Fantasy Baseball Strategy Guide

How to build a winning fantasy baseball roster

Fantasy Baseball Strategy Guide

Shawn Childs is a legend in the fantasy baseball world and his advice is invaluable. A member of the NFBC Hall of Fame, Shawn has several top-5 finishes in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship as well as five NFBC auction championship titles under his belt. He also boasts several prominent in the high-stakes market and multiple huge DFS wins. Shawn’s process and evaluation are among the most thorough in the sport and his exclusive FPGscore metric is changing the game. This 2024 Fantasy Baseball Strategy Guide and insight are courtesy of the brilliant mind of one of the sport’s best. 


This Fantasy Baseball Strategy Guide is courtesy of Shawn Childs. Read Shawn’s expert fantasy analysis at his Substack.

Fantasy Baseball Basics

Fantasy baseball is a great game, especially for sports fans who love to watch baseball. A season covers about 180 days or about 26 weeks. Most of my experience in the fantasy baseball market has come in rotisserie-style leagues in the high-stakes market with no trading. Most formats have 10 categories to earn league points, with five for batters and five for pitchers.

Roto Categories

Batting Average (BA) – Each team adds up their total hits divided by at-bats by their starting hitters to create their overall team batting average. 

If you have the highest batting average in your league, your team earns first-place points in this category. (Note: The number of teams in each league or competition determines league points. For example, if there are 12 teams in a league, first place is worth 12 points. Second place is worth 11 points, and so on, with the last-place team earning only one point). 

In a 12-team league, fantasy managers trying to finish in the top 20% in batting average should set a goal of .2630 based on the high-stakes market results in 2023 (2,460 teams).

Runs (R) – This is the total of all runs scored by the starting hitters on your team. 

The goal for runs should be about 1,125 runs in 12-team leagues or 80 runs per player in formats with 14 offensive players.

Homeruns (HR) – Each team adds up the number of home runs by their starting hitters. 

A fantasy manager needed over 320 home runs to finish in the top three in the home run category in 12-team leagues (about 23 home runs per batter).

Runs Batted In (RBI) – This is the total of all runs driven in by your starting lineup.

In a 12-team league, the target number should be about 1,100 RBIs (about 79 RBIs per batter).

Stolen Bases (SB) – Each team adds up the number of steals by their starting players.

In 2022, a fantasy manager needed 134 steals to finish in the top 20% or nine steals per hitter. The change in the size of bases, pitch clock, and only two throws to a base led to a spike in stolen bases. The new target for steals for 2024 is 198 to finish in the top 20% (14 per hitter).

Wins (W) – This is the total number of wins by your fantasy pitching staff (only players in the starting lineup).

Typically, I try to manage my team to get enough starts in the year to earn four wins per week, 104 wins over a 26-week season. In 2023, 94 wins in the high-stakes market placed in the top 20%.

Earned Run Average (ERA) – Each team adds up the number of earned runs allowed by their pitching staff divided by the total number of innings pitched times nine innings to determine their team ERA. The goal is to have the lowest ERA in the league.

A fantasy team needed an ERA of 3.718 to finish in the top 20%. I typically use a 3.50 as my ERA target in a 12-team format. 

Walks + Hits/Innings Pitched (WHIP) – This is the trickiest stat for new fantasy managers to get a handle on. WHIP is a way to get the value of each pitcher’s skill set. All hits allowed are added to the total number of walks allowed divided by the total number of innings pitched by your starting pitching staff to come up with each team’s WHIP. The lowest WHIP earns the most league points.

A fantasy manager needed a whip of 1.194 in 2023 in 12-team leagues to finish in the top 20%. 

Strikeouts (K) – Each team adds up the strikeouts from the pitchers in their starting lineup each week.

Some pitchers have posted impressive strikeout totals over the last few seasons, raising the bar to compete in this category. In 12-team formats, a fantasy team needed 1,454 strikeouts to finish in the top 20% last year.

Saves (SV) – Each team adds up the total number of saves by their pitching staff to compete in this category. 

A fantasy team will need about 78 saves to be competitive in saves in 12-team leagues. 

League Structure

A standard 12-team Roto league will consist of about 30 rounds. Each team selects a player in each round while filling in their starting line-up, which includes 14 hitters and nine pitchers. The 14 batters consist of two catchers, one first baseman, one second baseman, one shortstop, one third baseman, one middle infielder (second base or shortstop), one corner infielder (first base or third base), five outfielders, and one utility (any batter). Most fantasy managers will draft seven starting pitchers and two closers (pitchers who pitch in close games that earn saves) for their starting pitching lineup. 

