THT Roundtable: How seriously do experts take mock drafts?

Recently, I’ve been thinking a little about what the responsibilities are for a fantasy baseball analyst in a publicized, expert mock draft. They start popping up every year around this time. Rotoworld just held its annual mock for its magazine, Mock Draft Central does three each off-season (I’ll be participating in one on Monday, by the way, for those who’d like to stop by and listen in), CBS has done two so far, and there are numerous others that I’m sure you could find with a quick Googling.

While this information is readily available to readers and can be a great help as you guys prepare for your drafts, how much weight should you put into the results? Can you guys take them at face value, or is it possible that there are things going on that you’re not aware of that could skew the results? I’m sure you’d like to think they perfectly represent each expert’s views, but is this really the case?

Honestly, up until a few days ago, I couldn’t have answered this question for you in regard to anyone but myself. As I think the answer is something a lot of readers would be very interested in hearing, I reached out to a few of my friends around the fantasy baseball world and got their (hopefully honest) opinions. Here is the exact question I posed:

As professional analysts, do we owe our readers a duty to treat every mock draft as if it were a real draft, even though we’ll often be playing against these same experts in real leagues, or is it okay to use these drafts for strategic purposes, such as sending out false signals?

Note: As we have 13 respondents, this article is running pretty long. Take breaks if you need to, but there’s lots of good stuff in here, so I wouldn’t recommend skipping much of it.

Geoff Stein—Mock Draft Central

When Mock Draft Central puts together our expert drafts, we do so in hopes of giving the public a snapshot of what drafts should look like—and there are no better people to paint that picture than those in the industry who work with Fantasy Baseball on a day-to-day basis.

In my opinion, most treat expert mocks as a real draft. After all, nobody wants their name and site listed next to a stinker of a team.

Using false signals and misinformation isn’t worth it when your team in open to judgment from the public. Nobody wants to see their team ripped apart on a message board.

The public cares about teams drafted in February and March; they could care less about the actual results in October. As nice as winning an expert league is, it’s the public that makes the ultimate decision—and the champion is crowned before the season even starts.

To me, not getting blasted by the public for a team I drafted in the winter is much more important than actually winning an expert league.

In my four-plus years in the industry, I can’t name a single champion of an expert league that I participated in. Yet, I can remember many mock teams—some belonging to me, unfortunately—getting torn apart on message boards.

To answer the question: No, I don’t think we owe it to readers to treat every mock as if it were a real draft … I think we owe it to ourselves.

Andy Behrens—Yahoo!

Well, I’d be lying if I said that I’d never treated a mock draft as reconnaissance. I’ve never deliberately assembled a weak team, but I’ve certainly found myself in situations where a mock was loaded with people I’ll eventually face in semi-meaningful leagues. In those circumstances, I suppose I might end up with a few more brand-name players than I would in a normal draft. That’s as much as I’m willing to admit to.

There’s definitely an observer effect at work in industry mock drafts. You’ll always find participants who are looking to make statements about specific players, and, since you’re not playing out the league, there’s no risk associated with any pick. If you take Matt Wieters in Round 3, it’s just a nice discussion topic in a draft preview. There’s no downside. So lots of odd things happen. I’ve always thought that experts should just have assigned roles in mocks. Two people should draft as if they intend to stream, one guy should draft like a saves punter, one dude should overdraft Yankees, etc.

If you’re looking at a mock in a fantasy preview magazine, then you need to keep in mind that the draft actually happened in mid- or late-December. Free agents are still unsigned, trades haven’t yet happened, pitchers and catchers haven’t reported, bullpen situations haven’t been resolved…it’s a terrible time to assemble a fantasy team. Mocks should have expiration dates. We’d all make different decisions in February and March.

Patrick DiCaprio—Fantasy Pros 911

1. I have no problem with an expert that purposely stretches for a player that he would not otherwise draft so early as long as he has a good reason for doing so and plans to write about the pick. It is the process that goes into a pick that should be valuable, not the actual pick itself.

2. The second aspect of mock drafts is that the expert can and should use mock drafts for the exploration of new strategies. When this occurs the expert must be up front about what he is doing and why, at least after the fact. In a mock draft a few weeks ago I tried to draft mostly starting pitchers in the early rounds, a strategy that I do not generally pursue, because I wanted to play around and examine it in more detail. After the draft I wrote about it. How can anyone have a problem with an expert doing so?

