundation – I try to roster two aces plus one reliable closer. By doing this, I position myself to compete in all five categories on the pitching side.

One solid catcher – I invest in one solid catcher inside the first 12 rounds. It’s important not to get beat at the catcher position. Finding one catcher on the waiver wire can be done, but two would be a tall order.

Batting order – The batters that hit in the top five spots in the batting order offer the most value if they get full-time at-bats. I look for leadoff-type hitters for runs and cleanup-type hitters for RBI.

Backend pitching – I try to make sure I finish my pitching staff. Investing in early pitching doesn’t make sense if I give away my edge later in the draft. Please pay attention to WHIP, as it is the most critical fantasy category.

Closers in waiting – If I happen to roster a second solid closer, it’s always nice to have a third option on the bench. League size will determine the availability in the draft pool. If I’m weak at the second closer position, it’s essential to follow the struggling closers and try to roster the next option in line for saves.

Double starters – A new fantasy team can quickly get beat in wins and strikeouts by not pitching enough starters in weekly lineup leagues (These are leagues when you set your lineup once for the week). Starters that pitch twice a week give your team two chances at wins and strikeouts. I invite ERA and WHIP risk if I live on the waiver wire. There is a delicate balance between starting a reliable pitcher and a waiver wire arm with double starts each week.

To win in fantasy baseball, a fantasy manager must understand what it takes to win, learn the player pool, get a feel for draft flow, and most of all, make good decisions while on the clock in drafts. It all starts with a draft plan or style, which varies from year to year and from fantasy team to fantasy team.

More fantasy baseball coverage:

  • AL EAST: Baltimore Orioles | Boston Red Sox | New York Yankees | Tampa Bay Rays | Toronto Blue Jays
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  • AL WEST: Houston Astros | Los Angeles Angels | Oakland A's | Seattle Mariners | Texas Rangers
  • NL EAST: Atlanta Braves | Miami Marlins | New York Mets | Philadelphia Phillies | Washington Nationals
  • NL CENTRAL: Chicago Cubs | Cincinnati Reds | Milwaukee Brewers | Pittsburgh Pirates | St. Louis Cardinals
  • NL WEST: Arizona Diamondbacks | Colorado Rockies | Los Angeles Dodgers | San Diego Padres | San Francisco Giants
Fernando Tatis Jr., Trea Turner are cornerstone players (2024)

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