The seven bench spots can consist of any players you desire. In 12-team leagues, having a couple of extra starters and a third pitcher with a chance at saves would make sense. The last four bench slots could look like this: one upside young player with future playing time, one backup outfielder, one backup middle infielder, and one backup corner infielder. 

Player Pool

Once a fantasy manager has a feel for each category on the hitting and pitching side, it’s time to learn the player pool.

To help you get a feel for the possible value of each position in 2024, I put together a table of average stats for most of the positions this year based on the final 2023 stats.

In most seasons, first base, third base, and the first two outfield slots offer the most production to a fantasy line-up from the hitting side. However, the shortstop position moved to the second most impactful offensive position again last year. The value on the right under the TOTAL column (light yellow) shows the impact of each position’s stats within a 12-team league environment using FPGscores. Just for comparison, here’s how each position stacks up based on FPGscores values from last season:

When learning to develop a winning fantasy roster, the goal is building a foundation of solid batters and elite pitchers while finding complementary upside players later in the draft. Making draft decisions based on the previous season’s results will lead to a rude awakening as many players fall short of expectations for various reasons. Therefore, it’s crucial to find rising stars who will be drafted earlier in the following draft season (as in a 2023 eighth-round selection being a second-round pick in 2024). 

In the above table, I totaled the average of the 12 players for all 14 roster slots, leading to these category totals: BA: 265, R: 1,052, HR: 312, RBI: 1,047, and SB: 166. These stats finished almost in the top 20% of each category last year (BA: .2576, R: 1,070, HR: 300, RBI: 1,041, and SB: 166), helped by beating the league average total in at-bats (7,466) by 456 at-bats (5.8%). In the realm of managing a fantasy team for 26 weeks, there are many complicated decisions and injuries, leading to missed stats and playing time. 

Last year, a top 12 outfielders (7.31) offered the highest impact value by FPGscores, followed by shortstop (3.96), first base (3.69), and second base (3.51). The rise in the value of stolen bases helped the infield positions, while power production is the key to the lead outfield slot and first base.

My baseline for auction values in 2023 came to $12.81 for a team investing 69% ($179.40) of their $260 budget on hitting. The average player stats for each position combined led to a value of $13.83 (74.5% of $260).

Compare Players with Different Skill Sets

Here’s a look at four different skill sets of players to give you a feel for some decisions within the draft:

I listed the final stats for four players from 2023 with different position qualifications. Mookie Betts offers the most value this year at second base, leading to him having an early ADP of 6.1 as the fifth-ranked player in the early draft season in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. His edge last year came in runs (126), home runs (39), and batting average (.307). He finished third in FPGscore (10.01), behind Ronald Acuna (20.53) and Freddie Freeman (11.23). Acuna should be the slam-dunk first pick in most drafts this year, so I left him out of this comparison.

Freeman was an exceptional five-tool player last year while hitting behind some talented players. His batting average (.331) continues to be a massive edge and steals (23) from first base is a hidden advantage. His one strike is home runs (29), but Freeman did hit 59 doubles, inviting a possibility of more going over the fence in 2024.

Corbin Carroll had a tremendous rookie season, giving a fantasy team a massive edge in steals (54) with supporting power (25). His overall production doesn’t suit all fantasy managers, and the influx of speed last season may make it easier to find stolen base outs later in the draft.

Bobby Witt delivered on his first-round draft pedigree in his sophomore year in the league while failing one steal from joining the 30/50 club in home runs and stolen bases. Despite improving his approach, he’s trailing all other top-tier options in batting average (.276). The Royals can’t match the Braves or Dodgers in offensive lineups, lowering his ceiling in runs and RBIs. Witt’s shortstop qualification and age (more growth expected) give him a foundation edge for any fantasy team. 

The question for any team manager is how they see the player pool unfold in future rounds. For example, is batting average more important than speed? Is rostering a foundation ace a better path? Each option is a building block that sends your team down different avenues to finish your roster. 

Building Blocks

Early in the draft, each fantasy manager’s decision dictates different directions for future picks. Building a potent offense requires multiple selections with favorable timing at various times during the draft.

If a fantasy team started with a power/average hitter like Betts, the goal would be to find another speed player later in the draft while searching for as many power/speed players as possible over the next few rounds.

A team that starts with Witt will turn to power-hitting outfielders or corner infielders with his following few selections in drafts.

