Thursday, March 13, 2008

Field of Dreams

By Samuel Berman
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Spring is fast approaching, and that means that it is once again time for the holiest of sports traditions; the age old days that help to transform young boys and girls into the men and women of tomorrow.  I refer, of course, to the ubiquitous fantasy baseball drafts that so many of us are painstakingly preparing for with the MLB season on the horizon. 

 

Ok, so maybe ‘holiest of sports traditions’ was pushing it, but still, I won’t lie that the fantasy baseball drafts I take part in are amongst my favorite sports moments of the year.  I cannot pretend that I’m in some over-the-top auction-style draft with a group of friends who have done a league together since the late 1930’s, as I’m pretty much resigned to doing leagues through Yahoo!’s fantasy sports engine.  That said, this year I’m going to be a part of a personal record three different leagues, each with a different goal in mind.

 

First, as a long-time rotisserie player, I’m taking my first venture into head-to-head play in a 10 team league with some of my fellow writers from 411mania.com (a pop culture site I’ve been writing for over the last year-and-a-half).  That one’s all about bragging rights, but I’m concerned to some degree about my familiarity with head-to-head scoring and strategy.

 

Second, seeing as that I won my public league last year with a whopping 102 points (out of a possible 120) and a 12 point cushion over second place, I’m tossing my hat in the ring in one of Yahoo!’s ‘Winner’s Leagues’.  Theoretically, joining a Winner’s League will match me up with players with more than the average share of baseball intelligence (or at least fantasy intelligence), and so I’m hoping to test my acumen against similarly skilled players.  Also, last time I earned my way into a Winner’s League, I ended up finishing dead last due to some draft day stupidity and bad luck on the injury front.

 

Lastly, as always, I’ll be joining a regular old public league, intent on earning my way back to the winner’s circle again against a veritable lottery of opposition.  Last year, I used a combination of smart draft day strategy and timely pick-ups to waltz away with victory, and I’m focused on doing the same this year.

 

With all that in mind, here are four drafting strategies I have found to be valuable in the past.  With them, I wish you all good luck in your leagues.  Bear in mind that these are based on the traditional settings of a rotisserie scoring Yahoo! public league:

 

Focus on Pitching

While the five batting categories (runs, batting average, home runs, RBIs, and stolen bases) are somewhat connected, it’s rare to find a player who helps you in more than two (or MAYBE three) of those categories simultaneously.  Conversely, the pitching categories (wins, strikeouts, saves, ERA, and WHIP) are far more connected, as a top of the line starting pitcher is likely to help you in four different areas at once.  Furthermore, the drop-off after the top three or four pitchers in the draft is far more significant than the drop from the second-best first baseman to the seventh-best first baseman.  Also, drafting a glut of closers can help lock down the saves title for your league, and can also help solidify your WHIP and ERA numbers.  I have found that spending four of your first six picks on pitchers can pay huge dividends down the line.

 

Speed Wins

On the batting side of the ledger, most players are often seduced by the sex appeal of the home run.  Unfortunately, though home run hitters tend to also be RBI machines, it’s rare that home run producing players are helpful in the other three batting categories.  On the other hand, speedy leadoff hitters on good teams tend to both steal bases and score runs.  If you focus on drafting players like Ichiro Suzuki from Seattle, Hanley Ramirez from Florida, and Curtis Granderson from Detroit, you’re guaranteeing yourself help in three categories instead of two.

 

Draft a Rock

There are players who don’t seem to be fantasy studs, but whose single major talent means they shouldn’t be ignored.  Interestingly, these players are often overlooked by most owners.  The best example (and a guy I go out of my way to draft almost every year) is Placido Polanco from Detroit.  Slotting Polanco in at second base gives you a steady .330 hitter at a traditionally fantasy-weak position.  After the top two second basemen (Chase Utley from Philadelphia and Brandon Phillips from Cincinnati), the position is filled with hit-or-miss prospects.  Instead of praying for another decent year out of Los Angeles’ Jeff Kent or hoping that Tampa Bay’s B.J. Upton stays healthy, why not draft a guy like Polanco, who will play 145 games and boost your batting average big time?  The answer is probably that you never thought of it that way before.

 

The Outfield Can Wait

If I told you that you could have a starting outfield of Boston’s Manny Ramirez, Los Angeles’ Andruw Jones, and Cincinnati’s Ken Griffey Jr. (each of whom had at least 20 home runs last year, with two of them batting near .300), wouldn’t that sound like a solid foundation?  The good news is that you could draft each of them in later rounds this year, because none of those three are rated in the top 25 outfielders in Yahoo!’s system.  Because outfield is such a deep position, it’s silly to waste early picks on mid-level power players in a vain attempt to rack up home run totals.  Not a fan of the guys I named?  Fine, then go for Pittsburgh’s Jason Bay (due for a bounce-back year AND he’s a stolen base threat), Colorado’s Willy Taveras (batted .320 and stole 33 bases), or Florida’s Jeremy Hermida (found time to hit 18 home runs while batting nearly .300).  Plus, the really valuable stud outfielder you’re looking to have anchor your roster will no doubt get picked up early on as a part of the ‘Speed Wins’ theory.

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