I have been a fantasy baseball nut now for about ten years, and in those years have observed many of the “experts” opinions, only to continually ask myself “what makes that guy an expert?”, or, “he said what?!”. It has made me feel compelled to go apply for a job at one of the annual fantasy magazines, especially now that there about 45 of them. Following are some of the “expert” opinions I agree with, disagree with, and a few of my own.
First let me say that my forte is a 12 team mixed 5×5 snake draft format (all traditional categories except OBP in lieu of AVG). Roster of 23, consisting of 11 hitters, 9 pitchers, and 3 bench players. Unlike many of the “experts”, I do not claim to have won my league 9 of the last 10 years. I have been crowned champion one time, and have finished in the top three most other years in a very competitive league.
My first observation is one that hits me like a brick in the face. Nobody seems to opine comprehensively on draft strategy. Are you kidding me?! If you are going to spend $8-10 on a fantasy advice rag, shouldn’t one of the writers cover this? Sure, occasionally one of them will advise something deep, like “always wait on closers”, but I am talking about a serious discussion about draft STRATEGY. Round by round! Every round. All 23 rounds. Without a sound draft strategy, even that blind squirrel who occasionally finds a nut cannot and will not win a league.
So, here we go. It’s round one, and you have the ninth pick. Who is going to be available there for you? Have you done your homework? Do you want the ninth pick? If not, is there someone in your league who may prefer that selection over, say, the seventh pick that they have? Should you trade your pick to move up or down? You MUST know what kind of player you want in the first round, and have a back up plan if that type of player is not available when it’s your turn.
My advice…always take a hitter in the first round. Why take a Verlander in the first round if you can get a Weaver in the third? Can you ask yourself “Why take an Adrian Gonzalez in the first round when I can get a Paul Konerko in the third?”. Of course not.
I have said this for years….the draft selections you make in the 6th-18th rounds are the ones that win you your league. Let’s explore some draft advice myths. First, “wait on pitching”. I agree with this only to a small degree. Wait until the third or fourth round, but no later. The third round is typically where you approach the bottom of the “stud hitters” list. If there is still a Dustin Pedroia or Carlos Santana on the board at your third pick, take him and go for the pitcher in the next round. I have tried and tried to build a staff of pitchers waiting until the seventh or eighth round to begin picking them, and have determined it is very difficult. At that point, you are gambling that your player knowledge prowess at that position will pay off, and it is exactly that….a gamble. While you may have a great feeling about Ricky Romero and CJ Wilson, they will almost never pay the dividends that a top tier pitcher will a couple of rounds earlier.
Here’s a classic (and I have seen people try this)…Tank a category, like saves or steals, and be incredibly strong in the other nine categories. Winning your league using this strategy is a lock, right? You have two choices to test this strategy. Try it, or take a math class. I strongly advise the latter. You cannot win your league by tanking a category. Period.
Closers. So many opinions. They only get you one category, so why even bother until the last three rounds? Okay, first of all, they will get you stats in all five categories, but obviously saves is the biggie. Do not discount a closers ERA and WHIP! In fact, that is a major criteria for me in a closer. Sure, they may only pitch one inning, but a great WHIP and ERA will have an effect on your stats in those categories, especially if you have three closers that ALL have a great WHIP and ERA. The best closer strategy, IMO, is to take the guys like Jason Motte, Jordan Walden, and Ryan Madsen in the mid teen rounds. They all play for good teams, will get a lot of chances, and have potential to have very low WHIP and ERA, and get you some K’s. This way, you don’t reach for a Craig Kimbrel in the eighth round (great pitcher, bad strategy), but still contend nicely in the saves category. The effect those relievers will have on the categories other than saves can get you an extra point or two, and those few points can be the difference in winning your league.
