Thursday, March 25, 2010

My strategy: Drafting players (Part 5 of 7)

This is the fifth in a seven-part series documenting my fantasy baseball strategy. Last time in part four we discussed pitcher evaluation. Now we'll examine how I approached the 2009 Urbana Premier League Baseball Draft and assembled the core of my championship team.

I tend to be wary of general draft advice. After all, draft strategies should vary greatly from league to league. An 8-team league is going to have a vastly different draft from a 16-team league. Also, much depends on the type of managers in your league. If most guys in your league live in Chicago, then you have to expect a high number of Cubs/Sox players will go off the board earlier than they really should. Whereas MLB players on other teams around the country might be hidden gems who fall further in the draft than they should. Each league tends to have its own biases and blind spots.

I can only speak to my own experience. I've never participated in an auction draft, so that's not what this post is about. In the UPL where I play, up until this season we've always had a basic snake draft with all MLB players available. Now 2010 will be the first time we have just a small 8-round draft to fill in our keeper teams. However, here I'll focus on the traditional snake draft for a 12-team league, which is what we had in the UPL for 2009.

The basic principles that I apply to drafting players are the same ones already laid out in the first four posts of this series:
  • Focus on winning now. Don't get caught up on players who might be good in the 2nd half of this season or next season. Try to get the guys who will produce right away.
  • Build a balanced team. If possible, have multiple players available at each position in order to foster competition and maximize roster flexibility.
  • Pick high-OBP power hitters early. Predicting which players will perform the best is hard, but hitters with a track record for high OBP and power numbers tend to be the most reliable bets.
  • Target pitchers with low WHIPs and high Ks. Drafting pitchers is risky by nature, so here you can afford to take more risks by drafting them in later rounds.
Now let's see if I took my own advice. Here are the picks of my team, the '90 Reds, from the 2009 UPL Draft:

Round 1 - Ryan Howard, 1B (8th pick overall)
Round 2 - Carlos Beltran, OF (17)
Round 3 - Manny Ramirez, OF (32)
Round 4 - Aramis Ramirez, 3B (41)

What do all four of these players have in common? They're all hitters who had put up big-time numbers for at least the past three seasons (2006, 2007, 2008). Beltran, Manny, and A-Ram all typically go .400/.500 (OBP/SLG), and Howard has simply been the most reliable power guy since 2006. Yes, Howard's OBP isn't as high as I like, but he's been so consistent in a championship-caliber Philly lineup that I just couldn't pass on him. I have no regrets taking Howard over Fielder or Braun, mainly because Howard has been doing it for longer.

Sure, Beltran and A-Ram both got hurt, and Manny got suspended for 50 games, but these were still good picks. After all, when those guys were in the lineup, they produced. That's so much better than having a guy in the lineup who doesn't get the job done.

2010 Outlook: I'd keep Howard rated about the same. But yeah, you have to downgrade Beltran, Manny, and A-Ram based on their disappointing results last season.

Round 5 - Dan Haren, SP (56)

Season after season Haren has low WHIPs and high Ks. Plus he's had a relatively clean medical history. Somewhat early in the draft I like to get at least one bona fide ace starting pitcher to anchor my staff. I was a little surprised that Haren was still available at #56, so I was happy to take him.

2010 Outlook: I'd keep Haren rated about the same heading into 2010 as he was for 2009.

Round 6 - Victor Martinez, C, 1B (65)

V-Mart was my favorite pick of the draft. Why? Because no other pick showcased my strategy better than this one. I admittedly struggled when I was on the clock here, mainly because I was also considering Adam Dunn. The way I saw it, my choice was between the best hitter available (Adam Dunn, who you can pencil in for .400/.500 and 40 homers every season) or the guy who could best balance out my team (Victor Martinez, who also goes .400/.500 with decent power at a scarce position, catcher, plus he has 1B eligibility and thus could backup Howard in an emergency).

Like V-Mart, Dunn also had dual eligibility (OF/1B) and could have backed up Howard. But I already had 2 OFs, and having V-Mart at catcher would have been amazing value if he could stay healthy and go .400/.500. Not only is V-Mart a better hitter than almost every other catcher in the league, but I had read that his manager (for the Indians) was going to make sure his bat was in the lineup every day, even when he wasn't catching (most catchers take at least 1 game off per week). In V-Mart, I saw a way for my team to potentially dominate the position of catcher both in terms of quality and quantity, so I snatched him. Fortunately, he stayed healthy and, as I had hoped, proved to be a key difference for my team.

2010 Outlook: Since V-Mart actually stayed healthy last year, his rating goes up for 2010. But don't look for his overall numbers to be better in 2010 than they were in 2009. 

Round 7 - Joe Nathan, RP (80)

Nathan was 34 going into last season, and some people would have stayed away from him in a keeper league. (Maybe worried that he'd hurt his elbow and miss the season with Tommy John surgery or something.) But I just saw a guy who was among the best in the business. He had a relatively clean medical history, and since I also like to get at least one bona fide elite closer relatively early in the draft, I went for Nathan. Fortunately, he went on to have a career year in 2009 with 47 saves.

