These strategies apply specifically to leagues that use traditional snake drafts. For strategies specific to auction leagues, Rotisserie leagues and Head-to-Head leagues, check out the strategy guides for each either already posted on the site or set to appear in the coming days.
And here it is: the tried and true. The bread and butter, the staple of every Fantasy player's diet and, in some cases, the only thing that gets him out of bed in the morning: Draft Day.
It has a certain ring to it. And while you could argue whether or not a traditional snake draft actually qualifies as "traditional," the fact is most people use it today, and every longtime Fantasy player has experienced it at one time or another.
The reasons are obvious. It's straightforward, easily accessible and relatively quick. It can take place at a kitchen table or at separate computers all over the world. Quite simply, it works.
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But for all its strengths, it has a certain side effect that you might not notice until you've tried building a team using a different approach -- say, an auction.
It's orderly -- almost painfully so. You have to wait your turn. You can't make an aggressive move that sets your team apart from everyone else's. You can only wait politely for your next turn to arrive and then, when it does, take the best player available to you, like him or not. You almost get handcuffed to the player you take because your pick depends entirely on everyone else's.
On and on and on it goes, with pick after pick contributing to 12 mostly equal teams, provided nobody does anything stupid. Yes, no team gets a clear advantage over the others because, in theory, the best player goes off the board with each and every pick.
But, uh, in Fantasy, don't you want an advantage?
That's where it gets tricky. How do you get an advantage in a system designed not to give you one? You can certainly do it, but you have to rely on a primal emotion you've tried so valiantly to beat out of your subconscious. You might not like it -- oh heck, I'll say it:
In the draft room, greed can prove your greatest ally. You want the best player at each position because only then can you know for sure you have the best team. And while I understand you can't literally get the best player at each position, you can come awfully close -- much closer than you probably think, depending on the size of your league and your starting lineup.
You mostly just have to avoid the one pitfall that can derail any carefully constructed plan: a big, heaping dose of the Draft Day jitters.
Yes, greed and fear -- I've gone there ... with Fantasy Baseball.
Sounds more like a J.R.R Tolkien novel.
First, the basics
Some people go into a draft empty handed. They don't have a printout of their rankings. They don't have a pen or highlighter. They don't even have a soda or other stimulating beverage. In fact, I'd venture to say most people approach a draft that way. I can't begin to understand it.
The beauty of a draft is it allows for so much organization. Since you have nothing to do outside of your own turns, you can pay close to attention to everyone else's, crossing players off your rankings as your opponents select them. So when your turn arrives, instead of clumsily flipping between each position, trying to ascertain which players remain without having any real context, you can simply look at your printout and learn it all at a moment's glance.
Drafting without a printout of your rankings is the equivalent to trying to solve a complicated math problem in your head. Maybe you can do it, but you leave yourself vulnerable to mistakes in the process, often forcing you to retrace your steps and waste more time than you save. You certainly don't lose anything by keeping track on paper, so only laziness would prevent you from doing so -- that or some ego-driven attempt to show off your computational skills ... er, baseball knowledge.
So come equipped with the tools you need -- the printout to show who you can draft, the pen or highlighter to show who you can't, and the soda because, well, deep down, everybody likes soda.
So you want it all -- the best of the best at each position. Fat chance, right?
|Jose Reyes could be interchanged with at least two other shortstops, so don't reach for him. (US Presswire)|
But it's not hopeless. In fact, "hope" is the most essential ingredient to make it happen -- not ridiculous, pie-in-the-sky hope, like when you drop your cell phone in a swimming pool and hope it still works. More like a willingness to believe the practical might happen.
Obviously, each position has a clear frontrunner or top player -- Albert Pujols at first base, Hanley Ramirez at shortstop, Grady Sizemore in the outfield and so on. You can't get them all. How could you? They all project as first rounders, and you have only one first-round pick.
