Success in acquiring your team for fantasy purposes involves planning. Simply going into a draft and taking the best player available is not likely to result in a competitive team. The primary reason is that by focusing on players, you are not focusing on positions. The end result is a team that is strong at some categories and positions, but decidedly weak in others. What follows is a brief summary of some of the more popular drafting strategies, with pros/cons and recommendations.
Thanks to former Tout Wars Winner, Mike Lombardo, for providing FP911 with this article.
Before you can formulate a detailed plan, you need to decide how to treat pitching. Many teams, some successful, treat pitching as a bastard child, or necessary evil and they focus their attention on hitting. But teams such as these are ultimately forced to make some pitching decisions. In shallow leagues (those capable of having a full-time player in all positions), there is enough pitching to go around so that theoretically all teams can have several closers as well as a vast pool of starters from which to choose; in deep leagues, this in not the case. Whatever your strategy, it must recognize this essential difference. If your plan is to wait on pitching early, it is more advisable to do so in shallow leagues.
The next pitching decision is how to treat closers. Do you actively pursue the best or do you wait until later and try and pick up anyone who has the title? Some teams even go as far as not to draft closers at all, although I believe that such tactics only benefit the competition. My own preference is to wait on closers. I will normally not draft a closer in the first ten rounds, yet can still find some decent ones. The reason is simple. The quality of the players available in rounds 11-15 is far less than those in rounds six-10. I also see no disadvantage to drafting two closers back-to-back, if the second one is still solid. In my experience, closer is the most common position in which to see a run. It is therefore important to monitor carefully the availability of closers. If there already was a run, or if closers have been picked more frequently than you anticipated, do not hesitate to grab your first one a round or two earlier than you had originally planned.
Some teams adopt a round-by-round approach, usually for the first 10 picks. It may look something like this: a hitter in rounds one and two, starting pitcher in three, hitter-hitter in four and five, closer in six, hitter in seven, pitcher-hitter-pitcher in rounds eight through 10.
Within each round may be additional guidelines, such as looking at specific positions. The end result is that this team will have six position players, three starting pitchers and a closer at the end of 10 rounds. The advantage of this approach is that it allows you to provide a broad base of talent upon which you can build the rest of your team. The disadvantage is that it lacks flexibility.
A better approach is to block your picks. It is an approach that issues general guidelines and is not rigid in enforcing them. For example, I plan on taking hitters with my first five picks. However, if either Johan Santana or CC Sabathia is still available in round five, then he will be my pick. I plan on coming out of the first 10 rounds with no closers, four starters and six position players. If I pick five hitters in the first five rounds, I plan to take starting pitching with my next three picks. This approach, as the example shows, also allows you to target certain players in specific rounds. Beyond a cheat sheet, having a summary sheet of certain desirable players by round will help facilitate your choices.
A cheat sheet is essential. I would avoid using any provided by the hosting site (if the draft is online) and instead invest the time to create your own using the computer or hard copy. By doing so, you create the opportunity to create tiers by position. A tier is an imaginary boundary that separates a player from the rest who qualifies at that position.
It is used to indicate that there is a significant drop-off in player production between him and those that follow him. Rating the shortstops for example might look something like this: Hanley Ramirez, [tier] Jose Reyes,, Jimmy Rollins [tier], etc. Using this technique is a great aid in timing your picks and avoids missing those truly crucial ones.
A final caution has to do with timing. It is crucial to get it right. If, for example, you decide to use your first six picks for position players, be aware of what is happening at the table. If there is an earlier run on pitching than you expected, use that sixth pick, or perhaps even the fifth one, to get a pitcher. If you wait until round seven, you will still find some good arms but then you will have difficulty finding quality at the end to fill in the rest of your staff. Better to start a round too early than a round too late.
I will end with a series of dos and don’ts.
Do bump up on your draft list players who qualify at more than one position, especially in deep leagues.
Don’t fall for the hype on the latest phenom. Virtually all require some exposure before living up to it. For example, I would not consider Matt Wieters anytime before the 15th round, if then.
Do pay attention to position scarcity and use it to help you construct your drafting sequence.
Don’t add mediocre starting pitching to your staff. Instead, fill in with quality setup guys or occasional closers who feature strong ratios and high K rates.
Do make sure that you get your fair share of the top players.
Don’t be predictable. The less your competition can read you, the better your draft.
Do make sure you thoroughly understand your league’s rules and take advantage of that knowledge during the draft and beyond.
Don’t be afraid to add an injured player in the later rounds of a draft, especially if your league rules are liberal in regards to injury and/or provide for a generous reserve squad.
Do look for ABs from the players you draft, especially in shallow leagues.
Don’t overlook part timers in shallow leagues. Every team will have some, so make sure to focus on the ones that will give you category help, such as SBs or power.
Do read the latest player news prior to heading into the your draft. You can never have too much knowledge.
Don’t fall in love with any one player. There is absolutely no one who is a must have.
Do prepare for the middle and later rounds and focus on the virtues of players at the same position and players who are comparable regardless of position. These are the players who can make or break your draft.
Don’t overvalue spring training stats. Many players use the spring to try a new stance or introduce a new pitch. Spring training play IS valuable to determine the health of a player.
Do follow spring training and track the performance of players up for full-time jobs.
Don’t be afraid to wait to fill your outfield. It is the deepest position by far.
Do grab a third closer in the later rounds if a reasonable one is still available.
Don’t wait until the very end to select your catchers. You will be very unhappy with your choices.