As long as there is one person on this Earth willing to pay for saves on draft day, my job is not yet done. As long as there is one person who refuses to look at strikeout-to-walk rates, one person who pays for the over-hyped rookie instead of the solid producer, who believes, well, in a lot of things that just aren't true my quest is not over.
Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die. Er, hang on. That doesn't sound right.
Hello. My name is Matthew Berry. I am on a Fantasy jihad. Prepare to win.
I'm not guaranteeing you are going to win, incidentally. Or "Dominate Your Draft." (By the way, can we officially get a ban on any fantasy sports website using that hacky phrase? Spend less time talking about how the "big boys" don't get it and crack open a Thesaurus. We'll be much more impressed.)
I can't predict the future. No one can.
What I can do is give you the tools to give yourself the best chance at winning. That's ultimately what winning fantasy is all about.
Fantasy baseball is the first fantasy game I played, and I've been playing for 24 years. I've learned a lot in that time. I'm still learning. That's lesson No. 1, by the way. The minute you think you know everything, you're dead.
That's what this is about. This is the TMR's MLB 2008 edition of the Draft Day Manifesto.
Much of this is basic stuff, and a lot is updated from previous manifestos, but it's always good to have a refresher. I still see too many people making horrible decisions -- before and during the draft -- so hopefully, this gives you some advice and direction to organize your thoughts. And if it doesn't well, what do I care? I get paid regardless. Bwaahahaha! (Sound of cackling laughter and hands rubbing together quickly).
Before the Draft
If you're in a start-from-scratch or auction league, we'll get to you in a second. But let's talk about those of you in leagues that don't begin with draft day.
If you're in a keeper league, you need to decide who to keep. No duh. But how do we go about that? By protecting the best players we have, right?
You protect the best value. Not the best players. That's an important difference.
My rule of thumb is that you keep the guys who are undervalued or (assuming you are in a draft keeper league and not an auction league) somebody so awesome you won't be able to get back (Hanley Ramirez for example).
Even though Reyes is a five-category stud, I think I can get him back for $45. Maine, should I throw him back, would go for more than that. (It's a $260 5x5 cap league and because it's keeper, people have more money to spend). I think Maine is a top-15 pitcher in the NL this year.
So you keep your players who are undervalued. Now -- this is important -- what is undervalued?
Depends on your league. Say you've got Jimmy Rollins at $35. Is he undervalued? If it's a 10-team, $100 cap mixed-team league, then no -- he's overpriced. Talent is plentiful in that league, even at shortstop.
But if it's a standard 13 team/25-man roster NL-only league, then yes, he is undervalued. Talent is at a premium in that league and J-Ro (I call him J-Ro) will earn more than that. So you're going to need to make your own decisions and judgments in regards to this price list and your own league. Also, if you've been in the league for a number of years, hopefully you've paid attention and know who or what goes for a lot on draft day, and who or what is cheap.
As a general rule, I will keep players if they aren't a bargain but are at a position where there is a lot of scarcity. So, in the AL, where there aren't a lot of good second basemen, I'll keep Robinson Cano at $22 even though that's a few more bucks than he's worth, because I'd rather pay three bucks more for Cano than be one of 10 owners desperately trying to get B.J. Upton. Or worse, hearing myself say "Marco Scutaro, $15!" late in the auction.
Ideally, you go into the draft with as much money as possible. But that's very different than trying to have the most money. You're going to have to spend money at some point. And if it's better spent on a keeper, then so be it.
For those of you in keeper leagues that are NOT auction leagues, you probably have some sort of penalty and/or cap on players you can keep. The rules here remain the same:
Keep players that are so amazing that you could not get them back -- your Matt Holliday, Johan Santana, Reyes, Hanley -- or players who are very undervalued. Like if you had drafted Troy Tulowitzki in the 15th round of an NL-only league last year, you can either keep Troy and lose a 15th-round (or 14th or whatever your keeper setup dictates) pick, or throw him back and get the pick. Obviously, you keep him because Tulowitzki is a lot better than whomever you'd get in the 15th round this year.
But say you had Omar Vizquel at the same price. Well, I say you throw him back because you can get Vizquel -- or a similar talent -- in the 15th round, if not later.
The thinking is this: Drafting a team, any team, in roto sports is all about getting the most value out of each slot. You win leagues not by getting Victor Martinez in the third round, you win by getting Russell Martin in the last few rounds, like you could have a few years ago. It's all about maximizing value.
