I’m currently participating in the FantasyGameday.net slow mock draft, and in it I drew the 12th pick. There’s nothing inherently inferior about any spot in the draft, though depending on the distribution of talent in the player pool in any given season, one may prefer picking in the beginning, middle, or end of the draft.
The obvious blessing and curse of the bookend positions—first and last—is that in each situation you are repeatedly making back to back picks and then having to wait the maximum possible number of picks before your next opportunity to select. This leads to certain rational behaviors, but anecdotally, I’ve seen it lead to some irrational behaviors as well. So, let’s talk about strategy when in this draft position.
The longer you have between picks, the more likely you will have to “reach” to get a player you want. So, while no drafter should ever feel particularly restricted by pre-ranks, the further you are toward one side of the draft order, the more you should be willing to disregard those kinds of anchors.
In a standard 12-team league, there will be 22 picks between your choice and your next opportunity. Chances are that any player you are considering for either of your current choices will not be available on your next turn. The likelihood of your player being drafted by another team before your next turn essentially starts at 99 percent after your 2.1 one pick and decreases as the draft goes along. Still, relative to your opponents, you are least likely to have a player you pass on return to you. Therefore, reaching is rational.
Another somewhat risky strategy that is more rational at the bookend than other draft positions is attempting to start a run on a position. The idea of starting a run makes sense from this point in the draft order for three reasons.
First, having the greatest time between picks, you are the most likely to get shut out of a top tier player at a shallow position if the run is started by another owner. Second, one of the benefits of runs is that it induces dead picks. By this I mean that if you want a player who is 12 ADP slots behind your last pick, but there are 22 picks before your next pick, you need other teams to draft players outside of those intermediate players for your target to remain available. Aside from people having their own opinions, one way this can happen is other teams deviating from their rankings to nab a position in the middle of a run.
Third, you can apply twice the amount of pressure to start such a run because you have back-to-back picks. But, this is where you have to differentiate from being strategic from merely being cutesy.
In the FantasyGameday.net slow mock, I attempted this strategy in a manner I felt was defensible. In rounds three and four, I choose Mike Napoli and Joe Mauer back to back. I hope you will understand my logic even if you disagree with the picks.
Let me first set some context. This is obviously a two-catcher league. I’m also competing with a number of savvy drafters, with whom I haven’t drafted before. At the time of this pick Buster Posey was the only catcher off the board. And, finally, I was not enamored with my other options. I was pretty set on taking Napoli with one of my picks and, as it turned out, I was seriously considering only two of the next 10 players drafted as being realistic options for my team at that point in the draft.
Now, for my rationale. First, on the players themselves. I’ve become convinced that it won’t be difficult for Napoli to return this level of value in a two-catcher league, playing a fair amount of first base and hitting in Fenway. I also think that having not just an above-average, but an elite batting average producer from your catcher spot is an incredibly underrated asset. I have the best power threat and best batting average producer at the shallowest roster spot—a spot at which other teams will be struggling to merely plug in a player who will get 350+ plate appearances.
To me, the downside of this selection was actually pretty minimal. On the team construction side, there was no other position at which I could have rostered two consensus top-five options. I figured that this move would probably hurt me on the middle infield side of things, as neither of my first two picks (Evan Longoria and Giancarlo Stanton) were middle infielders either.
But, I liked my elite options at catcher better than any of my middle infield options. Neither of the other two players I was considering (Ryan Zimmerman and Jacoby Ellsbury) were middle infielders either. I figured that at worst I’d have two strong catchers and a weak middle infield, while I knew some other teams would wind up with a weak catching tandem and a strong middle infield. A fair tradeoff, I figured.
On the strategic side, I did not know how highly this group valued catchers. It’s not uncommon for advanced owners to go hard after high-level catchers in two-catcher leagues, so I wasn’t sure when the rest of the crop would start to go. It seemed totally possible that if I took just Napoli, three to six more catchers could be off the board by my next pick. I’d rather reach a little for elite talent earlier than reach for third-tier talent later. But, then, there was also the question of a run.
Another drafter asked me about my picks right after I made them and the way I answered was basically that I wouldn’t know if what I did “worked” until several rounds later. If Miguel Montero was still around 120 picks into the draft, then I probably messed up. But, if a lot of others wound up overpaying for their choices, and my choices are objectively better assets, then I’d have won.
After my 3.12 and 4.1 catcher picks, here are the other catchers who got drafted in rounds four through eight.
Did I “win”? I’m not sure, but I think my picks look quite defensible.
Before I sign off, I want to caution against “gimmick” back-to-back picks. In my years of playing fantasy sports, I’ve seen a lot of owners make back-to-back mid-tier closer picks, or mid-tier middle infielde picks, or even mid-tier starting pitchers with the bookend slot (hell, I did that in this draft too (Josh Beckett 13.12 and Johan Santana 14.1). It seems kind of fun and cool to do, for some reason. I get that. You sort of make a splash in the draft room and it’s fun to see your roster populate like that. But, it’s not always practical.
Napoli and Mauer were unique assets, in my estimation—the best power and average sources at their position, respectively. There were no comparable options, and they were at least very close to being the two best overall players on my board, given my current make-up, league settings, and overall strategy. It is unlikely that Jonathan Papelbon and Jason Motte are next to one another on your own rankings. Don’t make a set of mirror picks simply because it feels clever or looks cute.
When I made my back-to-back pitcher picks, we were in the 13th round and I had only one starting pitcher on my roster (C.J. Wilson 11.12) I needed to start filling out my rotation with vets with upside in short order—my strategy going in was to get the core of my pitching staff in rounds 9 – 15. I didn’t know who would go fast with this new crop of drafters, but the one thing I always know is that there will be quality pitching available later than I might think there should be.
When debunking the saying that things come in threes, the greatest modern American philosopher, George Carlin, once quipped that everything actually comes in ones, but a lot of people are too dumb to notice the pattern right away. Be like George; although you may have two consecutive picks, it is wisest to treat them individually, unless you have a well-thought out reason and tangible expectation of impact for doing otherwise.