Fantasy Baseball Roundtable: Mock draft strategy

by Todd Zola, on February 6, 2012 @ 09:15:13 PDT


Welcome to the post Super Bowl edition of Lord Zola's Fantasy Baseball Roundtable. This week my knights and I are going to change course a bit and veer away from player analysis and discuss a practice we are all familiar with in mock drafting.

Starting in November, we are all invited to participate in mock drafts to be used as magazine content, web site material and column fodder. Recently, Lawr Michaels, author of KFFL's Tumbling Dice feature, wrote a column for Mastersball, describing an industry mock we are participating in, specifically discussing a couple of unique strategies. A reader then brought up an interesting point, questioning how we all approach mocks and what we feel our responsibility is to the reading public. A rather lively exchange ensued, prompting me to put the following question to my esteemed knights:

As members of the fantasy baseball community, we are all asked to participate in mock drafts for magazines and web sites. How do you approach doing a mock draft? Do you experiment or do you pick just as you would if it were a league being played out? What do you feel your responsibility is to the public digesting the mock?

Chris Kreush starts us off as a reward for naming his NFBC squad "A Knight with Lord Zola":

I approach a mock the same way I would a live draft. I'm trying to build the best team possible under varying circumstances - different draft position and with different people. I usually limit my experimentation to drafting position scarcity and trying to get different combinations of players to see what the end result is (Carlos Gonzalez/Ian Kinsler in one, Adrian Gonzalez/Hanley Ramirez in another for example).

I tend to stay away from gimmick drafting myself but there will certainly be someone trying something out of the ordinary and it gives me a chance to decide the best plan of attack for those instances. A few years back in a mock on Mastersball, one drafter took Joe Mauer within the first three or four picks in Round 1. There was quite the discussion on the boards about the pick and how bad the catcher pool was so it was justified.

Minnesota Twins C Joe Mauer
Scarcity alters strategy

The bottom line, whether you agreed with the pick or not, was someone was willing to try the strategy and it prepared people who may not have expected it for their own drafts if someone tried it. And herein is where I think the responsibility lies for those within the industry - to prepare the public for any defensible strategy someone might choose to employ during a real draft.

Brian Walton follows:

I imagine we have all seen mock participants who seem to be "winging it," and/or making a purposely controversial first pick (or picks) to draw attention to himself. It may be a pet theory or a favored player being highlighted, but unless the owner of the mock allows each drafter enough ink to explain his strategy and process, it can go to waste, or worse, be misleading to others. After awhile, one sees so many mocks, I wonder if they truly provide value to the average reader nearly as much as they do to the mock drafter himself. In that vein, though it might be heresy, my recommendation to fantasy players is to invest the time to participate in your own mocks rather than in analyzing others' drafts.

Finally, it is too bad that we always look forward and never backward as it would be interesting to assess the accuracy of mockers after the season. Let's face it; being a well-known industry figure and a consistent winning player are not necessarily always part of the same package.

Perry Van Hook channels Herm Edwards:

I think I was asked to participate in that mock for a reason - to show prowess in drafting for whatever the specific format is - and the way to do that is to draft to try and win that particular "league." So I draft the best team I can. I don't do the common poor things that others might - reach way before a player should go (slightly may just be trying to roster Brett Lawrie); or draft someone who will clearly be a minor leaguer in April; or draft like I am predicting a great comeback for Chone Figgins or Barry Zito. You play the draft to Win.

Lawr Michaels channels Lawr Michaels:

Well, I think my reputation within the industry - and maybe the world in general outside the fantasy world - is that I march to my own drummer.

I am with Perry, in that I try to draft the best team I can at the time, and I agree it is silly to say select a Bryce Harper now or Cliff Lee in 2008 following his horrible (5-9, 6.29) 2007.

And, well, I guess the Zen Master moniker has given me license to a degree. I try weird stuff, but am given slack because I do have a track record of winning (I have also endured some abysmal last place finishes using the same "methodology," whatever that is).

Meaning Brian is correct: being an industry luminary does not guarantee one is a good player. Hopefully I have enough success to support that I am a good player whether I am a luminary or not.