If you have to give up a draft pick to keep a guy, it's all value comparison. Let's say you have to give up a No. 1 to keep Reyes. Well, you know your league, where you pick, your rules, etc. Is Reyes better or worse than what you would get if you threw him back? Again, it's all about value. You want the most for each pick. You won your league last year, so you have the last pick of the first round? Well, getting Reyes for a first-rounder is pretty good. But you probably wouldn't get him at No. 12 if you threw him back. So you keep Jose. You get my drift.
OK, we have who we are keeping. Or, it is a start-from-scratch draft and we are ready to go. Well, before we draft, we're gonna need to do some draft prep. A lot of it. So let's get going.
Obviously, you should be reading as much as possible. I would be checking this site at least once a day. Also, I used to own a Web site called RotoPass.com that I'm fond of. And Facebook.com is another good site although, to be fair, it's usually better for inappropriately hitting on girls. Err, so I hear.
Don't just read fantasy sites. Read the baseball sections on ESPN.com, the daily updates in Baseball America, etc. Watch SportsCenter. And by the way, once the season starts, watch games. Not just highlights. Games. See how a guy gets his hits. Is he making contact and just not getting the bounces? Or is he swinging wildly and getting lucky? Those five runs the pitcher gave up? Defense's fault? Pitched great for 6 1/3 innings but his manager inexplicably left him in too long, or is he just terrible?
The more info you can have, the better.
I'll let you check out other places and explore. There are millions of sites devoted to fantasy baseball. See who you like, who you trust, who you agree with, who are morons. It's all speculation -- some more informed than others -- but at the end of the day, we're all just making educated guesses.
Either way, knowledge is power. The more you know -- about players, line-ups, injuries, sleepers, coaching changes, schedules, etc. -- the better shape you are in. So prepare as if you are testing to get into Harvard med school, because the only thing worse than screwing up on draft day and listening to your buddies tell you you're an ass for the next six months, is having to sit in front of a TV and hear yourself say, earnestly, "Come on, So Taguchi!"
Speaking of knowledge being power, I know this sounds stupid, but you'd be amazed at how many people make this mistake. Know your league's rules!. Inside and out. Is it one game, 10 games or 20 games for a player to be eligible at a new position? What's your Free Agent Acquisition Budget (FAAB)? Do you even have a FAAB, or do you use waivers for pickups? Is it first-come-first-serve or priority? When is your trade deadline? Can stash injured players on the DL? What are the rules there? Being able to throw guys on the DL without losing a roster spot means you can take more chances on high-risk, high-reward injury-prone guys. No DL or limited slots means you have to be more conservative. Every rule makes a difference. Read them and then read them again.
OK, now we need to roll up our sleeves. You need to prepare some paperwork prior to the draft to make life easier and more efficient for yourself. Here's what you'll need.
First, get yourself an up-to-the-minute depth chart for every team in the NL and/or AL from which you'll be drafting. Almost any Web site has them, including this one. Ours are updated daily by Shawn Cwalinski, aka "C-Dub" for those of you who used to patrol the message boards over at TMR, so I can tell you ours are rock solid. But whomever you like, find the most up-to-date depth chart you can get.
When the draft is near and you're desperately searching for a starting middle infielder or a No. 5 starting pitcher, knowing who is starting -- or even who is on the right side of a platoon -- will help a great deal. As you know, the more at-bats you get, the better.
I also like to have a games played by position sheet. You don't have to bring it to the draft. In fact, I wouldn't. The fewer papers you have at the draft, the better. But on your master list of players, make sure you note up who qualifies where. (We've even done it for you on our mixed-league cheat sheet) A lot of magazines will list players at the position they played the most last year or list them where they are supposed to play this year, not where they qualify (Ryan Braun is scheduled for outfield duty this year, but qualifies at third base, much more desirable). Or they base their eligibility on 20 games played last season. Which is fine. Unless you play in a league where you only need 10 games to qualify.
Garrett Atkins will be a fine addition to any fantasy team, no matter where he plays. But if you get A-Rod with the No. 1 pick and then there's a run on first basemen, isn't helpful to know that Atkins played 10 games at first last year? Especially if that's all it takes to qualify there for your league.
Of course, if your customized league is hosted on ESPN, you can surf on over to our positional eligibility chart, use the drop-down menu to call up your league and instantly see everyone who qualifies at any of the positions. And if you don't have your league hosted on ESPN, well, there's no accounting for taste but you can still use that link to see 20-game eligibility, which is what we're using in ESPN standard leagues.
