All-time fantasy draft

I’d be willing to guess that most of you hardcore fantasy baseball fans out there have had these kinds of debates countless times with your buddies. Who had the greatest fantasy season of all-time?

“Man, Babe Ruth would have been a monster if there were fantasy leagues back in the 1920s!” “Naw, Ty Cobb would’ve been even better!” What about those ridiculous pitchers from the early 1900s like Walter Johnson?

Now, finally, we have a means to find the answers to these questions.

Sure, a bunch of guys sitting around at a bar arguing about which players were the greatest ever can be a lot of fun. But this idea takes that to a whole new dimension. Fifteen NFBC veterans, using their finely tuned analytical skills, poring over all of the available major league data from 1901 to the present. Developing strategies and game theories, trying to outsmart and out-maneuver some of the brightest competitive minds in the industry. Monster spreadsheets and systems to rank every individual hitting and pitching season in the history of the game. There is some serious stuff going on here.

I’m incredibly surprised that something like this hasn’t been done before. I wish that I could take credit for this insanely wonderful idea, but it’s the brainchild of NFBC Hall of Famer Shawn Childs. Shawn decided to get these highly decorated drafters together to compete in what’s currently known as the Al- Time Draft. Here is the basic premise:

You can draft any player who played in the AL or NL starting from 1901 to present (no Federal League players). We are using a 20-game minimum in season for the batting positions. If a player qualifies at multiple positions, you can move him around during the draft until you fill your roster.

For pitching, we are using two relief slots on the roster. A reliever needs to have 30 relief appearance to qualify (total games for a pitcher minus starts equals relief appearances).


This is a standard 15-team Roto league. Each team will be drafting 23 players (14 hitters—two catchers, one each for first base, second base, third base, shortstop, corner infielder, middle infielder and utility, five outfielders and nine pitchers (1,500 innings minimum) with two required relief pitchers). There are 10 categories: five hitting (batting average, runs, homers, RBI and steals) and five pitching (wins, ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and saves). Each team will be ranked in each category from first to last. The top team will receive 15 points and the lowest will receive one point. Teams will split points if they are tied in a category. Average, ERA and WHIP will go to the furthest decimal point to break ties.

In each round a contestant will declare the player he selects plus the year he wants to use that player’s stats.

If an owner drafts a player in the early years and he has pitching and hitting stats, he will get only the stats for the position he decides to use him at. A hitter will receive no pitching stats and pitching will receive no hitting stats.

If a team fails to get enough innings, it will receive one point for all pitching categories. If a team selects a starting pitcher when there are only two relief slots left, it must make another selection.

Not only am I excited about the opportunity to participate in this draft, but I was also lucky enough to draw the No. 1 pick. So it’s really up to me to decide which individual player had the greatest fantasy season of all time. No pressure or anything.

For those who think this is merely a fun exercise, this is a pay league, with the winner taking home a free entry into the NFBC Main Event this season and second place also taking home prize money. Also at stake, and even more important to most competitors here, is the pride and honor that would come from winning this inaugural event.

Since you already know what stats you are getting once you select a player, there is no uncertainty played out over the course of the season. As soon as the draft is over, everyone will know who the winner is. To make things more interesting, and add just a little uncertainty to the proceedings, rounds five,10, 15 and 23 will be “blind” rounds. This means that we will, in order, submit our pick and the year we want to use to a neutral party. At the end of each of those rounds, that neutral individual will reveal in no particular order the 15 players selected, then the draft will proceed as normal.

If you think this is the greatest idea ever conceived, you would be correct. To make things even better, this is a slow draft in which each owner has 24 hours to make his selection. On top of that, the draft is being conducted on the NFBC message boards for all to observe, comment and share any opinions they may have. In addition, after making each pick, drafters and observers alike are encouraged to link to the player’s career stats and Wikipedia site, as well as share about that player. This has already helped me, and I know many others, learn even more about the great players and the great history of the game we all love.

We are also encouraged to share our thought process while drafting and any insight that we feel we can add, without giving away too much information about our individual draft strategies. This draft began Thursday night, and we are only in round three, but the thread on the message board already has 283 replies. If you love the history of baseball, and think this is an awesome idea, feel free to drop on by the message board and share your thoughts. Or, if you have specific insights, sleepers or strategies that you think would work tremendously in this format, leave ‘em here or feel free to send me an e-mail smile

For the record, here’s how I kicked things off, and who I decided had the greatest individual fantasy season in the history of major league baseball…..

Let me first say that I’m honored to have the first selection and to be kicking off the greatest fantasy draft of all time. The owners who are competing in this draft truly are among the best of the best in the industry. Whoever comes out on top, will surely have earned it, and will command all sorts of respect.

Many people that I’ve talked to seem to think that this first selection is an easy choice, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. This one selection literally dictates the direction that we want our entire draft to go. Take the top pitcher, and start your offense 28 picks later? Grab the top power bat, but miss out on those huge innings-dominating pitchers, and then have to chase steals as well? What about grabbing that high average, high speed, foul-mouthed ol’ southern boy? That leaves a lot of power to be made up later.

