Time To Think Outside The Box
I’m going to get to the point quickly here. I’ve done two 2013 drafts so far. Neither was a mock draft, so the competitors would have been trying their best to build a team they will actually use all season. In January, I completed the JBL draft. It is a 15-team mixed league that is full of NFBC participants and veteran fantasy baseball owners. In February, I completed the LABR draft. It has an identical league size in format.
I used completely different draft strategies in the two drafts. In JBL, I used the strategy that most experts would recommend. I started my draft with three hitters (Pujols, Pedroia and Heyward), then took my SP1 (Wainwright) and maintained a pretty good balance between hitting and pitching in the subsequent rounds. In the LABR draft I exercised a strategy that was met with disapproval from most onlookers. After selecting Carlos Gonzalez in round one, I had the audacity to take three pitchers (Verlander, Lee, Kimbrel) before settling in and drafting mostly hitters in the subsequent rounds.
I’ll be honest – I think the fantasy baseball industry has become too cookie-cutter in terms of draft strategies. On the majority of popular websites, podcasts and publications, the same draft plan is recommended — get a solid base of hitting and then draft pitchers later on. But selecting a fantasy baseball team (much like selecting a real baseball team – Moneyball, anyone?) is about finding holes in the marketplace and exploiting them. If no one is willing to take the best pitchers in baseball in the early rounds, then there is potential for one owner to exploit that pattern and emerge from the draft with a better team.
I’m not going to convince you about alternative draft strategies by telling you about them. Smart fantasy baseball owners need to see the numbers. Here are the two teams I drafted this winter and their projected statistics. The projected totals come from my projections for each player on my draft board. So, both teams were drafted by using the exact same list of projections and rankings.
|C||J.P. Arencibia||Matt Wieters|
|C||Jarrod Saltalamacchia||Alex Avila|
|1B||Albert Pujols||Michael Cuddyer|
|3B||Kevin Youkilis||Will Middlebrooks|
|CI||Freddie Freeman||Garrett Jones|
|2B||Dustin Pedroia||Rickie Weeks|
|SS||Maicer Izturis||Alexei Ramirez|
|MI||Chase Utley||Jhonny Peralta|
|OF||Jason Heyward||Carlos Gonzalez|
|OF||Shin-Soo Choo||Shin-Soo Choo|
|OF||Shane Victorino||Brett Gardner|
|OF||Michael Cuddyer||Lorenzo Cain|
|OF||Ichiro Suzuki||Jon Jay|
|U||Mark Reynolds||David Ortiz|
|SP||Adam Wainwright||Justin Verlander|
|SP||Roy Halladay||Cliff Lee|
|SP||Marco Estrada||Wade Miley|
|SP||Matt Garza||A.J. Griffin|
|SP||Phil Hughes||Phil Hughes|
|SP||Edwin Jackson||Jeff Niemann|
|SP||Paul Maholm||Paul Maholm|
|RP||Fernando Rodney||Craig Kimbrel|
|RP||Jonathan Broxton||Jonathan Broxton|
As you can see, the LABR team comes out better in six out of ten categories. In the LABR draft I took a hitter, then three pitchers and then 11 straight hitters. I still leaned heavily towards hitting but I did it at a different point in the draft. The LABR team isn’t necessarily better than the JBL team, but it certainly isn’t any worse.
I can see others being critical of this plan for the reason of risk management. There is a misconception out there that early round pitchers are riskier than hitters. All of my research has led to the conclusion that they are equally risky. Ask yourself – iS Justin Verlander more likely to get injured than Dustin Pedroia? Is Cliff Lee more likely to get injured than Jason Heyward? Take a look at the injury history of all four players before answering those questions.
I’m not saying that all fantasy owners should take several pitchers in the early rounds of their 2013 drafts. I’m saying that as soon as you close your mind off to some of your options, you lose potential chances to win your league. After my experience in the LABR draft, I’m going to enter future drafts with an open mind.