First off, I’d like to thank Mr. Parkes and those at The Score for allowing me to contribute regularly here at Getting Blanked. I’m thrilled to be a part of what I consider to be among the most entertaining sports writing on the interwebs.
My job here will be to bring you a weekly look at fantasy baseball. Once the season gets underway, I’ll be profiling a few players every week who you’ll either want to ‘buy-low’ or ‘sell-high’ and I’ll be using advanced statistics and modern critical baseball thinking to accomplish this. This may seem odd since fantasy baseball really only looks at traditional counting statistics, but using modern metrics to form more objective viewpoints of players will allow fantasy players to get a better idea if a player’s numbers are legitimate or not.
For years I tried to outthink my opponents using what I considered to be superior knowledge of baseball and its players, but I found myself regularly occupying the basement of the standings and losing to hardcore football fans. So, after years of failing at fantasy baseball, I won my rotisserie league last year and dominated in the regular season in my head-to-head league before finishing third in the crapshoot that is the playoffs.
In both leagues, I employed the exact same drafting strategy after thinking objectively about certain truisms in baseball (both were auction drafts which seems to be the norm now). I tried to take my subjective feelings about players out of the equation and remained rigid in my strategy. My success last year has led me to believe that I should do this every year.
For my first “official” post here at Getting Blanked, I’ll let you in on the things I did to succeed last season.
When drafting players, I followed eight rules. These rules were followed as rigidly as possible with few-to-no exceptions. No more picking guys like Russell Martin because he’s Canadian, or Alex Gordon because this year is the year he breaks out. If they do not fit within these eight rules, don’t even bid on them. Most rules have exceptions, so I will acknowledge this where it applies.
1. Stay away from late-bloomers, especially ones that have had only one good year.
Chances are, they won’t repeat those numbers and late-bloomers tend to fizzle-out early. Players to watch out for include Jose Bautista, Jayson Werth, and R.A. Dickey. Take players that either have a proven track record or are at the age where a breakout seems imminent. In my view, there is no exception to this rule. Late-bloomers are risks that are not worth taking. Will they repeat their numbers? Maybe, but there are plenty of valuable players out there who’ll be cheaper and less risky.
2. Don’t draft any players over 33 years old.
Players older than that are no longer in their prime and could experience a rapid decline, even if they’ve showed no signs of that in previous years. It’s just not worth the risk. Exception: The super-elite. Players like Roy Halladay (who’ll be 34 shortly after the season starts) are acceptable because even if they do decline, chances are they’ll still be very good. Albert Pujols in a few years will also fit into this category.
3. Don’t follow convention.
The standard fantasy roster has nine pitchers, six starters and three relievers. Screw that, draft a seventh starter and either go with a 10-pitcher team, or only take two relievers, the seventh starter allows you far more flexibility and allows for somewhat riskier picks that have more upside. Saves are only one category; pick them up on the fly if you need to. Also, don’t be afraid to overspend on pitchers. I used more than half of my auction cash to build my pitching staff last season. This carries the risk of getting nailed by injuries, but the fact is that valuable starting pitchers are far rarer than valuable position players. Drafting seven solid starters will ensure dominance in the pitching categories and may give you some pieces to trade for areas of need later in the year.
4. Don’t spend top dollar on players whose most valuable asset is their speed.
Rajai Davis types will go for more than they’re worth and stolen bases are only one category which can be found cheaply based on need. Players like Carl Crawford and Brett Gardner have worth outside of their ability to steal bases so they are more acceptable targets.
5. Stay away from the top-tier of catchers.
Players like Joe Mauer and Victor Martinez provide terrific numbers, but catchers are huge injury risks and blowing your budget on them could lead to disaster. Look for value with catchers in cheaper options such as Carlos Ruiz or John Jaso. Starting catchers get a lot of random days off so keep your money for players who aren’t as likely to get hurt and traditionally play more games.
6. Stay away from top-tier closers, too.
Closers are volatile and the best ones one year are the worst ones the next (see Lidge, Brad). Stick to the mid-level guys that you can grab cheaply like Chris Perez or whoever ends up closing in Tampa. Exception: None. Not even Mariano Rivera. Someone in your pool will want to spend like crazy getting him and, again, he’s only really going to provide you with efficiency in one stat category. Also, Rivera violates the age rule by nearly a decade, so taking yourself totally out of running is the best plan.
7. Do not draft American League starting pitchers.
The AL always has a significantly higher ERA than the NL. The hitters are better and the DH makes a huge difference. Eliminating all AL starters allows you to concentrate on pitchers with traditionally lower ERAs. All things being equal, NL starters turn out much more value. Exception: Felix Hernandez. It doesn’t really matter where he pitches, he’s going to be extremely valuable. The only thing he may not get you is wins since he plays for the offensively inept Mariners.
8. Don’t draft any players with a walk-rate under six percent.
I know this one sounds drastic, but players who never walk like Delmon Young and Ivan Rodriguez are only going to hurt you in the end. You’ll end up overpaying for counting categories that are one semi-down year from total collapse. Guys who walk at a higher rate are traditionally more consistent and able to repeat most of their numbers.
These rules are very difficult to stick to and you’ll find yourself wanting to bid on players who fall outside of them, but if you can remain stubborn, it may very well pay off. These of course aren’t the only considerations you need to take into account during your draft. You’ll need to set a budget and target players who you’re willing to overpay for and there are going to be players who fit in the rules, but are still guys you want to stay away from. And I understand that just because this worked for me last year, doesn’t mean it’s certain that it will work for you.
There are as many strategies in drafting as there are players available to draft, picking one that works for you is half the battle.