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Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: M.A.S.H.E.R.S.

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While fantasy baseball is traditionally played in a 4×4 (or 5×5) rotisserie format, the head-to-head format has gained popularity in recent years due to the rise of fantasy football. As fantasy football has become the pre-eminent fantasy football game, fantasy baseball has turned towards head-to-head as the format of choice for the layman. While expert leagues like LABR and Tout Wars still utilize rotisserie, the casual player usually prefers the weekly format of a head-to-head. There becomes a divergence of opinion with regards to what experts preach (since they traditionally play rotisserie) and what the average person plays (since they usually play head-to-head). As such, experts do not embrace the value of punting a category in head-to-head leagues.[Jeff]


Due to the format, the rotisserie format focuses on building a strong, well-rounded team. Head-to-head is a completely different beast. You get no points if you’re the third or fourth best in a category for a given week, you get a point solely if you are better than your opponent. As such, you need to build a team that focuses on crushing your opponent in the majority of categories; being “pretty good” and well-rounded at all the categories is a recipe for finishing third or fourth in your fantasy baseball league. In head-to-head, an easy way to do cultivate supremacy is to pick a category or two, and full-on “punt” them while boosting the others and dominating them. On offense, in the current offensive environment, the best category to eschew, or punt in fantasy sports terms is stolen bases. This is where the M.A.S.H.E.R.S. strategy comes in, and by its very definition, it does not punt the category outright, but rather de-emphasizes stolen base specialists.


M.A.S.H.E.R.S. stands for Marginalize All Slap-Hitting Extraneous Running Specialists, and the strategy’s theory is removing the stolen base potential from a player’s value. It doesn’t mean you should move low average mashers like Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis to the top of your draft list, but rather, you shouldn’t be bumping up players like Dee Gordon or Charlie Blackmon because of their stolen base potential. You definitely shouldn’t be drafting players like Rajai Davis because of his stolen base potential, and most MI-eligible players fall under the “slap-hitting running specialists” moniker. Values are determined by stripping a player of their projected stolen base prowess and reordered. The idea behind the statistic is to isolate the production provided by the other four categories while stripping the player, and the league, of stolen base value. You will draft players that are better at the other four 5×5 hitting categories and give you a better chance of going 4-1 in the hitting categories. Instead of using a late-round pick on a steals specialist who contributes little else, you can also focus your energies on high-upside starting pitching or low WHIP & ERA/high K-rate relievers to further solidify your ability to win the pitching categories.


Keep in mind, as your league gains more statistical categories I.e. 6×6 or 7×7), M.A.S.H.E.R.S. becomes more emphasized, as each category becomes less valuable and it becomes more advantageous to outright punt one of the categories to focus on the other five or six.


This examination utilizes something I like to call “Raw Rank.” I used Steamer’s projections (from fangraphs.com) manipulated to create a ranking at every statistical category that does not have any subjective changes. Average is weighted by number of at bats, but other than that, there are no manipulations of projected player production. A demonstration below:


Player HR R RBI SB AVG Score Raw Rank
Buster Posey 2.10 2.54 2.73 0.31 3.99 2.33 34


The numbers represent the number of standard deviations Posey projects to be from an average major league player, good for the #34 ranked player (players projected to have only one at-bat were removed from the sampling). “Score” represents the average number of standard deviations for Posey. Posey gets a huge boost in his statistics from his high-AB, high-average production, and loses a ton to stolen bases. He’s top-ten at at-bat weighted average, projected at nearly 500 at bats of .300+ average, which will provide a massive boost to your batting average category.  By Raw Rank, he’s the 34th ranked player. Let’s see what happens if you strip Posey, and the rest of the league, of stolen bases:


Player HR R RBI SB AVG Score Raw Rank
Buster Posey 2.10 2.54 2.73 0.31 3.99 2.84 18


Posey gains a massive boost by ignoring his slightly above average stolen base total. His score jumps to 2.84 and his raw rank from 34 to 18. By ignoring stolen bases, you can get a talent valued at a middle-second round draft slot for a late-third round price. Granted, Posey’s position (catcher) bumps him up a few slots in most draft room rankings, but you can see how the theory works.


Here is a sampling of some fantasy relevant risers and fallers while using this strategy:


1. Brian McCann, C, Yankees       Raw Rank: 143   Raw Rank (no SB): 123    Difference: 42
McCann is molasses on the base paths, and his 22 HR is among the best at catcher, so him being one of the top risers when we remove swiped bags from the equation makes a ton of sense. In fact, removing stolen bases predictably boosts catchers (and former catchers), with Salvador Perez (41 spots) and Evan Gattis (39 spots) rounding out three of the top four who benefit most from the removal of stolen bases.


  1. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers Raw Rank: 12 Raw Rank (no SB): 3         Difference: 9
    This one isn’t too surprising when you look at projected first-round draftees. They’re mostly well-rounded players who contribute positively in all five categories. Cabrera leapfrogs ahead of them with his otherworldly average and high number of projected at bats. He dethrones Paul Goldschmidt from the consensus top three players this year.

1. Billy Hamilton, OF, Reds           Raw Rank: 20      Raw Rank (no SB): 213    Difference: -193
It’s no surprise that the poster boy for “gives you nothing but stolen bases” is far and away the biggest faller when stolen bases is stripped from his value (Jarrod Dyson’s -154 is the second biggest drop). He drops from a value pick at his ADP to a complete overpay, since he would nearly be off the board entirely. Hitting for a low average and running the base paths for an anemic offense strip Hamilton of his value outside of stolen bases.


  1. Dee Gordon, 2B, Marlins Raw Rank: 6 Raw Rank (no SB): 93      Difference: -87
    Gordon loses the sixth-most slots when removing stolen bases from the equation, but without a doubt has the most precipitous drop in overall ranking, tumbling from a first-round selection to a nearly-double-digit round choice. Gordon is still a very valuable player, but not one you would want to select in your first few rounds if you are looking to remove stolen bases from the equation.


  1. Carlos Correa, SS, Astros Raw Rank: 17 Raw Rank (no SB): 32      Difference: -15
    Correa doesn’t lose a ton of slots from a pure number perspective, but he loses a great amount of value when you remove stolen bases from the equation. Without stolen bases, Correa’s 22 HR, 80 R, 83 RBI, .275 AVG (per Steamer) isn’t nearly as impressive. The stolen bases make him a complete package at shortstop, but with M.A.S.H.E.R.S., we don’t care as much about that, do we?


This is just a smattering of the players that change values based on the removal of stolen bases from the equation. By leveraging ADP and in-draft room rankings that reflect a five-category evaluation of a player, you can execute a punting of stolen bases perfectly.


Keep in mind, this article is not intended to give you a list of players to target to punt stolen bases, as that all depends on the projection model you are using to get your statistics. Rather, it is designed to show you that punting works, and that you do not need to pay for stolen bases in order to have a successful head-to-head team. Most importantly is to remember to strip only stolen bases. Do not take players like Yasiel Puig or Hunter Pence off your boards entirely, since their contributions to stolen bases do lead to better opportunity for runs scored. Instead, utilize standard deviation to re-rank the players in your projection system of choice and then draft accordingly. To further fine tune this, recalculate the standard deviations based on the number of players that will be drafted in your league at each position. This gives the player’s value over the “replacement level” player that will be available on the waiver wire. Most importantly with M.A.S.H.E.R.S., and with any draft strategy, is do not reach for a player. Use this strategy to find value picks in every round. They will be there, since likely everyone else will be trying to spread their hitting draft capital into five categories, and you can focus on dominating four.

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