Draft Day Manifesto 2: Electric Boogaloo
I am resistant to change.
Have been that way my entire life. I eat the same things. I wear the same clothes. I like the same shows, music and routines. I am, by every definition, a creature of habit.
I am reminded of a joke my friend Phil Palisoul (a fantastic comedian; check him out on YouTube) tells in his standup act.
Phil says, "Get this. My doctor told me I could add two years to my life expectancy if I just cut donuts out of my diet. Can't figure out why I would do that. My way, I eat donuts until I'm dead. His way, I've got to go an extra two years without donuts."
Love that joke. I have this argument with the Current Mrs. Roto all the time. She loves trying new things and I'll order the exact same thing at a restaurant every time we go. "Why don't you try something new?" she'll ask. "The special sounds good!" "Why should I?" I answer. "I might hate it. Or, best-case scenario, I like it and have a good meal. Which I know I'm getting with the thing I always order. Why not go with the sure thing?"
She has no answer for that. Probably because she's already chugging her wine. I'm no fun to eat with. But the point you should take away from this is that I am resistant to change.
Which is why you will be surprised to learn, just as I was, that the 13th edition of the Draft Day Manifesto is, in fact, almost entirely new. Whereas we usually just update the Manifesto with a few new stats, players and theories, this is a leaner, meaner and, if you don't print it out, greener version than years past.
I feel most people reading have played fantasy baseball before. If you need the "Fantasy 101" type information in terms of how to set up your draft sheet, calculate keeper league inflation or anything like that, check out last year's version which is longer, includes all of the basics for newbie players and has an exciting action photo of Wandy Rodriguez, taken from 2010, when he was still awesome.
Oh, there will still be an old nugget or two in this edition, including something three paragraphs from now, but 90 percent of this is brand-spanking new. Virginal, even. The Jonas Brothers of Manifestos, that's what we'd be talking about. If it were still 2009.
The only thing that remains, of course, are the long-winded intros and terrible segues. Hey, let's talk baseball now!
Before The Draft
I really like the title "Draft Day Manifesto," but it's not entirely accurate. But since when have I worried about accuracy? Hey-o. Forgot to mention the bad jokes are back, too. That stayed the same. At any rate, much of what we are going to discuss happens well before draft day. Before we get into any overview of this year's players or themes, we need to understand a few things. And this is something I've written before, but it bears repeating:[+] EnlargeESPN.comWhatcha gonna do when the Fantasy Focus Podcast runs wild on you, brother!
I am not going to make you "dominate the competition" or "crush your opponent." Mostly because I don't talk like Hulk Hogan, but also because every team is different and the best person to coach it is you. You're the one who lives with it, breathes with it, keeps it under your bed and calls it "my precious" in a creepy voice. You.
I'll give advice and thoughts but ultimately you're the person who will determine if you win or lose. So if you're not willing to man (or woman) up and accept responsibility for your team, I'm not the guy for you. Please read elsewhere. I want people who think for themselves, not mindless robots. Because let's face it. If I had an army of mindless robots, you'd be living in the United States of Matty, where vigilante justice against anyone who takes up two parking spaces in a crowded lot is legal and Bruce Springsteen's "Badlands" is our national anthem.
But if you are willing to accept the challenge of thinking for yourself, then what I can do, if you'll bear with me through a very long article, is give you some tools and postulate some theories that will maximize your chances at draft day success.
And before we go any further, that's the No. 1 rule about winning fantasy, not just on draft day but throughout the season. Come closer, my pretty. I'm about to give you the answer to life, the universe and everything, at least as far as fantasy sports is concerned. (Normally, of course, the answer is 42.)
Between now and draft day you will read and watch and hear gobs and gobs of information and analysis about this player and that position and why theory A is better than theory B and much of it will be useful, but it really all boils down to one simple principle.
Memorize it, write it down, make out with it and then post the video to YouTube.
What's most likely to happen?
That's it. Super simple. Whichever moves you make -- drafting, trading, free-agent pickups -- just answer this simple question: What's most likely to happen? What gives you the best odds of winning? Then, you know, do that.
Do everything possible to stack the odds in your favor, thereby putting yourself in the best position to win. It's all about the odds. Nothing in life is guaranteed, except death, taxes and that I'm gonna need a robot Air Force while we're at it.
It's the blackjack analogy I always use. Yes, there will be times when the dealer is showing a 7, you stay put on 18 and the dealer wins. But if you play that way consistently, more often than not, the odds will swing in your favor. It's the same with fantasy sports. Play the odds. It won't always work out, but more often than not, it will.
Sounds easier than it is, of course. But for the rest of this article, we'll talk about how you can go about prepping and executing draft day to give yourself the best chance to win and figuring out what is more likely to happen. Prior to your draft or auction, you want to do all the typical stuff: Read and watch as much as possible, do as many mock drafts or auctions as you can, follow me on Twitter and Facebook, where I'll do mock drafts with my followers throughout spring training, listen to the Fantasy Focus 06010 podcast and absorb as much as possible. But before you do that, I want to give you a framework for taking in all that information you're about to be bombarded with.
And the Oscar goes to ...
This year, I'm introducing a prep and drafting concept called Meryl.
This'll make sense in about 2,703 words.
But first, let's start with a number. Baseball, especially fantasy baseball, is all about numbers. Stats upon stats upon stats, but right now, we only care about one number: 80.
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I asked the great Mike Polikoff, who oversees our league manager product (Free to play! Free live scoring! Fully customizable! With auction drafting, FAAB bidding and mobile app capability! Sign up today! Twice!) to look at the champions of our standard league (10-team mixed leagues, 5x5 roto scoring) over the last three years to see how many total fantasy points the average winning fantasy team had in ESPN standard leagues.
In 2008, the average winning team scored 80.19 points (out of a possible 100, of course).
In 2009, the average winning team scored 80.85 points.
In 2010, the average winning team scored 81.64 points.
Get to 80 points, kids, you got a really good shot. Now, I know many of you are in head-to-head leagues; we're getting to you in a moment, but right now I want to blow you away with some Beautiful Mind-type math. Seriously. Watch this. Math nerds, unbuckle your pants. Because it's about to get hot in here.
8+8+8+8+8+8+8+8+8+8 = 80
10+10+10+10+10+6+6+6+6+6 = 80
Blows your mind, right? I could do that all day. How you like them apples?
Just to dumb it down for those of you without an awe-inspiring analytical mind like mine, there's lots of ways to get to 80 total points in a 5x5 10-team league, including, as you see in the last example, completely tanking a category. You have to win or finish high in a lot of categories, but you're gonna have to do well to win, period. The point, obviously, is it can be done and that there are many, many ways to win a fantasy league.
You shouldn't be locked into just one way, especially before the draft. You can have a specific strategy or theory and you'll need to have an opinion on every player before you draft/auction, but -- and this will all come together in a bit and make sense -- you don't want to be locked into any specific way you must try to win.
So, to recap so far: Every single decision must be governed by your understanding of what's most likely to happen, there are many ways to win a league, and I am looking for a few good robots. Simple concepts, but crucial ones that you don't want to overlook.
Hold those thoughts as it's time for another award-winning awkward transition. Let's talk player evaluation, rankings and projections.
