Draft Week Primer: Applying a format based, strategic approach.
On fighting skills alone, Muhammad Ali never could have beaten George Foreman in the infamous 'Rumble in the Jungle' fight in Zaire.
Foreman rose from his gold medal victory at the 1968 Olympics and was greatly feared for his punching power, size, and sheer physical dominance. In his first title fight, champion Joe Frazier and his team believed that Foreman would be too slow and unrefined to stand up to Frazier's relentless style. The challenger responded by knocking Frazier on his butt 6 times in the first 2 rounds, before the bout was mercifully stopped.
Foreman further solidified his hold over the heavyweight division after he demolished Ken Norton, who was the only man besides Frazier at that time to have defeated Ali. Prefight, the young and aggressive Foreman was an overwhelming favorite against the 32 year old Ali.
Ali started the bout by surprising Foreman by attacking with right hand leads, in other words, playing right into Forman's close contact, power style. Announcer's ringside excitedly questioned Ali's sanity. In the second round, Ali covered up and leaned back against the ropes and let Forman pummel him, tiring Forman in the process. Writer George Plimpton described Ali's stance as like "a man leaning out his window trying to see something on his roof."
Of course I'm referring to the now famous 'Rope a Dope' strategy. It was only after using this tactical/radical approach to create favorable conditions (in this case a tired Foreman) that Ali was able to shock the world and recapture the Heavyweight Title.
Favorable conditions exist naturally in many forms of competition. In the later rounds of a poker tournament, when every player is trying to save their chips and reach the money payout, the conditions are favorable for a relentless attacking strategy. In the final minutes of a basketball game when defenses naturally begin to tighten up, the conditions are favorable for high picks and outside sharpshooters (ask Reggie Miller). Variations of the Spread Offense have become more and more prevalent in the NFL to counter the tactical formation of the Cover 2 defense.
When preparing for drafts next week it is of utmost importance to have a plan of action in place. I like to base much of my draft strategy on the mathematical weak areas of the league format and my opponents expected response. Of course, the second component will vary depending on the level of competition your playing against. But the first does not.
The following are a set of strategic adjustments I have employed while drafting in various league formats.
Standard ROTO Scoring: The HCS Strategy (Hoarding Counting Statistics)
The key factor I am hoping to exploit in standard ROTO formats is the scoring discrepancy in regards to the 2 types of statistics, counting and cumulative. My goal in the draft is to acquire the most valuable statistics.
Counting statistics are the ones that add up. These include K's, Wins, Runs, RBI's, Steals, Saves and Dingers, not to be confused with Zimmers, the former Yankee bench coach who got worked over by Pedro in the 2003 title fight at The Stadium (TKO in the top of the 4th).
Counting statistics, especially steals, saves and strikeouts are vital to your success in standard formats. As such, it's important that you start to accumulate these statistics at the beginning of the year of you want to end up in the top 3 of each category at the end of the season. As they are counting, they are the hardest statistics to 'catch up' on later in the season.
Cumulative statistics are the ones that are averaged out. Cumulative stats include batting average, ERA and WHIP. As cumulative stats fluctuate through out the season, you can intentionally manipulate them at will. (Want an ERA of 0.00 for the year? Don't start any pitchers.)
Now let's compare and contrast the offensive and defensive (pitching) categories so we can build a ROTO draft strategy.
On the offensive side of the battlefield there are 4 counting statistical categories (80|PERCENT|). These are Runs, Home Runs, RBI's and steals. On the pitching side, there are 3 counting statistical categories overall (60|PERCENT|). Of those there are only 2 statistical categories (K's and Wins) that a starting pitcher is in a position to manipulate (40|PERCENT|).
As starting pitchers are only in a position to manipulate 40|PERCENT| of their counting statistics, and offensive players are in a position to manipulate 80|PERCENT| of their counting stats, choosing a starting pitcher in the early rounds (with such a valuable draft pick) is counterintuitive. Offensive counting statistics are more valuable than pitching counting statistics, so you should draft accordingly.