In all honesty, this pick came down to a decision between two very worthy players. After constructing several mock teams through the first six-plus rounds, I made the executive decision that I like the possibilities better overall with this man.

Without further ado, I’ll select The Sultan of Swat! The King of Crash! The colossus of clout! The colossus of clout! THE GREAT BAMBINO!

Babe Ruth, OF, NYY, 1921: .378 (204/540) / 177 R / 59 HR / 171 RBI / 17 SB

I’ll update again next week on how things are progressing here. If you wish to visit the thread yourself:;f=1;t=007986;p=1

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  1. Matt said...

    One thing that’s not mentioned: Can you draft the same player multiple times, but in different years? In other words, can someone now draft Ruth’s 1922 season?

  2. Jeff Akston said...

    I wouldn’t have gone Ruth first.  Amazing season, but still an outfielder.  You’ll likely have outfield seasons like Ellis Burks (‘96) not even go drafted due to the depth in the position.

    I probably would have drafted with positional scarity the first few rounds and try to get a 2B (Hornsby ‘22 or Morgan ‘76 – Hornsby ‘22 would probably have been my #1 pick), SS (pick an A-rod year) or Catcher (Piazza, Mauer, Bench).  I think if you can line up as much of the top players at tough-to-fill positions, you’d be in a better position.

    But I’ve never participated in one of these leagues nor ever even thought of it, so I may be all wet. 

    I just can’t believe so many closers are going so early.

  3. Dave Shovein said...

    @ Jeff: I can understand your thought, and Hornsby was given serious consideration at 1. Ellis Burks is a top 20 OF for sure though, and will easily get drafted in the first several rounds of this format

    You have to consider scarcity to a point, but when there are so many similar players to be had, and only 15 will be drafted at certain positions, we thought that starting with the best possible numbers accross the board was easily the way to go.

  4. Matt said...

    I saw a similar draft to this several years ago. The added twist they used was that you could only draft one player out of each letter of the alphabet (by last name). So if you drafted Ruth, you could not later draft A-Rod (but another team could, obviously). Heck of a twist.

  5. Greg Simons said...

    I love this idea, and I can’t wait to see the results.

    One question, though. In the “blind” rounds, does the neutral party inform an owner if he picks a player already chosen?  If it’s the second owner, he then knows who the previous owner took. I’m not sure this gives an advantage, but it’s a bit of a wrinkle I don’t understand.

  6. Dave Shovein said...

    @ Greg: Correct, the neutral party would inform the owner that the player has already been taken and he would need to pick again.

  7. Dave Shovein said...

    @Derek: I do agree that the 1930’s and the late 90’s will be heavily represented in this format. May I ask why you personally wouldn’t have taken Ruth in that spot? If it’s simply due to the abundance of great seasons in the outfield, and you prefer scarcity, would it have been Hornsby?

    Secondly, we decided on the 1901 cutoff to get rid of all the absurd stats from the deadball era pre 1901. For this draft, we also wanted to learn more about the history of the game, and I think that works as a good starting point.

    What this idea now opens up, is a world of possibilities. You could do decade specific drafts, team specific drafts, the possibilities are endless and very intriguing.

  8. Derek Ambrosino said...

    I’ve toyed with this idea too. I have a couple of things I would have liked to see, and I’ll start with these two:

    1. If the format is kept as is, I think I’d prefer to see the OF positions broken down into LF, CF, RF. There’s just too much greatness to choose from. I also probably would not have gone with Ruth, and even less so if the OF positions were broken up.

    2. I thought about writing a column about the greatest fantasy seasons of all time, but I would have done this whole thing a bit differently. For one, I would not go back all the way to the early 1900s for eligibility. One cut-off I thought about was that the player had to have at least played in the fantasy era – meaning after the creation of the famed “rotisserie league.” Also, I think value needs to be gauged not just by position, but by league norm. I think the value should not be absolute, but measured by value relative to say the top 18 producing players eligible at a particular position in a particular year. Otherwise, you’re not really selecting the most valuable fantasy seasons of all time, just the ones that look prettiest on the outside. And, of course, the 30’s and late 90s to the aughts will wind up overly represented.

    Still interested in how this goes though.

  9. derek ambrosino said...

    On the blackberry at jury duty here, so I’m kinda going off memory a bit here. Hornsby ‘22 would get strong consideration, as would piazza’s .363 season. I think C and 2B and maybe SS are the positions where having the top producers will give you the biggest relative edge. HRs are kind of a dime a dozen, so I wouldn’t worry too much about them early on the will be many cheap 45+ hr seasons at several positions to add later. The good thing about the Ruth season is all those runs. That’s kind of the real scarcity, those 150+ run seasons. Also, big sb seasons w additional plus production may prove valuable.

