I truly believe the process of snake drafting is more intricate than many perceive. It may be simple to boil it down to picking good players, and to a large degree, that is indeed the case. But there is more to it than that. You need more good players than everyone else.
In an auction, you can gain an edge over your opponents by buying good players, as well as better money management. By managing your money better, you can buy more good players. In a draft, the mechanism of money management does not exist. However, you can manage your draft spots better than everyone else and draft more good players. It is this ability to manage your draft spots that is overlooked.
The key to managing your draft spots is realizing that everyone values players differently. There are going to be players you like more than others, so the object is to manage your draft spots in such a manner to draft as many as these players as you can. And, to make that happen, you need to have the position open as well as the need for the specific production these players provide. Which subsequently means you need to have a general feel for when the timing is right to draft the players you like more, filling in around them with other positions and other statistical needs.
Before I go on, I have come out against overly relying on average draft position, or ADP to guide your draft. Above, I alluded to having a general feel for knowing when to take a player. Of course, the means to determine this is via ADP. But there is a difference between having a general feel for when you can draft a player and relying on an ADP to map out your draft. In general, I do not believe in the notion that “so and so was a reach.” If you want the player, you need to go and get him. But, there is something to be said for knowing you could have waited a round, picked up a different player, and then select your guy next. You still get your guy. But your guy has a better friend if you took him a round later.
What I am about to describe is the process I use to help me in the above endeavor. This is how I go about getting my guys as often as I can, filling in around them with solid players to round out my team in terms of positions and categories. That mechanism is tiered drafting.
Here are some of the principles of tiered drafting. You break the player pool into positions and place them in tiers via some ranking system. I use auction dollar values, it really does not matter. Any means you use to quantify value will work for a relative ranking. I align the positions side by side, filling in each tier with players of that tier’s value. So I can look horizontally and see players of equal value across each tier. Some color code each tier for easier recognition, others use some additional coding within the tier to identify injury risks or players with upside or players that may contribute more speed. The point is you can season to taste.
Players in the same tier are all considered to be equal in value. Granted, the tier will be composed of players valued between $X and $Y, but they are thought of as being identical in value. This is true for players within positions and across positions. If you want to take a shortstop and need speed, but the top shortstop in that tier is more of a home run hitter, it is okay to go down a couple of shortstops within that tier to find one with more speed. Form those players are close enough in raw value that the error bar associated with their projections renders them equivalent in value. If you need a batting average boost and have a middle, corner and outfield spot open, you can look across all the positions and find the highest ranked player that will help your average. There may be other players in that positional tier or similar tiers in other positions still available, but remember, all players within each value tier are equal in value.
The utility in using these tiers is the ability to spot pockets of value. These value pockets can come in two varieties. You can find multiple players at the same position in the same tier, or you can spot multiple positions that contribute to the same category in the same tier. With respect to the former, say you note that there are several second baseman you like pretty much the same in value. This means you do not have to reach for a second baseman earlier in the draft because you are confident of getting one you like, one of your guys, later.
Speaking towards the latter, if there is a pocket of speed, you do not have to reach for speed early one, secure in the knowledge there will be a means to get it later without having to reach, since at least one of your guys will still be there. Another way to utilize this is say you note a pocket of batting average value. If there is a player you fear will drain your average but you like his counting stats, let us call him Mark Reynolds as an example, you can comfortably take him, reassured that later, your tiers show you the batting average help will be there.
By using the tiers as my check-off list, I get a real good feel for how others value players. I can see if as a group, the league is over-drafting scarcity relative to how I rank players. This would be obvious if players from a lower tier were being crossed out while players from a higher tier in another position were still available. Using the tiers as a check-off list helps make sure you do not miss out on a run. If you want a starting pitcher of a certain tier, you see when the inventory is running low and it is time to pounce.
Admittedly, tier drafting may not be for everyone. Some are not comfortable with considering a $16 outfielder equal in value to a $19 shortstop. But, in the overall scheme of things, their intrinsic value to your team could be the same and tiers help remind me of that.
