Derek Carty

Draft Strategy

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Mock Draft: Pitching Early?

Friday, February 27, 2009

When you hear fantasy baseball experts talk about draft strategy, you'll find that the majority of them endorse waiting on pitching. "Stock up on hitters first and wait until later for pitching." Not all of these experts are able to give valid reasons (that "pitching is volatile" or that "there are always gems like Joe Saunders or Gavin Floyd or Mike Pelfrey on the waiver wire" are NOT valid reasons), but nevertheless, there does seem to be a sort of group think occurring. This line of thought and this strategy have actually started to become the norm in recent years.

While I endorse this strategy as well (though for different reasons than most), I love using the off-season to try out new strategies. The best (and most fun) way to do this is through mock drafting. Mock drafting allows you to play through a draft, try out different tactics, and see how things unfold. If you aren't familiar with mock drafting, head on over to Mock Draft Central and get started. Be careful, though, as it can be very addictive.

This past week, I decided to do the complete opposite of the commonly-held "wait on pitching" strategy and take pitching early. I've become so accustomed to waiting on pitching that I wanted to see what it felt like and if I could put a good team together doing something different.

To maximize the utility of this strategy, though, I thought it best to use it in conjunction with a couple of additional strategies. The first was to prioritize batting average early and power and speed late. The second was a strategy I've talked a lot about over at The Hardball Times recently which involves taking a few injury risks late (a major market inefficiency, in my opinion).

Now that you know what I was hoping to accomplish, let's examine how my draft went.

Round 1 – Albert Pujols
Sitting with the fifth pick, Pujols was the obvious choice. He will hit well above .300 and comes with great HR, RBI, and R production as well.

Round 2 – Dustin Pedroia
Some will argue against this pick, but he fulfills the batting average requirement, and I believe he'll hit 20 HRs with at least 10 or 15 steals and 100 runs.

Round 3 – CC Sabathia
The third pitcher off the board, CC begins my "take pitching early" strategy. A horse with great skills on a great offensive team.

Round 4 – Joe Mauer
I almost always take a catcher in Round 4 or 5, and with Martin and McCann gone, Mauer was the choice. That he posts a better average than the other two makes me perfectly content to take him here.

Round 5 – Dan Haren
Back to pitching. Haren is a guy I'm very high on this year but don't envision myself taking very often because of the necessarily early pick. He's been quite unlucky over the past few years, though, and using this strategy, I'm very happy to get him here.

Round 6 – Joe Nathan
Second closer off the board and my first. I can't remember the last time I took a closer before Round 12 or 13. If I'm taking one here, though, Nathan is the guy to get. No health issues, great job security, and great skills.

Round 7 – Robinson Cano
I think Cano is in for a big bounceback year. He should get back to .300 (again, fulfilling my goal in the early rounds), and 25 HR wouldn't surprise me one bit. Sometimes I'll wait until Round 8 for him, but there's no guarantee he'll always be there.

Round 8 – Joakim Soria
Second closer. Like Nathan, he has no health issues, great job security, and great skills. Perfect pick here.

Round 9 – Javier Vazquez
I usually won't take Vazquez until Round 11, but the hype machine is getting started with him, he was the top pitcher on my board, and using a pitching-heavy strategy I didn't mind taking him earlier than usual. As was one of my bold predictions in the Rotoworld Draft Guide, I think Javy will vie for the NL Cy Young this year.

Round 10 – Rich Harden
My fourth starting pitcher, and we're just getting into the double digit rounds. As I already have three horses, I'm perfectly content taking a riskier guy here. This is earlier than Harden will often go, but with my "injury risk inefficiency" hypothesis, I believe he is worth it.

Round 11 – Ryan Doumit
Another catcher at a pretty solid value, plus he should post a good average and could see a power spike. Some see him as an injury risk, but again, I'm content taking them.

Round 12 – Jorge Cantu
Moving a little more into the power/speed part of my offensive strategy, I believe Cantu's 2008 power was legit.

Round 13 – Brad Hawpe
Another power guy, plus I still hadn't taken an outfielder.

Round 14 – Heath Bell
A second-tier closer to add to Nathan and Soria, Bell has the skills and health, he just needs to hang onto the job. Having good skills and health makes him as good a bet as any to do this.

