I’m not an avid mock drafter, but this past weekend, my friend Andrew and I decided to kill a few hours late Sunday morning by participating in one. I was reminded why mock drafts frustrate me.
If you’re a THT Fantasy reader, and an astute and accomplished fantasy player, you know that the middle rounds are absolutely crucial to your draft. This is where many of your most difficult decisions will be made. This is where opinions begin to differ wildly about players who are expected to play a major role in the success of teams. This is where you feel out how far you can let some of your targets fall before you lose them to another team. For these reasons, it is especially frustrating that mock drafters often abandon drafts after the first few rounds and leave the remaining selections to autopick. This behavior is not only foolish, it undermines the integrity of the whole exercise. Additionally, it reinforces existing ADP as a function of its relation to pre-ranks. Frankly, ADP becomes less reliable as it gets deeper because a smaller percentage of drafters are manually selecting their own players deep into mock drafts. Therefore the pre-rank and ADP start to become an echo chamber.
Once several teams switch on the autopilot, the others know who is going to be coming off the board so they are less inclined to reach for a player with a lower pre-rank, knowing half the teams are not threats to take him. Meanwhile, had the ghost owners stuck around, one of them may have taken the plunge as well. The sum of the circumstances conspire against late round sleepers moving up in terms of ADP. But, on the day of your real draft, don’t be surprised to see the Adrian Beltres of the world going sooner than you had been primed to expect through your participation in mock drafts.
In essence, fantasy sports is like poker in the sense that it is meant to be played for stakes. Unlike, say, chess, you cannot accurately replicate the dynamic of a real fantasy baseball league if the participants don’t have anything invested in the game, and that’s why mock drafts are of limited utility. Apologies to all of those out there who play free leagues and/or take great pride in “winning” mock drafts, but you are not playing actual fantasy baseball any more than you would be playing Russian Roulette with an empty chamber. Only when there are consequences to poor decision making, indecision, and apathy does the decision-making process become genuine. And that’s basically what we’re measuring in fantasy baseball—who are the wisest decision makers?
Even if we ignore the integrity arguments and focus on the individual utility of participating in a mock draft, it is rather unwise, not to mention an inefficient means of skills-building, to participate in a mock draft and not make the round 7-15 picks.
In this mock draft, we had debated taking Carlos Beltran at one pick (we had the first pick, and therefore were picking back to back—the most difficult position to be in when it comes to deciding when to draft players around which there is considerable uncertainly) before ultimately passing at the last minute. I remarked that this could turn out be a nice experiment and was very curious to see whether Beltran would still be available more than 20 picks later. But it soon became clear that we’d get sniped by somebody on autopick, as Beltran approached the highest-ranked available player. Therefore, we weren’t able to conduct our experiment.
Would an actual owner have selected Beltran? Would Beltran have even been there when we passed during the previous round? Well, what’s the point of the mock draft if the Carlos Beltran experiment can’t be conducted? … To see whether Evan Longoria gets taken before Miguel Cabrera? Who cares?
I did take two things away from the mock draft though.
We had the first pick and agreed to take Hanley Ramirez instead of Albert Pujols. We both just felt that HanRam offered us a greater chance to be versatile in terms of what we would choose to do throughout the rest of the draft. However, in a 12-team league, the owner drafting from the 1 slot will likely be presented with more players that resemble Ramirez than Pujols in the second and third round back-to-back. Had we taken Pujols, we’d still have had the option of Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes or Brandon Phillips to fulfill the five-tool middle infielder archetype. Meanwhile, the biggest corners available were Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and Joey Votto. Knowing we wanted Grady Sizemore with one of our two picks, we chose to take Rollins anyway. Through three picks we were sitting on approximately 90 steals and 75 homers without having filled a corner outfielder and feeling relatively content.
As our next pick approached, our thinking was that we’d have to give serious consideration to whoever represented the best homer potential and I was prepared to select Mark Reynolds whether Andrew approved or not. (It’s kind of cool to have the back-to-back when you are using a co-manager approach because you can simply split the picks when you can’t agree on the players you want.) Reynolds went a few picks before our turn though, which caused something of a last-minute change of strategy. Neither of us were ready to take Adam Dunn at this point and none of the other “power” options really tickled our fancy at the time (Adam Lind, meh). Andrew proposed we postpone our power move and do something radical by taking two starters back-to-back. I normally would think this was a bad idea, though I was eyeing Johan Santana with one of these two picks. Basically because I didn’t find the offensive options all that appealing, I bought in and figured we’d try the pitching combo route. So, we took Johan Santana and Jon Lester and made it a priority to get either Adam Dunn on our next turn, or take Carlos Pena in the following set if Dunn didn’t make it to us.
That’s what mock drafts are for—you should be drafting to win, but willing to be experimental within that context. The results of this experiment weren’t bad. There were two reasons why I hesitated on the double pitcher move. The first is that pitching is so deep that I knew we’d be in round 12 and saying, “Wow, pitcher X is still here?” but we wouldn’t want to take that player because we already had two stud starters. That happened to be sure. But, the other reason was that I feared we might be digging ourselves too deep a power hole, having gone five picks without a “slugger.” This problem didn’t really come to fruition though. We wound up with Berkman (I like the bounceback potential) and Carlos Pena as 1B/CIs and continued to acquire 25/90 outfielders, making up ground in the power departments as other owners started drafting punch and judy R/SB middle infielders. By round 13, our offense looked no worse than just about anybody else’s, and only one other team had a 1-2 pitching combo as formidable as ours. All things considered, I think that experiment actually worked, even though I would prefer not having to have to employ that strategy.
So the two lessons here are, one, if you’re picking first in a 12-team league, your options on the way back will be more attractive among the toolsy middle infielder type than the slugging corner type. This may or may not influence your initial decision between Ramirez and Pujols. And, two, double dipping on starting pitching may not put you too far behind the offensive eight ball if you’ve left yourself the deeper positions to fill later in the draft. Many owners are forced to cobble together cheap speed later in the draft and pass on players at deep positions with perfectly respectable HR and RBI totals. The tortoise and the hare approach to power accumulation is still possible when drafting a pitcher twice out of your first five picks—at least in a 12-team mixed set-up.
Finally, one general observation I have noticed over the years is that when it comes to snake drafts, the owners picking at the bookends are more likely than others to double dip at a position. There’s something appealing about skimming the top of the same talent pool twice before others have the chance to react to what you are doing. I’ve seen guys double dip on top closers, on catchers in two-catcher leagues, and here I double dipped on starting pitching, I’m not sure it’s any more advantageous to double dip as a bookend, but there’s something about that draft position that makes people more inclined to do it, anectdotally at least. Perhaps it’s as simple as the long string of picks in between turns causing the owner to surmise that the only way to get two top options at a position is to double dip.
Full disclosure and irony alert: Andrew and I didn’t finish the mock either, but I don’t consider us hypocrites. I was willing and motivated to participate in the draft for as long as I felt the exercise remained useful, which would have been until the end had three or fewer owners left. But by round 15 more than half the teams were on autodraft, so we logged off too. I just didn’t see the point in continuing a fruitless activity through completion for the sake of a principle that wouldn’t be effectively communicated to anybody. So, I chose to do something productive and take a walk to grab some beer for the gold medal hockey game.