Rotisserie, or Roto as it’s commonly called, is the grand pappy of all fantasy baseball formats — specifically when the selection process includes a snake draft. The original leagues in the ’80s used that style, and it’s still the most popular type of league today. Perhaps the reason it’s still so popular is all the different ways you can build your team. Because of that, giving out draft tips and strategy advice is tough to do, as it all depends on your preferred method, but there are still better ways than others to build your team.
In this piece, we’ll give you general tips for taking down your league(s). But it’s not just about strategies in the preseason and for league setups as you’ll need in-season strategies too and how to approach things based on how long you’re going to be with the players you’re selecting or picking up. By the end of this piece, you should have a very solid base on which to build from for your roto leagues.
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: Fantasy’s Alarm Ultimate Draft Guide
Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: Tips, advice for how to win your league
Let’s make a few things clear: Roto isn’t necessarily a description of the scoring style of the league, nor does it preclude keeper/dynasty leagues. It also doesn’t automatically indicate your player selection process is a snake draft. Typically, you’ll see a Roto league described as a 5×5 league in reference to the number of categories for hitting and pitching that the teams are scored in. These categories are where some customization happens in rotisserie leagues, as the “standard” categories (average, runs, RBIs, HRs, SBs, wins, ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, saves) have become a little less “standard” lately.
While the rest of this article is geared toward those in Roto leagues, most of the tips, at least in terms of general team building, still apply for 5×5 or 6×6 H2H leagues with a snake draft.
Know your categories and default draft rankings
Many owners prefer on-base percentage to batting average, while others opt for quality starts (or even simply innings pitched) to wins. “Solds” (saves + holds) is also replacing saves for some, as it opens the player pool for more relievers. Knowing your league’s categories and whether the default rankings in your league’s draft app are set for them are vitally important, so consider that your first bit of advice.
2022 FANTASY BASEBALL RANKINGS:
catcher | First | Second | Third | Shorts | Field | starter | closer | Overall
Do the math, set some goals
Regardless of how you select players in your league, you’re trying to build a team that can compete in all of the categories your league counts even so that you have a balanced team and one that’s less susceptible to slumps and injuries. Sounds simple, but easier said than done.
What’s not included in that concept is the fact that most players won’t even help in every offensive or pitching category. You’re also not going to get top players at every position (unless you’re in a really shallow league and you’re a really good drafter). There is scarcity in positions and stats that result in premium “prices.”
Based on the previous season(s), you should have an idea of what it takes to win each league. Heading into every Roto draft I do, I set up goals for each category that generally should get me into the top five for each category. Choosing top five means that if I hit that goal, I know I’m going to compete in that category; if I fall just short, I’ll still be in good standing. Averaging top-five finishes in categories is a good rule of thumb to compete to win the league.
For example, in 15-team NFBC leagues — both TGFBI and Main Event formats — the top-three finishers often crack the 100-point mark in 5×5 formats. That means the top finishers average top-five finishes in each category to finish in the money.
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Try to be well rounded early
At the start of the draft, the base of the team needs to be fairly well rounded. The players who can help in multiple categories — be it offense or pitching — are the guys who need to be the focus early on in drafts. It’s far better to rely on many guys helping at least a little in a category than only a couple players helping a lot. Generally, it’s recommended you focus on offense early since a good hitter can potentially help in five categories while even the very best pitchers only have a significant impact on four. However, some opt for a couple reliable, stud pitchers early because of the volatility of that position.
Knocking out chunks of your category goals early in the draft also helps to show you where you need to strengthen later. It can also help you see how you stack up against the competition, especially if you’re in an online draft room that tracks these things.
Shed a tier: Watch for positional (and category) drop-offs
As the draft progresses, you have to go value hunting and focus on the scarcity factors talked about earlier. For example, second base and first base can be thin for top-flight options, so keeping tabs on who’s still available at those positions as you get to the middle of a snake draft is imperative. That’s not to say you should reach for names just to get a name; rather, make sure you know when the remaining options left are about to drop a tier relative to the categories your team needs. For example, if you’re in the middle of the draft and you notice that there are only, say, three 1Bs left projected to hit 20-plus HRs, but there are several options with that stat left at other positions, it’s time to snag a first baseman.
