The goal for every draft is to be as prepared as possible. For some, it’s memorizing the magazine when we’re in the bathroom. Others make spreadsheets and mark them with highlighters. Others just write down names they heard on Matthew Berry’s podcasts that week.
But inevitably something happens. Someone takes Craig Kimbrel in the 3rd round; Justin Verlander is taken first overall; Joey Votto doesn’t even get down to number 8, where you banked on him. We often get flustered and let the draft dictate our strategy (“When the closer run started, I had to grab one…”)
Let me introduce you to my strategy of Whitewater Drafting.
Every draft is like a ride on the rapids; players rise and players fall. We sometimes feel like we have to hold on for dear life. And every year we all get at least a little wet. But we can navigate even the wildest of whitecaps if we are committed. Commit to Whitewater Drafting and you’ll escape your draft relatively unharmed.
Here is my 3-point plan for Whitewater Drafting: Know the Rafts, Know the River, Know that You’re Getting Wet.
Know the Rafts
The rafts in the case of fantasy baseball are your opponents. (If you’re not a whitewater rafter, and I am not, think about playing golf instead). Which guy likes to have the latest raft that has all the bells and whistles (or the Biggest Big Bertha you’ve seen him with since college)? Which guy is the obnoxious Yankee fan who will buy the official Yankee raft (golf bag/head cover)? Which guy doesn’t know anything about riding the rapids but comes along to just drink beer (Drives the golf cart and, well, drinks beer).
Knowing that the bells and whistles guy (draft software) relies on a certain set of projections, that the Yankee fan (the homer) is going to take Teixeira, and the beer drinker is just going to drink beer and call out names that make him laugh (Markakis, Choo) gives you an upper hand weeks before the draft. If there are new owners, try to chat them up via email and as much as possible before the draft. The enemy you don’t know is always more dangerous than the enemy you do know.
And think about which raft you own. Do you tend to draft two starters in the first two rounds? Are you a power-only drafter who gets steals from 30-30 guys? Do you punt saves? I promise you have a tendency and the better owners in your league know it. So surprise them with a Whitewater Draft and poke holes in their rafts.
Know the River
The river here is the draft itself. How can you know the river before the day you go rafting? Take a practice run or two (mock drafts). Study the map (Average Draft Position) to know where the rougher parts of the river lurk. Talk to others who have navigated the river (early drafters, read up on experts take on ADP, etc.). Tiger Woods doesn’t just go out and carve apart golf courses without knowing anything about the terrain. He may be the best, but he rarely wins on pure talent alone. He knows the course and structures his approach to fit it. You need to do exactly the same thing.
Knowing the river is the essential element to Whitewater Drafting. You must have a plan in place about what positions you want when, knowing how the draft is likely to unfold. That’s not to say “I will draft a shortstop in the 3rd round” but more accurately to say “After 8 rounds, I will have one player at every infield spot, a starter, a closer and two outfielders.” This provides flexibility to account for changes in the draft while keeping an eye on the “big picture.”
Position scarcity is king to Whitewater Drafting. I have the 4th pick in one of my 10 team leagues. I’m fairly certain that Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun and Mike Trout will be off the board. Under my Whitewater Drafting plan, Robinson Cano is my pick. If I was picking on guys I love or who is the most exciting pick, I’d be all over Andrew McCutchen. In a heartbeat. But 2B is by far the weakest position, so I want the best one I can get. And it’s not like I’m reaching for late 2nd round talent here – I’m just choosing the player at the weak spot among the likely available pool of talent.
In the 2nd/3rd rounds I will look to add Troy Tulowitzki, Adrian Beltre, David Wright, or Evan Longoria. (If Tulo is taken before my pick in the second, I might reach for a Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez in round 3.) I don’t mention catcher because I don’t think I’m in the Buster Posey range, but I’ll be looking for Joe Mauer or Yadier Molina a little later. The injury risk at catcher tends to be too great for me to jump for one.
I will not take a starter until the 7th or 8th round. They are just too risky. I can get an R.A. Dickey, a Roy Halladay, a Gio Gonzalez, a James Shields down there. The only closer I will have after eight rounds is either Kimbrell, Jason Motte or Jonathan Papelbon. I won’t follow a closer run, but if the time is right, I might start one.
By limiting starters and outfielders in the first third of the draft, I get to feast on high potential selections at those positions almost exclusively in the middle third of my draft. So in my 11th and 12th rounds, for example, I might snag Ian Kennedy and Aroldis Chapman for my pitching staff. The guy next to me is literally scratching his head and calls out “Danny Espinosa” because he doesn’t have anyone at 2B yet and it’s really thin.
Because I looked at the ADPs, I know who I’ll be drafting. Okay, maybe Chapman gets snatched earlier, but then I might grab Matt Moore, or take a flier on Carl Crawford. Look at any ADP or Top 250 list and the range between 100 and 200 is filled with starters, closers and outfielders. Why would you hunt for a middle infielder here when the potential for an All-Star middle infielder is thinner than Lindsay Lohan?
Make a list of 20-30 names that you really like, then study the ADPs (specifically the ADPs of the site your league uses because I promise most owners are relying on that most heavily) and target them in a certain area. If you really want Matt Harvey and his ADP is 190, maybe look for him in round 17 or 18 before the guy one pick ahead of you plucks him in the 19th.
The bottom third of the draft is the hardest part to plan. I tend to get my catchers there (but I still know which catchers I want from the end-game selections), and I keep drafting potential, particularly where I’m either not the strongest or where I have high-injury risk. If I drafted Tulowitzki, I can’t turn my back on SS for example and will look for Jed Lowrie or Andrelton Simmons down here.
The bottom third of the draft is where a competitor grabbed Mike Trout two spots before I targeted him last season. Clearly he knew the river, and I didn’t fish for Trout aggressively enough. Plus it’s more fun than taking Cody Ross and hoping for the best.
Know You’re Getting Wet
You’re riding the rapids baby, and everyone gets splashed. But if you position yourself in a certain spot on the raft, or you know this one spot on the river you can get around, you can limit the damage.
Everyone will have a hole in their roster, no doubt. Most often I come away with a weaker OF than most, or my pitching staff lacks an ace but has about six #2 and #3 starters. And nobody has two catchers that scare you.
But it’s a hell of a lot easier finding both power and speed during the season in the outfield than at Middle Infield. And starting pitchers grow on trees in fantasy baseball. Should I need to trade, Robinson Cano or Troy Tulowitzki are great chits to have to get a frontline starter or five-tool outfielder.
Closers tend to be most owners’ “wet spot” after the draft. Considering only 10 MLB teams ended the season with the same closer with which they opened 2012, why would you invest too heavily in saves at the draft table? Know who the talented set-up men are, grab a couple of young closers who performed well, but you can’t win the league on draft day and you certainly won’t win the saves category either. Draft talent, not saves, and tinker throughout the season. When it comes to saves, we’re all pretty much in the same raft.
So that’s Whitewater Drafting. Other teams might get out of the gate faster during the draft, but if you stick to your plan of filling the weak positions with top talent early, you will more than make up for it down the home stretch. Stay dry, my friends.