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March 26, 2008

Fantasy Beat

Fantasy Draft Day

by Marc Normandin

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It's time to try something different for this week, as we are at a time when the majority of leagues have already drafted, and it's a bit early to panic and trade away your roster already-unless, of course, you drafted so poorly that you have already given up hope after day one. Today, I want to highlight some of the moments from one of my own league's drafts, because we play with some interesting rules and statistics.

I try to play in both a rotisserie and a head-to-head league each year, since the strategies are different and the gameplay varied. For the league in this piece, we'll look at my head-to-head draft. First things first, the basic rules: 12 teams, AL and NL, 21-player rosters, two player adds per week, standard eight offensive slots plus a Utility slot (left, center, and right for the outfield), seven pitcher slots, and two DL slots. We also don't use standard 5x5, instead choosing R, RBI, SB, TB, and OBP for hitters, and IP, W, K, ERA and WHIP for pitchers. You may have noticed, but relievers are basically cut out of the equation, making starters worth five categories, the same as hitters. The risk for starters is higher due to injury risk and the usual worries, but they contribute to all five pitching categories now.

This is not to say relievers are useless to us-drafting the right relievers may prove important to improving on the rate stats we do use for pitchers, and certain relievers may not hurt strikeouts too much relative to lesser starters who may adversely affect ERA and WHIP. The fact that neither Saves nor Holds is a category does change the value of starters and relievers though, and it changed the direction of the draft, for 11 of the teams anyways; we had one club that decided to draft all relievers regardless, which should be fun as he tries to meet the minimum IP requirement.

I won't cover every pick in every round, but will instead highlight some of the good and the bad from each. The best place to start is at the beginning, with the #1 pick by the team "Explosive Renteria." While Jose Reyes may have a better defense as the top pick in many standard leagues, in our league, where OBP and Total Bases play a role, he's hard to justify at this spot. If I had the top pick, I would have gone with David Wright or Alex Rodriguez, given they should excel in all five categories. Time will tell if the presence of an elite base thief on his team helps him win week-to-week, but I think it's a reach at #1 overall. "Highrollers", the second team picking, came away with Wright instead. Johan Santana didn't take long to come off the board, going at #7 to "Terrible Tobies"; I'm usually not a fan of taking pitchers early, but with starters contributing to five categories, seeing when the first starter was selected was a point of interest.

"Honey Nut Ichiros" snagged Matt Holliday at #9, which, considering the lack of depth in left field, was a steal in the minds of a few of our owners. Somehow, Ryan Braun slipped through the cracks down to #10, where I was choosing. With the categories we are using, I was shocked he made it all the way to me, but I wasn't going to wonder out loud until I picked him. Worries about Albert Pujols shutting it down early caused him to drop all the way to #12.

That started a run on first basemen, which isn't as deep of a position as you would think; it's actually rather top-heavy. Pujols was followed by David Ortiz, then Prince Fielder, and Ryan Howard two picks later. Mark Teixeira finished off round two with the 24th overall pick, which ended the run at the position. With OBP and Total Bases in addition to Runs and RBI, our league seemed to put most of its focus into power-heavy hitters early on, hence all the pickups of first basemen and corner guys. Corey Hart, the top right fielder in the previously linked outfield rankings, somehow lasted until #31; he was my next pick if he'd fallen to me, as the combination of Braun, Carlos Beltran, and Hart would have given me some ridiculous power and speed without making any sacrifices in any category.

It was not to be though, and I ended up choosing Cole Hamels earlier than I would have liked; in between the run on first basemen and my pick of Hamels, Jake Peavy, Brandon Webb, Erik Bedard, C.C. Sabathia, and Josh Beckett went off the board. This is unusual for a fantasy draft, at least in my experience, to have so many starters selected so early on. The change to five categories shifted the focus though, and Hamels was the sort of pick I did not want to make, but he was one of the last guys left in the first tier of pitching. The run on starters did not stop there, with Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Roy Oswalt, and Dan HarenHaren all earning selections in the next 14 picks.

The pitcher run cooled with first-tier starter Aaron Harang grabbing a spot late in the fifth round as the only one picked; instead, we were all making a return to offensive drafting. Some second-tier up-the-middle players started to sneak through early, like Derek Jeter and Troy Tulowitzki, while I continued to think about a power lineup, grabbing Chipper Jones and Carlos Pena. I may have gone a little light on grabbing starters early, especially with the stat set we have, but my lineup is pretty to look at and my pitching isn't all bad, thanks to some later snags.

If PECOTA has anything to say about it, Kosuke Fukudome is a great pick for our league, thanks to his high OBP and place in the powerful Cubs' lineup. Honey Nut Ichiros grabbed him in the seventh round, a quality pick given the context. Faith in Joe Sheehan's projection of Rickie Weeks prompted an early-eighth round selection for him by "Pronk's Bombers." "Bad Newz Kennels," our own Bryan Smith's entry in the league, showed some faith in a rebound by Jason Bay, snagging him later in the same round. I'm iffy on Bay's return to glory, since I'm not sure how much of his short run was greatness and how much was luck, but I can name plenty of others who think I'm way off on that one, so we'll see how it shakes out. PECOTA puts him at .266/.364/.485, so if he can raise his batting average some he has a lot of value at a relatively weak position. Bryan grabbed another right fielder his next round, taking Matt Kemp off the board, who was at the top of my queue.

