October 31, 2014

Fantasy Baseball: Sleepers and busts – the long and short – Part 2

Welcome back for the second of two columns on sleepers and busts for 2012. I wrap up our preseason look at longs and shorts with outfielders, starters and relievers. As with last week’s column, the players below will be a mix of early, middle and late round choices.

Before we jump into the meat of the column, I wanted to give you a great resource for those minor league drafts you may have in your keeper or dynasty league. Baseball Prospectus’ Joe Hamrahi compiles a spreadsheet with prospects lists from all corners of the Internet. From Baseball America to Baseball Prospectus to Dobber Baseball, Hamrahi compiles the list and also offers a matrix for each player. It’s an invaluable resource to those in deeper leagues.

Long or short continued?

Outfielders

Long: A DUI and injuries can derail a season for anyone. Shin-Soo Choo was arrested in May 2011 and played only 85 games last year due to two stints on the DL. His prior two years he was a 20 HR 990 RBI 20 SB player with a .300 average and .884 OPS. Get the prior two years’ stats for a lower price this year.

The middle of the outfield ADP ranks provide a number of great values. Players such as Brennan Boesch, Delmon Young, Lucas Duda, Lorenzo Cain and Alejandro de Aza. These players are all being drafted in the mid 50s to 60s in the outfield and each has a chance to be a top 30 outfielder in 2012.

For deeper leagues, Gerardo Parra is a great player to target. He can play any of the three outfield positions. He’s similar to Texas’ David Murphy as he plays in an outfield with some injury risks, but he’s being drafted almost 50 spots after Murphy. And Parra is 5 years younger than Murphy. He had 15 SBs last year in nearly 500 PAs.

Short: Near the top of many drafts, you’ll find Desmond Jennings. However, he won’t be on any of my teams. He is being drafted as if he were a surefire 20-20 player. I agree that the speed will be there (he could steal 40 or more bases). However, the power is not yet there even though he hit ten homeruns in 287 PAs in the majors last year. His season high in the minors was twelve in 397 PAs.  Moreover, he is going to be a bit of a batting average risk (I think he’ll be around .265 for the year).

In the middle of the outfield tier, I would stay away from Logan Morrison of the Florida Marlins. He seems more interested in his Twitter account than staying healthy. He’s struggled with injuries again this spring. And I do not believe his new home park will help him at all.

I would also let someone else dream on Domonic Brown’s tools. The Philadelphia Phillies have mishandled his development and I believe the player is damaged and can only be fixed with a change of scenery. It won’t happen for Brown in Philadelphia so do not waste a pick on him this year.

Starting pitchers

Long: At the top of the pitcher rankings, I’d push Zack Greinke up a bit higher than he’s going currently. He pitched extremely well last year, but the difference between his ERA and FIP was nearly 1 meaning he was relatively unlucky last year. He’s a top 5 pitcher for 2012

Jonathan Niese also peak my interest in the middle to later rounds. Niese likely will not win 20 games for the Net York Mets (if they win 20 games at all this year). However, Niese shows up in our previously discussed ERA and FIP comparison on Fangraphs if we relax the requirements to 90 IP last year. He’s got a chance to outperform his current ADP in a big way.

Near the end of the starting pitcher rankings, we find Brett Cecil. He took his offseason program seriously and lost weight and got in better shape. The Toronto Blue Jays have looked great in spring training and Cecil is poised to take a step forward more in line with his 2010 season.

Short: Do not pay for Justin Verlander’s statistics from last year. I cannot remember the last time when the same pitcher was the best pitcher for two years running. Verlander threw a ton of innings last year and I expect a regression of some sort that pushes him out of the top 5 in value at the end of 2012.

Chris Carpenter’s injury has me concerned for his entire year. I will put Carpenter on my do not draft list as I think he won’t see more than 80 IP this year if he can make it back.

Relievers

Long: At the top of the list is Sergio Romo. I believe where there is smoke there is fire. And there is a lot of fire around Brian Wilson’s elbow. I do not believe Wilson can stay healthy for the whole year and Romo will be the one to step in for him. Even if Wilson doesn’t miss a game, Romo will have value in nearly any type of league.

