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How I prepare for the draft

Updated on February 25, 2013
What we all want.
What we all want. | Source

One thing I've learned over the years is that there is no correct way to win a fantasy baseball league. Whether you do it with hitting or pitching, it doesn't matter. Leagues can be won in a variety of ways.

But if you want to win a league, you have to have some sort of strategy or plan. Doesn't matter if you go pitching heavy, hitting heavy, or be as balanced as possible. It doesn't matter if you are in a head-to-head or a roto league. At the end of the day,you have to have some sort of plan to draft well enough to win your league. I always have a strategic plan in place and I try my best to draft well according to the league's settings.

I'll be highlighting some websites that I use for valuable information, how I prepare for head-to-head and roto leagues, the types of stats I analyze and look for in players, and how I put together all my information to make decisions on who I want.

Rotoworld and Rotoinfo

Rotoworld is a very useful site that I use on a daily basis. If you've never been to the site, they give constant status updates on all players. They don't discriminate between the stars and the not-so good players. They let you know everything up to date on any player.

Rotoinfo is a lot like Rotoworld, but I use Rotoinfo mostly to find out the line ups for the day. It is usually faster at telling you line ups hours in advance before Rotoworld does. I also like to follow them on twitter because they always give updates on injuries, closer changes, and etc. so fast.

ESPN Insider

If you don't have Insider, I advise you to get it. Yep, I was one of those people who refused to dish out money to ESPN just to read a few lousy articles that I felt like I didn't need. I am very happy that I decided to give them a shot. Many insider articles are loaded with information and have detailed analysis on each topic. Keith Law alone is worth the price of admission. You can learn a lot of goodies from experts that you wouldn't learn on most other sites. Get it if you don't have it. You won't be disappointed.

Fangraphs

It doesn't really matter what site you use to get your stats, but I prefer to use fangraphs. It's the easiest site that I've encountered when it comes to finding information I want. When I use sites like baseball-reference, I have to jump from page-to-page to find certain stats. Fangraphs organizes all the stats neatly into one page. They even have fantasy projections for players this season. It is also a baseball site that generally cares about fantasy baseball and has articles laced with valuable information. It is by far my favorite site to use for stats.

ESPN Player Rater

This is a very good tool to keep an eye on. I use it to prepare for drafts because the formula shows you exactly how productive a player is in each category relative to other players. Raw numbers aren't everything and the player rater can show you hidden value going into drafts. You probably didn't know that in the last two seasons combined, Alex Gordon has been every bit as good as Justin Upton on the player rater. Yet Alex Gordon is going six rounds later than Upton in most leagues.

If you don't think Kimbrel is worthy of a top 50 pick because he's a closer, just look at his impact on the player rater last season. Only 9 pitchers were more effective in helping lower ERA. Yes, this includes starting pitchers. Only six were more effective at lowering WHIP. Kimbrel is highly valuable as a closer and I haven't mentioned the Ks that he tacks onto your team. So in essence, Kimbrel is easily worth a top 50 selection and I wouldn't feel bad about taking him.

The Player Rater changes so much year-to-year, but I still like to use it to see how truly valuable a player is in a certain categories.

Notepad

There has to be some place where you stash important info, right? There's no better place than on Microsoft's Notepad. I keep all my info there and use it during the draft. I have info there such as certain important stats or trends of players. Like was his BABIP too low or high last year? Did he change a mechanic in his swing or pitch delivery in the offseason? I note certain velocity drops with pitchers.

The notepad is my best friend and is absolutely the one program I have open the most during this time of year. Sometimes I do it the old-fashioned way and write it down. I do whatever is necessary.

Planning for Head-to-Head and Roto Leagues


I'm a head-to-head guy. The competitiveness of it just makes it better than roto leagues in my honest opinion. Nothing is better than talking trash with friends before, during, and after a match. Gotta have a plan if I want the bragging rights. I plan a little differently in head-to-head than roto. I try to target players I think are great for one week matches, because that's what head-to-head is, a series of one week matches. If I have a shot at Kershaw and Verlander both with my first two picks, I just might take them in a head-to-head league because you can build towards a strength and get away with being weak in certain cats as long as you have a formula that works (i.e. wins you matches consistently). It all depends on how the draft goes. I don't stress out so much over players I want that get taken in head-to-head because I can regroup and start targeting an area in my team that I want to be strong in and let that carry me.

That isn't the case in roto leagues though. In these leagues, you can't be as careless and you can't make many mistakes. All the stats matter, and you can't just punt certain categories. You could, but you want to give yourself the best chance of coming out on top when the season is over. I always draft for absolute balance. My goal is to be good in every cat and I want my team to look balanced on paper after my draft is over. I typically go hitter/pitcher for the first four rounds, then hitter/hitter, pitcher/pitcher. By the time the fifth round hits, I want to look at my team and see one elite hitter and a great one, and one elite pitcher and a great one. In a perfect world, I'd love Trout, Price, Billy Butler, and Wainwright (Yes, I think the curve makes a comeback).

Don't be afraid to draft closers either. I know I can kind of avoid saves in head-to-head leagues and still get by, but in roto leagues, I take saves seriously. If you struggle at drafts in roto leagues like I used to, just try to pick one of the three best available hitters or pitchers on the board with each pick alternating between hitter and pitcher (Try to avoid injury-prone players). You should come out with a fairly balanced team.

Pitchers

1. Dan Haren- Due for a bounce-back year.

2. Jon Lester- See Haren

3. Wade Miley- Highly underrated and has one of the most deceptive deliveries in the game.

4. Marco Estrada- Nice K potential.

5. Ian Kennedy- Not as good as he was in 2011 and not as bad as he was last year. Somewhere in between.

6. Jonathan Niese- Always solid.

7. Brett Anderson- Forget about him? Don't. Just pray for health.

8. Tommy Milone- Doesn't get a lot of Ks, but has elite control and pitches in a huge ballpark. Always start him in Oakland.

