Fantasy baseball is an ever-changing monster that introduces new analytics and draft strategies each year. It’s gotten to the point where we no longer look at batting average as a concrete statistic and we now break down the launch angle and exit velocity of a hitter. We can analyze ballparks and hitting/pitching trends. A player hitting atop the order may be a machine for scoring runs, but he may not rake in the RBI. Everything can be picked apart and broken down with advanced analytics. Sites like Fangraphs, Baseball Savant/Statcast, and Baseball-Reference are excellent sources for these measurements.

Every year it seems like there’s a new stat that everyone gushes over. In recent years it’s been FIP, wOBA, wRC+, etc. Now we have xFIP, xBA, xwOBA where we can now expect advanced statistics. When I first heard about xwoBACON (expected weighted on base average against contact) I had a brain fart. I felt like those elder scouts in Moneyball that couldn’t quite grasp why Brad Pitt was touting Jeremy Giambi because he simply got on base. If you’re like me and feel like you’re falling behind on the times, don’t panic. It’s perfectly fine. It’s not a bad thing if you keep it simple. If you read up on Greg Jewett’s Player Profiles for the Fantasy Alarm Draft Guide you’ll find all the advanced stats, but he explains everything incredibly well and he can help you shape an overall opinion on the players that get written up while incorporating an array of advanced analytics.

And that, my friends, finally brings you to the main point. Whether it’s fantasy football, baseball, hockey, basketball, or DFS it is important to have an opinion on each player. It doesn’t need to be an elaborate opinion. It can be something as simple as “I like this guy,” or “I am not drafting this player.” The player pool is vast in fantasy baseball so a quick note on each player is a good foundation for your draft day approach. A great way to develop an opinion is by developing your own rankings heading into your draft. And from there you can simplify your rankings by building tiers. By putting players into tiers, you are grouping certain players together based on how you perceive them. You could build your tiers around what round you may take them in or how elite you feel they are at their position.

In 2016 and 2017, Jose Altuve was in a tier all his own. He was a clear-cut first round pick in fantasy baseball drafts. Whether it’s because he knew what pitch was coming or not, fantasy baseball doesn’t shun studs and he was by far the best at his position. However, his 2018 campaign saw massive regression with just 13 home runs and fewer steals. In 2019, he played in fewer games, but saw a resurgence in power (31 home runs) while stealing just six bases (a career low) on 11 attempts. The return of the power is fantastic, but he’s running significantly less. However, from 2014-2017 he had four straight seasons of 200+ hits and 156 total steals in that span. He’s been a very reliable player for doubles and batting average as well. Because of all the things he did as a hitter, he was an absolute stud for rotisserie or head-to-head category leagues. Now in 2019, he did hit a career high in home runs as mentioned above, but he’s swiping fewer bags and the strikeout rate has steadily climbed in recent years, but he’s nowhere close to Mark Reynolds by any means.

The point of this is that he’s no longer in his own elite tier as stolen bases are typically a category that fantasy managers target earlier on in fantasy baseball drafts. And this next point is something that is just generally out of Altuve’s control: second base isn’t a position as scarce as it once was. The keystone position now boasts a ton of depth if looking at the productivity of some of the best players from last season. Based on Fantasy Alarm’s Second Base Rankings there are eight players in the top tier (Ketel Marte , Gleyber Torres , Altuve, Whit Merrifield , Ozzie Albies , José Ramírez , Max Muncy , and DJ LeMahieu ). You could make an argument for guys like Keston Hiura , Mike Moustakas , and Jonathan Villar for top-tier status as well. But remember, you want to keep the top-tier for just the players you perceive as the best of the best. We at Fantasy Alarm currently have 40 second basemen ranked and broken into six tiers. You can obviously go about creating more tiers if you see fit.

