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January 3, 2012

Fantasy Beat

Categories to Target on Draft Day

by Jason Collette

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Draft day is the most ____ day of the year. How that blank is filled in depends on who you talk to. Responses can range anywhere from critical to overrated. Some walk into the draft room with a mini-Best Buy strapped on their shoulder as they set up a laptop, mouse, a tablet device, and a smartphone on the table for their makeshift draft center. Some roll into the draft room with a legal pad of paper and a periodical or three. Some role in with a pen, their bravado, and a six-pack of beer ready to show everyone how superior their baseball knowledge is to the rest of the room.

Regardless of your approach to draft day, one axiom remains clear: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Unless you are a shark and playing in a league full of minnows, a disastrous draft day can cripple a season. Yet, people will still not take the day as seriously as they should. Before joining the staff here, I worked two seasons with the now-defunct Fanball staff on draft preparation materials. Our top-selling product was not our print draft guide or the online draft kit. Rather, it was our “Just Cheat Sheets” product. We would do mock drafts for six or seven different league formats and then pump in the projections from our crack staff into different formats and generate every cheat sheet imaginable. Customers loved that product, and it would sell right through the end of March as people looked for something to pick up and take to a draft with them.

That kind of prep may work fine in fantasy football where you can win a few close games and get into the playoffs, but over a 26-week season with daily scoring options, baseball can quickly separate the contenders from the pretenders. Players can go on hot streaks over 40 to 50 plate appearances, but regression is an evil monster that eventually catches up to everyone as age does to all of us. Someone like Sam Fuld fits that bill as he hit .364/.419/.545 during a run in April in which he also scored 15 runs and stole 10 bases, accounting for roughly half of his final season totals. 

Players like Fuld are almost always undrafted, but the important fact is that they happen. They are one of your two ways to overcome disastrous draft days as trades or free agent acquisitions are the only way you can recover. If you are in a national competition such as NFBC, trades are not even an option, so FAAB is the only way to correct bad drafting. The question is, how much can the FAAB talent pool really help you in a given season?

All three of the Tout Wars leagues are run on the OnRoto draft software. It may not have the best graphical appearance, but what it lacks in aesthetics it makes up for in functionality. One of the tools in the “Toy Box” section allows you to see what standings would look like in your league if the 23 players drafted on each roster were frozen after draft day for the entire season. Peter Kreutzer wrote an article for each of the three Tout Wars leagues on the Tout Wars site showing how each one of the leagues would have turned out. It is not enjoyable to look at that and see I drafted the second best team but managed it to a sixth place finish, but that is not the true value of the tool. The true value is that we can take the actual league totals from the categories and subtract the projections from what could have happened to see just how helpful in-season acquisitions were in each league.  You can do this manually in your own league to see how it applies to your league and its parameters, but here is how helpful the free agent talents were in AL, NL, and Mixed Tout Wars for 2011.

12-Team AL-Only

STAT

Draft Projection

Actual Production

Difference

% Diff

Batting Average

.263

.260

-.003

 

Home Runs

1995

2119

204

9%

Runs Batted In

8216

9257

1041

11%

Runs

8337

9589

1252

13%

Stolen Bases

1251

1516

265

17%

Wins

750

906

156

17%

Saves

464

501

37

7%

Strikeouts

9932

11852

1920

16%

WHIP

1.28

1.29

0.01

 

ERA

3.97

4.01

0.04

 

On the offensive side of the ledger, the amount of help varied. Batting average help simply was not there, but common sense would say if the players could hit, they would have been drafted in the first place. Home runs were slim pickings as well, and if we were to split the home runs evenly among each of the 12 teams in the league, it would add just 17 home runs to each team. Even that amount of home runs would not have allowed the ninth place team to overcome the eighth place team in the standings.  Runs and RBI were a little more available, but stolen bases was where the most help could be found. Ben Revere and Eduardo Nunez were not drafted in the active phase of the draft, yet they contributed 56 of the 265 steals that owners added via free agency during the season.

Pitching-wise, it should not surprise you that wins were freely available given the attrition of starting pitching through any one season. Yet another position that is no stranger to attrition, closer, did not show the same gains in saves. Just 37 of the saves in the American League went undrafted. Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, and J.P. Howell were all drafted as everyone tried to figure out where the saves were going in Tampa Bay. Jordan Walden was highly targeted since we all thought he would get the job, and Brandon League was drafted as a closer since most had little faith in a healthy David Aardsma. WHIP and ERA behaved like batting average did.

13-Team NL-Only

STAT

Draft Projection

Actual Production

Difference

% Diff

Batting Average

.263

.261

.002

 

Home Runs

1946

2120

174

8%

Runs Batted In

8206

9176

970

11%

Runs

8315

9633

1318

14%

Stolen Bases

1251

1588

337

21%

Wins

834

984

150

15%

Saves

584

665

81

12%

Strikeouts

11919

13777

1858

13%

WHIP

1.27

1.28

0.01

 

ERA

3.70

3.73

0.03

 

Help was a little more available in the NL league as every counting category other than home runs saw double-digit contributions to the totals. Stolen bases were everywhere in this league, and the 21 percent production bump was the highest of any statistic in any of the three leagues. Emilio Bonifacio, Ryan Roberts, Tony Campana, and Jason Bourgeois all went undrafted, and those four players accounted for 113 of the 337 steals that came via free agent acquisitions within the season. Saves were nearly twice as available in this league compared to the AL league, but there were still only 81 saves to be shared among 13 owners in this league. FAAB budgets can help supplement shortcomings on saves but not replace them.

15-Team Mixed

STAT

Draft Projection

Actual Production

Difference

% Diff

Batting Average

.266

.264

.002

 

Home Runs

3121

3414

293

9%

Runs Batted In

12369

13883

1514

11%

Runs

12356

14388

2032

14%

Stolen Bases

1922

2327

405

17%

Wins

1069

1333

264

20%

Saves

905

1053

148

14%

Strikeouts

15229

18295

3066

17%

WHIP

1.25

1.26

0.01

 

ERA

3.69

3.77

0.08

 

Common sense would dictate that there should be a lot of extra talent in mixed leagues, and it was in Tout Wars last season as strikeouts, steals, and wins were very much available on the free agent wire, accounting for 17 to 20 percent of the total production. Surprisingly, home runs in the mixed league was one of the five lowest available totals in the three leagues combined, and steals were nearly twice as available on the wire.

 Below is a table that compares all three leagues:

STAT

AL-Only

NL-Only

Mixed

Batting Average

.003

.002

.002

Home Runs

9%

8%

9%

Runs Batted In

11%

11%

11%

Runs

13%

14%

14%

Stolen Bases

17%

21%

17%

Wins

17%

15%

20%

Saves

7%

12%

14%

Strikeouts

16%

13%

17%

WHIP

0.01

0.01

0.01

ERA

0.04

0.03

0.08

If one were making a 2012 battle plan based off these numbers alone for a league, it would be wise to go heavy on the power and saves while slighting speed because steals were much more available in all three leagues than other hitting categories.  These were the draft results by the “experts” who spend all off-season reviewing the numbers and writing the advice that many of your competitors are bringing to the draft table against you. You might find that after running the numbers of your own league, there is even more (or possibly less) talent available each season. Either way, I would suggest doing the homework to help qualify just how much free agent help is available out there before deciding to take away time for draft prep in order to focus more on your March Madness bracket prep.

Jason Collette is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

Related Content:  Draft,  Tout Wars

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