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Draft your way to optimal daily decisions

Let your managerial style inform your draft strategy in daily lineup-setting leagues. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

What type of manager are you? If you're a 'set it and forget it' type of player, then the traditional Monday weekly lock time probably suits you fine, making decisions and adjustments on a weekly basis and letting things play out over the grind of a 6-month season. If you're more of a micromanager, then daily transaction leagues are for you. The ability to set rosters every day not only lessens the impact of an unlucky injury, but it yields opportunities to take advantage of favorable matchups, better mimicking what an MLB manager does in terms of setting lineups based on the opposing pitcher.

This will be the first of a three-part series, focusing on elements of draft strategy and team management intrinsic to daily leagues. Today, general approaches to both points and rotisserie (individual categories) formats will be covered. Tips for streaming hitters and streaming pitchers will follow.

1. Know thy rules

ESPN has standards for roster specifications, number of reserves and injured list spots but your league manager may opt to use custom settings. The same goes for points and category scoring. ESPN has standards for both, but your league manager may decide to use something else. Rankings and draft strategy must adjust to the league settings. ESPN rankings and average draft position (ADP) data assume standard setup.

For example, the more teams in the league, the harder it is to find favorable pitching matchups to spot-start, so you may want to draft better pitching in deeper leagues since the supply of available pitchers in a favorable spot is low while the demand for that talent is higher, with more teams chasing them. On the flip-side, it's much easier to find available bats in deeper leagues so you're not sacrificing hitting to stream pitching.

The number of catchers in the active roster is integral to draft strategy. In one-catcher leagues, once J.T. Realmuto or Gary Sanchez are gone, it's best to wait, perhaps even until your last pick before grabbing a backstop, especially in 10- and 12-team leagues. Often, you'll draft someone you have ranked higher, despite being the last catcher off the board. In addition, if your late selection struggles, there's still a reasonable number of replacements to upgrade the spot.

In category leagues, you need to know what constitutes a weekly victory. Some leagues award a "win" to the team leading the most categories, so if you win six and your opponent wins four, you win the week and are credited equally with someone else sweeping all 10 categories that week. Some formats will award you six wins and four losses and the other person 10 wins and zero losses. In leagues with the former set-up, a viable strategy is punting a category, often steals or saves since a small portion of the player pool contributes a large percentage of those stats. Funneling the assets others are spending on speed to the other categories increases the chance to win those. Since winning 6-4 is the same as 10-0, it's defensible to design a team in that manner.

In all leagues, it's imperative to know playing time limits. The ESPN standard game has no limits for batter with a maximum of twelve starts for pitchers. The pitching rule is more important as that dictates the level of streaming necessary to optimize the weekly scoring. Most teams will use three relievers with six spots for starters. With a cap of a dozen, that's two per roster spot. Some hurlers will have a pair themselves, but with the new MLB schedule incorporating more off days, two-start weeks are less frequent.

As such, to reach twelve, additional starts from reserves or free agents are needed. It's best to factor this into draft strategy, dedicating a couple of fungible pitching spots to arms only deployable in favorable matchups. Then, churn viable candidates all season, keeping an eye on those worthy to become a regular starter but being careful not to commit to someone with a solid outing but maybe had a lift from Lady Luck that effort.

A note on game-start limits: they apply only to the day after the limit is reached, so if you start Saturday with 10 games started and have three starters going, you will be credited with all 13 starts. Take advantage of this and try to hit 11 games started by Saturday, especially when your ace two-start pitchers are going on Sunday, and top off your week with some more streaming starts as needed.

If too many pitching spots are filled with strong arms, you won't be able to comfortably release one when necessary to add a streamer. Instead, fortify hitting or draft a closer in lieu of drafting too many solid starters. In fact, being prescient and filling a couple of spots with pitchers in line for a favorable Week 1 matchup is a great way to optimize efficiency, as not many will be looking to roster someone of this ilk so you can wait until the end to pounce, strengthening your scoring potential elsewhere.

2. Optimize roster construction

Maximizing your Monday and Thursday hitting lineups are key to winning daily fantasy leagues. These are obviously the most common travel days, leaving holes in your active lineup. Standard ESPN leagues have only three reserves, so there's a good chance you'll be playing with vacant spots, unless you're willing to release a fringe player and replace him with someone in action that day.

The best way to have such a player is earmarking middle infield, corner infield, one outfield and the utility slot to matchups-dependent batters. The idea is not to get married to any of these hitters as they're candidates to be dropped when you grab a free agent active on Monday or Thursday.

An example of how this affects roster construction is to not fill corner or middle early with a position you already drafted. That is, after selecting Paul Goldschmidt, don't follow up with Anthony Rizzo, even if Rizzo is the best available hitter on your cheat sheet. The points lost from reduced roster maneuverability are more important than those gained from Rizzo over the next-ranked player.

The exception is a top player with dual corner eligibility, like Matt Carpenter, or in the middle like Gleyber Torres. Of course, players with eligibility at some combination of corner, middle and outfield are also extremely useful. The key here is to maximize what you are getting out of each roster slot, as opposed to from each player. In fact, pushing the likes of Alex Bregman, Javier Baez, Cody Bellinger, Kris Bryant, Whit Merrifield and Travis Shaw up several spots is justified since their flexibility will pave the way to add more points onto your total, more than mitigating the difference lost when bypassing a higher-ranked player. Because of the reduced flexibility, many are reticent to roster utility-only studs Khris Davis and Nelson Cruz. So long as you build in an eligibility chain covering all the other positions within your active lineup, it's well worth accepting the discount on Davis and especially Cruz.

3. Stay a step ahead of everyone else

Good luck is often found where opportunity meets preparation. With that approach, Eliyahu Goldratt would have made a great fantasy baseball player. While the rest of your leaguemates are tending to their lineup over breakfast or during lunch, have yours squared away the previous evening, availing first crack at the most favorable free agents. In fact, this is one of the major reasons ESPN's Daily Notes are posted a day in advance of the discussed slate.

Obviously, you don't want to release a player before his game begins, but after the first pitch, you can safely send him packing, still accruing his stats that evening, while having the pick of the free agent litter. With more last-minute pitching changes than ever, it is still obligatory to monitor and react to news throughout the day, but having the lion's share of work in the hopper the night before affords a huge edge.