Lord Zola's Fantasy Baseball Mailbag
Finally, March has arrived. And while I realize for some that means a tournament with a bunch of teenagers bouncing an orange ball will take center stage, for others, the madness will be the deluge of fantasy baseball drafts. But donít fret, Iím here for you. Just send your question via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or post them on the KFFL Baseball Facebook page or via Twitter by following @KFFL_Baseball. We can talk strategy, keepers or player analysis, the floor is yours.
I play in a 16-team mixed keeper head to head league. We can keep three players and forfeit our pick in the round our keeper was drafted the previous year. If you keep a player from the third round, the next year you forfeit the pick in the second round and the following year if you keep the same player it costs you a first round pick. First round pick is always a first round.
The categories are batting average, runs, RBI, homers, steals and OPS for hitters; wins, ERA, strikeouts, WHIP, saves and holds for pitchers.
What would your recommended strategy be for 2011 serpentine drafting?
Big Chief Tootie Montana
The first thing I look at in a head to head league is the scoring categories to see if it makes sense to aim for a balanced team, capable of competing in all the categories or if the better play is to ignore some in an effort to better your chances to win the others. That is one of the major differences between head to head and straight rotisserie, the dumping of a category or two often makes sense in head to head.
Letís start with the offense. The addition of OPS to the standard five categories puts a premium on power and really dampens speed. So much so, in fact, that a viable strategy would be to completely ignore stolen bases and focus on power hitters. Of course, you will pick up a few steals along the way, but the point is to avoid players whose primary contribution is steals. This should increase your chances of winning the majority of the other hitting categories.
Switching to pitching, the addition of holds shifts the emphasis to relief pitching. That is, an argument can be made to ignore wins and strikeouts and attempt to dominate the other four categories using relievers with solid peripherals. But, since Big Chief is keeping Roy Halladay, this idea does not make as sense. On the other hand, if you are going to invest in starting pitching, you may as well invest in the best, and that is Doc.
With the above as a backdrop, my advice is to definitely ignore speed, because by keeping Halladay, the team is already behind when it comes to putting together a solid offense, which is usually what wins leagues of this format. So in order to ensure you round up enough counting stats, you need to forget about steals for the most part. But here is something to consider. If you have a reserve list, you should draft one speed demon, to use the weeks that you play another team also deficient in speed. I would take a look at the matchups that week and replace the hitter you feel has the most difficult week with the speed guy.
On the pitching side of things, while this depends on your leagueís dynamics, if closers generally get drafted before middle relievers expected to provide holds, I would punt saves at the draft, but focus on setup man that will rack up holds but also have a realistic pathway to saves at some point in the season. The idea is you can always find guys to give you holds on the waiver wire to replace the holds you lose if the reliever becomes a closer. And after the reliever becomes a closer, you can either now compete in the saves category or you can trade him for fortification elsewhere. During the draft, when you would normally expend a high draft pick on a closer, you instead make sure you get Doc some reinforcement, so your best keeper does not go to waste.
You leave the draft trying to win each week 10-2, not worrying if you lose steals and saves. And if it is not working, you have the two of the easiest categories to fix in season as both can be heavily influenced by one or two players, the type of which are usually available on the waiver wire or via trade.
Hey Todd, I heard a rumor that you recently picked outfielders with your first three picks, are you insane? - Curious
The answer is yes, I am insane, but not for picking outfielders with my first three picks. The draft in question is a mock being conducted on the forums at Mastersball.com. So keep in mind I am competing against a bunch of people that know my style as well as some of the players I often draft. Many of them are subscribers, so they even have my rankings and player profiles. It is a 12-team 5x5 mixed mock using the standard 14 hitters and 9 pitchers. I had the fourth pick.
The first three picks were Hanley Ramirez, Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera. I then selected Ryan Braun. There are obviously players at the so-called scarce positions available and in different circumstances, I may have taken Troy Tulowitzki or Evan Longoria. But I actually have Braun ranked higher and have a feeling that this group will jump on some of the outfielders I favor later, so I decided to throw a curve and surprise them a little. The main reason I am usually willing to bypass an outfielder is I am not giving back that much value with Longoria or Tulowitzki and I can make up for it later with future outfield selections. Not only do I have Braun ranked a little higher, in the first round I care as much about the probability a player produces even more than what I expect he will produce. This is because about one-third of the players drafted in the first round actually earn first round value. So I prefer to lock in a better chance to get very good production as opposed to taking a risk I will get better production. It just so happens that Braun was both the highest ranked player as well as being reliable. His floor is higher than the floor of other available players.
While I did not plan on taking another outfielder next, I opted for Nelson Cruz more to make a point more than anything. Well, actually to make two points. The first is that you can build a solid, well-rounded team starting with two outfielders. The second was about Cruz. Obviously, the knock on him is health. Cruz is often injured, reducing the number of at bats he sees. In fact, his career high in that department is just 462 in 2009. But even if you factor in Cruz missing time, his production is still exceptional and worthy of a second round pick. The element many forget, especially in rather shallow leagues such as this, when he is out, you can backfill his spot with a decent replacement, which adds on to the production of the roster spot. If you pay fair value for the expected production of Cruz, you are actually getting profit because you are occupying that roster spot with more than just Cruz. If he manages to stay healthy, the dividends are even greater, because now you are getting stats over and above what you paid for. However, the possibility does exist that he misses more games than you project. But again, some of that loss is mitigated by back-filling the spot. It comes down to risk versus reward. According to my numbers, his break-even point is 100 games. I lose if he plays fewer, I win if he plays more. My projection is for about 125 games, so I was willing to bet the over.
My third pick was an admitted fave, Shin-Soo Choo. I really did not do this to make a point, other than sometimes you have to take a player, regardless of position, if he is heads and tails the best and safest player on the board. The best available third baseman was Jose Bautista while the best available shortstop was Jimmy Rollins. I did not want to reach for either of those as I have Choo valued significantly higher. Second base was interesting as Chase Utley was still available, because as of this draft, his knee issue is still a question. The next best second basemen were Brandon Phillips and Dan Uggla, and again, I did not want to reach. In fact, it would not surprise me if I end up with one of those players with my next pick. The problem I will eventually encounter by taking three outfielders is I now have only three more chances to get an outfielder I like, and this means I use my utility for an outfielder, stripping me of the opportunity to pick up a corner or middle guy that falls. But here is the thing. As alluded to, I am drafting with a bunch of guys that know my style and have my cheat sheets. I am not going to get as many of the guys I rate higher than others as usual, because I am drafting against a bunch of people that know my rankings. So by taking Choo, I am assuming I would not have a shot at these players anyway, so why hold a roster spot for them? Iíll take the bird in the hand.
Next week, Iíll let you know how the draft fleshed out.
When Todd is not messing with the heads of his subscribers, you can usually find him hanging out on the forum at Mastersball.
About Todd Zola, MastersBall.com
Focusing primarily on the science of player valuation and game theory starting in 1997, Todd Zola and Mastersball carved out an important niche in the fantasy industry. In 2006, Todd became the Research Director for fantasybaseball.com, and in 2009, he relaunched Mastersball and is now a managing partner.
Todd competes in Tout Wars and the XFL, and has been a multiple-time league champion in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has been a contributor to the fantasy content at MLB.com and SI.com, is a frequent guest on Sirius/XM and Blog Talk Radio and is an annual speaker at the spring and fall First Pitch Forum symposiums.
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