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.

Position JBL LABR
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

Projected Stats:

Category JBL LABR
HR  298  266
R  1090  1066
RBI  1050  1018
SB  201  197
BA  .272  .274
W  102  108
SV  68  76
K  1370  1380
ERA  3.58  3.44
WHIP  1.21  1.18

Conclusions

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.

4 Comments

Pingback: 2013 LABR Mixed League Draft Recap « Fantasy Freddie

Freddie, not sure I agree with the premise that drafting pitching early when other owners are avoiding them is really exploiting holes or finding value. If hitters are being drafted early, the pool of players remaining is more saturated with pitching than before the draft began. By definition this would lower the value of those pitchers and increase that of the remaining batters. I really like the idea of finding ways to swim against the current, but I also think that the general consensus about bats v. arms holds – and there is more value at the end of the draft to be found in starting pitching than in useable bats.
PS – Just heard your visit on BaseballHQ Radio and enjoyed it very much.

Freddie, not sure I agree with the premise that drafting pitching early when other owners are avoiding them is really exploiting holes or finding value. If hitters are being drafted early, the pool of players remaining is more saturated with pitching than before the draft began. By definition this would lower the value of those pitchers and increase that of the remaining batters. I really like the idea of finding ways to swim against the current, but I also think that the general consensus about bats v. arms holds – and there is more value at the end of the draft to be found in starting pitching than in useable bats.

PS – Just heard your visit on BaseballHQ Radio and enjoyed it very much.

I agree that there is more end-game value in pitchers. That’s why I would never fill the majority of my staff early. But, I can definitely see the value of taking my top four pitchers earlier than the other owners. I’ll throw out a couple things to chew on….
1. How much data have you seen on hitters being more valuable than pitchers? There is a lot more lip-service paid to this topic than actual research. I dare to say that some very smart people give opinions on the matter without ever investigating it.
2. Take a look at the ESPN Player Rater for 2012 (or any season). Notice how many of the top players are pitchers. Guys like Verlander, Kimbrel, Kershaw etc. are far more valuable than drafters give them credit.
3. Go back and look at the ADP from previous seasons. You’ll notice far more disappointing hitters in the first five rounds than most people realize. Everyone notices when a pitcher gets seriously injured. It goes under the radar when a hitter sits in one of your active spots all seasons and returns little value.

I still think an owner should only have about four pitchers after the first 14 rounds. But, I think it’s possible to pick those pitchers in rounds 2,3,5,9 (for example) than rounds 5,7,9,12. You’ll have just as good of a chance of winning the league.

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