The Playbook, Inning 6: Nine must-follow fantasy baseball tips

Your next steps towards a winning fantasy baseball season start with learning how to avoid recency bias and to truly evaluate the talent of your players. ERIK S LESSER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

(The full, nine-inning Playbook was originally published during the spring of 2020. It has been updated for 2023 where applicable.)

By now, you might be fancying yourself a fantasy baseball pro.

You've read all five Playbook innings to date, and perhaps have even begun to craft your own cheat sheet for when the 2023 season ultimately begins. You're feeling confident in yourself, fully trained for the proverbial marathon that's ahead. But while the force is with you, young Skywalker, a Jedi yet you are not.

It's not enough to simply know the basics of this grand game. No, we won't stop until we've made a perennial championship contender of you. After all, it might be fun to play fantasy sports, but isn't winning ultimately the most fun?

So let's take these important next steps with nine strategies for you to embrace -- angles that will make you a more competitive player. While they're strategies that any experienced player might already know, they're also topics with which anyone could use a refresher course.

1. Wins, batting average and ERA are poor barometers of talent

Rotisserie baseball was spawned from the bubble gum card era, a time when television graphics included just "AVG-HR-RBI" for hitters and "W-L-ERA" for pitchers, and in a season when it was still possible for Steve Stone to win a Cy Young award, despite an ERA seven-tenths of a run higher than and a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) between 2-3 less than that of Mike Norris (depending upon your source). Baseball analytics have come a long way since then and, while the majority of us are more educated players today, the game hasn't necessarily kept up quite as well with the times.

That's not to say that wins, batting average and ERA have no place in fantasy baseball. Consider them to be a form of accounting for past outcomes, which isn't an entirely unfair measure of success for our purposes, but rather one that accepts that baseball is, in itself, a game of occasionally unlucky bounces.

From a future-analysis standpoint, however, the value of these categories stands at zero (or very close to it). The following examples exemplify the folly of chasing wins, batting average or ERA:

Wins: Aaron Nola had the fourth-best WAR among starting pitchers (6.0), the second-most innings pitched (205), the best ERA-qualified K/BB ratio (8.1), the fifth-best FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching score (2.58), and he pitched for the National League's 87-win World Series representative last season. Remarkably, he won only 11 times and actually had a losing record (11-13). Meanwhile, Kyle Wright won 10 more games, for 21 total, despite having a comparable ERA (3.19, to Nola's 3.25) but noticeably worse sabermetric numbers. Wright, in fact, won as many games over the Atlanta Braves' final 72 games (11) as Nola did the entire year, despite posting a 3.49 ERA and averaging 5.9 innings per start during that time.

Batting average: Nathaniel Lowe batted .302 last season, a 38-point improvement upon his rate from his 2021 first full big-league year (.264), and his second-best single year number in his seven-year professional career. It was also backed by a .363 BABIP, the second-highest qualified rate in the majors. By comparison, Corey Seager batted a by-far-career-worst .245, 42 points beneath his career rate (.287), a number negatively influenced by a .242 BABIP, the league's eighth-worst qualified rate and one 75 points beneath his career mark in the category (.317). Defensive shifts, which are governed by new rules in 2023, also had a lot to do with Seager's categorical struggles.

ERA: Martin Perez's 2.89 ERA last season placed 14th among qualifiers, and was a driving force behind his top-40 starter fantasy campaign, yet he struck out only 20.6% of the batters he faced and had the majors' fourth-lowest K/BB ratio (2.4). By contrast, Kevin Gausman's ERA was nearly a half-run higher -- his was 3.35 -- despite his having the majors' second-best K/BB ratio (7.32). There probably isn't a single fantasy manager out there, however, who would prefer Perez to Gausman if drafting a team for 2023.

Instead of weighting wins or ERA, use the aforementioned FIP, or SIERA (Skill-Interactive ERA) or Statcast's xERA. Simpler yet, trust the pitcher's WHIP over his ERA, or weight his K/BB ratio more heavily. Returning to Gausman's example, he had the majors' largest qualified ERA/FIP differential in 2022 (3.35 ERA, 2.38 FIP, for a 0.97 run difference), delivering a much more reasonable measure of his skill set.

