by Simon Jones
As you’ll be aware, the Trade Counsel columns focus on all aspects of trading – the psychology, the dynamics and the mechanics. However in order to start making trades to give you that competitive advantage, you need to construct your roster to give you the maximum opportunity to make and accept the right offers. Often I hear people talking about “winning the trade”, as if trades exist in a vacuum. You may get the occasional naïve new owner who will make or accept some ridiculously lop-sided deal, but most of us are in leagues where the owners have been around the block and know that an Anthony Rizzo for Hanley Ramirez trade only works for one side. So we’re on the lookout for any marginal gains that can steer our side to that fantasy championship. Step 1 in that process is the draft.
I’ll put in a caveat that most of these strategies apply only to active trading leagues, where you know that there are always other owners at least willing to listen to offers. If your league is less active or non-trading (like many of the Fantrax and NFBC leagues) then next week’s column will focus on other strategies.
Preparation is Key
If there’s one strategy that trumps all others, it is preparation. I will cover aspects of cheat sheets and mock drafts next week, but the main focus is that you can never be too prepared going into a draft. Knowing the player pool and having the confidence in your cheat sheets can give you a few extra seconds to make a careful and considered pick, rather than snatching at the first player at the top of the ADP list (and regretting it 60 seconds later).
Draft the Best Players
This first piece of advice may seem like nonsense, but hear me out. Most draft strategies initially concentrate on grabbing the best players you can, however, after the first 9 or 10 rounds I often see owners start to worry about filling positions and skipping materially better players in the process. Once you get into rounds 15 and beyond, then this practice becomes even more common. The trick here is to keep your nerve and back your ability to execute the trades you need post-draft. You’re much better placed to trade if you have value and stats sitting on your roster rather than some barely replacement level guy you picked up to plug your MI slot. Similarly, don’t sweat on the scoring categories that a player provides – if you have four speedsters already and see another big SB threat drop below where they should in the draft then grab him, and trade from strength.
Embrace Position Scarcity
Position scarcity has changed markedly over the last 5 or 6 years. I remember a time when most of the hitting talent was concentrated into the corner infield and outfield positions. If you didn’t grab an elite middle infielder early, then the drop off was severe. This season in particular, talent seems to be spread across most positions. This doesn’t mean the talent pools are limitless, and there are flaws at every position the deeper you go. Especially in deeper leagues, owners still have a big fear of missing out on talent at a position, which we can use to our advantage. Whenever possible I try to split the positions into tiers, where I feel the outlook for those players is broadly similar. If I see a particular tier being close to exhausted, then I will often try to grab the last player in that tie, as long as the value is right and there isn’t an obviously better player on the board. It doesn’t matter if I already own someone at that position, and often it helps. If I already own Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado, and the Kyle Seager falls to me at the right price at the end of the next 3B tier, then I’m happy to take him knowing that other owners will be fretting about 3B. As well as opening up trading opportunities post-draft, it might also trigger a run on 3B as owners overreach to grab someone like Evan Longoria or Justin Turner.
There’s an old adage – “Never Pay for Saves”. All-knowing experts remind you of high closer turnover and will point to the relievers who went undrafted and racked up 20+ saves during the year. That’s lovely if you play in a 10/12 team league or where half the owners are inactive and you can always grab the next in line off the free agent list, at no price at all. If you are playing in a deep mixed league or an AL/NL-only league, then we know there aren’t enough closers to go around. Saves are the scarcest commodity in fantasy baseball. As a result closers are often one of the most tradeable positions, as an owner whose RP suddenly loses the ninth inning role may be inclined to panic and seek an alternative. I wouldn’t advocate overpaying for saves, but any time that you can trade from strength it allows you the opportunity to obtain extra value in a trade.
