Fantasy draft preparation can often be the least fun and the most work of the fantasy season, but a successful draft can set you up for season-long success.
This is the first article in a new column titled Fantasy Building Blocks, which is designed to help you prepare for your upcoming 2010 fantasy baseball draft and dominate your league.
The first step toward a successful draft is projecting player performance. I would recommend using one of the established projection systems because they are likely to be more accurate than your own and will save you a significant amount of time. Well-known projection systems include Bill James (via fangraphs), CHONE, ESPN, PECOTA, Ron Shandler (via BaseballHQ), THT, and ZIPS. PECOTA, Shandler, and THT projections require paying while the rest are free.
The second step involves getting familiar with the players likely to be relevant in your fantasy league. This means knowing a player’s previous stats, projected stats, and background. While the importance of knowing previous and projected stats should be obvious, knowing a player’s background is also important. Background information can allow you to form a better opinion on which players might break out, especially for players with limited pro-level data where the projection systems will generally fall short. Background information can also alert you to situations where a player’s poor numbers were due to injury.
A convenient way to gather this information is to buy a season preview guide. A few notable guides are Baseball Prospectus 2010, 2010 Baseball Forecaster, and The Hardball Times Season Preview 2010.
A good way to get familiar with players is by assembling a preliminary cheat sheet. On your cheat sheet, you want to include (at minimum) the projected stats for your league’s fantasy categories and the expected dollar value those stats will return. You might also want to include some player comments.
When you make your rankings, you should limit yourself by position (e.g. compare first basemen only to other first basemen). For each position, I would recommend grouping separating players by type (e.g. 5x5 hitters, power hitters, speed players, power pitchers, control pitchers, etc.) . Not all $30 players will be worth the same to your team. You need to know which skills make up the $30 a player is expected to return.
Once you have the players separated by type, rank them within each type according to value. Finally, separate the players into tiers. This step is primarily for those in snake draft leagues, where there’s no point in spending too much time debating Miguel Cabrera vs Mark Teixeira, but where it does matter if there are consecutively ranked players that have a noticeable drop-off in value.
After the initial ranking of players, you should have a good picture of which categories and positions will be scarce. From this, you can develop a strategy tailored to your drafting strengths and the player-skills available. Once you form a strategy, go back and re-rank your players according to your strategy while highlighting players that you think can be a bargain, especially those who might not be particularly valuable to others, but are valuable under your strategy.
Finally, read your league rules. This should seem obvious, but it helps to know what you’re actually allowed to do (and what your opponents can do).