How much fun is drafting? It’s probably the most fun thing about fantasy baseball. And the trend is to draft earlier and earlier. Before 2021, I’d never drafted before March. March 15 was an “early draft.” Now, you find people drafting their next year’s teams before this year’s World Series is even over!
The Enrico Palazzo Podcast Invitational slow draft (two hours maximum per selection) was in February of 2021. For most fantasy players, that was very early … many free agents hadn’t signed yet. For me, this was already my fourth draft on the NFBC platform. 59 other hardcore players participated – some of the best fantasy players in the world – divided into four separate leagues with an overall component. Somehow, and I must stress somehow, I managed to beat them all. Sure, I’ve been playing fantasy for over 30 years, yet I’m a newbie to this format, and to NFBC. It was my first year on NFBC, and was only my second year doing “draft and holds.” If you’ve never played a “DC” (Draft Champions), it’s a 50 round draft, with no adds, drops, or trades. Whoever you draft, you’re stuck with for the entire season. So you have to figure to have multiple back-ups for every position, since as every fantasy player knows, injuries happen. How did I end up winning the engraved trophy grand prize? Let’s look:
I DIDN’T HAVE A PERFECT DRAFT!
There were hits, of course, but there were also misses. My #2 starting pitcher was Tyler Glasnow who threw a grand total of 88 innings. My #3 SP was Zack Greinke who had an ERA over 4.00. My #4 starter was Patrick Corbin who had an ERA near 6.00 and a WHIP of almost 1.50.
On offense, my #2 and 3 outfielders were Eddie Rosario and Clint Frazier, who both had poor seasons. My #5 outfielder was Alex Kirilloff, who suffered a season-ending injury after 215 mediocre rookie at-bats.
SOME THINGS WENT VERY RIGHT
With my first pick, I took Trea Turner with the fourth overall selection. He did so well that he’s often going as the top pick off the board for 2022, with his speed and power combination, and multi-position eligibility. In the second round, I hit on Brandon Woodruff as my SP 1 (pick 27), and then nabbed Manny Machado in the third round as the 34th pick overall. Other big contributors in my original starting lineup included such names as Aaron Judge (pick 64), Max Muncy (89), Franmil Reyes (154), Ryan Mountcastle (172), Chris Taylor (237) and Mitch Haniger (244).
YOUR BENCH IS SUPER IMPORTANT
My first bench player at pick 334 was Joey Votto, who smashed 36 homers, with 99 RBI. Not bad for a “back-up.” Then it was Hunter Renfroe at 387, who added 31 homers and 96 RBI for the season. The best later round pick had to be Carlos Rodón, who came to me in the 40th round at pick 597. As I mentioned earlier, my starting pitcher picks mostly did not work out, but Rodón acted like a true ace, and probably was the key factor in winning the league with his 13 wins, 2.36 ERA, and 0.95 WHIP.
MY CLOSER PICKS CLICKED
In February, many team’s closers are unknown, so a bit of guesswork is needed. Because of that, many fantasy managers push up closers, even taking them as early as the second or third round in current 2022 drafting. I got Kenley Jensen as my first closer in the 9th round, at pick 124. My second closer was Mark Melancon at pick 214, in round 15. At that time, it was speculated that just about every other pitcher in the San Diego bullpen would be the team’s closer. But I knew the recently signed Melancon was a successful closer everywhere he’s gone, so it was a calculated gamble (I took him in multiple drafts). My third closer, José Leclerc, pitched a grand total of two innings before succumbing to injury. My fourth closing option was Jake McGee at pick 417, and he was good for 31 saves on the season. Not bad for a post-400 “dart throw” pick.
YOU DON’T NEED AN ELITE CATCHER TO WIN
Many will argue with this and push up catchers in this two-catcher format. I took Yan Gomes as my first catcher with the 327th pick in round 22, and followed that up with Omar Narváez in the 25th round, at pick 364. Neither was a world-beater, but they didn’t crush me either. Once you get past the top six or so catchers, there isn’t a huge difference between one who can hit 15 home runs, and another who hits 18 homers. The lesson is don’t sweat catching.
USE DRAFT SOFTWARE TO HELP KEEP TRACK OF STATS
There are various programs out there for you to purchase. The one I used was the Fantasy Pros Draft Wizard Draft Assistant. Though I had rigged it with my own rankings and notes, it does give you suggestions of who to draft based on team needs. For example, if you are light on steals, it might show you four players who are projected for the most steals to choose from. I often over rode their suggestions, but it’s good to know how you are stacking up against your league-mates. At the end of the draft, it gives you a score, and a look at the overall projected standings. I got a B+ score, which might sound good, but in some drafts, I notched an A+, 100/100 score! I was projected to finish third in the standings, but on the NFBC website, it showed me finishing first in my league. And as it turns out, I actually did!