3. What about purposefully misleading picks? If an expert is doing a mock draft with other experts that he plays against for real then he may purposefully make questionable picks to mislead his opponents. If an expert then writes about the pick to readers and tells a lie to them about his thought process now we have a breach of whatever duty exists to readers. Here is where the line is crossed in my view.

Scott White—CBS Sports

Personally, I don’t understand why you’d bother to do a mock draft without taking it seriously. The readers always come first.

Tim Dierkes—RotoAuthority

That is an interesting question. If I had to choose an answer, I’d say we owe it to our readers to mock draft faithfully.

But that begs the question: why do mock drafts? I stopped participating a few years ago. I just find it a waste of time to invest an hour or more drafting a team for a fake league. It’s like playing poker for no money—you probably won’t act rationally or be fully invested. Your other reason is a good one too – why telegraph all your sleepers? Like me you’ve probably been in dozens of leagues and do three to five per year. We don’t need practice. And the data from a single draft doesn’t have value to me because of the possibility for outliers (plus, experts will reach on their sleepers to show off). I am a huge Mock Draft Central fan and I get all my data from them in preparation for March.

Tony Cincotta — Fantasy Pros 911

Great question and I want to thank Derek Carty of the Hardball Times for including me in this esteemed group of fantasy baseball assassins. It is a shame that this question even has to be asked! I cannot speak for everyone in the fantasy baseball industry, but I have fun and enjoy handing out fantasy baseball advice. Yet I am humbled by the amount of people that listen to my podcasts and even now read my columns. There are so many more talented people in this industry that they could seek for advice. So do I owe an honest effort to my listeners and readers? The answer is an emphatic, hell yea! The internet has lead to a glutton of self-described fantasy experts and every single one of them has a unique motive. I won’t even try to get into my colleagues heads, as I have trouble with my own.

If I am in a league of experts, I am just happy to be included. Do I go all out and enjoy the taste of victory? Yes, of course we are some of the most competitive people walking around east of Balco Laboratories. If a so-called guru attempts to set up experts at the expense of his listeners, call Dr. Phil immediately. Every single one of us that have developed a following should be thankful and accountable to his listeners or readers. The problem I have with this question is many experts do not share my views. Let’s face it; there are people that are in the business for self gratification. The thing is if you win an expert league, what next? Do I get on my podcast and state you are listening to the greatest fantasy mind on Earth? Don’t go and listen to Cory Schwartz, The Fantasy Man, Elliot Spitzer, Matthew Berry, or Lenny Melnick because they are inferior to me the one time champion. The thought process is appalling and insulting to your listeners or readers. Here is the answer every time you go to work, in any field give it your maximum effort. This is the key to success for you and your readers.

John Halpin—FOX Sports

While I’ve never really thought about this issue, I’d say that for mock purposes we should play it straight and try to build teams based on the best players available. When drafting to play in a so-called experts league, trying unconventional strategies is fine as long as we’re transparent about the fact that we’re experimenting to see what the results will be.

Nicholas Minnix—KFFL

Perhaps it’s a blind assumption, but fantasy baseball players expect (or should expect) reliability when they review the results of a mock draft that involved experts.

The goal of a fantasy expert is to provide advice, analysis and direction to the millions of fantasy players who look to them for it. Mock drafts are one of many tools developed by experts for consumers; therefore, legitimacy is a requirement.

Mock drafts can serve as grounds for experimentation with new strategies because, obviously, it’s unwise to take a weapon to battle before you test it. However, to compete in a mock draft with the purpose of deceiving other experts, against whom you will compete in future expert leagues, isn’t doing the reader justice.

It’s a little idealistic, but that has always been KFFL’s philosophy.

Mike Podhorzer—Fantasy Pros 911

Very interesting question. Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever done a mock draft just to experiment. But then again, I was never in an expert mock until this off-season, and that one I drafted for real. I think it depends on what the mock is used for. If it’s just for fun, even if it might be publicized then I think it’s ok to do what you want. Sure, you’ll get some message boarders who find the draft questioning picks, asking the typical “how is so and so an expert???”, but whatever. If the draft is published in a magazine though, I’d expect it to be real because it’s supposed to be used to help readers.

