Fantasy Baseball: Draft Strategy, Part 3 – Avoiding Common Mistakes
Welcome to the third and final chapter of my fantasy baseball draft strategy series. I still cannot decide if I went too deep down the rabbit hole in Part 2 or not deep enough. Either way, I hope you found the information helpful as you prepare for your upcoming drafts. The main takeaway should be that you have some sort of valuation method for all players before taking part in a draft. A dollar system would be most beneficial for those taking part in auction leagues, but it can be a numerical system or whatever you feel most comfortable with. Your method does not have to be perfect. Mine certainly isn’t. But it is a vitally important step in the drafting process. With that in mind, here are some final thoughts and tips for you to consider as the draft is taking place.
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Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy, Part 3: Avoiding Mistakes During the Draft
As I have tried to beat into the ground like a batted ball against Tyler Rogers, projections only tell part of the story. As Tanner Bell wisely pointed out in a recent article about common draft mistakes, “Without (having projections converted to dollar values), an owner is left to guess if 100R-30HR-100RBI-6SB-.289BA stat line is worth more than a 95R-45HR-110RBI-1SB-.260BA stat line.” That is essentially why having a valuation system is so important. Projections alone cannot fill in the gaps, and simple rankings definitely do not. Having your cheat sheets with your player values at the ready will help you understand the true value of each player. The number-crunching portion may be over, but the exam must still be taken. The good news is that, much like before a big test, you can practice.
Participating in mock drafts can help you test certain theories out. You can get a feel for the process and analyze your tendencies to tighten up some weak spots in your drafting game. If you take part in a dozen mock drafts and notice that all your rosters have similar weaknesses, that may signify that you need to adapt and alter your strategy. However, you also must take these mock drafts with a grain of salt. Other owners are often performing similar experiments and trying out different strategies while mocking as well. If you have the means, it may be worth it to join some low-money leagues to test your drafting skills. People are more willing to take it more seriously and act as they normally would when they have skin in the game.
Prepare to Adjust
Mike Tyson once famously said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” And, at some point in the draft, you are going to get punched in the mouth. Hopefully, it will only happen in the metaphorical sense. But even then, you may stagger momentarily. No matter how well you plan, events will occur that do not line up with that plan. You must have contingencies in place to account for a variety of scenarios that are likely to occur. Hundreds of players are going to get picked. The player permutations are infinite. Players you are targeting will get sniped from you. A positional run will leave you with scant options at a position of need. People autodraft. Simply put, stuff happens. Maintaining mental and emotional flexibility is the most important asset you can possess during a draft’s many ebbs and flows.
This is especially the case in a draft where there is a short period in between picks. Without a clear value assigned to each player and each statistical contribution, panic can set in when that timer starts ticking down. Instead of pigeon-holing yourself into a specific player in each draft slot, your positional rankings and categorical values will come in handy. They will guide you so that you will know exactly where to go with your next pick. This will help you avoid making a mistake, which is so important in fantasy baseball drafts. An early mistake in drafts is often magnified because there are so many positions to fill. It can become a snowball effect and lead to a roster filled with holes and question marks.
Let’s say you select Eddie Rosario in the eighth round of a draft. There is nothing wrong with that pick per se, but you took him solely because he was the best available according to ADP. Still, you are ok with it for the moment. But what happens when you are in the 11th round and need a third baseman? Do you “reach” for Miguel Sano? Your player values might have suggested taking Josh Donaldson in the eighth round while grabbing Max Kepler in the 11th. Now you may have hampered your production at two spots. And this doesn’t even factor in that the Minnesota Twins are not the only team in baseball. These scenarios play out with virtually every pick in a draft.
Take What the Draft Gives You
This is a tricky tip and one that I struggle with myself. We often get so wound up and laser-focused on what our rosters have or do not have at any point in the draft that we make picks that do not maximize value. We are too worried about plugging holes that exist largely in our heads. How many times have you been in the middle rounds and thought, “I have to take a closer with my next pick” or “I’ve got to find some stolen bases soon”? Of course, those things would be nice to have if the fit is right. Drafting a balanced roster is still ideal, but don’t force it if it’s not there. Your draft strategy has to have wiggle room. Many leagues have options to trade players, and plenty of stats are available through the waiver wire and/or FAAB (Free Agent Acquisition Budget) as the year progresses.
Closers are an especially difficult breed to project. The position is the most volatile in the sport. Just ask anyone who spent early picks on Edwin Diaz and Blake Treinen last year. Both were the consensus top two closers heading into the year and combined to finish with an ERA over 5.00. Treinen lost the gig to Liam Hendriks. Hendriks was an afterthought in all but the deepest of leagues and finished as the third-most valuable reliever according to our Player Rater even though he did not record a save until June 22. Projecting saves is even more of a task as more teams experiment with using their best reliever in high-leverage situations, regardless of whether there is a save opportunity or not. (Cut to Raisel Iglesias owners silently nodding.)