A quick scour of the Internet shows many fantasy sites claiming the most accurate projections, the best rankings, the most in-depth analysis, blah blah blah. And no doubt, there is tons of fine work being done out there by many sites. I know that the folks who put together ESPN's rankings and projections spend a lot of hard work and many months on them. They're terrific, both the projections and the people behind them. So the following is not a slight at any of them.
But check this out. Inspired by a column my colleague AJ Mass wrote last year, I conducted a little experiment with some of the gang on my Facebook page. On Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012, I asked them to pick one player, anyone they wanted, in the following positions: C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, OF. I also asked them to pick any three pitchers. I told them we would be using standard 5x5 roto categories and they should construct a team with the idea of winning. I also told them we would use LAST YEAR'S stats. So they would know exactly, I mean exactly, what they're getting out of each player.
I chose six people. Smaller lineups and fewer people than in a normal league, but it works for our purposes. Here are the teams they chose.Pretty good teams, right? Of all the picks, Tim Lincecum is the only question mark for me, given that he had a down year (for him), but otherwise, no issue. Not surprisingly, Matt Kemp, Jose Bautista and Justin Verlander showed up on almost every list, along with many folks taking Roy Halladay and/or Clayton Kershaw, and most everyone had either Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera at first base. Shortstop was either Jose Reyes or Troy Tulowitzki across the board.
Pick-Your-Team Experiment: Rosters
Picked by C 1B 2B 3B SS OF P P P Bryan Mapes McCann Cab'ra Cano Bautista Tulo Kemp Verl'der Hal'day Kershaw Joey Millwood Napoli Pujols Cano Bautista Reyes Kemp Verl'der Hal'day Lee Dave Case Avila Pujols Cano Bautista Reyes Ells'ry Verl'der Kershaw Rivera Dan Offerdahl V-Mart Cab'ra Cano Beltre Tulo Braun Verl'der Hal'day Kershaw Andrew Aizer Napoli Fielder Kinsler Bautista Reyes Kemp Lin'cum Hal'day Kimbrel Danny Poarch Napoli Cab'ra Pedroia Beltre Reyes Kemp Hal'day Verl'der Lee
OK, so now, using last year's stats, let's total these teams up in standard rotisserie scoring. The first number is the team's total stats in that category, the second number (in parentheses) is the amount of points that team earned in that category (total of seven possible).
Pick-Your-Team Experiment: Standings
Team RUNS SB HR RBI AVG W SV K ERA WHIP Total TMR 626 (7) 120 (6) 160 (3) 570 (5) .3137 (5) 49 (3) 46 (6.5) 625 (3) 2.30 (6) .961 (6) 50.50 Mapes 567 (2) 71 (2) 194 (7) 628 (6) .308 (2) 64 (6.5) 0 (2.5) 782 (6.5) 2.34 (4.5) .977 (4.5) 43.50 Dan O. 563 (1) 54 (1) 165 (4) 647 (7) .317 (6) 64 (6.5) 0 (2.5) 782 (6.5) 2.34 (4.5) .977 (4.5) 43.50 Case 597 (4) 107 (3) 166 (5) 551 (3) .309 (3) 46 (2) 44 (5) 558 (1) 2.29 (7) .942 (7) 40.00 Poarch 583 (3) 112 (5) 159 (2) 546 (2) .321 (7) 60 (4.5) 0 (2.5) 708 (4.5) 2.38 (2.5) .994 (2.5) 35.50 Joey M 602 (5) 109 (4) 154 (1) 565 (4) .3133 (4) 60 (4.5) 0 (2.5) 708 (4.5) 2.38 (2.5) .994 (2.5) 34.50 Aizer 609 (6) 123 (7) 189 (6) 545 (1) .304 (1) 36 (1) 46 (6.5) 567 (2) 2.47 (1) 1.10 (1) 32.50
To be fair, I chose my team before looking up any stats or rosters for the other teams, but I felt fairly confident that most people would take Napoli at catcher, Cano at second and no one would take more than one closer. So I felt that V-Mart's average and RBIs would be huge advantages at the position over Napoli and everyone else. Remember, while V-Mart hit .330 and Napoli hit .320, the key is that Martinez had around 170 more at bats than Napoli. Those 170 at-bats, especially in a league this small, would make a huge difference in batting average and (along with V Mart's RBI's) would help off-set Ian Kinsler's poor average and lowish RBI totals. Kinsler's home runs, runs scored and SB advantage at second base was too good to pass up, though I thought strongly about Pedroia. In terms of the pitching, I knew by taking Kimbrel I would guarantee me a win or tie in saves, keep my ERA and WHIP down and give me enough K's to get past anyone that decided to go Rivera instead of Kimbrel. Kimbrel, along with Kershaw and Verlander, would probably get me middle of the pack in pitching overall. Fewer people went closer than I thought, which worked out as four of them had to split 10 points (2.5 each), hurting all of them and taking away the advantage they gained in strikeouts and wins by going with three starters. So you see, it was as much about what everyone else did than it was about knowing what numbers were the best.
Now, I acknowledge that this wasn't a purely scientific experiment. But regardless, the point I want to make is probably the most important thing you should take from this article.
Every guy in this draft knew exactly what stats they were getting. They had their choice of any player and could construct their team without any constraints other than positional eligibility. And none of them "won" the league.
Even if you pull me out of the league, there are still five guys who would have "lost." (Mapes wins due to a more categories tiebreaker, 3-2-2). Look, I love the sabermetric kids as much as the next MIT grad. But there's a lot more to fantasy than just the numbers. Even if you had a magic set of projections in front of you right now, projections that were 100 percent guaranteed to come true down to the final batting average decimal point, it's still only one piece of the puzzle.
The evaluation of players is important, of course, but not nearly as important as how each player's stats combine with all the other stats of your players, and then how those stats compete with the combined stats of every single other team in your league.
The italicized part is the key because that's not something you'll really know on draft day. Yes, there is draft software that, using projections, can give you an idea of where every team stacks up in every category during your draft/auction, and our Insider recommends engine goes as far as suggesting which players might best fit your team based on that information.
The problem with that, of course, is that it's a moving target. Even if the projections are exactly right, you don't know what the other teams will do over the course of the draft. Maybe they have a different set of projections they're working from. Or maybe they want to load up on closers or speed so they can trade later. Nor can you instinctively take into account how those owners will play their teams. Will they trade and work the wire like crazy? Will they be patient? There's too much information you don't have; I like to be aware of what other teams are doing as far as roster spots they've covered (and in an auction I keep track of other teams' money for the end game) but for the most part during draft day, I concentrate on my team and my team alone.
OK, so how do we build our team? We'll get to that, but first, just to recap: Every decision must be governed by what's most likely to happen, there are many ways to win, projections, even if they are 100 percent accurate, are not the end all be all; it's much more important how you put those stats together and how those stats stack up with all the other teams. You won't be able to determine with great accuracy during the draft how they will stack up, so you are concentrating on your team. If, using the handy cheat sheet that I'll introduce here in a bit, your projections get you close to 80 points, you'll have left the draft with a team that, barring unforeseen injuries or crazy, Adam Dunn-like drop-offs, will compete for the title. And that's all you want out of the draft/auction. A solid foundation for a team.
