It’s that time of year. Baseball is just over the horizon and that means that drafts are just around the corner and that means that draft preparation is right now. If you’re reading this then you and I agree about the easy part on when to prepare (the answer is ‘I’m always preparing for next year’s draft.’) The trickier question is not when to prepare but how to prepare. I’ve always had a piecemeal approach to that question in the past; identify potential sleepers, identify guys to avoid who got lucky last year, identify guys to target who were unlucky last year and identify as many cheap pitchers with upside as possible. In snake drafts map out in which rounds I can expect to fill which roster spots, in auctions plan out my nomination strategy, and on and on. As you can see, my draft preparation plate was overflowing with a lot of unconnected questions that I felt needed to be answered.
But this year things have changed for me because of Larry Schechter’s new book, Winning Fantasy Baseball: Secret Strategies of a Nine-Time National Champion. I won’t get into the nitty gritty of the details of Larry’s book as I don’t agree with all of it for one thing. But I do want to focus on one key concept that I took away from reading it, the draft is the most important day in FBB and the goal in any draft is simple, maximize value. That’s it, not “get a good mix of experienced players and rookies”, not “avoid injury risks”, not “never draft a pitcher in the first round”, just maximize value. If you do that then you’ve won the draft.
Of course I think we all already knew that, at least to some degree. What I found helpful about Larry’s advice was that he was so unequivocal about it. Should we ask questions about injury history or experience or playing time status? Yes, of course. But when we ask those questions what we’re actually asking is “how should these factors affect my valuation of different players?” Really the only answer to a question like “should I take a SS or and OF in the second round” is “I don’t know, which is the better value”?
Let’s look at an example: I have the fifth pick in the second round in a 12 team 5×5 league. In the first round I took CarGo and now I’m considering either Troy Tulowitzki or Bryce Harper.
Cluttered thinking – SS is thin but Tulo is always an injury risk. I like Harper’s upside but he only hit seven HR’s in the second half last year and I’m a little worried about a lingering knee injury.
Focused thinking – I’ve got Tulo as a $25.7 value and Harper as a $22.6 value. Tulo is the better value by a fair margin so that’s my pick.
Granted, this might seem overly simplistic. What about Tulo’s injury history, Harper’s breakout potential, MI position scarcity? The simple answer is that those are definitely important issues to consider, but they should already be part of your value calculation and not something that you waffle about on draft day. Practically speaking the valuation process might look something like this. My projections put Tulo at 84/28/97/3/.300 which is good for a $30.5 value, but I think there’s at least a 25% chance that his line looks more like 54/18/61/1/.280 because of his injury history. That second line is only good for $11.3 and so his overall value is $25.7 (0.75*30.5+0.25*11.3). Similarly Harper’s projections might be something like 77/22/68/13/.275 but I think there’s a 25% chance that he ends up at something more like 89/32/91/18/.305. I can take both of those lines, weight them correctly and then find my final value.
Again, I think we all do this to one degree or another whether explicitly or just in our heads. The point is that going into the draft with a value oriented strategy is as close as we can get to drafting optimally. If I end the draft with $310 of value and you end it with $260 then it doesn’t matter how many sleepers, age 27 players or Colorado hitters you have, I stand a very good chance of finishing ahead of you in September. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t consider who is or isn’t a sleeper, what hitting in Colorado does to a player’s value or whether a player is going into his age 27 season (ok, you really shouldn’t consider that last one), only that you should do your best to make all of these factors explicit in your value calculation.
What does this mean from a practical standpoint?
- You’ll notice I use dollar values here even for snake draft examples. It just makes things easier when working with value and I definitely recommend it.
- You need good projections. I start with Steamer and tinker but there are other good ones out there.
- You need a good value calculator. There are several on the internet but it’s not hard to do your own if you’re comfortable with spreadsheet tools. Value calculators could easily take up an entire article of their own.
- Tinker before the draft, not during. If you’re really high on Kole Calhoun this year then fine, go into your value calculator and adjust his projection. But if you’ve determined that he’s a 14th round value and you end up taking him in the 12th then you’ve just lost value.
- Position scarcity is overrated. Feel free to give catchers a small value boost and maybe MI players too, but most people worry too much about position scarcity. If you get a $2.30 2B for $1 that’s better than getting a $22.50 2B for $25.
- Stick to your guns! We’ve all been in situations where we love Player X so much that we end up overpaying. You have to be willing to pass on even your favorite guys if they are no longer profitable. Fall in love with value, not with players.
None of these ideas are uniquely mine and I’m sure we’ve all had them before. The thing is that many of us have had all of these ideas but haven’t really prioritized. We fall in love with rookies, we fear going through the season with a third tier SS or we never draft a top five closer when really those rules should be completely secondary. The only question that matters when our selection is up or we’re deciding whether to go an extra dollar is simple, how can I get the most value onto my team?
Once again, a big shout out to Larry Schechter and his book “Winning Fantasy Baseball”, It’s not expensive and it will help your game. Available now on Amazon.com , Barnes and Noble.com and your local bookstore in the U.S. and Canada