How do you prepare for auctions/drafts? Do you refer to rankings or projections during the draft? Do you spend hours and hours copiously reviewing rankings for weeks or months in advance? Personally, I think if you prepare correctly, by learning the concepts of fantasy baseball, doing incredible amounts of legwork reaches the point of diminishing returns pretty quickly.
For the most part, I just make sure I’m briefed on players who changed teams in the offseason and those who have experienced injuries. I keep a list of rankings (from anywhere, really, it’s just to have a list of names, not for the rankings themselves), and a list of each team’s closer. For repeat roto leagues, I also take the standings from the past year and mark off what the 50th and 75th percentiles and the winning totals were for each category. I don’t really use formal projections (mainly, but not entirely, because I’m too cheap to pay for them), but do try to keep a rough running tally as I select players, using a conservative estimate of what I can expect from each, by category. I aim to be competitive in each category, measured against the benchmarks of the previous season.
But, in terms of preparation, it is much more important to learn strategies, theories, trends and concepts than to spend time tweaking rankings. Many people spend way too much time deliberating about individual decisions regarding high ranked players. Those are not the decisions that sway leagues. You don’t win or lose a league on the basis of deciding between Mark Teixeira and Ryan Howard. You lose a league because you only have one viable source of stolen bases, or maybe because your top picks were all power-hitting corners and you have no plus middle infielders.
Let’s take a step back and consider one of the most popular models to explain how people develop skills.
In psychology, the “four stages of competence” refers to a model explaining the psychological states one goes through in the process of developing a skill. The four stages are as follows.
Unconscious incompetence: You don’t know how to do something, and are unaware of your deficiencies. This attitude is expressed by many who do not play fantasy baseball and demean the whole endeavor, and people who repeatedly play poorly and dismiss the repeated success of others (and their own failures) as entirely due to luck.
Conscious incompetence: You are still inept, but you recognize that you don’t really know what you are doing. This is often the stage where players realize that fantasy baseball has its own distinct strategies and dynamics, and that the relationship between knowledge of the real, corresponding sport and the fantasy sport are not apples to apples, but more like a Venn diagram.
Conscious competence: You know what you are doing, but executing requires a great deal of concentration and premeditation. These are the guys who pour over rankings, have extremely rigid, but well-crafted draft strategies. Preparation is key in this stage. As one progresses through this stage, players begin to learn how to adapt to trends in drafts/auctions as they develop and how to exploit any inefficiency in how a league is set up.
Unconscious competence: Executing the skill at a high level is second nature to you. You can join a league of strangers a half-hour before the draft, take a quick look at the settings and draft a competitive team. You can determine pretty quickly what other players’ strategies are and make reads on which types of players are over- and under-drafted.
When I embark on learning a new skill, I try to do so in a way that promotes the development of unconscious competence. I don’t want to focus on isolated tasks; I want to understand underlying themes. I’ve helped a number of people throughout the years prepare for standardized tests, particularly the SATs, and I always told them they should spend most of their time (especially if they don’t have much) on learning things that are guaranteed to benefit them no matter what the actual questions on the test are. How is the test scored? When is it in your advantage to guess? What are the question archetypes? What can you learn by analyzing the potential answers to a question without even considering the question? How should you budget your time?
Those who spend an exorbitant amount of time going over long vocabulary lists are making highly inefficient use of their time. (At the very least, study roots, suffixes and prefixes instead.) This information is only of use if the test happens to ask about a specific word, and the whole exercise is only applicable to one portion of the test. Spending time considering Miguel Cabrera vs. Evan Longoria in next year’s draft is akin to studying vocabulary lists for the SATs. It’s very limited in scope, and chances are you won’t even be in a situation where you have to make that decision.
So what should you spend your time thinking about? Here are a couple of more broadly applicable exercises one might want to do in preparation for next year:
Monitor trends in positional scarcity. Most THT readers are pretty savvy about the importance of considering the depth of high-level options at each position when determining value. While corners are usually more plentiful than middle-infielders, the overall trends tend to ebb and flow. It seems that third base is thinner today than it was just a few years ago. Additionally, in deeper leagues that use more than three outfielders, outfield isn’t as deep a position as many people seem to think it is.
Look at past year’s draft results for patterns. Even if your league provider does not index previous year’s leagues, you should print out the draft results of each league so you can refer to them in the future. In one of my regular leagues, the group just tends to value closers very highly. What you do with this information is up to you. You may decide that you have to take closers earlier than you planned to counteract this trend, or you may decide that you want to try to take advantage of this trend by stocking up on extra bats or loading your starting rotation. Regardless, being aware of the trend will inform your decisions. Looking at past draft results is like estimating a customized version ADP.
Make a list of one-trick ponies. Though it is best to avoid having to draft a player who only contributes in one or two categories, sometimes the best laid plans don’t work out. So, make sure you have contingency plans in the case you realize you’re late in the draft and have a categorically imbalanced roster. You may need a Jack Cust, or a Luis Castillo even if that player isn’t the overall best option on the board.
Benchmark a winning season. Think about your team as a unit, not a collection of individual players. Figure out what you need to average from each of your active roster spots to finish in the 75th percentile of each category. This will help you draft players whose skill sets compliment each other.
How do you budget your time when preparing for an upcoming season? What tools do you use? What activities do you feel are indispensable and which are inefficient uses of your time and resources?