The current position with the most scarcity is going to be Catcher. That’s been the case for many years. If you play in a two-catcher league it may behoove you to try and reach for one of the studs. As you can see from our Catcher Rankings there are just eight players in the top two tiers and you may not necessarily agree with the names in those groups or in the order in which they’re ranked. That’s fine, it’s all subjective anyway. However, it’s highly recommended that you grab one elite catcher in two-catcher leagues. But even in one-catcher leagues you can do yourself a lot of favors if you grab Gary Sánchez , J.T. Realmuto , Yasmani Grandal , or even a Will Smith in deeper leagues. Having a positional advantage each week over your opponent with an elite catcher can help you throughout the season. It’s similar to the Tight End position in fantasy football. The number of elite options are fewer compared to other positions so make sure you put yourself in position to not have any questions or concerns throughout the year.

Positions with more depth afford more flexibility. Sure, if you have a top three pick you’re likely selecting Mike Trout , Ronald Acuna Jr., Christian Yelich , Mookie Betts , Francisco Lindor , etc. But the emergence of the juiced ball has seen an increase in offense and power, so there’s more depth at numerous positions, except for maybe catcher. You won’t always have a superstar at each position, but through savvy tiering and drafting you should be able to find solid options at each position and come away with plenty of first-and-second-tier players.

Now another big question lies in regard to starting pitching. I’ll go more in depth on drafting starting pitchers in another article, but how should you target certain pitchers? If you’ve read any of my articles the last few years, you know I prefer loading up on hitters while sitting on pitching. And when I say “sit” I mean waiting until about rounds six or seven to select your first pitcher. That’s pretty dangerous and I no longer feel as cavalier about my fantasy baseball pitching staff. To be honest, with all the depth at each position (save for catcher) on offense, you should feel pretty good grabbing a couple top pitchers for your fantasy team. In years past I would’ve suggested getting a pitcher ranked somewhere between 12-15 as your ace and filling in with a few other pitchers in the Top 50 and streaming pitchers on waivers throughout the year. 2020 brings a new mindset from yours truly. Nowadays, you should feel okay grabbing a Top 10 pitcher and sprinkling in other options along the way. Again, we don’t dive too deep into when you should actually your pitchers, but rather when building your tiers you should cross reference your league’s starting pitcher requirements. Can you only roster seven or eight of them? Are you limited to a certain number of starts each week? What are the scoring settings or pitching categories? Knowing Your League Rules is one of the first Draft Guide articles that comes out for baseball and football each year and with good reason. This will help you identify the best pitchers for your league and you can build your own tiers and prioritize pitchers from there on draft day.

Usually it won’t stray too far from the norm, but for example let’s look at Jacob deGrom in a points league. deGrom boasts a 21-17 record the last two seasons with elite strikeout numbers. However, in some points leagues your pitchers get rewarded for wins and penalized for losses. So with only four more wins than losses in the last two seasons, in points leagues you’re really just banking on deGrom’s strikeouts to keep you afloat. Now similar to Altuve, this isn’t to persuade you to not draft deGrom. Despite the lack of wins he’s won the NL Cy Young each of the last two seasons. He’s definitely worth drafting early as your ace, but the lack of wins can knock him a little in points-based formats. And if you do miss out on deGrom there are plenty of pitchers in the top two-or-three tiers that can get you 200+ strikeouts with a respectable ERA and WHIP. It’s not going to kill your team if you miss out on one of the arms in Fantasy Alarm’s top tier of starting pitching. However, you will want to address your rotation with multiple arms from the second and third tiers.

Now once you have your tiers established you should work in some mock drafts and get a feel for when your favorite players are getting drafted. Get enough practice in and see how you feel about your lineups if you draft two ace pitchers from the top tier. Does this maybe leave you a little thin in the outfield or in the infield? If you pass on the top pitchers, are you confident in your rotation if you don’t take a Top 15-20 arm? Our very own Andy Spiteri will be heading up the Mock Draft Army for the fantasy baseball season and you can participate with other members of the FANation as well as some of our very own contributors.

Tiering is a great little cheat sheet for your fantasy baseball drafts. Through the proper application of developing tiers, mock drafting, and finding value later in your draft you’ll be able to come away with a solid team. You likely won’t draft a player at each position in the top tier (but if you do, job well done) so make sure you can identify some players with upside. The draft is just the beginning to a long, arduous season that stretches into fantasy football season. Draft prep starts now so it’s not too early to start tiering things up... Pun intended.