In any case, my humble opinion it should be this one, but whatever list/magazine/Web site you use for your player rankings, just bring one. If one magazine has Reyes ahead of Ramirez and another has them reversed, who cares? They both rock and you'd be just fine with either, and you know which guy you want.
What is important to do is to mark up your own list. Take your master player list and group players who are of similar ability. For example, say you take your list of first basemen in the NL. Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder are the cream of the crop. Mark Teixeira, Lance Berkman, Derrek Lee and Adrian Gonzalez are the next tier.
So one of those guys will be good for a corner infield slot -- but for your big, stud first baseman, you decide, OK, I'm not getting one ranked lower than, say, Gonzalez.
So during the draft or auction, you see Pujols, Howard, Fielder and Berkman all get bought. But instead of freaking out, you look at your little sheet and see Lee, Teixeira and Gonzalez are still available. You'll be fine, and don't need to jump in and spend too much for one of those guys.
Too many roto players get hung up on one particular player. And this is a huge mistake. Because we're playing roto, not real baseball. I'm an Angels and Dodgers fan. Hate, hate, hate the Yankees. But Derek Jeter can play for me any time he wants. I can root for him to do well but for his team to do poorly.
Once you get the truly elite guys out of the way, most players are generally the same. Maybe this one gets a higher batting average, that one steals a bit more, but at the end of the day, there are entire groups of players -- as I showed above -- who do more or less the same thing. If you get one guy on that list, you're fine. It doesn't matter which one. This can be extrapolated (and should be) to every position. And you need to make these groups before you draft or bid.
Trail of tiers
Grouping players prior to the draft will help you figure out where there is position scarcity and where there's surplus -- where you need to go early and where you can wait a bit.
This can obviously change for those of you in keeper leagues -- there may be an abundance of closers, for example. You need to take your master list and cross off everyone who was kept. That's why you need to make your lists, group them, etc. If you're lazy, just group them by price or overall rank on your list. More than a three buck or two-round difference, and they are a different type of player. If you use ourmixed-league cheat sheet, it's pretty easy to do.
Using this method, for example, I came to the conclusion that in 2008 there's an acute lack of high-quality, risk-free starting pitching. With Santana and Dan Haren jumping to the NL, the injury concerns surrounding Kelvim Escobar and Curt Schilling, Francisco Liriano coming off Tommy John surgery, Roy Halladay not being dominant it really limits the pool. You basically have Josh Beckett, Erik Bedard, C.C. Sabathia and John Lackey, and it's not like the first two aren't familiar with the DL, either.
If you don't get one of those big four, you should make sure you snap to attention because there's a so-so second tier: The aforementioned Halladay, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Justin Verlander, Javier Vazquez, Mark Buehrle, A.J. Burnett, Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Felix Hernandez, Liriano, Escobar and lord help me, I'm throwing Dustin McGowan in there. Any two of these at the top of your staff and you should be just fine, but as you can see, it gets dicey quick.
Personally, I'm gonna shoot for one of the big four, one of the middle tier and then go all middle relievers with one closer and try to spend less than $80 on pitching. It's a version of Pete Becker's MRI theory, discussed towards the end of this article.
In the NL, there is a lot more elite starting pitching. Santana and Haren coming over add to Brandon Webb, Jake Peavy, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, Aaron Harang, Carlos Zambrano, John Smoltz, Chris Young, Maine, Rich Hill plus guys who certainly have the potential to be elite, like Brett Myers, Yovani Gallardo (assuming his recovery goes well, of course), Ben Sheets (assuming his recovery goes well, of course. Yes, I know he's not injured. Yet.), Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson, Pedro Martinez and, yes, even Randy Johnson, in no particular order. You don't have to blow the bank for Johan in the NL. There's plenty of good pitching available.
First base is actually scarce in AL this year. Look at the list: In an AL-only league, after Justin Morneau and, um, Carlos Pena, it starts getting ugly. Paul Konerko will hurt your average; same with Ryan Garko. I'd be much more comfortable with Nick Swisher as a corner guy than my starting first baseman, and then you really start getting into guys with serious question marks. If you're gonna overpay somewhere, this might be the position to do it. Especially since third base is OK in the AL, but it's not super deep, and consider you'll have to get a corner guy, too.
