Feb 20, 2009

Fantasy Baseball: Preliminary Draft Strategies Part I

These are some basic strategies that I have followed for myself over the past 8-9 years. I may not have adhered to all of them completely since sometimes I like to do experimental drafts. Some of them are really basic, and after reading them, you'd be thinking to yourself: " Who doesn't know that?" Well, you'd be surprised after all the obviously bone-headed picks that myself or other people have made that had miniscule chances of working out. Some strategies are for both types of leagues (rotisserie and head to head). Others are league-specific.

1. Know the depth charts of all the teams. Obvious alert! This is like saying know that players play baseball. With that said, plate appearances matter. A platoon guy can be useful if you are in a daily lineup change league and can pinpoint when he's playing. But the odds are that there were full-time players still available when this guy was drafted. Full-time, of course, does not mean helpful to your fantasy team.

2. Know the pitching staffs of all teams. The starting rotation is important, or at least the first four starters are. The so-called fifth starter starts less games and has a much higher ERA than the rest of the rotations. If you're using 5th starters, you better be in a 14 team or more league. For the bullpen, be familiar with the closer, the set-up guy, and the young guy with the huge fastball. Pitchers get hurt, managers get impatient. On that note...

3. Don't reach for closers. I learned my lesson the hard way on this one. Billy Wagner, how I loathe you now. Francisco Rodriguez will be picked way before he should just because of the 62 saves. Last year, I thought I followed this one pretty well. I like to take one who I think is a "safe" closer somewhere between rounds 8-11. This is not a guarantee as Huston Street owners from last year can attest. I ended up with Mariano Rivera in round 9. Then, I target two guys on teams that are not supposed to do so well. Prime examples in '08 were George Sherrill of Baltimore and Brian Wilson of San Francisco. I ended up with Wilson on practically every team. Was he a great pitcher? No. Did he get saves? Yes. I also draft a high strikeout middle reliever somewhere in rounds 16-19. They don't always pan out as eventual closers or even good pitchers...Scott Linebrink in '07 and Scot Shields in '08 come on down! But they are the first ones you can cut when you need to fill an essential roster spot or they can pay off dividends down the road. Brad Lidge in 2004 was a perfect middle reliever. 150 strikeouts, is that possible again?

4. Consider position scarcity when drafting. This is a difficult concept to grasp since there are a few nuanced layers to it.

5. League Matters: The American League is stronger than the National League. Pitchers switching leagues see a slight downturn in performance when moving to the American League. The American League East is one tough division. This does not mean draft great pitchers on these teams such as Sabathia, Halladay, Shields, etc should be devalued. Just be aware especially for sleeper picks and fringe-type players. There is also the hypothesis that greater competition breeds great success. If only all fantasy leagues were like that....

6. A player's context and situation matters. Where are they normally hitting in the lineup? Will they split time? Do they have a spot in the rotation? Do they show a severe home/road split like Ervin Santana in'06 for pitchers or name a Colorado hitter in almost any year? Is there a lefty/righty split? Is there a day/night split? Home park especially plays a role. Be wary of power hitters in San Diego, but love pitchers there. Like Philadelphia power hitters, be wary of pitchers. (These are just examples, there are relevant park factors for all statistics). This again, does not mean you should avoid Cole Hamels or Adrian Gonzalez completely because of their ball park. It means to figure it into their values accordingly.

Next time.....a mock draft thought exercise.

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