We now pause to rank the top 10 robots of all time in order of awesomeness, starting with number 10.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Kevin WolfYou can disagree with me about how to rank R2-D2 and C-3PO, but you can't argue the fact that they belong in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, which is where they now live. Until I call upon them to serve, that is.
10. '80s Robot from new Muppets movie. He drives a Rolls.
9. Lisa the robot from "Weird Science." People forget, Kelly LeBrock was actually an insanely cool robot they created. Kelly LeBrock had a "make you forget she's a robot" way that was very different than many other styles of "forget I'm a robot" techniques.
8. RoboCop. He's a robot. Who fights crime.
7. Marvin the Paranoid Android. I now have two Douglas Adams references in this column. Should I go for three?
6. Atom from "Real Steel." He's a boxing robot. With a heart!
5. Twikki from Buck Rodgers. As discussed on the podcast. Sarcastic, funny and by carrying Dr. Theopolis around his neck, he was clearly the inspiration for Flavor Flav.
4. Bender from Futurama. He had me at "Robot Porn."
3. Data from "Star Trek, The Next Generation." Out Spocked Spock.
2. The Terminator. Arnold when we still loved him. "Your clothes ... give them to me now."
1. R2D2. Still the King.
Others receiving votes: Any of the Transformers, Wall-E, The Iron Giant, KITT from "Knight Rider" (not sure if he qualifies as a robot ... ), the robot from "Lost in Space" (Danger Will Robinson!), Dynomutt from the "Blue Falcon and Dynomutt" cartoon that only I enjoyed, Johnny 5, the Fembots from "Austin Powers," C-3PO and, of course, the Pimpbot 5000.
Targets: It's not just a chain of stores for which my brother once interned
So while projections aren't perfect or even super important, they do have a function and a useful one at that. Most projections are reasonable. There will always be outliers -- no one foresaw Jacoby Ellsbury's power outburst last year or the way Carl Crawford tanked -- but in general, projections are, pardon the pun, usually in the ballpark. You need a set of projections you trust. If you draft online at ESPN.com, ours are built into the engine. And if you draft elsewhere, you can see them all right here.
Remember when I blew your mind with my crazy Beautiful Mind math? Many ways to get to 80 points. But just to give us a jumping off point, let's choose the first one. Finishing third in every single category (8 points) gets you to 80. And that's a good rule of thumb for leagues that use rotisserie scoring. Aim for third in every category.
So as you build your team, I want you to use this wonderfully handy cheat sheet that I hinted about earlier. In it, you'll see, over the last three years, the average amount of home runs the third-place team has hit was 280. So that's the ballpark we want to be in. So say your first pick is Troy Tulowitzki. You see we have him projected for 32 home runs. OK, 280-32=248. For the rest of the draft we will hopefully acquire around 250 more home runs. Do that for every category -- again, we just want to be in the neighborhood. As the season progresses, you can trade and add/drop accordingly if you're ahead or behind in various categories, but right now we're just concerned with getting a solid foundation so that we just have to make small moves, not massive ones.
Back to Tulo. Assuming health, Tulowitzki is going to hit 30 home runs, have 95 RBIs, hit .300, score 90 runs and steal 10 bases or so. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less, but generally, that's what, on draft day, we have to assume he's gonna do.
So you see the three-year average at RBIs for a third-place finish is 1,063. You just rostered 95 RBIs, so now you need another 968. Most draft software will keep track of your accumulated stats; you just need to know what targets you are aiming for.
I'm a big believer in letting the draft come to you and taking the best player available. There are exceptions and we'll talk in a moment about how to determine which is the best player available, but for the most part, you are taking the best player available in a draft and adding to your point totals in each category, getting closer to your targets.
As the draft progresses, you may need to adjust. Say there is a run on speed and you feel like there is no way you can get to 187 steals, good for third place. You're looking at probably 150 steals total, which, after you consult your handy chart here, you learn is probably going to be around sixth place, good for five points. So you need three more points somewhere else. Maybe you take another bopper and try to win home runs. You take an extra closer you hadn't planned on to try to win saves.
Whatever it is, instead of reaching for some cheap speed guy who will kill your batting average and provides nothing else (like Jordan Schafer), you can build on a category you already have a lot of. Build on strength, which either will make up the points you lose in the other category or give you something to trade with later.
Same principles apply for an auction, where it's easier to avoid traps like that since you have a shot at every player. Just make sure you know what each player is worth, stats wise. I'll give you tiers in a second for overall value by position, but one thing I like to do is divide by basic stat tiers, especially for auctions.Here's how many 30-homer guys there are. Here's how many 20-homer guys there are. Here's how many 150-strikeout guys there are.
So as you're looking at your team, and with your targets you are aware that you need, say, 40 more homers and there are at least 15 guys left with at least 20 homers (last year, 68 players hit at least 20 home runs), so you are OK if you miss out on this guy at this round. You'll get a shot next round.
That's what "Meryl" is about. Named for multiple Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep, who has a staggering 17 Oscar nominations. More importantly, they are for many different kinds of roles. Comedy ("Devil Wears Prada"), Romance ("Bridges of Madison County"), Drama ("Silkwood"), Inspirational ("Music of the Heart") and on and on. She's a chameleon. She's won for all sorts of different roles. She adapts (she was also nominated for "Adaptation") to the role and the character, not the other way around. Like, I love Clint Eastwood, but in every movie, he's basically Clint Eastwood, you know?
It's a little Zen-like, but the idea here is that Meryl is about being flexible and snapping up value where it happens (and it will happen) and not worrying about specific projections. But rather letting the draft come to you and building toward 80 points whichever way is most feasible. There's nothing magical or overly complicated about it. It may seem fairly obvious and in a way, it is. But as we get bombarded with a million stats and theories and blurbs of news it's easy to get overwhelmed. Understanding and remembering these simple concepts will go a long way to keeping your mind clear during draft day. Understand that the draft is only half the process and that in-season trading/free-agent acquisition will play a large part in how your team performs, in addition to how healthy it stays and, of course, how your total stats compete with everyone else's stats (and how you successfully react to that).
Can we get to the players now, please?
Some overall thoughts on this year's player pool. You hate to base something on just one year, so take it with a grain of salt, but it's worth noting that last year there were 68 players who hit at least 20 home runs and only 50 players who stole 20 bases. Here's how it broke down by position last year. If a player qualified at more than one position, I counted him for all those positions. I also counted Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Cabrera at third base -- in addition to their current shortstop (Ramirez) and first base (Cabrera) eligibility -- since that's where they'll be playing this season.
Power and Speed benchmarks by position, 2011
Position Hit 20-plus HR Stole 20-plus bases Catcher 5 0 First base 16 0 Second base 8 5 Third Base 7 3 Shortstop 4 13 Outfield 34 34 Designated Hitter 1 0
Overall, it's important to get speed in the middle infield. Everything's relative, of course. If you have Michael Bourn on your team, you'll be fine regardless. But since you'll (for the most part) be forced to get power at first and third, and hopefully get some at catcher and some in the outfield, you need to grab speed where you can, and that means in the middle infield. Ideally you're getting guys who do both, but when in doubt, I'll go speed up the middle because I know there are positions where my choices will come down to decent power guys versus flawed speed guys later in the process, and I much prefer it when the better player is also the best fit for my squad.
