Draft Day Advice

It’s officially draft season here at Fantasy Assembly, and I can’t wait until I’m on the clock.  In the meantime, I wanted to share some of the methods that I use to prepare for fantasy baseball drafts.  These are some ways to differentiate yourself from the owners that just print out a set of rankings or buy a fantasy book 20 minutes before the draft.

These tips will help you be a better prepared fantasy owner and drafter.  The draft is a huge part of your success in any given fantasy season, so having a better draft will increase your chances of winning.

Basic Strategies
These are some basic tips that will differentiate you from the unprepared or those owners who simply work off of other people’s rankings

Closely examine your specific league rules.
Is there a loophole?

This sounds really simple, but so many owners don’t do this.  Even owners who fancy themselves to be savvy tend to overlook this one.  Really delve into the settings and scoring for your specific league.  See if you spot any errors or oversights in the system that you might be able to exploit.  Does it have unlimited f/a acquisitions so you can exploit streaming? Is there a low (or no) innings limit allowing you to avoid drafting pitchers and loading up on hitters and elite closers? Those are just two examples, but you get the point.

If you want to be a gentleman (or woman), feel free to let the commissioner know.  If they still fail to close it, then exploit the living heck out of that loophole.  Fantasy isn’t about honor, it’s about winning.  This is especially true when there’s prize money involved.

Look at this year’s ADP, last year’s ADP
Plus rankings on sites/in magazines

Recency bias is a real thing.  Take a look at ADP for this and last year.  Make a note of any disparate rankings on the same player.  One year doesn’t define a player.  Andrew McCutcher generally went in the 1st round last year.  Is he now just a scrub at the tender ages of 30? Zack Greinke and Gerrit Cole were pretty popular as well; this year not so much. I’m not promising a full bounce back from any off these guys, but these are things you should be considering.

In addition to looking for recency bias type sleepers, it’s important to look at this year’s ADP to see where various players are being drafted.  Your league will likely not follow ADP exactly, but it is a great place to start.  This is where you can mine for value and find guys that are going to late.  This is also the first place you can look to see where guys you like are going.

It’s also nice to look through at least a few different rankings.  There’s no shortage of ranks on the web or in print.  Please take a look at ours as well:

Check to see where these guys rank in comparison to ADP.  Maybe an analyst you like is suggesting that a 5th round pick is going to give 1st round value.   If you dig deeper and agree, then maybe it will make sense for you to reach for that player in the 3rd or 4th round to make sure you get him.  This was me with Mookie Betts last year.  He generally went in the early to mid 3rd round last year, but I reached for him in the 2nd because I viewed him as a budding superstar and wanted to make sure I got him.

Look for the consensus guys as well.  The purpose for this can be dual.  First off, the consensus guys become popular “sleeper” picks and often get overvalued and/or overdrafted.  It can be really valuable to name guys like these in an auction, which I’ll go into a bit more detail in a future article.

It’s also nice to see consensus guys across rankings because that means several analysts have looked at underlying numbers and agree that the player is poised to be a contributor (or not).  These guys can be a really valuable assets to your team, but try not to overpay for them in the process.

Do a lot of mock drafts

Several sites offer mock drafting opportunities in advance of the season.  There are some with bots or simulations and there are some with actual people.

I recommend doing lots of mocks and drafting from lots of different positions, just to give you a better idea of when the players you like will be available and in what rounds.  If you do a mock where you can pick Mike Trout 1st, but you end up with the 6th pick in your actual draft – it didn’t help you all that much now, did it?  You may find that you really prefer certain parts of the snake.  For example, I prefer to draft close to the ends as I like having two picks back to back or at least very close together.  In leagues that allow you to trade draft positions, this can be really useful.

