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Saturday 16th Dec 2017

“How could they have taken Anthony Rizzo over Carlos Gomez?”

“They should have waited on Evan Gattis.”

“For a guy that preaches to ignore scarcity, Zola sure drafted scarcity early.”

“The Mastersball team is a train wreck.”

“Zola and Michaels reached for too many, especially early.”

And my personal favorite…

“Whoever Mastersball is, they must have been looking to make a name for themselves with some look-at-me picks.”

This is just a taste of the commentary posted on the web, said on the radio or uttered live at the recent Fantasy Sports Trade Association draft as pertains to the squad Lawr and I drafted. Upon reading and hearing all this, I’m going to be honest. After going back and reviewing the team, I like it even more now than before.

Lawr already did a pick-by-pick analysis. What follows is an explanation of the strategy we employed and why the aforementioned opinions are a bit myopic.

Before every draft where we partner, Lawr and I always go through the same routine. Well, actually this time it was a little different. We usually take a trek down the Strip and strategize over a pastrami sandwich at the Carnegie Deli. But this year, I donned some nicer clothes and since I usually consume half of my sandwich and wear the other half, I asked my mate if it was OK if we skipped Carnegie this time and lunch on something that has less of a chance of staining my tie.

The discussion, however, was the same as usual.

  • Derive an overall plan and narrow down our first round choice accordingly
  • Decide how we want to attack pitching
  • Go through the inventory looking for the players we agree will have a solid season
  • Neither of us are married to an overall plan, though we did agree to really focus on counting stats and pay less heed to batting average early. If necessary, we would address average later.

    We concurred not to take Clayton Kershaw if he fell to us at seven. We'd then approach pitching on a round-by round basis. The idea was to identify the pitchers we were willing to take if they made it to the next pick, otherwise we’d take a hitter. Even if this meant we were among the last to select an arm, we’re confident in our ability to draft then manage as necessary to get the pitching points needed to compete.

    The common names we rattled off included Yoenis Cespedes, George Springer, Kole Calhoun, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, A.J. Pollock, Rusney Castillo, Dalton Pompey and Angel Pagan. See a pattern? The shared list was almost exclusively outfielders. Furthermore, the majority had steals as part of their arsenal.

    Before proceeding any further, I need to take a step back and elucidate a bit where I’m personally at in terms of philosophy and draft theory. In full disclosure, I didn’t discuss this directly with Lawr since I knew he would be on board with it and ultimately we would be landing at the same place - my path being more analytical with his employing more subjective views sprinkled with Zen.

    The bottom line is I didn’t really care to try to gauge the market and time the room on most of our picks. The only available average draft position (ADP) comes from the National Fantasy Baseball Championship’s early leagues, which are all of the 15-team, 50-player draft-and-hold variety. The FSTA league has 13 teams with trading, albeit limited to one deal with each team.

    Instead, I used the results from a process I call graph-a-draft. (Note – I don’t use the term value anymore, substituting the more apropos word potential). By taking the potential of each player and assigning it to a corresponding draft spot from top to bottom, you can get a rough idea of the production expected from each spot. By means of example, when making the 100th pick of a draft, ideally the players would be in my top-100.

    There are exceptions as what’s most important is the intrinsic potential of the player, which is a function of team construct and plan for in-season management. For instance, if you draft Jose Altuve, then Dee Gordon’s intrinsic value to your team is diminished greatly. If you plan on liberally streaming starting pitchers with favorable home match-ups, someone like Tyson Ross is more useful than where his rank places him based on both home and away games.

    I’m not naïve. I’d be a fool if I didn’t take the market into consideration. But quite frankly, I think too many are too much of a slave to how they perceive the market. Picks aren’t made in a vacuum. The idea is to finish the draft with the squad with the most potential. Looking for the best value (arghh) at each turn is not necessarily the way to go about the process. As such, my primary concern isn’t playing cat-and-mouse or chicken with my competitors but rather working my way towards a goal by choosing players I expect to out-produce the expectation defined by their draft spot. I don’t care if I could have waited since I plan on drafting another edge at that later spot as well. I see no advantage of taking a player the market likes more than me to push a player I like into a lower draft spot. What if someone else takes the player? Now I have forfeited the chance to gain an edge with the earlier pick while in turn letting an opponent get a big edge with that player. No thanks. I’d rather focus on what I can control and that’s taking a player at every turn that exceeds that spot’s expectation regardless if I possibly could have waited.

    With that as a backdrop, let’s circle back to Lawr and I discussing our first pick. We were fairly certain that the first six picks would be Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Paul Goldschmidt, Giancarlo Stanton, Kershaw and Jose Abreu in some order – and we were correct. That meant we had to at least broach the possibility of rolling the dice Miguel Cabrera comes back somewhat early and is as effective as normal. We mutually opted to pass. That left Gomez, Adam Jones, Rizzo and Edwin Encarnacion as viable options. Now remember:

  • We want to focus on counting stats
  • There are a plethora of speedy outfielders we both covet
  • We decided to cross off the outfielders, desiring to leave as many spots open as possible, rendering Rizzo or Encarnacion as the candidates. We favored the youth and upside of Rizzo, so unless something unexpected occurred, we were fully prepared to initialize our squad with the Cubs’ first baseman.

