While draft day likely isn’t going to make your season and set you up for a wire to wire run in you fantasy league, it can certainly assure that you dwell far from the contending teams if you make a mess of it. If you’ve played in the same league year after year and have wondered why some owners are so successful and while other owners aren’t, the answer probably lies in their preparation for the the day of the draft.
I fact, I’d go so far as to say that the most important thing you can do in fantasy baseball is to plan your draft; the second is to draft your plan.
So on draft day you can be one of those guys who fumbles around looking up guys in a fantasy guide, or one of those guys who wing it, or you can be one of those proactive owners who know exactly when they want to draft a player, when not to, and exactly how much they -- and not their fantasy guide -- want to pay for a player at auction.
Building a plan isn’t rocket science but the more time you put into one, the fewer surprises you’ll come up against on draft day, and more often you’ll be able to pick up bargains, grab players who others have overlooked, and have a list of sleepers and guys who’ll be underrated worth grabbing and who’s overrated and who you’d prefer to let another owner get stuck with.
So here are the most important planning basics as I see them:
1) Fantasy ball is about statistics. This is extremely important to keep in mind. The best guy on a dead end team may be only as good as the third best guy on a team in contention. Looking at a player’s past may be a reasonable indicator as to what to expect from him, but look for trends or changes, like increasing or falling numbers over the past seasons. Try to think about why numbers might suddenly be hugely up or down (a injury which kept a player out for half the season? suddenly moving to a more favorable park? failing ability due to age? transition season? switching leagues? change in lineup support? Legal issues? Steroids?). All of these factors can change the value of a player, causing him to be over- or under-rated.
2) The heart of any team is consistency. Established healthy players should make up the backbone of your team. Knowing what to expect from your players makes your job a lot easier when it comes to projecting just how good the baseline of your team is.
3) Rookies are fun but unpredictable. It’s always tempting to grab the big hyped rookie, but many rookies, even the hyped ones fall on their faces or produce numbers that are disappointing when compared to established players. For every Troy Tulowitzki or Ryan Braun there are a dozen Adam Jones and Elijah Dukes each year. Pitchers are even more susceptible.
4) Do your homework. The more attention that you pay to spring updates as well as other fantasy sources, the better prepared you are. Knowing if one of your top choices might miss the first 5 weeks of the season or has been bothered by tendonitis should change your draft plan.
5) Know your league’s rules. You can lose a league by not paying attention to the rules. Not knowing about inning limits, game limits, or the categories that your league uses can end your season on day one.
6) Don’t be afraid to gamble a little. Little is the key word here. Sleepers are called sleepers for a reason: because they might wake up and have a great season, but might is the operative word. It’s a long shot so save your sleeper picks for the last rounds of your drafts and plan on putting most of them on your bench until they begin to produce.
7) Consider position scarcity. If you think there are only two top second basemen and everyone after that point is considerably worse, then you might plan to make sure you can grab one of them.
8) Don’t be a homer. Doh! Fantasy owners almost always overpay for guys on teams they root for (or pick them too early). Don’t be afraid to indulge in a little misinformation or side chatter that makes one of the homers overreact or overbid.
9) Don’t trust any single fantasy source. Every guide has its strengths and weaknesses and a lot of them disagree, over- or under-rate players. Remember it’s all about judgment and fantasy guides are just collections of that judgment. And that of the experts is not necessarily better than your own.
10) Draft your plan. Once you have laid out your plan, stick to it. Plan for contingencies like the inevitable run on closers (note: Closers are mostly mid round picks; the elite might go higher, but it's a reach) and don’t panic. That’s the worst mistake you can make -- especially in an auction league where overspending on a single player can cost you two or three guys you want down the road.
Now you are ready to get to work and make yourself a plan. It’s the first step in dominating a fantasy league. You’ll see part II of this series on Tuesday.
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