Let's go position-by-position, breaking them down by tiers; groups of players that, in essence, have about the same value, even if they compile completely different kinds of statistics. I also factor in the reliability of their health, playing time and consistency (how likely are they to put up the stats?). You like Miguel Cabrera, another guy prefers Albert Pujols. Who cares? They both rock and they're in the same tier. Joey Votto and Adrian Gonzalez are also very good, but not in the same class as Miggy or Sir Albert. So they are a tier. And so on and so forth.
This goes back to our idea of not getting too hung up on rankings, auction values or even specific projections. This is much more about understanding the depth of value at each position. Sort of position-scarcity but about the different levels of depth (or lack thereof) within each position and how that depth is broken out into groups of similarly valued players.
Simply put, you can hurt your chances of getting to that 80-point total because you're scrambling in the endgame to fill certain positional requirements when you could have avoided that with a better understanding of the player pool. As your draft (or auction) progresses, you can glance at the tier of each position and let this (along with our handy category/points chart) guide where you need to jump and where you can wait.
Let's get back to the simple idea of "What's most likely to happen?"
As you draft and you're deciding between two players, ask yourself: What's more likely to happen? When we all got together for the rankings summit, I was incredulous that the group wanted to rank Brett Lawrie many slots ahead of Kevin Youkilis at third base.
I understand Youk has injury issues and Lawrie lit it up last year. Could Youk get hurt again and it turns out Lawrie is Ryan Braun? Of course.[+] EnlargeAbelimages/Getty ImagesBrett Lawrie's too sexy for my roster, too sexy for my roster, too sexy by faaaar!
But what's more likely to happen? That Youkilis, whose underlying numbers all seem mostly intact and has been a great hitter for multiple seasons at the big league level, gets back to being an elite fantasy third baseman? Or that a rookie with 150 total at-bats in the majors continues to crush? Lawrie is a hoopy frood who really knows where his towel is. I get it. And he will steal, which has value.
But let's check out two players:
Player A: .333, 23 runs, 8 HRs, 20 RBIs, 14 SB.
Player B: .160, 21 runs, 2 HRs, 5 RBIs, 6 SB.
Player A is Desmond Jennings over his first 141 at-bats last season. Player B is Jennings over the next, and final, 106 at-bats. We used this example on our podcast. Anyone can look good for 150 at-bats. It's a very small sample size. Lawrie (and Jennings) will both be very good major league players, probably as soon as this year. But you can't tell me, based on just 150 at-bats, that it's more likely that he outproduces a guy like Youkilis, or even Alex Rodriguez, whom he is also ranked ahead of.
I say it is more likely that the veteran off one bad year outproduces the hot rookie off 150 at-bats, and I'll draft accordingly.
Some more general guidelines that fall under the "what's more likely," mantra ...
• Offense before pitching. You are more likely to find good pitching on the wire than stud hitting.
• Power before speed. You are more likely to need power since, while there was more power last year than speed, it also took a lot more home runs to win than it did speed, which you can get by in with small contributions from a lot of players. You can never have too much power.
• Starters before closers and strikeout guys over control guys. You are more likely to find a stud closer than a stud starter, and a strikeout pitcher is more likely to have fantasy value than a control guy.
• Well-rounded guys over one-category studs; i.e. the 15/15 guy is better than the five-homer/30-steal guy. A guy who contributes across the board is more likely to provide more value, even if something goes wrong, than someone who is one-category dependent.
See? Simple. What's more likely to happen?
Are you more likely to get value out a guy who just had a bad year or the hot rookie that everyone covets? Think back to last year, when guys like Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Kemp, Curtis Granderson, Josh Beckett, Jose Reyes, James Shields, Lance Berkman and Dustin Pedroia went in your draft. Generally, the answer is "later than they normally do," all because they all had one bad year.
Nothing is guaranteed, but to me, it is much more likely that guys like Carl Crawford and Hanley Ramirez bounce back than not. That's where this year's values will be found: in the big-name players who were bad last year. When my Love/Hate comes out in early March, you'll see that as a theme. Old, unsexy guys who have been productive for much of their careers but coming off sub-par seasons, over the flash-in-the-pan young guys that have everyone all excited.
In fact, check this out. There are charts for each of the past three seasons. The left side of the chart is the top 10 players taken in ESPN standard drafts according to average draft position, and the number in parentheses is where that player finished that season on our Player Rater. The right side of the chart is the reverse. The top 10 fantasy players for that season according to our rater, with their preaseason ADP in parentheses.
2009 Average Draft Position versus Final Player Rater value
Top 10 ADP (Final Player Rater rank) Top 10 Player Rater (Preseason ADP) 1. Hanley Ramirez (3) 1. Albert Pujols (2) 2. Albert Pujols (2) 2. Zack Greinke (84) 3. David Wright (64) 3. Hanley Ramirez (1) 4. Jose Reyes (594) 4. Tim Lincecum (15) 5. Miguel Cabrera (20) 5. Carl Crawford (37) 6. Ryan Braun (8) 6. Jacoby Ellsbury (70) 7. Johan Santana (93) 7. Ryan Braun (8) 8. Grady Sizemore (225) 8. Javier Vazquez (147) 9. Jimmy Rollins (87) 9. Felix Hernandez (61) 10. Mark Teixeira (29) 10. Derek Jeter (53)
2010 Average Draft Position versus Final Player Rater value
Top 10 ADP (Final Player Rater rank) Top 10 Player Rater (Preseason ADP) 1. Albert Pujols (3) 1. Carlos Gonzalez (128) 2. Hanley Ramirez (12) 2. Carl Crawford (10) 3. Alex Rodriguez (65) 3. Albert Pujols (1) 4. Ryan Braun (13) 4. Joey Votto (38) 5. Chase Utley (131) 5. Miguel Cabrera (13) 6. Prince Fielder (100) 6. Josh Hamilton (86) 7. Matt Kemp (83) 7. Roy Halladay (13) 8. Mark Teixeira (70) 8. Adam Wainwright (45) 9. Tim Lincecum (78) 9. Jose Bautista (227) 10. Carl Crawford (2) 10. Felix Hernandez (20)
2011 Average Draft Position versus Final Player Rater value
Top 10 ADP (Final Player Rater rank) Top 10 Player Rater (Preseason ADP) 1. Albert Pujols (15) 1. Matt Kemp (25) 2. Hanley Ramirez (247) 2. Jacoby Ellsbury (52) 3. Carl Crawford (191) 3. Ryan Braun (7) 4. Evan Longoria (108) 4. Justin Verlander (38) 5. Robinson Cano (18) 5. Clayton Kershaw (39) 6. Miguel Cabrera (7) 6. Curtis Granderson (94) 7. Ryan Braun (3) 7. Miguel Cabrera (6) 8. Roy Halladay (10) 8. Adrian Gonzalez (12) 9. Troy Tulowitzki (29) 9. Jose Bautista (31) 10. Joey Votto (19) 10. Roy Halladay (8)
So, pretty interesting, right? Of the top 30 players drafted the past three years (10 per year), only 16 of them wound up being a top-40 player. In other words, only 53 percent of the first-round picks the past three seasons have returned even a fourth-round value. Now look at the left-side lists, with the final Player Rater top 10. Eleven of the 30 players on those lists were drafted outside the top 40.
