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In a straight draft, or serpentine-style draft, there are many things you can do to increase your chances of success at the draft table. Keep in mind, you can’t win your league on draft day – you’ll need to be a good general manager during the season no matter who you draft. Focus on building a solid team with only minor weaknesses. If you could use one more solid starter, or upgrade your fifth outfielder, you can easily handle that. If your three middle infielders are all terrible, you might have already dug your grave.
The best offense on Draft Day is a good defense. Make sure you don’t lose the league on Draft Day. If you focus on building that solid team, and being a true contender, there are only three things you need to know: the competition, the talent, and the numbers. Here’s what we mean:
1. Know the Competition.
It’s important – if you can – to know the other owners in your league. If you’re in a long-standing league this is obviously much easier, as you can draw on draft and owner history. If you have new people in the league, make sure you send them a friendly email hello well before draft day and engage them in (seemingly innocent) banter: who’s your favorite team, how long have you been playing Fantasy sports, how do you know (whomever brought him/her into the league), that kind of stuff.
As my league’s commissioner, this is an easy task. I can welcome new people, answer their questions about the league and the rules and gauge their overall familiarity with Fantasy play in general. But I also call, text or email all the owners who pick ahead of me in the first round, ask about their thinking, and build a mental picture of the first two rounds and who will likely be available to me. If you don’t bother to get to know all the members in your league, your ability to chat it up in February and March is limited. The more you talk to other owners, the more you know their preferences (Do they draft pitching early? Are they looking for speed? Who are they considering keeping going into the draft? Tip: Remember the players that owner did not end up keeping and if they end up on your roster they might be good trade bait later.)
Think about past drafts. Which owners relied on a magazine printed months ago? Which owners were more interested in the March Madness game? (Oh, you should turn on whatever game is on for distraction.) Which owner LOVES to have players from his favorite team? Which owners never draft their favorite team’s players? Which owners have the binders, and six shades of highlighters? Which owners tell stories about emailing the Twins beat reporter to find out how the ball popped off of Pedro Florimon Jr.’s bat in spring training? Are they prepared? How do they draft (look at past years’ drafts to get a clue if you don’t know.)
If you have the 9th pick in a 10 team league and you know the guy behind you never drafts anyone on the Reds, you can pass on Joey Votto if he’s available in the first round. Where are the Yankee fans picking? Place yourself in the landscape and try to think the way they think. You’ll be surprised how often you can map out the early picks of a draft.
2. Know The Talent.
Ideally you’ll be able to give two sentences on a player just by hearing his name. “Jed Lowrie? Never played even 100 games in any season, but could produce big numbers in Oakland if he can stay healthy.” Even if you can’t do it for everyone, know the general strengths and weaknesses of as many players as possible.
Obviously, knowing the Average Draft Positions (ADP) is valuable, but make sure you specifically know the ADPs of the site your league uses to draft. If Jeter’s overall ADP is 65, but on your CBSSportsline site he’s at 50, I guarantee you he does not get past 55. If the guy next to you is working solely off that magazine list, sneak a peek to see if you can catch the next 20 names on the list to know who he might be considering; even ask to see the magazine to see what they say about a guy you’re considering next round just to glance at the list.
Also, know the depths of the positions. You know, the tiers. How many top tier second basemen are there and where will they be drafted? Likewise, when should you be looking for that second tier if you don’t get a Tier 1 guy? How bad are the worst shortstops – if they are expected to produce the same at the middle-range guys, then wait and grab another starter instead of a mid-range SS – there will be a few 15 HR, 70 RBI producing players at the position who won’t kill your average available in round 21.
This should go without saying, but keeper league players should know how all the declared keepers will impact positional depth before the draft begins. Most leagues make you declare your keepers at least a day or two before draft day. After keepers are removed, how is positional scarcity affected at each spot? Which picks will be skipped and in which rounds? (This is helpful during the draft – knowing who’s losing a pick coming up and what they need, or don’t need on their roster. That will give you a clearer idea of who will be available to you.) Don’t be the guy who crosses the keepers out 2 minutes before the draft started – not only won’t you be prepared for the draft; your competitors will also know you’re not.
3. Know the Numbers.
If you asked a competitor “Do you think Jose Reyes will ever steal 50 bases again, or is he stuck in the 35-40 range?” they probably have an opinion. But those aren’t the numbers I mean here. I’m talking questions like, “How many stolen bases led our league last year?” or “The team that finished third in HRs in our league last year – how many did they get?” Those questions probably won’t be answered by your league-mates – and if you know them, you’ll be much better off.
If you consider that finishing third in every category should win you a title, figure out how many wins/saves/steals/HR, etc. were good enough for third place over the last 2-3 seasons and you’ll know what you are aiming for during your draft. Obviously, you want to win a few categories, but if you focus on third place in each category, it allows you to do two things: Build a balanced team on draft-day, and make adjustments easily during the season. If you’ve never used draft software, you should consider it, if only to keep track of your status in chasing the needed totals.
We all know the guy who punts saves (a viable strategy but you better run the table in almost every other category) in a draft. In late May he sees that he’s only hitting .256 and he’s already 25 HRs behind the leader in that category. And he STILL doesn’t have a save. He will be scrambling all year. If you “Aim for Third” you will know where to tweak, but you’ll know about how many in each category you need to account for the rest of the way – without having to pick up everyone rumored to be next in line for the closer job.
In a related point, take some time to study set up men – not for their potential to close games – but for their expected strikeout contribution. If you play in a league that lets you shuttle pitchers in and out, having a high-K setup guy in the lineup every day can give you, say, 95 Ks in a season – the same rate as many low strikeout starters. They tend to help stabilize your ERA and WHIP as well. Last season, David Hernandez struck out 98 batters for Arizona and Tyler Clippard has averaged 100 Ks the last three seasons. Why wouldn’t you draft them instead of a low-K starter expected to have a 4.34 ERA and 1.45 WHIP?
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