Pitchers and catchers reported to spring training last week, so fantasy baseball season is officially here. That means you are likely preparing for one or more drafts within the next month and a half. Last year, I wrote about the benefits of doing mock drafts as part of preparing for your own fantasy baseball league drafts. You can read that article here. Recently, I participated in a 12-team, 5×5 roto mock draft hosted by THT Fantasy that made me think of another benefit to doing mock drafts.
Hundreds of resources are available for fantasy baseball drafts. Whether it is a magazine, web site, radio show, podcast, or other medium, you can count on getting commentary and analysis of a mock draft done by some industry experts. These are very helpful to the hundreds of thousands of fantasy baseball players who crave as much information and insight as possible. But a mock draft’s intrinsic value is lost in translation with the typically generic and milquetoast analysis provided by industry insiders (myself included). That is why I wanted to step outside of the proverbial box and discuss another angle with mock drafting.
When registering for this mock draft, I selected the 12th pick because that is my draft position in an 18-team, head-to-head points league I run. I wanted to get in some practice drafting at that position, so right off the bat I had a specific purpose for what I was looking to learn. What I was most curious about was what choices would be around after the first 11 picks. I feared that my top hitters would be off the board.
Sure enough, that is exactly what happened after Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gonzalez, Joey Votto, Albert Pujols, Jose Bautista, Robinson Cano and Prince Fielder were taken before me.
Before continuing, I need to provide some background on my preferences and drafting strategy. I have never given much credence to the position scarcity theory—drafting a player at a particular position simply because there are so few viable options. When I drafted Cano with the 13th overall pick in my 18-team league in 2012, it was only the third time I had ever taken a second baseman before the fifth round of that draft since 1999. I am also relatively conservative when it comes to making early-round picks on players with significant injury histories.
That being said, I decided to try something new. I selected Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Hamilton with my wrap-around picks in the first and second rounds. I realize nothing seems overtly outrageous about that. But given my history, this was new territory for me. Tulowitzki is very talented and certainly worthy of a top-two pick. But he gets injured every year and is extremely streaky.
I also have significant reservations about Hamilton, which put me completely out of my comfort zone. First, he is also injury prone; he has played more than 150 games only once in his career. I realize he stayed relatively healthy in 2012 and put up tremendous numbers. But he was in a contract year and I am skeptical about players who perform like that immediately before cashing in on a lucrative long-term deal. Finally, we all saw the struggles Pujols endured during his first season in Anaheim. Perhaps Hamilton won’t have as big a problem adjusting since he is still in the same league and division. But if a hitter like Pujols needs a year to acclimate himself to a new environment, then I have to think Hamilton may suffer the same fate.
The point is that Tulowitzki and Hamilton represent two choices that I would normally not make in a real draft under these circumstances. We all tend to get caught up in ADP (average draft position), expert projections, and popular trends. But drafting a fantasy baseball team is an art form because it is unpredictable. You may think you know what is going to happen, but a lot of times you will be wrong in your assumptions. That is why it is so beneficial to do mock drafts so you can practice thinking on your feet and improvising.
But even more important than that, doing mock drafts allows you the freedom of testing different strategies without any consequences. I honestly don’t know whether I would actually select Tulowitzki with the 12th pick in a real draft. My preconceived notions and historical tendencies lead me to believe I would go in a different direction. But in a mock draft, I had nothing to lose by employing a new strategy. In addition, because this mock draft was composed of experts and would be written about on web sites and blogs, I thought it would be interesting from an analysis perspective to go in this direction.
So what does all of this mean to you? Basically, I would encourage you to participate in mock drafts as part of your own preparation for the real thing. You can read as many magazines and articles as you want breaking down other people’s mock drafts. But every draft is different and you have to be prepared to go to Plan B before the clock runs out. The best way to do that is by doing mock drafts and trying out different scenarios. If by the end of the draft you have a team that is a lock for last place, then you have at least learned some valuable lessons on what not to do.
Remember, don’t mock it until you try it.