By looking at the ADP, rankings, and running several mock drafts, you are going to start noticing guys that keep showing up on all of your teams.  This is awesome.  It generally it means that you’ve uncovered what you perceive to be a value.  As great as that is, you also want to run some mocks where you don’t draft these players.   This is important in case someone else reaches for those players in your actual draft so that you can know how to react if this happens.  On the contrary, you might notice that your guy slips even further than you thought and you can draft them even later.  I find that this generally happens with older and more “boring” players.

You should also start to notice positions that you perceive to be weaker or stronger.  For example, I feel like 1b and 3b are pretty top-heavy.  If I am not picking in the top 3 then I would really like an elite 1B and 3B guy in the first 2 rounds.  I will get into this some more when I talk about tiers in the more advanced section.

Even if you don’t want to go into all the work that is entailed in the more advanced section, you do want to have a general sense of how you feel about certain positions.  There’s nothing worse than realizing that passing on a position may force you to draft a player you’re really not happy or comfortable with.  The reverse is painful as well.  It stink to reach on a position only to see great value being drafted several rounds later.  This happens most frequently with OF and SP.

Take chances in shallower leagues

In shallow leagues, I’d rather have a chance at greatness than assured mediocrity when it comes to the draft and the early part of the season.   I’d define shallow leagues as Points leagues of 12 or less, roto/categories leagues of 10 or less, or any custom leagues where rosters are shallow enough (specifically those that don’t use a CI and MI slot) to leave a constant flow of usable players on the waiver wire.

There is a place for stability at the end of the year, but in the early going – give me upside!  In shallow leagues there will almost always be playable talent on the wire, so if you whiff on greatness, you will almost assuredly have a backup plan in those formats.  Do your best to supplement your studs with upside as opposed to blah-ness.

Guys that are good to take chances on are studs with a history of injury.  It’s nice if the injuries are not of the recurring type and seem more freakish.  I like to bet on skills and talent and hope that the player stays healthy as opposed to hoping an average player has an outlier season.  

Also, don’t forget that you get the potential plus value from the injury prone stud while he’s on the field and then you get to supplement that production with his waiver replacement.  The thinking is that 120 games of a star plus 42 games of a replacement player is still more valuable than just the average guy.  Some of you might know this as the “Tulowitzki theory”.  It’s also not a guarantee that the injury prone players will continue to get hurt.  Just think about the dividends that were paid for those that took a chance on Bryce Harper in 2015.  It’s not crazy to think that Giancarlo Stanton or AJ Pollock could do something similar in 2017, is it?

You can do the same thing with unproven players.  Pay for guys you know have skills, but have never put it all together at once.  Or maybe a guy with a big draft pedigree that is yet to deliver on the hype.  Xander Boegarts fell into that category.  It took him a couple of years of below average fantasy production before he cracked into the top 5 at SS.  There’s reason to believe that maybe Addison Russell, Trevor Bauer, James Paxton, and many others can do the same this year.  Try to pick guys like that over the likes of Elvis Andrus, Bartolo Colon, and Curtis Granderson.  Not saying those guys won’t have value or that they won’t end up on your roster later on, but try to hit on some upside in the early going before committing roster spots to average players.

Your Utility Spot can fill any need you want

This is a really simple one that I almost included as a part of one of the more advanced tips.  I think it is actually important enough to stand alone though.  Most people prefer to start a slugger in their Utility and DH slots.  It’s a mindset that we probably have because of that likelihood in an actual AL lineup.

This isn’t something that you HAVE to do.  If you are lucky enough to draft surplus power, especially at MI positions, then it is perfectly fine to put a speedy average guy at utility.  Draft based on your team construction and what you actually need.  Don’t be a slave to some silly archetype.  

It didn’t work out, but I had Ketel Marte in plenty of utility slots last year on draft day.  As most of you know, he was a total bust and was later replaced by guys like Trea Turner, Jose Peraza, and Hernan Perez.  The point remains, draft what you need and don’t worry about what any of the other owners think you’re “supposed” to draft for a certain position.  This kind of thinking will allow you to draft the best player available throughout the draft for as long as possible.

