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How to Approach a Medium-Deep Draft : How to Approach a Medium-Deep Draft

Chris Liss

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire.com and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).

So I saw the results of your NFBC Draft, a 15-team mixed league, and it got me thinking about my 14-team home league (money-wise, it's easily my biggest, and there's also a lot of pride at stake since our Commish keeps stats on how we've done for the last 10 years - down to the category). But first off, I want to extend my condolences about John Lackey - that's truly a bad break. If he misses the minimum 3-4 weeks and is fine after that, then it won't cost you too much. But who knows when a pitcher has an arm injury? In any event, I do like the Jon Lieber pick in Round 28 - I'm actually shocked that he fell that far, and I'd take 3:2 right now that he gets as many wins as Lackey. And I'm also glad to see that you came around on Hanley Ramirez - I'd actually take him over ARod right now with the first overall pick. (He plays shortstop, for God's sake!).
But back to my initial thought which is about my home league which drafts on Friday. I won't know my draft slot until the day of, but I'm figuring out my general strategy. Two years ago, I targeted catchers because I figured that scarcity would play a big role in a league of that depth. Catchers 20-28 are surely worth less than outfielders 60-70. (There's no utility slot and DH's count as OFs - don't ask, it's just what the rules are). So I got Joe Mauer and Kenji Johjima and wound up finishing in second place and taking home a good chunk of change. Last year, I went in without a specific plan, was shocked to see Johan Santana drop to me at pick 11 and finished in fifth place, one spot out of the money. My question is - should I have a plan at all, or just take best player available for the first five rounds, and then adapt a plan around who those players are. Or, should I do what I did two years ago - either with catchers, or some other position? When do I draft a closer? How long should I wait on starting pitching? We talked last week about where we'd have to jump in and take Santana, but what about Jake Peavy? Surely you'd take him over Alex Rios or Nick Markakis, or not?

Right now it looks to me like outfield is deep. There are a lot of upside guys like Justin Upton, Cameron Maybin, Pac Man Jones, Lastings Milledge (I'm not a believer, but it seems others are) who could fill those final slots. So if I wait on OF and pitching, then what do I load up on? In AL LABR, I felt that first base and shortstop were especially scarce so I got Justin Morneau, Carlos Guillen and Jhonny Peralta. But in the NL, those two positions go a lot deeper. Where is the overall weakness that I can attack? Catching is always shallow, but catchers carry more risk and less upside than other position players - they're like tight ends in football - you never take a tight end in the first round even if it's the scarcest position on the board. Why? Because they have only modest upside. Catchers usually get less than 550 at-bats, and they're more likely to get nicked up or worn down. Even though I've been targeting Joe Mauer for a bounce back in a couple leagues, it might be smarter to get two serviceable catchers (say Ramon Hernandez and Pudge) in the middle rounds.

Finally, what about categories? We know that overall stolen base production has picked up over the last couple seasons, while home runs were down last year. Does that make it smarter to target power early?

The key to a good draft is to get difference makers before the drop-off, i.e., to get players early whose equals aren't available five rounds later. For example, in our Yahoo Friends and Family League, I drafted Trevor Hoffman in Round 9 (admittedly a panic pick after Bobby Jenks and Huston Street, the two guys I preferred, went right before me), and you got Jason Isringhausen in Round 12 - you need to be the guy getting Isringhausen in 12, not Hoffman in 9 throughout your draft. The whole point of a strategy in a draft is to target those positions and categories that are scarce and scoop up leftovers late who are just as good as the players your leaguemates drafted rounds ago.

Of course, we're not psychic - sometimes closers get swept up like subprime mortgage instruments in an irrational frenzy - (really the management at Bear Stearns should have to sell those houses in the Hamptons they bought with their 2005-07 bonuses before a cent of the Fed's (taxpayer's) money kicks in, but I digress). You can't be sure whether Isringhausen will fall to you at 12 or not. But you can have a general idea of the depth and strength at each position and all things being equal position yourself for likely bargains late in the draft.

How would you go about that Jeff?

