Everyone loves a rebel -- someone who gets by without trying or caring as if he could do it all in his sleep.
He doesn't have a plan or purpose. He doesn't follow any set of rules. He flies by the seat of his pants, making split-second decisions on instinct, while the ladies swoon, the teachers impugn and the guys drop their jaws in amazement.
You know you want to say it: That guy is so ... cool.
Part I ... Tier up for the big day
Part II ... Avoid catchers and closers
Part III ... Don't chase Ws, draft Ks
Part IV ... Let them make the decisions
Part V ... Most of all, be flexible!
Enough! You're not that guy -- not in real life, not in Fantasy. Chances are you won't make any ladies swoon with your exploits in Fantasy Baseball anyway, so stop with the tough-guy act.
You want to win your league, right? Then what makes you think you can do it with a haphazard approach, going into a draft half asleep with nothing more than a mental list of players you like?
If you want to win, you need a plan. You need order. You need rules.
And I got 'em.
I call them the Draft Day Dos and Don'ts. A departure from the usual sleepers, busts, breakouts and other player-oriented columns you read this time of year -- all useful in their own way -- the Dos and Don'ts guide you with general ideas and concepts that can steer you in the right direction regardless of which players you like or don't like.
I can't guarantee you'll win your league with them. In fact, one of your rebel competitors might just flail his way to a better team. But I can guarantee that whichever of those yahoos happens to pull away from the pack this time around, you'll be right there with him.
It's a matter of consistency, you see -- of relying on reason rather than luck.
And if you buck the luck and embrace the reason, by the end of this five-part series, you'll look back on your rebel days and laugh, wondering how you ever thought you could get by that way.
Ah, the ignorance of youth.
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Part I: Tier up before the big day
Oh no, here we go. One line in, and already the Dos and Don'ts have interfered with your tough-guy image.
Relax. You don't have to cry. You might want to, though -- as in laugh so hard you cry -- when I tell you what I think you can accomplish on Draft Day:
Using this approach, you can come out of the draft with every player you hoped to get.
I mean it. As implausible as it sounds, it's true. No, you can't get the exact players, like if you filled out a lineup card with specific names before the draft -- not unless you get extremely lucky. But if you target groups of players -- "tiers," you might call them -- instead of individuals, you can put together a team as balanced as any you dreamed up.
First, let me clarify the definition of "tier." A tier is a group of players at a particular position with such similar expectations that they could conceivably rank in any order by season's end.
You can't, can you? Oh, you might say one has more injury risk, one has a better supporting cast, one has a higher ceiling, blah, blah, blah -- all issues that more or less cancel each other out, right? Of course they do, because Kinsler and Pedroia belong in the same tier -- the first one, along with Chase Utley.
|Albert Pujols deserves a first-base tier all to himself. (US Presswire)|
It's a bit of a judgment call, yes, but it's your judgment call. You can decide your tiers based on your own level of comfort. You might include Brian McCann, Russell Martin, Geovany Soto, Joe Mauer and Victor Martinez in the first tier of catchers, thinking any of them capable of claiming the top spot by season's end. Or you might exclude Martinez, thinking him too much of an injury risk, and instead include him in the second tier with Ryan Doumit, Chris Iannetta and Bengie Molina. Or you might give him a tier of his own and make Doumit, Iannetta and Molina the third tier. You could go any number of ways with it, really. You simply have to gauge your feelings and map them accordingly. If you'd feel just as comfortable with Iannetta as you would with Martinez, then you know they belong in the same tier.
Obviously, the size of each tier varies from position to position and layer to layer. Some positions might even have more than others. But you can't go overboard and create so many tiers that they no longer have any meaning. When establishing your tiers, you must use this exact phrasing: Could Player 1 realistically finish the season ahead of Player 2? If you wimp out and try to hedge bets by saying "would I rather have Player 1 than Player 2?" you end up assigning each player his own separate tier, essentially recreating the rankings and defeating the purpose altogether.
Because naturally, what matters more than the formation of tiers is the exploitation of tiers. And to demonstrate the influence they should have on your decision making, let's examine just the four infield positions, forgetting outfielders, catchers and pitchers for now.
