I’ve blogged about participating in a fantasy baseball mock draft last weekend, but I have a confession: I’d never before done a straight baseball draft. I’ve been playing fantasy sports for over two decades, and I’ve done fantasy football drafts often. Once we did a fantasy basketball draft when the delayed season start made it impossible to get the whole group together for an auction. But I’d never done a draft baseball, as my two leagues, the Ezra Stiles Rotisserie Association and the Park Slope Rotisserie League both do a full auction every year.
Now I had the arrogance of assuming that a draft must be simpler than an auction. After all, you only need to know who is better than whom; you don’t need to try to quantify how much more you should spend on Miguel Cabrera than on David Wright. It should be easy, right? Well, not so fast…
First, I underestimated how fast it would go. For our auctions, we literally take all day to allocate 270 or 280 players. The mock draft, with a 60 second time limit per pick enforced by a bot making your selection, took just two hours. Making good choices in that short time is harder than the more leisurely auctions I’ve done. Sure, it’s tense as the bid is rising on a player you care about, but you’ve got time to review his stats, look at your needs and other teams’ needs, and think about how high you’re willing to go. In a draft with a fast clock, there’s not as much time for reflection, and I wish I’d done more specific preparation for it.
While I was aware of concepts like average draft position, I just assumed that using a descending price rank from my auction analysis would make for a good draft cheat sheet. I still think, in theory, that it makes sense, but now I understand better what Mark Healy and Jay Ferraro meant when they were asking if I took Clayton Kershaw so highly just to get them to talk to me on air. Hey, I appreciate the exposure, but I wasn’t smart enough to make that a conscious strategy. Kershaw literally was the top choice using the consensus projections at my site – ahead of Cabrera, Mike Trout, and Ryan Braun, and he was top 5 under any of the projection systems. I wouldn’t have taken him with the top pick (I’d go with Cabrera), but I could see a case for it.
But apparently Kershaw simply isn’t going anywhere near that high in mock drafts. At Mock Draft Central their ADP Report (requires registration) today has Kershaw at #17, and he’s been taken no earlier than 11th and as late as 31st. Now Kershaw is the top pitcher (Justin Verlander is next at 25th). Another site, KFFL, had Kershaw #13, just behind Verlander at #2. This leaves me with two main thoughts:
- Is the draft market really that inefficient, or am I simply overvaluing pitching?
- Hey, if nobody else takes pitchers that early, then even if I think they’re worth a top-5 pick, I should wait until the 2nd round myself.
I genuinely am perplexed. I didn’t look at any ADP data before doing the mock draft, and I suppose it would make me a little more reluctant to take pitching early. Yes, I get that pitchers are more volatile; a single season isn’t enough time for ERA to converge very closely on a player’s current skill level. But I also have confidence in my pricing model, and in projections systems as a good way to estimate a player’s current skill level.
I do wonder whether there can be a herd mentality in effect in different places. Maybe the owners in my leagues are influenced by my pricing model, both because they can now see it, and because I use it and have had success. So perhaps my leagues’ auction prices tend to be similar to my model’s prices because the latter drive the former.
Conversely, people in draft leagues are likely influenced by what they see in other draft leagues. And so if nobody is taking pitchers in the first round, that can be a self-reinforcing cycle. So perhaps the ADP values are influenced by how others draft.
Now there’s two ways to look at being different: it can be an advantage (i.e. you’re seeing things others don’t recognize, and you’ll profit from that), or a disadvantage (you’re missing something others are seeing, and get hurt by it). I do think it’s interesting that my team was 3rd best in both my own projected standings using consensus stats and in the Mock Draft Central’s projection page (no link; I’m pretty sure it was a private league), and both sources agreed that BigChee had the best team on paper. So while I’m open to the possibility that my model (or perhaps the projections I fed into it, although they gave largely similar results) may overvalue pitching, if forced to pick, I’d say taking pitching early is better than waiting.
Well, I’ll hedge – waiting longer, but still being the first to take pitching, is even better. If I could have taken Matt Kemp or Robinson Cano at #4 and still gotten Kershaw (or even Verlander) at #20, then yeah, I’d have been better off than taking Kershaw 4th and getting Bryce Harper in round 2. So if I know drafts wait for pitching, I’ll want to wait longer myself, but be the first to snap up elite pitchers.
I would say that being very different may often suggest you’re wrong, but it is good strategy to win a fantasy league. To win against 11 other knowledgeable owners, you need both skill and good luck. If you hew too close to consensus, you can do well, but you’re more likely going to be 3rd or 4th than win. The converse is that by being different, you may increase your chances of winning, but also of finishing last or near the bottom. Depending on your incentives, that can guide your strategy.