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Sunday 28th May 2017

After more than two dozen mock drafts, the real thing is here. Ah, spring training, spring flowers, spring showers, or no showers for us in California and, most importantly, spring drafts.

I joined two real auction drafts recently. One draft was for NFBC, the other one for a private league. Being only two days apart, I decided to experiment with opposite strategies. Hence the word “experiment” in the title of this post.

“Experiment” in the sense that I am curious about which approach will prove to be superior to the other by the end of the season. We will review this topic again after the season is over, post-mortem, when the leaves turn red and autumn is in the air.

To be valid, we must assume that the quality of competition and the severity of injuries will be equivalent. That’s impossible to predict, but we know that injuries will happen. Any draft strategy must incorporate the reality of today’s baseball. However, multiple major injuries to one team while the other skates unscathed will invalidate this experiment.

Both drafts were 15 teams, auction, mixed league format using the Roto 5x5 scoring system and a standard $260 budget. The concepts depicted here can be extrapolated to snake drafts by assuming that early-round picks in snake equate to expensive players in auction. For example, to make myself clear, a $1 player in auction is equivalent to a last round pick in snake.

Money, money, the root of all evil. All this would be a moot point if I were a Hollywood celebrity and my budget were limitless. However, we cannot escape the reality and the reality is simple: with $260 to spend, our team will not consist exclusively of top tier or near top tier players. The key question then is “where to go cheap?”

Team 1 strategy: save $ for pitching

Team 2 strategy: do not overspend; ensure to have money towards the end of the draft to avoid being stuck with the least productive lowest tier players (i.e. $1 players). Stick to the 70%/30% hitters/pitchers ratio.

Opposite experimental strategy (A): Catchers: spend nothing, splurge or somewhere in between?

Team 1: Kurt Suzuki $2 / Ryan Hanigan $1 Total spent $3

Rational: catchers have been historically the most injury prone hitters, so why spend?

Team 2: Brian McCann $11 / Yadier Molina $13 Total spent $24

Rational: do not splurge on Buster Posey but get proven producers

Opposite experimental strategy (B): Corner Infield: Get a top tier player or not?

Team 1: Edwin Encarnacion $32 / Matt Carpenter $10 / Justin Smoak $1 Total spent $43

Rational: cannot ignore that considerable production comes from this position; get one top 1B or 3B.

Team 2: Joey Votto $19 / Josh Harrison $12 / Adam Lind $5 Total spent $36

Rational: overpaid for Votto, saved on Lind, overall met the objective of spending in the mid 30’s.

Opposite experimental strategy (C): Middle Infield: Get a top tier player or not?

Team 1: Ben Zobrist $12 / JJ Hardy $6 / Jhonny Peralta $6 Total spent $24

Rational: After catching, this position is the least productive, so why spend?

Team 2: Robinson Cano $23 / Starlin Castro $12 / Neil Walker $10 Total spent $45

Rational: There is a big drop-off in production after the top tier, hence get a player before the projected drop-off.

   Outfield: no opposing strategy; the objective in both cases was to pay for HRs and acquire an outfield that is balanced in terms of Roto hitting categories. Both drafts showed that the outfield is deep this year. A deep position calls for some planning by analyzing players’ projections. Add the numbers. For example, add projections for two outfielders who can be had for a buck plus a reasonably expensive catcher. Repeat by adding projections for one $1 outfielder, one $1 catcher and a middle tier outfielder whose $ value makes the two additions equivalent money wise. Which projection numbers look better? Draft accordingly. 

Team 1: Yoenis Cespedes $20 / Ben Revere $17 / Jason Heyward $17 / Alex Gordon $14 / Coco Crisp $3 Total spent $71

Team 2: Giancarlo Stanton $38 / Rusney Castillo $13 / Brett Gardener $13 / Melky Cabrera $10 / David Peralta $1 Total spent $75

Utility: Team 1: Nelson Cruz $11 Team 2: Adam LaRoche $9

Both players come with a huge question mark about their performance with new teams. Their price was right.

Opposite experimental strategy (D): To spend or not to spend on pitching?

Team 1: Max Scherzer $34 / Jake Arrieta $16 / Julio Teheran $14 / Hyun-jin Ryu $14 / Jake Odorizzi $7 / Danny Duffy $1 Total spent $86

Rational: A lot has been written on Mastersball.com about the new era of pitching. My interpretation of that is that we ought to revise the old hitting/pitching ratio in favor of pitching and get Clayton Kershaw or another elite player if you can.

Team 2: Alex Wood $15 / Jacob DeGrom $13 / Collin McHugh $7 / Matt Shoemaker $6 / Kevin Gausman $4 / Scott Kazmir $4 Total spent $49

Rational: Spend the usual 25% to 30% of total budget on pitching; keep an eye on newcomers during the season.

Opposite experimental strategy (E): Not opposite, but still different

Team 1: Aroldis Chapman $21 / JP Howell $1 / Tony Watson $1 Total spent $22

Rational: Get a top RP and two $1 ones at the end of the draft; considering the high turnover of closers, new ones will be available during the season, so why pay?

Team 2: Trevor Rosenthal $12 /Koji Uehara $9 / JP Howell $1 Total spent $22

Rational: I was surprised that while top tier closers went for low to mid 20’s, other solid ones went for much less. Hence the closer situation of Team 2 appears superior to that of Team 1. By the time Team 1 acquires two new RPs, Team 2 will be well ahead in the Saves category.

   Final thought: Team 1 has spent much more than Team 2 on pitching. The only valid comparison is the end of the season result: that is, which of the two teams will find itself higher than the other team in the final standings of their respective leagues.

   I would put my money on Team 1. 

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