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2012 Draft Prep: Rotisserie strategies

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These strategies apply specifically to Rotisserie leagues. For Head-to-Head strategies or auction strategies, check out the guides specific to those formats.

Not all stats are created equal.

It's an elementary concept, really. A stolen base gains one base. A home run gains four. Not equal.

So why, then, are they worth the same amount in a Rotisserie league? Why should we have to treat them as equals?

The answer: It's not real baseball. It's Fantasy Baseball. It's a game about a game, kind of like Jeopardy! Home Edition. It may have answers phrased in the form of questions, but I can promise you Alex Trebek isn't waiting to jump out of the box.

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This frustrates some Rotisserie-league owners who want Fantasy Baseball to be a representation of the game they've loved since they were children -- a game that's about striking out the cleanup man with the tying run on second, not counting beans and sorting them into piles.

So is that what Rotisserie-style baseball is? Beans and piles? Well ... yeah, sort of. I don't mean it in the derogatory way it sounds. The piles are disguised as baseball stats, which makes it fun, and your knowledge of individual players and the sport as a whole helps you predict how many beans will go into each pile, which also makes it fun. But the counting is the most important part. It's the basis of the game.

So play the game. Measure the home runs against the stolen bases against the runs scored against the RBI and sort them into neat and even piles. Stop trying to make your Rotisserie league into something it's not by approaching it as if it's the real thing. The game has a logic of its own, and by applying any other logic, you're only swimming against the current.

Case in point: Ask yourself who's the better player between Ben Revere and Yonder Alonso. Has to be Alonso, right? He'll take a walk. He'll hit the ball from gap to gap. He's a genuine offensive talent. By comparison, Revere and his miserable .619 OPS of a year ago is the last kid picked on the playground.

Yes, he is. But it doesn't matter. You're not trying to draft the best players. You're trying to win the game.

That's more than a spot-on Jonah Hill impression. It's a reminder of what your emphasis should be on Draft Day. Yes, in some Fantasy formats, Alonso's superior offensive ability would make him more of an asset than Revere, but in the bean-counting approach of Rotisserie play, his totals wouldn't measure up. Revere had 34 steals as a rookie last year and should have even more with a full season of at-bats. Alonso, no matter how high his OPS gets from all the doubles and walks, might not reach 15 homers playing half his games at spacious PETCO Park. He won't make the same contribution to your Fantasy team.

It's all in the beans.

So as you prepare for your Rotisserie draft, keep in mind it's its own game with its own quirks that requires its own unique approach. Fortunately, you've stumbled upon the guide to break it all down for you, beginning with a simplified method for getting those piles as even as possible.

Maintaining the delicate balance

The "piles," for those new to the game, are categories, and in standard 5x5 Rotisserie leagues, there's 10 of them. For hitters, they're batting average, home runs, RBI, runs scored and stolen bases. For pitchers, they're wins, ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and saves. No other stats have a direct impact on your team's performance. Just those 10.

You get points based on the number of teams in your league and where your team ranks in each category. If you rank first in a category in a 12-team league, you get 12 points for that category. If you rank last in a category, you get one point for that category. Add up your points for each of those 10 categories and, boom, you have your total score.

So you can understand why you might not want to have a lineup full of middle-of-the-order sluggers. It would dominate in real life, sure, but it's overkill in Rotisserie if the maximum number of points you can earn for homers is 12. And if it causes you to overlook the top-of-the-order speedsters, it'll leave you with nothing in the steals category. Your lineup of superstars will have given you a combined 13 points in those two categories when a more balanced team could have potentially earned you, say, 18.

Does that mean you'd be better off with a Coco Crisp on your team than a Prince Fielder? If you've constructed your roster in such a way that an injection of stolen bases is its only hope for moving up in the standings, yeah. But that's obviously not the most efficient way to play the game. In Rotisserie drafts, as with any draft, you're trying to maximize your return with each pick, and if your earliest picks aren't giving you what you need most, you haven't maximized anything.

