2017 Fantasy Baseball draft strategy: Targets to win each Rotisserie category

Some people love Rotisserie scoring for Fantasy baseball, and some folks can’t stand it. It’s a grind, for sure, and you miss the head-to-head aspect that can make other formats even more fun.

However, Roto rewards diligence and planning, eschewing the randomness of H2H results that can leave a juggernaut stunned in the first round of the playoffs thanks to a single bad week. If you put together the best team, you can feel reasonably confident you are going to win your Rotisserie championship.

Of course, building that best team in Roto is a lot more complicated, too. Outside of a handful of elite studs, every player you draft comes with flaws you need to make up for somewhere else, and building a balanced lineup is a lot more difficult than just putting together the dozen or so players you think will score the most points.

You need to compete across 10 different categories, and you need to know what your targets are. Luckily, we have data from last season about what you needed to win each one. Your goal shouldn’t be No. 1 across the board, but you should be aiming for top-three in as many different categories as possible. Here’s what it took last season:

All data from 2016 CBSSports.com 12-team, 5x5 leagues

2016 Roto Results by Category
Category 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
BA 0.281 0.277 0.275 0.273 0.271 0.269 0.268 0.266 0.264 0.262 0.260 0.255
HR 332 317 308 300 294 285 277 271 262 253 242 223
R 1105 1074 1052 1035 1016 1002 986 967 950 926 901 854
RBI 1088 1057 1032 1013 997 980 962 945 924 900 873 823
SB 173 154 144 135 127 120 113 107 99 93 84 70
W 107 101 98 94 90 88 86 83 80 77 72 65
ERA 3.31 3.46 3.56 3.64 3.71 3.78 3.84 3.91 3.99 4.07 4.17 4.32
SO 1502 1447 1406 1378 1345 1312 1287 1257 1221 1181 1129 1038
WHIP 1.14 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.22 1.23 1.24 1.25 1.27 1.29 1.30 1.33
S 119 106 100 93 87 82 75 68 59 50 39 22

Batting Average

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This is the category where it’s toughest to make up ground, given the sheer number of at-bats your team will rack up. Low-walk, high-contact players have the best chance to make up some ground, though as Ben Revere and Nick Markakis showed last season, specialists in that category aren’t necessarily sure bets either. Batting average fluctuates so much from year to year and player to player, it’s hard to make it a focus, especially since .275 shouldn’t be too high a bar to clear to get into the top three. 

One sneaky target who could prove very valuable in this regard is Michael Brantley . He’s a big question mark, but he also hit .319 in two seasons before last, and can be had in the 10th round or later these days. With his low strikeout and walk rates, he could be a huge boon. 

Home Runs

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Three hundred is the goal, which comes out to 21.4 per roster spot in a standard Roto league. That doesn’t seem like you’re asking all that much, however, if you invest an early round pick in someone like Francisco Lindor , Starling Marte, or Buster Posey , you’ve already got some ground to make up. If you snag Billy Hamilton a little later -- more on him shortly -- you’re at an even bigger deficit. You’ll want to target three 35-40 homer threats early on to give yourself some wiggle room.  

Runs

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Runs are almost an incidental category, because they tend to come at the top of orders, where good players tend to hit. There aren’t a lot of “run specialists” either, because the difference between a great contributor in this category -- Josh Donaldson , say -- and a replacement-level player is probably only going to be about 50-60 runs over the course of a full season. That is worth a few standings sports, which is nothing to scoff at, but because you’re number in the high triple-digits even as a low-end team, one or two players won’t make a huge difference.

RBI

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Everything I said for runs goes for RBI as well, though at least you can typically double up on homers and RBI with your early picks. There aren’t many RBI specialists, though someone like Nolan Arenado , who has topped 130 RBI in each of the last two seasons, can get you nearly 15 percent of the way to a top-three finish by himself. 

