Four draft principles

With the major league baseball season starting next Thursday, there will be thousands of fantasy baseball drafts in the next several days. I’m going to share four draft strategy principles I apply to each draft. My draft strategy is based on knowledge I have acquired. If you steal an idea, that’s plagiarism. But if you steal a lot of ideas, that’s research.

I do believe that if you follow these basic principles in your draft, you will give yourself a real chance to win your league. However, the caveat is that you will also need some luck on the injury front to win. You can identify injury tendencies before you draft. But you can’t predict injuries like the one that ended Ronald Acuna Jr.’s season last June.

PRINCIPLE 1: BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY EARLY ON

There is a time to take risks in your fantasy draft, but it’s not in the first two rounds. That’s why I passed on Mike Trout in the first round in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational draft last month. Trout’s ADP then at NFBC was 13, and I had the 13th pick. But I took Rafael Devers instead. In a vacuum, I would take Trout over Devers, but we don’t live in a vacuum.

Trout has been the best player in baseball the past decade. He’s been consensus No. 1 pick in fantasy drafts during several of those years and was always a top-five pick until this year. He slid to late Round 1, or early Round 2 for a reason. The reason, of course, is injury risk. Trout hasn’t had a full allotment of at-bats since 2016, and he had only 117 last year.

Those who take the risk and draft him in the first round will point out that he hadn’t missed significant time until last year when he strained his calf in May. But no one expected that injury to end his season. Trout gives 100 percent when he’s on the field, but his gung-ho style of play has led to a series of nagging injuries that are taking a toll on this superstar. 

Another player I recommend fading is Jacob deGrom, who’s ADP is currently 14. Last year, he was the first pitcher taken in most drafts and was frequently a top-five pick. The 33-year-old deGrom was on pace for one of the best pitching seasons in MLB history before he was shut down in early June. No one doubts deGrom’s ability, only his durability.

Not surprisingly, deGrom’s ADP has improved from 24 a month ago to 14 after he took the mound and threw 30 pitches in a spring training game last Tuesday, striking out five batters over two innings. He gave up only one hit without walking a batter, and his fastball touched 99 mph. This was just what the fantasy baseball community wanted to see.

But 30 pitches in a spring training game doesn’t change my mind about deGrom. He was shut down for a reason a month before the All-Star break due in 2021. It was due to injury issues that included a lat strain and partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament. The bottom line is deGrom won’t help your fantasy team if he spends a significant amount of time on the IL.  

PRINCIPLE 2: CONSIDER POSITION SCARCITY

Position scarcity is a real issue. You can ignore it, but it’ll come back to bite you. Analysts agree third base is a thin position this year. What this means is that if you wait to fill that roster spot, you may wind up with regrets. This is one of the reasons why I took Devers. Walker Buehler and Max Scherzer were still on the board when I took my first pick.

Another thin position is catcher. In a 15-team mock draft, I waited on catcher and wound up with Joey Bart and Eric Haase. I like both of these guys but not as my only catchers in a two-catcher league. In TGFBI, I missed out on Salvador Perez, J.T. Realmuto and Will Smith but did manage to snag Tyler Stephenson in the 10th round. Stephenson is also eligible at first base.   

Some would suggest that closers are also a thin position in 2022, but this is misleading. First, closer is not a position – it’s a subset of relief pitcher. Second, there are just as many saves being earned across baseball. What has changed over the last few seasons is who gets them and when. Relief pitchers who can be counted on to earn 25 or more saves are scarce.

The scarcity of closers has resulted in the top six being drafted insanely early. Ryan Pressly was the fifth relief pitcher taken in my TGFBI draft, and I had to spend the 48th overall pick to acquire him. Josh Hader, the first closer off the board, was taken with the 25th overall pick. He went ahead of Starling Marte and Jacob deGrom. That’s totally insane.   

In discussing the subject of position scarcity, I want to differentiate between 12- and 15-team leagues. Most managers are playing in home league with 10 or 12 teamers, but many NFBC leagues (like TGFBI) are 15. In a shallow league, the waiver wire can bail you out. But in a deep league, it’s less likely. To make matters worse, there is no trading in TGFBI.

PRINCIPLE 3: RESPECT AVERAGE DRAFT POSITION

Average Draft Position (ADP) is a list of players ordered by their average position taken in fantasy drafts. The average value of their draft position is calculated over a range of many drafts. The Computer selections are filtered out, and only human selections are considered. A player’s ADP is a significant number, and I will explain it using a stock price analogy.

As a financial advisor, I subscribed to the Efficient Market theory on the pricing of stocks. This theory holds that market prices reflect all available, relevant information. If markets are efficient, then all information is already incorporated into prices, and so there is no way to “beat” the market because there are no undervalued or overvalued securities available.

I believe the Efficient Market Theory can be applied to the “pricing” of players in an ADP list. For example, Aaron Nola’s ADP is currently ranked 39 on the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) site. At first blush, this looks insane to me. Nola, 9-9, had a 4.63 ERA last year (his worst in five years). Why would anyone take him this early?

The best fantasy baseball players in the world are taking him at this ADP because they are looking at advanced metrics, with FIP, xFIP, xERA and SIERA all placing him between 3.26 and 3.39 ERA in 2021. He combined a career-best 5.2 BB% with a 29.8 K%, with his K-BB% ranking fifth among qualified starters. The metrics say he was unlucky.

I had a chance to take Nola with my third-round pick in TGFBI, and I came close to pushing the draft button on my phone. This was the 43rd pick overall, so that indicated I was even getting a slight value. But my I had a sick feeling in my stomach. I had to trust my gut, and I went instead with Sandy Alcantara (ADP 40). We’ll see if the experts are right about him.     

PRINCIPLE 4: DON’T DRAFT PROSPECTS EARLY

There are a lot of analysts who will disagree with me, but I wasn’t going to use an early-round pick on a player who has never delivered or seen a pitch in the majors. Let’s consider Bobby Witt Jr. This 21-year-old sensation from Colleyville, Texas, displayed an extraordinary combination of power and speed at Double-A and Triple-A (33 HR, 29 SB in 123 games).

Witt’s current NFBC ADP is 82, and he’s usually taken inside the top 100. The problem is that we don’t know when he will make his MLB debut. It’s doubtful that we will see him on opening day. And depending on what kind collective bargaining agreement is reached, we may see him in May, or June, or July. We waited last year until May 21st for Wander Franco.

It even took a while for Franco to find his footing in the big leagues. He finished the season with 53 runs scored, 7 home runs, 39 RBI and 2 stolen bases in 308 plate appearances. I let you decide if he was worth drafting and holding for almost two months. There were worse busts.  

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

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