At second base, we've already established the first tier as Utley, Kinsler and Pedroia. Third base has an even smaller first tier of Alex Rodriguez and David Wright, leading into a second tier of Evan Longoria, Kevin Youkilis, Aramis Ramirez and Aubrey Huff. First base could potentially have the biggest first tier of any position, but I actually give Albert Pujols the first tier all to himself before the massive second-tier conglomerate of Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Howard, Mark Teixeira, Lance Berkman, Justin Morneau and Prince Fielder. Otherwise, I could never justify drafting Pujols in the first round. Hanley Ramirez, Jose B. Reyes and Jimmy Rollins form the first tier at shortstop.
So let's say you have the fifth pick, and someone has already taken Pujols off the board. No sweat. He didn't deserve his own tier by much, so you'd prefer to solidify another position with this pick anyway. At this point in the draft, with Pujols off the board, first base shouldn't even enter your mind. The second tier is currently "in play," and it runs six players deep, with each player, according to your own comfort level, capable of equal statistical production. You don't have to be the guy who drafts Howard in Round 1 because you know you can get Berkman two or three rounds later and feel just as good about it.
In addition to Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Reyes and Rodriguez have also gone off the board, making the only remaining first-tier infielders Wright, Rollins, Utley, Kinsler and Pedroia. With three top-tier second basemen remaining, again, you know you can afford to wait at the position. One of those second basemen has a decent chance of rebounding to you in the second round, so you can concentrate on Wright or Rollins instead. Just by looking at average draft positions, you know Rollins doesn't deserve to go so early in the first round and could potentially fall to you in the second. Besides, if you don't take Wright now, you could end up with Youkilis or Huff instead -- both of whom fit into the third tier across the diamond at first base, indicating the level of drop-off from the first tier to the second tier at third base. As much as you hate to give up on an elite shortstop, you have to take Wright here and hope for the best.
In the second round, low and behold, Rollins falls to you. Then again, Utley and Kinsler have gone off the board by this point, making Pedroia the only remaining first-tier second baseman. Again, you have a dilemma. Why not look ahead at both positions? The second tier at shortstop consists of one player -- Stephen Drew -- before a massive drop-off to seven or eight middle-round types. Meanwhile, the second tier at second base consists of a solid four -- all borderline first-tier players, actually -- in Brian Roberts, Brandon Phillips, Dan Uggla and Alexei Ramirez. Easy call, right? If you skip Rollins here, you might end up having to reach for Drew just to avoid the nothingness that follows. Meanwhile, if you miss Pedroia, you still have an opportunity to get an above-average player and, in effect, buy yourself more time at the position by expanding your options. Hey, you might not have to touch it for two or three more rounds. Go with Rollins.
By the time the third round hits, only Berkman and Fielder remain of those second-tier first baseman, so you go ahead and grab one. Then in the fourth round, you might feel like you can still afford to wait at second base, so you take an outfielder instead, depending on how your tiers look there. Then, you select Uggla in the fifth round and so on and so on. Depending on the size of your league, the way the draft unfolds and how exactly you establish your tiers, the possibilities are endless.
This example comes from my own tiers, which you'll find posted this year in the 2009 Draft Prep Index. If the process seems overly confining to you, you might prefer to make your tiers even bigger. Obviously, you can't make them so big that they again defeat their own purpose -- you don't want to convince yourself you'd be equally happy with any of the top 12 players at every position across the diamond, for instance -- but you want to give yourself as many opportunities as reasonably possible to wait at a position.
The idea, in case you haven't caught on yet, is to give yourself a blueprint for your draft -- a guide to knowing which position to target at what time in order to leave yourself without a hole anywhere and as well-fortified across the diamond as possible. If you establish rigid tiers and closely monitor them throughout the draft, your picks, with a little bit of luck, should become obvious.
So there you have it. Feel free to examine my tiers, but I encourage you to create your own. Pull out a pen, pull out your rankings, and start dividing each position as you see fit. Of course, if you want some ideas for which positions might not deserve as much emphasis as others, tune in for Part 2 of Draft Day Do's and Don'ts, when I pass on the ancient mariner's warning of avoiding the Siren's song of the C's (catcher and closer).
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