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Wednesday, March 21, 2012
The Boy Scouts’ motto is to always be prepared, but we’re not all boy scouts. If you’re one of the many out there who has a draft in a few days but who hasn’t done much in the way of preparation, this article is for you. I’m not going to provide you with a crash course in draft prep but rather some advice on how to spend your limited preparation time most wisely.
I consider myself a good test taker, and because I got that reputation, I was often sought for advice in regard to taking the SAT. Many of those who asked me about it hadn’t really prepared and began freaking out as the test crept up. The first piece of advice I always gave people in that situation is to focus on information and knowledge that you can guarantee you will use. This means focusing on breadth of knowledge instead of depth, and focusing on strategy and familiarizing yourself with scoring systems and such as opposed to trying to cram as much content into your head as possible.
The first instinct many of the frantic students had was to begin studying vocabulary lists, as that was a major piece of many of the SAT review books. Similarly, a frantic fantasy leaguer may be tempted to start reading as many articles as possible, gobbling up any list of “sleepers” his or her Google search pings back. This is exactly the wrong approach. Instead, bring your attention to higher-level issues.
Understand your league scoring and settings
On the SAT, one of the most important things people needed to learn was the math of guessing—when it was to your advantage to do so. In fantasy baseball, one of the first things to acquaint yourself with is your league settings. If you’re not in a traditional 5x5 league, here is your first opportunity to start identifying value. Sometimes, there is categorical imbalance in the settings chosen.
Does your league scoring disproportionately value rate stats? Do you have a very low innings limit? Do you use on-base percentage instead of batting average? Two catchers? These are all opportunities to identify players with enhanced value in your particular league.
Focus on grouping players into tiers
Instead of trying to read in-depth on every player, take a look at ADPs or projected draft prices and try to identify patterns within positions. For example, here are a few patterns I’ve noticed this year. First basemen aren’t as plentiful as often thought, and second base is deeper than people think. Shortstop is very thin, while thid base is top-heavy, but not deep.
Within these positions you will also find additional patterns. Take shortstop, for example. You have a big three, then a handful of fairly similar decent options, and then not much to be excited about, minus a few interesting gambles.
A general rule of thumb by which one can often abide is to avoid being the drafter who breaks the barrier between tiers. If there are five players whose auction value all project to be within four dollars, more often than not, you will get a better bargain buying the second-to-last player in that group than buying the first player in that group. Jeff Gross recently published a series of articles that focuses on breaking players into tiers at each position.
Devise a general strategy
It’s important to approach a draft with a plan. Some of the overall principles guiding your strategy will likely come from any insight you glean from analyzing your league setup. Other principles will be guided by insights derived from taking your bird’s-eye approach to the player pool. Maybe you want to fill your middle infield early. Maybe you don’t like the back-end closer options. Thinking strategically can help force you to turn your opinions into actionable knowledge.
Make cheat sheets for steals and saves
Steals and saves are the two single categories in most limited supply. Make sure you have a list of each team’s projected closer as well as the next-in-lines for the most tenuous situations. Compile a list of players likely to steal 20 or bases. If it gets late in the draft and you find yourself behind in these categories, you should be able to find a cheap player to fill this need. Plus, given the thin supply of these categories, you want to track as they come off the board.
Set some benchmarks
If your league is a repeat league, it should be synched to the previous years’ standings. Look at what it took to win each category the previous season and get a feel for what statistical totals are required to compete in each category.
Understand the type of player you are
Are you quick to wire? Do you have an itchy drop finger? If you don’t think you can’t be the first to act on closer news, you might want to draft more or better closers. If you don’t have a lot of patience, you may not want to draft unproven younger players. Think about how to assemble a team that matches your personality. This is also a way to differentiate similarly priced players on grounds not explicitly tied to having intimate knowledge of their skill sets, spring performance, etc.
