Christmas in March – General Draft Strategy

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All 14 “grown” men in my “home” 8-year old fantasy baseball league anticipate draft day the same way they waited for Christmas Day when they were 8 years old.  

Draft days are much like a fun version of a high school final. You either know your stuff, or you don’t.
The excitement is palpable in the emails, texts, and phone calls that lead up to our favourite day. If you happen to attend a social occasion with any of the other thirteen “grown” men in the weeks/months before D-Day, it is inevitable that you will end up talking ball with them as soon as you force the opportunity to present itself. It is quite simply our favorite day of the year.  And yes, I do feel some empathy toward all the significant others that have to tolerate our negligence and boyish giddiness for the weeks leading up to our special Saturday in March – not to mention the weeks of cursing and whining that follow our magical day.  

My contention is that we have lost some of the intelligence we had when we were wee lads. At least, back then we knew what we were getting for the most part, because we unknowingly hounded our parents into fighting tooth and nail for our “gifts” (picturing some kind of violent chaotic scene in Toys R Us where the Christmas spirit has been literally pounded into oblivion).  

I mean, in all honesty, which gifts did you immediately cling to, the ones you knew you were getting, or the surprises. On the contrary, on draft day, we don’t really know what we’re getting. Luck certainly can play a big part, but there are ways to avoid bad value picks.  This article is devoted to making the right choices, and just as important, avoiding bad ones.

Draft Day Strategy

There are two ways you can go into draft day: prepared or not. I have never gone in unprepared, because (A) I hate to lose, and (B) I love to research the crap out of baseball. However, if you are new to fantasy baseball, or have been unusually taxed by the business of life, and do happen to go in unprepared, then it is probably in your best interest to follow a rankings list (or better yet, a tiered chart – hint, hint) compiled by someone who tries to make a living through fantasy sports – someone who has done all the research for you.

Draft days are much like a fun version of a high school final. You either know your stuff, or you don’t. Each year the test changes – players are traded, injured, recovering, matured, introduced, breaking through and aging. These are some of factors you need to bone up on to prepare for the test. Yet it’s even more important to have some kind of set strategy from year to year. Here’s my approach:

Use a tiered list

If you only have time to do one thing in preparing for a draft, make a list of tiers at each position, or if you’re even more pressed, use a cheat-sheet compiled by someone who dishes out free Fantasy advice. (Hint: The Ultimate Cheat-Sheet: Caveball’s “Chartfelt Tiers”, which will be released tomorrow both on the site and in a printer-friendly PDF version)

Reserve your top picks for hitters

Presently, we are in the midst of a pitcher’s era (pardon the pun). It has been fifty years since pitching has been as dominant as it is today. (It makes one wonder exactly how far back steroids go – but that’s a digression for another time and place… or not) Anyway, there are many good pitchers out there, yet they do keep getting injured at an alarming rate. So, what does this mean? It means you should not consider taking your first pitcher until, at least, the third round – preferably even later. It’s great to have an ace to anchor your staff, but that ace doesn’t necessarily have to come from the top ten or twelve ranked starters. I typically have one or two starters pinned for the third or fourth round. If they are gone before my pick comes, and they usually are, I will wait until the fifth round before I consider other starters. ( e.g. In 2012 Adam Wainwright slid in the rankings due to Tommy John repairs the previous year, so he “came to me” in the fourth round of my 14-team “home” draft. It had been the earliest I had ever taken a pitcher. This year I’m eyeballing Matt Harvey in the same vein.)

Stay flexible in the first half of the draft

We all have our man-crushes on certain players, and picture them already on our team before the draft even starts. This is not realistic, especially in a 12 or 14-team league. Each draft takes on its own dynamic. You have to roll with the punches, and not get flustered when the guy you want gets taken just before your pick. Even worse, is when you start reaching for players a round, or two, or three, before they would typically get picked. (we have all been there to regret it – and sometimes immediately, when the hecklers start to chime in after your ill-timed selection) Reaching just serves to erase a big part of the value you believed was there in the first place.

By the end of the 10th round, you’ll want to have most, or all, of your infield positions filled, 3 starters, and 2 outfielders. This leaves one or two picks for a fourth starter, a third outfielder, maybe a catcher, or even a utility player who has been ignored because of his lack of positional importance. Closers and catchers usually don’t enter the fray for me until after the 10th round. (see below)

Loosen the shackles in the second half

There’s a big difference between the 20th and the 120th ranked players. On the contrary, there’s much less of a difference between the 120th and the 220th ranked players. You can follow your own rankings, or an “expert’s” list, in the later rounds to a certain extent, but don’t be too worried about skipping a round or two to get a certain hot commodity with high upside. For instance, if you’re really excited about a starting pitcher that is typically going in the 17th round in most drafts, don’t consider it a big risk to nail him down in the 15th round. These days, with sleepers being super-exposed via the internet, you are probably not the only one lying in wait for him.

