Every year I see at least half the managers in my leagues drafting players that I make every effort to avoid. These are players with questionable history of performance, league scoring format, history of injuries, and changing teams in the off-season. While I love the research that most fantasy sports sites provide, it is easy to see the managers who do little or no other research or simply don’t know much about the game. Now, I want to keep this as short and simple as possible, but I couldn’t do it. So, I’ve broken down the main topics that I feel are most important to research to give yourself the advantage over at least 50% of your competing managers.
1. SCORING SYSTEM Before you draft, head to the scoring system and the free agent pool (which should include all players since it is pre-draft). If you are in a points league, then sort all players by total fantasy points. Don’t worry about position or any other subcategories. You need to separate the real sports world and the fantasy sports world. Tom Brady may be the best NFL player in real life, but he is far from the top in the fantasy world. The point (yep, pun) is to have the most points at the end of the year. Early on in the draft, say the first 3-5 rounds, this factor (overall highest points) should weigh heavily into your decision-making process. You need to focus on what positions and players historically gain you the most points. Just because a player is the best in his position, doesn’t mean you should hurry up and draft him. For example, the 15th best running back is probably going to gain you more points than the 1st or 2nd ranked tight end. I always cringe when I see Joe Mauer or another catcher come of the board early. Catchers almost always get drafted too early in leagues. I save catcher for the last pick of the draft. You always over-pay and the return is much less than any other position at that point in the draft.
In head-to-head leagues, you will be able to rank most players according to that website’s criteria. So, after you sort the players (#1) being the best overall player, you will start to see what positions have the deepest pool of talent, what positions will build up your team in the most categories, and where you need to focus on. Make a check-list or mental notes of the deepest positions and shallowest positions. Also, look to see which positions have the highest-ranked players. After some analysis, you will see where you can wait longer to draft a position and what positions need attention earlier in the draft.
At this time, I want to re-emphasize that you should always focus on getting the best player available in the first 3-5 rounds as long as you have an open spot to put them(meaning, they won’t be riding the bench because you don’t have an active roster spot to give them). I typically let these first few rounds determine the direction of the rest of my draft. Find the strengths and weaknesses on your team. DO NOT BUILD A BALANCED TEAM. Balanced teams are mediocre. You need to be strong in a fixed number of categories. If you drafted a bunch of guys who hit.300, average 25-30 stolen bases, and score 90-100 runs, don’t start drafting a few of the remaining big power guys. Keep filling positions with similar players.
2. INJURIES Now, let’s take a look at injuries. I always avoid players who have multiple trips to the DL in the last 2-3 years. This takes a little research if you’re unfamiliar with the sport and not following current events. After you’ve gone through the trouble of identifying the players you would consider drafting, start pulling their profiles up and see how many games they’ve missed the last few years. This isn’t a fool-proof method and it doesn’t mean they will for sure head to the DL in the future, but I typically avoid them like the plague unless I can get them much later than they would typically go.
Players that fall under this category for me are Josh Hamilton, Troy Tulowitzki, Donovan McNabb, Ronnie Brown, etc. Yes, they can have a high-side and typically play at a high level when healthy, but they are also frustrating to own and can cripple your team. It typically isn’t a large number of players, but the goal is to have these guys the entire year, not for part of it.
3. PROGRESSION Next we’ll touch on a player’s history of performance. Typically, many fantasy baseball sleeper lists will tell you what rookies will have a big impact this year. I seldom find rookies to have any sort of significant part of my team’s success. With baseball, I prefer to look at young players who have a year or two in the league and maybe were on a sleeper list one or two years earlier. This is where your research is really going to pay off as this type of research applies to all rounds of a draft.
Progression is simply improvement over a period of time. I like to see improvement over the course of a couple years. For example, for my 2011 baseball drafts, I was very high on Jered Weaver. In fact, I kept stating how I think he’ll be a finalist for the Cy Young this year. I shouldn’t have opened my mouth as he drafted him right before me in a draft we shared soon after making this proclamation. Anyways, if you look at Jered Weaver’s profile you will see how the general trend shows a healthy amount of innings pitched, steady improvement in ERA, and increase in strikeouts. Yahoo Sports had him way under-valued in my opinion and so I was able to draft him in three other leagues. He’s started out the year as the best pitcher in the league. There’s a lot of season left, but I’d say things are looking good for that prediction.
Another baseball example is with Trevor Cahill. He is a later-round pick, but someone who is becoming and will be a dominant pitcher for years to come.
Baseball-reference.com is a fantastic website to look up minor league stats. After seeing the success he had in the minors and how he’d performed in his brief major league career, I was sold. He dominated the minors and it translated to the majors. His strikeouts were down, but these typically come back after being in the league a year or two. So far this year, he’s been lights out, his K’s have been up, and his ERA is near a league-best.
4. OFF-SEASON STATUS: This last point of consideration should not be overlooked. A player’s value can change if they move ball parks or if their team added some additional free agents to their team. I’ll use baseball as an example again since that is the time of year we’re in. Adrian Gonzalez played in one of the worst hitters parks in the league at Safeco. It was amazing the power that he displayed considering the disadvantage that he had spending half the year there. Moving to Fenway where it is a very friendly hitters park, especially for lefties, will impact his numbers in a positive way. So far this year, I’ll be honest, it hasn’t been displayed. However, by the end of the year, he will be making fantasy owners (like myself) very happy to have drafted him.
The same thing can go for a pitcher who has changed leagues, teams, or ball parks. Coors field is notorious for being a hitter’s park and until Ubaldo Jimenez’s anomaly last year, it had been known to chew pitchers up. The American League is known to be the tougher league for pitchers. This is mainly due to the designated hitter rule that the AL has and the NL doesn’t have. This should and does weigh into the equation of who to pick. You’re NL pitchers will have a better time. Here’s an easy example. We all know Roy Halladay is one of the absolute best pitchers in the league. However, he only got better when he switched to the NL from the AL. His ERA, WHIP, SO’s, W’s, were either the best or 2nd best of his entire career least year, his first year in the NL. He’s not coming into his prime either as he’s 33, going on 34 next month.
In conclusion, in order to have a successful fantasy team, you need to follow these steps. They will go a long way in making you one of the best in your leagues, year after year. Sometime soon, I will write a complete novel on the art of the fantasy draft, but until then, this “short” explanation will have to do. And hey, if you have any questions about who to draft, who to pick up, who to drop, send me a message. I’m always researching.