Ryan Carey shares a candid view:

Being a newer name on the scene, I always try to put my best foot forward in any Mock Draft I am asked to participate in. I will approach it just as if it were a real draft, with the same amount of attention to team construction as if it were a league I was going to play out. I think that should always be the driving force behind how one approaches a mock draft.

This doesn't mean I won't take some chances here and there, but I won't go out of my way to take an esoteric strategy out for a spin unless, as Brian points out, I have the opportunity to add context to my approach. If I do have a chance to comment, it may actually give me more incentive to be aggressive with some of my "sleepers", giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts on someone I have something interesting to say about.

I don't worry about "hiding" my guys and not tipping my hand on players I really like. I've made the choice to ask people to be interested in what I think, so I think it's only fair to stick to what I really believe in, even in a mock.

Tim Heaney shares a frank view:

Using a published mock draft to conduct a Frankenstein-like experiment with your strategy performs a disservice to fantasy baseball readers. They're using your spot and direction as their archetype of how to best put together a squad.

Reaching for impact sleepers, of course, teaches your readers that at a certain point, going off the book is fair game, and that the employment of Average Draft Position is often overrated. Still, you must provide context for a mock strategy whenever possible, and, most importantly, your audience must take away from your process a willingness to adjust based on draft flow.

But, on the whole, in a standalone educational picking party, draft as if you're under the gun and your fantasy baseball life depends on sticking to your most comfortable, logical approach. Be your normal self in such wide-reaching venues. Save the extensive tinkering for a private room.

Lawr responds:

Well, do remember Tim that a lot of this is subjective. I certainly have tried things both in mocks and in reality that were regarded as Frankenstein-like, and, well, if you have a thought about what might or might not work, the mock is a good place to try since it does not count.

I think as long as the drafter can justify/explain his or her logic and approach, that is part one.

Part two is maybe a member of the public has a distorted sense of reality if I take Bryce Harper as my No. 1 pick and that viewer thinks, "Whoa, Michaels took Harper first, I am going to do that too!"

At some point folks have to be a little responsible for the moves they make, and try not to take too much stock in what I may or may not do, right?

And, I am almost 60. I am getting too old for tinkering in private rooms...

Tim responds:

Lawr, as the too-soon-departed Aaliyah said, age ain't nothin' but a number. And I thought tinkering in private rooms was part of Mastersball's projection process. :)

Back on topic: As I noted before, there are points to go off course in the draft where you don't corrupt your message, and I agree with you on the responsibility of the reader to determine how he or she approaches draft day based on what they've seen from us.

The problem is you can't assume all audience members will use our mocks as a guide to participate in theirown mocks and as merely a component to formulate their strategy. Some might view them, unfortunately, as gospel for their all-the-marbles, real-life drafts.

Again, I concur on being flexible with your directions to a point, but it's hard for us to display our true positions in one process if we don't carry our message through to each mock and instead use the medium as our personal testing room.

Being as clear with your plan as possible will put you in the best place to help your viewers. Will subjectivity be involved? Naturally. ("You don't! You throw it to Who!") No draft exists in a vacuum, and properly analyzed features employ an accompanying dissection of overall observations and thought processes.

Tampa Bay Rays SP Matt Moore
Some players have Moore urgency

That being said, I fall in line with what Ryan so eloquently stated before: "I've made the choice to ask people to be interested in what I think, so I think it's only fair to stick to what I really believe in, even in a mock."

Lawr concludes:

I am not so much afraid of the tinkering. I just am slower so I fear getting caught!

Nick Minnix checks in:

So this is where the party is?

First and foremost, I'm with Brian, in that I think the most useful practice for any reader who has the time is to participate in a number of mock drafts. Experience is the best teacher. I tend to stick to my usual draft strategy but try different players, or occasionally I try new strategies to see how they feel. I think usually the best thing I can give to a reader after a mock draft or a series of mock drafts is insight I've gained, especially one that I wouldn't have anticipated, not so much what each of my picks means. But the reader has to be reading for that, I figure.