Plan to make use of the draft clock
While skill is one side of the production equation, opportunity is the other. If you are in a draft, start anticipating who the highest-ranked available players will be when it’s your turn. Then you can do some quick cramming. Are there injury issues? Is there a plan to shuffle their prior batting order position? Will playing time be an issue?
If you haven’t had a chance to do much research in advance, this is one way to narrow the player pool to those on whom you will likely have to actually make a decision. Many players are not viable options for your team, either because of need or because of what other drafters do. If you spend your cram time reading deeply on a player, it goes for zilch if you wind up never having to make a decision on that particular player.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 5:12am
Jonathan Halket is participating in an expert league run by Razzball this year that features well-known fantasy analysts from around the web such as Scott Pianowski, Andy Behrens, and Eric Mack. Jonathan could not be present for the first hour of the draft, so he had me (Jeff) proxy draft the first 10 players for him. Jonathan returned just in time to draft players 11 and 12 and finish out the rest of the draft for himself.
Due to a miscommunication on my part, Jonathan and I both ended up writing the analysis below. Rather than have that all go to waste, we figured the readers might be interested in some insight into the draft day mind of two analysts. Perhaps we're just being presumptuous.
First, the league dynamics. This is a draft (not auction) league with 12 teams, standard 5x5 scoring, and standard rosters save for the fact that each team needs only one catcher; this means five outfielders, corner and middle infielders, etc. The league is hosted on ESPN.
Here is the roster of players drafted. Each line represents a round, and the number to the left of the player's name is his overall pick number. For example, Adrian Gonzalez was the 11th player picked overall.
11 Adrian Gonzalez, Bos 1B
14 Ian Kinsler, Tex 2B
35 Matt Holliday, StL OF
38 Michael Bourn, Atl OF
59 Brian McCann, Atl C
62 Asdrubal Cabrera, Cle SS
83 Michael Young, Tex 1B
86 Yu Darvish, Tex SP
107 Cameron Maybin, SD OF
110 Matt Garza, ChC SP
131 Josh Johnson, Mia SP
134 Cory Luebke, SD SP
155 Lucas Duda, NYM 1B
158 Frank Francisco, NYM RP
179 Matt Thornton, CWS RP
182 Chris Sale, CWS RP
203 Ryan Howard, Phi 1B
206 Daniel Murphy, NYM 2B
227 John Mayberry Jr., Phi OF
230 Jonathon Niese, NYM SP
251 Carlos Pena, TB 1B
254 Ben Revere, Min OF
275 David Robertson, NYY RP
278 Ryan Doumit, Min C
299 Chris Heisey, Cin OF
Pick No. 1: Adrian Gonzalez
Proxy drafting for someone is always hard, especially when you have the potential for fundamentally different drafting philosophies. Thankfully, draft over auction simplifies the complications of stars and scrubs (how I live and die) versus the merits of patient value hunting and the risk of leaving money on the table. (“The soup that got away,” for you Family Guy fans out there).
Still, even in a draft format, you have to ask yourself, and you have to ask it early on, whether you are going to pick the best player possible or strategize based on positional scarcity. This means making the choice in round one between drafting Ryan Braun (more raw value) over Troy Tulowitzki (lower absolute value, but high positional scarcity value). Particularly at a position like shortstop, where there are only a few elite options, even if those options are less elite in comparison to other players on the board, the choice sets up the rest of your draft.
Drafting Tulo early makes sense because he and Paul Goldschmidt in tandem are arguably a lot more valuable than Joey Votto and Derek Jeter. But if you draft Tulo in the first round and change your strategy 180 degrees a few rounds later, you might find your team loaded with underwhelming talent and a lack of value maximization.
Keeping this in mind, drafting 11th complicates things greatly. The earlier you draft, the more of a “choice” of which strategy to pursue you get—the best guy on the table or positional scarcity. It is no secret that, at least among the most elite players in fantasy, there is a noticeable dropoff between picks 1-4, picks 5-9, and the rest of the field. Few players have the potential to do what guys like Matt Kemp and Miguel Cabrera can do, and even fewer can do it with positional scarcity on their side.
