Saturday, January 13, 2007

Drafting for Categories - A Great Way to Balance Your Team

2007 will be donned "The Year of the Strategy" by Fantasy Baseball Express. The players being drafted and the way in which the top fantasy stars are realistically chosen, leaves the door wide open for strategy. The perennial questions always remain - Do I draft power first? When do I grab a stolen base guy? When do I start drafting pitchers? Do I wait on pitching because we assume its deep? Do I dump a category like saves or stolen bases? Do I simply take the best player available? Do I draft my favorite player on my favorite team or over-pay just to make sure he is mine?

This season, many fantasy owners will make lethal mistakes on draft day without ever knowing it. However, one strategy that I personally believe in for 2007 and beyond is "Drafting for Categories" in most 5x5 or 6x6 leagues. The best part is, most of us already do it without ever realizing it.

Think about this, if you draft Albert Pujols at number one, you have average and power locked up(and by power I mean HR & RBI) early which allows you to take more high-risk high-reward players later in the draft. It could allow a manager to take a Torii Hunter in the 9th or 10th round of a 12 team snake draft who is in a contract year and is close to a sure shot at 20/20 but with a .270 something average. The presence of Pujols more than offsets Hunters average while adding a 20/20 player. Obviously, you will have to balance your team. Now I am not saying that if you draft Pujols, you have to take a low average 20/20 guy, but I am saying that by taking Pujols, you will have the luxury of this option without hurting your overall team average potential.

Another example would be to take Ryan Howard with your first pick and then you can feel free to take an average/runs/stolen base guy like Jeter or Sizemore whose power numbers are simply extra gravy. In this example, you have your 5 or 6 categories covered (as if OBP was the 6th) by two players, you can feel at ease about taking a stud pitcher in round 3 like Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter, or Roy Oswalt this season to cover Wins, K's, ERA, & WHIP. This will allow you to spend picks 4, 5 & 6 complimenting your your offense and possibly a top flight closer like K-Rod, Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan, or Huston Street. Keeping in mind its important when drafting hitters early to shoot for .300+ average type players like Robinson Cano, Joe Mauer or Garrat Atkins in the 4th round. By doing that, you will have a great season average and cover weak positions like catcher, second base or third base. You can then steal a Scott Kazmir, Chris Young, Dontrelle Willis, or a Diasuke Matsuzaka in round 5 and one of those top closers I mentioned earlier in the 6th round. Use the 7th and 8th on grabbing the best available hitters and by the end of the 8th round, you will have every category covered by fantasy superstars. To go back a second, you can grab an Ichiro or a Bobby Abreu in the 3rd, Mauer, Cano, or Atkins in the 4th, and then a top flight pitcher in the 5th most likely Peavy, Zambrano or Webb. Regardless, there are hundreds of different paths you can take to get this result, but after reviewing and participating in recent mock drafts, the above scenarios are "realistic" paths for your fantasy draft to take.

In essence, by the end of round 8 in a normal 12 team roto league, you could potentially have drafted one of fantasy's top power hitters, a top average/runs/speed producer, one of the 6 top flight pitchers (Halladay, Carpenter, Oswalt, Peavy, Zambrano, Webb), a potential league batting champion or another 5 tool fantasy player, a top flight closer, another top pitcher and have every category covered by a stud fantasy player. You may then spend the rest of your draft building a strong offense and pitching staff by alternating picks with the best available player approach.

Why does this strategy work? First, you are not leaving a category at the draft, meaning that you are not dumping stolen bases, saves, wins, etc. A league is won by accumulating the most points by the end of the season. That is what a fantasy season is all about when you break it down to its simplest form. We need points to win. Second, your making sure each category is covered early with a surefire stud fantasy player leaving you with 15+ rounds to complete your work of art, your winning fantasy team. That is 15+ rounds of picking the best player available and stocking up stats, categories, young players with upside, solid veteran full-time players, high risk-high reward players, and a minor leaguer or two with star studded potential as late round fliers to stash on your bench. Just remember to make sure you have room for these players and get all your positions covered. Also, as I mentioned before, alternating hitting and pitching might be the best way to go for these remaining rounds. Do not wait late for pitching, or you'll be stuck with a staff full of Doug Davis', the Jeff Suppan's, the Tomo Ohka's, or the Horacio Ramirez's and no real surefire "stat getter".

To give you a better idea, below are the cumulative category numbers in two leagues, one of 12 teams and one of 14 teams, I participated in last season. Use these final statistics as a guide when projecting your teams potential stats but keep in mind that these total also account for trades and waiver wire pick ups but drafting a potential amount of stats in each category will give you the best result when using this strategy. Let's look at the numbers.....

I played in two leagues last season, a 12 team and a 14 team, 8 keepers, mixed league, 23 man active roster with 14 bench players and all the normal rules. After going through the rigors of a full season, the cumulative standings looked like this....

League 1
BA- .293 W- 114
HR - 326 K- 1334
R - 1242 ERA- 3.79
RBI- 1188 WHIP - 1.249
Sb- 221 SV - 94

League 2
BA- .290 W- 109
HR - 371 K- 1343
R - 1238 ERA- 3.79
RBI- 1278 WHIP - 1.251
Sb- 187 SV - 127

See the similarities between leagues? See the differences? These are two totally different leagues, same set up, but different people. These were also live auction drafts, an auction salary cap, 8 keepers, and having some players no longer eligible to be kept. Here is an explanation for some differences.
- In league 2, the saves leader drafted 4 closers including Rivera, Cordero, Hoffman and got lucky with Papelbon....and started them all.
- In league 2, the Homerun leader had Howard, Cabrera, Hafner, Hall and picked up Uggla early and capitalized on at least 20 of his homeruns.
- League 2 has been in existence for 3 years, league 1 has been in existence 6+ years.
- The stolen base leader in league 2 had Crawford, Hanley, & Ichiro. This was the same guy who had the top power I mentioned above. As you can probably imagine, he won the league.

My point with the cumulative league stats is to show you an average 12team or 14 team - 23 man roster type league and emphasize the average amounts of stats per category you could expect to need to win a particular category regardless of team amount.

Now, I know what your thinking, and yes, its unlikely you will win every category in both pitching and hitting, but its not impossible. There is a chance it could happen but the probability is extremely low as you will always lack in something. However, finishing the season in first or second in every category will almost assure you a ranking at the top of the standings.

Overall, drafting to category can be a smart and effective way to building a winning fantasy team. Of course, it all depends on picking "the right" players and hoping your team comes together. Also, remember that a nice amount of those cumulative stats come from waiver wire moves, trades, injury pick-ups, and maximizing your lineup potential. Leaving an open slot for one week or playing a cold player too long and not staying active can have negative overall effects on your overall team success.

Questions? Comments? Email me at

Also, check out more draft strategies at
Fantasy Baseball Express

Mike Kuchera
Fantasy Baseball Express
Home of The Fantasy Man Show Baseball Advice Podcast
Member of the Fantasy Baseball Writers Association

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