Last Saturday evening, I was privileged to participate in the inaugural League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) mixed league draft, to be played out for the first time. For a few years, LABR has assembled some of the participants in the standard AL and NL auctions and conducted a mock draft for a mixed league but due to popular demand, this year curator Steve Gardner made the decision to make the mixed a real league and conduct the draft on-line, the weekend previous to LABR auction weekend.
This is going to be the first of a two-part series discussing the draft. Today, I will talk about my preparation and on Friday, I will go through my squad pick-by-pick.
The league is composed of 15 teams using standard rotisserie 5x5 scoring. The rosters consist of the normal 14 hitters and 9 pitchers. We have a short reserve list from which we can make weekly transactions and store disabled players. There is trading, and I have a hunch it will be more active than the other industry leagues I have participated in.
As I outline my strategy, please realize it transcends all snake drafts, though to be honest, I have become so NFBCentric lately, I had to remind myself there will be trading in this league, so my old motto “draft for value, trade for balance” is once again in play.
GENERAL PHILOSOPHY: CHOOSE, DON’T CHASE
I know the axiom, you can’t win a league in the first few rounds, but you can lose it. I prefer to think of it more as you can’t win a league in the first few rounds, but making certain choices put you in a better position to win.
I understand the intent of the original statement: there are a lot of good players and it is hard to go wrong if you pick good players. But I think there should be a definite plan behind the early picks, and that is so that for the final two-thirds or so of the draft, you are choosing the best player available at the time and not chasing certain positions or statistical needs. I believe that the first seven or eight rounds set one up for the final 17 or 18.
Some may be jumping to the conclusion that the key to this is being a positional scarcity drafter. Sorry, but that’s not the case. But, nor is being an advocate of taking the best player available. I prefer to consider the big picture and not focus on an individual round, but a bunch of them together. By the end of round eight or so, I would like to have players from every position except closer and even that depends on the flow. I don’t care about the order. I want to have my C1, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, OF1 and SP1 lines be filled. The way to facilitate this is to have an understanding of potential slope of each round. The difference in potential between players is greatest earliest in the draft, just like it is in the NLF rookie draft. As you work your way through the snake, the delta between consecutive players gets smaller and smaller. When you then consider that a player’s potential is really a range of possible outcomes, it does not take long before consecutive players and then multiple players have effectively the same value. The point this occurs is usually around the fourth round. So for the first three rounds, I will not force positional scarcity upon my pick. I will break ties by opting for a middle infielder or a catcher, but I prefer not to leave potential stats on the table by taking a lesser shortstop over a better outfielder in the first few rounds. I won’t take three outfielders; I probably will not take two unless the potential of the player is just too great to leave for the next drafter. The good thing is almost all the time, the first three picks are such that by the time round four rolls around, there will always be a player at a position of need sitting there amid the top players of ostensibly equal value.
This “seven positions in the first eight rounds” is not a hard and fast rule as I still will react to the flow of the draft, but the reason for deviating is because a position is sliding and I can wait to fill that spot with a capable player while solidifying another spot more than expected. If I am targeting a tier of catchers, as an example, and it is round eight and there are three catchers still there I would be happy with, I may roll the dice, fortify a different spot in round eight and take the catcher in round nine. This is where tiers come into play, but that’s a story for another day.
If I successfully fill those seven positions in my eight picks, I should now be in a position to choose not chase. Not so coincidentally, round eight or so is when most drafts start deviating from the ADP. The reason this is important is while the draft is “going chalk”, you can take advantage of the top players available all being similar in value. Around round eight is when everyone begins to have different expectations for the remaining inventory, and you need to be able to find a roster spot for the player you happen to consider to be the best each time. In other words, choose, don’t chase.
DRAFT THE PITCHER, NOT THE ROUND
This coming weekend, I am going to be a guest speaker at the East Coast swing of the First Pitch Forum tour, a three-hour fantasy baseball symposium sponsored by our colleagues at Baseball HQ. I can pretty much guarantee at all three sites (Washington DC/Baltimore, NYC and Boston), I will be asked “what round should I start drafting pitching?” My answer will be “draft the pitcher, not the round.” What this means is that you should map out what you want your pitching staff to look like at the end of the draft. Not so much with specific names, but with someone from this tier, two guys from this tier, etc. Then you time the flow of the draft to pick your pitchers when each of those tiers is leaving the board, regardless of the round. It takes some discipline, especially if the timing is different than what you expect, but at the end of the day, if you stick to your guns, your staff is composed just the way you want it.
DRAFT SOME EDGES, MANAGE OTHERS
Once you get past a mixed league of about fourteen teams, you are going to have a couple areas of weakness, at least when you compare your roster to the others. Personally, I am a selfish SOB and want to have the best player in the league at every position. But, while I am selfish, I am also both practical and realistic, thus understand I cannot draft the best player at every position: some I need to upgrade as the season progresses. Before each draft, I study the player pool and decide where I want to draft my edge and where I want to rely on my in-season management to gain the edge.
In this year’s mixed pool, I see an edge where others are usually reticent to go, and that is with catching, especially upper tier catching. I know all the risks: catchers get hurt and they wear down. But remember, I am a selfish SOB and there is no way I can draft an edge at catcher by waiting, so in mixed drafts, I will almost assuredly have a top or second tier catcher, and if the timing is right, my second catcher will be pretty good as well.
On the other hand, the position that is easiest to upgrade as the season progresses is outfield. This does not speak to the quality or depth of the position in draft, just that there are more platoon situations that occur in the outfield, plus more playing time surprises that you always want to have at least two outfield spots open late, and hopefully your utility as well. At the end of the draft, it is not about the better player, but the player you think will play more and this occurs more with outfield than any position. So even if I draft two outfielders in those first eight picks, I will always have my last two outfield spots empty at the end.
DRAFT FOR POTENTIAL, TRADE FOR BALANCE
If this were an NFBC primer, this part would be completely different as there are no trades so you need to focus more on balance. But since we can trade, I will not hesitate to be light in one area if that means I accrue extra potential in another area. That said, if I am going to be short somewhere, it will be steals and saves as all it takes is dealing for one player to gain points in the category. I want to be in a position so when I trade, I am losing no points in order to gain points. Most are willing to lose two points to gain four, as would I, but remember I am a selfish SOB and prefer to gain four without losing any.
That basically covers my drafting philosophy, with the caveat that nothing is written in stone, everything is fluid. But I have done enough of these over the years, and had ample success to be able to anticipate how some things will unfold and thus be best prepared to adjust to any situation that occurs on the fly.
Please come back Friday when I discuss my LABR team with the above philosophies in mind.