These guidelines have served me very well. There are always exceptions to the rule, but too many of them preclude an exceptional draft.
1) Ignore Spring Training statistics. Remember these 2015 spring darlings?
Mike Zunino (.352/7/0)
Mark Canha (.297/6/0)
Mike Napoli (.400/6/0)
Joc Pederson (.338/6/3)
Their ADP rose along with these spring stats. There are other examples I could post. It is just noise. Pitchers pitch differently in the spring, working on various things, tweaking their delivery, their grip, or just getting their work in and throwing x number of fastballs.
Mike Trout stole five bases and was going to increase his SB totals in 2015. What happened? They dropped from 16 to 11. The HR and SB totals in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues are primarily noise, not signal.
2) Fade the hype. You WILL miss out from time to time if you go against the flow. I resolved not to draft Kris Bryant in a single league last year. The price was just too rich for my blood. In two different NFBC Main Event Drafts, the Cubs rookie was taken with the 39th pick. Going with Todd Zola’s numbers, Bryant was the 33rd most valuable fantasy player in 2015. I missed out on a little bit of value there, but given the low floor for this type of pick, I’m fine with that. I also missed out on first rounder Yasiel Puig, who was also extremely overpriced due to the hype train. Fade the hype. The busts you avoid will more than make up for the slim margins you gain here and there at high risk.
3) Fade catchers. Don’t draft a catcher in the first six rounds, and ideally you wait until at least Round 11 to take one unless a good value slips. My most successful teams have punted the tools of ignorance on draft day and looked to upgrade them on the wire during the season.
4) Don’t worry about position scarcity early in the draft. Select the best player available and don’t think about filling your roster until the double-digit rounds.
5) Walk away from the draft table with at least two elite aces. That doesn’t mean you have to draft Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw. If you know this year’s Jake Arrieta and Dallas Keuchel, that’s fine. But if you’re wrong and you have no WHIP anchors on draft day, most likely you will completely sabotage your ratios before you are able to upgrade your staff.
6) Limit downside in the first ten rounds. A lot of people think that to win a national contest, you have to take chances. There’s some truth to that, but the point is overplayed. When I won the NFBC in 2014, the foundation was comprised of boring, reliable, proven players with high floors. Limiting the number of busts in the early rounds is just as important as drafting players with high ceilings that might break out. These were the first ten picks of my 2014 National Championship team:
1st Miguel Cabrera
2nd Max Scherzer
3rd Adam Wainwright
4th Hunter Pence
5th Ian Kinsler
6th Jayson Werth
7th Josh Donaldson
8th Alfonso Soriano
10th Victor Martinez
The list is made up of little more than boring, reliable, proven veterans. The first "upside" play I made was in the 10th round. Victor Martinez was discounted due to an injury related power outage in 2013, but even if he merely repeated his performance at this "disappointing" production level, he was still underpriced. He was priced under his floor and had a sky-high ceiling to boot. There is a market bias against veterans in their 30’s. This is an error you can exploit. Once the foundation is laid, then make your move on risky players with upside.
7) Trust your gut over the opinion of experts and talking heads. Few things are worse than having the market, or experts, talk you out of a decision or a target, then realizing at the end of the season you were right in the first place.
8) Never elevate your tools above your own intellect or what your eyes tell you. Sabermetric tools are important. In fact, they are essential. BABIP, FIP, xFIP, contact rate, etc. all have to be part of the process. They can bring to light things you can’t see and make you aware of things you hadn’t or wouldn’t have thought about. They can also be a trap if you canonize them and discard your own scouting assessment when there’s a conflict.
9) Don’t be a slave to ADP. This means don’t be afraid to reach for a player if he is essential to your roster construction scheme. You don’t have to get every player at a good "value", and if you try you’ll miss out on some important pieces along the way.
10) Favor upside over backups in the closing rounds. Those that drafted Carlos Correa last year are probably fine that they may have missed out on a few days of stats because they didn’t have a backup on the bench mid-week. Sometimes the waiver wire produces more than the scraps in the 30th round.