For hitters, consider a player's contact rate, line-drive rate or Statcast hard-contact rate rather than put stock in his batting average, at least if your league includes that category. From a hitting-skills evaluation standpoint, wOBA and Statcast metrics like launch angle and exit velocity are better measures. (Worry not, we'll dive deeper into those Statcast metrics in an upcoming Playbook.) Returning to Seager's example, beyond the likelihood that he'll be one of the hitters more positively impacted by the new rules governing defensive shifts, Statcast reflects that his wOBA-xwOBA (expected weighted on-base average) differential last season was third-widest among qualified hitters in the wrong direction (.331 wOBA, .372 xwOBA), a signal that he was particularly unfortunate on balls he put into play.

2. Buy low and sell high on the trade market

Trading was covered a bit in the last Playbook installment, but this is a specific, critical angle to understand and exploit. Just as in the stock market, the (perceived) value of baseball players on the trade market vary depending upon things like their recent performance, health, role and potentially even the success of the team around them. To "buy low" means to attempt to trade for a player at a low -- and preferably the lowest -- point on his valuation curve, while to "sell high" means to trade away a player at his highest point, when the interest in acquiring his services has reached its peak.

Usually, the way to identify a "buy low" or "sell high" player is to seek those who have underperformed or vastly exceeded expectations, either for the season as a whole or in recent weeks. Some of the statistics cited above can help with this: comparing FIP (or SIERA) to ERA, comparing Statcast's xERA to ERA, comparing Statcast's hard-contact rate to home runs or comparing line-drive rate to batting average, just to name four. Essentially, you're engaging in similar analysis to what you should do during draft-prep season, except using in-season data to extract hidden value (or identify overvalued players). You could even compare the current year's numbers to last year -- or the past three years -- if you wish, though I'd recommend still examining skills-driven departments with that.

To extract successful such examples from 2022, Brandon Woodruff, the No. 6 starting pitcher and No. 14 player selected overall (on average) in the preseason, had only one quality start and a 5.35 ERA in his first six turns, then landed on the IL two weeks later due to Raynaud's syndrome, a condition that would cost him a month's time. Sure, the injury might have heightened fantasy managers' worries, but those who pursued a mid-May buy low on the Milwaukee Brewers right-hander ultimately reaped the rewards over the season's final three months -- so long as they didn't press the panic button during his IL stint. From the date of Woodruff's return on June 28 forward, he had eight wins, 13 quality starts, a 2.38 ERA and was tied for the most fantasy points by any pitcher in his 18 turns (333 points).

On the "sell high" side, Taylor Rogers, the No. 13 relief pitcher selected (on average) in the preseason, entered Memorial Day weekend with a major league-leading 17 saves, a 0.44 ERA and 17 more fantasy points (154) than any other reliever had. While there wasn't much reason to suspect that he'd eventually surrender the San Diego Padres' closer role, it was clear from his 3.06 ERA in the three preceding seasons (2019-21) as well as his 1.88 FIP through that seasonal stage that he was pitching well over his head and worth shopping around -- so long as you could cover the lost saves. Rogers would blow six of his next 17 save opportunities, post an 8.14 ERA in his next 22 appearances overall, and the Padres would subsequently trade for Josh Hader at the deadline and give Rogers only five traditional save chances the rest of the way.

Usually, fantasy managers who attempt the "buy low, sell high" strategy make a big mistake. They often attempt such a deal too early in the season, before their competitors' opinions of players begin to significantly shift, or they're too unrealistic in gauging the market for such candidates. Such miscalculations can turn off a prospective trade partner, often to the point that there's no future hope of successfully executing the strategy.

The idea here wouldn't have been to try to sneak Woodruff away from his manager for a borderline roster-worthy player in an ESPN standard 10-team league -- with our new settings for 2023, that would be roughly the value of an outside-the-top-15 third baseman -- or to expect a top-25-overall-valued player in exchange straight up for Rogers. No, the idea would have been to acquire Woodruff for anything noticeably cheaper than the 10th-most-highly-regarded-on-the-date-of-the-trade starting pitcher, or to trade Rogers away for a player valued comparably to a top-10 fantasy closer.

3. Stream starting pitchers

"Streaming," or rostering a player for one day (or week, depending upon your league's lineup-locking format), only to release him the next for that day's similar replacement, is an increasingly popular strategy in fantasy baseball, especially shallow mixed leagues and those that afford you the maximum opportunities to change a lineup. The idea is that in a league that weighs cumulative statistics -- such as a points-based league where every player's performance is boiled down to a single number, or a rotisserie league light on ratio categories like batting average, ERA or WHIP -- you want to maximize your number of player opportunities to accumulate such stats. This means trying to get an active game out of every single one of your active lineup spots, every day, and in ESPN standard leagues, you get the benefit of changing your lineups each and every day.