    What follows is a table displaying our picks and where I ranked them at the time of selection. The rest of the discussion will refer to this table.

    Round Pick Rank Diff
    1 Rizzo, Anthony 7 17 -10
    2 Donaldson, Josh 20 21 -1
    3 Springer, George 33 28 5
    4 Cespedes, Yoenis 46 23 23
    5 Gattis, Evan 59 13 46
    6 Calhoun, Kole 72 33 39
    7 Wong, Kolten 85 79 6
    8 Melancon, Mark 98 88 10
    9 Cashner, Andrew 111 105 6
    10 Martin, Leonys 124 73 51
    11 Ventura, Yordano 137 183 -46
    12 Sanchez, Anibal 150 132 18
    13 Smyly, Drew 163 130 33
    14 Aybar, Erick 176 118 58
    15 Jaso, John 189 66 123
    16 Duffy, Danny 202 215 -13
    17 Boxberger, Brad 215 154 61
    18 Pompey, Dalton 228 156 72
    19 Reddick, Josh 241 187 54
    19 Morse, Michael 254 279 -25
    20 Peavy, Jake 267 237 30
    21 Kazmir, Scott 280 213 67
    22 Pagan, Angel 293 227 66
    23 Tillman, Chris 306 180 126
    24 Heaney, Andrew 319 246 73
    25 Semien, Marcus 332 253 79
    26 Napoli, Mike 345 421 -76
    27 Quackenbush, Kevin 358 304 54
    28 Panik, Joe 371 251 120
    29 Jones, Garrett 384 362 22

    Let’s concentrate on the questionable picks according to the table. The explanations will call into play the philosophy and game theory explained earlier.

    We took a ton of flak for Rizzo and according to the table it may be deserved. But that’s looking at things in a vacuum. Sure, ten players were ranked ahead of Rizzo with reference to the draft spot but three of them were pitchers and three more catchers (more in a minute), so we’re now taking my 11th best non-catcher or pitcher in the 7th spot which softens but doesn’t eliminate the blow. More importantly, Rizzo doesn’t take away a valuable outfield spot and should produce a ton of homers, RBI and runs. He fits the team construct without sacrificing the opportunity cost of taking an outfielder.

    Speaking of which, the plan requires that we in fact grabbed a bunch of the outfielders we yearned after at an efficient cost. Well, look at that. Springer, Cespedes, Calhoun, Martin and Pompey were all selected at a potential profit according to my ranks.

    The pick that raised even more eyebrows than Rizzo was Gattis in the fifth. There are several factors in play here. Even before the deal to Houston, I had Gattis behind only Buster Posey and Jonathan Lucroy at the receiver spot, figuring on about 30 homers. Without going too deep into the gory details, my rankings entail looking at replacement by position and the catcher bump this season is huge. Chances are much of the consternation over this pick was rooted in valuation with some differences in production. Though, talking to others at the draft table, many actually projected Gattis for mid-30 bombs.

    As mentioned, not only did I not have a feel for where the market slotted Gattis, even if I did I don’t care. He’s my 13th ranked overall player. Lawr and I talked about it and decided since Gattis was the third backstop on our list, we would draft him the pick after Lucroy was drafted, feeling fairly certain he would follow Posey off the board. Lucroy went early in the fifth, so we jumped on Gattis. Could we have waited? Perhaps, but we would have taken Calhoun in his stead, the player we got next. Early or not, Gattis provides us with considerable potential profit while really boosting the counting stats we drool over.

    The next player drafted at a perceived loss is Yordano Ventura. Some of this is my conservative projection but regardless, the reasoning is the same. We faded pitching. It wasn’t by design but no satisfactory arms were there for us when we were on the clock. As such, it was necessary to take a hurler with serious upside. Ventura was the most attractive option so we jumped on him. A static ranking does not reflect downside, risk and potential upside. We felt we needed to draft the upside.

    Ironically, the next player with a negative difference is Ventura’s teammate, Danny Duffy. One way to mitigate the lack of an ace is to play the match-up game with the back end of your fantasy staff. This means avoiding the poor starts so the stats actually added to your team total are better than projected. Kauffman Stadium actually inflates runs a tad but it is death to home runs, which is Duffy’s primary crutch, hence his numbers should benefit from home tilts.

    A couple other players, Michael Morse and Mike Napoli, were taken at an apparent loss. Both are power hitting corner infielders, fitting the team mold, but both also have injury concerns. The thing is, if they’re hurt, we’ll backfill with a similar player. This is another weakness of static ranks – not accounting for the replacement stats when the original player is hurt.

    Are Lawr and I going to recapture the title we won in 2013? Who knows, it’s still January. But I feel very good about our chances irrespective of how others may think.

