Due to the rampant success of the first FanGraphs staff ottoneu league — and the fact that the FanGraphs staff has grown tenfold over the past year — we put together a second FanGraphs staff fantasy league for this season, figuring our readers can never have too much ottoneu content. See the labors we go through for you, our loyal readers? This league is a selfless endeavor, and its sole purpose is to educate and entertain the masses. Please, don’t thank us. We do this for love.*
*And by “love”, I may or may not be referring to you, our loyal readers, or fantasy baseball.
This league is a FanGraphs Points league, and since this is the league’s first season, we have to complete an epic, 8+ hour auction draft that is standard fare for ottoneu leagues (it gets quicker in subsequent years). We chose to break this draft into two parts, and completed the first four-hour block last night.
Chad Young will have a general recap of the draft a bit later, but in the meantime, I want to pass along some thoughts about my strategy and observations. Because, you know, fantasy baseball is a selfish endeavor, and even if nobody else cares about my fantasy team, I sure as hell do and I’m going to make you all suffer with me.*
*Actually, I think there were some good take-away points from last night’s draft about player valuation and draft strategy. So hopefully my observations will actually be useful, and not just self-aggrandizing.
Without further ado, let’s get on to the draft. I have three main points I’d like to focus on, which as general strategies should make sense in any league format.
Come Prepared. This is a relatively straightforward point, but an important one nonetheless. I know some people pride themselves on being able to wing things and keep track of everything in their minds, but I’m not one of those people. I need to have things written down, and I need to have things organized.
So before going into the draft, I made myself a cheat-sheet. I took ZiPS projections for hitters (from the Baseball Think Factory) and CAIRO projections for pitchers (from RLYW), and then converted these projections into an expected point total for each player.* I then broke these players up by position and tiered them, allowing me to see at a glance which positions were deeper than others and which might hold unexpected value.
*I would have used ZiPS for pitchers as well, but it was too much effort to manually strip those from BTF as well as the hitters and I ran out of time.
As the night went along, I kept my spreadsheet open, marking when players were auctioned and how much they cost. This allowed me to keep track of the market as it was developing, and (theoretically) helped me from overpaying too dramatically for any player. Or at least, that was the idea.
Know Your Opponents (And Your Price). Obviously, this league is composed of FanGraphs staff writers, so you’d expect that we are all a rather knowledgeable crew. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we were perfect at valuing players, or that there weren’t some odd blips in the market.
The most obvious deviation in the market was the under-valuating of players that saberists generally don’t like. Melky Cabrera may not be an exciting baseball player, but considering ZiPS projects him to put up around 700 points this season, Chad Young got him for a steal at $4. Heck, even if you’re pessimistic about Cabrera like CAIRO (which projects him at 611 points), he still got paid considerably less than Cameron Maybin (626 pts, $12), Carlos Beltran (621 pts, $18), and Denard Span (579 pts, $9).
I didn’t mean for it to happen this way, but I think I was the beneficiary of one of these quirks. In the first round, I dropped in Mark Trumbo at $10, hoping to lure people into bidding a ton for his power…and not a single person bit. I ended up getting Trumbo for $10, which I’ll take in a heartbeat. The main knock against Trumbo is his plate discipline, but his power is prodigious and ZiPS projects him for around 680 points this season (just under his performance from last year). According to ZiPS, that makes him a third-tier third baseman, slotting in right behind Adrian Beltre — another powerful third baseman that struggles with taking a walk. Beltre went considerably later in the draft, and went for $23. In the end, my only regret is that I didn’t get Trumbo for cheaper.
The other market quirk was an over-valuation of Rays players. I should have expected this, considering both Bradley Woodrum and Erik Hahmann were in the draft as well, but I was still shocked to see Ben Zobrist go for $34 and Sean Rodriguez for $6. Don’t get me wrong — I love both BenZo and S-Rod, and I normally pursue them in drafts as sneaky, sleeper values. But considering there were so many other Rays fans in the crowd, Zobrist and Rodriguez went from under to over-valued. Zobrist was the highest paid non-Tier 1 second baseman (Cano, Pedroia, Kinsler), and I think Michael Cuddyer ($26), Brandon Phillips ($26), and Dan Uggla ($25) were better deals.
So in other words, know the market. If you have a ranking system of players going in, it’ll help you avoid over- or under-valuing a player based on your personal preferences or biases.
The Importance of Patience. I noticed partway into the draft that Chad Young was gaming us all; he was sitting on a ton of money and only bidding on players if he felt they were way under-priced (or in order to drive their price up to a fair level). This was exactly the strategy I had taken during an ottoneu draft last season and somewhat intended to take this year, but I couldn’t do it; I ended up being more aggressive than intended, and I made some blunders along the way.
My aggressiveness led me to pay $42 for Hanley Ramirez, while Asdrubal Cabrera (another second-tier shortstop) went for $22. I still believe I was acting right to be aggressive on getting an elite shortstop — the position is so weak this year — but I didn’t anticipate prices cratering on that position to such an extent. Along the same lines, I paid $41 for Carlos Gonzalez, while Andrew McCutchen went for $32 (!!!) later on.
I like almost all the players I got — with the exception of Denard Span ($9), ugh, what a mistake — but I’m now sitting with only $85 in cap space with 24 open roster spots. Oh, to be patient! I still think I can make a strong team, but it will come down to how well I do at picking up value players for cheap. This budget constraint could be killer.
Meanwhile, Chad Young has arguably the best team in the league (in my opinion), and he has a ton of roster space to continue filling his team. The second half of this draft could be a slaughter.