Those players: Greinke, Ellsbury, Vazquez, Felix, Jeter in '09, CarGo, Hamilton, Wainwright, Bautista in '10, and Ellsbury again in '11, along with Granderson. Chances are, if you had one of those guys, you won that year. CarGo was a youngster with potential, as was Felix Hernandez, and Bautista had finished the previous year strongly but was older than most breakouts. Those three exploded unexpectedly. By that I mean they were all sleepers for me and many others in the preseason, but no one expected them to be top 10. We had never seen that level of production for a full season at the major league level from these guys.
But the remaining eight guys? All were veterans who had experienced success on some level in the majors and had dropped due to one bad year, injury concerns, slower-than-expected progression, etc. Eight of 11? Old, unsexy vets. Two of 11? Sexy youngsters, as it were. And Bautista is just a crazy anomaly, a player who changed his approach midway through his career and transformed himself into the best power hitter in baseball. That doesn't happen all the time.
So, based on the past three seasons, I ask you, what's more likely to happen? The youngster goes nuts or the vet puts it together again? Two of 11, or eight of 11?
The exercise also is another reason to show why you should use rankings, projections and dollar values as general guidelines but not as anything hard and fast. It's a 53 percent chance you're getting the return on investment you want.
My final rule of thumb, when drafting, is of course ...
A scarce position over a more plentiful one. You're more likely to find productivity at certain positions than others during the season.
Fair enough, you say, because you are the type of person who speaks to a screen, but which are the scarce positions this season?
Here are my tiers. These are not in order of my ranks, which I will release soon. And I don't want to get to into talking about specific players, sleepers and busts and the like. Pretty much everything else I write and talk about for the rest of the preseason will be about that. This is more or less about the names in tiers. If a player qualifies there, I've included him, adding Miguel Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez to the third base pool with their expected eligibility there 10 games into the season.
Finally, remember that ESPN standard leagues are 10-team mixed leagues, which means a fairly large free-agent pool. So in a league like that, I'm much more likely to take a chance on a guy who might be more risky because I know if I don't get him, it's easier to replace him.
Catcher[+] EnlargeJoy R. Absalon/US PresswireSpeaking of players whom it might be wise not to write off, remember when Matt Wieters had Brett Lawrie-type hype? Four years later, he could finally break out in a big way.
Tier 1: Mike Napoli, Brian McCann, Carlos Santana.
Tier 2: Matt Wieters.
Tier 3: Alex Avila, Miguel Montero, Buster Posey, Joe Mauer.
Tier 4: Everyone else. (Remember, ESPN standard leagues use only one catcher.)
Overall thoughts: I like catcher this year, especially for one-catcher leagues. I wouldn't reach for a catcher this year, as I'm fine with anyone in the first three tiers and there's lots of potential sleepers not listed here either. Wieters is a sneaky source of runs scored, incidentally. More on runs scored in a bit.
Tier 1: Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols.
Tier 2: Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez.
Tier 3: Prince Fielder.
Tier 4: Paul Konerko, Mark Teixeira.
Tier 5: Eric Hosmer, Mike Napoli, Lance Berkman, Michael Morse, Carlos Santana, Freddie Freeman (I like him a lot this year) and Ryan Howard (this will change once we know where he is health-wise).
Tier 6: Michael Young, Michael Cuddyer, Adam Lind, Gaby Sanchez, Joe Mauer (assume he'll qualify there at some point), Mark Reynolds, Carlos Pena, Edwin Encarnacion, Ike Davis.
Tier 7: Everyone else. Upside guys with questions like Mark Trumbo (have to see how his playing time shakes out with Pujols there and Kendrys supposedly healthy. There's talk of outfield, we'll see) or Kendrys Morales (health) Justin Morneau (same) and upside guys like Lucas Duda, Brandon Belt, Mitch Moreland, Mike Carp, Anthony Rizzo, etc. There's value to be had out of this tier, but it is fraught with danger.
Overall thoughts: More shallow this year than most; you're gonna want a big bopper early. I'm not comfortable with anyone lower than tier four as my first baseman. And if you are in an NL-only league, it gets ugly quick. After Votto, you're in the Morse-Berkman-Freeman area ... none of whom are proven commodities except Berkman, and who knows how healthy he can stay or what the offense is capable of without Pujols anchoring it. If I am in an NL-only league and don't get Votto, I'm waiting. That said, I feel you'll do just fine filling the corner infield spot with a first baseman; those tiers are fairly deep this year as there are a lot of lower-end first basemen I like.
Tier 1: Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista.
Tier 2: Hanley Ramirez, Evan Longoria, Adrian Beltre.
Tier 3: David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman, Pablo Sandoval.
Tier 4: Aramis Ramirez, Michael Young, Kevin Youkilis, Brett Lawrie, Alex Rodriguez.
Tier 5: Ryan Roberts, Mark Reynolds, Martin Prado, Emilio Bonifacio, Edwin Encarnacion, David Freese.
Tier 6: Mike Moustakas, Chase Headley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Chipper Jones, Daniel Murphy.
Tier 7: Everyone else.
Overall thoughts: Much deeper than expected, especially when you add Miggy and HanRam to it, as both should qualify there within the first two weeks of the season or so. Fairly solid all the way through tier four, so you can wait a little (not a ton, but a little) on third base. Just remember, as I stated with first base, you'll probably want to fish elsewhere for your corner man if people start reaching for third basemen.
Second Base[+] EnlargeJim McIsaac/Getty ImagesDon't get me wrong, I love me some Robinson Cano. I'm just not "first round" in love with him.
Tier 1: Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler.
Tier 2: Ben Zobrist, Dan Uggla, Rickie Weeks, Brandon Phillips, Howard Kendrick, Chase Utley.
Tier 3: Ryan Roberts, Dustin Ackley, Neil Walker, Danny Espinosa, Jemile Weeks, Jason Kipnis.
Tier 4: Aaron Hill, Daniel Murphy, Kelly Johnson.
Tier 5: Everyone else.
Overall thoughts: I like the selection this year. Much more than in years past, as even guys in tier three -- like Ackley or Roberts -- could potentially be very useful. As much as I love Cano, I don't see him as a mid first-rounder the way others have him. Second base is deeper than you think, though the lower tier guys aren't as enticing to me, so while I feel you can wait a bit on second base, I wouldn't wait much longer on filling my middle-infield slot.
Tier 1: Troy Tulowitzki.
Tier 2: Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez.
Tier 3: Elvis Andrus, Starlin Castro, Jimmy Rollins, Asdrubal Cabrera.
Tier 4: Alexei Ramirez, J.J. Hardy, Derek Jeter, Jhonny Peralta, Erick Aybar, Dee Gordon.
Tier 5: Stephen Drew, Emilio Bonifacio, Ian Desmond, Yunel Escobar, Alcides Escobar, Marco Scutaro, Cliff Pennington, Jason Bartlett.
Tier 6: Everyone else.
Overall thoughts: Another position that is deeper than you think. If I can get a starting shortstop from the first three tiers and then get my middle infielder from tier four (or from second base) I'm happy. This is also a place to find some cheap speed late, with guys like Bonifacio, Desmond, Escobar and Pennington, among others.
Tier 1: Matt Kemp, Jose Bautista, Ryan Braun (if not suspended).
