Draft Manifesto (part 2)

In the first part of my Draft Manifesto, I went over a few quick strategies that I try to keep in mind during a draft. I took some flak about my stance on catchers, namely, that the top-shelf ones are often drafted too high in my opinion. But the resulting discussion was enlightening and caused my stance to soften a bit. In any case, here’s a continuation of that piece.

7) Don’t take a starter until the 8th or 9th round unless you have a very good reason. Wins fluctuate wildly from year to year, but for some reason preseason rankings always seem to assume 18-, 19-, 20-, and 21-game winners are going to repeat that the following year. Odds are overwhelming that they won’t. In addition, there’s always guys who get called up midseason (Cole Hamels), turned to starters midseason (Francisco Liriano), or who demonstrate a true talent improvement during the season (Cliff Lee) that you can capitalize on. In most 12-person leagues, most players simply pick up starters based on Wins and ERA to that point in the year. By looking at stats like FIP and even simple ones like K/9 and BB/9, you can make better decisions than your opponents on who to pick up, who to trade, and who to trade for. Hitters are far more consistent from year to year, and I think the relatively unsophisticated fantasy owners still have a good sense about the true talent of hitters.

8) Avoid hitters who have had wrist injuries. If you ask 10 people what the most important part of the body is when swinging a baseball bat, you’ll get 10 different answers. But one of them will be the wrist, and wrist injuries just seem to take the longest for players to recover from.

9) After the 9th or 10th round, give precedence to any certain-closers that remain. When someone needs saves, they’ll often overpay for them. Closers make the best trade bait mid-season.

10) Power hitters make the second-best trade bait. For some reason, Juan Pierre is draftable in the 6th round, but almost entirely untradeable mid-season. Likewise with Wily Taveras—always drafted in a reasonable position in the draft, but impossible to trade. Players are far more likely to give up on steals and focus on the power stats than they are to make a mid-season trade to solidify steals. In the draft, err on the side of too much power over too much speed.

11) Know the value of the Mark DeRosas. Players most often get six games per week, and days off either Mondays and Thursdays. So a bench hitter is really only looking at one game per week that he could fill in over regulars. Derosa played 149 games last year, so 149/162 or 92% of the time, and was qualified at 1B, 2B, 3B, and OF. On any given Monday or Thursday that he was playing, odds were you had a 1B, 2B, 3B, or OF whose team had the day off. The fantasy season is typically 22 games long, so in assessing his value as a bench guy, we want to look at 92% of his production per 22 games. This comes out to a .285 BA, 13 Runs, 3 HR, 11 RBI, and 1 SB. Obviously not a ton of production, but enough to swing a few games during a head-to-head season, or a few spots in a Roto league. Of course, the tradeoff is the benefit of those numbers, versus an extra SP or middle reliever that provides some value as well. I think one bench utility player like DeRosa is a must, even in leagues where opponents are maximizing their bench slots for starters—if you’re dedicated, you can even boost that production a bit more by subbing him in for regulars when the park or opposing pitcher makes it an even more favorable game for him.

I once again welcome comments that anyone wishes to share. I’m not saying I’m correct about all of these assertions—they are almost entirely anecdotal—but they’re my best guess at ways to go towards an optimum draft experience.

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  1. Tom said...

    I can’t stress #11 enough.  I picked DeRosa up off the waiver wire last year and he saved me on more than one occasion.  You really can’t beat having a fairly productive guy on the bench that can play multiple positions.

  2. Beanster said...

    Great article, Mike.  I had missed Part 1 so this was great – only wish I had this advice last year (see Byrnes, Eric).

    I completely agree with Tom on #11, and find even having a couple of players eligible at more than one position (like 1B/OF and 1B/3B) helps immensely to fill out rosters on Mon and Thu and create flexibility at year-end as you approach max games played.

  3. Michael Lerra said...

    Agreed.  Last year, I did my first rotisserie league, and did not have any DeRosa’s.  Definitely cost me the difference between second and third place, as by the end of the season I had topped out on pitcher innings and was an average of 5 or 6 games below max for each field position.  My math could have been better, but I also could have had a flexible bench player the whole season, which would have made me less reliant on my (faulty) math.  I was so used to head-to-head, where it’s often best just to use every available spot for pitchers and maximize K and W.