I chose Romo, but there are numerous relievers with high K/9 ratios and low K/BB rates that will provide double digit value in 2012 and may not even be on your draft radar. Head over the Fangraphs and sort by K/9 to start your query.

Short: Rafael Betancourt stinks. Well, at least as a closer he does. His best save percentage of his career was 67% last year in Colorado. And he’s also 36. I do not believe he will lead the Rockies in saves this year.

Do not draft Kenley Jansen before Javy Guerra. I beg of you. Guerra is the closer. Jansen is not. Jansen has great skills, but Guerra closed last year and there is nothing to say he won’t this year. Let someone else waste the money on Jansen.

Penny stocks

It might be better to call these pink sheets, but I believe these players have a modicum of an iota of a chance to provide some value this year and no one is drafting these players. I’ve tried to focus on players who will make the final 25-man roster, but there are certainly a couple of players on here who will start in the minors

Catcher: Josh Donaldson is going to be the starting third baseman for the Oakland Athletics. However, he likely qualifies at catcher in your league. Take a flyer and hope for 15 homeruns and a .250 average. Plus, he’s got that first round draft pick pedigree to boot. Even deeper than Donaldson is Gerald Laird. He’s a backup, but if Alex Avila gets hurt, Laird is dropped into the most powerful lineup in the majors.

First baseman: I have a soft spot for super utility guys – a player like Macier Izturis who stumbles into 300 PAs and picks up some useful statistics without harming your batting average. Jordan Pacheco is just one of those guys this year. He also has the chance to gain catcher eligibility depending on your rules. (Note: This was written prior to Pacheco being in line for additional playing time in Colorado. However, I believe Chris Nelson gets more regular playing time at third base and Pacheco is the super utility man).

Second baseman: According to KFFL.com, Tyler Greene is the 27th second baseman off the board. Green has 2B and SS eligibility in most leagues and has recently won the starting second base job with the St. Louis Cardinals. He is line for significant playing time at either 2B or as an injury fill-in for Rafael Furcal at short. He stole 11 bases in 121 PAs in the big leagues last year. He’s also another player with 1st draft pedigree.

Third baseman
: Todd Frazier is slowly getting old enough (though he’s still short of 30 years old) that Dusty Baker just might trust him one of these years. He is stuck behind Scott Rolen (and likely Juan Francisco) at third base. Rolen is injury prone and Francisco is whiff prone (and younger than Frazier). Frazier does have the ability to play multiple positions which may help him to stay on the roster.

Shortstop
: I didn’t know who Jordany Valdespin was until about a week ago when his name flashed across an update somewhere. He has only 117 PAs at AAA, but he’s got speed to burn and could help out on defense for the New York Mets.

Outfielders: Jeff Keppinger is the starting second baseman for the Tampa Bay Rays and Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez are in the mix to split shortstop, how long until Ben Zobrist moves from right field to second base to replace one of these guys. When Zobrist moves, it’s Brandon Guyer who will benefit. He’s nearly a .300 hitter in the minors and hit 14 HRs with 61 RBIs and 16 SBs in 443 PAs at AAA last year.

Designated hitter: He was the MVP last year…of the International League. He has a potential path to playing time in Cleveland. Russ Canzler has a propensity to swing and miss, but when he swings he puts baseballs over the fence. He is currently behind Shelley Duncan, but that’s usually not much of an impediment.

Starting pitchers: Nate Eovaldi will not make the Dodgers Opening Day roster. However, he’s first in line should there be an injury (see Lilly, Ted) or ineffectiveness (see Harang, Aaron) in the rotation. Stash him if you can and reap the rewards later in the year.