"Well, there you go. Impossible," you say. "Guess I should just give in and take Miguel Cabrera because I think he'll really come around in his second year in the AL, and I --"
Stop. Think for a minute. Yes, you'll find frontrunners at each position, but what about the players directly behind them? How do they compare, both to each other and the frontrunners themselves? Going position by position, you have to ask yourself how many players could end up performing just as well as, if not better than, the frontrunner. How many potential frontrunners does each position have?
Looking at shortstop, Ramirez sits at No. 1, with Jose B. Reyes and Jimmy Rollins right behind him. They could end up outperforming him, couldn't they? OK, what about the next two -- Derek Jeter and Stephen Drew? Not as likely, huh? So you'd draw the line at three, with Ramirez, Reyes and Rollins each giving you a chance to have the best shortstop in Fantasy.
What about first base? We have Pujols at the top, but any of Miguel Cabrera, Mark Teixeira, Ryan Howard, Lance Berkman, Justin Morneau and maybe even Prince Fielder behind him could end up with numbers just as good, if not better. Thus, first base has seven potential frontrunners.
And second base? Any of Chase Utley (recovering from hip surgery, remember), Ian Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia at the top could end up the best second baseman in Fantasy. In some formats, Brian Roberts might have a say as well.
How do I know? It's a judgment call, really. You have to determine why one player ranks ahead of another. Does the subtle give and take of statistics simply project him for more Fantasy points, or does he have such an overwhelming amount of talent that he belongs in a completely different class?
Just by performing that quick exercise for those three positions, you now have an opening blueprint for your draft. Remember: To distinguish your team in a system designed for parity, you want to get greedy and go for the best of the best at every position. You want to snag as many of those potential frontrunners as possible.
So naturally, you wouldn't want to go for a first baseman like Cabrera in the first round, not with five equitable first basemen behind him. You might love him to pieces and genuinely believe he'll have the best year of his life now that he's adjusted to his new league, but do you really want to leave yourself vulnerable at shortstop or second base based on that gut feeling? Regardless of whether or not he actually has that career year, if Berkman and Morneau could perform just as well, how could you regret taking them instead?
Because you can't go get any player you want in a draft, because you have to wait your turn and accept whatever player comes to you, a draft is less about who you want and more about who you can get now and can't get later. Don't fight it. Embrace it.
You can't get potential frontrunners at shortstop or second base later, so go for them now. Ideally, you'd have an early-round pick and take Ramirez in the first round and Pedroia in the second. Or maybe you'd have a late-round pick and take Kinsler in the first round and Rollins in the second. Either way, the rest of the draft falls into place from there. Maybe you'd then go for a first baseman like Berkman in the third round and, not wanting to settle for Chipper Jones or Ryan Zimmerman, a third baseman like Kevin Youkilis in the fourth. By the time you opt for your first outfielder in the fifth, you'll still get someone like Nick Markakis, who has a chance of ranking in the top 10 at his position. Not a bad first five, right?
Couldn't have happened if you didn't get greedy. Couldn't have happened if you didn't go with the natural flow of the draft.
(By the way, you might notice I completely ignored pitchers in that little scenario. Check out my Pitching Philosophies to understand why. And if you like the idea of narrowing down "potential frontrunners," you can find a more sophisticated approach to the same concept, the formation of tiers, in the Draft Day Dos and Don'ts set to come out in the coming weeks.)
The importance of order and sequence
Of course, that plan sounds all fine and good in theory, but it might not fall into place. And even if it does, you still have to worry about Round 6 and beyond. You can only follow a plan for so long before something disrupts it, and eventually -- whether in Round 1 or Round 6 -- you'll have to adjust on the fly.
You might even choose to adjust your plan if you see something better come your way. For example, in a Head-to-Head draft where I saw a disproportionate number of pitchers going early, I ended up taking David Wright -- who plays a top-heavy position in his own right -- in the first round and Grady Sizemore in the second, only to end up with Jimmy Rollins in the third and Ian Kinsler in the fourth. No sense in reaching for a player, regardless of position scarcity, if you know you can get him one round -- or in this case, two rounds -- later.