Nowhere does streaming benefit a fantasy manager more than on the pitching side. Pitching statistics tend to be much more volatile than hitting statistics, and starting pitchers in particular work significantly less often than hitters -- generally once every five days, so keeping the same starting pitcher in your lineup for an extended period means getting generally one start (and maybe two) from him each week. Streaming starters in a daily league provides you the opportunity to try to squeeze a start out of every pitching lineup spot every day, maximizing your chances at getting fantasy points or, in a roto league, wins and strikeouts. (In the latter, however, bear in mind that this strategy can come at expense to your ERA and WHIP, since most pitchers readily available on a league's free-agent list are less talented than those already rostered.)

Again, the format of your league comes into play here, as does whether or not your league limits the number of transactions or starts you're allowed in a given week, but the closer your league to fully points-based, daily transactions and no limits on either moves or starts, the more the strategy of streaming starters benefits you. After all, only 22% of all starts last season resulted in a negative point total in ESPN standard points leagues, which was nearly the same percentage that were worth 20-plus points (21%), giving you good odds of a strong return on the strategy (albeit with a hint of risk).

In a weekly league, incidentally, streaming starters is every bit as valid a strategy, only there it's often referred to as loading up on "two-start" pitchers in a given week, picking those set to start early enough in the week that they'd be able to squeeze in a second turn before Sunday's games conclude.

As an additional piece of advice regarding ESPN standard leagues: Blow past the weekly starts cap, if your league has one. This means that if your league limits you to 14 starts in a given week (an average of two per day), then on the day that you expect to reach your maximum for that week, you should stream everywhere you can. Our cap rules only take effect at the beginning of a new day, but don't lock you out on the day you reach or exceed said cap, meaning that a clever manager could enter a Sunday with 13 starts already in the tank, then stream six starters on Sunday for a total of 19. (Incidentally, one reason to argue this be allowed is that, in the event of a team exceeding the cap, it would be impossible to tell which pitcher was responsible for the final start under said cap -- would it be the one whose game started first, whose game became an official game first, or the one whose game finished first?)

4. Volume is king, especially in a points league

Tying to the previous point about streaming, you want to try to squeeze as many opportunities to generate statistics out of your players as possible. Besides manipulating fantasy lineups, there are other ways to do this. Drafting or acquiring hitters from more productive offenses, hitters who hit earlier in the lineup, hitters whose teams have more favorable daily or weekly matchups or pitchers who can claim the same on that side. Returning to the previous topic about wins, too, in those leagues you can also accumulate pitchers who work for the most successful teams.

Seeking players from productive offenses is self-explanatory: The more runs a team scores, the more runs and RBI it will spread up and down the lineup. For example, of the 13 hitters to drive in at least 100 runs last season, nine played for teams that ranked among the top 10 in terms of runs per game, and seven of those nine played for one of the six offenses that averaged greater than 4.75 runs per game. On the pitching side, of the 14 pitchers to win at least 15 games last season, 10 pitched for teams that ranked among the top eight in terms of runs per game on offense, while four of the seven 16-game winners were backed by the six offenses that averaged 4.75-plus runs per game

It's the lineup advantage that's oft-overlooked in fantasy, but it's a relevant one. Coupling this somewhat with the previous point, the more times teams score, the more times they cycle through their lineup. Therefore, the higher a hitter bats in the lineup, the more opportunities he'll get to hit in a given game, and over the course of a season, that can amount to some noticeable volume advantages. The chart below breaks down the average number of plate appearances by each of the nine lineup spots for the 2022 season, with the totals by the majors' best and worst from each spot.

Before we dive in deeper, bear in mind that the universal DH, re-instituted in 2022, had a bearing on teams' total plate appearances. After the 2021 campaign saw a decline in total PAs comparative to 2019, the most recent full season before it, baseball's PA total swelled by 234, or 7.8 per team, last season. That's a curious development, considering the run-scoring environment declined noticeably, as there were 5.4% fewer runs scored in 2022 than there were in 2021, that largely the product of a 12.3% decline in home runs. Taking pitchers batting out of the equation, however, led to a rise in base hits, a reduction in strikeouts, and therefore more overall turns through the lineup. That means there was every bit as much hitter opportunity available to fantasy managers last season, with the universal DH but the slightly less hitting-friendly environment, as there was during the more homer-happy 2021.