2010 Outlook: Okay, so I guess all those people who were worried about Nathan's age can gloat now. He's out for the year with that Tommy John surgery. But this is another pick that I'm not going to second guess.

The core

I was really happy with my first seven picks. I had five hitters who, if healthy, were great bets to produce at or near .900 OPS levels. Four of my five hitters were coming off at least three straight great seasons. And with Victor Martinez, I had potentially found an elite player at a scarce position, C, who could also serve as an emergency backup for my top pick Ryan Howard at 1B if he went down with an injury.

Also in those top seven picks I managed to take an ace SP, Dan Haren, and an All-Star closer, Joe Nathan. By this point, many of my opponents had a head start with pitchers, but my plan was to try to catch up in pitching either through the latter part of the draft or through free agency. For now, I was happy to stock up on top hitters.

For anyone interested in my picks from Rounds 8 to 24, I've posted them in the comments below. I didn't always take my own advice, but for the most part there was a method to my madness. Perhaps I can learn more from my mistakes than from my successes.

Now that the draft is over, it's time to let the games begin. In part six we'll look at making roster moves during the season.


Greg said...

The '90 Reds 2009 UPL draft picks continued:

Round 8 - Stephen Drew, SS (89)

What was I thinking? Three things: 1) He led MLB shortstops with 21 homers in 2008 2) In the 2nd half of '08 he went .372/.556 and 3) His older brother J.D. developed into a pretty good MLB hitter.

So what went wrong? Stephen hasn't been able to get his OBP up consistently yet. In 2009, he was a total bust for me. I took him in the 8th round because I liked the idea of leading the league with homers from the scarce shortstop position. But in hindsight, I was reaching with this pick. The lesson I hope to learn from this is to not take an unproven player in the top 10 rounds again.

2010 Outlook: Here are Stephen Drew's OBPs from 2006 to 2008: .313, .333, .320. Maybe this is the year he finally gets his OBP above .350, but my guess is that it will be down around .330 again. He's really only a platoon player (struggles mightily against lefties.)

Round 9 - Javier Vazquez, SP (104)

Here I was just looking for a reliable (healthy) SP who can rack up big Ks. Another bonus was that he was going from a hitter friendly park in the AL to a pitcher friendly park in the NL. Admittedly, this Vazquez pick turned out far better than I had hoped.

2010 Outlook: I'm bummed that Vazquez is no longer in Atlanta. He's going to a hitter friendly park in the AL again, and I don't like the numbers he put up for the Yanks in his previous run with them.

Round 10 - Mike Aviles, 2B, SS (113)

Can I pretend that this didn't happen? No? OK, so here's the deal. Like Stephen Drew, Aviles put up a nice 2nd half in '08 at a scarce position. And in fact, Aviles was eligible at two scarce positions--SS and 2B. So that's what I was thinking. Everything was going to work out perfectly until he started out in a terrible slump and then I read rumors about a hole in his swing.

2010 Outlook: Aviles did finally get shut down last year with an injury. So it will be interesting to see if it was the injury or a hole in his swing--or perhaps both--that led to his struggles. For now, not too many people are interested in Aviles.

Round 11 - Justin Upton, OF (128)

A former #1 overall pick in the MLB draft, you know Justin Upton has raw talent. Plus his older brother B.J. developed into a decent MLB player. Also, J-Up's 2008 numbers weren't all that bad. The question here was whether or not 2009 would be the season that he would make "The Leap." In the 11th round, I felt he was worth the risk. Perhaps I got lucky, but I'll take it.

2010 Outlook: People might be overvaluing Justin Upton for 2010. He's a great talent, but he has yet to show that he can be consistent from year to year. Interestingly enough, his older brother B.J. has yet to show year-to-year consistently as well.

Round 12 - Ryan Dempster, SP (137)

Going for another solid starter here who had a chance for a low WHIP and high Ks. Admittedly, I wasn't excited about this pick at the time, mainly because I felt 2008 was as good as it would get for Dempster.

2010 Outlook: I think 2009 was probably the real Dempster. Look for something similar in 2010 with a WHIP around 1.30 and an ERA above 3.40. He's still a solid starter.

Round 13 - Brian Wilson, RP (152)

I was just going for the best closer available here.

2010 Outlook: Wilson actually got better as the season went on last year, so that could be a good sign for 2010. It's reasonable to think that he could have an ERA around 3.00 and a WHIP around 1.25 again.

Greg said...

Round 14 - Milton Bradley, OF (167)

I figured if he could stay healthy and keep his head on straight, then he had a great shot to go .400/.500 in a potent Cub offense. Unfortunately, he couldn't keep his head on straight.

2010 Outlook: If he can stay healthy and keep his head on straight, then he has a great shot to go .400/.500.

Round 15 - Chad Qualls, RP (176)

Again, just going for the best closer available here.

2010 Outlook: If Qualls can stay healthy for the whole season, he should be able to improve upon the 24 saves that he had last year. But keep in mind that Qualls has yet to go an entire season as the closer.