9. Matt Harrison- The next Mark Buehrle. Eats innings and doesn't really hurt you.

10. Anibal Sanchez- Has been a nice glue player for a while now

11. Jeff Samardzija- Probably could be a superstar TE in the NFL right now, but he's becoming a good pitcher in the majors and has 200-K potential.

12. Jason Grilli- Don't sleep on him. He could be a great closer for the Pirates. Great K rate and low walk rate. Sounds like a good closer to me.

13. A.J. Burnett- The NL has always been kind to him.

14. Casey Janssen- Not getting the love he deserves. The Jays did not provide him with enough save chances last season. That shouldn't be too much of a problem now with a much improved roster.

15. Kenley Jansen- Frankly, because he's better than Brandon League. Even if he's not closing he can pad your Ks.

Hitters

1. Derek Jeter- Oldie but goodie. Ranked way too low in drafts. Don't worry about his ankle. He will be just fine.

2. Carlos Beltran- Another oldie but goodie.

3. A.J. Pierzynski- You know what you will get from him. Close to 20 HRs and decent average for a catcher.

4. Nick Markakis- He won't wow you, but he won't hurt you either.

5. Lance Berkman- Go for it and thank me later.

6. Adam Dunn- I know he'll kill my average but he'll give me power.

7. Adam LaRoche- If you are scared of Dunn's average, take this guy instead.

8. David Freese- He's a reason why you don't need to panic if you don't get a 3B early.

9. Melky Cabrera- Many might not want him because of the controversy surrounding him. Don't be one of those people.

10. Andre Ethier- You'd be surprised by how many people pass on his .280 average with 20 HRs, 90 runs, and 90 RBIs potential.

11. Paul Konerko- There's no reason to pass on him unless you are in a keeper league and are afraid of him retiring.

12. Marco Scutaro- I'd gladly take him as my SS or 2B.

13. Drew Stubbs- He's changed a mechanic in his swing. Maybe it helps. Besides that, he's always been a 20/30 threat with a crappy average which isn't too bad to have on your team.

14. Howard Kendrick- He doesn't hurt you and he still has 20/20 upside. Maybe this is the year.

15. Carl Crawford- I just can't give up on CC. Most people already have. I'm giving him one more chance.

Make a list of players you want

You can put your notepad to even more use by making a list of sleepers, or players you want. I personally like to target (at least) 15 pitchers and 15 hitters who I think most don't have on their radar, with upside to have a good season. If you can find 15 of each (which is hard to do), you almost always end up with a complete draft where you have players that YOU WANT. It's always important to get what you want and never settle.

I never let positional scarcity cloud my judgment when making my list. I always look for the best production. No need to stress myself out over filling certain positions. I just worry about building a productive team. Highly productive players will mask the deficiencies I have on my roster, so I don't go into the draft feeling like I have to address positions that are thin.

Finding at least 15 specific pitchers and hitters that YOU like that you think nobody else likes is very hard, but I've given you a starting point by showing you my list. When I look at pitchers, I look at stats such as BB%, K%, BABIP, and FIP. I look at what kind of success they had in the past, whether it was in the minors or majors. Like most, I'm looking for good pitchers coming off of bad seasons as well.

You always want to get pitchers who strike out a lot of batters, but so do your peers. So you can't always get a team full of K pitchers. After I get my aces (that are great at Ks), I look for guys with good control, can go deep into games, are solid in Ks, and who also keep their ERA and WHIP at respectable levels. Guys like Matt Harrison and Tommy Milone can be useful, especially in QS leagues.

If I already have my aces in place, I actually like those type of pitchers in the later rounds over pitchers who have great K potential; someone like Matt Harvey. Harvey is a guy a lot of people will have eyes on in the draft, and they should. I like him as well and I wouldn't mind having him, but I'm weary of having too many guys like him. Guys like him may get a lot of Ks, but they usually walk a lot of batters and that makes them prone to getting hit hard, but more importantly, limits their innings. But let's be real here, guys like Milone can get hit hard too but at least I know Milone can go pretty deep into most games. Guys who walk a lot of batters don't go deep into games. For this reason I try to stay away from the Harveys and the Morrows of the draft.

When I look at hitters, I'm looking at wOBA, OBP, slugging percentage, BABIP, ISO, O-Swing%(percentage of balls swung at outside the strike zone), and Z-Swing%(percentage of balls swung at inside), Yes, I kind of like to know if a guy swings at a bunch of bad pitches or swings at a bunch of good ones. Guys like Adam Jones swing at a bunch of bad pitches, which is why I'm not touching him in drafts. It's not that Adam Jones isn't good and I'm not advising that you stay away from him, but I just personally don't want many guys on my team to be guys that swing at a bunch of junk.

When trying to find value late, I look at stats like that to try to find some hidden gems. How sad it is it that Paul Konerko has been overlooked in drafts for so many years? 1B is always seen as being a deep position so many owners felt the need to ignore Konerko's importance to a fantasy roster. Konerko is the type of player that nobody cares about but could end up carrying your team if you suffer injuries to an early round big bat. Heck, he could carry your team even if you have no major injuries. And yep, he's highly underrated again this year. Unbelievable.

I was a big James Shields guy two years ago going into the draft, and I just felt like he wasn't as bad as his 2010 numbers indicated. I was rewarded with an elite season from Big Game James in '11 and he ended up being one of my best players. His peripherals in 2010 easily suggested a bounce-back year, but it was even better. And sometimes you can be rewarded tenfold by simply doing proper research. It's all tedious, but worth it in the long run.

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