The great Thomas Boswell wrote a book a long time ago called "Why Time Begins on Opening Day." It's a wonderfully written series of essays about baseball that still hold up more than 25 years later, which is not surprising. Boswell writing a grocery list is better than 99 percent of the writers out there, myself certainly included. But it's also because baseball, at its core, is timeless.
We love the tradition, the numbers, the relaxed pace of a game that has been around forever. There's something magical about the green of the grass, the sun peeking out, the first ball hitting leather with a loud thwack.
And no matter how many outside influences such as money issues or steroid rumors might exist, the game is still, at its core, the same as it was a hundred years ago. Three outs, nine innings, my arm versus your bat.
It's that timelessness that makes fantasy, as Daniel Okrent and the founding fathers put it, "the best game for baseball fans since baseball." And it's why, with apologies to Mr. Boswell, he's dead wrong.
Because time begins on draft day.
That's when our season starts. That's when we start thinking about "our" players and what they need to do to lead us to a title. That's when we start thinking about what we have and what we need. About which setup guys we have who could become closers and which guys could steal 30 if they could just learn to hit.
It's the first day we have hope.
I am convinced that there is nothing better in this world than hope. Hope for the person of your dreams to come walking through the door, hope for the light to be green when you get to the intersection, hope for your team. Technology has made information and stats more accessible than ever and the game easier to play, but it's still the same game. It's still the same assembling of a group of players and hoping their stats are better than everyone else's group of players.
It's still the same hope.
It's also still the same way of going about assembling said group of players. Be it in person or in a computer chat room, we still gather with friends or strangers to draft (or auction off!) a bunch of players in a few hours. As beloved former commissioner for life Don Smith always says, "It's only the best day of the year."
And this? This is the same article about assembling the best possible group of players. This is the 12th annual edition of the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, house-rocking, earth-shaking, booty-quaking, Bruce-taking, love-making Draft. Day. Manifesto!
Much like a Springsteen concert, much of what you're about to hear, er, read, you have seen before. But, like a band with a new album, there's a decent amount of new stuff in there, as well, and it's been updated with new names, stats and most importantly theories.
Because although the game and the rules haven't changed that much, how you win at our game has. And winning starts on draft day.
Actual baseball players spend their spring working on the fundamentals. How to execute a bunt, how to turn the double play, how to send a text to a lady friend they are not married to, post-Brett Favre.
It is the same in fantasy. Let's work on those fundamentals before games start counting. Practice drafting/auctioning in our Mock Draft Lobby. Listen to our (award-winning!) Fantasy Focus podcast. And, of course, read everything in sight, starting with this manifesto.
One new wrinkle this year is I've peppered in a few suggestions from our own Tristan Cockcroft and Jason Grey. I've played in hundreds of leagues over the years, and these two guys are among the best I've ever encountered in terms of kicking ass and taking names on draft day. So you'll see comments from them throughout, as well.
OK, first, you should understand that in this article and for the rest of the year, I'm not going to make you "dominate the competition" or "crush your opponent." Mostly because I don't talk like a late-'80s pro wrestler, but also because every team is different and the best person to coach it is you. You're the one who lives with it, breathes with it, keeps it under your bed and calls it "my precious" in a creepy voice. You.
So if you're not willing to man (or woman) up and take ownership of your team, I'm not the guy for you. Please read elsewhere. I want people who think, not mindless robots. Because let's face it. If I had an army of mindless robots, there's lots of cool stuff I'd have them do instead of read my fantasy analysis.
But, if you are willing to accept the challenge of thinking for yourself, then what I can do, if you'll bear with me through a very long article, is give you some tools and postulate some theories that will maximize your chance at draft day success.
And before we go any further, that's the No. 1 rule about winning fantasy, not just on draft day but throughout the season: Do everything possible to stack the odds in your favor, thereby putting yourself in the best position to win. It's all about the odds. Nothing in life is guaranteed, except death, taxes and my unhealthy obsession with "90210."
