In 2012, fantasy baseball leagues are infinitely customizable. Do you want keeper or non-keeper? Mixed league or AL/NL only? Roto or points? The list goes on. These are all important choices to make, but they are ancillary to the most significant choice: draft style. Deciding what style the draft will be is critical a fantasy baseball player’s strategy. There are two choices, and each one will have a lasting impact on your league.
The old school standard method of drafting is called a snake or serpentine draft. In this format, teams draft in descending order in the first round and reverse order in the second. The last team in the predetermined order will have two consecutive draft picks, and the team with the first overall pick must wait the longest time to get his/her second pick. Then, that team will have the first pick in the third round and the draft continues down the order again.
The idea behind this draft style is to have each team average the same draft position. There is no industry-wide empirical data to illustrate the success rate of teams that draft at the beginning or end. However, I can use the league where I have been commissioner since 1999 for some guidance. Only one of the 13 previous winners of the Old Bridge Fantasy Baseball League has drafted first. More than half of the champions have drafted between nine and 12. That is obviously a small representation of the success rate in a snake draft, but after 13 years, it is fair to draw some conclusions.
In contrast, the other style of fantasy baseball draft is an auction. This has become much more popular over the last decade as many fantasy experts and consultants have stated their preference for it. Each team is given a budget of fantasy dollars to spend on players to create a roster. Similar to snake drafts, there is a pre-arranged draft order. However, instead of selecting players and adding them to your roster, teams nominate a player to be put up for bidding. The team that nominates a player automatically makes the first bid so that if no one else bids, that team wins the player. Because of this, there is a lot of strategy behind selecting a player to nominate.
Obviously the best players will cost the most money. Teams must make critical decisions on how to allocate their budget because they have an entire roster to fill with a finite amount of money. Once a player is nominated, a time clock will start and each team can make a bid for that player. When a new bid is made, the clock resets again—usually to ten seconds. Once that clock expires without a new bid, the team with the highest bid wins that player.
There is no doubt that the auction draft is more dramatic and arguably more exciting. People can plan and strategize more effectively beforehand. Additionally, every team is essentially on an even playing field because everyone has access to all of the best players. It may not be wise, but one team can outbid everyone else on the top two or three players and stack their roster. The downside is that they would be left without enough money to fill the rest of their roster with viable options.
As with everything else in fantasy baseball, it comes down to a matter of preference. If you have never done an auction draft, it is something you should experience. The best bet is to find a free public league and try an auction in that environment.
But there is also something special and fun about the old school snake drafts. You can effectively strategize if you know the draft order well ahead of time and if you learn enough about the drafting tendencies of fellow league members. However, randomness and unpredictability reign supreme in snake drafts.
There are merits and benefits to both. It all depends on what your preferences are. But whichever you choose will have a profound impact on how you strategize and on team you draft.