I could understand trying different strategies, sending out false signals, etc, but do people really pay attention to how every expert drafts in various mocks and remember that if you draft with that person for real in the future? I doubt it. I think it’s very hard to make it known you really like a player, unless you draft the guy like five rounds before his ADP. And I think a straight draft is different anyway. If I know you like James Loney, what the heck am I going to do about it? You’ll take him before I value him if you like him more, so whether I know your interest or not, it won’t make a difference. Unlike an auction league where I could feign interest in Loney and bid you up, straight drafts you can’t do anything like that. Which is why auction drafts rule!

Jason Collette—FanBall

I think our role in these mock drafts is to be able to make picks/drafts that we have no qualms in explaining. In this one, I’ve spent time justifying my picks on a few podcasts and message boards and I have no problem doing that. I like using mock drafts to try out different strategies or player combinations as I plan for my high stakes league drafts in March and will try things out against other websites, friends, or complete random strangers by signing up in any open mock draft on sites like mockdraftcentral or couchmanagers.com.

When people are following “experts” in mock drafts, they’re looking for strategy and/or wisdom. This is what made LIMA from Shandler, spread the risk from Melnick and Zwilling, and the $9 pitching staff (Moyer or Labadini the first to do this?) famous. I remember in the past when Baseball Weekly (R.I.P.) would come out, I didn’t care so much about how the rosters for LABR and Tout looked, rather, I was more interested in reading the responses from the drafters about why they did what they did. Once you get to a certain experience level in this game, you are not looking for one sole source of dollar values or projections as much as you are looking for bits and pieces of information to help you come up with your own informed decision as you finalize your draft day plans. As experts, we owe it to those who those who read us to explain our thought processes behind the draft plan and the upside and downside to the strategy.

Adam Ronis—Newsday

Our responsibility is to create a team like it is a real draft. The main thing is to take players at their proper values. That’s what readers are looking for. They are trying to determine in what range players are drafted.

I do think we can try different strategies. Part of doing a plethora of mocks is to try different things. It’s like a football team in practice. They might be a team that will rely heavy on the run and be a conservative team based on personnel. Still, they have to try and insert a few trick plays just to see how it will go even though they may have no plans to use them. In a similar way, an expert might try and see how a draft evolves by stacking up on pitching in one draft, going with all middle relievers or go strictly by position scarcity in another just to see how it works. They might try an experiment that works.

I don’t believe in sending out false signals. With so much publicity and web sites now, I think it is extremely difficult to do that unless you do it in every single draft and if you do that, you lose credibility with the readers.

Brian Joura—FanGraphs & Fantasy Pros 911

I think there is a big difference between mock drafts and real drafts. A quick check over at dictionary.com shows the definition of the word mock includes “to mimic, imitate, or counterfeit” as well as “to deceive, delude or disappoint.” Nowhere does it say to give an exact replica.

Personally, I think it’s kind of shady to use mock drafts with the strict intention of sending out false signals. For example, if I think Josh Hamilton is going to falter in 2009, it would be pathetic for me to take him at the bottom of the first round in a mock draft. But I have no problems if others act differently.

But, I think mock drafts are the ideal times to try out potential strategies to see what kind of team one could assemble. I’ve been pretty vocal that I don’t think taking Ryan Howard as a first-round pick is a good idea. Yet if I do enough mock drafts, in at least one of them I’ll take Howard and see how a team with him as my top pick shakes out.

Some may be confused as to the difference between the Hamilton and Howard examples I gave above. Hamilton is an individual pick; that’s not part of a strategy. If I take Howard on the first round, it’s going to affect virtually every pick I take afterwards. To me that is a big difference although others may disagree.

Ultimately, the reader should be at least a little suspicious of any mock draft done by analysts/experts. That does not mean they are not worthwhile. Rather, one should not treat the results like gospel. Clearly, the analyst/expert is trying to gain something by participating in the mock. It’s then up to the reader to look at his picks to see if they are consistent with opinions and strategies previously espoused by the analyst/expert and then determine how much weight to put on the individual picks.

Derek Carty—The Hardball Times

My opinion on the matter is kind of a mish-mosh of what everyone else has said. The reader needs to come first, without a doubt. Without you guys, where would we be? However, I don’t think that treating every mock like it’s a real draft is necessarily best for the reader.

Please correct me if I’m wrong, readers, but I believe that you guys are looking for guidance, insight, and creativity, all in the sake of gaining an edge on your opponents. You don’t necessarily want to be told exactly what to do (most of you, anyway), but you’re open to gaining knowledge from those who spend a considerable portion of their lives around fantasy baseball. You’re open to fresh ideas and discourse from these minds, and then possibly expanding on, altering, and experimenting with them yourselves.