Tier 2: Justin Upton, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Gonzalez.
Tier 9: Brennan Boesch, Mitch Moreland, Mike Carp, Peter Bourjos, Delmon Young, Alfonso Soriano, Brandon Belt, Dexter Fowler, J.D. Martinez, Allen Craig, Michael Brantley, Jason Bay, Aubrey Huff, Austin Jackson.
Tier 10: Everyone else.
Overall thoughts: It gets ugly quick. Here's where your biggest offensive scarcity is, especially considering you play five of them. So many question marks, starting in tier two. Is Ellsbury's power legit? Which is the real CarGo, 2010 or 2011? What about Granderson's power against lefties? Is that for real? What effect does Pujols leaving have on Holliday? And then we get to tier four, the "can they stay healthy?" tier. What happened with Crawford last year? Will Braun be rusty? And what is he like without Fielder? And is Gordon for real? The deeper you go, the more questions I have. So if all other things are equal when choosing, go outfielder early. And with so many more outfielders than any other position, this is where you will shape what stats you get and what you will need elsewhere, so pay careful attention to what kind of production you're drafting in the outfield.
Tier 1: Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw.Michael Pineda, Adam Wainwright, Mat Latos, Matt Garza, Josh Beckett, Neftali Feliz, Jeremy Hellickson, Jordan Zimmermann, Tommy Hanson, Shaun Marcum, Brandon Beachy, Ubaldo Jimenez.
Tier 5 (the high risk, high reward tier): Josh Johnson, Max Scherzer, Yu Darvish, Gio Gonzalez, Cory Luebke, Anibal Sanchez, Tim Hudson, Doug Fister, Johnny Cueto, Jaime Garcia, Hiroki Kuroda, Wandy Rodriguez, Brandon Morrow, Scott Baker, Ervin Santana, Ted Lilly, Jhoulys Chacin, Alexi Ogando.
Tier 6: Brandon McCarthy, Colby Lewis, Roy Oswalt, Tim Stauffer, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, Jonathan Sanchez, Francisco Liriano, Johan Santana, Clay Buchholz, Mike Minor, Ryan Dempster, Chad Billingsley, Edwin Jackson, Ricky Nolasco, Bartolo Colon, Jake Peavy, Ryan Vogelsong, R.A. Dickey.
Tier 7: Everyone else.
Overall thoughts: In a league as shallow as a 10-team mixed league, you can make an argument for tons of guys to be in tier six, but I had to cut the line somewhere. You'll be able to play the matchups and stream quite a bit as you make your way through the season. Starting pitching is obviously deep, but that also means you need better pitching to win.
Again, we head back to our handy chart and look at what the average winning team did in pitching categories last year compared to an average of what it took to win the previous two seasons ('09-10).
Average Statistics required to win a category
Category 2009-10 2011 ERA 3.26 3.12 WHIP 1.19 1.14 STRIKEOUTS 1453 1478 WINS 107 107 SAVES 168 178
Every category was that much harder to win except for, well, wins, and that is likely attributable to the fact that, while the number of baserunners and runs allowed can fluctuate from season to season, the number of wins available is limited to the number of games played, and that hasn't changed. As a result of pitching getting better, I want at least one pitcher from the first two tiers to anchor my staff, and hopefully I'll get two. That'll provide a lot of cushion, especially if you go cheap on closers, as I like to do in shallow mixed leagues. I will usually grab one starter in the first four or five rounds and then another around Rounds 8-10 and then not again until I've filled my offense. I will wait as long as possible to get closers because saves always come into the league.
I know there are some people who advocate getting the "sure thing" closer because they have lower ERAs and WHIPs and can get (in some cases) a nice amount of strikeouts. The problem is, except for Mariano Rivera, I'm not convinced there's such a thing as a sure-fire closer. Ask anyone who drafted Brian Wilson or Joakim Soria last year. In fact, check this out. Here's the top 10 closers last year in terms of average draft position, and where each finished the year among relievers on our Player Rater.1. Brian Wilson: Finished 21st[+] EnlargeDaniel Shirey/US PreswireAnd for the other side of the coin; Craig Kimbrel was taken 22nd among relievers. He finished first. Just sayin'.
2. Heath Bell: 9th
3. Mariano Rivera: 4th
4. Joakim Soria: 33rd
5. Neftali Feliz: 20th
6. Carlos Marmol: 27th
7. Jonathan Papelbon: 10th
8. Francisco Rodriguez: 25th
9. Jonathan Broxton: 211th(!)
10. Joe Nathan: 81st
Look at that. Of the 10 highest-drafted closers, only three finished in the top 10. Three! That was just one year, but I'm pretty sure I don't need to spend a lot of time to tell you there's tons of turnover at closer. I do this exercise every season, and every year there are players that disappoint or wildly exceed their average draft picks at all positions ... but none with as much regularity or as much turnover as closers. I'm not even doing tiers. In 10-team mix leagues, do not pay for saves. Wait for the bargains. Always and forever. So if you want to spend an early draft pick on a closer in a mixed league, I'm not your guy. I'll rank them when I release my rankings, but in a year when I am advising a Zen-like approach where you embrace the "most likely to happen," you'll be grabbing closers late.
The Not-So-Super-Secret Stats That Win Leagues
While there are many ways to win, when you look at the data about all the winning teams over the past three seasons, one offensive category consistently dominates the winner's portfolio of stats:
The average winning team in each of the last three years in ESPN standard leagues had more points from runs scored than any other offensive category. (Same, incidentally, for strikeouts in pitching.) A quick glance at my dumb little league where we drafted from last year's stats shows that my winning team did, in fact, have the most runs scored. And had the team with the second-most runs scored (Aizer) used my fairly obvious pitching staff (Verlander, Kershaw, Kimbrel) instead of using Lincecum, he'd have finished second overall.
Runs scored is always an underrated stat. We're more impressed by big homers and big RBI totals or big batting averages. But runs, while not flashy, are a product of good baseball. You get at-bats and you get on base? You're going to score some runs, along with helping in the other categories, because the more at-bats you get, the more likely you are to get a hit, drive in a run, crank one out of the park or swipe a base. And while you can get multiple RBIs or even multiple steals from one at-bat, you can score only one run at a time. That is also true for home runs, of course, but not every batter is a home run hitter. But every batter is a potential run scorer.
The teams that score the most runs are the teams that are getting on base the most and generally getting the most at-bats. You get the most at-bats and get on base the most, generally good things are going to happen. Super simple. Not sure what to get with a particular draft pick, when it's down to going with the guy who might steal five bags or the guy who might hit 10 homers ... just go for the guy most likely to have the most at-bats and a good on-base percentage. Say it with me: When in doubt, what's most likely to happen? And over the past few seasons, logically, those who pile up the most runs wind up winning their leagues.
The Not-So-Super-Secret Final Ingredient For Success
Time. Like anything else, the more time you put in, the better your chances at success. With jobs or school and kids and significant others ... time is hard to come by. And a lot of what we do here is take the time to research and think and then summarize all of that in articles or rankings or podcasts ... because you don't have the time. But there is no substitute for putting the work in. Make the time for the leagues you've joined, and only join the number of leagues you have the time for.
But TMR, I don't play straight Roto, I play head-to-head!