In addition to drafting whatever need you might have for the utility slot, don’t be afraid to draft a DH only player if they’re going to be a good contributor.  How many years was David Ortiz drafted later than he should because he “locked up” your utility slot?  Who would you rather have at utility, a multi-eligible scrub or a DH only masher?  This should be a simple stigma to get over, but I see and hear about it constantly so it is alive and well.  There’s no obvious, Ortiz level DH guys in this year’s draft, but I’d certainly take Kendrys Morales at the right price.

Look for new faces in new places, expected call ups,
and lineups that you think will be strong

This is something that is really valuable and shouldn’t take too long.    Look for favorable moves as far as lineup and ballpark. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that Ian Desmond moving to Coors is a good thing and you don’t need me to point that out.  It can work the other way too, though.  I anticipate some people will be down on Edwin Encarnacion after leaving the familiar launching pad of the Rogers Centre.  I think people will probably be too far down on him, but Cleveland was a top-5 offense team last year and is likely to be so again this year.  Maybe the power will slip a bit since it’s hard to project anyone for 42 bombs, but he should be able to amass gaudy counting stats with the Indians as well.

Let’s take this a step further and look at lineups we expect to be highly productive.  I’d be lying to you if I said I predicted the level of Daniel Murphy’s or Mookie Betts’ breakouts last year, but I did have a lot of shares of each.  I drafted both because they were both good players in awesome lineups and counting stats matter a LOT in fantasy.   I personally didn’t have any shares, but think about Mark Trumbo dominating in Camden last year as well.  How many owners just took a late round flier on a former slugger in a great lineup with an even better park?

Like everything we’ve covered, we can look at this both ways.  A big reason why Maikel Franco was a bust last year is because the Phillies offense was an absolute joke.  He disappointed a bit, but 25 bombs and 88 RBI really isn’t THAT bad for a sophomore slugger.  On the other hand, 67 runs while batting in the heart of an order is just brutal – he scored 55 fewer runs than Josh Donaldson.  Now, I’m not suggesting he’s as good as Donaldson, but I do think it’s fair to say that Donaldson received a lot of extra value from being a part of a good offense vs. Franco being hurt by being part of a bad one.

It’s hard to project wins, but I think it’s foolish to ignore environments completely when comparing starting pitchers.  If one SP has a good offense and a dominant bullpen then I think it’s fair to suggest he has a better shot at getting wins over the course of a season.   There’s a reason why it took Jose Quintana so long to win more than 9 games while guys like Porcello and Hendricks put up big win totals with similar styles.  I also believe in the obvious mantra of “when all else is equal, pick the pitcher from the NL.”

It’s also really important to look at roles on those teams.  A leadoff hitter might be able to literally plate appearance his way into a decent fantasy season, even on a mediocre offense.  The Angels offense is a joke, but Pujols was able to drive in a ton of runs because he just knocks in Mike Trout all day long.  I really like to target average and boring type players in good roles in good offenses.  Think about Dexter Fowler leading off for the cubs the past two years.  No one really wanted him, but he was bound to score a ton of runs batting in front of Bryant and Rizzo.  Hanley and Pedroia were bound to have good counting stats in the Boston behemoth of 2016 as well.  Identify players in good situations and you will be able to mine value.  I’m thinking Kendrys Morales will be a guy to consider for this year considering he’ll be in Toronto with Donaldson.

Finally, try to look for some impact rookies.  It helps if you can find a rookie that will also be filling a big role on a good team.  Think Trea Turner, Alex Bregman, and Trevor Story from last year.  Casual fantasy players might know a prospect or two, but knowing the ones that are likely to come up quickly and make a big impact can give you a tremendous advantage.  

More Advanced Strategies
The strategies listed above are more than the average fantasy baseball owner does, but they really don’t take much time.  The measures suggested below are a bit more time-consuming and will even further differentiate you from normal owners.

