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.
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.
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.