  4. Michael Lerra said...

    Sorry about that, I’m usually good at doing the multi-part link thing.  OCDgiants, interesting strategy.  Agree with your thoughts on closers, though that can backfire big time if it turns out there’s a couple people in your league who are faster than you with the makeshift closer pickups.  Your starter selections are interesting – you can’t go wrong with Johan, and Lincecum’s ceiling is probably higher than anyone else in the league right now.  As a Sox fan though, DiceK is a big question mark. He certainly cannot repeat last year’s performance, in terms of getting flat out lucky.  So I’d have taken someone else in that spot… but I like your late round choices quite a bit.  Vasquez’ projections for this year are pretty spectacular, since he finally put it together last year.

  5. thumble9 said...

    I don’t know what it is exactly that you think Vasquez finally put altogether last season, but he looks like the same pitcher he was for the previous 4 seasons to me. That means ~200IP with 190-200K and a 1.27-8 WHIP for fantasy purposes. Decent, but not spectacular if can’t get his ERA in the low end range of 4. And let’s not forget that he turns 35 this year, there isn’t going to be any dramatic improvements forthcoming in his abilities.

  6. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    It would be great if you could provide a link to Part 1 as part of your post.

    Great article, I agree with most of what you wrote. 

    Personally, I have tended to punt the save category in the draft and try to pick up pitchers during the season, because there are always closers who suddenly isn’t anymore, and if you are quick to grab his replacement, you can build up a good set of closers and still win:  I did that one year, the year Derrick Turnbow had his breakout year, my auto-draft went bad and I had no closers (the one selected ended up losing his job in spring, I think it was Hawkins), but I just kept on picking up new closers like Turnbow, Dustin Hermanson, all season and ended up winning that category.

  7. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    Also, I would note that if you are in a keeper league, I think you can pick starters earlier, as long as you focus on getting a good core group built as you suggest, for while any individual pitcher could go up and down, if you have a good core set of starters, those should all balance out, like risk in a stock portfolio. 

    I had a snake draft, last pick of the first round so most of the good hitters were gone, so I decided to build on pitching, selecting Johan, Lincecum, Dice-K with my first three picks, then selected Javier Vasquez, Scott Baker, Andy Sonnanstine, Sean Marshall, and Jonathan Sanchez later, plus selected Clay Buchholz and Adam Miller with the minor league draft.  We had a 9 man rotation.

  8. HaloPower said...

    It’s a nice add to note about the Mark DeRosas.  I have had him, Ty Wigginton, Brandon Phillips, and other multi-positional players in the past few years bringing me to 1st place finishes in deeper league formats especially.

  9. Michael Lerra said...

    Thumble, you’re right.  For some reason, I saw Chone’s projection of him for next year (ERA of 3.35 or so, K/9 over 9.0) and assumed he had a better year last year than he actually did.

    The difference is his (new) home league and park.  I expect a very good season out of him in the NL.  I think ballpark-wise, he’s better off in the NL East than he was in the NL Central as well.

  10. Beanster said...

    Mike – do you have a philosophy on how much to weight WHIP vs. other categories?  I rely on FIP a lot, but it can lead to strikeout pitchers with a high WHIP.  I find that WHIP is the hardest pitching stat to make up, so you can’t afford to be on the wrong side of 1.30.

    This would lead me to take James Shields over Chad Billingsley, who have similar ADP’s.  Shields he has a higher FIP (though still under 4.00) but a much lower walk rate and WHIP.

  11. Michael Lerra said...

    I think I tend to overvalue WHIP a little bit, because it’s more predictable (or stable, I should say) than ERA.  Check out my piece here: http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/fantasy/article/category-influence/

    Excluding SV and SB, which are a little biased, WHIP is in the middle of the stats as far as the extent to which being strong at it actually translates to consistent category wins in a head-to-head league.  So in that sense, I would neither say it’s important or unimportant, but just average.

    As for what I do, I tend to actually just use projections of H and BB to come up with a projected WHIP.  So I assume that Chones, Marcels, and Zips have a good sense of a player’s likely walk and hit rate, and just calculate WHIP from there.  While FIP factors out some luck, as you mention – there are a few different ways to get a good FIP, and not all of them involve a good WHIP.

  12. Beanster said...

    Mike – thanks for the response and the link.  I’ve been a roto player and just starting head-to-head, and the correlations answered a lot of questions I had about where the big differences might be.

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