While I enjoyed writing on fantasy football for the past few months, I would be lying if I said I did not miss our weekly baseball get-together. It is great to be back with you talking a little horsehide.
While I may not have been writing about baseball the past few months, that does not mean I have taken a vacation from it. I have been in full baseball mode since November 1, refining our projection engine with some advanced batted ball data I have added to the arsenal. This data is part of the benefit of doing some consulting for ESPN, as I have been contracted to help backfill the previous preseason duties of the Tampa Bay Rays' newest scout, one Jason Grey. But don’t worry; my work with the World Wide Leader will not at all impact my contributions here. In fact, as just alluded to, with access to additional data, my work here will only be better.
Today, we will start off by sharing a lesson I learned by participating in a very unique drafting experience, one that was educational, extremely entertaining as well as thought provoking. In order to pass the time over the winter, the gang over on the NFBC forums came up with the concept they called the “All Time Draft.” To be fair, they were not the originators of the idea. Our friends over at Rotojunkie have been doing their version, called Vintage Drafting, for years. I am sure others have done this as well. In short, the All Time Draft I participated in was a retro draft, the player pool consisting of anyone appearing in the Major Leagues since 1901. A second draft ensued, with everyone playing since 1941 comprising the player pool. In both drafts, standard 5x5 scoring was used along with the traditional 14 hitters and 9 pitchers. The owner would draft a player and designate the year and then that player was off the board.
Now that I think about it, I actually learned two lessons, or perhaps better stated, was reminded the hard way not to stray from one of my cornerstone drafting principles, so why don’t we start there. Without boring you with the manner I determined player value, my rankings had Ty Cobb’s 1911 campaign (.420-8-127-83-147) as the highest remaining season on the board when I made the eighth pick in the draft. I was a bit reticent to pull the trigger, since I know in standard drafts, homers are of the utmost importance, but I looked at the batting average and decided that I would be able to chase some of the seasons of high homers with a lower average. I also figured that it would be an advantage to get such a high number of steals without sacrificing too much in the way of RBI and runs. But a funny thing happened on the way to the inaugural All Time Draft Championship as I was blindsided by how quickly the seasons I was targeting left the board. My ranking system placed these seasons in the eight, nine and ten round range, so I figured I could hold off for a few rounds, build up all the categories with balanced players, toss in an arm or two and make up for the power later. Much to my chagrin, a couple of the competitors had the opposite strategy in mind and decided to pound up the counting stats in lieu of batting average, perhaps addressing average later if necessary. So before I knew it, the names Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Luis Gonzalez all left the board well before I expected.
The cardinal error I made was pigeon-holing my necessary strategy after only a single pick. Actually, that is not exactly the mistake. The real mistake was not designing a complete drafting plan based on the initial Cobb pick. I literally should have thrown my rankings out the window, or perhaps recalculated them after heavily discounting average and steals, then using that as my new cheat sheet. The present day analogous situation would have been taking someone like Ichiro Suzuki or Carl Crawford first a few years ago or maybe spending an early pick on Michael Bourn this year, as many are doing. This strategy works great if you can draft Dan Uggla, Mark Reynolds and Adam Dunn, well, Uggla and Reynolds anyways. But if you miss out on them, you are in trouble. This is exactly what happened to me in the All Time Draft as I ended up woefully short in power and actually gave back too much of my advantage in average and steals chasing the remaining power options. I failed to properly readjust the intrinsic value the stats had to my team once I started off with The Georgia Peach.
This segues into the lesson learned that I was originally going to discuss and that is while the idea of dumping categories is frowned upon in standard roto, it is a viable, if not necessary ploy in this format. In reality, what I should have done after drafting Cobb was a modified Sweeney Plan, ignoring homers and RBI while making sure I finished near or at the top in average, steals and runs, while competing in pitching. As suggested, conventional wisdom is that this will not work in standard roto. But the lesson the All Time Drafts taught us is that if you really plan around the categories you are ignoring, you can indeed assemble a winning squad.
Of course, playing with known stats versus the unknown are two entirely different beasts. The nature of playing with known stats is for the categorical distributions to be tighter, facilitating punting. Further helping this is the uncertainty and variability of pitching is not a problem. It is easier to make sure you have the requisite pitching to help account for the loss of points in the punted categories.
This is not going to alter my initial strategy in my drafts; I still favor balance when dealing with the unknown. However, I will keep the results of the All Time Drafts, where both of the winners cleverly punted select categories, in the back of my mind. If, during the draft I find myself deficient in an area like batting average or steals, I will not panic and chase that shortcoming with inferior players if the option of really solidifying my strength with better players is there for me.