Last Friday night, I participated in my fantasy league's annual draft. We've been playing together as a league for a decade now, starting with the 2000 season. I think I had a good draft, that is to say I followed my rules.
You see, I'm a great fantasy baseball player, but a terrible drafter. I make tons of mistakes every year, but I try to make the kinds of mistakes that you can recover from, more on that in a moment. I manage to finish in the top three of a competitive league every year because I don't wind up with a sunk team from the start.
For the record we play a 5X5 Roto league with keepers. We have 10 teams and 25 man rosters with one bench and DL slot. Each team gets five keepers based on the previous year's draft position. You can keep any player without penalty for two years, and then he advances 10 slots every year until it costs you a first round pick to keep the player. This year, my keepers were Tulowiski (8th round), Youklis (18th), Pedroia (20th), Pablo Sandoval (24th), Ian Kinsler (25). The last to players were waiver wire pickups from previous years.
Here are my infallible rules for drafting. You may not have a great draft if you follow these rules, but you will have a well constructed team that will let you erase mistakes later on:
1. Don't take a pitcher in the first round
Listen, most of the time the elite Cy Young type pitchers have fluctuation in their seasons. It's good to draft pitchers early, just not right away. In a conventional draft (without keepers), focus on a big power bat that will cover RBIs, HRs, and average. There aren't a lot of those guys, so take one early.
2. Do take pitchers in the early rounds
Don't be afraid to load up on starting pitchers in rounds 2-5. This year my staff consists of Halladay, Felix Hernandez, Peavy, and Vasquez. Personally, I focus on guys with a good WHIP. Wins are too unpredictable, and ERA can be fluky. WHIP and Ks are stats you can count on. Get several really good top shelf pitchers in the beginning rounds and then stay away from most of the mid level guys. They are too variable. Sometimes they pay off, but generally they blow up and kill your numbers. The only mid level guy I took this year was Scott Baker.
3. Don't take a closer before the 9th or 10th round.
Don't do it. Let some other schumck take Rivera. You don't need him. Saves are the easiest stat to vulture. Once the 9th round rolls by, make a run on closers. Take at least five, generally in a row. Often the 20th ranked closer provides about as many saves as the 8th. Scoop them all up. Here's why: Saves are easy to trade. Someone always needs them. If you have five to seven closers on your roster, you have the capital you need to avoid mistakes. The best part is that you will have a feel for how they are doing. If a guy looks shaky, you should be first in line to scoop his replacement off the wire. Fill all bench slots with closers or potential closers. By the end of the draft you should have seven or eight possible closers on your roster. Closers don't have the same kinds of innings
4. Punt batting average
It's too hard to trade for. That means you can't get it if you need it, and if you have it, no one wants it. It doesn't always lead to runs or steals the way home runs tend to yield RBIs. I don't even consider average. My teams always finish at or near the top of the league, but I'm perennially 9th or 10th in batting average.
5. Don't take a catcher until the last 5 rounds.
After Joe Mauer, catchers are all basically the same. Don't waste a high pick on a guy unless he's super elite. Even if he is, he probably won't play much more than 130 games a year. Stay away from the Brian McCann's of the world. They cost too much and don't typically pay off much better than some guy you can have in the 20th round.
6. Fill your bench slots with pitchers.
Early in the season, fill your bench with potential closers and starters who might pan out. A few bad starts can ruin your WHIP and ERA for months, so don't necessarily start dicey pitchers, but have them around just in case. To win the league, you'll need a guy or two to come out of nowhere.
Everyone misses on some players. Some guy you pick will bust. What this system does is create a roster that has players with value that can be moved in trades. Closers, steals, and home runs tend to bring back more value in deals than what they are really worth. This way if you get crushed with injuries or just make some bad picks, you'll have the ammunition necessary to restock.