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You have to know more than just how good a player is. You have to know what he does and how much of it he provides. It's a complication in Rotisserie leagues that doesn't exist in other versions of Fantasy Baseball, where you're simply trying to fill in each position of the diamond with the best talent possible. As quickly as the talent depletes at a position, the numbers deplete in a category, and if you don't pay attention to both, you'll end up with a need that might not be so easy to fill.

The constant balancing act can get to be a little overwhelming. You have to figure out which of the players available to you at each of your 23 picks in the draft will give you the most balanced numbers across 10 categories while still meeting your needs at one of the 10 different positions you have to fill. How can you possibly keep track of it all?

Relax. It's not as difficult as it sounds. The key is to narrow those categories down to the ones that have the greatest individual influence. For hitters, the critical two would be steals and homers.

Wait, but aren't all stats created equal? Aren't runs and RBI worth just as much as steals and homers? Yes, but think about how runs and RBI happen. Runs come from players at the top of the lineup, typically base-stealers. RBI come from players in the middle of the lineup, typically home run hitters. As long as you're balancing your stolen bases and your home runs, your runs scored and RBI should turn out just fine. It's not a universal rule -- every year offers its exceptions, such as the power-hitting Rickie Weeks batting leadoff -- but the relationship is close enough that you can use it as a crutch on Draft Day.

So what about batting average? It's the one offensive category without a clear partner stat, which immediately makes it a lower priority than home runs and stolen bases. Of course, that also makes it something that won't take care of itself on Draft Day, which means if you don't pay it a second thought, it could be your undoing.

The danger is in loading up on too many of the .260-hitting types that pervade the early rounds. They're there for good reason, of course. Curtis Granderson is one of the premier power hitters in the game. Ian Kinsler is a 30-30 man at a weak position. David Wright is an early-round mainstay who has fallen on hard times lately but could get back to elite status with a full season of health. You want those players in Fantasy. But if you draft too many of them, you'll put yourself in a hole deeper than a middle-round Billy Butler can dig you out of.

Look, a .260 hitter or two won't kill you, so if you have a shot at one that fills a weak position or keeps you from losing ground in home runs and RBI, go for it. But whenever possible, try to sprinkle in a Matt Holliday or Starlin Castro just to account for that fifth category. You'd much rather prevent a batting average crisis with an early-rounder who also provides homers or steals than a late-round one-trick pony.

The pitching staff can wait

Of course, if you're making a play for a Granderson or Kinsler while still loading up on the Hollidays and Catros of the world, you're obviously devoting a high percentage of your early-round picks to hitters. But they're only half the game. You still have those other five categories to worry about, and they contribute just as much to your bottom line as the home runs and steals do.

Fortunately, the game is set up in such a way that you can afford to wait on pitchers. Quite simply, you'll find more good ones available in the middle rounds.

Let's do a little math to illustrate the point. No, it's not as simple as counting beans this time. Whether or not that makes it better, I don't know.

A real-life MLB team features a five-man starting rotation and an eight-man starting lineup. To account for the DH in the AL, we'll say it's an 8 1/2-man starting lineup. Therefore, for every pitcher starting in the majors, there are 1.7 hitters starting in the majors.

By comparison, a Rotisserie team features a six-man starting rotation -- or seven, depending on the number of relievers a team uses. We'll say 6 1/2. It also features a 14-man starting lineup. Therefore, for every pitcher starting in a Rotisserie league, there are 2.2 hitters starting in a Rotisserie league.

It's completely disproportionate. For whatever reason, the makers of the standard Rotisserie lineup decided to load it up with hitters, making the available pitchers look better and better, comparatively speaking, the deeper you get into a draft. In addition to the typical eight-man lineup, you start two extra outfielders and a corner infielder and a middle infielder and a second catcher. And just in case, you know, they hadn't covered all their bases with those made-up positions, they also gave you a utility spot. The pool of hitters thins out faster than the pool of pitchers just because every team has to start so dang many.