Smart money says that roughly half of the guys drafted as closers will lose their jobs at some point in the year. In some cases, we do not even have to wait that long. Emilio Pagan is currently going as the 16th reliever off the board. He was just traded to San Diego, where he has zero chance of closing barring a Kirby Yates injury. I would expect Nick Anderson (currently going 27th) to start to move up draft boards. I am a bit skeptical after buying into Jose Alvarado last year, but Anderson was a beast last season and is a worthy speculative pick. Either way, the point is that saves and steals, in particular, will become available throughout the season. And yes, the Pagan trade is Example #780234 why ADP should not be used as a value model in any way, shape, or form.
Embrace the Space
This is another core principle I try to adhere to in all sports and formats. When you are drafting your roster, please remember that you do not need to draft players in a particular order. And you certainly do not need to draft your “starters” before you draft your “bench”. You do not need to take your fifth outfielder before you grab your second shortstop, for example. There is no way to say with any real clarity or certainty which players will fill which roles in any given week. That second shortstop might end up filling your Utility or Middle Infield slot most weeks. Fantasy owners who feel the need to fill each “starting slot” instead of drafting for value and depth are setting themselves up for failure.
You can (and should when value presents itself) draft players who are likely to be your starters in the later rounds. So far, early 2020 ADP trends on Fantrax suggest owners may be putting this into practice. In a 12-team league with five starting outfield slots, there will be starting outfielders drafted well after Round 20. Right now, Mark Canha is our OF60 according to ADP, and he is going in the 22nd round. There are currently 23 third basemen being drafted before Canha. I personally believe Canha is a value there, but if you truly believe he is a borderline OF5, then grabbing another third baseman to fill your Corner Infield or UT spot makes a lot of sense.
Throughout the season, there are going to be a lot of players on your roster and in your starting lineup. The truth is that they are not all going to be top-tier players. Not everyone is going to have 22 superstars in their starting lineup each week. And that’s completely fine and normal. Every team will have strengths and weaknesses. Some teams will have seemingly endless depth at certain positions and be incredibly thin at others. You do not have to “win” every position during the draft. You just have to pick the player that makes the most sense for your team at that particular time based on your values. There will be plenty of time over the next six months to address any weakness your team may end up having.
Here are a couple of additional things to consider as we embark on another wonderful season of baseball. Think of these as more general, post-draft strategy suggestions.
It’s Your Team
Remember that at the end of the day, this is your team in your league. You have done the research and should feel confident in your knowledge and ability to outwit your opponents. Nobody knows more about your league and your circumstances than you do. You are the one clicking the “save” and “submit” buttons. More importantly, nobody else is paying for your team. You are. It is smart to bounce ideas off people and try to gauge opinions on matchups, strategy and game theory from various members of the fantasy community. Groupthink can be a beautiful thing. But at the end of the day, you must make the decisions and stand by them.
If you seek help on a tough decision from your favorite analyst (or me) and he or she responds, do not blast them if it fails to pan out. Nobody is trying to sabotage you or your fantasy team. That goes for the players themselves as well. To steal a line from the great Christopher Walken in Wedding Crashers, “We have no way of knowing what lays ahead for us in the future. All we can do is use the information at hand to make the best decision possible.” That’s what every single fantasy player and analyst alike is doing before each decision. We all take the information available and form an opinion. The rest is out of our control. If we had all the answers (or even the same opinions), everyone’s team would look exactly the same. This is your deal. Own it.
Have Fun and Respect Your League
At its very foundation, playing fantasy baseball should be a fun and enjoyable experience. If you are playing in a local league against friends and family members, fantasy is a great way to maintain communication with loved ones with whom you may not get to see consistently. And the bragging rights alone should make participating in such a league fun and exciting. If you are playing against more advanced players or in bigger money leagues, the competitive juices should fuel you to do your very best.
We all have responsibilities and things that take up our time. Jobs, kids, and other obligations may leave fantasy on the back burner. But at least try to remain involved. Set your lineups. Make waiver claims or FAAB bids. Throw out a couple of trade offers, preferably ones that are logical for both sides. When a fantasy owner decides to just give up halfway through the season or fails to set his or her lineup each week, it really takes the air out of the balloon. It throws off the balance of the league and diminishes the fun for all involved. Don’t be the person who sucks the fun out of your league. Stay involved and enjoy the ride. You won’t regret it.
What are your keys to a winning fantasy baseball draft strategy? Share them in the comments. We promise no one from your league will see them…
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