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The Biggest Mistakes Made in the Draft (Fantasy Baseball)

Mar 27, 2020

It’s a terrible feeling.

You just spent at least an hour — probably many — building your fantasy baseball team. Then, you sit back, scan the names on the roster, and a wave of disappointment washes over you.

You don’t like your team.

If we’re being objective, then at least half of any fantasy league shouldn’t like their respective teams. It’s math. Someone has to win, and someone has to lose. Someone’s team is good, and, by direct relation, someone else’s team is bad.

This isn’t how we operate, though. We have biases. We just created a team. Our team. The one we hand-picked. Indeed, options were limited, but the decisions were ours. We should like what we did.

Too many times, we don’t. The saddest part is when we like our team, there’s a 50 percent chance that we’re wrong; when we don’t like our team, we’re probably right. Our biases should trend positive.

When they don’t, we’ve made mistakes.

Below is a list of said mistakes most commonly made during fantasy baseball drafts, as well as some tips to avoid them:

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Being too Conservative

I try to pay attention to everything that happens during a draft, but most of we would need to learn comes directly from other fantasy owners’ comments. They say them. Or type them. Or tweet them. Whatever the medium, most people don’t hide their emotions.

More specifically, most people don’t bother hiding when they are angry. If one fantasy other steals a player from another, we hear about it.

My reaction is always the same. As is the dialogue that follows.

I will kindly ask — usually privately — why the person didn’t draft the player he or she wanted. The answer is almost always the same: “It was too early.”

In my head, I scream, “It’s never too early!” Aloud, the conversation generally ends. We both know a mistake was probably made.

If you want a player, then make a move. More often than not, someone else will.

Being too conservative is the number one mistake people make during a draft, and it’s because of the perceived end result. Fantasy owners are worried that making the “wrong move” will cost their team a shot at a championship. Possibly. But making too many average moves will simply leave your team in the middle of the pack. The goal is to win. Getting ahead of the curve is the best way to achieve this goal.

Being too Aggressive

There’s a catch, of course — like we’ll also see in a later section. We can’t be too conservative or else we’ll end with a perfectly average team. We also can’t be too aggressive or we’re likely to have missed on some cornerstone players.

As someone who loves taking calculated risks in a draft or auction, the word “calculated” can’t be overstated. It’s a fine line to walk, but it’s clear that leaning on one side will cause us to tip. We need a foundation, and it comes from the stable players typically found in the first few rounds.

In looking at the average draft position for any given year, a large percentage of players projected to be taken in the first round are the same as the previous year’s first-round talents. Especially compared to later rounds.

Below is a table that highlights this point. It shows the average draft positions for the 2018-2020 seasons. I broke up the first 120 players listed in each respective season into ten 12-player “rounds.” Then, I checked the number of players that appeared in the same exact round from one season to the next. Not surprisingly, the first round was the runaway favorite with the second round — especially from 2018 to 2019 — finishing in second place.

Why is this true? Consistency.

If you want to take chances — and you should — try to limit them early. The more positions and statistics you can have stabilized, the better. Luck will always play a role in fantasy baseball. Decrease your exposure to it as best as possible.

Ignoring League Settings

This has been covered at length in various articles, but one of the most important tips for a successful draft is studying your league settings. It would stand to reason that ignoring these settings on draft day is a huge mistake. Sounds obvious. Until you realize how large of a role it plays.

If you are in a two-catcher league, decide ahead of time how you want to approach this twist on a standard format. If you want to pay up to grab two of the best, it will impact two rounds that would have otherwise gone to a pitcher or different position. If you want to wait until the end, then anticipate filling your bench up more quickly than you would otherwise.

In a league that counts holds, prepare for an additional relief pitcher to round out your roster. If on-base percentage replaces batting average, then use rankings and tiers specific to this swap. If you’re playing in a points league, refrain from chasing stolen bases.

The point is, you’ve already done the preparation to know how to handle your league’s rules. Make sure to budget the appropriate resources to gain the possible edge.

Drafting with the Intent to Trade

In all drafts — not just in the fantasy world — an important debate is often fought between drafting for need or drafting for talent. Some stand by the mantra that taking the best available player is always the right approach. Some shuffle to fill holes in a roster.

It isn’t difficult to find some middle ground. If there were one hard-and-fast rule as to the best way to build a roster, we would all follow it. And then pivot to be different. And then possibly find success with it. And then more would follow. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The problem we face when drafting is finding said middle ground. When starting a draft, the world is wide open to us. Anything is possible. After a few picks, we find that we have needs.

Eventually, drafting the “best available player” is not feasible. Owning four third baseman or three catchers sounds nice if each one is valued higher than the price paid, but it isn’t a viable team in most formats. What, then, do we do?

We could trade. Theoretically.

If we’re stockpiling talent, the only safety net is the ability to deal away a surplus and fill a need. Again, theoretically.

There’s a flaw in this thinking. It is extremely unlikely that the price paid to acquire the surplus will be met by the buyer. After all, the team with which you would like to trade obviously didn’t value the player as highly as you did — hence not drafting this player — but also had time to fill the position. Your surplus no longer is filling a need. It might not even be filling a want.

There have also been countless psychological studies showing that we, as humans, raise the value of an item simply because it is in our possession. Think about buying and selling an item in an auction. We always want to set our sell price high and a buy price low. It’s the same in fantasy sports.

It’s not impossible to complete a trade after a draft, but let it happen organically. Don’t stockpile with the intent to trade, as it will usually result in too much inventory and a decreased overall return.

Chasing a Position Run

I covered position scarcity in a different article, and I stand by its importance. While we have to consider it, we can’t be a slave to it.

If a position run begins and you are on the outside, then stay on the outside. It’s a much bigger mistake to settle on a player that fits the current tempo of the draft than find the best value that must appear by virtue of the position run.

If closers start to go off the board, be creative and look elsewhere. Surely, another position is being ignored due to the current surge. Grab value and then return to closers when you’re ready.

Position runs will happen, whether in a draft or auction. Even if the only plan you can utilize involves staying out of run, it’s almost always better than chasing for fear of not being left behind.

Taking the Draft too Seriously

A league’s fantasy draft or auction is the most important part of the season. All trades that could happen afterward or free agents that will be targeted are based on the foundation set in this offseason setting. If you fail at the draft, your odds of winning a championship are low. If you succeed, you’ve given yourself the best possible edge.

I lead with the weight of the draft because, in the moment, it’s important to not lose track of fantasy baseball’s main goal: to have fun.

Have fun with your draft. Don’t freak out about the things you don’t know — or can’t control — and don’t worry if you lack the “perfect plan.” In fact, don’t even pick players from your most hated team, if you can help it.

At the end of the day, you will be rooting for your roster for months. Pick a team that you will view favorably. Because nothing is worse than leaving the draft with the sinking feeling that you made a mistake.

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Mario Mergola is a featured writer at FantasyPros, as well as the creator and content-editor of Sporfolio. For more from Mario, check out his archive and follow him @MarioMergola.

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