Now, detractors would point out that Roy Halliday has a tremendous effect on all 4 of the categories that he can manipulate (basically, every pitching category besides saves) and they would be absolutely correct. They would also be missing out on drafting Longoria, Cano, Votto or another solid, 4-category contributor early in the draft. I would be pleased to allow them to do so. The reason I'm happy to let them (hell, I?d even buy them a drink) is because from a risk analysis perspective, top 20 starting pitchers have historically been as stable as a bachelorette party on acid watching a Disney film.
But I digest.
You need to draft 4 category offensive contributors in the first 8-10 rounds of your draft because:
1. Drafting a top 20 starting pitcher will only have a positive impact on 29.6|PERCENT| of your counting statistics (RBI's, HR's, Runs, Steals, K's, Saves and W's = 7 categories divided by 100|PERCENT| = 14.8|PERCENT| each category, double that there's your 2 category impact). and,
2. Because if you don't, the other guys will.
Your goal in the draft is to accumulate counting statistics. Once the All Star break approaches you'll be in a position to start trading your counting statistics and manipulating your cumulative stats. It is important that you don't abandon them completely, but use your healthy place in the standings and the players that got you there to shore up your weak areas for the stretch run.
Head to Head Draft Strategy: The 'Student Body Right' approach
The key factor I am hoping to exploit in Head to Head leagues is the 1 week scoring period. My goal in the draft is to construct my roster for a frenzied assault on the most difficult categories to win. (More than any other league format, in Head to Head leagues I am in competition with not just my opponent, but with the format itself.)
The Student Body approach is as follows; you are going to give up 2 categories each week, to win 8. Specifically you are going to go all out drafting offense with the intention of winning 4 of 5 categories every week. By winning 4 categories on the offensive side, you only need to win 2 of the 5 pitching categories to win the week.
Let's look at some player rankings and try to anticipate how you can attack your opponents balanced draft strategy. The following is the final Mock Draft from the writers on ESPN in 2011. I'll use it to illustrate how you should adjust on draft day.
After building their offense over the first 6 rounds, it was during round 7 that four of the writers begin to look for arms.
61 Andre Ethier, OF, LAD
62 Aramis Ramirez, 3B, ChC
63 Zack Greinke, SP, Mil
64 Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Bos
65 Martin Prado, 2B/3B, Atl
66 Clayton Kershaw, SP, LAD
67 Shane Victorino, OF, Phi
68 Paul Konerko, 1B, CWS
69 Mariano Rivera, RP, NYY
70 Tommy Hanson, SP, Atl
71 Chris Carpenter, SP, StL
72 Heath Bell, RP, SD
73 Mike Stanton, OF, Fla
74 Ben Zobrist, OF/2B, TB
75 Colby Rasmus, OF, StL
76 Corey Hart, OF, Mil
77 Billy Butler, 1B, KC
78 Casey McGehee, 3B, Mil
79 Alexei Ramirez, SS, CWS
80 Stephen Drew, SS, Ari
Notice the offensive value available; Ellsbury, Victorino, Konerko (for your middle infield spot), Zobrist, Rasmus and A-Ram. While your opponents are starting to pick their first ace or a closer, you're stacking the deck with offensive firepower. Not only are you gaining offensive value, but you are letting your opponents balanced draft strategy put them in a precarious position. Namely, they don't have the offensive depth to thwart your weekly line up.
There is no need to feel exposed by the later rounds because of your lack of pitching. Value, has not left the building.