Relief pitchers: Reports are that Baltimore Orioles’ Chris Tillman is throwing in the mid 90s in the spring and the thought is that his stuff may play better out of the bullpen. Could he close for the Orioles this year? Sure he could. Robbie Ross for the Texas Rangers looks like he might make the roster as a bullpen arm. He’s got some upside and could start in 2013. Have you seen the depth chart behind Brandon League in the Mariners’ bullpen? Not great. James Paxton is currently a starter, but has the stuff to be a great back end of the bullpen arm. League is only signed through 2012 so the Mariners will likely be looking for a new closer in 2013.

In season management

The season has started in Japan and by the end of this weekend nearly all leagues will have drafted and be in full swing. So, how do you manage your team in-season? You’ve probably done at least one mock draft (maybe 20?). Why don’t you have a mock team or two as well? I suggest you sign up for a quick draft this weekend in a style which you do not regularly play or a league with fewer or more teams than you regularly play.  By going outside your usual league settings, you will uncover free agents or potential trade targets who don’t bubble to the surface in your usual league. These other leagues give you a different perspective on the pool of fantasy players and may allow you to find a gem that someone in your league misses.

Finally, I have a few recommendations for podcasts and people to follow on Twitter to keep you informed.

Podcasts

I thoroughly enjoy the Baseball Prospectus Up and In podcast. It’s a mixture of baseball, music and inanity. It’s a two to three hour trip through the minds of two of BP’s best prospect guys.

For a shorter, but daily podcast, you can’t go wrong with ESPN’s Fantasy Focus. It’s a quick, shallow look at the day’s news and some basics on fantasy baseball. It’s usually an entertaining listen with some good information.

Baseball HQ also has a free podcast that acts as part strategy, part advertisement for their site. It provides another perspective (wholly statistically-based) on fantasy baseball. It usually runs one hour.

Twitter

For prospects, there is no one better than Kevin Goldstein from Baseball Prospectus. Also, follow his podcast co-host Jason Parks. Just know you’ll get more than just baseball with the Professor. I’d also follow the folks from Baseball America (Ben Badler, J.J. Cooper, John Manuel, and Matt Eddy) and ESPN’s Keith Law. With that crew, you’ve covered the majority of respected opinions in the prospect world. Just remember, these folks cover baseball prospects and not necessarily fantasy baseball prospects so be careful when evaluating lists without seeing a scouting report on the player.

For fantasy-specific follows, I’d go back to Baseball Prospectus for Derek Carty and Jason Collette. Will Carroll is great on injuries. The folks at FantasyAlarm.com do a great job of breaking news. Finally, Jason Martinez of MLBDepthCharts.com is key to success at your draft.

I know I’ve missed a few, but I’ll be back with those next week as well as a look at the first week of the season. Good luck in your drafts this weekend. Unless you are drafting against me!

Chris Garosi is a contributor for District Sports Page. One of his favorite sports memories is witnessing Wilson Alvarez’s no-hitter at Memorial Stadium in 1991. Chris has played fantasy sports since the pre-Internet days and participates in any league for any sport to which he’s invited. You can follow him on Twitter at @chrisgarosi.

Fantasy Baseball: Sleepers and busts – the long and short

This weekend is the start of the heaviest part of baseball draft season. Many leagues will draft over the next ten days. The first games start in Japan on Wednesday, March 28. This week we will look at some skills to value by using spring training stats (yes, we can find some that matter!). Then, we will conclude the column with a position by position analysis of players to spend the extra dollar on and players to leave for someone else. We will also give a short update on those players to stash on the DL for the start of the season.

Spring training statistics

Spring training statistics are meaningless. Spring training statistics are meaningless except for Player X. Well, maybe not. The answer lies somewhere in between. The spring training leader in home runs last year was Jake Fox with 11. He amounted to nothing during the regular season. And who was the player in second on the list? Michael Morse. He amounted to something big during the regular season.  I could go on with examples of players who performed well in the spring training and bombed out in the regular season and vice versa. So, which statistics matter and which ones do not?