When Gonzalez fell to me at 11, I felt it would be a disservice to Jonathan’s team not to take the best overall player on the board, even though he plays at the deepest position in (fantasy) baseball. I had two of the next four picks, and I seriously thought about drafting Ian Kinsler and either Hanley Ramirez or Evan Longoria and going the positional scarcity route, but I am a firm believer that Gonzalez was the last true “top-eight” guy on the board and that his fantasy value over either Kinsler or Longoria was worth sacrificing the opportunity to fill hard-to-fill positions with lesser elite players.
THT's player forecasting engine, Oliver, which can be accessed by subscription here, projects only 10 hitters it expects to be worth more than $30 by the end of the 2012 season using a 65/35 allocative budget split between hitters and pitchers: Kemp, Albert Pujols, Votto, Cabrera, Justin Upton, Braun, Gonzalez, Jose Bautista, Carlos Gonzalez and Giancarlo "Don't Call Me Mike" Stanton.
Gonzalez, being the best and safest pick on the board, just seemed to make the most sense, especially if you believe in a rebound in A-Gone’s home run output in 2012. Besides, it’s not like Jonathan wouldn’t be able to trade Gonzalez away at “market value” if he did not like my decision (which you cannot per se claim about a guy like Evan Longoria, who is more polarizing).
Pick No. 2: Ian Kinsler
In the world of fantasy baseball, it is absolutely no secret that I am the “expert” with the biggest mancrush on Ian Kinsler. I think he is more valuable than Cano (equally valuable if/when injured, in tandem with the right replacement player), and I own Kinsler in essentially every league I am in.
Based on my analysis, independent of position, Kinsler is more or less a lock to end up as a top 15-25 overall fantasy hitter this year given his expected batting average rebound. With positional eligibility on his side, Kinsler was a no-brainer choice. Considering Dustin Pedroia was still on the board before I nabbed Gonzalez, I had little fear, with two picks out of four, that I would not get Kinsler with my second pick.
Pick No. 3: Matt Holliday
Holliday’s down year was still pretty valuable. Over a career-low 124 games, some lost due to an appendectomy that I think skewed his early-season performance, Holliday still managed a robust .296 batting average with 22 home runs and a couple of stolen bases. Now seemingly entrenched as the Cardinals No. 3 hitter, there's no reason to think Holliday can't go .300/25/5/100/100 with upside to spare.
That’s elite overall production, and given the fact that a minimum of 60 outfielders get drafted in 12-team, five-outfielder leagues, he arguably fills out positional scarcity with somewhat bankable four-plus category production. Holliday was another no-brainer choice that I was shocked fell past pick No. 30, especially considering I just missed out on Adrian Beltre.
Pick No. 4: Michael Bourn
I am not the world’s biggest fan of Bourn, but I am seemingly ending up with him on most of the teams this year. I have historically undervalued elite speedsters with good batting averages, so 2012 just seems like the year to make the right change.
The two fantasy categories I always seem to do the worst in are runs scored and stolen bases, and I did not want to short Jonathan on either. Accordingly, I drafted the best all-around speedster left on the board (my No. 18 overall outfielder, and Oliver’s No. 13 overall outfielder).
Pick No. 5: Brian McCann
I wanted Mike Napoli, especially because this is a one-catcher league, but I narrowly missed out. Interestingly, Carlos Santana was drafted before Napoli. In my fantasy experience, getting an elite catcher like McCann, one who bats out of the upper middle of the lineup, this late is rare, and I did not calculate him to last much longer (Buster Posey barely lasted another round.) A .275 average and 25 homers with 160-plus runs plus RBI potential out of the catcher slot seemed too promising to let slip by.