First base in the NL is deep, as is third base. Second base is surprisingly deep in both leagues this year, with the emergence of Cano, Brandon Phillips, Upton, Ian Kinsler, Dan Uggla, Brian Roberts, Aaron Hill, Howie Kendrick and Dustin Pedroia. Rickie Weeks (I still believe), Jeff Kent, Mark Ellis (look at his numbers!), Orlando Hudson and Kaz Matsu join Chase Utley, who might not be worth the premium you'll have to pay on his second-base eligibility this season. Shortstop is also deep. It's weird, but the scarcity this year comes from the corners and even somewhat in the outfield, considering you need five in most normal leagues.
In addition, please, please, wait on a catcher. Do not be the guy who wastes an early pick on Victor Martinez, Russell Martin (who I actually like better than V-Mart, by the way) or Brian McCann. As great as they are, you will find a solid catcher much later in the draft. I mean, look at this list: Kenji Johjima, Joe Mauer, Jorge Posada, Ivan Rodriguez, Bengie Molina, Ramon Hernandez, Geovany Soto, Jason Varitek, A.J. Pierzynski, and I even really like Mike Napoli and Kurt Suzuki. All of those guys are solid, and your money/picks will be better spent elsewhere. Catcher is deeper in the AL than it is in the NL, however, for your monoleague players.
OK, as I alluded to in the beginning, we come to the most important part. This has become my mantra. I wrote about this for ESPN the Magazine but it bears repeating here, and not just because I'm lazy.
Never. Pay. For. Saves.
Closer is a volatile position, there is a ton of turnover and saves is only one category. If you have read me for any amount of time, you know that I have screaming this since 1999. (And, boy, is my throat tired. Thank you. Thank you very much. Please tip your waitresses. Try the curly fries.)
Assuming you play in a league with people who know what they are doing, you are not going to be able to leave the draft table with the ideal team. You want to maximize the value you get there and then pick up pieces during the season.
Certain categories come into the leagues, certain ones do not. Saves is the category that comes into the league the most. Look at this list of players who did not start last year as their team's closer, and the number of saves they wound up with:
Kevin Gregg, 32 saves
Jeremy Accardo, 30
Brett Myers, 21
Brad Hennessey, 19
Manny Corpas, 19
Matt Capps, 18
Joakim Soria, 17
Alan Embree, 17
C.J. Wilson, 12
Dan Wheeler, 11
Bob Howry, 8
Now, not paying for saves doesn't mean you don't get any at all. You know your league best and if it's one with deep rosters and an active waiver wire, you may not be able to grab the next Kevin Gregg with ease. But that doesn't mean you break the bank or use a high draft pick on a guy like Mariano Rivera (30 saves, same as Accardo) or Joe Nathan (37 saves, one fewer than Todd Jones).
Look at this list of players who went cheap on draft day, and the number of saves they got.
Jose Valverde, 47
Joe Borowski, 45
Todd Jones, 38
David Weathers, 33
Ryan Dempster, 28
Al Reyes, 26
Bob Wickman, 20
Brad Lidge, 19
The argument against the never-pay-for-saves theory is that you can spend the money and get a "sure thing" so you don't constantly have to scrape. Fine, I say. Just tell me who the sure things are. Because the people who spent big money on B.J. Ryan and Huston Street last year would love to hear all about it.
My "cheap saves" list this year includes guys like the aforementioned Borowski, Jones, Soria, Lidge, Soriano and Wilson, plus Brandon Lyon. My list of guys I'd be willing to speculate on with a late-round pick or a buck at the auction table because I think they wind up with some saves at some point, include the O's George Sherrill and Jamie Walker; Troy Percival, Al Reyes and Wheeler in Tampa Bay; Embree, Joey Devine and Santiago Casilla in Oakland, Eddie Guardado in Texas, Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol on the Northside; Tony Pena in Arizona; Jonathan Broxton in Dodgertown and Brian Wilson in San Francisco.
For those of you in mixed leagues, you can trust me. There will always be saves to be had. They may not be pretty, but they are always there.
On the other hand, if you are trying to figure out where to spend the money, spend it on speed. Because if you can leave the draft table without saves and can make it up during the season, you must leave with speed!
The quick and the dead
Unlike pitching (starting and closers), speed does not come into the league. You can always find saves, and hitters will get called up from the minors and start bopping, but most speed is drafted.