I think the problem (or maybe the "problem") with mock drafts (and with ADP, which is often based on mock drafts) is that they can and usually do mean a little something different to everyone. To me, mocks that I'm in seem to be more beneficial to me than they would be to a reader, but if I supply reasons and they actually read them, then I suppose they could derive some benefit. The track record of the drafter should matter to the reader, but how often is a reader really familiar with the field? I'd imagine that, to most readers, the picker isn't as important as the picked, though.

Mock drafts (and ADP, which can be more misleading but has a benefit nonetheless) are valuable for one reason: they're information. The reader can place as little or as much importance on them as he wants, but it's up to him to learn at some point where the balance is because they're only as valuable as the possible contexts. Again, experience.

Lord Zola's wrap up:

About a year ago, I coined a new word, little did I know how apropos it would become, the word being mocksterbate. Mocksterbation is the act of participating in and analyzing multiple mock drafts, sometimes doing it all by yourself. To this degree I agree with the sentiments that mock drafting is a great means to prepare oneself for the real thing. One of the nuances of a draft (as opposed to an auction) is you are never sure of what is going to happen so you must be intimate with the entire player inventory and able to adjust on the fly. Mock drafts are the only real way to gain this experience. The more scenarios you encounter, or even the more times you encounter the same scenario, the better prepared you are to react when it happens in a draft that counts.

My approach when participating in mocks is always the same: I want to assemble the team I think has the best chance to win the league (not necessarily the draft, there is a difference). I have a philosophy that I have found to be successful, so I stick to it. But here is the thing the reason I feel this philosophy is best is partially due to experimenting with alternate strategies in a mock. Taking this one step further, I do not believe a strategy can be adequately tested in a mock that is not played out. So what I did was use the mock to gain experience using the alternate strategy as preparation for using it in a league that is played out, giving me a better feel for if it would work. As others have alluded to, I made a point of doing this in mocks where I was afforded the opportunity to explain myself, and even then, I reserved my extreme experimentation for venues that allowed an exchange of comments, such as a mock done on a message board and not for a magazine.

Something to keep in mind when analyzing a mock draft is if you look at the picks in a vacuum, simply one after the other, while there will be players that oscillate from one draft to the next, it is very rare where you look at the draft as a whole and scratch your head. Sure, sometimes runs may occur in different rounds, but the order within these runs is mostly the same. In general, the better players are picked first, the average players in the middle and the replacement level players at the end. It is only when you analyze things on a team by team basis that you notice patterns and strategies. What I am saying here is just because someone is deploying an odd or even gimmick strategy, in general, they are valuing the players the same as they would regardless of the strategy, but they are just selecting the player than best fits their team as constructed. Granted, there will be times the intrinsic value of a player to your team based on your strategy makes him more valuable to you than others, but as a whole, the relative rankings are still reasonable.

A few of the knights suggested that there are sometimes some mockers that like to use the exercise for their own personal agenda, making sure they are the one to draft the next big thing or their sleeper, so that they can claim credit for it. As a good friend of mine once said, "All experts gloat, they just call it marketing." Here's the rub: there is almost always someone in your real draft that is doing the same thing. In a sense, like what was suggested above, the mockers are in fact doing you a favor by showing you where someone is likely to draft Desmond Jennings or Matt Moore. You know right off the bat they will go too early for you, or even if you want to be "that guy", how early you may have to jump on the next big thing.

I have a feeling the knights enjoyed their trip away from talking about specific players so we will be sure to mix in some more questions pertaining to theory, strategy and philosophy. If you have a topic you would like the knights to bandy about, please post them on the KFFL Baseball Facebook page or via Twitter by at @KFFL_Baseball. Until then, it is back to mocksterbating in a private room.

Todd is the Content Manager for the Mastersball Platinum Subscription product, featuring frequently updated player projections, values, rankings and profiles along with unique Excel tools, Minor League rankings and cutting edge strategy essays. Click HERE for details.

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About Todd Zola,

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, 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 and, 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. Fantasy Baseball

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