Avoid players that miss games

Injury prone players are the most frustrating ones to own in fantasy baseball. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love watching Carlos Gonzalez swing the bat. Like many of the great left-handed hitters, his effortless swing is one of the smoothest, especially within the confines of Coors’ Field. However, as talented as Cargo is, he has averaged just 124 games played in the last three years. That’s too many games missed for someone going in the early rounds, especially if you play in a weekly league.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lost a player to an injury on a (terrible) Tuesday. It’s a risk that you just should not take, especially in the early rounds. It happens to all of us, but do yourself a favor, at least decrease the chances of this happening by avoiding injury risks.

Keep in mind, it’s not just injury risks that fit this category. Many veterans in the twilight of their career will get days off (some on a weekly basis) so that they’re not too hobbled come September. Pay close attention to projected games played for anyone in their mid-30s. (eg. Justin Morneau)

Catching coldness

By far the most physically demanding position in baseball is catcher. For Joe Mauer, his catching days were over before he had his 31st birthday. The Twins were no longer willing to risk further injury with Mauer, as his bat was deemed too valuable. The top 30 starting catchers last year averaged 120 games played. Yes, there’s a reason I put this directly under “Avoid players that miss games”. Catchers play fewer games than other positions just by dint of their demanding role. You can’t avoid taking a catcher, but unless you see a good value pick, do not take a catcher until after the tenth round. Their first priority, and I’m sure Mike Scoscia would back me up here, is to call a good game – to work with their pitcher. Hitting is – and rightfully so – secondary for catchers.

Do not waste a top-ten pick on a closer

The most volatile position in baseball is the closer role.

Do you remember what unfolded in Boston in their championship 2013 season? Who was their closer at the start of the year? They began the year with Joel Hahrahan, whom they had just acquired after he pitched a stellar year in Pittsburgh. Hanrahan somehow managed four saves in a disastrous stint with the Sox, before “going down with an injury”(That’s’s a phrase I’ll be using a lot. Without the quotes it means exactly how you read it. With the quotes it means this player was failing miserably and his team could no longer afford to play him). Next up: Andrew Bailey then made his annual groundhog-like appearance, must have seen his shadow, and went back down with yet another injury. Finally came: Koji Uehara – nowadays it’s hard to believe he has only been the closer since late June of 2013, as he became such an essential part of the championship team. The 39-yr old Uehara was ranked 6th amongst all MLB closers in 2014.

This is just one example of many where the proverbial revolving door at the closer spot continues to spin with abandon. The strategy of drafting closers late is not just about who goes down, but who is waiting in the wings. Your top closer will sometimes come from the waiver wire.

Do not Punt any categories

This just kind of speaks for itself. If you are like me, you may have decided not to risk an early pick on one of the elite, yet injury-prone, shortstops, this doesn’t mean you should wait until the 19th round to grab one. Quite the contrary – you’ll need to continually monitor the shortstop position throughout the draft.

Fill Late Round Picks with Upside (Especially Pitchers)

What are the chances that a 30-something veteran whose ADP falls in the late rounds is going to out-perform his ranking compared to a third-year player? Not good, in case you didn’t get the idea that it was a rhetorical poser. No, the late rounds are for sleepers who have just nailed down the 5th spot in a rotation, or the 6th spot in an improved lineup – the ones who are getting a fresh chance. These are the players with upside.

Make a Point of Having one Off-Line Draft

I much prefer the in-person drafts over the online ones. It kills me how many of the old draft groups can no longer coordinate their busy lives for the best day of the year, even when their entire league still lives within the same zip code. Yes, the online drafts are easier to arrange and much more efficient, but they really take away from the camaraderie of “live” drafts.

Throughout my articles I will often refer to my “Home Draft”. My “Home Draft” is nearest and dearest to me because we have made a point of keeping it “in-person” over the years. We often point to the younger generations for spending too much time in front of screens, but its happening to us, as well. We are social beings peeps. Let’s get out there. 

Have Fun

After all, it is Fantasy Baseball. It is our chance to play scout, GM, and coach all at once, with the hope that we will have the bragging rights come September.


Good Luck! (Oh man, there goes my one pop-a-matic punctuation mark for the week. This ain’t gonna be easy.)


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