You probably heard it a thousand times, the best way to draft is for position scarcity or the best way to draft is to load up on categories. Although its possible to do both, its tough. I am here to put the debate to rest and prove why its better to draft for categories instead of drafting for position scarcity in the early rounds. At the end of the draft, it doesn't matter as much because everyone is filling holes and position scarcity certainly comes into play.
Drafting for Position Scarcity
Every season, catchers, second basemen, and shortstops are always the weaker positions meaning that after the first few players there is a huge drop off production wise. With the position scarcity strategy, the thought is to draft one of the top players at a weak position so you don't get stuck drafting a "loser" later on when pickings are slim. For example, this season, 2B is somewhat weak. The idea here is to draft one of Chase Utley, Brandon Phillips, B.J. Upton, Brian Roberts and Robinson Cano sometime in the first 6 rounds. After that, you have Rickie Weeks, Ian Kinsler and Howie Kendrick, all with potential and after that, the 2B position levels of immensely with risky or less potent options. The consensus is that taking a weak position like C, 2B, or SS strengthens your team because there are many players available at deeper positions like 1B, 3B, OF, and SP. So since 1B is deep this year, let's say you choose Chase Utley at 2B with your first pick instead of going for monster power numbers with Prince Fielder. You obviously choose Utley for scarcity. Now at the end of the draft you still need that 1B and you take Connor Jackson, who has some upside. If you combine the potential stats of Chase Utley and Connor Jackson, you get somewhere in the ballpark of .295/40/175/20 give or take a few stats. I have Utley at .315/25/100/120/15 and Jackson at .280/15/75/5
Drafting for Categories
Drafting for categories is as simple as this.... load up on all categories regardless of position scarcity. Look, the fact is, we can always find value later in the draft, even at weaker positions. Its all about knowing the players. if you know who will be available in say the 16th round, then you can adjust your strategy and not be forced to take a weak position early. When drafting for categories, you'll find early in the draft that your going after 1B's, 3B's and OF's more often. These players are at a deep position, but in most cases provide a better bulk of stats. Let me explain.
Let's say its the first round of a 12 team draft. You have the 10th pick. 2B Chase Utley falls and you are stuck deciding between Utley and Prince Fielder. You think Utley for position scarcity but if you pass on Fielder, you'll probably miss out on Ryan Howard on the wrap around. Fielder will provide your team with .290avg/50hr/120rbi/90+runs while Utley could be a .315avg/25hr/100/120/15 hitter. When drafting for categories, you are loading up here on HR's & RBI's knowing that you can find cheaper sources for SB's, runs and AVG later in the draft. A 50 HR player is tough to come by after the first few rounds. However, its more likely to find a cheaper 2B option later in the draft that can put up decent numbers. If you drafted Fielder or Howard at pick #10, then take say Brandon Phillips, a possible 30/30 candidate at pick #15 after it wraps around, that's much more power stats than if you picked Utley and say Carlos Lee.
Here's the most realistic scenario I can give you. Let's say with that 10th pick you take Ryan Howard. Would you agree that he is capable of at least 50HR/130RBI? You'll also get about 100 Runs out of him too but no SB's and maybe a .275AVG. If you wait until later in the draft, you can steal a 2B like Felipe Lopez in the 16th round who also is eligible at SS and is onlt 27 years old, the age some believe a player tends to "break out". Combine Howard/Lopez and you get .275AVG, 65HR, 200RBI, 175R, 30SB. I project Lopez to be a .275/15/70/75/30 hitter with more upside with a potential break out.
Both scenarios are realistic. First, with the position scarcity strategy, we take Chase Utley in the first round with the thought that we want to fill our weaker positions first and we can add a 1B late in the draft because 1B is so deep. In this scenario, we choose Chase Utley and Connor Jackson who combined potential stats for 2008 are in the ballpark of .295AVG, 40HR, 175RBI, 200R, 20SB give or take a few. Now, take the drafting for categories scenario and with that same 10th pick, we choose Ryan Howard, strictly trying to load up on power while worrying about AVG, Runs and maybe SB's later in the draft. With this in mind, we steal Felipe Lopez in the 16th round to fill our 2B or SS positions. Combined, this puts you in the ballpark of 275AVG, 65HR, 200RBI, 175R, 30SB as explained above. Which scenario would you rather have?
Looking at this, I'd rather have the extra HR, RBI, SB numbers in a 5x5 roto league. Those are the most important. At any time during the draft you can pick up a guy like Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Ichiro Suzuki, Michael Young, Grady Sizemore, Rickie Weeks, or whoever to score the 100+ runs you seek. Same goes for AVG. In the 3rd round, opt for Magglio Ordonez or Ichiro Suzuki instead of Alex Rios. In the 4th round, opt for Jeter and his .320+AVG instead of Derrek Lee or Nick Markakis. This is how you draft for categories. Load up early (the first 3-4 rounds on power) and then fill the rest of your offense with high average and speed guys. Also, always look for players who do everything. Choose Shane Victorino over Juan Pierre for those extra bit of HR's. Take a rick on Matt Kemp who could be a 20/20 guy instead of taking Austin Kearns, Josh Willingham or Aaron Rowand. This is how you load up on categories. Draft HR, RBI early and then fill with AVG, SB, HR, R with every pick there after.
Making Sense of it All
I have tried both strategies over the 12 years I have been playing fantasy baseball and one thing I know for sure is, drafting for categories is the way to go and I have provided examples to prove it. Every year I find my teams in the hunt for a championship and I honestly dedicate that to loading up on categories on draft day. We all have strategies that we feel work. I am not here to say that the position scarcity is wrong. Its not. It makes sense to draft the best players at weak positions. However, if you know the players well and you have a sense at when they are usually drafted, you can make solid guesses and draft a quality team. If you draft for position scarcity and you don't know your players late in the draft, you could really bomb your draft.
Sometimes readers send me questions through email and say "FM, I just did my draft, what do you think?" And everytime it shows the first 4 picks with guys like Chase Utley, Grady Sizemore, Ichiro, Alex Rios, Nick Markakis, etc.... Yes, these guys are young (except Ichiro) and have potential, but I always end up saying, "Where's your big power bat?" Look, simply put, you need a horse, a big time power guy to be the backbone of your offense if you want to win a championship. Grady Sizemore, as talented as he is fantasy wise, is not a guy yet who should be your backbone. I'm talking a 40+HR/120+RBI/100R player. The ARod, the Pujols', the Fielder's, the Howard's, etc. Yes, even guys like David Wright and Miguel Cabrera are quality 1st round picks because Wright could be 30/30 with a .320+ AVG and 100+ R and 100+RBI. Not a 40 HR guy yet but tops in the league in everything else. Cabrera is the same thing with out the SB's. Reyes, Rollins, Hanley and Crawford are all special because you can get 40+SB while still getting close to or more than 20HR.
Questions on how to perfect the Drafting for Categories strategy..... email me