I will focus on two statistics to help us find potential break out pitchers. Using MLB’s sortable spring training stats, we will look at pitchers’ strikeout per nine innings (K/9) and strikeout to walk (K/BB) ratios. First, some background. A pitcher’s K/9 rate shows the pitcher’s ability to take a hitter’s bat out of his hand reduce the luck of a batted ball falling in for a hit (or heading out of the park). However, if a player sacrifices control for strikeouts he will still put players on base via the walk. So, we will us the K/BB ratio to control for those players who may be putting base runners on via the walk. The tables below show the players who qualify (pitched enough innings) in the top 10 in K/9 and in K/BB.

RK Player Team

K_9

  RK Player Team

K_BB

1

Liriano, F MIN

12.46

 

1

Matusz, B BAL

16

2

Garcia, J STL

10.8

 

2

Bumgarner, M SF

15

3

Verlander, J DET

10.43

 

2

Halladay, R PHI

15

4

Beachy, B ATL

10.29

 

4

Sale, C CWS

12

4

Luebke, C SD

10.29

 

5

Latos, M CIN

9

6

Halladay, R PHI

9.88

 

5

Liriano, F MIN

9

7

Matusz, B BAL

9.6

 

5

Milone, T OAK

9

8

Weaver, J LAA

9.49

 

5

Nova, I NYY

9

9

Bumgarner, M SF

9.2

 

9

Hernandez, F SEA

8.5

9

LeBlanc, W MIA

9.2

  10 Lee, C PHI

8

          10 Lynn, L STL

8

There are two pitchers the top 10 in both. Both pitchers are great endgame targets, but I imagine they are either on your avoid list or not on your draft list at all. Francisco Liriano ruined many a team last year with his 5.09 ERA and 1.489 WHIP. However, he’s one year removed from a 3.62 ERA and 1.263 WHIP. He pitches in a great pitcher’s park in Target Field. A draft or buy of Liriano is a bet that he is fully healthy (which is a big bet) and he’s recovered from the issues he had last year.

In 2011, Brian Matusz set the record for the worst ERA for a pitcher with 10-plus starts in a season. His ERA was 10.69 in 49 2/3 innings. He’s likely not on your radar. Do you know who held the record before Matusz? Roy Halladay. Halladay has turned in a pretty good career since age 23 season in 2000. Matusz has the pedigree (he was the fourth overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft. He pitches in the difficult AL East in a home park that is not pitcher-friendly.  However, he is a player who you can get in the end game or for a $1 or $2 and has the potential to be a No. 2 starter for you and the Orioles. There are not a lot of players who come at that price with that upside.

This is only the top 10 so I suggest you head over the MLB.com and take a look at those players outside of the top 10 as well as there is value to be had outside of the top 10 as well. Also, take a look at all pitchers (and not just qualifiers) to find sneaky reliever targets or starters who haven’t been stretched out enough (like Luis Mendoza?).

Long or short?

Everyone wants to know the big sleepers or busts – the players to avoid and those to reach to draft.  To that end, we will look at those players to long (invest in) and those to short (sell or avoid). The players below will be a mix of early, middle and late round choices.

Catchers

Long: Ryan Doumit MIN – Here is a sneaky player because many of the projections I’ve seen show Doumit with 200 or 300 plate appearances likely based on his 2011 total. However, Doumit is likely to be the full-time DH for Minnesota and I see 500 PAs in his future. He’s a top 10 catcher if that happens.

Short: Everyone – This is a bit of a cop out, but I generally do not pay for catchers in any format. In one catcher leagues (especially 10 or 12 team leagues) the difference between the third and tenth ranked catcher is minuscule. I’d rather wait and grab a player (like Doumit?) than pay a sixth round pick for a similar player.

First baseman

Long: To make up for my cop out on catchers, I’ll give you two first basemen. We will start with Paul Konerko of the Chicago White Sox. He’s being drafted roughly 20 spots after Mark Teixeira. He’s been consistent over the last few years and plays in a hitter friendly park. He’s also old and fantasy players are always looking for the next big thing. Konerko is the current big thing. Wait and draft him after the big guns are gone.

