I think one of the hardest things for fantasy owners to figure out is a draft plan or philosophy. In today’s games, most owners know the player pool; however, many times winning or losing comes down to planning your attack. Sometimes you can't come up with a plan until you know your draft position. I thought I would take the time to write about a few of my expert draft strategies to help players better understand the pitfalls or opportunities each one will offer.
Draft Strategy: PAPS
The first is a common theory shared by many of the top players in the NFBC. I'll call it PAPS. Their core philosophy is built around power, average, starting pitching, and saves. A Fantasy owner may draft some speed early, but it isn't a target skill for them.
This strategy tends to push the catcher and the middle infield positions back in a draft. By waiting on those positions, they create a buying opportunity for an additional starting pitcher, and they are willing to roster a third closer inside of round 17. It is imperative to understand this theory when you are cheating saves, and you decide to pass on a closer going into a turn when competing against this draft style.
If you own one closer say at pick four in round 16, you notice all the teams sitting behind you in seats one, two, and three have two closers. At first glance, you think it makes sense to pass on the last available closer until round 17. What you may not see is one of the teams has no catchers and only one middle infielder. This team will have two extra picks on most teams to freelance. They will look to strengthen their pitching staff or even add a solid third closer. By having three closers, they avoid committing bench spots to closers in waiting plus they save free agent dollars if they are right.
In the past a typical team will have this draft structure after ten rounds: C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, OF, OF, SP, SP, and CL. A team with a PAPS approach with look like this: 1B, 3B, MI, OF, OF, OF or CO, SP, SP, CL, and CL. There's even a chance they add a third starter inside of the top ten rounds and push the middle infield position until the round 11.
With this approach, they are looking for two catchers that can hit 20+ home runs combined. If they come out of the draft with one solid middle infielder, they will have plenty of opportunities to upgrade the MI position as the season goes on. In most leagues, you can always find a middle infielder with solid at-bats on the waiver. It really will come down to finding that right skill sets to keep this team balance.
A PAPS team will look to be strong in four offensive categories with speed being the weakest. They would be happy to finish in the middle of the pack in steals. Many fantasy owners feel they can find steals on the waiver wire. Their starting staff should be above average and saves also should be a strength.
It is important for this style to stay in the game in speed. At the same time, you can't commit to more than one type base stealers as you don't want to give away your power edge. In today's game, power is on the decline which makes it easier to own a pure base stealer, but his price point has to be right.
There are certain draft positions in each draft that favor this type of style. If you can land a rock solid corner with plus power and average in round one, you have an excellent base for your plan. If you start with a weaker piece than expected, the road to success may be tougher. This type of fantasy owner will be attracted to players with power, but they may have some batting average risk.
I think this sort of owner gets in trouble when he adjusts his game plan early, and he leaves himself in uncharted territory. A PAPS owner needs to find speed from the middle infield position late, and they need to hit on their backend catchers. If they miss on the back end of their offense, this style will fall short of their offense target numbers.
By doing this plan, this Fantasy owner will be shopping in different areas in some round later in the draft. Each year the player pool changes and it is important to see the best players available in rounds 16-23. A team with this style may jump a base stealer if he feels he is running out of speed options.
This plan may have more success in individual leagues than an event with an overall prize. It may even have more value in a 12 team league where the inventory runs deeper at the key positions. I've seen this strategy win many times, and it is one I need to respect. If this is your style, you need to look at the ADPs and see if you need to adjust a couple of rounds to help you better execute this plan.
Draft Strategy: POSB
Maybe the easiest draft strategy to execute is POSB. This theory is built on selecting power and stolen bases with batting average being a secondary consideration. The goal is to dominate power and speed which will hopefully lead to high scores in runs and RBI. When you think about this year's inventory, it may be a plan that has some value.
In most drafts, Fantasy owners shy away from players with batting average risk. It is a minefield out there for most teams, but with the theory, it's a gold mine.
By buying weaker pieces to the puzzle, you can open up some early rounds to make sure you build the base of your pitching staff. In the ideal situation, you would like to finesse this plan, so you don't finish last in batting average. In any given year, a high K rate hitter can still post a respectable batting average. With today's declining batting average across the board, what is a negative batting average? Is it possible that three of four low average hitter’s breakout in batting average in the same year? I think it comes down to your overall goal. In a trading league, you can flip a weak asset if he gets off to a hot start. In a 12 or 15 team league, you can still win by punting one category.