You'll notice that the difference in plate appearances between each of the nine lineup spots is roughly 18 for each successive slot we move down; that's exactly the difference between the average team's Nos. 1 and 2 hitters last season. While 18 PAs might not seem like much over the course of a 162-game schedule, it nevertheless represents an opportunity advantage. The 84-PA difference between Nos. 2 and 7 hitters, meanwhile, is massive, which is why it was such a big deal when the Braves decided last May 25 to move Dansby Swanson, up until then mostly a seven-eight-nine hitter, up into the No. 2 lineup spot, where he'd remain for the rest of the year. Swanson averaged only 3.81 plate appearances per start before the move, compared to 4.47 after it.

Hitters similarly slated for, or stuck in, bottom-third-in-the-order roles are at a significant disadvantage from an opportunity standpoint. That's increasingly true when the competitive levels of the offenses are unequal -- note the 133-PA difference between the best team's No. 2 and worst team's No. 7 hitter.

Daily or weekly matchups themselves also influence opportunities. Hitters set for a week of games at nothing but hitter-friendly ballparks are likely to see their teams score more runs, meaning more trips to the plate for the offense as a whole and more runs/RBI up and down the lineup. These are every bit as important to weigh -- if not more so -- in your lineup-setting as the players' roles themselves.

5. Spring training stats don't really matter

I get the lure of these silly numbers. Assuming that it starts on time, spring training baseball represents the first moments of competitive, recordable game action in four months, and as stats-obsessed baseball fans, we crave new statistics. By March 1, we're ready to dive right into these new numbers, often to the point we get carried away with players' spring performances and make unnecessary, and almost always unadvisable, adjustments to our cheat sheets.

Here are the problems with spring statistics: They're drawn off a minuscule, roughly one month or 30-day sample, and one that, unlike during the regular season, features prominent players playing only fractions of the games themselves or often not many of them at all (especially in the early weeks). They're also played in states where weather conditions are quite different from what the same teams will see during the regular season, as Cactus League games in Arizona are played at 1,000-plus-foot elevations, often in humidity, pumping up the offensive numbers, while Grapefruit League games in Florida are played at or near sea level, in often larger ballparks that favor pitchers. And, perhaps most importantly, games in both states are played against far more variable levels of competition than what we'd see during the regular season, as expanded rosters mean that certain players could capitalize from facing nothing but inexperienced, Class A ball competition for a good number of their at-bats or innings.

Remember when Kyle Higashioka hit seven spring home runs, second-most in the majors, while batting .423? You should, considering it happened just last year.

Nowhere is the absurdity of spring statistics more apparent than in the saves category. In the past four full spring trainings (2018-19 and '21-22) -- we'll consider 2022's spring training "full" for argument's sake, despite its lockout-influenced abbreviation -- 12 pitchers had a three-save spring: Jonathan Aro, Ryan Brasier, Cody Carroll, Dietrich Enns, Caleb Freeman, Justin Hancock, Eric Hanhold, Andrew Kittredge, Dominic Leone, Lucas Long, James Teague and Hunter Wood. These pitchers went on to save a grand total of zero big-league games during the regular seasons that followed. The reason is that big-league teams tend to lift their veteran players from spring contests early, usually by the sixth inning, meaning that it's those same Class A-caliber players who are often left to pitch the eighth and ninth, not to mention that teams prefer to get their real closers work against real big-league hitters earlier in the game if they can. You can expect to see Kenley Jansen probably pitching the fifth, not the ninth, for the Boston Red Sox during spring training.

If there's a spring-stats angle worth exploiting, it's this: Less-proven types who have something to prove or a job to claim. Julio Rodriguez's .412 batting average, .794 slugging percentage, three home runs and three stolen bases not only underscored his multi-category fantasy appeal, but they also convinced the Seattle Mariners to install him in their Opening Day lineup, something that wasn't necessarily guaranteed at the onset of spring training. Another statistical factor to consider is whether a player's strikeout or walk rates has noticeably shifted from previous seasons, such as when MacKenzie Gore struck out 16 of the 47 spring batters he faced while walking only three, alleviating worries about the injury issues he had in 2021 and riding the strong spring to a roster spot with the Padres. Though it was somewhat short-lived, Gore delivered dirt-cheap value to his fantasy managers.

For a final note on those spring stats, if you're insistent in placing any stock in them at all, a wise move is to peruse Baseball Reference's "strength of competition" number, which in recent seasons the site has provided as an additional column beside their spring statistics. If a player's level of competition faced falls in a Class A-level tier described by their metric, his stat line is much less relevant than one who faced a great deal of Triple-A or MLB talent.