As for a young gun, I’d chase Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs. He has only Bryan LaHair in front of him and he’s moved from Petco to Wrigley. Rizzo has been hot this spring and has an organization that believes in him (Theo Epstein drafted Rizzo while with the Boston Red Sox). He’s a good stash and plan on him coming up as early as May 1 and likely by the All-Star break

Short: He finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting and hit 29 homeruns last year, but Mark Trumbo is on my short list. This is more of a concern over playing time than Trumbo’s skills. I do not see where he will get close to 500 PAs that he got last year without trades or injuries. The Angels were unable to trade him or others in the offseason. I don’t think they will be able to do so during the regular season.

Second baseman

Long: Howard Kendrick LAA – Kendrick had a terrific year last year and looks to build on it this year. One improvement for Kendrick is the lineup. He is currently projected to hit in front of Albert Pujols. That spot in the lineup will only help.

Short: The end of the line is within sight for Chase Utley. The knee injury that he has is a degenerative one and it will not get better. The pain can be managed, but even then there will be times when Utley is unable to play. I see him for 400 PAs or less this year.

Third baseman

Long: I’ve never seen the movie Kung Fu Panda, but if it’s anything like the way Pablo Sandoval hits a baseball, it must be fantastic. He lost time to injury last year (as did another of my favorites at third base this year Kevin Youkilis), but still managed to hit 23 HRs in only 466 PAs. He’s going to have Buster Posey back in the lineup for the entire year and perhaps a mid-season addition of Brandon Belt. Look for top four performance out of Pablo at third base this year.

Short: I’m not sure this guy is a player I want to draft in the early rounds of a draft. Brett Lawrie is going too high for my tastes. His ADP shows he is going before Alex Rodriguez, Pablo Sandoval, Kevin Youkilis and Aramis Ramirez. I believe that at least two of those four will have greater value that Lawrie in 2012. Lawrie is clearly a talented hitter, but the hype surrounding Lawrie is due to 171 PAs last year. Wait on third baseman and get a better talent later.

Shortstops

Long: Here is a deep cut for this year and beyond. The New York Mets starting shortstop is Rubén Tejada. He will likely bat eighth, but he has no competition for the job. Oh, and his OBP last year was .360. He’s shown a little stolen base aptitude in the minors. If he can keep his OBP up, he’s a candidate to lead off in the future.

Short: The snarky play is to put Derek Jeter, but I think he will perform close to where he is being drafted. Who am I a kidding? I’m snarky. Jeter had a great second half last year, but he’s on the decline. He’s no longer going to be a .300 hitter and his stolen base total will continue to drop. He’ll still score runs as long as Joe Girardi keeps him at the top of the lineup. However, he won’t be on any of my teams this year.

Injury update

The Red Sox have provided a timetable for Daisuke Matsuzaka’s return from Tommy John surgery. The Sox said that he should return around June 1 so he will have a chance to affect your team this year. His potential return also mutes the potential value of Félix Doubront or other fifth starter candidates for Boston.

Since my last column, Arodys Vizcaíno has succumbed to Tommy John surgery. He becomes a stashable late round player in a keeper or dynasty league.  Joakim Soria also looks headed for Tommy John surgery (the second of his career). He’s a little riskier as he’s already had one previously.

Good luck to those drafting this weekend. Next week we will start looking at how to manage your team in season (including podcasts and people to follow on Twitter), the long and short on outfielders and pitchers, and some updates on players as we head into the big draft weekend before Opening Day! Thanks to KFFL.com for the ADP information.

Chris Garosi is a contributor for District Sports Page. One of his favorite sports memories is witnessing Wilson Alvarez’s no-hitter at Memorial Stadium in 1991. Chris has played fantasy sports since the pre-Internet days and participates in any league for any sport to which he’s invited. You can follow him on Twitter at @chrisgarosi.

Fantasy Baseball: K.I.S.S Your Draft Hello – Part 2

In last week’s column, I wrote about some methods to simplify your draft by shrinking the draft pool. This week, I will identify additional methods for shrinking the pool and look at some players to target. Initially, we will look at injured players. Then, I will focus on skills and opportunities and how to find one or the other when you cannot find both in a player.

