Building Your Bench in Fantasy Baseball

When it comes to winning a fantasy baseball league, there are really four different areas that will have an impact on your results. The draft or auction, the reserve rounds, free agency and trading if your league allows it. Out of those four, I think how you handle your bench is the biggest area that is overlooked or not planned out. Just like your draft or auction, you should have a plan in mind when it comes to building your bench. Here is a look at the areas to think about when it comes to the reserve rounds.

1. Positions – typically I will draft heavier on offense so my bench is going to be more focused on pitching, especially if I am able to draft a couple of hitters with multi-position flexibility which gives you a much wider play pool to pick from in free agency. So if I am going hitter strong in the draft, if you have say a seven man bench, I would try for 1-2 hitters, preferably an outfielder and corner infielder with the outfielder having some speed, three starting pitchers and two relief pitchers that might have the possibility to close.

If you are a fantasy owner that tends to draft pitcher heavy, then you may lean the other way and go with 3-4 hitters, two starters and two relief pitchers. Either way, what you don’t want to do is scramble around in the reserve rounds because you don’t have a plan in place and then picking the next name on your cheat sheet at a position that does not help your team.

2. Players – the type of player I am looking for in the reserve rounds for starting pitchers is one of three things. A pitcher coming back from injury that has had success in the past and it is the first injury of their career, so a player like Ricky Romero or John Danks (assuming they are healthy in spring). The second option is a strikeout pitcher that may not have had success yet or struggled when they first came to the major leagues because at some point they can turn things around, compared to a finesses pitcher who isn’t all of a sudden going to start striking out a ton of hitters. Third is a rookie pitcher that has a shot to make the team out of spring training or will be in Triple-A and can be up after one or two months. In an annual league,

I will typically never look at pitchers below the Triple-A to start the season because the amount of time you are going to have to carry them on the bench is likely not worth the payoff of a couple of months of action in comparison to having a bench spot frozen. Again, this is assuming you have a somewhat shallow bench. If you play in a league that keeps 1o-15 guys on reserve, then you have a little more room to make a pick like that.

Players that I am not going to take in the reserve rounds for starting pitchers are warm bodies that fill a space on my bench without any fantasy upside or that have value in several categories. Players in this group would be guys like Jeremy Guthrie, Barry Zito, Jake Westbrook, etc.

For relief pitchers, I am looking for guys that are next in line to close and the current closer has an injury history or a chance to be traded at some point in the season or a good chance of losing their job. I am not wasting a bench spot on a middle reliever that has no shot at saves because relief pitchers performance tends to vary from year-to-year and guys always pop up out of nowhere on the waiver wire in season and can be had at a cheap price.

For hitters, I like players with position flexibility, or that can make a strong contribution in a category I think I may be weak in after the draft, such as home runs or stolen bases. Just like with starting pitchers, I am looking at players coming back from injury or rookies that can make the team out of spring training or would be up the first month or two of the season.

3. Budget – if you play in a league that uses FAAB to acquire free agents, the better you pick your reserve squad, the more money you are going to save in the long run which will help you build a stronger team. Players that tend to go for the premium prices in free agency are relief pitchers that become closers in season and top prospects that are promoted to the major leagues. If you can find or two of those players in the reserve rounds for your bench, you are going to be ahead of the rest of the league.
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