-----Original Message-----
From: jeff@rotowire.com
Sent: March 19, 2008 8:42 am
To: liss@rotowire.com
Subject: How to Approach a Medium-Deep Draft

There's no small sense of irony that a purveyor of fantasy information gets burned by news that occurred in the middle of a draft. Oh well, the latest news on Lackey is that he'll be out until mid-May, but as you suggested, that's pretty much a best-case scenario. It assumes no setbacks in his rehab, and no future discovery of the need for surgery. It's not a death knell to my team (last year's main event champ drafted Rocco Baldelli, for instance), but my margin for error is pretty darn small. It's a shame, too, as I'm pretty happy with the rest of my team; I might be short a starter, but I'm also pretty confident that I'll find one or two on the waiver wire as the season progresses.

But addressing your overall question, there are certain aspects to my plan that I'll try to be specific about. For instance, I came into the NFBC draft knowing that I wanted at least two reliable closers, but not draft one of the first 5-7 closers. To do that, I needed to have a subset of closers targeted that I'd be happy getting with each pick - "Group A" for my first closer slot, "Group B" for the second one. If I happened to end up with two Group A closers, great, but I didn't want to settle for two Group B closers or worse. Luckily, my groupings don't necessarily correspond to the closers' respective ADP's (Average Draft Positions). I had seven closers in my Group A and another seven in my Group B. The idea was to pounce when there was two or fewer remaining in the respective grouping, thus letting the draft help determine when I'd first act.

In a snake draft, it's pretty important to have some sort of plan like this mapped out, or else you'll get caught behind the runs. It's funny you mentioned the Yahoo! Friends & Family Draft, as I think I actually did a pretty poor job of managing the closer's pool there. I had my shot at Rafael Soriano there and passed it up, thinking I could wait one more round. The same was true about Matt Capps and Joakim Soria as well. Yes, I ended up with a palatable Jason Isringhausen (in my rankings, the last "Group B" closer) in Round 12, but he's my first closer, and the guys I got after that are far less reliable (Todd Jones - ugh, and Brandon Lyon).

The other category I try to pre-plan is to know where my stolen bases are coming from. When you know your draft position, you can have an idea about what your draft plan is. You should know if you're going to get one of the stolen base building blocks (Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, or Jimmy Rollins) in the first round, or if you're going to have to target that elsewhere later in the draft. That's why I made sure to grab Ichiro Suzuki in the second round after deciding on Matt Holliday in the first round last week in the Yahoo draft. Of course, I didn't expect Kaz Matsui's unspeakable injury to start him on the DL, so I'll need to go find other bags.

Besides that, I think you can have a general plan, but I try not to get too specific about mapping out the rest of the draft, if for no other reason than it's difficult to project the behavior of your opponents. Sure, you can have a sense of the players and where they should rank, and you can even use ADP's to get a sense of where they are going, but after the first couple of rounds, you start to see a lot of variance kick in. That of course creates bargain opportunities, and I think you need to be able to act on that. I'd look more for value than for need early, address specific roster/categorical needs in the middle, and gamble on upside late. If there's one thing I did right in the Yahoo draft, it's to save those last few roster spots on a few gambles, like Billy Butler in the 18th (pick 212) and Johnny Cueto in the 22nd and last round (pick 260).

I try not to get myself locked into a particular round with a position - often when you get in that mentality, you end up settling for an inferior choice at the end of a run, instead of drafting for value. Yes, if you want one of the top four catchers to take advantage of the scarcity of the position, you have to have a sense of where they're going to go and be willing to overpay the price on them, but if your strategy is to get Russell Martin or Victor Martinez specifically in the third round, but both get selected before you, it's probably best not to panic and grab Joe Mauer there just to make sure you get the next best catcher. At some point, positional scarcity plays aren't worth it.

----Original Message-----
From: Christopher Liss
Sent: Wednesday, March 19, 2008 12:28pm
To: jeff@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: How to Approach a Medium-Deep Draft

Funny, I actually like Mauer better than Martin and as much as Vic Martinez this year, but I get your point. I agree that closers are one of the areas to p

There's no small sense of irony that a purveyor of fantasy information gets burned by news that occurred in the middle of a draft. Oh well, the latest news on Lackey is that he'll be out until mid-May, but as you suggested, that's pretty much a best-case scenario. It assumes no setbacks in his rehab, and no future discovery of the need for surgery. It's not a death knell to my team (last year's main event champ drafted Rocco Baldelli, for instance), but my margin for error is pretty darn small. It's a shame, too, as I'm pretty happy with the rest of my team; I might be short a starter, but I'm also pretty confident that I'll find one or two on the waiver wire as the season progresses.

