Saturday, February 19, 2011

BTTN 2011 Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy Guide

If you have the #1 pick you're taking Albert Pujols.
But in an auction draft spending $40 on a guy that plays
an obscenely deep position isn't good use of your cash. 
Yes baseball fans, it's that time of year again. Spring Training workouts have already begun and later this month both Cactus and Grapefruit League action will commence. Similarly, baseball fanatics spend Spring Training (some traditionalists even draft a week after Opening Day) studying up for the fantasy season.

To guide you through your fantasy draft, we at BTTN have assembled our 2011 Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy Guide. On Wednesday, our Top 200 player rankings were released, which can be found here.

Type of Draft
Does your league just draft players out of a pre-determined order, or is it an auction? I'd recommend the auction-format, it's way more fun and frankly, more just. Every owner has a chance at every player. It's basic supply & demand fundamentals. That said, most of these strategies/things to look out apply for any type of draft.
Don't Discount Utility Positions (CI, MI, UTIL)
It's kind of odd. Most fantasy drafters fill out their infield, get their outfield set-up, and then select six or seven pitchers before turning their attention to the utility positions. They're there, so utilize them. 

I always make sure that I get two Top 12 first basemen (I really like a Fielder/Dunn combo, which can cost the same as what Albert Pujols would) so I can slot one of them into the corner infield position, and then I usually take a Gaby Sanchez-type player for three or four bucks who can give me a solid .275/25/90 line at the UTIL position. Everyone knows that first base is extremely deep... so why not milk it to its full potential?

Don’t Get Caught Up With Batting Average
Batting average is only one category, so don’t continually sacrifice other categories in an attempt to only draft players with high averages. Keep it in the back of your mind, but drafting Albert Pujols ahead of Ryan Howard isn’t going to make a big difference in the big picture, considering you’ll be starting around 12 other players along with your top first baseman. Maybe that earns you an extra half of a rotisserie point at the end of year, but that’s not worth the difference of three rounds, or $15-20.

Stockpile Mid-Tier Starters
Front-end starting pitching is historically deep this year, and pushes guys like Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Latos, Justin Verlander, Chris Carpenter, and Josh Johnson out of the top 10.  None of these guys will go for more than $18 in an auction, while top-tiers stars such as Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez can fetch $30.

So capitalize on it. Draft four or five of these $15 pitchers. The exact players I never let out of my grasp of this cluster are Jered Weaver, who is a lock for 200 SO and great stats elsewhere, and Josh Johnson, who was just outstanding before getting injured and with 200 IP should easily provide 16+ wins, 200+ SO, a sub-1.20 WHIP and a sub-3.00 ERA, yet nobody acknowledges him as even a top ten pitcher.

Punt A Category (Or Two!)
A popular strategy utilized by fantasy players is to forfeit one category in an attempt to score more points in other categories. For example, forfeiting batting average by selecting Adam Dunn-type players would score you a one or two in average, but give you a leg up in other batting stats, as well as saving you cash (or from spending high draft picks on high-average players).
If you're punting Wins and SOs, you'll need to know
about lock-down middle relievers such as Mike Adams

A more extreme punting strategy would be spending the minimum on pitching and only pay for position players until the very end of the draft. Then, just stock up on low-end closers and sub-3.00 ERA middle relievers. This is a very viable strategy that will likely win you the SV, ERA and WHIP titles while finishing last in Wins and SO. 

This would earn you an above-average overall standing pitching-wise, yet you sacrificed almost no resources… while destroying your league in every batting category. However, you should first check your league rules to make sure the innings limit is low enough to allow it.

Position Scarcity
I personally always aim to to draft one of the top two shortstops: Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki. Hanley probably has a bit more value overall, but Tulowitzki has perhaps more power potential and will get you more RBIs to go along with his relative injury risk. But here's the important thing when considering buying a top shortstop: always buy the first shortstop of the two that goes up for auction, as people will panic and vastly overpay for the second one.

This has happened in countless mock (and real) drafts our experts have participated in. Hanley Ramirez will go for $34-39, people will panic, and then Tulowitzki will get drafted at a lofty $40-46, or the other way around.

Another position scarcity note is that second base is actually surprisingly deep this year. Try to avoid paying $30 to select the Robinson Canos and Chase Utleys of the world, and instead wait a while get Kelly Johnson or Martin Prado for pocket change.

However, there is a sentiment in the fantasy community that position scarcity is over-hyped. Is a Tulowitzki/Torii Hunter combo really going to outplay a Ryan Braun/Rafael Furcal combination? No, it's about a wash... but there really aren't any guarantees with players after the top two shortstops, while outfielders in the 90-120 range are pretty trust-worthy despite their lack of superstar status.

Identify the Players You Need to Draft
Like the previous tip, this one doesn't seem to need explanation. But it does. Don't just go off of 'expert' rankings, such as this one, or ESPN's on MLB Network's, or CBS's or Yahoo's. Make a list of your personal rankings and make note of the players you won't leave the draft room without.

I've personally had trouble fully understanding this rule in the past, such as last year when I was huge on both Robinson Cano and Ubaldo Jimenez. In my primary league, I didn't end up with either of them because I was drafting so closely with an 'experts' ranking list. This year, I'm super-high on Jay Bruce and Matt Wieters, and so I'm be drafting them where I believe they are worth, not based on where people think I should take them.

If you're in an auction and fellow owners are spending
obscene amounts of money early on, don't hesistate to
overdraft a star like Evan Longoria for $35+
Keep up with the Market (Auction Drafts)
I’ve been in auction drafts in which three or four people jack up the prices and attempt to each take four or five of the top twenty players by throwing around $45+ bids at numerous players. You have to keep up with them, even if that means going way over your pre-draft spending limits.

Otherwise you’ll be stuck with middling stars and finish the draft with loads of cash left. Yes, you can still go bargain hunting after the market explosion, but make sure to get your share of high-end talent (two top 20 players).

Balance Potential and Certainty
Drafting money-in-the-bank players is important to any type of draft or scoring system. And no, this isn't as obvious as one would think. Yes, I advise taking big-upside guys whenever you can, but make sure you draft the sure-things as well. 

Prime examples: Any top five first baseman, Brandon Phillips will give you 20/20 production guaranteed, Kevin Youkilis can be had pretty late yet is ultra-reliable, Nick Markakis and Torii Hunter are solid 3rd and 4th OF types that will without question give you quality ABs, yet without the breakout-quotient involved with fellow mid-rounders Grady Sizemore and Carlos Quentin.

That's it for our Draft Strategy Guide! Just remember this important tip: It's your draft. Sure, you can prepare religiously and read everything you can, but you need to formulate your own master plan and be flexible if things don't turn out perfectly. Have fun!

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