Make your own ranks,
but more importantly make your own tiers

I think this is the most important tip I can give anyone.  So many people just work off of rankings sheets without understanding where a tier ends.  They reach for the 6th SP not realizing that 6-19 are virtually the same.  They miss on Posey and Lucroy (and now Sanchez) so they reach for a catcher in the 6th round when no other catcher is worth that spot.

Having your own tiers will help you know when it’s the right time to wait and when it’s time to pull the trigger, or even reach.  For me, 1b, 3b, and SP seem to be the biggest instances of this in 2017.  I want one of the top-tier guys at these positions; otherwise I’m likely going to wait for value.

Make your own projections

This one is a pain in the butt that I fought against doing for years.  I still don’t go nearly into the detail that folks like Rob Silver (NFBC Main Event Winner) take it to.  Steamer and Zips projections are readily available though.  I used to literally just average the two and use that.  I still do that, but then I go player by player and make adjustments.

If you think a player is overprojected or undeprojected, you can make those adjustments.  These projections are generally what rankings and ADP are based on, so you will likely be able to find some great values.

In addition to just making simple changes based on what you think will happen with a certain player, you may notice that the rankings are based on too many or too few games.  Make these adjustments as well.  Projecting a high upside for an injury prone player to be healthy is one of my favorite ways to pick a breakout.  At worst, you get the stats of the upside player while he’s healthy, plus the stats of your waiver replacement.  A lot of times that’s still plenty of value at a position.

Try to estimate what it will take to win your league.

This is another one that’s a bit of a pain in the you know where.  It’s really valuable, though, if you have the time.  Try to figure out what it will take to win your league so you can draft on a more informed basis.

It’s easier to do this with points leagues.  How many points won the title in your league the last few years?  I try to do an average of at least the last 2-3 years.

You should also do it with roto and categories leagues.   How many SBs, Rs, etc. to lead in a category?  How many did it take to at least compete?   Try to tailor your draft to those totals.  This gets really difficult though, so I recommend estimating as opposed to trying to draft to the exact number.  But do have a general idea of the goals you are trying to meet as you draft.  Some analysts suggest you try to draft 75 HRs and 75 SBs in the first 3 rounds of a roto/cats draft.  This just takes that to a more enterprise level.

Having this information can also help you win trades in-season.  By knowing where you are and where someone else is in relation to where you need to get- you can offer trades where you appear to lose

Speculate on playing time in deeper leagues

This one is specifically for very deep leagues.  I only play in a few of these myself as I tend to enjoy the shallower formats.  In a very deep league with deep benches, you will need to draft some people who don’t currently have a job.

You need to look at less known rookies as well as workman type players.  Danny Espinosa would’ve been an example of a guy that paid dividends for fantasy owners in these kinds of leagues last year.  He’s not particularly good, but he played every almost regularly and went on a nice little hot streak.

Playing time is gold in these deep leagues.  Read the local beats and blogs for teams you’re not familiar with.  This will help you hone in on lesser known players that might challenge for playing time.  I was early on Betances a few years back because I saw how good he was in spring training.

Who is likely to lose their job and and who is be the primary beneficiary.  Or maybe the idea that a certain player will lose their job is overblown.  Maybe JP Crawford doesn’t come this year and Freddy Galvis holds him off.  These are the things you need to be thinking about in extremely deep leagues.  In shallower leagues, I love upside and potential.  In deeper leagues, give me dependability and playing time.

These tips have helped me to become a really effective drafter, which has in turn led to quite a bit of success these last few years.  I hope that you find these tips to be as powerful as I have.  Thanks for reading and talk soon!


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Mike Sheehan

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Comedian, Powerlifter, and most importantly a Cum Laude graduate of the fantasy baseball school of hard knocks. Double major in points and categories with a minor in roto. Happy to be doing my Postgraduate work here at the Fantasy Assembly.