Crazy Crazy Crazy Drafts by Brad Johnson March 8, 2016 I had my first two “normal,” not-mock auction drafts over the past two evenings. The first was a fairly standard 12-team keeper league. The second was the 20-team Utility Wars – a very different experience. Today, I’ll cover a few of the challenges from the standard auction then dip into the details of Utility Wars. Home League In my keeper league, I hung onto quite a few players, leaving me with one of the smaller budgets for adding talent. Since I’ve already prepped and drafted a 900 player dynasty league, my plan was to make use of the top and bottom of the player pool. Buy a couple stars like Clayton Kershaw then round out the team with the Jake Lamb’s of the world. To prepare for the draft, I used past auctions to determine what each type of player should cost. I was prepared to go above an beyond for a few special players. While it’s all well and good to build a sheet of values and stick to your guns, I didn’t have the luxury of going by the book. I kept this team, forcing me to spike big value in the draft. When it came time for business, I flinched. The first six picks included $40 Jose Bautista, $55 Kershaw, $30 Zack Greinke, and $41 Miguel Cabrera. I was involved in the bidding for all of them, but I bowed out before the end. Given my plan overspend on these types of players, I’m not sure what happened. With my first nomination, I put forward Adrian Beltre – a player I wanted to win. For players like Beltre who have lost their sex appeal (there’s a pill for that), it’s often best to put them on the board early while more attractive alternatives are on the market. So, obviously, I got Beltre for a ste…oh, he went to a rival for $27. I was hoping for something around $14. I audibled to my standard Plan B – dominating saves. Last season, even marginal closers cost $15. I was completely frozen out of that market. So this year, I picked up a $25 Kenley Jansen fairly early. Later, I got $6 Will Smith and $1 Jason Grilli (I kept Ken Giles and Jeurys Familia). In retrospect, using that Jansen money on Johnny Cueto ($19) or Jason Kipnis ($20) would have been smarter. In general, this draft got a little crazy. The standard advice is to zig while others zag. In my experience, when zagging involves spending every cent on the good players, you need to join the mayhem. Unless you kept bargain versions of Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber (one owner did), it’s very hard to win a league by drafting players only at value. It’s a good way to finish in the top four every year without ever winning. Utility Wars Last night was the Utility Wars draft. It’s pretty simple: 20 teams, $120 budgets, 12 player roster (six active, six bench), no positions, no pitchers, no post-draft moves, and linear weights-based scoring. I came up with two viable strategies – strike early and round out the roster with platoon bats or pick up a roster full of core players depending on depth to carry me farther than my rivals. I rejected the second strategy for two reasons. I figure it’s a good strategy if the 19 other owners go aggressive. However, I had no doubt some rivals would play the value game. In a 20-team setting, it also takes a LONG time for budgets to dwindle. By the time you’re ready to clean up the value picks, you’ll find yourself with $18 budgeted for Jay Bruce. So I went aggressive. How aggressive? Mike Trout was budgeted at $74. He actually went for $64. I let it happen because I couldn’t figure out how to build a winning roster around Trout and Yasiel Puig (I had already drafted him third overall). I was the first owner to select two players. I also reached seven players first and every number in between. Then I took a long break. The top of my roster includes $38 Jose Abreu, $40 Josh Donaldson, $21 Puig, and $13 Troy Tulowitzki. The other eight players cost a dollar. Once every year, I try to hurry an auction along and end up stuck with a player. This is what happened when I bid Tulo from $1 to $13 (my final $13). I had no doubt he would go for over $20 even though my own valuation was much lower. I make this mistake every year. I wish he was a $6 and a $7 player. Instead, I have to hope he has one last hurrah in his rapidly declining bat. My top three players are a mix of risk and reward. Abreu and Donaldson are relatively high floor, safe picks. I worry about Donaldson’s health, but he’s a top player in this scoring system. Abreu can always slide into a DH role. Puig has the ability to score similarly to Abreu at half the cost. The myriad risks are obvious. The eight $1 players are also diversified. Andre Ethier was a top 12 hitter against right-handed pitching last year. I was pleased to land him early in the draft. Rajai Davis is a platoon bat who should double as an every day plug-and-play. Travis Shaw is turning heads this spring. There are several ways he can work into the regular lineup, but it won’t happen until mid-season barring injury. Jurickson Profar is a prospect version of Shaw. There’s upside, and he could become a starter eventually. Devon Travis is the token injured guy. If and when he returns, he could be a useful regular. I also snagged my guy, Eugenio Suarez. I still own him in every league. He’s an every day starter for me until some of the others find regular action. My last two picks went to high variance youth – Jake Lamb and Blake Swihart. They both have breakout potential, but it’s easier to see replacement level performance. I didn’t want to draft a catcher, but I found myself pondering Swihart or Jed Lowrie with my last pick. I went with the upside. I think my team may be a little too brittle to win the league. We’ll see. Lessons? When inflation gets out of control, the status of your roster will decide if you should get involved. The better your keepers (relative to your rivals), the more you should stick to acquiring value. Desperate rosters require desperate draft picks. In unusual settings, try to develop multiple strategies. In this case, I used the one that was easiest to execute. It’s possible I should have played it safe instead.