    That’s because Lawr and I did it our way.


    0 #14 Todd Zola 2015-01-22 03:03
    Quoting Mickey4081:
    Todd still loves Napoli. My first thought with Rizzo pick was like WHAT??? I trust these dudes (Todd and Lawr) and there is no way I'm going to question there picks. I'm fully aware they know there stuff and will respect there draft plan. Will I pick Rizzo at #7? Not likely. :lol:

    And the next time I'm at 7, I may not either -- but for what we wanted to do in this draft it was the play.

    I'm actually down on Napoli and sort of wish Boston traded him to put Craig at first. Pretty sure Napoli won't be on our squad that long but we'll see.
    0 #13 Dan Hayes 2015-01-22 01:56
    Todd still loves Napoli. My first thought with Rizzo pick was like WHAT??? I trust these dudes (Todd and Lawr) and there is no way I'm going to question there picks. I'm fully aware they know there stuff and will respect there draft plan. Will I pick Rizzo at #7? Not likely. :lol:
    0 #12 Zach Steinhorn 2015-01-21 15:03
    Rather than using ADP to tell me who to pick, I often use it to give me an idea as to which players are being undervalued by the marketplace. I think it could be a beneficial tool in that way.

    0 #11 Greg Doyle 2015-01-21 02:04
    I like the Rizzo and Gattis picks.... the art of this game is to pick players before they peak (i.e. better than their historical levels and better than their ADP) and I think that you nabbed two risers.

    I think that ADP is useful as a data point, within the context of your draft, but not as a draft guide. It's important to understand what comprises the ADP (how recent) and the level of team owners whose data it comprises.
    0 #10 Lawr Michaels 2015-01-20 23:18
    Well, for one thing, Todd completely and beautifully articulated how I have tried to draft for years in just a few paragraphs. Awesome.

    I swear, I don't even know who is what as part of ADP (though I can guess who the top five or so guys might be and probably get sort of close for a lot of players).

    That is because it doesn't really matter. I think ADP is interesting as a social study of what people do and why, but I find it useless as a draft tool.

    As in, I would rather see a guy play and make my own judgement, than have someone tell me about him. I try to know player's numbers and where they play and how old they are along with the league rules and what my league-mates might do.

    I realize drafting this way sometimes leads to disaster. But, I have also been successful enough to know sometimes it works just fine, at least getting through the draft and having a competitive team June 1 (then trades and FAAB/Waiver are what keeps things going, in my view).

    I like our team, too. Will they win? Dunno, but just about everyone has a bit of upside stat wise, and they are almost all in a position to take advantage.

    Best of all, none of this was/is boring. And, I would rather fail trying what I think might outwit the league, than win by simply drafting as I am told.
    0 #9 Todd Zola 2015-01-20 22:36
    I think we're picking semantic nits but ranking prep and drafting all go hand-in-hand, drafting completes the cycle - projections feed all three. The common ground is understanding just what a projection in terms of a range. What's the 50th percentile projection? What's the 90th percentile? When is each beneficial?
    0 #8 OaktownSteve 2015-01-20 22:22
    Just bugs me when fantasy players treat their projections with such a high degree of certainty. Rather than looking to construct a roster properly, they look to fill their spreadsheet with imaginary numbers. It just very much strikes me as not the way to do.

    The distinction is that projections are critical for ranking and preparation, but not for drafting. I've said this before, but I think a good way to look at it is to imagine that you were going to have a draft using last year's stats. That is, all the final performance is already known. Some drafters would consistently beat other drafters because they understand the player pool and have prepared to construct a roster, have a clear strategic objective that correlates to a winning outcome and a sense for how to execute it.
    0 #7 Todd Zola 2015-01-20 20:34
    I actually don't mind when they compare players to their own projections so long as they provide their reasoning.

    What bugs me is using the ADP as the basis for comparison.

    "His ADP is X, no need to take him in the Yth, they could have waited a round or two" -- etc.
    0 #6 OaktownSteve 2015-01-20 20:20
    I like the Rizzo pick. I like Gardner and often have similar evaluations to him, but I find the Freeman pick both influenced by and inferior to the Rizzo selection. There's a huge tier at 1st this year after EE and he and Cabrera have injury track record and the wrong side of the aging curve against them. Rizzo established a floor last year, improved his splits, and clearly has growth potential.

    I think at every pick there are a set of criteria you have to consider. What is my current roster, what is the available talent pool, how is the remaining talent distributed across positions, what are the statistical characteristics of the remaining talent (are SBs growing more scarce at positions I have available to fill, etc.)

    I also always laugh at people's slavish devotion when evaluating picks to their own projections as if they were facts and not probability ranges. Roster construction considerations should always trump projection based picks.
    0 #5 Brian Walton 2015-01-20 20:01
    Now, anyone with a keyboard is an instant analyst. No sense in waiting until a draft is even done to blurt out "expert" opinion. Worth absolutely nothing.

    To those commenters who are actually "colleagues," I hope you ram their words right up their behind in this league this season.

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