131 Andrew Bailey, RP, Oak
132 Howard Kendrick, 2B, LAA
133 Clay Buchholz, SP, Bos
134 Mike Napoli, 1B/C, Tex
135 John Danks, SP, CWS
136 John Axford, RP, Mil
137 Tim Hudson, SP, Atl
138 Andres Torres, OF, SF
139 Matt Garza, SP, ChC
140 Hiroki Kuroda, SP, LAD
141 Jeremy Hellickson, SP, TB
142 Carlos Quentin, OF, CWS
143 J.J. Putz, RP, Ari
144 Huston Street, RP, Col
145 Chris Perez, RP, Cle
146 Adam Lind, DH, Tor
147 Francisco Cordero, RP, Cin
148 Jonathan Broxton, RP, LAD
149 Johnny Cueto, SP, Cin
150 Nick Markakis, OF, Bal
A full 4-6 rounds after your opponents have started collecting pitchers, is where you start to address your defense (the pitching side of the scoring column). You do this by making a run on relievers. Andrew Bailey, Axford, Putz, Street and the rest of the closers are your target group. Notice that you are in a position to draft elite talent, while your opponents are desperately grabbing the Lind's and Markakis's to round out their offense. By targeting elite closers for the next few rounds you are hoping to impact 3 categories; WHIP, Saves and ERA.
This is your defensive strategy, to punt K's and wins and to win the 3 of 5 remaining categories. You're in a position to punt a category as you?ve effectively attacked the offensive categories in the first 12-14 rounds.
Starting pitching? For the adroit observer, you need not stress. The following are the final rounds of last years mock:
221 Jair Jurrjens, SP, Atl
222 Gio Gonzalez, SP, Oak
223 Rafael Soriano, RP, NYY
224 David Aardsma, RP, Sea
225 Chris Iannetta, C, Col
226 Anibal Sanchez, SP, Fla
227 Ryan Theriot, 2B/SS, StL
228 Hong-Chih Kuo, RP, LAD
229 John Lackey, SP, Bos
230 Jose Tabata, OF, Pit
231 Wade Davis, SP, TB
232 Kurt Suzuki, C, Oak
233 Dustin Ackley, 2B, Sea
234 Garrett Jones, 1B/OF, Pit
235 Aroldis Chapman, RP, Cin
236 Danny Espinosa, 2B, Was
237 James Shields, SP, TB
238 Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atl
239 Joel Hanrahan, RP, Pit
240 Ervin Santana, SP, LAA
Notice the pitching value available as opposed to the offensive value. There is tremendous pitching value throughout the draft. My strategy is to fill my bench with starters in the final rounds. I'm looking for NL pitchers in spacious parks. I am not concerned about K's, I am looking for low WHIP and ERA guys. Again, I am filling in the gaps after attacking my opponent's balanced strategy.
Deep League Draft Strategy; LRIS (Low Risk Investment Strategy)
The key factor that I am hoping to exploit in deeper leagues is the lack of depth available on the waiver wire. My goal is to construct a roster that will withstand a 162 game season. Risk management is the guiding concept.
Having an established goal is critical to a deep league draft strategy. Do you hope to collect counting statistics early? Do you hope to shore up positions of scarcity early in the draft? Are players with multi-position eligibility going to gain value on your draft sheet? Are there safe, reliable pitchers or outfielders you believe you can safely wait for until the middle or later rounds of your draft?
Your goals should be measurably defined by quantifiable results and a clear time frame. (By the 10th round I want to have 8 offensive players, at least 3 being outfielders, and 2 top tier NL starters.) The goal should be achievable. Whatever you end goal is, your draft strategy must be tailored to meet the goal and monitored along the way.
The most volatility your stocks will encounter is obviously during the regular season. You need to be updated daily on injury developments and manager tendencies, especially relating to bullpen management. Because of this, you like to have a back up plan available for every roster spot, and you need to construct that back up plan during the draft.
For this reason players with multi-position eligibility should rise a bit on your draft sheets, while injury risks should be devalued. You should be wary of speculative plays, and should value assets with a proven track record.
Planning, attention and composure are the keys to success in deeper leagues.
Establishing measurable goals for your draft and reacting strategically to unexpected events is crucial. Overall, managing risk is the key.
Favorable conditions exist naturally in many forms of competition. Having a plan of action in place will help you more effectively address and measure your goals. By basing your strategy in part on the mathematical weak areas of the scoring format, you can be assured that you are employing a managed approach to your fake baseball season.
I hope this column of assistance to you as you prepare for your drafts in the next week.
Happy gambling folks.