Five Draft Tips to Remember by Paul Sporer February 9, 2017 I know that clown PUNKxsutawney Phil – that’s right, I’m swinging on a groundhog – saw his shadow which allegedly yields six more weeks of winter (the dumbest season), but we shan’t be deterred by that as baseball season is here. Well, fantasy baseball prep season is here which is just as good. We are less than a week away from pitchers and catchers reporting around the league which officially kicks things off in earnest and before you know it, you’ll be in your draft room making the big decisions that will shape your season. Here are a few tips to remember as you prepare and then enter your draft: YOU CAN’T WIN OR LOSE YOUR DRAFT IN THE FIRST ROUND I fully understand the excitement of the draft order reveal and subsequent first round. I’m not here to say that the first round flat out doesn’t matter, but it doesn’t matter as much as we like to think. The top 15 players at the end of the season are never the top 15 drafted that March, not even close. I’d love to show you just how far off it is, but ESPN has taken down the 2016 Player Rater to get it updated for their 2017 rollout, but we know Jonathan Villar and Jean Segura were nowhere near first round picks and yet both had top-15 finishes. Even the top player for the year, Mookie Betts, wasn’t a consensus first rounder. A few pitchers usually find their way into the mix each year, too, and yet Clayton Kershaw is the only one regularly taken in the first in recent seasons. The BaseballHQ Forecaster does a study on first round success rates each year and highlights just how awful we are at nailing the top 15 by season’s end. I encourage you to scoop the Forecaster for more detailed info on that study plus so much more (full disclosure: I wrote some of the player profiles, but I’ve been getting it since 2003 so it’s not just a shill). I’m less concerned about getting someone who will definitely be a top-15 player by season’s end and more focused on getting someone who won’t fall too far beyond that if they don’t have a first round season. I’m more about bust avoidance than net gains in the first round, though sometimes it’s going to happen even with a perfectly viable first rounder. No one disputed the first round merits of Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, and Andrew McCutchen last year, yet none of them were close to returning numbers commensurate with their draft slot. If you lost with one of them on your team, it’s easy to point to their shortcomings and think that was the reason, but an honest assessment of team likely yields a multitude of factors. Sure, if you lost your league by 3 HR and had Harper or Stanton, then I get why you lay blame at their feet, but that’s probably an extreme hypothetical. IN FACT, YOU CAN’T REALLY WIN OR LOSE YOUR LEAGUE IN THE DRAFT ALONE Boy, I’m really coming down on draft day, huh? Let me be clear: draft day (I use this term whether it’s a straight draft or auction) is the single best day of the season without a doubt. I don’t want to take anything away from the greatness that is draft day. My point is that you have a lot more work to do after draft day. Even if you come out of that room feeling you have a championship caliber team, the work has just begun, so don’t get complacent. Consider that most teams will churn at least 30% of their starting roster (7 of 23 spots) on a yearly basis and many of those seven spots will have several players churn through either by design (streaming) or until a suitable and keepable asset is found. A large portion of those spots will be later picks for sure, but some will be mid-rounders and if a catastrophic injury strikes, it could be an early round pick. I don’t say this to suggest you shouldn’t take the draft seriously and just throw darts, but more to advocate taking control of your draft. Take the players you want instead of who you think you’re supposed to take based on projections or where they usually go. As far as I’m concerned, it’s better to take chances on the players you believe in because that way you won’t be left with regret should they pop. We don’t have enough precision in these mid-to-late rounds to suggest there’s a “right way” that you should adhere to instead of taking your own guys. I’ve referenced 15 team leagues, but I’m talking about 10-15 team mixed leagues in general here. Obviously, the deeper a league is, the more damaging a bad draft can be since finding adequate replacements won’t be easy. The large majority of fantasy baseballers play mixed leagues in the 10-15 team range, though, hence the focus there with these first two tips. The last three apply to everyone, though. KNOW YOUR LEAGUE RULES COMPLETELY How many times have you been in a draft and heard someone say “oh, I didn’t know we could do that”? Worse yet, how many times was it you? Be honest. It’s been you before, Dave. Freakin’ Dave. (I really want a Dave to be reading this). Read the rules, it’s simple. Unless your league constitution is a terms of service agreement from iTunes, there’s no reason you shouldn’t know all the ins and outs of your specific league. This is especially important for you multi-leaguers. Don’t assume just because both of your leagues are 12-team mixers that they have the same set of rules. Understand how category switches from the traditional 5×5 impact player values or how going from five starting outfielders to three changes that player pool. Here are some of the key factors to look at when learning the rules: Positional eligibility requirements Roster setup Scoring categories Waiver/FAAB process rules Trade rules DON’T BLINDLY TRUST ADP DATA ADP of course stands for average draft position and that first word is especially important: average. Obviously, we all understand what it means to be an average draft position, but I think we lose sight of it in practice while drafting. I constantly hear picks praised or panned simply in relation to their ADP with no regard for league context, team construction, or the other pertinent data listed with ADPs: min and max pick. The min and max pick are the highest and lowest a player has been taken in a draft and gives a better understanding of the range you could see them go within. It does only take one person to be really in on a guy to wildly skew his min pick, but you could have a similar person in your draft. You already know how I feel about the “get your guys” strategy and I think a lot of home leagues have managers who will consistently do the same. Not only are they not adhering to your precious ADP data, they simply might not even be aware of it. Often when someone gets sniped you will hear “oh man, I wanted him last round, but I thought he’d make it back, plus ‘Player X’ was still on the board and his ADP is three rounds earlier so I had to take him”. Didja? Did you have to take him? Make your own ranking list and get the players you like most. After all, this is a game, we’re supposed to have fun. We all want to win and sometimes there is financial incentive to doing so, but even that isn’t a justification for taking someone you didn’t want just because it was near or below the average of where others have taken him in their drafts. MINIMIZE YOUR RESOURCES IN DRAFT I love reading through draft materials. I already mentioned the Forecaster, but I’m also a fan of several magazines that come out yearly and of course, I read tons of online stuff. But I do think it is unnecessary to try and take all of that into a draft room. In fact, these days I aim to minimize the load as much as possible. If it’s a straight draft, I’ll gladly take my printed out lists wedged into the front cover of the Forecaster as if it were a folder of sorts. Auctions, for me at least, require a bit more work so I will bring the laptop or iPad to fill out an Excel sheet I’ve made ahead of time. You do not need the Forecaster, six magazines, the BP Annual, the USA Today Leviathan, your laptop, and your iPad just in case. You just don’t. Maybe it’s for show, fine, you do you, but if you expect to be referencing all or many of these sources throughout the draft, you’re going to flood your brain and suffer from – say it with me, you know it’s coming – paralysis by… reading too much. Haha, roasted y’all! You thought I was going to say “analysis”. In fact, the best way to follow tip #4 is to not even have it available in the draft. Sure, the ADP data might influence your ranking sheet a bit (whether it’s handmade or taken from our soon-to-be-released elite Draft Kit), but I wouldn’t actively seek out a player’s ADP mid-draft to determine whether or not it’s time to pick him. — We’ve essentially made it through winter. I know some of y’all are still freezing your butts off daily, but it was 85 in Austin today so I don’t really care about your bad decision to live in a snowy part of the country or world. That’s more of a you problem at this point. But even as you’re scraping the ice off of your windshield before heading into work, at least you know that a steady stream of fantasy baseball content will be awaiting you for those first two hours of work as you defrost from the slog in. Soon you’ll also be able to spend your lunch break watching games in Arizona and Florida so you can daydream about how great it’d be if you were in that weather while also realizing that we’re less than two months away from Opening Day. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s baseball season!