Stolen Bases

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This is the one category where a single player can make a huge difference. Your last-place team in 2016 averaged 70 stolen bases, which is a total you can get to without much effort at all -- it’s less than six steals per player for every roster spot but one. Let’s say you get Mike Trout , Paul Goldschmidt or Bryce Harper in the first round, and can pencil in 20-plus steals without taking a hit anywhere else. You can fill out the rest of your roster almost without considering steals, as long as you make Billy Hamilton a priority in the fifth or sixth round. If Hamilton stays healthy, he has 75-plus-steal upside, which is enough to get you from last place to third, while averaging less than four steals on every other roster spot. This is the one place where specialists are really worth it.   

Wins

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I tend to not really think about wins when drafting, actually. Wins are typically -- though obviously not always -- the result of pitching well, so I’ll just target pitchers who I think will pitch well and hope the wins follow. It isn’t a perfect plan, as Noah Syndergaard’s 14 wins on a 2.60 ERA last season show, but because wins are prone to so much fluctuation due to things outside a player’s control, I just won’t worry about it. If my ERA, WHIP, and K’s are strong, there’s a good chance I’ll come out ahead in wins too.

If you do want to look for a “specialist” of some sort, targeting the Cubs is the way to go. They might not win 103 games as a  team again, but they should have a great offense and defense backing up their pitching staffs, providing plenty of opportunities for wins where they might not otherwise come. 

ERA

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WHIP

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It makes sense to group ERA and WHIP, as the only two ratio stats on the pitching side. Hitters have just one rate stat to focus on, which puts more of an emphasis on the four counting categories; it wouldn’t make much sense to chase players who don’t play much just to help your batting average. On the pitching side, however, it’s a real strategy. You can basically ignore starting pitcher, load up on relievers and hope to dominate the rate stats. After all, relievers have a much easier job, posting a 3.93 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 2016; starters sported 4.34 and 1.33 marks.

 You have to sacrifice potential wins and strikeouts, but with the right usage of streaming starters to fill in here and there, it’s a viable strategy. 

Strikeouts

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Of course, you’re sacrificing strikeouts to load up on relievers, and a top-three finish is pretty much out of the question if you do. The bar for a top-three finish in strikeouts is very high, especially because one pitcher like Max Scherzer can get you 20 percent of the way there as he did last season. If you can put together multiple 200-strikeout pitchers in one staff, like say Scherzer and Cole Hamels last season, you’re sitting pretty, because you need to average just 131 strikeouts for each other pitching spot.

A high-strikeout reliever like Kyle Barraclough (113 in 2016) or Brad Hand (111) can help out here, especially with the likely boost in the rate stats you will receive from them as well. However, you’re potentially sacrificing wins and saves there, so it isn’t exactly recommended. A high-K closer like Kenley Jansen , Seung Hwan Oh or Aroldis Chapman all of a sudden becomes a four-category contributor. 

Saves

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As with steals on the hitter side, this is where you’re looking for specialists. The Brandon Kintzler/Neftali Feliz/Fernando Rodney tier will get you saves and not much else, and can actually hurt you in the rate stats, so you really need to invest in some more reliable options at the top of your staff if you are going to go this way.

The good news is, there are actually plenty of potentially elite closers around the league this season. Chapman and Jansen will come with a hefty price, but you can wait a bit and still come away with the likes of Edwin Diaz , Ken Giles , or Roberto Osuna , all of whom could be elite contributors in ERA, WHIP and saves, while helping in strikeouts too. Finding that sweet spot between the specialists who are a drag on four other categories and paying too much for 70 innings from the elite guys is the key.

One interesting strategy is to load up on closers, snagging as many as five or six, along with a handful of elite setup men, and try to remake your pitching staff on the fly. You could build up a commanding lead in saves by the end of June if you play it right, and then look to move your closers en masse, ideally targeting high-strikeout pitchers to make up some ground. It’s risky, and you have to thread the needle just right, but it’s an interesting approach that won’t require much of an investment at pitcher until the ninth round or so. 

Fantasy Writer

Though he can be found covering three different sports depending on the time of year, there is one unifying theme in how Chris Towers approaches sports; "Where's the evidence?" It doesn't matter how outlandish... Full Bio

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