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When Is It Okay to Reach on Draft Day? (Fantasy Baseball)

Mar 5, 2020

Reaching for players occasionally is less of a recommendation and more of a necessity

Things are going well. The first few rounds of your draft have been kind to you and after making another selection that aligns with your overall setup, you have a few minutes to sit back and relax.

You scan some names — names of players that should be available for your next pick, names of some sleepers, and names of the other owners. One of whom you dubbed “Clueless” after learning that he was googling the word “baseball” a half-hour ago. He also tried to draft Derek Jeter because he “heard he was good,” which led to a nice, ice-breaking moment. Good times.

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Another few picks take place and one particular owner is starting to panic. He lives and dies with his projections and he sees Eugenio Suarez – who ranks higher than Kris Bryant, Manny Machado, and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. – go off the board. He openly weeps. It’s the “right time” for Suarez to go, but it wasn’t to his team. He now has to move down the list. The farther he goes, the less value he believes he’s receiving.

You, dear reader, are not panicking. Your list is set up in tiers and one of those tiers still includes Machado and Guerrero, both of whom are left after someone else nabbed Bryant. You recognize that, according to your research — for the sake of this hypothetical, everyone’s research, there is a drop-off to the next tier.

You’re channeling your inner fantasy expert and you know that you could achieve both of your target goals at the same time. You could get value in the form of taking Guerrero or Machado because they are in the same tier and due to the ever-shifting draft, they have fallen below their projected landing spot. Cake is being served and you will both have it and eat it.

With a few more picks until your next selection, you also consult your list of sleepers one more time just to see if any of them are expected to go off the board in the next round or two. Nope, you’re fine.

Then Clueless ruins everything. With his back-to-back picks, Clueless selects both Guerrero and Machado. His team now consists of Derek Jeter, Vladimir Guerrero, Sr. — you play in a ruthless league that punishes the ill-informed – Guerrero, Jr., and Machado. Forget the fact that Clueless’ team is impossibly bad. It’s irrelevant. He has the two players you needed. Damage has been dealt.

There’s more on the way. You grit your teeth and take the next best available player. The backup to the backup plan. Then you gasp. Your stomach turns. The top sleeper on your list just went, followed by the next two.

How did this happen? How did both waves crash down on you at the same time? Clueless stole the two players you needed and the sleepers you were convinced would be around much later are gone. They weren’t even officially on your radar!

It feels like it couldn’t have happened. Like the only explanation is that the owners launched a coordinated effort against you. Of course, it’s not true, but how else can we explain that multiple parties went rogue at the same time? More importantly, what are we going to do about it now?

Whatever you decide, it will involve deviating from the initial plan. That’s fine. Drafts almost never follow the exact plan you expected, so pivoting is inherent. However, it’s undeniable that you are now operating from a position of weakness. Whether you try to trade for the players you missed later (without leverage) or try to regain the edge in the draft by getting creative, you’re playing from behind.

It doesn’t feel great. At this time, it’s important to remember one of the key elements of fantasy baseball — it is intended to be fun. Above all else, if you aren’t having fun in the beginning, then you probably aren’t sticking around long enough to have a future. Do you want to know what’s not fun? Feeling anxious, being disappointed, or missing an opportunity because you were “supposed” to act a certain way.

The term “paralysis by analysis” comes to mind when discussing fantasy baseball and it is more prevalent than ever due to today’s expanding range of content. I’m guilty of it, both as a writer and a fantasy owner. Therefore, some level of analysis is unavoidable. Don’t let it become paralysis. How? Break the rules.

Almost every bad outcome in the hypothetical draft stemmed from someone following the rules too closely or expecting others to do the same. The reality is that drafts are operated by humans, and these humans have their own opinions, strategies, and beliefs.

It’s not that anyone “went rogue.” It’s that they were following a different plan.

Since we can’t all own the best players, our job is to balance the value of a player in the draft market with the likelihood that other owners either agree or disagree with the same valuation, which in other words, is mind-reading.

Knowing that we can’t read minds, frustrating as it may be, the other alternative is to preemptively strike. We know complacency has its negative impacts. Unless we want to overpay in the trade market or build our team entirely different than we imagined, we’re going to have to be aggressive.

Using my favorite draft-related phrase, which also happens to go against much of what we preach in the fantasy industry: “It’s never too early.” I know, I know. It is too early sometimes. It’s too early whenever we draft someone that we could have selected later. However, there’s a major disconnect between the definition of “drafting someone too early” and what really happens. That is, we don’t know with complete certainty that someone would be available later. We assume. We project. We can even calculate odds. But we can’t know because every draft has a Clueless or an aggressive fantasy owner such as the author of this column. Those lunatics ruin everything.

At the end of the day, nothing matters more than the finished roster. Certainly, some leagues assign values based on draft results but, all else being equal, we only talk about when we drafted a player as a means of bragging about the value we found. Outside of our pride, it’s not particularly important and it’s definitely not more important than drafting the best team.

In order to guarantee that the players you want end up on your team, you have to be prepared to reach for them. Don’t always do it. Doing it too much usually means you are passing on too many good alternatives, but always be prepared for it. As soon as Clueless cleaned out the third base options in the fake draft, you should have targeted a sleeper, if for no other reason than to avoid the mental anguish of being behind the proverbial eight ball. Again, this is supposed to be fun.

There’s another side effect of reaching in a draft and it snowballs once the first takes place. The effect is that it sets the tone. It tells your other draftmates that you aren’t following their script. They best be prepared, which means it also pushes you out of your own comfort zone.

Now, your tiers, rankings, and plans are suggestions. They aren’t the roadmap. You are.

Your destination is a championship. Your vehicle is a well-drafted team. Build it however you see fit. Don’t be afraid to reach for the pieces you need.

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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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