If I participate in a mock draft and try a new strategy, it may not work out, but if it does, that’s something I’d hope you guys are interested in. If I find a new strategy that I like and then I explain it you, I think that’s more valuable than treating every single mock draft exactly the same.

In this vein, I think it is OK for experts to experiment with mock drafts as long as they are straight-forward about it with the readers. For example, I tried out a new strategy in Rotoworld’s annual mock draft a few weeks ago. A few readers really weren’t fans of my first few picks. When it was all said and done, it hadn’t gone exactly as I’d hoped, but I was trying something new, took players about where you’ll see them in your own drafts, and could have landed on something really interesting.

In addition, I was straight-forward about it afterwards, telling you guys that I won’t be taking Matt Holliday in the first round anymore and things of that nature. I’ll probably expand upon my thoughts about this draft in the coming days, explaining exactly what I was going for.

I think false signals and misinformation have their place in fantasy baseball, but I don’t believe that place is in mock drafts, if you’re an expert anyway (if you’re not an expert, by all means).

Overall impressions

It’s a lot to read, but there’s also a lot of really great information in these answers. Once again, a big thank you to everyone who participated in this roundtable. Hopefully this will prove very useful for our readers.

Overall, as I expected (and certainly hoped), no one’s aim is to flat out deceive their opponents at the expense of the readers. Some are very regimented about playing it completely straight, while others are more willing to experiment as long as they explain themselves afterward.

When looking at a mock draft, I wouldn’t recommend taking it at face value, but rather reading the thoughts of the participants and trying to see the larger picture for each. Don’t look at each pick in isolation, but rather as a part of a larger plan. In isolation, most picks should give you an idea where players will go, but considering context will enhance this for you.

I do need to note that there could be some selection bias in here since not everyone I reached out to responded, although that could just as easily be because it was on somewhat short notice and people are busy. Furthermore, I really doubt very many experts actively engage in deception, so there’s probably not much to worry about. I would have a very hard time seeing that.

Alternatives

If you are looking at the results of a mock draft and aren’t going to read each expert’s thoughts afterward, or if you are looking for results that are representative of an actual draft, I would recommend looking at the results of an actual expert draft.

Many aren’t held until the end of March, after you’ve already drafted, but some come early in the month and can be a great resource. LABR (which I’ll be playing in this year, by the way) should have their results out in the second week of March, the FOX Sports Experts League that I’ll be defending my crown in should have their magazine out by the end of February, and I’m sure there are others that will prove helpful, but these are the ones I’m most familiar with since I’ll be participating.

Now it’s your turn!

Now, readers, it’s your turn. I imagine most of you will answer “completely honestly”—as you probably should—but what’s your take on how an expert should approach a public mock draft?

And, perhaps a question that will have a little more disagreement, what do you look for in expert mock draft results? What are you most paying attention to? Do you like it when experts try different strategies so you can see how they might turn out, or do you prefer them to simply draft as if it were a real league? Or are you just trying to see how your own draft might play out? Any other thoughts you may have on this subject are welcome as well.

Also, as there were so many of us that we couldn’t all get on a conference call and talk this out, if any of the experts who participated (or didn’t, for that matter) would like to respond to any of the other responses, feel free. (Oh, and if you’re still wondering, yes, the title of this section is a reference to our friend, Mock Draft Central Man.)

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Comments

  1. Fake Teams said...

    When I particpate in expert mock drafts (see you on Monday), I am attempting to project where I believe the value will be for the upcoming season.  As a result, I am often drafting ahead of the current consensus in anticipation of the player reaching that value by late March actual drafts. 

    Needless to say, I often catch negative flack from fellow participants for taking a player too early.  (Note:  Didn’t Geoff criticize my drafting of RB Chris Johnson too soon?)  As an example, I will take 1B/3B Chris Davis in the 5th or 6th round rather than trying to sneak him as a great pick later on because I anticipate he will be at that level when most fantasy players draft.

  2. Sean Agranov said...

    Great comments and insight.  Pretty much everyone answered as I would have thought.  Enjoyed this very much.  Keep on Mocking!

  3. Mo said...

    The issue is to me is credibility.  I can look at the mock drafts and better determine which “experts” are reliable.  When picks are ridiculous, then I discount all the picks of that expert.  Additionally, I would rather see the experts do entire rankings than a mock draft.  By looking at the their complete rankings, such as what’s on baseball cafe already, I know which expert to trust. Plus, I prefer 1 to 300 rankings, not position rankings.