The idea behind drafting Freeman is to start with a balanced foundation to allow your team to build more flexible paths during each draft. 

Foundation Pieces to the Offensive Puzzle

I listed Betts, Witt, and Freeman as my compared players as these three players all fit my game plan to build the foundation of my offense. After my first three batters, I want a high batting average base with 75 home runs and 75 steals. Doing this allows me to create easier outs in some categories while adding more flexibility to my decision-making in each draft. 

Elite Speed with Power and Average: The player that comes to mind for me is Carl Crawford in his prime. From 2004 to 2007, he hit .304, averaging 97 runs, 14 home runs, 73 RBI, and 53 steals. His skill set is one of the most unique in fantasy baseball. He set a massive floor in speed while adding four categories with league-average stats or better. In 2023, Corbin Carroll and Bobby Witt produced better overall years than Crawford, and both players should push over a .300 batting average in the near future. If a 15/55 player can be an edge, then a 30/50 option should be a player to fight for in drafts.

High Average/Plus Power: The players I think of when trying to identify this skill set in my team development are Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, and Miguel Cabrera. These players had a chance to hit well over .300 with a floor of 100 runs, 30 home runs, and 100 RBI. Juan Soto fell short of those expectations in batting average, making Freddie Freeman the best player for this classification in 2024.

Balanced Player: The goal is to find the best 20/20, 25/25, or even 30/30 player to start as a top three-piece to your hitting offense while adding help in batting average. 

Sometimes, it becomes more about acquiring assets if you play in a trading league. Each player’s performance will set up future deals as the season unfolds. Unfortunately, trading in fantasy baseball is never easy, and most fantasy managers overvalue their players. 

On the Pitching Side

Based on last year’s results, here is a look at some of the pitching slots to build a fantasy roster for a 12-team 5 X 5 Roto format:

All starting pitchers will have no production in saves, and each closer will offer minimal value in wins and some success at times in strikeouts.

Here’s how the closer position would rank when compared to the starting pitching inventory:

Last year, only five pitchers finished with over 200 innings, and only 20 other arms reached the 180-inning mark. The drop in innings in lead arms pushed the value to the top 12 closers despite only 12 pitchers recording 30 saves or more. 

Learning to Build Your Pitching Base

Fantasy managers can see the edge created by drafting an ace starting pitcher based on the above grid of pitchers. Each year, the starting pitching pool will change, forcing drafters to make different evaluations on who to take in drafts. 

By following this chart it suggests a top closer is more valuable than a second-tier SP2. On the flip side, a second ace arm with the ability to pitch over 200 innings would be a significant score if he ranks highly in wins, strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP. If starting pitching flies off the board early and the depth looks questionable, a move to an elite closer like Devin Williams does make sense. The next decision comes when you start adding your second closer. 

Based on the FPGscores rankings last year, the second group of closers ranked fifth in roster construction for pitchers. Most fantasy managers will take the second closer before their fourth starter and sometimes before their third starting pitcher. This decision depends on league size and draft flow while also considering the changes in the value of the player pool from year to year.

How to Identify an Ace

Using the FPGscores, a fantasy manager can get a feel for a player’s possible value between different positions. In addition, it will help identify potential underlying values. For example, here’s a look at the top 24 pitchers from 2023 based on FPGscores rankings:

By looking at the highlighted orange line, a fantasy manager can see the baseline of an ace. Last year, a pitcher needed 14 wins with a 3.197 ERA, 1.089 WHIP, and 210 strikeouts to be considered an ace. 

The light blue line shows a pitcher with 12 wins, a 3.372 ERA, 1.134 WHIP, and 187 strikeouts for an SP2.

For a drafter to create a winning pitching staff, he should be looking to beat both target lines of stats, which FPGscores are expected to help fantasy managers see quickly.

Following up with earlier examples for batters, a team must decide between a hitter or a pitcher over the first three rounds of drafts in 2024. Any pitcher with 15 wins or more with a sub 3.00 ERA and 200+ strikeouts will offer an edge from the starting pitching position. A beginner fantasy manager won’t understand pitchers’ high failure rate due to injuries until he plays the game, so this decision isn’t as easy as clicking a button in the draft room. Pitching comes with a ton of injury risk.

A drafter will embrace these types of decisions once he develops a feel for the game and becomes more passionate about the player pool.

A Look at the Closing Options

In 2023, the top 12 closers averaged five wins, 33 saves, and 82 strikeouts with a 2.69 ERA and 1.103 WHIP. Devin Williams gained his edge in ERA (1.53) with an advantage in WHIP (0.920) and saves (36). His FPGscores (6.75) were well above the rating (3.51) for the average of the top 12 closers. 

