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Draft Strategy: How to Have the Perfect Draft

Let’s face it. If you have a poor draft then you have an uphill climb to the top of the standings. Sure, you can strike gold with free agent pickups or make a few prudent trades throughout the season, but the fact remains that the most important day of your season is draft day. And there’s nothing worse than coming out of the draft wanting a do-over.

To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, I thought I’d share some strategies that have worked for me in the past.

1. Identify where the steepest drop in production occurs for each position.

This is similar to tier rankings, but it goes one step further. With this approach, you look at all the tiers and identify which two tiers have the biggest drop in production between them. It is essentially a cutoff point where you draw a line after one player for each position and say, “If I don’t get at least this player, I’m not drafting this position for a while.”

Take second base for example. My “cutoff” player is Brandon Phillips. I have him ranked as my eighth best second baseman, right ahead of Jose Lopez. What this means is that if I don’t get any second basemen ranked in my top eight, I’m going to wait a few more rounds before selecting one. I’ll probably miss out on Jose Lopez and Dan Uggla, but that’s fine since I can still select Howie Kendrick or Asdrubal Cabrera later on. Their values are similar to Lopez’s and Uggla’s so I don’t lose anything there because I’ll be able to draft players who are better than the ones I’d be looking at had I drafted Lopez.

2. Load up on starting pitchers in rounds six through twelve.

I’m usually not one to draft starting pitchers early. That means I’m probably not going to have Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke, or C.C. Sabathia on any of my teams since they are all likely to go in the top three rounds. In the first five rounds I try to come out with a first baseman, second basemen, third baseman, shortstop, and an outfielder. This ensures that I’ll have top-end talent at every position so I’m not stuck drafting someone below my “cutoff” point (see above).

While I probably won’t have a bona fide ace on my team, I can still build a good pitching staff by making five of my next seven picks starting pitchers.

Let’s take a look at pitchers who are going in these rounds according to ESPN:

Round 6: Johan Santana, Chris Carpenter
Round 7: Yovani Gallardo, Josh Beckett
Round 8: Javier Vazquez, Josh Johnson, Tommy Hanson
Round 9: Brandon Webb
Round 10: Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Ricky Nolasco, Jake Peavy
Round 11: Ubaldo Jimenez, John Lackey
Round 12: Wandy Rodriguez, Clayton Kershaw

If you can land five, or even four, of these guys, you will have a very good rotation on your hands. Remember, a good pitching staff cannot be top-heavy. It has to be well-rounded.

3. Don’t worry about drafting backups for every position.

A lot of people do this. It’s getting toward the end of the draft and you realize you don’t have a backup shortstop. So, when it’s your turn to pick, you scroll through the shortstop position and pick a dependable veteran with little upside.

Instead of picking someone just to fill out your roster, why not pick a young, unproven player with upside? It’s a low-risk investment since you’re not looking for this player to start. He either explodes and far exceeds his draft position or proves he’s not ready yet. If he flops you can simply drop him and replace him with a veteran who offers consistent backup-level production.

4. Wait on closers.

I don’t see a good reason to draft a closer in the first half of your draft. While the best closers have elite ERAs and better WHIPs, they don’t pitch enough innings for it to be a significant advantage. Plus, most closers have good ERAs and WHIPs anyway.

Saves are also dependent on opportunity, so it is impossible to predict which pitchers will get the most saves. Care to guess who had the most saves last year? The answer is Brian Fuentes with 48.

In addition to being unpredictable, saves can also be had throughout the draft. Last year, 16 players had 30 or more saves and 28 players had 20 or more.

So, when should I draft my closers you ask? The ideal situation is that you draft three or four closers between rounds 15 and 20.  If you do this you will emerge with inexpensive closers who have good ratios and whose jobs are safe.

5. Pay attention to other managers’ teams.

During the draft, everyone has a tendency to have a one-track mind.  You look at your team and determine you need to draft an outfielder or you need more power. However, it’s also important to pay attention to the rosters that your league-mates are constructing. This can be advantageous to maximizing value.

For example, say you have the ninth pick in a snake draft with 10 teams. It’s the fifth round, and you can’t decide if you want to draft Justin Morneau or Johan Santana. You look at the roster of the team drafting next and notice he has Miguel Cabrera but no pitchers. Since you know he is not a threat to take Morneau, you gladly select Johan knowing that you’re going to get both of the players you wanted.

Well, there you have it. These five strategies will make you walk out of draft day with your head held high.

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About the author: George graduated with a degree in Journalism, but instead of walking at his graduation, he walked down the aisle at his wedding. He’s been playing fantasy baseball for over a decade and his interest and knowledge in the sport is as big and growing as his eyebrows are bushy…and growing. (@BaseballProf)

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  • Brian

    A valid strategy for 10 team leagues but when you get to deep leagues, say 16 team mixed, it might not work. You should perhaps get a stud pitcher of some kind early. In a 16 team mixed snake draft I picked second today. I took my first pitcher in the 5th and Hanson is my #1 followed by Garza, Liriano, Niemann and Morrow with Bedard on the bench with a bunch of real longshots like Vandenhurk, Bailey and Westbrook. Might work, might not we will see.