Injuries

Many players make the mistake of ignoring or forgetting about players who are injured and will miss significant time (or perhaps the entire year). This tactic works best if you can place these players in a DL slot and acquire another player for the open spot on your roster. It is also less risky in a keeper league than a redraft league.

For those players who will be back in the middle or end of this year, they are similar to making a trade later in the year. The hope is these players come back and give you an extra push towards your title. Moreover, as you get closer to the end of your draft, you do not want to get stuck with a player who might hurt you. If you have limited transactions, adding a DL player ensures you won’t get hurt.  Furthermore, you have extended your draft into the regular season and now have extra time to find that undrafted gem or pick up this year’s version of 2006 Chris Shelton.

A few names to consider (there are more names than these and there will be more in spring training):

Brett Anderson
Carlos Carrasco
Jorge de la Rosa
Rubby de la Rosa
Kyle Gibson
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Stephen Drew
Corey Hart
Victor Martinez
Salvador Perez

You can use the MLB site to track injuries (though it does not allow for sorting) to identify specific targets. CBS Sports also has a listing and their commissioner tool offers a way to sort through the position, status and type.

Before we leave the subject of injuries, let’s review pitchers’ injuries. In general, pitchers are more susceptible to injuries. The act of throwing a baseball is not a normal use of one’s arm. It’s puts stress and strain unlike few other movements.

However, not all injuries are created equally. In general, I will shy away from a pitcher who has (or had) a shoulder injury. I am less concerned with pitchers who have (or had) elbow injuries. The advent of Tommy John surgery has made recovery from elbow injuries almost routine. The rehabilitation from the surgery will generally yield a return of velocity initially. Then, as the recovery progresses command and control will follow with the fastball recovering first and then secondary pitches. Therefore, players recovering from Tommy John surgery will usually be WHIP risks in the first few months back from the injury.

There is no comparable surgery for shoulder injuries. And players have a greater chance of failing to recover from shoulder injuries or taking years to recover. We’ve seen examples in the last few years of Chien-Ming Wang, Dustin McGowan and Johan Santana. Last year, I stayed far away from Josh Johnson even though he hadn’t been diagnosed with a specific injury only that he’d had shoulder issues. This year, I’ll be staying away from Shaun Marcum and Jacob Turner as they’ve both noted some shoulder issues already in spring training.

Skills and opportunity

A stud fantasy player is born at the nexus of skills and opportunity. If a player has the skill to steal bases and the skill to get on base often and is given the green light to steal, you have a stolen base king.  However, not every player has both skills and opportunity. And, as the draft reaches the later rounds, you will need to identify players who have one or the other.

How does opportunity manifest itself? Two of the simplest ways to identify opportunity are via depth charts and projected batting orders. Each gives us different information about a player’s potential opportunity. My favorite site for depth charts is MLB Depth Charts. They provide team by team charts (and some extras for a small price if you so choose). By knowing who will be on the 25-man roster you get a head start on those late round picks.

Beyond depth charts, you’d like to know where a player bats in the lineup. A player batting second will likely have more value than that same player in the eighth spot. Spring training lineups can offer some assistance, but can be difficult to track. Again, we’ll turn to MLB Depth Charts which also has projected lineups. USAToday’s Steve Gardner projected AL and NL lineups over the last couple of weeks. Opportunity can lead an average player to post above average counting numbers (runs, steals, etc.). Importantly, the risk of batting average (or any other ratio category) damage increases with additional opportunity for an average player. Next week, we will look at some skills to target.

Targeted research

The Internet is full of websites which purport to have the greatest metric to determine the next break out star. Over time, some of the more mainstream tricks have been disproved or found to be not nearly as prevalent. From the Verducci effect, to the contract year player to the age 27 player, these shortcuts have all be debunked in some way in the last few years.