Catchers were forgotten about for most of the draft, except in small pockets, which led to Brian McCann sticking around until the ninth round. That and the selection of BP cover guy Geovany Soto in round 10 snuffed out any potential catcher run, since most of them were already off the board or too similar to fight over, excepting my round 11 selection, J.R. Towles. While these last few useful catchers were picked, teams were stocking up on the mid-level pitchers, with Chad Billingsley, Philip Hughes, Chien-Ming Wang, Ian Snell, Chris Carpenter, A.J. Burnett, and others all coming off the boards in pretty rapid succession. I already had Hamels (#34), James Shields (#82), Yovani Gallardo (#87), and Pedro Martinez (#106) locked up, so I cooled it with the pitching. I picked three straight starters after only one in the first six rounds, and I think it worked out as far as balancing offense and pitching goes.

I managed to grab three picks I was happy with in a row after an awful mistake of Moises Alou in round 12: Justin Upton for right fielder, Matt Garza as my fifth starter, and Tom Gorzelanny as my sixth starter option. This made up for the two rounds I was displeased with, when I was finally forced to pick a catcher and then picked Alou as I ran out of time during my turn. This was the same time you started to see some relievers selected. The Jonathan Papelbons of the game were long gone of course, but J.J. Putz, Francisco Cordero, Mariano Rivera, and Billy Wagner were all selected pretty close together. Some teams were still picking up some gem starters at this point-"Peoria Mediocrities," the team of Dan Scotto from Mets Geek, snagged Randy Johnson and Rich Harden in succession in order to build a potentially excellent (but fragile) staff. In half a season they can put together a campaign similar to a reliever, so these were excellent picks to me for their upside, especially when measured against picks like Gil Meche or Hiroki Kuroda, which seem a little safer and blander.

It took until round 15 for a Juan Pierre selection, which I'm still convinced was a joke pick, especially given our categories. It was somewhat inexcusable considering the next ones in the round were Homer Bailey, Gorzelanny, Zack Greinke, and Huston Street, but still probably not as awful as my accidental Alou pick. We had another West Coast underachiever appear with the selection of Barry Zito as the first pick in round 16. Giants starters were going later than expected due to their peripherals thanks to their being on the Giants; Zito had a different excuse, one focused on his awful 2007.

I filled in the blanks with my last six picks, finally drafting a shortstop in round 16 with Khalil Greene-here's hoping that OBP improves, or that he at least hits his PECOTA-a power reliever in Heath Bell, and a pick that may seem odd for me in Corey Patterson. First, Bell: I wanted to draft Bell and Manny Parra so I could giggle at the amazing starter their combined numbers created, but "Honey Nut Ichiros" snagged Parra the pick before me, crushing my dream of punchout excellence. Second, Patterson exists because my team is loaded with OBP, and he just may contribute to the other four categories given his lineup and place in it. He's a bench player for me who may only see time when I have a hold on OBP and need some steals, but that's a useful spare part in this type of league.

Patterson also has more use when you see my next pick, Jay Bruce. Bruce may have been demoted before our draft, which helped knock down his value, but I drafted him in round 19 with the idea that he'd rock for the second half of the year if promoted. The two picks were a case of handcuffing the Reds' center field job, which seemed like a solid plan given how late in the draft it was, and the paucity of available starting pitchers left. For example, my next pick was Boof Bonser, who probably won't even be among my pitchers until he shows me he's worth it. My next pick was simply to shore up the outfield, so I selected Chris Duncan in the last round with the hope his back would stop acting up. Barry Bonds, who I always draft, was in my queue, but he was snagged a few picks before my last one.

Overall, the flow of this draft seemed different than others I participated in. Pitchers were selected very early in larger bunches than I am used to seeing; I think I can thank the setup with five starter categories for it. I normally do not pick a bunch of relievers during the draft-I wait on the waiver wire and free agency for the surprise closers of the year in-season-but it was still odd to see the entire league almost giving up on all but the top tier bullpenners as well. Corner outfielders and first basemen were treated as if they had positional scarcity, rather than up the middle players with speed, but while looking at the rankings we can see that it may just be the case in the league right now. That is also a relatively new wrinkle to consider while drafting, and the combination of that and our category set pushed owners towards power-centric corner guys early.

Now that your drafts are over, how did they go? Do you play in a customized league like this, or maybe even with the same setup? I normally play in at least one with different statistics like this, but the elimination of reliever stats is new to me, and I'm looking forward to seeing how my team does in this setup. With the season started-and it seems to have begun early, in multiple senses of the word-now is the time to tell me what you would like to see during the season. I have my own ideas of course, but feedback and input is appreciated and encouraged for additional topics.

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Fantasy Article Team Health Reports: K... (03/26)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: The Clos... (03/19)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Prospect... (03/31)
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