Round 15 – Aaron Harang
Harang was undoubtedly unlucky in 2008, and although there was also some skills erosion mixed in. Still, he makes a terrific fifth starter and a perfectly fine value at this point in the draft.

Round 16 – Chris Young (OF)
Another outfielder, and one who fulfills both the power and speed qualifications. Batting average will hurt, but that was the purpose of taking high average guys earlier.

Round 17 – J.D. Drew
Good power, good RBI and run production, but can't seem to stay healthy. I'm perfectly okay with that, though, as I've mentioned earlier.

Round 18 – Adam Jones
Very good upside, and at the very least should give me solid power and speed.

Round 19 – Ryan Theriot
Needed a shortstop, and Theriot gives me some speed and some more batting average.

Round 20 – Hong Chih-Kuo
I already have five starters I like and three closers, so taking a starter with an ERA over 4.00 or a volatile closer like Brandon Lyon or George Sherrill wasn't very appealing to me. Instead, I go for the highly skilled Hong Chih-Kuo who will simply serve to keep my ERA low and add a bunch of Ks, with an outside chance of some saves.

Round 21 – Carlos Gomez
Gomez adds speed, and while he often goes undrafted, there was no need to wait any longer with who I intended to spend my next two picks on.

Round 22 – Dallas McPherson
Big power, awful average. That was the plan, though, and the only guy standing in the way of McPherson and 550 at-bats is prospect Gaby Sanchez.

Round 23 – Russell Branyan
McPherson's doppelganger, Branyan also has enormous power and poor contact skills. He should get most of the time at first base for the Mariners with Bryan LaHair as his main competition. The Griffey signing complicates things a bit, but as my last pick, I feel comfortable with him.

For simplicity, here's how my final roster looked:
C – Joe Mauer – R4
C – Ryan Doumit – R11
1B – Albert Pujols – R1
2B – Dustin Pedroia – R2
SS – Ryan Theriot – R19
3B – Jorge Cantu – R12
CI – Russell Branyan – R23
MI – Robinson Cano – R7
OF – Chris Young – R16
OF – Brad Hawpe – R13
OF – J.D. Drew – R17
OF – Adam Jones – R18
OF – Carlos Gomez – R22
UT – Dallas McPherson – R21

SP – C.C. Sabathia – R3
SP – Dan Haren – R5
SP – Javier Vazquez – R9
SP – Rich Harden – R10
SP – Aaron Harang – R15
RP – Joe Nathan – R6
RP – Joakim Soria – R8
RP – Heath Bell – R14
RP – Hong-Chih Kuo – R20

Overall, the implementation of this strategy was a success. My roster doesn't look pretty, but I do believe it could get the job done. The pitching is tremendous, and I succeeded with my batting average early, power/speed late strategy. I also think I will derive extra value from the injury risk players I took, although I could have done this using a "wait on pitching" strategy as well.

While this was a lot of fun doing and is certainly thought-provoking, I ultimately think that waiting on pitchers is the better course of action. In a mixed league, the opportunity cost of taking pitchers early is simply too great. There are a number of very good pitcher that don't go until the teen rounds and some that don't get drafted at all. It is a better use of resources to take hitting early and fill your pitcher spots with these players.

Zigging while your opponent zags can often lead to success, but sometimes it's better to just zig while your opponent zigs. Sometimes, you'll find that this is the optimal course of action because the marginal value of "doing something different" just can't outweigh the inherent strength of the original plan – even if everyone else is doing it. Sometimes, you just need to keep up with your opponents in a particular area and gain your competitive advantages elsewhere.

Let me close with a little story on this subject. Once, there was a great baseball player named Andruw Jones. Now Andruw was a smart cookie, and he noticed that all of his fellow players were using wooden bats. He decided to use an opposing strategy – to use a bat made completely of cotton candy. Might've seemed like a good idea at the time – zigging while his opponents zagged – but it turns out Andruw was only able to hit .158 that year (wait... Mr. Editor …you're telling me Andruw didn't use a cotton candy bat… mind-boggling). My corny story aside, hopefully you get my point. While it's a great idea to use the off-season to try out new strategies (I strongly encourage it), don't feel like you must do something different than your opponents just for the sake of it.

Email :Derek Carty

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