One of my tactics to identify potential pitchers to target during the draft is to use the Fangraphs website. I use the Advanced tab and sort by ERA minus FIP. FIP is defined here. I generally look for players with at least 0.5 runs difference between the prior year’s ERA and FIP. This year’s data has everyone from the old (Derek Lowe) to the young (Madison Bumgarner). Again, I’ve shrunk my draft preparation pool by now focusing my research on these players. I will perform a deeper look at each of these players to see if I should roster them. The reverse of this sort will show players who might have been lucky last year and could make my avoid list. Again, more research is required as there is no one number which will tell you if a player was lucky last year and therefore due to regress or progress.

In head to head leagues, I like to look at production from the prior season per plate appearance (PA) or per innings pitched (IP).  This helps to see who benefited from a lot of opportunity (but may not have above average skills). These players are denoted by high total point values, but low per PA or IP. I can now look into their projected playing time this year and see if they can be expected to reach the prior year’s heights

Players with high per PA or IP totals, but low total points from the previous year may offer a buying opportunity. Perhaps this is a player who only played part of the year due to injury or lack of opportunity. Or, perhaps he was a late season call up who performed well and may develop into a valuable player in the current year.

I will leave you with one final note on targeted research. One of the inefficiencies in fantasy baseball is the use of qualitative data. Most fantasy players are “numbers” people. They believe everything can be quantified and if a number shows them what they want to know, they will believe it. If this were true, there would be no need for human scouts of any sort.

One of my favorite stories involves Tampa Bay pitcher Matt Moore. Much of Matt Moore’s success can be traced to a simple change he made prior to a season. He moved from one side of the mound to the other. It improved the “look” of his pitches and made him the pitcher he is today. According to a recent Baseball America podcast, San Diego prospect Casey Kelly has moved from the right to left side of the mound. Kelly’s stuff has not matched his results during his minor league career. With this move, Kelly could be a great player to target for trade or in a minor league draft as his numbers look below average in the minors.

These different types of research helped me to identify a number of $1 players in my AL-only and NL-only leagues. The successful picks were Jordan Walden (earned $21), Alexi Ogando ($14), Yorvit Torrealba ($7),  Cory Luebke ($13) and Chris Heisey ($12). The less than successful choices were Phil Coke (-$4) and Esmil Rogers (-$18). Moreover, these $1 players allowed me to be more aggressive in paying for starting players and also provide a solid base for my set of keepers this year.

Next week we will take a look at skills to value and some more players to target and players to avoid for your draft.

Fantasy Baseball: K.I.S.S Your Draft Hello

One of the most important things to do during a draft is to track your team, your opponents’ teams and the players taken and available. The ability to track quickly and effectively to give yourself an edge over your competitors begins with draft preparation. The best way to prepare is to K.I.S.S – Keep It Simple, Stupid. So, we’ll examine how you can simplify your draft and dominate the draft portion of your league year. As we walk through different strategies, I assume that you have some ranking system (dollar value, tiers, alphabetical list, etc.) of players for your league.

Overall strategy

The key to the K.I.S.S strategy is to eliminate players from your draft pool so that you do not have to study every single player at every single position who might be drafted. After shrinking the pool, you can concentrate your research on a smaller pool of players rather than a broad survey of the entire pool.  You can react more quickly to bargains and you are able to more easily execute your draft plan.

The first step is to eliminate players from your favorite team and its rival (if your team has one). It is difficult to be impartial about those teams which you root for and against. I generally do not have any Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees on any of my teams and it’s a quick first cut to shrink the pool.

Another strategy is to use the generic ranking list for the website which hosts your league to determine where players are under or overvalued compared to your ranking. This plan works well in leagues where the draft is held online (such as Yahoo! or ESPN). As the drafts near the middle to late rounds, your opponents are beginning to get weary and their own rankings list may be exhausted. As a result, they will rely more and more on the default rankings. Here, you can sneak in player who is likely four or five pages down the list on the default rankings. The best feeling in a draft is to select a player who you know will succeed and the rest of the room exclaims “Who?” Beyond the generic ranking, as you play with the same opponents year after year, you will know which tools, websites and strategies they use and can also exploit those as time goes on.

