As Uncle Ben once said, "With great power, comes great responsibility." This holds true on draft day for all you Knuckleheads out there.
More often than not, you will look back on draft day as the best or worst day of your fantasy baseball season. Many fantasy players, in their zeal for information (often turning to sabermetrics), forget one of the most fundamental weapons all great fantasy players implement: strategy. Strategy or lack there of, more than any single mistake, bad pick or terrible injury, can completely derail your fantasy draft.
If you are on the way to your draft and find yourself pulling over at 7-Eleven to pickup the latest Fantasy Baseball Guide, you might as well pencil yourself in for 8th place right now and donate your league fee. My advice is to take some time to devise a plan of attack, no matter how simple, and have an angle going into the draft. Your plan is exactly that, yours. So, you can shape your research around your plan of attack and put what you read and hear into context. This will help you synthesize the information come draft day and allow you to build a better team, one round at a time.
Mistakes in fantasy drafts are so easy to make that an overwhelming majority of people do so without even realizing it. Falling into common draft traps is perfectly understandable, because you think you are doing what is best for your team.
As your fantasy baseball draft approaches, avoiding these fundamental strategy mistakes can set you apart from your competition, allowing you the opportunity to reap the potential benefits come the regular season.
- Read the Rules: Sounds simple enough, yet many people do not even check to see how their league will be scored prior to the draft. This is not a history test, so you do not need to scrutinize every single detail, but you want to have a handle on how the league will run. The way in which the league is setup affects every single player's draft value and to choose to ignore this simple aspect is like trying to coach a team blindfolded.
- Be Willing to Improvise: Obviously you can predict exactly how a draft will unfold and rarely will you be able to pull off your strategy without a hitch. Drafts are like dominoes, every move creates a chain reaction one way or another. Just always be willing to adapt to the situation. Expect the unexpected.
- Avoid the Hype: Every league has at least one, the guy who walks in with a computer printout labeled "sleepers", full of over-hyped rookies and the next big thing since sliced bread. Well you can bet that most of the names on his list, are ones you have already heard/read about. Your job, find your own "diamonds in the rough." Drafting value is one way in which you can get a leg up on your buddies. Trust me, there are plenty Matthew Berry's of out there, but in the end even the most knowledgeable experts make educated guesses at best about unpredictable outcomes. Think outside the box.
- Avoid Risk Early: The first two to three rounds are not the time to gamble or prove how smart you are. Every couple of drafts you will run into a lottery pick that leaves you scratching your head. Their risk and potential loss, equals your gain. There are only so many opportunities to acquire "top-shelf" talent and anything can happen as the season progresses, so do not squander your opportunity. There are times you can afford to get cute with your picks, like investing in young-up-and-comers poised to take the next step, but do not make that mistake right out of the gate. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper were an aberration to baseball last season.
- Take a Few Risks Late: To expand upon the previous point, while I would proceed with extreme caution, nobody ever wins a fantasy league without taking a few risks in the middle to later rounds of their drafts. Think of the first quarter of your draft as the foundation to your team, then begin to take some calculated risks on players which provide you far better value than their draft status may lead you to believe. If you have some facts that lead you provide you good reason to reach on a player, then do it. You will never win a championship by simply logging on to ESPN and printing our their Top 300.
- Trust Facts Over Opinions: A common mistake is believing your opinion on players given value is the result of years of objective, rational, and statistical-driven analysis. The truth, unfortunately, is that far more often than not, we pay attention to information that confirms what we already believe to be fact while ignoring critical information which challenged our preconceived notions. The key is to remain open to ALL sources of information, even the ones you may disagree with, and absorb what the information the it is legit. In other words, information that can be supported with facts (stats).
- Youth is Better than Experience: If you have been paying attention the past 10+ years, one of the biggest shifts occurring in Major League Baseball and one that carries over to fantasy, is the value in young players. Teams understand the fact that they are likely to get better value from a young player who does not cost a lot of money compared to that of a veteran clinging to his glory days on a some big money one-year deal. Keep this in mind when drafting: faced with the choice between a young, unproven player or an aging star whose skills are in decline but still holds some value, I will always take the chance on the young player with the upside. This allows you the freedom to draft potential (i.e. Lorenzo Cain), later, rather than getting burned drafting a guy like Torii Hunter early.
- Beware of Closers: One of the toughest positions to rank and an even harder draft position to predict, closers are a rare breed. There are so many different factors which can determine the value of a closer. The main factor being opportunity. The closer is only as good as the team in which he plays for. Being the closer for the Houston Astros is not going to provide many opportunities to convert. The one exception to my rule on holding off drafting a closer early is Craig Kimbrel. I recommend investing in other, more valuable positions that lack depth prior to drafting a closer. Injuries, demotions and acts of god will happen! Some of the best closers come off the waiver wire.
- Understand Your Team is a Work in Progress: The fantasy baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. There will be trades, injuries and waiver wire pickups via free agency that will alter the landscape of your team rather significantly in most cases. A word of advice, do not try and patchwork your team in the later rounds with players better left untouched. If you notice some holes, begin to draft depth in other areas of strength to allow for potential trades after the draft. Again value based picks here.