Pick No. 6:: Asdrubal Cabrera
Having passed on Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes, and never having a shot at Tulo, I decided to wait a bit to grab a useful shortstop. I was a little worried when Starlin Castro and Elvis Andrus went off the board, but Jimmy Rollins, J.J. Hardy, Dee Gordon and Cabrera were still around.
Of the bunch, I like Cabrera the most as a guy who does a little bit of everything, and since I already had my “all speed” guy in Bourn, I did not need a Gordon to help fill a hole early on. Cabrera offers .280/15/15 production, and I got him around market value. Diversification of production is an underrated fantasy asset for players. Consider this a risk-averse pick at a scarce position that would be hard to fill if I took a risk for Jonathan and missed.
Pick No. 7: Michael Young
I hate Michael Young. He’s the kind of guy who is always productive, but I can never predict why. One year he’ll have an elite batting average. In another, he’ll hit 20-plus home runs. In another, he’ll steal a ton of bases. In another, he’ll rack up huge RBI totals. Young makes planning your team a headache, and his biggest tool is being in a stacked lineup with solid batting average skills—the least bankable type of production in fantasy.
Young offers 15-home run upside, the potential for double-digit steals, the chance at 200 runs-plus-RBI, and he should hit for an above-average batting average at the very least. Having struck out on any truly legitimate third baseman, Young just seemed like the best choice.
Only Aramis Ramirez and Young were left on the board, and after them, it was a huge dropoff in terms of what you could expect from your hot corner plug. That’s why I acted when I did, and I chose Young’s surrounding lineup over Ramirez’s inconsistent and injury-riddled 25-home run and above-average batting average ceiling.
Pick No. 8: Yu Darvish
Jonathan’s only proclamation to me was to fill out hitting and not draft pitching too early. Otherwise, he (foolishly?) trusted me to make those critical first-hour-of-the-draft decisions for him. I begrudgingly and obediently watched guys like Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw fly by at arguably sub-market points in the draft, but when our eighth-round pick came around, I couldn’t let the only other pitcher I comfortably expected to be worth over $20 in 2012 fly off the board.
That’s why I took Darvish, as I have in so many other leagues, confidently buying into Oliver’s major league equivalencies for his Japan numbers that make the first few years of Hideo Nomo’s career look like Dice-K's past three. Beyond the “will he translate” question, there might be some concern about Darvish’s durability in the Texas summer heat, but there’s no reason you can’t ride him out through an elite first half and flip him for someone else in July.
Pick No. 9: Cameron Maybin
With a minimum of 60 outfielders to get drafted (do not forget positional flexibility and the utility role), the outfield position quickly turns scarce in deep-league drafts. I had two solid guys in Holliday and Bourn, but players who were likely to be productive without hurting you in at least one category were starting to fly off the board. When I saw Maybin fall to me, I was pretty satisfied.
Petco is a better park for Maybin’s power stroke than the old Marlins stadium was, and he’s still young enough to grow out to 15-plus bombs in 2012. The Padres’ offense is not fierce enough to allow Maybin owners to legitimately bank over 150 runs-plus-RBI production, but in tandem with 40-plus stolen base production, Maybin looks like a poor man’s B.J. Upton or what people are expecting from Desmond Jennings in 2012—at a fraction of the price.
Maybe I bit a round too early in drafting Maybin, but it was worth avoiding the risk he would have been off the board some 20 picks later.
Pick No. 10: Matt Garza
Having filled out a good chunk of Jonathan’s hitting, I decided to turn to pitching to get another quality arm to anchor his staff with minimal risk. I debated taking either Anibal Sanchez, Cory Luebke or Max Scherzer—all of whom I like more than Garza—but I made the calculated decision that at least two of Sanchez, Luebke and Scherzer would be available by the time I got to pick next. With Ian Kennedy freshly off the board, Garza just seemed like the next-best starting pitcher option who likely wouldn’t be there 20 picks later.