Look at the steals leaders from last season: Jose Reyes, 78; Juan Pierre, 64; Hanley Ramirez, 51; Eric Byrnes, 50; Brian Roberts, 50; Carl Crawford, 50; Jimmy Rollins, 41; Chone Figgins, 41; Corey Patterson, 37; Ichiro Suzuki , 37; Shane Victorino, 37; David Wright, 34; Julio Lugo, 33; Grady Sizemore, 33; Willy Taveras, 33; Brandon Phillips, 33; Kazuo Matsui, 32; Jerry Owens, 32; Dave Roberts, 32; Coco Crisp, 28; Ryan Theriot, 28; Johnny Damon, 27; Chris Young, 27
; Reggie Willits, 27; Curtis Granderson, 26; Bobby Abreu, 25; Rafael Furcal, 25; Rickie Weeks, 25; Alex Rodriguez, 24; Felipe Lopez, 24; Kenny Lofton, 23; Carlos Beltran, 23; Corey Hart, 23; Nook Logan, 23; Jason Bartlett, 23; Ian Kinsler, 23; Gary Sheffield, 22; B.J. Upton, 22; Nate McLouth; 22; Rajai Davis, 22; Russell Martin, 21; Orlando Cabrera, 20.
Forty-two. Forty-two players stole twenty bases or more last year, which is a lot more than usual. So you have to get more steals than normal to win, place or show in that category. And obviously, league size skews everything, but in terms of leagues of any sort of depth, I would argue that the only players who weren't drafted from the above list were Owens, Theriot, Willits, Logan, McLouth and Davis. Maybe Hart. That's seven. Only seven guys came into the league who got steals in any significant amount.
The nice thing is that speed is much more plentiful this year than it has been in recent years, so you don't have to go spend big bucks or a high pick for Reyes, but know that you need to leave your draft with speed, or be left behind. (I know. It just came to me.) In fact, for the first time ever, I'm not going to target a big pure-speed guy like Reyes or Crawford. There are so many guys who do everything that you can build a very competitive team in steals by grabbing a bunch of guys who will steal 10 to 15.
There were 92 players last year who had double-digit steals, actually. The light isn't getting any greener, so I'm making sure every player I get for the first 12-14 rounds stole at least 10 bases last year. I'll make exceptions for first base and catcher, but otherwise, everyone has to have stolen 10 or more bases. If you do it right, you too can have a team made up of all five-category players.
Keeping track ain't hard to do
OK, we have a good idea of the kind of team we want. That's great if you're drafting against yourself, but you're not. There are a bunch of other guys and gals in the league with you who are fixin' to get their grubby mitts on your players. You can't stop them completely, but you can make sure they end up hating your for your grubby mitts more than you hate them for theirs.
What you need to do is prepare a sheet that has a place for every position for every team in your league. Then, during the draft, you'll keep track of every player drafted by every team. If it's a salary cap league, also have a place to track how much money everyone has left and for how many players. You can have a spreadsheet do all this for you, obviously, but if Albert Einstein could figure out the theory of relativity using pencil and paper, you can probably find a way to do simple addition and subtraction by hand. Your fourth-grade teacher will be so proud. (Hi, Mrs. Applebloom!).
I cannot stress how important this is. As the draft progresses, you are going to want to be able to know who everyone has -- what positions they have filled and what they still need.
For example, Team 1 takes Alex Rodriguez. You write down "A-ROD" in Team 1's "3B" slot. Keep doing this for every pick, and this way you can see at a glance what you need in comparison to every other team. Say it's Round 12 and you need a shortstop, but there's a corner guy you really like (we'll call him James Loney) as well. You look at your sheet, see most everyone has a shortstop and that, according to your tiered cheat sheet, Jhonny Peralta, Khalil Greene and Stephen Drew are still out there.
So you should be OK when it comes back around to you next; you don't need to burn the pick here. Conversely, the three teams picking after you all need first basemen or corner guys, so you better grab your Loney now, or never get him.
This sheet will save your bacon more than once towards the end of the draft, and that's where leagues are won and lost, not in the first few rounds. It doesn't take a genius to say "I'll take Johan" near the end of the first round. Grabbing J.J. Hardy in the 23rd last season, however, won a bunch of people their leagues.
Speaking of the end game, I also like to have a list of sleepers I want to target; late-round guys who interest you so that when you're in Hour 4 and can't think anymore, you can glance at the sheet and go, "Oh yeah, I wanted to take a gamble on Colby Rasmus." Or Rajai Davis. Or Santiago Casilla. Or Chase Headley. Instead of saying, "Oh, hell, I can't think of anybody, I'll just take a worthless infielder who will never see the light of day." (Omar Infante, I'm talking to you!)
And now for something really nerdy.
If you are in a keeper league with a salary cap, I can calculate your keeper league inflation. What the hell's that, you ask? Well, basically, keeper leagues always have guys who are kept well below their value. I'm proud to have Ian Snell for $1 in my mixed keeper league. As a result, the prices of available players will go up in the auction, because there is less talent available, but more money to spend.