    I just don’t think 1900 actually chokes off the crazy numbers. You still have guys like Ed Walsh w 400+ ip of sub 2 era and like 40 wins. Btw, I think if you go that route you probably have to go for some high relievers too, or for a pedro season because you’ll be behind the K pace. 40 ws is 400+ ip isn’t an incredible bargain anyway. I think I’d rather Doc 85 and stay over the K per Ip benchmark while still in the W per 10 ip range.

    I don’t actually consider those seasons all that much more valuable than a vintage big unit, dr K, koufax, pedro season. In fact, I might take pedro 99 or 00 or doc 85 ahead of any of those.

    Also interested to see if ppl use a mike morgan season at RP. What about hoyt wilhelm – he has some seasons that might qualify at RP when splitting duties.

    SS could also get thin in power. After a-rod, banks, and vaughan, I’m not sure there are any 40hr seasons left.

    This would be a great cross test of knowledge if this had to be done live without a computer.

  10. Dave Shovein said...

    @ Derek: Yeah, if this was done live and without cheat sheets, it would be a tremendous test of a person’s knowledge.

    The tipping point for me with Ruth was that he was good-great accross the board. The monster numbers in runs, rbi and HR set a nice base for our offense. The .378 avg surely helps as well, and also the 17 steals he chips in had a positive value as well. We also did consider Big Ed Walsh there, just thought that we liked the combinations better starting with Ruth.

  11. Kevin Wilson said...

    Color me a spoilsport, but I’m not overly impressed with the idea. Half the fun to me is watching the drama unfolding from week to week; in this league you might know who the champion is before the 20th round, if you’re updating the standings in real-time, as you could.

    I think it would be more fun if this was a head to head league with the results being posted daily of what each matchup would have been. I’m not sure how easy that would be to compile, but hey.

    It’s the offseason, so there’s no better time for something like this. I’m just not so sure it’s the greatest idea ever. To each his own though.

  12. Derek Ambrosino said...

    The Hiller season slipped my mind.

    Regardless, I also think this needs an innings cap. Fantasy pitching performances are about efficiently producing value over innings. Ed Walsh ‘08 was not a better fantasy pitching season than, say, Pedro 2000 (or ‘99, or possibly a few others).

    The fact that there’s no innings cap skews the pitching greatly.

    I also agree that if you are tabulating the results in real time, this is ostensibly an exercise in research and tabulation, which brings me back to my initial suggestions.

  13. Dave Shovein said...

    @Derek: As I mentioned though, to avoid the stats being completely tabulated in real time, rounds 5, 10, 15 and 23 will be blind rounds to add enough uncertainty to the draft. I like the idea of an innings cap, but at the same time there has to be a minimum or people would punt wins and K’s and do an all-reliever strategy

  14. Mike D said...

    Given that results are already in, this is test not so much of baseball knowledge but who has the best OR (operations research) skills.

    FYI Derek – Marshall or Wilhelm are very low reliever picks and should NOT be taken.  Next best relief pick should be John Hiller in 1973.

  15. derek ambrosino said...

    Being roto, I don’t think people would do that. You can’t win by taking two 1s, so you’re forced to pretty much compete across the board I’d have a minimum and a maximum innings cap.

    But, like I said, my biggest issue with this is that it isn’t actually identifying the most valuable fantasy seasons of all time. Its kind of just like couting who has the most currency and pretending 1 yen equals 1 euro.

    I think the whole thing should be based on more of a WAR type model, with and categories measured by some sort of composite standard deviation where each season scores relative to its direct competitors. Maybe joe morgan’s 76 is a better fantasy season than gehrig’s best. Maybe Norm Cash’s corked bat year is a top 15 OF season given the baseline.

  16. Dave Shovein said...

    Even though it’s a roto league, you have to remember that we already know the stats we are getting. Theortically in a vacuum, this means that the league points “should” be more closely bunched together. This means that the winner may only finish with 100-105 total league points, leaving plenty of room for teams who may want to punt a category or two. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see some teams attempt to do this

  17. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Whoops. I mean’t Mike Marshall, not Morgan. ‘73 gets you 14 wins and 31 saves in about 180 innings.

    Wilhelm ‘64 would get you 12 wins and 27 saves while only using up 130 innings (1.99 ERA too).

    …Wait, is there an innings cap in this league? It seems like there should be.

  18. Dave Shovein said...

    There is no innings cap, but with our 9 pitchers at least two of them have to be relievers. And we must meet a 1500 IP minimum

  19. Mike Schooley said...

    To me, I think the better, more competitive set up for this type of draft would have been to not have a 24 hour clock, and then just draft live. With a 24 hour clock you can practically tailor your pick to win, based on finding that perfect stat line that complements your team. A live draft adds a certain degree of uncertainty and provides a bigger role for luck. As it stands, it just seems to me that the best researcher will win. Andi agree that there should be an innings cap. Nothing too restrictive, but a 400 ip pitcher is crazy…

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