For those of you that are Platinum subscribers, starting with this Thursday’s update, I will be providing you with the exact tiers that I will be taking into my various drafts. They will be available in an easily printable format and updated with each subsequent Thursday projection update through the first week in April.
Before I go, this is as good a time as any to answer a question a few readers have sent me and that is to discuss in general terms, my drafting strategy. Ask and ye shall receive.
We have all heard the axiom, “you cannot win a league in the first few rounds, but you can lose it.” I am bothered by clichés and find this one to be a little too coy. I know what the point is; it is hard to screw up your first few picks, you get your bang for the buck later. But I prefer to go by my own mantra and that is you cannot win a league in the first few rounds, but you can sure make it easier to do so.
Here is what I mean by that. Your first few picks should set yourself up so you never have to reach, you never have to skip way down your tiers to get a player you need. Even if you are drafting a player “that already should have been drafted,” your early picks put you in a position to take advantage of that player sliding, affording you the chance to do so. Remember, we said early on that everyone values players differently and the key to managing your draft slots is being able to select as many of the players you value greater as possible.
The most important means of setting yourself up like this is to draft balance with your first few picks, not focusing too much on one category and especially not drafting too much batting average, which I admit is anti to how I used to do things. You want counting stats early. After round three, players are really tightly bunched in value. The place to really pound up the counting stats is with your first three picks, making them hitters. I know this takes me out of the running for an upper-echelon starter, but I can build a more than competitive staff without a top-five starting pitcher. If you really hit the counting stats early and have balance, you will never be forced to reach for a high power guy and be scared of hurting your average.
Similarly, you will also never be forced to reach for a stolen base specialist and hurt your power numbers. Let us go back to the batting average thought for a moment. I used to preach draft average early so you can absorb someone like Mark Reynolds later. The problem is, you never want to be forced to have to draft someone of any specific nature. You will be too tempted to reach for someone, giving back value, or you may not want to reach and end up missing out totally, as others swooped in. Obviously, when you draft someone like Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera, average is part of the package and it does not come at the expense of counting stats.
The other way of setting yourself up is via positions. Ideally, I look to select two of three from second base, shortstop and third base with my first three picks. If I get all three, I am ecstatic. Over the years, I have just found that this makes almost all of the remaining picks to be “best player available," which is exactly what you want. But here is the key. If the draft does not present me with those positions, I will not reach for them if the first baseman and outfielders on the board are of significantly greater value. If I am picking last in a 15-team league and Mark Teixeira and Matt Holliday are available, I will take them and not reach for Chase Utley and Ryan Zimmerman especially if my value tiers show pockets of value at either position later. That is, even knowing that players adjacently ranked are close in value, I will not jump down too far on my tiers for players at second, third or short early on. I’ll take my #8 and #10 ranked players at 15 and 16 even though they play first and outfield.
That said, I do make an effort to have the following combination in the first 10 picks: 1 of each infielder, 2 outfielders, 1 catcher and 3 pitchers, at least two of which are starters. I am not married to this, but have found more often than not it is how things play out. Though recently, I have found myself taking my fourth pitcher in round 10 if I felt I could round out the hitting positions in round 11. This sets up the next phase of the draft quite well as I can take a player at any position, and have multiple outfield spots open to take advantage of the inevitable outfielders I like later. Of all positions, we all value back end outfielders differently, usually because we all see differing levels of playing time for platoons. You want to be able to get your guy so you need the available roster spot.
Of course, intertwined with all this is my use of tiers and pockets of value. But to me, the key to a draft is the foundation you lay early on and it goes beyond just drafting three good players. I know there is a vast inventory of players, but the key is to have the maximum number of players at your disposal and not to eliminate some because your position is filled or you do not need that contribution. And on the flip-side, you do not want to be forced to target a player of a specific profile. At each turn, you want to be in a position to pick the best available player and also have him be the best available player for your team at the same time. There is a difference, and until you appreciate the difference, you will not be picking as many good players as possible.
Next week, we will talk about using tiers in auctions and my general auction strategies.