The second group of 12 closers averaged five wins, 22 saves, and 74 strikeouts with a 3.04 ERA and 1.114 WHIP. When adding the stats for your top two closers, it may be challenging to reach the medium target number for saves (60). Fewer saves produced by two relievers required fantasy teams to add a third closing option to be competitive in the save category, resulting in an expense in wins and strikeouts. 

Top closers climbed to the third and fourth rounds in most 15-team fantasy drafts over the past few seasons while being discounted slightly in 12-team leagues. They offer an edge with 40+ saves and elite strikeouts when added to a low ERA and WHIP. Unfortunately, saves can be found in all areas of the draft plus be available in the free-agent pool. It’s just a matter if a fantasy manager wants security over the ensuing battle for closers later in the draft and on the waiver wire.

Sometimes, a top starter and top closer may offer a better foundation than the Dual Ace strategy. 

As great as each player may look on your roster, names don’t win fantasy championships. It’s about acquiring the best stats in each category, which comes down to drafting, free agency, and team management. 

In today’s fantasy games, fantasy managers have ADPs (average draft position) to help understand draft flow and completed results from previous seasons to show what it takes to win at all levels. 

I know this is a lot to take in on the surface, but this insight will be much more evident when playing fantasy baseball.

Final Thoughts

Here are some early guidelines I go by when building my fantasy roster:

1 – Batting Foundation – I focus on finding three batters that combine for 75 home runs and 75 stolen bases with my first three batters, plus offer an edge in batting average. If draft flow creates the right path for my team structure, this goal could be achieved with three of my first five picks.

2 – Pitching Foundation – I try to roster two aces plus one reliable closer. By doing this, I position myself to compete in all five categories on the pitching side.

3 – One Solid Catcher – I invest in one solid catcher inside the first 12 rounds. It’s important not to get beat at the catcher position. Finding one catcher on the waiver wire can be done, but two would be a tall task.

4 – Batting OrderThe batters that hit in the top five spots in the batting order offer the most value if they get full-time at-bats. I look for leadoff-type hitters for runs and cleanup-type hitters for RBI. 

5 – Backend Pitching – I try to ensure I finish my pitching staff. Investing in early pitching doesn’t make sense if I give away my edge later in the draft. Pay attention to WHIP, as it is the most critical fantasy category.

6 – Closers in Waiting – If I happen to roster a second solid closer, it’s always nice to have a third option on the bench. League size will determine the availability in the draft pool. If I’m weak at the second closer position, I must follow the struggling closers and try to roster the next option in line for saves.

7 – Double Starters – A new fantasy team can quickly get beat in wins and strikeouts by not pitching enough starters in weekly line-up leagues (These are leagues where you set your lineup once for the week). Starters that pitch twice a week give your team two chances at wins and strikeouts. I invite ERA and WHIP risk if I live on the waiver wire. There is a delicate balance between starting a reliable pitcher and a waiver-wire arm with double starts each week.

To win in fantasy baseball, a fantasy manager must understand what it takes to win, learn the player pool, get a feel for draft flow, and, most of all, make good decisions while on the clock in drafts. It all starts with a draft plan or style, which varies from year to year and from fantasy team to fantasy team.


This 2024 Fantasy Baseball Strategy Guide is courtesy of Shawn Childs. Read Shawn’s expert fantasy analysis at his Substack.


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About Shawn Childs 970 Articles
Shawn Childs has been a high stakes Fantasy baseball and football player since 2004 where he had success in his first season (three titles and $25,000 in winnings). In early years of the high stakes market in Fantasy baseball, he was ahead of the curve in player evaluation, draft value, and free agent bidding setting up four top-five finishes in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has four AL-only Auction titles, one NL-only title, and five Main Event titles plus an overall title in 2012 at RTFBC (netted $10,000). This success led to an induction into the NFBC Baseball Hall of Fame. His success in the high stakes market led to a career in providing Fantasy Baseball and Fantasy Football content. On the football side, he’s competed and won in all different formats – auctions, draft championship, main events, and high-dollar leagues. He won 2nd place overall in the 2014 Most Accurate Salary Cap Expert contest at FantasyPros. As a dual-sport player, it was natural to transition to the daily games where he is a “swing for the fences type of guy.” Childs has appeared in one FanDuel NFL Live Final and one DraftKings NFL Live Final, a season-ending tournament which led to a couple of chances to win over $1,000,000.