Round 16 - Conor Jackson, 1B (185)

This was my worst pick of the draft. That's not to say that Conor Jackson was the worst player or biggest bust of my draft. But I do think that I was the most careless here. My cheat sheets had basically gone bare at this point and I went with a "safe" pick. When the Thugs drafted Chris Carpenter a few picks later, I was reminded that I had meant to target Carpenter in the late rounds and instantly regretted taking Conor Jackson instead of Carpenter. This remains my biggest regret of the 2009 draft.

Round 17 - Pablo Sandoval, C, 1B, 3B (200)

Fortunately, my pre-draft cheat still had Sandoval's name on it. He had finished the 2008 MLB season strong and there were good vibes coming out of the Giants' spring training. I liked him as a backup catcher, plus he had eligibility at 1B and 3B. This pick turned out to be huge for my team.

2010 Outlook: Sandoval exceeded expectations in 2009, so I wouldn't expect him to do that again. I think his numbers will be similar to last year, with an OBP/SLG of at least .370/.530 to go with 25 homers. The big key will be whether he stays healthy.

Round 18 - Joe Saunders, SP (209)

This was another weak/safe pick. I liked Saunders' low WHIP (1.21) from 2008, as well as his 17-7 record for a good Angels' team. However, like I've mentioned before, I don't pay much attention to a pitcher's W-L record compared to his WHIP and K rates. Speaking of K rates, Saunders has a paultry K rate of about 4.5K/9. He didn't last on my team long, nor did I expect him to.

2010 Outlook: Saunders will have a sub 5K/9 rate, which will be a drag on any owner trying to be competitive in Ks. As for his W-L ratio? Let's put one bullet in the cylinder, spin it, pull the trigger, and see what happens.

Round 19 - Ian Stewart, 2B, 3B (224)

Stewart finished the 2008 MLB season strong, plus he had eligibility at a scarce position (2B) and another position (3B). Notice a trend here? If I'm going with a young prospect, I at least like to see that they performed well at the MLB level in the 2nd half of the previous season. It's no guarantee of success, but it's better than nothing.

In 2009, Stewart was a funny one for me. He got off to a bit of a slow start, and I had to drop him (part of my aggressive strategy that rewards producers and has little room for dead weight). Another team picked up Stewart and then gave up on him too. I nearly picked him back up, but the Jabrones beat me to it. Overall, Stewart finished with a nice 2009 in terms of power numbers, but his OBP was weak.

2010 Outlook: This is a tough read. Ian Stewart's OPS was less than .800 in both the 1st and 2nd halves of 2009. I wouldn't feel comfortable going into 2009 with him as one of my starters. That said, I'd be quick to scoop him up if he gets on any type of roll. He could have a breakout year.

Greg said...

Round 20 - Troy Percival, RP (233)

Again, just going for the best closer available here. (Yes, I knew that he was on his last legs. No, I don't regret drafting him.)

2010 Outlook: Troy Percival's Career, R.I.P. (1995-2009)

Round 21 - Rajai Davis, OF (248)

Bad pick. I keep forgetting that Rajai Davis isn't 23. Don't know why. Oh well. (I dropped him shortly after the draft, although he did put up some nice stats the 2nd half of the season.)

2010 Outlook: Truth be told, last season Rajai Davis had a better 2nd half than Michael Bourn. They both could put up good numbers in 2010. However, interestingly enough, they're both nursing injuries during spring training as I write this post. And for those of you who read my post about hitters already know that I've written about the common phenona of the oft-injured speedy OF.

Round 22 - Wandy Rodriguez, SP (257)

Wandy has long been money at home with a low WHIP and high K rate. The only question was if he could do it on the road. In 2009, he finally put it all together, which was a nice boost for my team.

2010 Outlook: I think Wandy can be about as good as he was in 2009. I'm counting on him so have a sub-1.30 WHIP and at least 190+ K in 200+ innings pitched.

Round 23 - Dana Eveland, SP (272)

This was just a buzz pick. For whatever reason, I had heard rumors for more than a year that this Dana Eveland guy could be good, plus he pitches in a hitters park. But I dropped him before the season because I couldn't forgive his low K/9. And dang, it was a good thing I dropped him.

2010 Outlook: Dana Eveland might one day develop into a nice major league pitcher. But I don't think you have to worry about him developing into a fantasy stud this year. He's currently struggling to even make the Blue Jays' rotation.

Round 24 - Eric Byrnes, OF (281)

Byrnes was coming off an injury-plagued 2008, so I thought that I might be getting a steal here. Unfortunately, after the draft I learned that Byrnes had yet to crack the D-Backs starting outfield. So I dropped him.

2010 Outlook: Byrnes is currently fighting for a backup OF spot with the Mariners. I will not be drafting him in the 24th round--or any other round--in 2010.

Greg said...

Update: I'm going to admit to an error of omission here. Earlier I opined, "I think 2009 was probably the real Dempster." Well, I must have been living under a rock, because I didn't learn until this evening that Dempster's family was going through a very difficult time last season--especially in April and May.

Now that I have a little better grasp of the full picture, I realize that saying 2009 was the "real Dempster" was wildly unfair. Here's hoping he and his family are able to put together a great 2010.