There are a number of different strategies to use when drafting a fantasy baseball team. It's also not uncommon for fantasy team owners to simply draft without a strategy, relying on basic knowledge and 'gut' feelings. Here I'm going to outline some popular strategies to test when participating in mock drafts.
Previous Season Stats
I have had little success with this strategy. It seems sound on the surface: draft players according to their performance (total year-end points) from the previous season. The rational being: they did it last year, why can't they do it again this season?
The problem here is primarily two-fold: the lack of recognition for all the different variables in performance and the propensity for players to repeat exemplary seasons.
One of the most prominent variables that is ignored using this strategy is off-season transactions leading to league changes. Players changing teams (especially pitchers) can often experience greater challenges by playing in a tougher home ballpark, pitching in a more challenging division, etc. These off-season changes can sometimes lead to point totals suffering by as much as 25-40%.
It also needs to be noted that players without histories of excellent performances are not likely to repeat seasons in which they are at the top of the list of fantasy points totals. For example, Wandy Rodriguez earned 703 fantasy points (by standard head-to-head measures) in the 2009 season. The next year (2010) Rodriguez put up 630. This is an incredible drop in production. He did suffer some minor injury aggravations in 2010 but that was only after a horrible beginning to the season. There was no way to predict his drop in production. It could be seen however that Wandy increased his innings pitched by 60 in the 2009 season and put up the best numbers of his career. Simply put: if a player puts in the best performance of his career after a number of years of regular playing time, don't expect a repeat. It is more effective to use a players previous 3 years (assuming he has 3 years of service at the major league level) as a measure of his performance next season.
Each position has it's limitations regarding the number of points each player will earn throughout the season. Frist base and right field are typically the most point heavy positions since they are often fielded by home run hitters. These two positions are comparatively pretty deep. Shortstop, second base and catcher are positions where it is often difficult to find players who will earn you a great deal of points.
Why do these thigns matter? If it's more difficult to find points at short and catcher then it makes sense to many fantasy owners that they should draft the best players at those positions first. Another reason why this strategy if preferred by some is that it presents them with very desired players. Throughout the season many owners realize deficiencies at the weaker positions: SS, C, 2B. As the season continues and these owners are continually reminded of these weaknesses they will be more willing to pay a premium in traded players for the best at the weakest positions. You can often find a decent first basemen or right fielder in free agency to fill a vacancy as a result of injury or decreased player performance. It is much more difficult to find those players at the SS, 2B or C positions so the premium players there become over-valued.
Owners who use this strategy often do so because their specific scoring system leads owners to prize the best pitchers. For instance, if you league only allows you 10 starts per week then you need to optimize your opportunities at those positions by starting the best.
In my experience it is common for about 1 in 6 owners to strictly stick with the pitching first mentality, drafting nearly all of their starting pitchers before drafting any position players. This is often also gives them an advantage by curbing the market and having the best at one position so they can use them as trade bait. Again, taking advantage of over-valuing from other desparate owners.
I do find this strategy somewhat effective but only if you are able to get the very best pitchers. If too many other owners have this same approach to the draft, there will not be enough top-flight pitchers to go around and the strategy will fail.
Have a plan
Whatever draft strategy you choose, make sure you have a plan. Even if it's a simple list of two players you prefer at each position it will help dramatically if you do a little bit of research. One more thing that will help tremendously is draft options for the later rounds. Often there is less time in the later rounds of the draft and it's good to have some more obscure names in your head (some sleepers) of players you think will outperform their previous performances.
And, of course, make sure you have fun. Good luck in your next draft.