Fortunately, whenever you veer off course, you have that printout of your rankings with all the names crossed off up to that point. When you find yourself having to make an off-the-cuff decision, you can just look at each position, see how the remaining players compare to each other, and draft the one that most stands out as head-and-shoulders above the rest, assuming he fills a need in your lineup -- in other words, the one least likely to fall back to you.
But do you know for sure who will or won't fall back to you? Can you afford to pass on a greater need just because you think a player who fills that need will more likely fall back to you than one who fills another? For example, if you need a third baseman and a second baseman, and Aubrey Huff and Garrett Atkins remain at the former while Roberts, Brandon Phillips, Dan Uggla and Alexei Ramirez remain at the latter, can you afford to take Huff now and grab one of the second basemen on the bounceback? Unfortunately, that decision depends largely on where you draft.
Going into a draft, you don't often have the opportunity to pick your draft position, but if you ever get the opportunity, you really have only one choice.
You want the middle -- or as close to it as possible.
Your pick should always depend on what everyone else picks. Always. In the draft room, sequence means everything. Turn order means everything. So how can you keep your foot in the door on trends if you have to wait twice as long as everybody else to make a pick?
You want to minimize your wait for each pick, and the back-to-back picks to end one round and begin another don't compensate for the unbearably long wait before your next pair of picks. Quite simply, the less you have to wait between turns, the better you can predict your next turn. So if you pick 10th of 12 teams, for instance, and know you have to wait 18 picks before your next one, you might want to forego Huff and take one of those four second baseman.
So let's say the draft starts out well enough. You end up with the fifth pick, so you don't have a real chance for Ramirez or Reyes and instead opt to select Wright.
Not a bad plan. You wouldn't want to reach for Rollins, Utley or Kinsler so soon, not with Pedroia another possible option. Plus, third base thins out pretty quickly in its own right.
But then, as you wait for your second pick, you see each of those players fall over like dominoes -- Utley, Kinsler and Rollins, one right after the other. And as the green designation arrow creeps back to the pick right before yours, right when you've finally convinced yourself you have to take Pedroia, that pesky competitor gobbles him up in the blink of an eye, leaving you without a fallback plan.
"Ack, my plan's ruined! And it's my turn! What do I do, what do I do, what do I do!?"
First, take a deep breath. You won't get anywhere by having a panic attack. Yes, you'll now have to do without a potential frontrunner at a position or two. It happens, but you haven't lost your league yet. If you continue down this road, though, your fear will drive you to do something crazy, like draft Derek Jeter in the fifth round.
So with time winding down and you on the verge of ruining your team in one fell swoop, what do you do? Why, you rely again on your dear friend greed to show you the way, of course.
Look, if all those middle infielders unexpectedly went off the board by the middle of the second round, then some other stud unexpectedly dropped. Someone like Sizemore, Teixeira, Josh Hamilton or even Evan Longoria, assuming you start a corner infielder, won't give you as much of an advantage at a position as Rollins or Utley would have, but they will keep you from falling behind your competition in terms of overall talent. After all, you shouldn't get so tied up in position scarcity that you use a second-round pick on a player you could just as easily get a round or two later.
But fear drives you to make that sort of mistake. The moment you grow fearful, you start reaching. You worry about the millions of improbable possibilities between this pick and the next and start preempting them with irrational selections. "What if the same thing happens at catcher?" you might worry, so you go ahead and use your second-round pick on Brian McCann. No, no, no!
Of course, you might argue you could have avoided the dilemma altogether by passing on Wright in the first round and taking Utley, Kinsler and Rollins instead, but does that sound like a move driven more by greed or by fear? Seriously, three options on the board -- four if you count Pedroia -- and you want to pass on a clear top-five player just make sure you get one? Please.
In this scenario, the idea that all four middle infielders would go off the board before your next pick seemed less plausible than the idea they wouldn't. Greed might drive you to make some unnatural decisions, like in the earlier example of taking Kinsler over Cabrera, but it can easily cross the line to fear if it drives you to make an irrational one.
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