Draft day experimentation

by BaseballHQ.com on March 22, 2010 @ 09:00:00 PDT


It has been said that contrarians tend to have an advantage at the draft table. Here are some ideas that you can use as a springboard for your own creativity. Fuller description of many of these strategies appear later in this section.

Budget experiments

The rule of thumb, of course, is a 60/40 split between offense and pitching, budgeting an equal amount to each of the 23 positions. Other owners split their salary cap evenly between pitching and offense since each counts half. If most of your league adheres to either principle, it may be time to surprise them on Draft Day. Study past years in your league to determine the most common budgetary approaches. Then go in another direction. The rationale is simple: reduce the competition to your strategy before the other owners figure out what you're doing.

Going Against the Grain... You might target pitching in an offense-oriented league, perhaps an extreme like a 70/30 split and nail all four pitching categories.

Or, based on projected roster cutdowns for your league, determine which category will be most sought in your upcoming draft. Consider a budget that allows you to corner that category. Grab all the available closers, for example, or the best starting pitchers or speedsters.

A few years back in the NL, there were several 3Bmen who qualified at other positions. Had you targeted all of them at draft time and slotted them into your available roster slots, you would have had a nice stash of potential hot corner replacements when your opponents' frontliners hit the DL or the bench.

By the end of the draft, you'll know which GMs covet your excess. Trade from strength to fill in your roster. Or wait a couple of months to see what happens.

The $20 Budget... requires research and discipline. By not paying more than $20 for any player, you can maintain control of the lower and middle range players. Target younger players with solid base skills and growing opportunity to play. Teams in transition are good places to spot emerging players.

If your league boasts a high level of competition, don't forget the aging veteran whose dollar value is declining. If too many GMs know all the young talent, sometimes a healthy vet slips to the cheap end of the draft.

Pitching experiments

To what degree does your league reflect the prevailing philosophy of five to seven starters, one closer, and one to three middle guys? Other approaches have worked, and when they do, the status quo among your more savvy GMs is shaken.

The Minimum Innings Staff... Target three high-command (strikeout to walk ratios of 2.0 or higher), 200+ inning starters and one solid closer. Then fill the middle with high-control, setup guys from MLB teams with suspect closers. It's possible to nab three categories and even gain a few points in Wins with this strategy.

The All-Starter Staff... This variation on the Sweeney Plan punts saves. It will also have the effect of throwing the starting pitching element of the draft into chaos. To succeed with this approach, it's necessary to attack early in the draft before others realize the artificial scarcity you're creating. You should nail Wins, and with a high-control, healthy staff, compete in ERA, WHIP, and Ks, as well.

Shandler's LIMA Plan... Like the all-starter staff, the focus is on pitchers with high skills. But here, the purpose is to minimize the dollars spent, thus maximizing your dollars to control the bidding on offense. Know which young pitchers have the best command and will most likely get their first opportunity for a breakout year. Many young pitchers can kill your stats, but there are always pitchers that can be found.

During the draft, wait until someone else brings these players up, often later on, while you toss out pitchers the other GMs think they want. With patience and discipline, you'll find some of your targeted pitchers during the end-game. And they'll be cheap.

Offensive experiments

The most obvious experimental strategies involve punting one or two categories to secure the others, a la the Sweeney approach. Before you decide which category to punt, however, study your league tendencies, and player and position availability for this year. Consider punting the category that will the be most expensive to win in your league.

Also, check the roster cuts and note which teams are weak in the category you're punting. If during the draft, you see they don't improve, getting a single player in the category you're punting can give you a few critical standings points. This can apply to punting Saves or Wins, as well.

As with pitching, a reverse Sweeney is possible. Corner a single category, and later, trade from your excess strength. In fact, if you control two categories, one pitching and the other offense, you can run the trading war that will undoubtedly ensue after the draft. And that can include multi-player, multi-team trades.

Quirky experiments

For the jaded owner, tired of repeatedly winning with the same old proven approaches, try to win with a team that's over 30 years old. Study their health history, first. But you may find that a team of steady veterans will produce regular numbers without the spikes and troughs of youth trying to finding its place.

Of course, you could make it even more challenging and limit yourself to players 25 and under. Approximately 70 pitchers are under 25 in both leagues. For both strategies, at the very least, it would reduce the number of players you'd have to research.

Cultural Teams... An all-Hispanic or all-African-American team would be fun to assemble. But to challenge yourself, draft the best Dominican Republic team.

Heresy... Finally, you could violate a most basic tenet of Rotisserie and draft a home town team. Actually, you'd probably have to expand to two MLB teams. The instant the other GMs figure out what you were doing, they'll start jacking the bidding on you.

If you're from Denver, you could always draft an all-Rockies pitching staff. This will come cheap, but essentially means you'd be punting ERA and WHIP. You should finish middle of the pack in Wins and Saves, and have lots and lots of cash available to lock up the offensive categories. You'd have to in order to compete.

Be creative. Have fun. It is a game, after all.

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Ron Shandler began publishing statistical reports for baseball analysts and fantasy leaguers in 1986. Since then, his enterprise has grown into one of the largest information providers in the industry, producing quality products continuously and over a longer period than any other fantasy baseball company.

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