I participated in two drafts this past weekend. Both were 10-team auctions, one a season-long rotisserie keeper league (“LOWV,” henceforth), the other a head-to-head points redraft league (“Sandlot”). They are just home leagues, not renowned leagues such as Tout Wars or LABR or anything like that, but hey! Breaking down any draft can make for good insight, and if it helps just one person clarify his or her strategy, perhaps it did some good.
“So, Alex, how did you in your drafts?” Great, thanks for asking! I love both my teams. Love them. Except I made the same mistake in each draft: I left some money on the table. Like, $20 in one instance. It became a running gag: “Don’t question Alex — it’s all part of his master plan!” But here’s the catch: I arguably have the best team, per the projections, even after managing my budget so poorly.
So where did my strategy go wrong? Honestly, I’m not sure it did. (Or maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better.)
There are myriad draft strategies for every league format. One of the most popular, I think, is to load up on hitting and complement the offense with a dirt-cheap pitching staff. Indeed, this is the strategy our own Mike Podhorzer recently employed, more or less.
If there’s one thing all strategies share in common, it’s to maximize the value of your draft budget. In other words, use every last dollar to extract as much value as you can from the player pool.
I, however, don’t deliberately try to do this. I simply try not to overspend on any player. That’s it. It’s hardly revolutionary — it’s borderline ridiculous that I even call it a strategy. But I adhere to it pretty strongly, and this adherence is pivotal to the strategy’s success. “Success” is a term used loosely here, but it did lead me to a LOWV championship last year.
Another part of my strategy is to stand by and watch the first several players off the board, no matter their quality. (To attest: I didn’t win my first players until the 13th and 15th nominations.) This caused me to skip some of the league’s most expensive weapons — Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Paul Goldschmidt, etc. — as they tend to go first, but it also allowed me to gauge the relative values of the remaining players. Understanding the trajectory of your draft is crucial to identifying the best and worst values when it really matters.
My strategy forces me to not be attached to any particular player. Sure, there are players whom I target specifically, but it’s because I already think they’re undervalued. Detachment prevents me from bidding up a guy just because he’s one of my man-crushes. In other words, I try to suppress personal bias as much as possible. It also helps me exploit other owners’ biases. Market inefficiencies pervade draft lobbies; more money spent undeservedly on one player means more value to be found elsewhere.
What my strategy left me with in LOWV are guys who may not be most ideal or my favorites but were arguably great values relative to their peers. Unsurprisingly, my team is pretty old (thanks to Adam Wainwright, Ben Zobrist, Dustin Pedroia, Matt Holliday, Adrian Beltre and Hisashi Iwakuma) and pretty injured (Kenley Jansen, Sean Doolittle, Yu Darvish).
Regardless of my draft’s outcome, I came close to leaving a ton of money on the table. I liked Khris Davis (I made a bold prediction about him), but I probably paid too much for him late in the draft. Instead, I could have abandoned the bidding war when it escalated and targeted other available, cheap outfield power, such as
It’s about extracting the most value from your draft budget, as mentioned before, but it’s also a matter of timing, too — a function of the narrative of your draft — which means the most value may not come from using up your entire budget. It’s possible that the best last picks for your remaining slots, in terms of expected value, aren’t the most expensive ones. Don’t be afraid to draft breakout candidates and have money leftover instead of taking established, but possibly declining, veterans, especially if the young guys have what you perceive to be greater expected values. Obviously, you want to leave less money on the table than I did. But if everything goes right this year, I could be the poster boy for the $240-budget strategy.
Ultimately, it’s OK to swallow your pride and take some heat from your fellow owners for your offbeat picks. It’s better than trying to max out your draft budget by forcing a player you don’t like onto your roster, as I did with Pedroia. And unless you have zero roster turnover, you will end up dropping some of your precious draft picks anyway — perhaps for someone you actually wanted to draft in the first place.
Like I said, none of this is revolutionary by any means. But I hope it serves as a friendly reminder for those drafting this weekend. Good luck to you all, by the way!
Here’s my salary-blind LOWV roster:
C Jonathan Lucroy
1B Jose Abreu
2B Daniel Murphy
3B Kyle Seager
SS Ben Zobrist
CI Victor Martinez
MI Dustin Pedroia
OF Jorge Soler
OF George Springer
OF Matt Holliday
OF Gregory Polanco
OF Khris Davis
UT Adrian Beltre
What do you think? Does my team make up for poor budgeting? Hindsight is 20/20, and I wish I had gone ahead and shelled out more a middle infielder (or two) that I really liked, or maybe upgraded one of my mid-tier SPs such as Wacha or Iwakuma. My relief corps is certainly a risky affair, but I plan to fill in the injured Doolittle and Jansen with Tyler Clippard and Joel Peralta, respectively, when disabled lists activate. And obviously I am sending Darvish to the DL; I drafted him strictly for his keeper value, knowing I will be able to replace him with a quality free agent such as Homey Bailey or Jose Quintana and keep him next year at less than market value.
Anyone else have the courage to admit they botched their drafts in some manner? Come on, I’m being vulnerable for you here! Let’s be vulnerable together.
EDIT (April 2, 4:22 PM EDT): I posted my points league (Sandlot) draft results in the comments. This is the draft in which I left a ton of money on the table but still came out of it very favorably.