With pitchers and catchers just 10 or so days away and fantasy guides on newsstands and begging for purchase online, it occurred to me that most people haven’t actually done their fantasy drafts yet. I’d bet quite a few haven’t even done more than idly muse a bit about who they’d like to have.
1) Planning your overall strategy: Just like you do in any other draft you need to figure out the balance that you want for your team. That means knowing ahead of time approximately how many home runs, RBIs, runs, steals, saves and strikeouts are the minimal amounts you’ll need to finish in the top three or four in those categories. You can make a good estimate of what those numbers might be by looking at past seasons and seeing what those numbers would have been Those “hard” numbers are the easy ones. It’s much more difficult to manage the other categories for a number of reasons, especially when it comes to wins, which tend to be the least predictable of stats. In fact I tend to ignore wins when drafting pitchers, unless the pitchers are damn close to even in every other way. The other pitching categories are difficult only because of the variability of pitchers from year to year. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reach for them. After all planning for solid ERA or WHIP is wise, but unless you plan to build a staff of pitching studs and take the hit in your offense, you’ll have to accept the fact that hundredths of a point in WHIP and tenths of a point in ERA aren’t predictable. After all how much real difference is there between the 3.43 ERA of one season and the 3.29 ERA of another? Not a huge amount -- still great pitchers -- but few pitchers repeat their numbers exactly year after year. The same applies to hitters -- after all how much difference is there between a .292 hitter and a .302 one? But those tenths and hundredths of a point can make all the difference between winning a category and losing one.
2) Ranking your players/coming up with player projections: This is the toughest part of planning any draft and a whole industry is built around “knowing” or figuring out how to value players. Yet no matter whose guides or values, all you get for your money is a best guess. There is no foolproof system of picking players. Success depends a lot on research, paying close attention to player development, age, condition and even the ballparks and teams they play for. If you look at your own league, you can probably pick out which of your opponents spend the time doing research or hire the best research companies, to help them come up with player projections.
3) Matching dollar values to player projections. Obviously guys like Albert Pujols and Roy Halladay are going to command top dollar, but knowing what top dollar should be is key. In an ideal world you either want to buy your players at proper value, or at a discount, while making your opponents spend the maximum amount for players they want. But you can’t make that happen if you don’t go into your auction with a list of what is the maximum price you should pay for any given player. Lots of factors can influence those values -- number of players in your league (more players mean more dollars being spent in the auction), hometown players who’ll command a premium because of where they play rather than their projections, people using bad, or just different projections (one guide may have a player valued at $24 while the other has him at $31), even your knowledge of your opponents and who their favorite players are, can factor into your decision-making process. Learning how to value players is hard, even the experts disagree as to what the best way to do it really is. And in truth it might well be that there is no universal right way to do that, but you don’t need to know how to do it universally, just how to do it for your own league.
Going into your draft with a solid plan and having a prepared set of values which you plan to use gives you a leg up against less-prepared opponents. Of course, it only gives you a leg up. But in fantasy you want every advantage you can get and planning, re-planning and having a back up plan, and a back up to that back up only adds to the chances of you successfully finishing in the money.
Once you have that plan you can start thinking about just how you are going to execute it. But that’s another article altogether.
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