Is auto-pick evil?

If you’ve played fantasy baseball for any length of time, you probably can think of nothing worse than the fate of having a computer draft your team. Obviously, given enough time, monkeys can produce a sonnet of Shakespeare, but what are the chances that the dastardly “auto-pick” feature on many popular fantasy league services can produce a successful fantasy baseball team?

I’ve given this question some thought over the weekend after following two developments.

The first was the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Each year, this nation goes crazy filling out March Madness brackets. President Barack Obama filled out his bracket. So too did my wife, who per her usual strategy leaned mostly on picking favorite after favorite. Guess what? Fourteen of the Sweet 16 teams this year are seeded 1, 2, 3, or 4 … and as a result, my wife stands pretty close to first place at the moment with as good a chance of bringing home the money this year as an AIG executive.

The second was the amusing note from a fantasy baseball blogger whose life blessed him with the birth of his fourth child and cursed him with a squad of auto-picks. Afterward, in assessing his team of computer misfits, the blogger couldn’t understand why the computer wouldn’t adjust itself for a draft run on starting pitchers. What good is artificial intelligence, after all, if it can’t be put to good fantasy baseball use?

Then again, despite what the blogger thinks of the computer’s fantasy baseball chops, here’s his team: C Brian McCann, 1B Joey Votto, 2B Chase Utley, SS Troy Tulowitzki, 3B Adrian Beltre, CI Pablo Sandoval, MI Kelly Johnson, OF Josh Hamilton, OF Matt Kemp, OF Jay Bruce, OF Bobby Abreu, OF Conor Jackson, SP Yovani Gallardo, SP Adam Wainwright, SP Zach Greinke, SP Josh Johnson, RP Joakim Soria, RP Brian Wilson, RP Chris Pérez.

We think this is a killer team and frankly, we’d love to go to war with this squad. We even like the pitching.

“I was reminded of the importance of perspective,” wrote the blogger, referring to the birth of his fourth son, who we hope is named “Auto-Pick Adam,” but frankly, this statement might apply much more generally. One man’s HAL 9000 is another man’s USS Enterprise.

Seriously, is outsourcing your draft decisions to a non-sentient being such a miserable fate?

Maybe not.

Most people assume that success in fantasy baseball comes via uncovering sleepers and busts and adjusting oneself to the decision-making of others.

We’d guess these are wildly overrated skills and that a good portion of the population will out-smart themselves given the opportunity.

Most people assume that blindly following draft averages isn’t very skillful.

Our research shows that experts tend to stick extremely closely to the averages.

Most people spend a lot of time in the preseason obsessing over rankings and whether X player should be drafted before Y player.

Of course, most leagues have a handful of managers whose attention slips somewhere between the All-Star Game and the start of the football season. Most leagues also give managers the ability to tap a deep player pool with a limitless amount of transactions. The most successful teams are often the most active ones, from day one to the end of the season.

Drafting can make a difference. But don’t count out someone who auto-picks. In the list of pitfalls to drag a fantasy team through the mud, we would definitely not include letting a computer do the heavy lifting in the preseason.

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  1. Leo said...

    Nice article about a topic that almost never gets discussed.  Work schedule and small kids made sitting through a draft unjustifiable (and probably grounds for divorce) so I went “Auto-Pick Adam” this year. 

    To have some control and to avoid drafting pitchers early, I pre-ranked about 20 players to cover the first 5 rounds, followed by 1 player for each round thereafter (so about 35 total). 

    A couple didn’t work out but 19 of the 21 picks were from my list – Yahoo uses autopicks to fill in live drafts so it’s hard to get it exactly right and closers went earlier than expected.

    Roster Doctor actually analyzed the results and the comments are that the team looks TOO good:

  2. birk said...

    I don’t participate in leagues where I can’t draft my own team. The last time I let my team be auto-picked, I ended up with Victor Martinez as my 1B in an 8-team league, which is far from ideal. It was Prince Fielder’s rookie year. I went back to the draft and my rankings. Fielder was at the top of my board for 7 straight rounds before he went. All because the computer decided to select a C to be my 1B.