But addressing your overall question, there are certain aspects to my plan that I'll try to be specific about. For instance, I came into the NFBC draft knowing that I wanted at least two reliable closers, but not draft one of the first 5-7 closers. To do that, I needed to have a subset of closers targeted that I'd be happy getting with each pick - "Group A" for my first closer slot, "Group B" for the second one. If I happened to end up with two Group A closers, great, but I didn't want to settle for two Group B closers or worse. Luckily, my groupings don't necessarily correspond to the closers' respective ADP's (Average Draft Positions). I had seven closers in my Group A and another seven in my Group B. The idea was to pounce when there was two or fewer remaining in the respective grouping, thus letting the draft help determine when I'd first act.

In a snake draft, it's pretty important to have some sort of plan like this mapped out, or else you'll get caught behind the runs. It's funny you mentioned the Yahoo! Friends & Family Draft, as I think I actually did a pretty poor job of managing the closer's pool there. I had my shot at Rafael Soriano there and passed it up, thinking I could wait one more round. The same was true about Matt Capps and Joakim Soria as well. Yes, I ended up with a palatable Jason Isringhausen (in my rankings, the last "Group B" closer) in Round 12, but he's my first closer, and the guys I got after that are far less reliable (Todd Jones - ugh, and Brandon Lyon).

The other category I try to pre-plan is to know where my stolen bases are coming from. When you know your draft position, you can have an idea about what your draft plan is. You should know if you're going to get one of the stolen base building blocks (Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, or Jimmy Rollins) in the first round, or if you're going to have to target that elsewhere later in the draft. That's why I made sure to grab Ichiro Suzuki in the second round after deciding on Matt Holliday in the first round last week in the Yahoo draft. Of course, I didn't expect Kaz Matsui's unspeakable injury to start him on the DL, so I'll need to go find other bags.

Besides that, I think you can have a general plan, but I try not to get too specific about mapping out the rest of the draft, if for no other reason than it's difficult to project the behavior of your opponents. Sure, you can have a sense of the players and where they should rank, and you can even use ADP's to get a sense of where they are going, but after the first couple of rounds, you start to see a lot of variance kick in. That of course creates bargain opportunities, and I think you need to be able to act on that. I'd look more for value than for need early, address specific roster/categorical needs in the middle, and gamble on upside late. If there's one thing I did right in the Yahoo draft, it's to save those last few roster spots on a few gambles, like Billy Butler in the 18th (pick 212) and Johnny Cueto in the 22nd and last round (pick 260).

I try not to get myself locked into a particular round with a position - often when you get in that mentality, you end up settling for an inferior choice at the end of a run, instead of drafting for value. Yes, if you want one of the top four catchers to take advantage of the scarcity of the position, you have to have a sense of where they're going to go and be willing to overpay the price on them, but if your strategy is to get Russell Martin or Victor Martinez specifically in the third round, but both get selected before you, it's probably best not to panic and grab Joe Mauer there just to make sure you get the next best catcher. At some point, positional scarcity plays aren't worth it.

----Original Message-----
From: Christopher Liss
Sent: Wednesday, March 19, 2008 12:28pm
To: jeff@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: How to Approach a Medium-Deep Draft

Funny, I actually like Mauer better than Martin and as much as Vic Martinez this year, but I get your point. I agree that closers are one of the areas to plan for because there's always going to be a finite supply of saves - 30 teams and 40 saves apiece - 20-25 players at any given time getting 95 percent of them. Steals can come from almost anywhere - you can get Jose Reyes, or you can get six Alex Gordon/Russell Martin types to chip in for you. Minor leaguers/bench players with speed can get called up and replace veterans without it. Guys like Michael Bourn and Reggie Willits last year are two good examples. But there's always a finite amount of saves to be had, even if who's getting them changes from time to time.

And I agree about not being wedded to your strategy. You must adapt as the dynamics of the draft change. You thought you could wait on closers, but 12 in a row just went in the seventh round - maybe you have to take the plunge. Anything's possible. But it's still good to have a general understanding of the depth at each position given the parameters of your league. In my 14-team home league draft, there's no utility, so only 70 outfielders can be drafted. There's a 2B, SS and MI. That means 14-28 second basemen and 14-28 shortstops. I usually split the difference and think 21 of each. So I'll want to be acutely aware of how the 12th or 14th best shortstop differs from the 21st best. And how the 40th or 50th outfielder differs from the 69th or 70th best. You can't predict how a draft's going to go, but you can be generally aware of what you can wait on and what you need to grab before the bottom falls out.