Eventually, every Rotisserie draft reaches a point when the worthwhile hitters run out. They go away. They're done. And if you haven't already filled out your lineup when that point comes, you might end up having to start a part-timer like Rajai Davis or Seth Smith.

And that's a surefire way to fall behind in every offensive category.

So make hitters the priority. Before you reach for that elite arm in the fourth round, make sure you're not passing on a hitter who perfectly meets a need, whether positional or categorical. Because once he's gone, chances are you won't find anyone else like him.

But wait, isn't the same true for the pitcher? Cy Young winners don't just grow on trees, you know.

No, they don't, and with this approach, you may not necessarily get one. But it's still the more efficient way to construct your roster.

Remember: The deeper you get into the draft, the more the available pitchers outclass the available hitters. Those middle-round hurlers may not be as pretty as the early-rounders -- they may not offer the sparking track records or the stud numbers in all four categories (more on the fifth one later), but they offer better bang for the buck. You won't be able to take advantage of the value if you've already loaded up on aces, because you'll have to devote your middle-round picks to filling out a middle-of-the-road lineup.

And who knows? If, like with hitters, you focus on the categories that have the greatest impact on a pitcher's individual performance and let the peripheral ones take care of themselves, you'll most likely stumble upon a breakthrough pitcher or two, making your starting rotation just as stout as the one drafted by the guy getting by with a starting lineup of Austin Jacksons and Alcides Escobars.

Hey, that's what happened to Ian Kennedy, C.J. Wilson and Ricky Romero last year.

When it comes to Roto, guys like Ervin Santana should be available in the middle-to-late rounds. (US Presswire)  
When it comes to Roto, guys like Ervin Santana should be available in the middle-to-late rounds. (US Presswire)  
When you boil baseball down to its core, eliminating all the extras that distract from its simplicity, a pitcher can only control one factor: whether he throws a strike or a ball. Everything else on the pitcher's end is at least partially a result of defense, run support or plain, dumb luck.

So if you trust the numbers a pitcher can actually control and understand that they have the greatest influence on whether he succeeds or fails, you'll recognize that the pitching categories most worthy of your investment in a Rotisserie league are strikeouts and WHIP.

Your mission, then, should be to find the middle-tier pitchers who excel in both categories. OK, maybe not excel, because if they did, they'd already rank among the game's elite. But you get the idea: They record strikeouts at a high enough rate that you know they'll be an asset in the category, and they issue walks at a low enough rate that their WHIPs shouldn't be an issue either. Go to your league's stat page and sort by strikeout rate, and you'll see that pitchers like Brandon Beachy, Brandon Morrow, Cory Luebke, Anibal Sanchez and Mat Latos all qualify as ideal middle-round targets.

And the list just begins there. Really, any pitcher who averages at least 7.0 strikeouts per nine innings -- meaning he'd give you at least 150 strikeouts in a 200-inning season -- fits the description of a strikeout pitcher, at least for your purposes, which opens the door to pitchers like Max Scherzer, Derek Holland, Ervin Santana and on and on and on.

Because strikeout rate and WHIP are the stats that most define a pitcher, they're also the ones a pitcher is most likely to repeat from year to year. And because of their influence on ERA and wins, they'll keep you from sinking too far in those categories as well. Think about it: The fewer baserunners a pitcher allows (WHIP), the fewer runs he surrenders (ERA), and the fewer runs he surrenders, the more often he wins. No, it's not a direct correlation -- just ask Matt Cain -- but that's baseball for you. You're playing a game that depends on variables beyond your control, which means you have to make a few concessions. If you obsess over what you can't control, you'll draft based on hunches and risk putting together a team that doesn't do anything well, but if you focus on what you can control -- your team ERA and WHIP -- you'll most likely turn out just fine across the board. It's all related, after all.