6. Go bargain-shopping for saves

Speaking of those saves, while I'll stop considerably short of the blanket "don't pay for saves" declaration, there's still a lot of merit to the strategy. Saves are typically the easiest of the 10 traditional roto statistics to find readily available on the free-agent list, or at worst, at a discount price on the trade market.

To that point, 48% of the majors' total saves last season came from pitchers who were unquestionably not drafted in ESPN leagues (specifically outside the top 450 ADP), including top-seven reliever using either points-based or roto scoring Daniel Bard and fellow 20-save performers Jorge Lopez, David Robertson and Tanner Scott. Another 8% of the league's saves came from pitchers whose ADPs were between 301-450, meaning that more than half of the majors' total saves recorded came from pitchers who would've cost a song in a shallow mixed league.

Again, though, I hesitate to use the word "DON'T" when it comes to investing in saves, because a lackadaisical approach to the category is another type of mistake. The deeper the player pool your league uses -- think AL- and NL-only -- the more likely it will be that managers will roster players who might even sniff a save chance, meaning that the free-agent list won't be nearly as populated with prospective save-getters. Worse yet, trade partners are much less likely to want to trade a pitcher once he's handed his team's closer role, especially with the recent, growing tendency of major league teams shifting to closer-by-committee strategies.

7. Resist recency bias

Fantasy managers on the whole, and not just baseball but in all sports, tend to find chasing yesterday's statistics irresistible. A hitter slugs three home runs on a given night, and he becomes the hottest commodity in the game by the next morning. The same goes for the pitcher who just threw a no-hitter. But even for the more experienced players, who aren't fooled by a one-night outburst, some do get fooled by lengthier stretches, albeit still over still-small samples of time, of player success. If you see the phrase "small sample size" bandied about on these pages, this is what we're cautioning against.

Recency bias can reveal itself with the one-year wonder, such as the aforementioned Martin Perez but also in the contrasting case of Kris Bryant, whose first year with the Colorado Rockies was ruined by multiple injuries, including back issues, then plantar fasciitis and a bone bruise in his right foot. With Bryant, it's important to acknowledge that he played a respectable 85% of his teams' games from 2019-21, offering more hope in the health department, not to mention he was plenty productive in the 42 games in which he did play in 2022. Sure, he's more of an injury worry today than he was a year ago at this time, but all of the good vibes surrounding his calling Coors Field his home for 81 games remain.

Another area where the recency bias traps even the best of us is during the regular season's early stages, where again the freshness of new statistics lures us in and causes us to believe outcomes that haven't yet fully crystallized. Just 23 days into the 2022 season, fantasy managers who fell for early small samples surely put too much stock in the breakout of Tylor Megill, who was 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA through his first five starts. They probably also put way too much trust in Connor Joe, another player benefiting from Coors Field's friendly confines, as he was hitting .322/.412/.627 in 15 games through the season's first 19 days. Additionally, they might've been the ones declaring "no more" after seeing Yu Darvish, a top-10 fantasy starter come year's end, surrender nine runs in 1 2/3 innings of his second start of the year on April 12.

Be patient, especially early in the year, because baseball tends to even out the larger the period of time you're examining.

8. Resist the rookie hype

Who doesn't want to be the first person to discover the next big thing? The lure of rookies has taken on greater weight in recent seasons, with such recent standouts as Aaron Judge and Pete Alonso, both of whom set single-season rookie records for home runs (2017 and then 2019), or Rodriguez, who in 2022 became only the third rookie in history to hit at least 25 home runs and steal 25 bases. Additionally, Ronald Acuna Jr., Michael Harris II, Spencer Strider and Fernando Tatis Jr. captured many a headline as rookies in recent years, while the graduation of several of the game's top prospects to the major leagues in the latter stages in the season (Francisco Alvarez, Corbin Carroll and Gunnar Henderson, to name three), drove home the feeling that 2022 had a rookie-rich landscape.

The problem with rookie-chasing, though, is that for every Judge or Rodriguez, there's a Shane Baz, Triston Casas or Spencer Torkelson, rookies who either got hurt, disappointed or took painfully long to get the call at all in the season in question (in this case, 2022). Yes, rookies and younger players do have greater odds of success in recent years than at any other time so far this century, but it's still important not to overrate each season's freshman class, especially not at the expense of ignoring a more seasoned, yet still-young big leaguer who has yet to reach his peak at the big league level.