Understand Your League Rules
If you play 5×5 rotisserie the rules are pretty clear and external rankings and ADPs will serve as a good guide. If, however, you are entering into a league with modified scoring or H2H, then really delve deep into those systems. Often there is some hidden inconsistency that most owners won’t spot until it’s too late. Once they spot your strategy, it puts you in a prime position to trade from an advantage (or sit tight and watch the other owners flail around). In the past I’ve played in points leagues where I’ve drafted three starting pitchers in the first 3 picks, and in H2H leagues where I’ve drafted only two SPs (one of which I immediately traded before people spotted what I’d seen for weeks).
Use ADPs to Your Advantage
No matter where you draft – ESPN, Fantrax etc. – you are always confronted by that site’s ADP. It takes effort to avoid it, and often the default sort order is by ADP. We all go into drafts with the best laid plans, but when the pressure is on and your 3 queued picks have just gone, then it’s easy to slip into that ADP trap. Even in slow drafts, you see it. I was helping a friend out on a slow draft the other night on Fantrax and someone picked Aaron Sanchez in the mid-90s and then questioned how everyone had let him fall so low. The answer was that he had only fallen low compared to Fantrax ADPs, which seem to like Sanchez about 30 spots higher than I rank him.
The truth is that there are always going to be inconsistencies in ADPs and these can often lead to conscious or subconscious drafting decisions. I always do an exercise beforehand, to compare my rankings to the ADP and ranking of the site I’m drafting on. This often doesn’t have a big impact in the first 100 or so players, but it can help me grab a few bargains in later rounds, especially if I’m torn between 2 players.
Drafting for the Short-term
A key thing to remember when you are intending to make trades during the year is that you are not drafting guys that you intend to own throughout 2017. In my most important league, of the 26 guys I owned at the end of the 2016 season I had exactly 1 of those players (Tanaka) immediately after the draft. You can adopt a short term attitude to a plyer’s value, which can help you mightily when drafting. Below are 3 particular types of players to aim for.
Injury Risk Players
A lot of players see their draft value depressed if they have historic injury problems hanging over them, however if they are entering 2017 with a clean bill of health then I’m focussing on these guys. If I draft Rich Hill, then it isn’t with the hope that he suddenly logs 200+ innings. The aim is that he can carry the elite per-start numbers over from 2016. If he’s sitting in mid-May with a sub 3 ERA and WHIP around 1, then his value will have jumped far beyond his draft slot. Of course there is risk with this strategy too, and if Hill gets injured in April you’re in trouble.
Buying the Hype
There is probably no group of players with higher price volatility than young, unproven prospects who have just broken onto the scene. There is no better feeling than to be the owner of the next big thing, and owners will often overpay for the promise of the next Mike Trout. Gary Sanchez and Trea Turner easily spring to mind, and it’s easy to forget the number of “can’t-miss” prospects who burn brightly for a couple of months and then tail off dramatically. The trick is that you don’t need the prospect to have a full year’s stats to gain top value – you just need four weeks worth to get an owner or two to bite on that promise.
Some of the least sexy picks in the draft are the older veterans who saw their performance drop off in 2016. The guys still have name value, but in the draft that can actually count against them. There’s no kudos in drafting Carlos Gomez and I’ve see Jose Bautista drop a long way. However, what counts against them in a draft can definitely count for them a couple of months down the line. Carlos Gomez had a pretty poor 2016, but lost within that was a pretty outstanding last 20% of the season. However, if Gomez continues that into May then suddenly his value spikes and you can guarantee there are some owners who are interested again. For Bautista and Andrew McCutchen the drop wasn’t so severe, but the perception will bring them closer to elite sooner if they have a quick start. Again, remember that you only need to be able to sell sixweeks of a bounceback guy to get a reasonable return.
Pretty much every trade you negotiate involves psychology to some extent, so you might as well try to gain the advantage during the draft itself. Keep an eye on the chat and remember the comments about where guys feel they are weak and what players they like. This can be useful information further down the line. Plus it never does any harm to nurture their fears and paranoia, especially if it gives you a future advantage.
The Trade Counsel is a weekly trade column – please leave feedback or any trade questions below.
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|Starting Pitcher||#1-20 |02/27/17|