For optimal draft results, pick best player

ON FANTASY SPORTS

March 14, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER

More strategy talk as I and most of you prepare to draft in the next three weeks.

I talked auction last week, so here's some theory on straight drafting.

The first thing you want to do is rank all the players. If you're in a 12-team mixed league with 23 players on each roster, you should know the first 276 you'd take in the draft. You won't follow that list as gospel, but it will keep you from being caught off guard or losing perspective on a player's value.

The key point to remember is a rather obvious one: You will not have a shot to acquire every player you want.

I advocated going into an auction with a list of targeted building blocks. That's much harder in a draft, where you can't just go an extra dollar to get the player you want. Most veterans have experienced that nervous roiling in the gut when the guy just ahead of you grabs the player you were going to take.

So you can't become wedded to individual players, but you can go in with a notion of what to do in each round.

I take the highest player on my list in the first three rounds, but I want to have all my infield spots, my top starter spot and my top closer spot filled after round 10.

I also want to make sure I have plenty of steals because there's usually more power than speed on the board in the late rounds. Keep in mind that you win fantasy leagues by accruing points for each of 10 statistics. So go in with an idea how many steals, homers, strikeouts, et cetera. you'll need to finish third or fourth in each category and make sure the players you're selecting are projected to meet those marks. In the later rounds especially, tailor your picks to fill potential statistical holes.

Position scarcity is probably the biggest bone of contention among draft strategists. Some guys insist on drafting their middle infielders and catcher in the first five rounds. That's why Cleveland catcher Victor Martinez is going in the fourth round of the average ESPN.com draft when his numbers would only make him a decent third or fourth outfielder.

But I and many others believe in taking the best player available early.

You'll see Cleveland designated hitter Travis Hafner and Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins listed at similar values.

Rollins has terrific all-around skills at a relatively unstocked position but his numbers are still easier to replace than Hafner's massive power production. So in those situations, I take the bigger bat.

I actually use the "best player" rule much deeper into drafts. Often, you see runs on particular positions. If you have the second pick in round five and won't be picking for another 21 spots, you might be tempted to reach for a closer or shortstop out of fear that the best ones will go in that coming span. Do yourself a favor and pick the best player. Position weaknesses can be worked out but you may never have another shot at that star outfielder.

Don't ignore scarcity completely, however. Rollins and an outfielder such as Cleveland's Grady Sizemore may produce similar numbers. But if that's your choice, take Rollins, because there will be good outfielders five rounds later.

Starting pitchers aren't nearly as scarce as many drafters think. And even the best live under constant injury risk, so I rarely draft more than one in the first 10 rounds. That one should be a guy who will strike out more than 200 batters.

But don't take Minnesota's Johan Santana high in the first round just because he's the best pitcher. He doesn't afford the same advantages that Randy Johnson did a few years ago, when he struck out 330 batters a season. You should be just as happy with San Diego's Jake Peavy in Round 3 or Milwaukee's Ben Sheets (if his shoulder's not busted) in Round 4.

You will find plenty of useful starters between rounds 11 and 20 and more will emerge on the waiver wire as the season progresses. So don't stress about pitching and never, ever reach for a starter when you think there's a more valuable position player on the board.

Similar advice for closers. Try to get a reliable one in the first 10 rounds but don't reach for one just because Mariano Rivera went off the board in Round 3. You can cobble together plenty of saves with later picks and careful monitoring of the waiver wire.

Try to fill your corner spot early, because the first base pool isn't as deep as in past years. But leave your utility spot open so you can pounce on one of those bargain outfielders who are usually sitting around in the last few rounds. I'll also probably leave my middle infield spot open until the later rounds because I think the second base pool is pretty deep this year.

Lastly, I ran across a cool Web site called Fantasyauctioneer.com. For $29.95, it offers software that your league can use to execute a draft or auction. But better still, you can sign up for free mock auctions and drafts if you want to take a practice run at this year's player pool.

This is great preparation for those planning new strategies or those drafting for the first time this year.

Happy picking.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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