Head-to-head leagues continue to gain in popularity, and I have good news for you, sailor. I would use all these theories in terms of building your team the exact same way in head-to-head, but I would make some tweaks.
In general, in head-to-head, it's all about the weekly matchup, obviously. So pitching becomes key. I still like to have an ace anchor, but much more than in a season-long league, you're gonna play the matchups. I wait even longer on saves as well. It's a week and such a short window that even the best closers may not get more than one save chance, if that. Take Mariano Rivera, the most consistent closer in fantasy. He got his 13th save came on May 10 last season. No. 14 came six appearences later, including one blown save and one non-save-opportunity 12th-inning loss, on June 1. That said, I tend to have as many relievers as I can and will fill my bench with only pitchers. On days when your starters aren't going, throw in good middle relievers who can help keep ERA and WHIP down, strike out a couple of batters and might even vulture a win or a save; often the difference in head-to-head.
Head-to-head each versus head-to-head most: The most important distinction in assembling a head-to-head team is how the wins are calculated. In "H2H Each," you face off against one opponent each week and compete in various categories, roto-style. Each win in a category counts as a win. So, if you play with standard 5x5 categories, let's say you sweep all the pitching and win home runs and RBIs. You'd win that week 7-3 and that would be your record. Let's say you did it two weeks in a row. Now you're 14-6. However, in "H2H Most," in the same scenario, instead of your record being 7-3 (you won seven of the 10 categories) your record would 1-0. And then 2-0.[+] EnlargeHoward Smith/US PresswireDon't underestimate the value of a good reliever. Tyler Clippard has as many strikeouts as Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez, a more valuable WHIP than Matt Cain or David Price, and a better ERA than CC Sabathia and Josh Beckett on the Player Rater.
My strategy here is the same spirit as trying to finish third in every category in a traditional rotisseries league. You don't need to win every week 10-0 in "H2H Each"; going 7-3 every week will get you into the playoffs. And in "H2H Most" leagues, 6-4 will play every week. So I prefer to blow off certain categories and just try to make sure I win those that I set out to dominate. In that scenario, I blow off starting pitching. Grab Mo Rivera, Craig Kimbrel, Drew Storen and some other elite closers early. The only time you'll see me pay for saves in 10-team mixed leagues. Then, fill out the rest of your staff with elite middle guys, like Mike Adams, Tyler Clippard and Jonny Venters. Those types. The idea here is that you'll win saves by sheer volume of opportunity, and ERA and WHIP by keeping both of those really low. That's three. Then all you need is three more offensive categories in H2H Most, four in H2H Each, and you're in business.
So how do you get there? If you are in a "H2H Most" league, you should be cornering the market on speed/top of the lineup guys. You want batting average, runs scored and steals. Those are the categories that are harder to come by and will be more likely to win on a consistent weekly basis, especially if you have those guys at every position. You know the saying: speed doesn't slump. With those three categories added to ERA, WHIP and saves, you should be set up for plenty of 6-4 wins.
If you're in a "H2H Each" league, the theory is the same on pitching, but since you can wait on your middle guys, you should be loading up on offense, using ADP to determine when you need to jump in to get the good closers you want. You need to crush offense and then win two of the pitching categories you're invested in, or four of five on offense and all three pitching ones. Both work.
Of course, true to the Zen approach, there are multiple ways to win the league; if you go all offense until you're full, you can go the other way with your pitching. If you don't have acquisition limits, just blow off saves, ERA and WHIP. You'll take wins and strikeouts by sheer volume, streaming as many starters as possible every day, and crushing with your offense.
The biggest thing in head-to-head is position scarcity. If you're going for the all steals/runs/high average guys theory, for example, you need to know how many of those guys are at each position and grab them before the well runs dry.
The final type of league is head-to-head points, where you get points for stats (one point for a single, two for a double, etc.) and most points wins the weekly matchup. A small percentage of leagues will play for total season points, but the principle is the same: you want as many points as possible and you don't care how your players come by them. This is another place where position scarcity comes into play. You don't need to worry about specific stats; it's just most points, wherever they come from. So you just need to make sure you grab the positions where point scorers are scarce. And this is a place where it's more important than ever to know your league's scoring system. In a points league, having a guy like Mark Reynolds may not hurt you ... unless you count negative points for strikeouts. Conversely, a lot of points leagues award points for bases on balls. So a guy like Nick Swisher last year (.260 average but .374 OBP) was much more valuable in this format than he was a standard roto league. Again, use projections you trust and figure out what players will score in your scoring system. Getting in the ballpark is all you need -- like all head-to-head leagues, it's all about matchups and you'll play the waiver wire a lot -- but this will help you identify what players are worth in your league and where the position scarcity is. This is the league where standard rankings will deviate the most. Don't let that bother you. If your scoring system says that Craig Kimbrel is the most valuable player in the league, then go ahead. Take that closer first overall.
Enough with the head-to-head already. And I'm a little TMR-ed out. How 'bout some more theories?
Can do. This section is mostly repeated from previous columns, but it is still worth reviewing. So here are some popular theories that you can either adopt for yourself or need to be able to recognize if one of your opponents decides to.[+] EnlargeRonald Martinez/AllsportJose Lima was the perfect poster boy for a pitching strategy thanks to a breakout season and a name that lends itself to acronyms. No matter how well his career goes from here on out, you'll never see anyone trying to "pull off the Rzepczynski Plan."
The LIMA plan: Invented by Ron Shandler and named for unlikely late-'90s fantasy ace Jose Lima, LIMA stands "Low-Investment Mound Aces." Basically, with a $260 salary cap, you spend only $60 on pitching, $30 of that on a closer. The idea is to get a bunch of pitchers whom your competition frowns upon but whose underlying numbers indicate that they've been unlucky to this point, are primed for breakouts or are simply undervalued because they have no name recognition. If you get enough of those guys, at least a few of them are bound to break out, and your investment is low enough that you won't have to think twice about throwing back a guy who doesn't work out in favor of a good waiver-wire pickup.
Then, with $200 for offense, you load up there, dominating all the offensive categories. You have to really know pitching and pay close attention to the trends all season long, but it has proved very effective to those who know how to play it. It's also a great strategy for head-to-head.
The ZIMA plan: This is my twist on Ron's LIMA plan. Basically, it's the same thing; spend most of your money on offense, then fill in some cheap, low-risk pitching, mixing in starters and high-upside relievers (guys who could close). The difference is that in my version, you spend $30 of the $60 on one upper-tier elite starter (such as Roy Halladay or Clayton Kershaw) or two upper-level starters -- (say, Jon Lester and David Price) for about that $30-$35 and don't pay for saves at all, looking to snag those off the wire later and hoping that one or two of your high-upside relief guys turns into a closer.
The MRI theory: This is fantasy editor Pierre Becquey's invention, and I've used it very successfully in various leagues. The idea here is that you get two high-strikeout aces for your staff (last season, in an NL-only league, I had Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw), then you spend the rest of your money (or late-round draft picks) on middle-relief guys. All need to have high strikeout rates and preferably have the potential to close. Kenley Jansen is this year's poster boy. Guys like Vinnie Pestano or Tyler Clippard are smart plays. (I always add one twist here: I'll be willing to go to low-double digits if a decent middle-of-the-pack closer is available; think Matt Capps or Chris Perez.) You're going to dominate in ERA and WHIP thanks to the mix of your aces and the fact that your middle relievers' ERA and WHIP will be a lot more valuable to your squad because you're pitching so few innings.
