Draft strategy: Taking high risk players late

The strategy I’m about to present isn’t anything earth-shattering and is probably old news to some of you, but I believe that it is something worth mentioning.

So you get to the end of your draft, and you’re looking at who’s left in the 20th round, and you see guys like Luis Castillo, Orlando Hudson, Mike Cameron, and Lyle Overbay still hanging around. You also notice guys like Evan Longoria, Colby Rasmus, Jay Bruce, Adam Jones, and Kevin Kouzmanoff interspersed.

The safe route

Some fantasy owners like to go the safe route and take someone like Cameron. His skill set has been pretty consistent, and you basically know what you’re going to get with him. Check out his numbers over the past few years:

YEAR	LAST	FIRST	CR	BB%	BABIP	HR/FB	AB/HR	SBO%	SBA%	SB%
2007	Cameron	Mike	72	10	0.300	13	27	0.235	15	78
2006	Cameron	Mike	74	11	0.325	13	25	0.252	21	74
2005	Cameron	Mike	72	8	0.341	15	26	0.233	18	93
2004	Cameron	Mike	71	10	0.263	19	16	0.210	24	79

The BABIP fluctuates, but we know that a good deal of luck is involved there, and it seems to fluctuate around .310 or so. He had more power in 2004, but that seems to have leveled off with age. The 93 percent stolen base percentage came out of nowhere, but it looks pretty anomalous given the consistency of it in the surrounding years. Everything else looks pretty consistent.

Cameron will hit around .250 with 15-20 steals and 20 home runs, but it would be a huge surprise to see him hit .330 with 35 home runs and 50 steals. While you know what you’re getting from Cameron, what you’re getting is largely unspectacular.

Boom or bust

Instead of opting for Cameron, though, you could take a guy like Jay Bruce. He’s younger, has shown pretty good skills so far, and has a lot of upside. Conversely, he’s also a decent bet to start the year in the minors with the recent signing of Corey Patterson and the presence of Ryan Freel and Norris Hopper. Plus, he’s young and doesn’t have any major league experience.

For some, I’m sure it is a real balancing act trying to decide between a solid, consistent contributor and a boom or bust pick. This decision, though, is a very easy one to make. Take Jay Bruce.

Reasoning behind the strategy

Here’s the thing. If you take the Cameron type, he’ll give you solid production you can bank on. But because you’re taking him in one of the last rounds, the difference in value between him and a guy like Brad Wilkerson or Xavier Nady or (insert replacement level outfielder of your choice here) just isn’t that large.

So take Bruce. Stick him on your bench and wait for him to be recalled. If he gets regular playing time from May to September, you could end up with 12th round value. If he doesn’t get recalled or stinks it up when he does, drop him. If your team gets hit with the injury bug and you need a major leaguer to put in a starting spot, drop him.

You know who you’re going to end up replacing him with? Brad Wilkerson, Xavier Nady, or the replacement level outfielder of your choice. It’s really a no risk/high reward move.

Use this strategy on…

This strategy doesn’t just include younger players, though. It includes any player who has a large amount of variance in his projection. Using this strategy, instead of opting for a Mike Cameron or a Jay Bruce, you could instead opt for a player like Barry Bonds. His projection has a lot of variance for the simple fact that he has yet to sign with a major league team. If he signs, he still has good skills and could far outproduce, say 20th round value. He could also fail to sign, though, and produce zero value. The same principles apply, and unlike Bruce, you’ll find out much sooner whether you’re going to get a return on your investment.

Here are the categories of players that I feel work with this strategy:

  • Rookies
  • Other young players with upside
  • Players with significant injury risks
  • Players coming back from injury
  • Skilled players battling for playing time
  • Skilled players battling for playing time/stuck behind someone who would benefit from a trade, where a trade seems like a possibility
  • Players with talent but who are inconsistent
  • Barry Bonds

Here are some guys who I feel fall into one or more of these categories for 2008:

I’m sure I missed plenty of guys, but I think you understand what I’m getting at.

Concluding thoughts

If you’ve already been using this strategy, hopefully this will act as a reinforcer. If you haven’t been using it, hopefully you now realize the benefits you can reap from it. You will never win a fantasy league by simply keeping up with the pack. Oftentimes, you need to be bold. And when an opportunity for such boldness presents itself in a fashion that offers—essentially—zero downside, why the heck not?

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