  3. Mark said...

    I autopicked one Yahoo league this year as I had a last-minute poker game conflict with the draft time. I was worried about the results, but actually it picked a pretty good team.

    Yahoo, 12 team, 5×5 (SABR categories)

    C Chris Iannetta
    1B Prince Fielder
    2B Howie Kendrick
    3B Garrett Atkins
    SS José Reyes
    CF Curtis Granderson
    OF Carl Crawford
    OF Hunter Pence
    Util Adrián González
    BN Denard Span
    BN Paul Konerko
    BN Hank Blalock
    BN Skip Schumaker
    BN Mark Teahen

    SP John Lackey
    SP Yovani Gallardo
    SP Carlos Zambrano
    SP Clayton Kershaw
    SP Kevin Slowey
    RP Francisco Cordero
    RP Chad Qualls
    RP Fernando Rodney
    RP Anthony Reyes
    RP Takashi Saito
    P Gavin Floyd

    Clearly, there’s some weak spots, and I’ve already made some minor adjustments (picked up Schumacher and Teahen in place of crap bench players the computer picked), and the pitching isn’t ideal, but it’s workable, and I feel I’m not at a serious disadvantage to any of the other rosters, autopicked or not.

    My strategy for the autopick is to go through my draft list and just look for names that I’d be trying to get if I could live draft, and bump them up a few spots to what I consider their value to me. Often just moving them 3 or 4 spots up is enough to get them.

  4. Dan said...

    I expect folks with good autopick results are significantly more likely to post them here than those that didn’t. Be careful that we don’t have massive selection bias impacting these posts, both because of vanity and the skewed audience (generally more knowledgeable here).

  5. logs said...

    Hey Tool
    You can play poker anytime/anywhere.  You draft once per year.  Welcome to last place.  Wa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.


  6. Fake Teams said...

    Thanks.  My wife squashed Adam.  I think I scared her off when I wanted to name him Adam Jackson and call him AJax.

    Sometimes, the auto-draft prevent people from making people decisions that often are based completely in irrationality.  Imagine taking Austin Jackson because you can refer to him as AJax just like your own kid when Matt LaPorta was available.

  7. Kevin said...

    I think if you pre-rank your players you can be pretty successful via Autodraft. But, sometimes you wind up with an un-balanced team too slanted toward pitching or offense, but rarely even on both.

  8. Jon Williams said...

    The draft is a large part of the fun of fantasy baseball. If a computer makes your picks what’s the point?

  9. Mike B said...

    So much of fantasy baseball is building a team you can be proud of.  Letting the computer auto-draft is like moving to New York and rooting for the Yanks. 

    (in the spirit of full disclosure, I moved to New York and do root for the Yanks, after my beloved Cubs).

  10. Mark said...

    Dan makes a good point. Clearly, if you simply let Yahoo autodraft all 12 teams, talent is not going to be distributed evenly…some teams will have an initial advantage, some teams will get short-changed.

    As obvious as it sounds, I do feel that running down the Top 500 list and bumping up all the players you “like” by a handful of spots greatly enhances your chances of getting a team you feel comfortable with.

    logs—Not sure what you were trying to accomplish with that response, but let’s not drag down the level of dialogue here. Responding to what little substance there was in your comment, the poker game is a home game that is important to me, and the league is a secondary free league, so the decision was pretty easy for me. I adjusted my draft list, crossed my fingers, and I’m pretty happy with the results.

  11. Paul said...

    I had business to take care of and had auto-pick draft me a team.

    It seemed I got saddled with a lot of players coming off injury-riddled years.
    Arod, Furcal, Alfonso Soriano, Vernon Wells, Hideki Matsui, Figgins, David Ortiz.

    The first pitcher it took for me was also Gallardo.
    It also took Verlander, Chris Young, Ben Sheets and Clayton Kershaw. Ugly staff…

  12. Everton Tickets said...

    Glad I stumbled into this article! Finally, got what I was looking for to put on my school report… Thanks for sharing this.

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