  4. JeffB said...

    What I don’t understand is the comment about it not being as important to win expert leagues as it is to provide sound advice. These things are not mutually exclusive! The sound advice should lead to victories in leagues. TMR is a big proponent of this philosophy as well, and it drives me nuts. Why would I want to listen to advice from people who don’t win leagues?

  5. PHIL said...

    I liked the responses.  I don’t put too much weight into my own mock drafts, much less others.  But i do appreciate the insight and especially the strategy that others use, especially people who spend enough time on fantasy to be considered experts.  More often i would like to know why you think a certain players is worthy of their draft spot, or if they are not i want to know as well.  Anything that gives us a leg up is always appreciated.

  6. Morning said...

    As a frequent reader of experts, when I look at their mock draft results, the purpose usually is to find my favorites and see who they picked and why and either make fun of them or see if they had a good draft.

    I honestly think that mock drafts serve two purposes, one is data and the other is testing strategy.  With this in mind, I think the only real useful mock draft data is a mock draft you participated in.  Once you have honed in on a strategy, test it out, see your results, and analyze your strengths and weaknesses.

    The point is I think whether experts use legitimate or shady tactics in mock drafts is beside the point.  Expert mock drafts are good for one, promoting mock drafts and encouraging their readers to participate and two putting their claims to task (i.e. reaching for a guy you just wrote about as a sleeper).

  7. RedRobot said...

    I think Jason Collette nailed this one.  If I’m reading at a mock draft, I’m looking for draft strategy at a macro level.  I want to know what each drafter was trying to accomplish with each pick and why; the names of the players picked themselves is of less importance.

    Individual mock drafts are primarily useful for analysis of strategy.  Player projection is better done in rankings and in-depth individual player spotlights, and player valuation is better done by aggregating mock drafts (a la Mock Draft Central’s ADP).  I would prefer that experts not intentionally make bad picks, but I won’t get worked up about it either way.

  8. Fake Teams said...

    If 12 twelve experts play in a league, eleven will be losers.  Maybe that is why the results are not that important.

    Of course, winning a league has a lot more to it than being an “expert”, right?

  9. JeffB said...

    @ Fake Teams

    That is a good point. However, do you really belong in an experts league if you can’t ever win?

  10. Ian @ TheRotoFeed.com said...

    Great comments from a great gathering of fantasy baseball experts.  Not one on this list whose commentary I don’t read.  I guess my only question would be, is a mock draft in January even half as valuable as a mock draft in March?

  11. peter crane said...

    I use mock drafts to see who’s left at the end of the draft. For instance, last year Kevin Kouzmanoff was going very late, if he was being drafted at all. So, if I couldn’t get one of the big boys, not to worry because I always had a fallback plan. The same holds true for pitchers. By and large, the same bunch were available on most of the mock drafts that I did. The trick is to pick the right ones. I’ve always felt that the endgame was by far the most important. For example, in my auction keeper league last year I got Troy Glaus, Joey Votto, Jair Jurrgens, and Michael Bourne for a buck. Also, mock drafts give you something to do in January and February, roto purgatory for most of us.

  12. JT said...

    Great article Derek.  It’s interesting to see where you guys are coming from and thinking when you’re doing the drafts.  I’ve learned over the years to take these with a grain of salt; I still think pre-draft rankings are a bit more helpful, especially by position. 

    Oh, Derek –
    I saw your name pop up in an article I read at thefantasyadvice.com I just wanted to let you know.  Nothing major you’ve probably already seen it, just giving you a heads up.  Keep up the good work.

  13. NoPepperGames said...

    I don’t see mock drafts being abused much these days.  I think the big issue people have is when someone REALLY reaches one or two times – and that’s usually for a particular reason.  Nando DiFino took Felix Hernandez in Round 1 a few years back, and did it primarily to make waves and get click-throughs.  I don’t have a problem with that, because he was more than happy to justify the pick, and the rest of his draft was solid. 

    And of course, now Nando writes for ESPN and I don’t.  smile

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    My games? I saw the Cardinals lose 81 in Game 2 and get drilled 131 during a downpour in Game 6 a game I left in the seventh inning to avoid drowning.
    “We should be mad that they up there right now,” Golden said, addressing the current success of Florida State while Miami is in a reloading mode. “If you look at the way this rivalry has gone, it up to the other school to respond. I recognize that.
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