Of course, just because you're emphasizing hitting early doesn't mean you can't sneak in a pitcher or two (a Zack Greinke and Michael Pineda, let's say) before the middle rounds. In fact, it's an advisable failsafe, particularly in this pitching-heavy era. But make sure you do it at the appropriate time, when none of the hitters projected to go at that point excite you and you have a clear plan in place for the positions that remain unoccupied.

No style points for saves

Ah, yes. The category everyone would just as soon forget. Just as hitters have batting average, pitchers in standard Rotisserie leagues have their own oddball stat, only it's an even odder ... ball.

The stat, of course, is saves, and the reason it's so odd is because it requires a specialized type of player -- one so specialized, in fact, that only 30 exist in the majors. And while those 30 closers are the only ones who contribute in the saves category, they don't contribute in any of the other four. Not really.

Yeah, they technically produce ERAs and WHIPs and record their share of strikeouts, but considering the average starting pitcher throws three times as many innings and the average Fantasy owner starts twice as many starting pitchers, a closer really doesn't have much say in those categories. I'll put it this way: If saves wasn't a category, you likely wouldn't see too many closers rostered.

So let's not kid ourselves here: When you draft a closer, you're drafting him for saves. It's the reality of Fantasy.

Faced with that reality, some Fantasy owners buckle. They say, "Well, if going after saves would force me to draft a bunch of players who contribute in only the one category, why not just pass on closers altogether, draft a bunch of starting pitchers and reel in the extra wins and strikeouts that result. Then, instead of selling out for one category, I can dominate in two. Muahahaha!"

It's called "punting," and it'd be great if it was a foolproof way to win those two categories. But because wins are one of the hardest stats to predict and because you should already have strikeouts covered with the approach I outlined for drafting starting pitchers, it's probably not the strategy for you.

By punting saves, you'd be eliminating one possibility for accumulating points and, therefore, limiting your team's ceiling. You'd also be putting yourself in a position where you'd pretty much have to rank first in wins and strikeouts to hang with the upper-echelon teams. The strategy forces you to paint yourself into a corner before the season even begins, leaving you nowhere to turn when it doesn't go as planned. And even when it goes as planned, it's hardly insurmountable. Two first-place finishes and a last-place finish is worth fewer points (25) than three fourth-place finishes (27) in a 12-team league.

Besides, why would you want to punt a category that's so easy to control?

As backward as it sounds, it's true. Saves, as a stat, may not be so easy to predict given their dependence on team performance and the high turnover rate at the closer position, but as a category, saves is without question the easiest to master in a Rotisserie league. The upside to having a limited number of players who contribute in the category is that your performance in that category is directly proportional to the number of those players who you start.

Get it? As far as closers go, quantity trumps quality in Rotisserie leagues. If only 30 closers exist in baseball, not every Fantasy owner can own three of them in a 12-team league. You need to make sure you're one of the ones who does.

As long as you have three closers who you're confident will keep their jobs all season, then it shouldn't matter to you who those closers are. Why shell out for the Craig Kimbrels and John Axfords of the world if, first of all, you wouldn't appreciate their contributions in the ERA, WHIP and strikeouts categories and, secondly, they wouldn't necessarily give you an advantage in the saves category? Even if both are locks for 40 saves -- which they aren't -- three 30-save guys would be enough to outdo them. And hey, those 30-save guys might end up being the 40-save guys when all is said and done. It happened for Kimbrel and Axford last year.

Knowing that you're willing to settle for whatever three closers are still available in the middle-to-late rounds, you can devote even more of your resources to those other nine categories earlier in the draft. It's just another way of directing your focus in a Rotisserie league, of taking control of the controllable by prioritizing the categories that have the greatest say in your team's fate.

It may not be the way Pappy taught you on those lazy Sunday afternoons at the ballpark, but it'll get those piles nice and even.

Count on it.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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