An owner with this thought process has to avoid too much flash and dash. He can accept weaker pieces, but he has to be careful not to own too many players that offer just pure speed. The decline in offense allows a Judy type hitter to have more value as a Fantasy owner can commit more roster slots to power hitters.
For this theory to win, a Fantasy owner has to establish an edge in three areas - power, speed, and starting pitching. I think the key to the plan is identifying the falling pieces that offer the skill set to execute your plan. Once you have some ideas how you want to backfill your roster, you can start looking at the starting pitching tradeoffs to decide which rounds you want to use to build your pitching staff.
This style will overlap the PAPS style many times, so you have to be careful those owners don't steal your key players.
I also think this kind of drafter is looking for proven players with longer resumes. When some owners are looking for young players with upside late, this owner is squirreling away older veteran players. You may shake your head at the draft table, but this Fantasy owner has a chance to win.
Draft Strategy: BALC
The next draft strategy is the one I'm all too familiar. Let's call it BALC. It focuses on drafting a balanced team, and you don't want to get beat at the catcher position. Over the past few years, I've tried to be balanced at the end of round three. With the changing flow the inventory, it may be round four or round five depending on my draft position.
Ideally, I do like to be strong from at least one middle infield position, but each year these options are limited, and you can't force a player just to stick to a plan. Here are the key pieces to start building your team:
Elite Bat: You are looking for a premium bat that will hit 3rd or 4th in the batting order. This player needs to offer plus power and batting average. Most of the time this player comes from first base or outfield, but a player like Carlos Correa would qualify because he gives you a similar edge at short.
Balance Player: The second piece to the puzzle is a solid 20/20 player with a solid batting average. Sometimes this player is your first player taken, and he may offer more power and speed. Most of these options will come from the outfield, but a Fantasy owner can gain a nice edge if this piece to the puzzle comes from a middle infield position.
Edge Base Stealer with Some Power: This is the hardest piece to the puzzle to find, and you have to be careful and not to force this skill set. In the past, Carl Crawford and Jose Reyes were perfect players for this plan. Both players had the ability to steal plus bases and hit double-digit home runs. The key is getting enough power with plus speed, and this player ideally would be an asset in batting average.
The goal is to get as much power and speed with your first three or four batters. My target number is 75/75. By doing this, you set yourself up for more options later in the draft. With this style, you need to be flexible and understand the player pool. I can't force a player just because I'm looking for a certain skill set. If I need to take a different but higher skill earlier in the draft, I'll need to adjust my plan. When you sit at the draft table, you should know what rounds to find the best players to fit your plan.
With this plan, there's a good chance you draft an elite middle infielder which will force you to a weaker first baseman or third baseman. In the first couple of rounds, your roster will probably have a 1B, MI, and OF. You then need to build your starting pitching staff which forces you further down the food change at 3B (or 1B depending on your start). I think the catcher position is very important to this plan. With steals being important to this strategy, your power may not be elite. Therefore, you can't cheat catchers unless you see a strong option late. You don't have to win the catcher position, but you can't afford to get negative stats from the position. I will look to secure a catcher in the first ten rounds.
In this theory, I will avoid a Judy type base stealer early. Most of the time, I feel like I can't take a zero from power from one position. If I see a plus base stealer at the right price, I will keep an open mind plus I can't overlook the changing values of players based on the falling offense.
I think it is easy to feel like you want to push pitching back early in the draft when you feel like you are short on power, and the fourth offensive player is attractive in the first four rounds. Your starting pitching base is very important, and those pieces are much stronger than they were a couple of years ago. You have to remember your goal is to compete in all ten categories. You need to set your pitching foundation early. The rounds will vary depending on league size and the talent of your competition.
In the past, I've forced a weaker middle infielder inside of round ten. Going into this year, I think I will have these position filled in the first ten rounds: C, 1B, 3B, MI, OF, OF, SP, SP, SP, and CL. A couple of years ago, I would come out of the first ten rounds with only two starters. The overall starting pitching inventory is much stronger which forces Fantasy owner to adjust their game plan.
The main goal of this plan is to be balanced. I think for it to work best you need to acquire the proper pieces early in a draft. Sometimes you have to be creative in your plan when you aren't in the right seat to start with the desired players.
After round ten, you should have the ability to adjust your plan to the current player flow.
This draft strategy is built on having a foundation in each category. The stronger the foundation; the better chance a Fantasy owner will have success.
In the past, I've cheated saves trying to add that extra bat or third strong starting pitcher.
When I have failed with this plan, I've waited too long to roster the thumper in my lineup. I've focused too much on the speed early. It's a fine line building a balanced team, and it is a lot harder than it looks.