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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Three Easy Mind Changes for Fantasy Baseball Drafts

It's easy to see that the sun in the sky stays the same all of the time.  It doesn't change and isn't scheduled to burn out for millions of years.  Here on earth, it always looks the same in the daytime unless it's somehow obscured by clouds.  Even so, there are two slivers of time each day where our view of the sun changes dramatically and unpredictably.  It transforms from bright yellow in the daytime to sunset shades of orange, pink, purple, and red depending on environmental conditions at the time.  And, of course the same thing happens every morning for just a sliver of time.

So it is with fantasy strategy and everything we try to do here at the Brain.  It is our hope that we bring evergreen techniques and tactics to you that never change.  We want to help you build your own fantasy brain with a set of strategies that will give you a framework for draft preparation, draft-day execution, and in-season management of your squad.  A framework that you can rely on and build on as you flesh it out with player updates, statistical projections, and positional rankings.

However, there are slivers of time where the way we perceive things should shift a little.  We're always tweaking our approach to take advantage of environmental conditions.  A great example is two years ago when there was a big movement to draft quarterbacks earlier than usual in fantasy football leagues.  This allowed us to increase the value of our running backs in the first couple of rounds while implementing the patented "Back-to-Back Quarterback" strategy that we talk about here, in the book, and in "The Program."

I believe there is a similar situation in baseball, albeit one that is probably more persistent.

There is a belief that pitchers are unpredictable and greater injury risks and are therefore unworthy of your biggest investments.  I think that this is largely due to the nature of pitcher injuries and the impact of things like Tommy John surgery and the dreaded labrum tear.  Position players tend to get nicked up more often and can have more nagging injuries and muscle strains.  (How many times have we heard the phrase "Oblique Strain" over the past couple years?)

Okay, with that as a backdrop I've got several things to say regarding strategy for your upcoming baseball drafts.
  1. In almost every league pitching is half of the points.  Think about it... In a 5x5 or a traditional 4x4 or even most every other league with crazy 8x8 scoring (or whatever), your pitching will be half of your points.  Yet fantasy owners approach drafts with a mindset that they should skimp on pitching to invest heavily on batting, often as extreme as a 2-to-1 ratio.  In other words, in an auction people may devote 67% (or more!) of their dollars to hitting even though it's only 50% of the scoring for the league.  It also happens in snake drafts.  Pitchers rarely go in the first couple of rounds and even beyond that if an owner takes a starter in round three or four they will typically stay away from the position for several more rounds.
  2. Honestly, I prefer catastrophic injuries.  Allow me to explain.  If you have a position player with a nagging injury you don't know when or if to replace him.  You don't really know when to take him out of your lineup and to what extent the injury is limiting him.  With a pitcher you generally know if they are out or at the very least if they will miss a start or get pushed back.  This gives you a chance to replace them temporarily or make a move to fill in the spot long-term.  I'd rather have half of a year from a great pitcher plus half a year from a replacement level guy (or streamers) as a worst case scenario... It's better than taking a top hitter and having him banged up and underperforming most of the year.
  3. Pitching is on sale.  This goes hand-in-hand with #1.  Pitching is half of the scoring but less than half of fantasy owners' resources are dedicated to pitching.  We've gone through the reasons, but let's look at what the reality is for you.  The reality is that if you spend a little more on pitching you can pick up points in the pitching categories dramatically and fairly predictably.  Now, I do not recommend going with a 50/50 approach because if you are spending less in the hitting categories you can fall behind.  The idea here is that you should be able to hold the line in hitting by spending a little less while utilizing those resources to build a greater level of strength in pitching.  In other words, in an auction if everyone in your league is spending 67% of their dollars on hitting it is my assertion that you can spend around 62% and get similar results, especially when you invest in those second and third tier hitters (the $15 and $20 players).  You may see an average scenario where your hitters decrease in effectiveness by 7.46% (5 point reduction divided into the 67 point start).  I believe you can do better than that and maybe even make it a wash, but you might see a slight decline.  But listen, when you do that you can increase your investment in pitching from the standard (for this hypothetical league) 33% to 38%.  That increase of 5 points will improve your pitching stats by 15.15% on average (the 5 point increase divided into the 33 point start).  And, I believe you can get an even more dramatic improvement since there is likely to be an uneven advance in quality.  Spending a couple of extra bucks will get you a much better pitcher so the value is greater than the investment would seem to indicate.  So, by shifting resources in this way you should expect a 7% decline in hitting and a 15% increase in pitching, which is a good tradeoff considering the fact that they both count the same for scoring... but I think you can hope for even more due to the quality and availability of second-tier hitters and the big increase in pitching quality in the top tier.
So, while many of our strategic approaches stay the same sometimes the environment shifts.  Be aware of these shifts and pay attention to the approaches of your opponents.

It's like playing poker in a lot of senses... Good poker players maximize the value of their hand but better poker players understand what their opponents are trying to do and adjust their approach accordingly.