This can even help you in the early rounds when you're faced with a tough call between two roughly equal players at different positions - every position you fill changes what you're going to need later, and it's not just about raw scarcity, it's about scarcity at different stages of your draft. Some positions like third base are incredibly top heavy (ARod, Wright, Cabrera, Braun), but thin out significantly as you go. Others like second base have more depth than in most years even though at the top it's much thinner than third base.

Typically, I'll also go for pure value for five or six rounds, but I'll be looking at a few things - (1) I want to wait on second base if I can - I've seen players like Aaron Hill and Orlando Hudson go very late in my drafts so far; (2) I'd like to leave two outfield slots to be filled in later rounds; (3) I'd like to get a lower first tier closer in Rounds 7-9 (by that I mean Bobby Jenks, Huston Street, Mariano Rivera - for some reason he's not getting much respect in the drafts I've done); (4) I'd like to get two good catchers - could be great, but have to be at least good (Pudge and Johjima would do); and (5) I want to make sure I have enough power by Round 10 or 12. If I have to take Jermaine Dye or Carlos Delgado there, I will. Not only because power's been down and steals up lately, but because it's easier in my opinion to get steals late and off the waiver wire. It's also easier to trade for a Juan Pierre type than it is a 40-homer one that produces across the board.

Send this one home, Jeff - I've already said too much, and I HOPE my home league guys don't read this column until after our draft.

-----Original Message-----
From: jeff@rotowire.com
Sent: March 19, 2008 11:01 pm
To: liss@rotowire.com
Subject: RE: How to Approach a Medium-Deep Draft

Eh, you finished out of the money last year - even *if* they are reading this, they're probably discounting what you have to say as the guy that took Santana in the first round last year. I kid, I kid...

We have pretty similar approaches. You absolutely have to know the player pool, and the depth within that pool by position and by category. And if you're in an AL-only or NL-only environment, you also have to be pretty cognizant of where the scarcity within a league is. You mentioned that second base is deeper than usual this year - I agree, especially so in the AL. First base, on the other hand, is a little thinner in the AL, unless there are a handful of breakouts or guys that end up qualifying there that don't currently, such as Billy Butler in many standard leagues (though it's worth noting, on Yahoo both Butler and Travis Hafner qualify there, ea

Funny, I actually like Mauer better than Martin and as much as Vic Martinez this year, but I get your point. I agree that closers are one of the areas to plan for because there's always going to be a finite supply of saves - 30 teams and 40 saves apiece - 20-25 players at any given time getting 95 percent of them. Steals can come from almost anywhere - you can get Jose Reyes, or you can get six Alex Gordon/Russell Martin types to chip in for you. Minor leaguers/bench players with speed can get called up and replace veterans without it. Guys like Michael Bourn and Reggie Willits last year are two good examples. But there's always a finite amount of saves to be had, even if who's getting them changes from time to time.

And I agree about not being wedded to your strategy. You must adapt as the dynamics of the draft change. You thought you could wait on closers, but 12 in a row just went in the seventh round - maybe you have to take the plunge. Anything's possible. But it's still good to have a general understanding of the depth at each position given the parameters of your league. In my 14-team home league draft, there's no utility, so only 70 outfielders can be drafted. There's a 2B, SS and MI. That means 14-28 second basemen and 14-28 shortstops. I usually split the difference and think 21 of each. So I'll want to be acutely aware of how the 12th or 14th best shortstop differs from the 21st best. And how the 40th or 50th outfielder differs from the 69th or 70th best. You can't predict how a draft's going to go, but you can be generally aware of what you can wait on and what you need to grab before the bottom falls out.

This can even help you in the early rounds when you're faced with a tough call between two roughly equal players at different positions - every position you fill changes what you're going to need later, and it's not just about raw scarcity, it's about scarcity at different stages of your draft. Some positions like third base are incredibly top heavy (ARod, Wright, Cabrera, Braun), but thin out significantly as you go. Others like second base have more depth than in most years even though at the top it's much thinner than third base.