So you look at your handy ESPN starting pitcher rankings and values and see Ian Snell and Matt Cain, both at $13. That's what they're worth, but only in a start-from-scratch auction. Snell is already kept for a buck, remember? A better gauge of what to pay for Cain in your mixed keeper league will come about if you spend a little time calculating draft inflation.
I cannot take credit for the formula. Nor can Mrs. Applebloom, but I will say that I would have paid a lot more attention to math in fourth grade if I had known I could then use it to crush my classmates in fantasy baseball. Just sayin'. Anyway, here's how you do it:
Let's say it's a 12-team league with 23-man rosters and a $260 cap. That means there is a total money pool of $3,120 (12 x $260) to spend on a $3,120 value pool in your league. Now, you add up how much each team has spent on keepers. For simplicity's sake, let's say each team has kept 10 players at $10 a piece. So each team spent a total of $100, for a total spent of $1,200 (12 x 100).
OK, here's where we get nerdy. (OK, fine. Nerdier.) Take whatever price list you have decided to use and calculate how much "value" is being protected. For example, my Ian Snell is projected to earn $13 this year. So while I have him at a $1 price, his value is $13.
So you add up all the value on each team. Again, for simplicity's sake, let's say every team is protecting $160 worth of value. So the total value being protected is $1,920 (12 x 160). Remember, the total money spent is only $1,200.
Now, subtract the value protected from $3,120.
Do the other one. Subtract the money that was spent from $3120.
This means at the auction, $1,920 of money is chasing only $1,200 of value. So you now divide money left by value left. 1,920/1,200 = 1.6. This means every dollar in your league is actually worth $1.60.
This is your draft inflation price: 1.6. So let's say Hanley Ramirez comes up for auction. And your trusty ESPN draft kit has him listed at $44. You quickly multiply $44 by 1.6 to come up with $70. That's his value in this league..
The bidding gets to $50 and people, seeing $44, drop out. That's six bucks more than he's worth, people say. But you know that's actually a bargain for HanRam. You're saving $26!
This is an extreme example but it should clarify the point. Draft inflation calculation is a bit time consuming and can be a little confusing, but if you want those money lists to actually help you in keeper leagues, you need to do this. Every dollar counts! And where it really helps is with the superstars. Because the prices get so ridiculous that many folks drop out and the big studs end up becoming the biggest bargains. I mean, who would you rather spend an extra $10 on: Hanley Ramirez at the beginning of the draft, or Horacio Ramirez at the end? (That's a trick question. You don't spend anything on Horacio Ramirez. At all.)
You should have a plan before you step into the draft. Jason Grey has written a virtual almanac of strategies for this draft kit, so I'll just quickly run down some of the strategies I feel strongest about.
The LIMA Plan: Invented by BaseballHQ guru Ron Shandler, LIMA stands for Low Investment Mound Aces. Basically, of a $260 salary cap, you only spend $60 on pitching, $30 of that on a closer.
The idea is to get a bunch of guys with good underlying numbers that indicate good control, decent strikeout ability and who won't give up a lot of gopher balls. They'll keep you competitive in pitching and then, with $200 for offense, you load up there, dominating all the offensive categories. You have to really know pitching and it works much better in a 4x4 league (no strikeouts) than in a 5x5, but it has proven very effective to those that know how to play it.
The ZIMA Plan: This is my twist on Ron's LIMA plan. Basically, it's the same thing -- most of your money on offense, cheap, low-risk pitching, mixing in starters and high-upside relievers (guys who could close). The difference is that in my version, you spend that $30 of the $60 on one upper-tier elite starter, and don't pay for saves. Or you snag two upper-level starting pitchers -- say Aaron Harang and Chris Young -- for about that $30-35. 'Cause, as I said before, I never pay for saves.
The MRI theory: This is Pete Becker's invention and I used it very successfully last year in Tout Wars (finished second). You spend $100 on pitching, but the idea here is that you get two anchors to your staff. (Last year, AL only, I had Santana and Halladay, though Pete would tell you that you need a second guy with better Ks than Halladay can give.) Then you spend the rest of the money on middle-relief guys. All need to have high strikeout rates and it helps if you have the potential to close (think Heath Bell, Jonathan Broxton or Rafael Betancourt). You'll win ERA and WHIP, usually end up with more saves than you'd think and can stay competitive in strikeouts and even in wins if you play the waiver-wire right. I always add one twist here, which is that if you are in a monoleague (AL- or NL-only), I'm willing to go to low double-digits if a decent, middle-of-the-pack closer is available. (Think Brian Wilson or Kevin Gregg). You can always trade saves in a league like that if you wind up with too many.