Torkelson, incidentally, is one of this season's better examples of a "post-hype sleeper," having failed to produce as a rookie and now regarded as far less of a sure thing by his prospective fantasy managers. He still possesses similar raw talent to what the scouting reports outlined at the time of his debut, and his slight improvement against fastballs, detailed here, after the Detroit Tigers recalled him for a September audition gives hope that he might be starting to figure things out. Torkelson is still only 23 years old, with plenty of career ahead of him, and he wouldn't be the first prospect to struggle in his first taste of the majors (ever hear of a guy named Mike Trout?).

This isn't to say that Torkelson makes a stronger 2023 pick than, say, Henderson, but there's also a very real scenario in which Torkelson breaks through as a big-league sophomore, while Henderson takes similar time to hit his full stride. If Henderson is going within the top 100 picks of drafts and Torkelson is barely going within the top 300, as is the case in NFBC (National Fantasy Baseball Championship) drafts so far this offseason (through Jan. 25), there's probably more prospective value with the latter. As is, we have Henderson projected for only 70 more fantasy points than Torkelson.

9. Have patience through streaks -- if the player's skill set warrants

To repeat, baseball on the whole is an unpredictable game, full of ups and downs that only even themselves out over a full 162-game schedule. Narrowing the scope, however, there is a subset of baseball players who are even more subject to peaks and valleys than others, and it's with these which you must be the most patient.

On the hitting side, big sluggers who hit a lot of home runs at the expense of many strikeouts, often referred to as "three true outcomes" players because of the high likelihood that the outcomes of their plate appearances will be either a home run, strikeout or walk, represent the streakiest around.

Though he wasn't the league's leader in this department in 2022 -- Joey Gallo's 58.0% rate of his plate appearances ending in a home run, strikeout or walk was highest among frequently used hitters, while Judge's 50.0% rate was highest among batting title-eligibles -- Kyle Schwarber, whose 49.6% rate was a close second to Judge, fits the streaky description. In one 34-game stretch last season (May 30-July 6), he batted .285 with a whopping 17 home runs, only to follow it up with a 51-game stretch (July 7-Sept. 8) during which he batted only .189 with nine homers. The trend wasn't exclusive to 2022, either, as in the season that preceded it, Schwarber had an 18-game stretch in June during which he swatted 16 homers, which more than made up for the fact that he had batted only .218/.312/.404 with nine homers in his 51 games that preceded the hot streak.

While one could attempt to use a hitter like Schwarber as a buy-low or sell-high candidate based upon where he's at on the performance curve, it's a poor idea to attempt to acquire him at his high points or sour on him at his lowest. Such players are best utilized over lengthier time frames, where their fluctuations have more time with which to even out, as it's difficult to tell when their next hot or cold streaks are coming.

On the pitching side, truly "streaky" types tend to be those who have some sort of incomplete ingredient in their games. It could be the lack of blazing, raw stuff, perhaps shaky control, or maybe a durability question. Drew Smyly has been a good recent example of this, with his problem largely being injuries, as he has made a combined 71 starts over the past seven seasons and never more than 23 in any of those individual years. After struggling through April of 2021, Smyly managed seven wins and a 3.34 ERA in his next 11 starts heading into the All-Star break, before injuries again derailed his year in early September. Smyly also had his moments around the injuries in 2022, posting a 2.79 ERA in his four April starts and a 0.90 ERA in his five August turns.

In Smyly's example, while patience remains a worthy strategy, remember that the greater degree of volatility on the pitching side of the ball -- especially for a pitcher with the number of durability questions as he has -- does support a strategy of greater turnover. The takeaway is not to completely distrust the streaky pitcher, but to be more prepared to either move on when opportunities present themselves, or to make greater effort to find replacements to fill in the gaps between their cold spells.

Always consider the nature of the player and what his skills tell you. Returning to the example of Darvish and his awful second start of 2022, bear in mind he followed it up with four consecutive quality starts, ultimately winning 16 of his final 28 starts with a 2.79 ERA. During that time span, Darvish was tied for the third-most fantasy points among pitchers (511), as good a sign as any of the need for patience through fluky performances from your top draft picks.

Now you've got the skills necessary to be a competitive, well-educated fantasy baseball manager, so it's time to shift our focus to prepare you for the upcoming season. In the next edition of the Playbook, we will examine the shifting trends in today's baseball game. Stay tuned!