Typically, I'll also go for pure value for five or six rounds, but I'll be looking at a few things - (1) I want to wait on second base if I can - I've seen players like Aaron Hill and Orlando Hudson go very late in my drafts so far; (2) I'd like to leave two outfield slots to be filled in later rounds; (3) I'd like to get a lower first tier closer in Rounds 7-9 (by that I mean Bobby Jenks, Huston Street, Mariano Rivera - for some reason he's not getting much respect in the drafts I've done); (4) I'd like to get two good catchers - could be great, but have to be at least good (Pudge and Johjima would do); and (5) I want to make sure I have enough power by Round 10 or 12. If I have to take Jermaine Dye or Carlos Delgado there, I will. Not only because power's been down and steals up lately, but because it's easier in my opinion to get steals late and off the waiver wire. It's also easier to trade for a Juan Pierre type than it is a 40-homer one that produces across the board.

Send this one home, Jeff - I've already said too much, and I HOPE my home league guys don't read this column until after our draft.

-----Original Message-----
From: jeff@rotowire.com
Sent: March 19, 2008 11:01 pm
To: liss@rotowire.com
Subject: RE: How to Approach a Medium-Deep Draft

Eh, you finished out of the money last year - even *if* they are reading this, they're probably discounting what you have to say as the guy that took Santana in the first round last year. I kid, I kid...

We have pretty similar approaches. You absolutely have to know the player pool, and the depth within that pool by position and by category. And if you're in an AL-only or NL-only environment, you also have to be pretty cognizant of where the scarcity within a league is. You mentioned that second base is deeper than usual this year - I agree, especially so in the AL. First base, on the other hand, is a little thinner in the AL, unless there are a handful of breakouts or guys that end up qualifying there that don't currently, such as Billy Butler in many standard leagues (though it's worth noting, on Yahoo both Butler and Travis Hafner qualify there, easing the crunch of available players at the position).

This is even more important in an auction than a draft. One of the worst scenarios that you can fall into is needing to get the very last player in a particular position or category. That's where you almost inevitably fall into a bidding war that blows your endgame budget. So a really thorough knowledge of the available player pool is just vital.

To finish this up, I'll address catcher, since that's where the true scarcity lies this year. A few guys that I like if you're going to get shut out of the top five (Jorge Posada at least belongs in that conversation with the "Four M's" if you're in a redraft league) include Chris Snyder, Dioner Navarro and Carlos Ruiz. All three showed signs last year of taking the next step, and all three are in good young emerging offenses. I think there's some value with those catchers, instead of reaching on some of the second-tier catchers that might get over-drafted in some leagues.

Good luck this weekend - we'll both have a lot to talk about next week!

Article first appeared 3/20/08


Eh, you finished out of the money last year - even *if* they are reading this, they're probably discounting what you have to say as the guy that took Santana in the first round last year. I kid, I kid...

We have pretty similar approaches. You absolutely have to know the player pool, and the depth within that pool by position and by category. And if you're in an AL-only or NL-only environment, you also have to be pretty cognizant of where the scarcity within a league is. You mentioned that second base is deeper than usual this year - I agree, especially so in the AL. First base, on the other hand, is a little thinner in the AL, unless there are a handful of breakouts or guys that end up qualifying there that don't currently, such as Billy Butler in many standard leagues (though it's worth noting, on Yahoo both Butler and Travis Hafner qualify there, easing the crunch of available players at the position).

This is even more important in an auction than a draft. One of the worst scenarios that you can fall into is needing to get the very last player in a particular position or category. That's where you almost inevitably fall into a bidding war that blows your endgame budget. So a really thorough knowledge of the available player pool is just vital.

To finish this up, I'll address catcher, since that's where the true scarcity lies this year. A few guys that I like if you're going to get shut out of the top five (Jorge Posada at least belongs in that conversation with the "Four M's" if you're in a redraft league) include Chris Snyder, Dioner Navarro and Carlos Ruiz. All three showed signs last year of taking the next step, and all three are in good young emerging offenses. I think there's some value with those catchers, instead of reaching on some of the second-tier catchers that might get over-drafted in some leagues.
Good luck this weekend - we'll both have a lot to talk about next week!

Article first appeared 3/20/08