Auction draft

I prefer auction drafts to any other draft style. I find it the fairest option as every participant has a chance to draft any player. Moreover, auctions allow a great deal more planning and control of the draft if you are prepared. Indeed, you can turn an auction into a draft if you desire.

Tracking your roster, your rivals’ rosters, dollars spent and dollars remaining are the keys to a successful auction draft. In many auctions, this tracking is done for you (either in the online draft room or via poster boards for an in-person draft or some other method). However, it is useful to have this information at your finger tips. If you use a laptop at a draft, Excel is your friend.

I use a simple workbook with a tab for each team which tracks positions, dollars spent, dollars remaining, the number of players remaining to be drafted, the average dollar amount per player a team can spend and the maximum bid each team can make for one player. A good example of this type of spreadsheet was that used at the LABR drafts this year. It has the added feature of allowing you to filter by position to quickly show who has filled a certain position. If you do not use a laptop (and it is certainly not necessary), these calculations can still be done with pencil, paper and a calculator.

One tool I do not use is online mock auctions. I have not participated in an online mock auction which comes even remotely close to resembling the auctions in which I participate. The online mocks generally have owners spending $60 or more for star players and then the last few rounds become a “draft” of $1 players. This is not how an auction proceeds and by using mocks, you will not poorly prepared for your draft.

Snake draft

However, in snake drafts, I like to use mock drafts especially for the first few rounds.  The snake draft mocks are much more similar to how your draft will play out (especially in the early rounds when all members are still in the draft room and active). Participate in a few of these drafts, especially as your draft date nears as you will begin to get a feel for your first few picks. From there, you can more easily plan the rest of your roster.

Another tool to use to simplify your draft is the tier system. Most tier systems provide tiers by position. I find those useful to determine positional depth, but drafts do not occur by position. I like to prepare a list by tiers as the draft would happen. That is, tiers by round. In simplest form, take your ranking and cut it into rounds to match the number of teams in your league. Each tier will include 10 or 12 or 15 players. From this simple break, you can see who you expect will be available for you in each round. You can more easily plan out your draft by position in this way by seeing where positional scarcity comes into play.

Keeper league

What if you are in a keeper league? Does anything change? A keeper league allows you to control the draft to a greater degree. One simple trick involves whom to keep. If there are two or three players with similar values on your team, keep the player or players who shrink your preparation pool. For example, in a one catcher league, you have a catcher and pitcher who you value equally. In this scenario, keep the catcher because it eliminates the need to study catchers before the draft or consider catchers during the draft. In an auction this strategy can be even more valuable as you can offer catcher after catcher up for auction (assuming you have your DH or utility slot open) and watch your league mates spend their money while you look for bargains elsewhere.

In an auction league with keepers, you can go one step further and actually draft your team before the auction occurs. Once all keepers are submitted, my auction leagues generally have a week until the auction. I use this time to actually draft my team.  I will take my tracking spreadsheet and then plug in dollar values for the missing players. One dollar for a catcher, $50 (remember keeper league inflation!) for a pitcher until all of my money is spent. Then, I refer back to my rankings to see who fits into those slots.  I’ve simplified my draft even more as I now have a set of targets for each empty spot on my team.

Finally, I almost always assume I will select two or three one dollar players and may not even identify them. I know that my research will allow me to find those diamonds that no one else will see. And the reason I will find them? Take a look at the results from last year’s drafts? How many undrafted players earned a positive value? 10? 100? The number will depend on the depth of your league. Do you think you can identify two or three of them? I know I can and so can you.

Next week, I will take a look at other ways to shrink the draft pool including using injured players to your advantage and targeted research (with players to target) to help you find those $1 players.

Chris Garosi is a contributor for District Sports Page. One of his favorite sports memories is witnessing Wilson Alvarez’s no-hitter at Memorial Stadium in 1991. Chris has played fantasy sports since the pre-Internet days and participates in any league for any sport to which he’s invited. You can follow him on Twitter at @chrisgarosi.

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