TAKE WHAT THE DRAFT GIVES YOU
I didn’t set out to draft either Gomes or Narváez but they were the best on the board at that time, according to my calculations and those of “the experts.” The same can be said throughout the draft. Some times great players fall into your lap, and you have to be ready to pounce. However, sometimes guys are falling for a reason, and it’s best to just let them be someone else’s managerial headache. You can go into a draft with a plan like “Pocket Aces” (taking two starting pitchers in the first two rounds) or “Aces and Bases” (take an ace, and get your steals), however sometimes the best laid plans go awry, so it’s good to have a back-up plan, and a back-up to the back-up, depending on what happens during a particular draft.
I LIKE A BALANCED DRAFT
It might sound obvious, but my plan is to come out of a draft with a well-balanced team. I want to have stellar hitting, but not to ignore pitching. I want saves, and I want steals. Of course, you can’t have it all, so something has to give. As stated earlier, for me, catching gives. And middle infield was a lower priority. I lucked out with Chris Taylor giving so much at 2nd base where I put him (he also could play in the outfield). And my MI (middle infielder) was Garrett Hampson (pick 267). He’s nothing special, yet he did help the speed component of my team. As I mentioned previously, starting pitching was not my strong suit, but it ended up working out okay. In the hitting categories, I had 15 points (the maximum) in runs, home runs, and RBI. In pitching I had 15 points in saves. ERA and WHIP were both 13 points. For stolen bases, I earned 11 points, and wins was my weakest cate gory, worth 10 points in my league. Great balance!
How did I know I could leave catching or middle infield for the end? Because you need to know the draft board, and where players are going. Once you can see via ADP and from your previous drafts who goes where, you can work backwards and plan on taking scarce positions or statistics earlier. If there’s a lot of power left after pick 300, you can safely leave that category to the end, and concentrate on other categories earlier.
WATCH WHAT YOUR LEAGUE-MATES ARE SAYING
In your draft room, if you’re getting a lot of “great pick!” comments in the chat, you might be on the wrong track. This is counter-intuitive because the kind of players that others really like are often the long shots and rookies who are industry darlings. I’m here to say that you can win with a boring old guy team, too. No one said “great pick!” when I took Joey Votto, Rich Hill, Collin McHugh, or Josh Harrison, but these old boring players all contributed to my team winning the league.
NO SPREADSHEETS, NO MATH!
I don’t know how to put together a spreadsheet, and I’m not a math whiz like many in this industry seem to be. What I can do is read and listen. I read the player analysis from some of the finest around, I look at their rankings and tiered lists, and I listen to a lot of podcasts. A lot of podcasts! You learn so much. On the other hand, for every “tip,” there’s often an opposing viewpoint. Some one might love Sixto Sánchez and you’re all set to draft him, when on another show or in another draft guide, the host/writer is down on Sixto. You have to be the one to make the ultimate call based on what you see, hear, and read. That can be confusing, and it’s tough to know who to trust! In the end, it seems, you have to go with your gut.
IT’S STILL ABOUT 10 CATEGORIES
When you listen to these shows and read the articles, there are enough acronyms to make your head spin. wOBA, wRAA, xFIP, CSW and on and on. These metrics are cool, and help people a lot smarter than I am figure out who might shine, but the bottom-line for fantasy isn’t who has the best BABIP. It’s who scores the most runs, hits the most home runs, has the best batting average, and steals the most bags. Likewise for the five pitching categories. I feel as if sometimes the fantasy community can lose sight of what’s important to winning a league.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP
In a draft, and in-season management, you are often faced with binary choices. Should I draft this guy, or that guy? Should I start player A, or player B? Bouncing your ideas off of great fantasy players can help you come to these often tough decisions. The fantasy baseball community, especially on Twitter, is wonderful. So many fantastic people have helped me — there are too many to mention here, but you know who you are. From the bottom of my heart, thank you! It’s not just me, they can help you, too. That is, if you ask for their help (remember to be very specific about your league set-up). Perhaps you will find the answers you are seeking.
YOU ACTUALLY MIGHT HAVE TO SWEAT IT
I led the overall component of the Palazzo Invitational for almost the entire season, start to finish. Then, in the last week, I could see my lead slipping away. Is there any feeling worse in fantasy baseball than watching your team collapse in the final week? Luckily, I managed to avert disaster, and win the league against such tremendous competitors as Yancy Eaton (second place in my league and overall), Greg Shirron (3rd place in my league), Richard Zito (third in the overall competition ) and Michael Govier (who started the league, based on his Enrico Pallazo podcast). To win the overall, I scored the maximum 60 points in runs, in home runs, and with RBI. For saves, ERA, and WHIP, I had 57 points in each category. My total of 506 points was 36 points better than second place team. That’ll do it!
IT TAKES A LOT OF LUCK TO WIN!
Let’s be frank, if you’re not Phil Dussault (who won just about every league he entered) with his Hall of Fame caliber season and top-secret system of players to pick and who to avoid, you are going to have to be lucky to win your league. Regardless of strategy, it takes luck to avoid a severe rash of injuries, for your sleepers to pop, and the like. I’ll admit I was lucky. Very lucky. As they say, fantasy flags fly forever, so better to be lucky than good. I wish you much luck with your teams this year. However, if we happen to end up in the same league together, I wish for just slightly better luck to my team!