With pitching being so up and down from year-to-year, the best strategies for building a fantasy rotation is to get a top-five or top-10 starter to anchor the staff and then fill in with No. 2 a few rounds after . That means early in the draft you should be grabbing a starter and then focus on hitting for a while before circulating back to pitching, at least in a snake draft. Again, plenty of owners opt for two studs in the first three or four rounds, but either way, getting two relatively stable guys is preferred.
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: Fantasy’s Alarm Ultimate Draft Guide
Cover your bases, look for specialists
As the draft progresses, you should be thinking about whether you have a few guys who qualify at multiple positions (this is especially important in daily leagues and if you don’t have many bench spots), as well as which stats you need to reach your default goals?
In the back third of the draft, that’s where the single-category contributors come to the forefront. Those are the guys who are going to get you over the hump in most offensive categories. For example, people tend to bolster their power numbers in the back half of a draft, but that means it’s the perfect time for you to look for any remaining speed. Middling power and run production can be found everywhere, especially in-season. Speed is always more floating.
Players with high averages but not a lot in the way of counting stats are also the guys who might go in this part of the draft. Think, Adam Frazier and Luis Arraez. Average, like steals can be a tough thing to find in-season, so getting a .300 late — especially if it’s someone who plays multiple positions — is a great way to steal a few points without anyone paying attention.
Punt or go for it?
If you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed there’s one category I’ve conspicuously not mentioned yet — saves. While the other four (standard) pitching categories can be filled with starters and even swing guys, saves really have to be hunted for if you hope to compete for top spots in that category.
This raises the question: Can you punt a category? That doesn’t mean you’re not going to build a roster that won’t put up any stats for that category; rather, it simply means you’re not making it a priority and are simply going to pick up the scraps others look past. This might seem to fly in the face of “be balanced” strategy, but keep in mind, you only need to mean top-five finishes to finish highly, trying to lock down a 11 in two while sacrificing with a three in another keeps the average intact (11+11+3 = 25; 8+8+9 = 25. Get it?)
This isn’t necessarily for the faint of heart, as you are actively giving opponents an advantage over you in a definitive way, but the logic works both ways. If they are expending capital to get that one category on their roster, that means they’re missing out on filling out others in a strong way.
Saves is an especially good category to use this strategy with because of the volatility of the role and the rate of injuries for pitchers. An example of this was last year with those that spent a bunch of capital on Jose Leclerc for Texas coming off a great 2020 while no one was paying attention to Ian Kennedy or Joe Barlow. Both of those guys went late, if at all, if many leagues, but they still got a good amount of saves while Leclerc was injured. Paying attention to teams who might trade players at the deadline or players who are on shaky ground coming into the year is a good way to get bargains in a category like saves.
Tips for beyond that draft (that ultimately affect the draft)
Unlike H2H and points leagues where it can be apparent very quickly after the draft that you need to change things up, in Roto leagues, you can afford to wait a bit before making any big moves. Obviously, if a guy gets injured early, there’s a clear adjustment to be made, but if a player is just off to a slow start, there’s still plenty of time for him — and you — to get back on track. A perfect example of this is Anthony Rendon in 2016. That year he was expected to be a 20-90-90-10 3B with a good average. In April, he hit zero homers with one RBI and a .242 average. Plenty of his owners were looking to deal him away for 75 cents on the dollar. What happened? He finished the year with 20 homers, 91 runs, 85 RBIs, 12 steals, and a .270 average, which is exactly what you got him for. Bailing on him meant that you’d have given a .291 average and basically all of the counting stats to your opponent, and you’d still be stuck with a month’s worth of a .242 average bringing you down.
Pickups are a different story, as you want to capitalize on the hot hands and flavors of the week when they happen (without losing key guys on your roster). Everyone remember when Aristides Aquino had his moment in the sun in Cincinnati a few years ago? It doesn’t matter that he hasn’t done squat since — those who capitalized on that late-season surge got a major boost in multiple categories.
Baseball is by definition a streaky game, so getting as much exposure to the hot streaks as possible is always good.
Even though this sounds like purely in-season advice, you should also keep it in mind when selecting players. You will make many changes to your roster after your draft, so don’t pass on big values just to get eight more steals from a mediocre middle infielder or a 4.25 ERA and 1.35 WHIP from a bench pitcher. You don’t want glaring deficiencies, but you can also bank on improvements if you’re willing to put in even a little time.