I am frequently amazed at how fantasy managers rank hitters. What is your criteria? Five tool? Last years MVP season? How about consistency? Yes, there it is. Consistency. Is Matt Kemp your overall #1 ranked player this year? Okay, good for you. Not mine. One look at his numbers over the last four years, and that takes him right out of the #1 spot for me. Do I drop him to the third round? Of course not. He has mad skills, but I will take Ryan Braun’s five tool consistency over Kemp’s any day of the week. Who has a greater likelyhood of repeating a solid five category season? Braun. He has proved it.
Obviously, it is only important to get your overall #1 ranking correct if you have the #1 pick, which is why it is so important to rank players. My personal overall #1 player this year is Miguel Cabrera. You can look at his stats over the years and be amazed, as I am, but it is this simple….he is the best hitter in all of baseball. Want to argue that it is Albert Pujols? No arguement from me. He is my #2. With this strategy, knowing that neither will net you SB, I personally will target an Andrew McCutchen in the third or Michael Bourne in the fifth round to make up for the lack of SB.
I have heard experts say “Spring training is irrelevant”. I don’t think so. Sure, take it with a grain of salt, but pay attention. Are you really going to draft your 15th ranked pitcher in the fifth round if he had a spring training ERA of 8.53 or a WHIP of 1.97? Please do yourself a favor and instead draft your 16th ranked pitcher.
I go into EVERY draft with three cheat sheets, and feel like this is critically important. One for hitters, one for starting pitchers, and one for closers. I see every publication rank their overall top 100 and mix pitchers in with hitters on the list. This is the biggest waste of ink EVER! If a top 100 list has Jacoby Ellsbury ranked 8th overall and Justin Verlander 9th, is this to say that if you have the 9th pick you take Verlander? That is insane! Most managers worth their weight in salt know if they are taking a pitcher or hitter with the ninth pick. You may not know if you are going to take a pitcher or hitter with your 12th pick, but you certainly know which you will select in your first four or five rounds. Never, ever as a publisher or editor of a fantasy baseball magazine or website would I mix pitchers and hitters on a list. It just makes no sense.
What role does position scarcity play in your draft decisions? IMO, in the first two rounds, NONE! In the first two rounds, I want the rarest talent—POWER. It is a commodity that is very hard to come by after the third round. Let’s say I have the sixth pick and take Joey Votto in a 12 team league. Now it’s the second round and Cano, Longoria, Hanley, and Reyes are all off the board, but Prince Fielder is there. I am taking him over Pedroia or Wright without even thinking about it. Zobrist, Zimmerman, Phillips, etc. will be there in the next round, but there will be NO substitute for a Prince Fielder in the next round. Same goes for round seven or eight. If I already have two outfielders and no 2B or SS, should I take Jason Hayward or Lance Berkman over Chase Utley or Erick Aybar? Heck yeah I do.
Ultimately, in order to win your league, balance is a must. That is why I tend to draft hitters in rounds 1,2,3,5,7,9,11,13, and starting pitchers in rounds 4,6,8,10,12,14. It is not etched in stone. If it’s round 9 and I am looking at hitters, and I have a better feeling about Ricky Romero than I do Ichiro Suzuki when my turn comes up, I will go with my comfort level and select Romero, and immediately focus on a position player for the next round. It’s really all about your gut feelings based on your research. Just don’t be Paul. Yes, almost every league has a Paul. Paul buys a magazine the morning of the draft and uses it to draft, completely ignoring the fact that it was published in January. Last year he got what he thought was a bargain in Adam Wainwright in the fifth round, and we promptly thanked him for his contribution to the league.
One final thought. Take a master roster sheet blank with you and fill in every pick for every manager as the draft goes. By doing so, you can monitor who has what as it moves along. If it is round 18, and everyone in your league has a 2B except you, don’t waste your 18th pick on a 2B! You can get that player three rounds later. Or, if there is only one other manager at that point of the draft that needs a 2B like yourself, but you have two picks before his next, take the 2B with your 19th round pick!! Wasting a pick is an incredibly stupid mistake and can abslutely devastate your season. Don’t be that guy. Don’t be Paul. Do your homework and pay attention. Those two things alone will get you 90% of the way to a title.