That allows you to Maximize your Relief Innings, hence "MRI." Once you've laid out your ERA/WHIP cushion, you can go fishing for starters later in the season to pad your wins and strikeouts (where you'll be in the middle of the pack, thanks to your high strikeouts-per-nine-innings rates) while knowing exactly what kind of punishment your ratios can take. Since middle-relief guys are pretty cheap, you should be able spend a lot of money on offense.
Modified Labadini: The Labadini Plan, as it is known, is named after Larry Labadini, who first tried it in a national competition in 1996. Of his $260 budget, he spent $251 on offense and just $9 (or $1 per player) on pitching. This is extreme, obviously, but I do believe you can do a modified version of this, especially in our standard 10-team mixed leagues. The idea is that you way undervalue pitching and spend, say, $30 to $40 of your $260 on pitching. (Or don't take a starter until at least Round 12.)
That's because in a mixed league with only 10 or 12 teams, there will be lots of quality starting pitching both late (and cheap) in the draft and available during the season on the waiver wire.
If you do this, you must nail offense and be the kind of person who works the waiver wire very well. But considering I already feel you don't need to pay for saves, this definitely can work. A subset version of this is ...
... Streaming pitchers: Again, the idea is that you have both a fairly large free-agent pool and the ability to change your roster daily. Or at least add multiple people every week. This works best in head-to-head formats, but the idea is that you just play the matchups every day, grabbing junk pitchers who have favorable matchups off the waiver wire. You have a constant turnover of pitchers, as every day you go with whomever has the best matchup. This really works only in mixed leagues and leagues that do not have transactional limits.
Having said that, the more active you are definitely has an effect on how well you do. Once more, we sent the great Mike Polikoff into the league manager tools to find out whether the number of transactions an owner did corresponded with how well he finished. Not surprisingly, the more active the owner, the higher he finished. The draft-and-stand-pat approach is a pretty quick way to get to last place.
No One Knows Anything: There are many names for this, but I named it after the famous William Goldman saying. This is an extreme version of what I've preached throughout this article. The idea is to totally ignore the cheat sheets and dollar values because you know they'll be totally different at the end of the year. When you want a player, you bid whatever it takes to get him. Period. Never worry about what others are doing or what the correct price is. Decide who you want on your team and get those players no matter what. Obviously, you can't do all studs -- you'll run out of money and you're probably not drafting against morons -- but the idea is that you can't really predict that a $45 Hanley Ramirez will tank or that a $1 Alex Avila will crush. Prices (or draft round) are really only relevant on draft day, then only in determining the market against your fellow bidders/drafters. NOKA says forget the other drafters, get whom you want and hope they do what you expect them to do. Like I said, I think projections and rankings should be used loosely, but NOKA suggests you throw them all away.
Draft day: The TMR's 10 Rules of DraftingThis section is also returned from last season with a few timely updates.
OK, it's game day, baby. Time for the big show. Don't bother cramming on the way in or anything stupid like that. It's like a test. You know it or you don't. You're pregnant or you're not. You want to project an air of confidence -- even if you don't feel it. Make others sweat, be it in person or through chatter in your draft engine. That's my first draft day hint.
1. Never show fear. Just be confident. You don't have to be cocky or a jerk. But occasionally sighing a breath of relief when the owner before you picks as if to say, "Glad you didn't grab the correct guy," will do wonders to rattle your weaker-willed leaguemates.
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2. In auctions, throw out a young, hyped player early. Reliable performers like Roy Halladay will be thrown out soon enough. But the first guy I'm throwing out this year is Brett Lawrie. Everyone loves him this year. And he'll go for at least $5 more than he should because he's sexy and everyone has money at that point. That extra $5 off the table will be helpful much later in the auction.
3. If you find yourself getting run out of a position, don't panic! Say you've got Pick 11 in a 12-team league and find yourself on the short end of a second-base run. Instead of reaching for a guy such as Daniel Murphy just to have someone, grab another closer, even if you already have two. Or a second decent shortstop. Give yourself something to trade for what you need.
4. If you are in a snake draft, especially at one end of one, grab what you need when you can. Let's say you really want a good No. 1 first baseman. You see there are at least six guys left whom you wouldn't mind having. So you grab another starting pitcher. But one good run, and you're left holding the bag. It's 20 picks until you get to choose again, if not more. Don't wait. Grab what you need, get surplus later (unless you're in a situation like I described above).
5. Don't listen to anyone else during the draft! (Basically, don't fall for No. 1.) As I mentioned in my theory section, nobody knows anything! And that includes me and any other fantasy baseball analyst. Yes, we analysts probably spend a lot more time looking at stats, trends, players and teams and the like than you do, but that's because you have a life. And we've probably been playing a bit longer. So we probably have a more informed opinion. But that's all it is. An opinion. An educated guess. Emphasis on the word "guess."
So if I'm telling you that "experts" (and notice I put the word in quotes; I consider myself an analyst, not an expert ... there's no such thing in fantasy) aren't always right ... other people in your league sure as hell aren't. If they mock your pick or sneer at your team, who cares? Don't let it rattle you! I often find that the loudest person at the draft is the stupidest. I've seen too many good drafts screwed up because someone listened to some loud jerk rather than trusting his own opinions. Listen, you've done the research, you've played the game ... you've even read this far. You're into it. And your opinion is as good as, if not better than, anyone else's in that room.
6. For those in auction leagues, especially keepers, consider bringing last season's rosters with you. Say someone throws out Evan Longoria. You look at last year's rosters and see one person had him at $36. It's likely that the owner who had him last year will go up to $36 to get him back. How many times have you said to yourself, "Aw, hell, I'll throw him back, see if I can get him cheaper. If not, I can still pay $36 to get him back."
So you bid the guy up to $36. It's not a strategy for the weak of heart; you can get stuck. But worst-case scenario, you're stuck with Evan Longoria. Not the most unpleasant thing in the world. And if you're successful, you can take a lot of money off the table a little bit at a time.
7. For the players you do get, write down the name of the last person who bid on him or the ones who complained that you snatched him up right out of their draft queue. That will come in handy later when you're looking for trade partners.
8. The later the draft or auction goes -- and it will go long -- the more people get antsy and stop paying attention. This is when you need to be your sharpest. This is when the cheap guys come in. This is when you got that $1 Jordan Walden last year. This is when you win or lose your league. Not by paying $40 for Prince Fielder.
9. Speaking of the end game, this is where you need to swing for the fences. A guy like Mark Buehrle will always be there -- someone "safe" who you know exactly what he will bring -- you can always grab him or someone similar if need be. But the end game is where you swing for the fences and hope to hit on one or two breakouts. Too many people go "safe" in the late rounds.
10. Have fun. Remember, we do this for leisure. We all (especially I) take it very seriously, and I play to win, but it's not worth ruining friendships over.
Unless you've got a shot at winning. In which case, you can always get a new friend.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is open to changing many things in the Manifesto from year to year, but that final joke will stay forever. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. He is a charter member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his cyberfriend
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