Positional Scarcity: This is basically the concept of going after players who play positions where there is not a lot of talent. The idea is that there is a much bigger difference between Chase Utley (No. 1) and Orlando Hudson (No. 15) than there is between Albert Pujols (No. 1) and Ryan Garko (No. 15). Almost every first baseman and outfielder is an offensive guy, while there are many catchers and middle infielders who are in the league primarily for their defense, but do nothing for your roto team.
So you grab the Reyes- and Wright-types, letting others have at the Berkmans and Beltrans.
I am a position scarcity guy as well, and will usually use the money I am saving for offense (by using LIMA) to grab players at scarce positions. The idea is that during the season, it'll be easier to find an outfielder who will come out of nowhere than it will be to snag a hot shortstop or second baseman. But even more than a position scarcity guy, I am into
Category Scarcity: This one is my invention (at least I've never read about it anywhere else, though I am sure someone else has thought of it). I actually do a combo of this and ZIMA.
I don't care so much about positions as I do categories. Not as many guys get steals, saves and strikeouts in bunches, compared to other categories. So I go for those guys. I try and protect batting average, ERA and WHIP at all costs. Don't get me wrong, I go for a balanced team, but I want to make sure I am covered in the categories that are hard to get, regardless of if my speed comes from the outfield (Crawford), shortstop (Jose Reyes) or catcher (Martin). As I showed above, it's much easier to find a guy who hits home runs than it is to find a guy who steals.
I also like to spend money on a stud pitcher. I always have at least one anchor for my staff. A Santana, a Jake Peavy or a Roy Oswalt will make up for a lot of other pitchers, well, let's call them "deficiencies."
Crazy John Walsh: Ron Shandler calls this "Total Control Drafting" but I call it "Crazy John Walsh" after my friend and mentor, John Walsh. John works here at ESPN and among his accomplishments are: making SportsCenter what it is, discovering Bill Simmons and having a different-themed Christmas tie for the entire month of December. He also claims to have been in the second fantasy baseball league ever, as he was (and still is) friends with Dan Okrent and Glen Waggoner (aka "The Founding Fathers"), who told him about the first league.
Anyway, Walsh is crazy at an auction. When he wants a player (like Nick Markakis last year) he bids whatever it takes to get him. He never worries about what others are doing or what the correct "price" is. He decides who he wants on his team and goes to get them, no matter what. Obviously, you can't do all studs -- you'll run out of money -- but the idea is that you can't really predict that Carlos Pena, whom I grabbed last year for $1 at the end of the AL-only Tout Wars and who returned $32 of value, or that Travis Hafner, whom I paid $31 for but only returned $19 of value, will do completely the opposite of what you expect. Pricing is only relevant on draft day and then, only in determining the market against your fellow bidders. Crazy John Walsh says forget the other drafters, get who you want and hope they do what you expect them to. I've never done this, but I'm going to try it at least once this year. I should add that Walsh is an excellent player who always finishes high in his leagues.
Best Player Available: At your time in the draft or auction, you just go for the best guy available and let the positions fall where they may. In an auction, you just wait until a bargain comes up and grab it, even if it means getting more steals than you think you need or rostering up your fourth first baseman of the day. That's what trading is for.
By the way, never get in a bidding war if you can help it. Another guy will come along. Also, be cautious in your drafting of rookies. For every Troy Tulowitzki that comes through, there are a lot more Jeff Mathis-types that don't. Dependable things ain't sexy -- but they do help you win.
Regardless of what plan you choose (and there are a lot of others not on this list), have one. And be ready to chuck it -- or at least bend it -- if the draft doesn't go how you hope. And it often won't. You must be patient, you must stay focused, but by sticking to your guns too strong, you can screw yourself. It's a know-the-rules-before-you-break-them kind of thing.
Speaking of the draft
OK, it's game day, baby. Time for the big show. Don't bother cramming or anything stupid like that, it's like a test. You know it or you don't. And if you don't, the next 10 minutes ain't gonna change that.
You want to project an air of confidence, even if you don't feel it. Make others sweat. That's my first draft day hint. I've got 10 of them:
Never show fear. Just be confident. You don't have to be cocky or a jerk. But an occasional sigh of relief when the guy before you picks -- as if to say "Thank god you didn't grab the correct guy" -- will do wonders to rattle some of your less assertive leaguemates.