For what it’s worth, per my expected WHIP calculator calculations, Sanchez and Garza are very, very close players in terms of talent shown last season and expectations for 2012. Per those calculations, Sanchez should have produced a defense- and luck-independent ERA of 3.10 with a WHIP between 1.187 and 1.212. Garza, meanwhile, clocked in similarly with an expected ERA of 3.13 and expected WHIP (xWHIP) range of 1.196 to 1.221. But that, of course, assumes Garza is the higher strikeout pitcher than he was in the second half of last season.
A look at Sanchez’s monthly strikeout rate (K%) and xFIP compared to Garza reveals just why, in a vacuum, I would prefer Sanchez:
Sanchez: 23.4% K%, 3.34 xFIP
Garza: 30.5% K%, 2.09 xFIP
Sanchez: 26.0% K%, 3.24 xFIP
Garza: 22.7% K%, 3.90 xFIP
Sanchez: 25.4% K%, 2.73 xFIP
Garza: 16.5% K%, 3.71 xFIP
Sanchez: 24.3% K%, 3.27 xFIP
Garza: 21.1% K%, 3.70 xFIP
Sanchez: 19.7% K%, 3.75 xFIP
Garza: 26.1% K%, 2.98 xFIP
Sanchez: 26.6% K%, 3.24 xFIP
Garza: 21.5% K%, 3.30 xFIP
Of course we were not drafting in a vacuum, so Garza, whom I have come to like more and more in the offseason, just seemed like the better “value” pick here.
It was hard for me to enter the draft on the fly and get a quick sense of what was left on the board. It was even harder when you factor in that I was unfamiliar with ESPN's draft interface. At 90 seconds per pick, things were coming fast.
Fortunately, Jeff's expert drafting had left me in a pretty good position. I didn't feel like we had any major holes that needed swift attention. Since this league is a daily league, I felt comfortable going for high-upside starting pitchers who would often have particularly tasty match-ups. The plan was to go for a few starters with excellent skills who, if healthy, I would feel good about starting on a regular basis; then I could patch in good match-ups on a week-by-week basis.
Josh Johnson's an obvious risk/reward guy. If he's healthy, he should be great. In a weekly league where it is harder to play the waiver wire for starters, his injury risk discount would be higher. Here I felt that an 11th-round pick was good value.
Likewise, I feel like a reasonable "floor" for Cory Luebke is that he becomes a great match-up starter—all those Petco starts and any against week offenses. I'm high on skills, though, so I think he could become a solid regular in my rotation.
After the 12th round, I felt like I need to address two concerns pronto: power and saves. So in the next five rounds I got Lucas Duda, Frank Francisco, Matt Thornton, Chris Sale (obviously not a reliever anymore) and Ryan Howard. With five outfield spots, a utility spot and a corner infield spot, Duda's position flexibility allowed me to take a risk on Howard.
After taking Daniel Murphy for my middle-infield spot, and given that Jeff had picked up Young for third base, I knew we could sacrifice some batting average. So by the late rounds, I was looking for players who had good platoon splits (attractive since this is a daily league) and could give me some counting numbers. I went for Carlos Pena, John Mayberry Jr. and, with my last pick, Chris Heisey.
In a daily league, there's no reason to have an idle catching spot if you can fill it with something productive. So I grabbed Ryan Doumit to play there when McCann gets days off. I also think there's a chance Doumit ends up having value in a trade as a starting catcher in his own right. I threw in Ben Revere as a speed guy who may be a useful chip for trading later.
To round out my pitching staff, I grabbed Jonathon Niese and David Robertson. Niese has the skills to put together a great season with decent strikeout potential. Robertson has all the qualities I want in a middle reliever: high strikeout rates, solid ratios and an outside chance at a few saves during the season. On days where I'm not starting a full roster, he'll definitely be in my lineup.
As always, leave the love/hate in the comments below.
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 5:11am
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