Baseball season is here early this year. Is your 2011 fantasy baseball draft tonight? Relax. There is no need to complicate matters.
Whether you’re a total fantasy nerd or you shoot from the hip with every pick, this strategy is signed, sealed and delivered for you. Follow the five tenets that I use and you’ll have a fun draft day and a competitive team.
For those of you who want to take it a step further, I’ve included one less simple tip per tenet, in case you want to jack up this strategy monster truck style:
1. Be flexible, but discerning early
For my top four to five players, I’m looking for the best hitter available with the fewest questions marks. These are your most expensive picks (whether you’re in a draft or an auction), don’t waste them on players with huge questions marks.
Whether you come out of your top four with two OFs and two 1Bs, or a SS, 1B, 3B and OF, you’re doing it right. Just avoid injury prone players (Chase Utley) and/or players with a short track record (Carlos Gonzalez), for example.
Strategy upgrade: Avoid paying premiums for pitchers, catchers and second basemen and pay for or pick a 1B.
2. Be sensible: You can wait for pitchers but you don’t have to.
Between rounds six and nine you need to note what everyone else has done. If the last three rounds saw a massive run on pitchers, or if everybody’s dropping big bucks on starters, there are probably mad hitters available at values. Remember, each MLB team starts five pitchers but only one shortstop, second baseman, third baseman, etc.
However, If Jon Lester or Clayton Kershaw are still on the board (or can be had at a discount) DRAFT ONE.
If there are no noticeable values, get two pitchers between the 6th-8th rounds and continue to monitor hitter/pitcher runs to maximize value.
Strategy upgrade: Don’t freak out if all of your infielders aren’t filled by the 10th round. Obviously, you don’t need four 1Bs. But if you can play three 1Bs (1B, CI, UTIL) and the values fall, take them and make up the difference at SS later.
3. Reach for players you want in the middle of the draft
After the first three or four rounds you should scan the players that are expected to go in the current round and the next one for your next pick. After the eighth round, scan another round deep. Once you get into the middle of your draft expand your best player available pool considerably.
I read an article that explained this strategy perfectly but, of course, I can’t find the link. The basic premise is that each fantasy owner is going to have different opinions and cheatsheets. The first few rounds are going to play out the same for just about everyone. Most sheets are going to have Pujols, Gonzalez and Longoria in the top five. But the deeper into the draft we go the more widespread (and sometimes loony) the opinions and picks become.
Here’s an example: Drew Stubbs‘ ADP is 16th round. Your cheatsheet/ranking thing says he’s a value in the 16th round, therefore you are definitely going to pick him in the 15th or 16th.
Having owned him two years in a row in a keeper league, and looking at his skills trends and the other outfielders available where he’s being picked, I’m not waiting until the 16th round to pick him. Depending on how my draft has gone, I may pick him as early as round 13.
Strategy upgrade: Reaching is particularly effective when you wait on a particular position. If you don’t have a third baseman, spend a little more for Casey McGehee, who should outplay his 11th round ADP (and $18 auction value) if he matches last year’s performance.
4. Time to make up the difference
There will come a point when you look at your roster, and likely announce to the rest of the league, “I only have one infielder” or “I don’t even have a starting pitcher yet.”
This is when you should consider a plan to fill those gaps. At some point all the flexibility and zig-zagging must stop and you must make sure you have a whole team. Figure out which starting pitchers could still anchor your rotation or check to see how many shortstops are still worthy of starting in your league.
Strategy upgrade: As you climb deeper into your draft, you’ll find it easier to make up a pitching difference.
5. Don’t shoot from the hip at the end of your draft.
I can’t emphasize this enough. Be as calculated with your last five picks as you were with your first five. Your roster still needs you at the end game.
With five picks to go (all bench for some of you and two starts and three bench for those of you in standard ESPN leagues) your team should have an identity. Where are you strong? Where are you weak? Use your last five roster spots on players who have upside in categories that help your weaknesses.
Don’t waste a late pick on Giants rookie slugger Brandon Belt if you have punted speed and saves all draft. If you have speed to give, don’t spend $2 on Lorenzo Cain and his 30-steal potential.
Obviously the rules change a bit if you’re drafting in a keeper league and you plan to keep a player like Belt, but picking him in a redraft just to show off your baseball knowledge won’t help you win. Belt is starting the year in AAA.
Advanced strategy: 1. Avoid rookies with no starting job in redraft leagues. 2. Load up on pitching, specifically setup men who will be closers before the end of the year. If a flavor of the week waiver add pops up and you want to own him, it’ll be a lot easier to let go of a setup man than a rookie with high expectations. Remember last year when you were staring at Jose Bautista on waivers and thought you weren’t ready to give up on Justin Smoak? Drop Hong-Chih Kuo (who had a helpful 12 saves and a K/9 of nearly 11 as a setup man last season), and try your hand at picking up this year’s surprise waiver add.
Readers, the 2011 season is almost upon us. What advice do you have for late drafters?
Editor’s note: We have a Chinstrap Ninjas friends and readers fantasy baseball draft set up for 9 p.m. EST March 30. We still have openings. We’ll make more if we have to. Send a request to jzak(at)chinstrapninjas.com or ep(at)chinstrapninjas.com.