In auctions, throw out a young, hyped player early. The Utleys and Wrights will be thrown out soon enough. But the first guy I'm throwing out this year is Francisco Liriano. He'll go for at least $5 more than he should because he's sexy and everyone has money at that point. That extra $5 off the table will be helpful come much later in the auction.
If you find yourself getting screwed out of a position, don't panic! Say you've got pick No. 11 in a twelve-team league and you find yourself on the short end of a second-base run. Instead of reaching for a guy like Mark Grudzielanek just to have someone, grab another bottom-tier closer, even if you already have two. Or a take a decent shortstop. Give yourself something to trade, and then after the draft you can talk to the guy who has no closer, and Alex Gonzalez.
If you are in a snake draft, be mindful of the gap. By that, I mean the large gap between picks, especially if you're near the turn and have to wait 20 picks in between every second selection. It comes to you and you really want a good first baseman. You see there are at least half a dozen left, so you grab your No. 3 starting pitcher. But one good run on first base, and you're screwed; it's 20 picks until you get to choose again, if not more. Don't wait. Grab what you need, get surplus later (unless you're in a situation like I described above).
Don't listen to anyone else at the draft! First -- and this is the secret that us fantasy "experts" hold tightly to our chest -- "nobody knows anything"! That's a quote from William Goldman about Hollywood, but it's appropriate here as well. Yes, we experts probably spend a lot more time looking at stats, trends, players, teams and the likes than you do, but that's because you have a life. And we've probably been playing a bit longer. So we probably have a more informed opinion. But that's all it is. An opinion. An educated guess. Emphasis on the word "guess."
So if I'm telling you experts aren't always right, other people in your league sure as hell aren't either. If they mock your pick or sneer at your team, who cares? Screw them. Don't let it rattle you! I often find the loudest guy at the draft is usually the stupidest. I've seen too many good drafts screwed up because someone listened to some loud jerk rather than trusting their own opinions.
Listen, you've done the research, you've played the game, heck, you've read this far. You're into it. And your opinion is as good -- if not better -- than anyone's in that room. So let them mock you for bidding the extra dollar on Eric Byrnes late in the draft, as I did in one league last year. And then laugh your way to the championship on the strength of his 50 steals.
For those in auction leagues, my friend Tim likes to bring last year's roster with him. So, say someone throws Jimmy Rollins. Tim looks at last year's roster and sees one guy had him at $36. Tim thinks -- and I agree with him -- that the guy who owned him last year will go up to $36 to get him back. And that's especially true in keeper leagues. How many times have you said to yourself, "Aw, hell, I'll throw him back, see if I can get him cheaper. If not, I can still pay $36 to get him back."
So Tim will bid that guy up to $36. It's not a strategy for the weak of heart -- you can get stuck. But hey, worst case, you're stuck with J-Ro. Not the worst thing in the world. And if you're successful, you can take a lot of money off the table.
For the players you do get, write down the name of the last guy who bid on him. That will come in helpful later when you're looking for trade partners. In drafts, make a note of the guys who accuse you of stealing their picks, emptying their "queue" or loudly exclaim what a great pick you made.
The later the draft/auction goes -- and it will go long -- the more antsy people get and stop paying attention. This is where you need to be your sharpest. This is where the cheap guys come in. This is where you get the $1 Carlos Pena. This is where you win or lose your league. Not by paying $45 for A-Rod.
Always look for bargains. No duh, right? Yes, but look everywhere. To me, Hanley Ramirez at $43 is a bargain in a keeper league because I think he's worth $55 this year. Many times, the best bargains are the superstars. Whatever you had to pay for Reyes last year, he more than earned it.
I have participated in a number of "expert" drafts for all sports with some "big" names in fantasy sports. And in every draft, someone goes out of turn, tries to get a player already taken, makes some very questionable picks. So if I'm telling you the people who do this for a living make mistakes, go easy on your fellow draft mates.
So, have fun. Remember we do this for leisure. We all (especially me) take it very seriously, and I play to win, but it's not worth ruining friendships over. Now, go have omnipotent power over all you survey (in the draft room).
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is ESPN's senior director of fantasy. He was just as surprised as you to find out it's a real job. He is a four-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner and the only writer in the industry with wins in multiple sports (NFL, MLB, NBA). Be sure to check him out every Sunday morning on "ESPNEWS Fantasy Insider" at 11 a.m. ET.