‘Tis the season. - no, not the holiday season, the other season, mock drafting season. And as the saying goes, if you can’t join them, mock them --- or something like that. It comes with the territory, accept an invitation to an expert mock and be prepared to be mocked. Get ready to have your credentials questions and brace for the inevitable “I dare you to join my league” requests.
Here is the problem – those that look at mocks view them in a myopic manner, focusing on individual picks they feel go too early, or question how a player they like can go so late. What they ignore is the fact we are building a team, not producing a top-300 list. Each draft has its own personality, punctuated by a unique ebb and flow. Isolated picks cannot be judged in a vacuum. The pick must be considered as a single piece of a larger puzzle.
I had the pleasure of participating in four drafts this past week and I would like to share the results with you, or at least as much as I can get away with as a couple were for industry publications and as such I need to respect the fact that others are paying for the information. But before I post the actual results, I want to review my general drafting philosophy as it has significantly altered over the years.
One of my first analytical studies with the original Mastersball site was looking at a typical draft pool to investigate the concept of positional scarcity and apply that to drafting strategy. What I did was take end-of-the-season values and assign the top ranked player to TEAM 1, the second ranked to TEAM 2, etc., filling out a standard 23-man roster for 12 squads. As long as the team had a legal roster spot available, I assigned the highest remaining player to the team “on-the-clock”. If there was not a legal spot, I moved down the list until the player legally fit. What I found was I rarely had to skip more than a couple of places to find a qualifying player. My conclusion was positional value was aptly distributed throughout the draft-worthy pool so you do not have to reach for a scarce position early. There are ample players left at the end to fill the scarce spots.
So I put my money where my mouth was and entered the World Championship of Fantasy Baseball, a high-stakes contest that has since folded, but whose place was effectively taken by the National Fantasy Baseball Championship, an entity you will become very familiar with as I am an avid participant. Anyway, using my “take one off the top” philosophy, I had five outfielders and my utility by the end of round eight (pause for laughter). It did not take me long to realize my strategy needed some tweaking. Okay, it needed a complete overhaul.
What I failed to account for was my experiment utilized fixed values. We all value players differently and we all have our own drafting strategies. What this does is render a player pool that features a bunch of players that only we like at the end. Putting it in terms of dollar values, a player drafted in the last few rounds is akin to an end-gamer, one that will cost a buck or two in an auction. In the aforementioned draft, I became nauseous seeing others scoop up outfielders I had pegged as $6 or $7 players with their last pick, while I was taking the scrubbiest of $1 middle infielders. So the first adjustment I made was to always have a couple of outfield spots available late.
The next revelation I made was observing a very interesting phenomena with respect to how value lays out in a typical draft. I will expand on this concept as part of the upcoming Draft Kit, but the primary principle is if you graph a draft plotting each round pick using pick number versus expected value earned, you find a significant slope in the first round, a lesser slope in the second, and even lesser slope in the third, but then each round was fundamentally flat, where the difference in value between consecutive players was well within the margin of error associated with player valuation. In other words, there really is no “most valuable” player left on the board, there are several players with basically the same value. The point being, there really is no difference between a $19 player and a $17 player, or a $9 player and an $8 player. How they fit into the overall scheme of your team is far more important that the few cents of value.
This epiphany resulted into my adopting a tiered approach to drafting. I purposely say adopt and not develop as I was by no means the first employ this tactic, though I do believe I was the first to graphically display rounds in terms of value. The key of the tiered approach is to identify an area where you expect several players of the same position or same categorical contribution to be picked. The idea is you can target a player from that group, enabling a player from a different position or skill to be taken during a spot where you do not observe a viable tier. Practically speaking, perhaps you anticipate being able to pick a viable second baseman in round 8 as there are 4 or 5 that you figure will be available at value at that point. Now let’s say you were unable to find a tier to target a third baseman anywhere in the draft. When you pick in the 4th round, the top-ranked player is a second baseman, but there is a third baseman a couple spots away. The tiered approach dictates bypassing on the “more valuable” second baseman and sliding to the “less valuable” third baseman. The same idea can be applied to categories. Say you feel there is a plethora of cheap power late. Your tiers point towards an outfielder in the 3rd or 4th round. The top outfielder on the board is a power hitter, but a couple of spots down are Jacoby Ellsbury or Shane Victorino. The play here is to shun the power and get the speed, even at the expense of some raw value, as you can pick up a $9 power outfielder at the end but not a $9 speedster.
Now is the part that I did develop, or at minimum, I had not seen discussed previously. The ultimate strategy goes beyond just tiered drafting. You need to combine the tiered approach with anticipating the composition of the players available towards the end of the draft and make sure you have the necessary slots open to best take advantage of your sleepers, or whatever you want to call them. Remember that buck or so you sacrificed by skipping to the less valuable third baseman? You can more than make that up in the end by taking the $9 cornerman or $10 outfielder with your last pick, BUT ONLY IF YOU HAVE THE AVAILABLE SPOT!!!!
There is another element of drafting that must enter into the equation, namely balance. It is not entirely about value, but how you piece the value into a balanced squad. You need to balance the positions as already discussed. You need to balance hitting versus pitching. You also need to balance power versus speed and starting pitching versus closers. You are weaving an intricate web that goes well beyond “taking one from the top.”
Let’s bring this back to “mocking the mock.” Looking at an isolated pick is not fair if it was purposely made in context with the big picture. So instead of questioning a particular player in a particular spot, take the time to look at the team as a whole and look for the strength and weaknesses. Then go and see if that can be traced to a pick you consider being a mistake. And finally, figure out what you would have done differently, based on the ensuing action. Trust me, it is a lot more useful than calling out a ‘so-called’ expert. Though admittedly, it might not be as fun.
Next I will start unveiling the intricate webs I spent the week weaving.
As always, comments are encouraged and I will do my best to stop back and address them. And if you have not read the welcome message yet, I respectfully urge that you take a couple of minutes to check it out.