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Fantasy Mock Drafts and How to Handle Them

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It’s that point in the year where if you’re either a die-hard lunatic or you’re part of the fantasy baseball industry, you’ve participated in a fair share of mock drafts. Since I somehow manage to fall into both categories, I have certainly had my fill of them. I’ve even done some “Draft and Hold” league drafts (which, if you aren’t doing, do yourself a favor and get in a few. We host them here at Fantrax, and they are awesome). Of course, since mock drafts don’t generally count for anything, the entire purpose of them is to see where players are going and to formulate a strategy going into your actual league drafts in a few months.

I have plenty of concerns with the idea behind this, and those of you who know me personally are now collectively rolling your eyes and thinking “here he goes again.” Look, I get it. Mocks are fun to do, and in theory help you out going forward into the real baseball season. The problem I have with this concept falls into two categories:

  1. Very rarely can you get an entire group of 15+ people to actively participate and thus have site-ranking auto-picks making a huge impact on the results.
  2. In any given mock draft, 2-5 people are trying a “strategy” where they take pitching early, or they go speed heavy early and wait on power, or they load up on stud closers and then go from there, etc., thus giving results that do not reflect real-world value.

In the scientific world, both of these things are known as muddling the data. If it were an important enough study, then the entire set of results would be thrown out. This is a huge reason that I don’t really care to look at any sort of mock draft data (with a few exceptions, which I will go over shortly) until legit ADP data from actual drafts begins to trickle in. It’s also notably tricky right now when we have a ton of unsigned players waiting to find a new home. If Greg Holland signs with the Cardinals, then you can bet he’s going to jump up my draft boards. If he instead runs out of time and takes a set-up job behind an elite closer, then his value plummets. You get the idea.

The only time I like to actually pay attention to mock info this early in the offseason would be when evaluating “expert mock drafts.” What this generally means is that magazine publishers like Lindy’s (with Fantrax’s own Nathan Dokken) or Rotowire (shameless plug, I represent Fantrax in this mag mock, so grab an issue!) need to get their information as quickly as possible in time for publication, so a lot of us insiders will get together and have a mock just for the designers and editors to get it set up to print. These drafts are held by people who know their names are going to be attached to their decisions, and are often done without any autopicks or crazy insane strategies. This gives a better consensus as to how a draft might actually go and are pretty solid for using as pre-draft reading material.

The only way I really utilize universal mock draft information is when there is enough data to get at least a semi-respectable idea of what’s going on. I’m talking 500+ mocks, not just a handful. Not every site is created equal, either, and it’s worth noting that we’ve really seen a shift in the style of play when it comes to fantasy baseball. In the past, there were the big three fantasy sites, when suddenly this newcomer called Fantrax came into the picture. I’ll admit, I was guilty of being a stickler for what I was used to and was very wary of this fancy new website. They promised deeper roster, more player freedom, and better customer service. I slowly began to play a league on Fantrax here and there, and lo and behold, this season I have officially moved all of my leagues over to the site, and don’t plan on ever looking back.

Join or start a fantasy baseball league at Fantrax today! Keeper, dynasty, re-draft. Fully customizable. A+ customer service. Play for free!

It may seem like a shameless plug, but I promise you it isn’t. I haven’t been paid a cent to say this and only do it of my own volition. It’s my job to provide you with true information in this age of disinformation, and, ladies and gents, I mean it when I say you need to get your leagues on our site. This whole diatribe does have a point, so let’s get back to the topic at hand.

I consider myself an elite fantasy player, and I consider my peers to be elite, as well. We now largely play on Fantrax, and as our player base grows and our organization becomes a powerhouse, that means our data is going to get better by proxy. There are a lot of websites out there that can take data from multiple sites and compile it into average ADP rankings, but to be honest, if I’m getting information from a site that I know is used by more casual players, do I really want to include that information in my evaluation data? Not likely. In short, find out where your info is coming from, and act accordingly. You can find Fantrax ADP info here, and it’s always a great place to look when checking for information.

So now what should you be doing with this kind of information? You’ve seen what the experts think and where the consensus is taking Player A, so how does this help you? Well, we can interpret this data in several ways. First, we can take a look at trends. I can see that, in the top 30 players in 2018 ADP, there are four first basemen compared to six in the 2017 numbers. Is it because there are fewer good first basemen? Or is it because the position has been oversaturated with solid value, and the better first basemen don’t help your team as much as waiting for one? Our next step would then be to dive further into the data and see what the real answer is (and that’s a topic for another article).

The second — and more important — thing we can do with this information is to try to locate our best value picks. A good rule of thumb and my general draft strategy is not to take the best player available, but to instead search for where you can find the best value picks. I’ll give you an example: I like Rhys Hoskins. I think his ability to hit a baseball is something very special, and if he puts up a full season like he did last year, he will provide some crazy good value. What I don’t like, however, is his draft position at pick No. 41 overall. If he has a crazy good season and performs like a top-20 player, then you’ve made a net profit of 21 picks based on draft position.

I also like Matt Olson a lot, too. In nearly the same number of plate appearances, Olson hit more homers (24 vs. 18), and they both had nearly identical triple slash lines. Hoskins certainly walked more, but I have much more confidence that a 10% rate is more repeatable for Olson than a 17% rate is for Hoskins. Olson is being drafted 125th overall, per recent data. Let’s say these two guys put up similar numbers in 2018 that aren’t quite mind-blowing but still provide value. Maybe .250/.335/.490 with 35 home runs each. This grades out to the 38th-best player in various valuation metrics. That means that, if we took Hoskins at 41 and Olson at 125, Hoskins has barely provided the value of his pick, whereas Olson has given you nearly 90 picks’ worth of extra value. This is where you win your leagues.

Take a look at your data, discover your favorite bargains, and make wise decisions in-between. It’s the same reason why I always suggest taking “sure-thing” value in the first few rounds of a draft. If you end up taking the risky pick and they don’t pan out, then you’re going to need your later picks to pull extra value to keep you in the thick of things.

The moral of the story is this: Don’t do one single mock draft where three teams were on autopick and one team took pitchers with first eight picks. It won’t work out for you, and you’ll find yourself playing catch-up all season. Instead, make sure the pool of data you’re looking at has enough content to give you an accurate portrayal of what’s to come and then act accordingly. Oh, and do yourself a favor and leave Matt Olson to me in my drafts.

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