Whichever moves you make -- drafting, trading, free-agent pickups -- just answer this simple question: What's most likely to happen? Underline this, print it out and put it in huge letters above your computer. Which is more likely? This guy repeating his career year or this other guy bouncing back from one bad season? What gives you the best odds of winning? Then, you know, do that.
It's the blackjack analogy I always use. Yes, there will be times when the dealer is showing a 7, you stay put on 18 and the dealer wins. But if you play that way consistently, more often than not, the odds will swing in your favor. It's the same with fantasy sports. Play the odds. It won't always work out, but more often than not, it will.
This article is about improving those odds. Some of what follows might seem simple, but as long as there are still people willing to pay top dollar for saves, overvaluing rookies at the expense of proven veterans and paying for live stats somewhere else when they can get them 100 percent for free right here on ESPN.com I keep marching on.
Here we go.
Before the draft
You (or your league manager) have to decide what kind of league you are playing in. Personally, I'm a big proponent of auction leagues and highly recommend doing one if you haven't. My personal preference is an auction, keeper format that is one league only (NL or AL) and has standard 5-by-5 categories (batting average, runs, home runs, RBIs and stolen bases for hitters; wins, saves, strikeouts, ERA and WHIP for pitchers). I like weekly lineup moves and the use of FAAB to acquire free agents. I enjoy head-to-head and our 10-team mixed leagues, as well, but that's my preference. For a much more detailed discussion of various leagues and why you should play auction, check out last year's Draft Day Manifesto, which has many of the same words as this one, but is a year older and, therefore, wiser!
For those who have asked, you should know that the most popular version of the game on ESPN.com is a 10-team mixed league. That's the version the majority plays, so that's what I gear my analysis toward. Much of this is applicable to any type of league, but that's why my focus is on 10-team mixed leagues.
OK, before the draft/auction. If it's a start-from-scratch league, we'll get to you in a second. But let's talk about those of you in keeper auction leagues. You need to decide whom to keep. No duh. But how do we go about doing that? By protecting the best players we have, right?
You protect the best value. Not the best players. That's an important distinction.
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 him back (Hanley Ramirez, for example).
So, say you have, as I do in one of my NL-only keeper leagues, Yovani Gallardo at $29 and Anibal Sanchez at $1. As much as it pains me, I'm throwing back YoGa and keeping Sanchez. Even though YoGa is a stud -- especially in a 12-team, 26-man roster, NL-only league -- I feel pretty confident I can get him back for $29 or so, especially with starting pitching being so deep in the NL this year. Even if it costs me $30 or $31 to get him, as keeper values inflate auction prices, it's still worth it to me. Should I throw Sanchez back, he would go for more than the $1 I need to spend. Even if, by some chance, Sanchez went for only $5, that's still a $4 increase versus, at most, a $1 or $2 increase for YoGa. Simple math.
So you keep your players who are undervalued. Now, this is important: What is undervalued?
Depends on your league. Say you have Troy Tulowitzki at $35. Is he undervalued? If it's a 10-team, $100-cap mixed league, then no -- he's overpriced. Talent is plentiful in that league, even at shortstop, so you don't need to spend 35 percent of your budget on one player.
But if it's a 13-team, 25-man roster, NL-only league, then yes, he is undervalued. Talent is at a premium in that league, especially at short, and Tulo will earn more than that. So you're going to need to make your own decisions and own judgments in regard to the prices in your own league.
Also, if you've been in the league for a number of years, hopefully you've paid attention and know what goes for a lot and what doesn't, so you can take that into consideration.
As a general rule, I also keep players if they aren't a bargain but are at a scarce position.
So in an AL-only keeper league, where there aren't a lot of top-tier shortstops, I'll hang on to Elvis Andrus at $28 even though that's a few more bucks than he's worth. I'd rather pay $3 to $5 more for him than be one of 10 teams trying to overpay for Erick Aybar. Or, worse, hearing myself desperately shout "Brendan Ryan, $15!" late in the auction. Don't laugh. It's funny only when it's not happening to you.
Ideally, you go into the draft with as much money as possible. But that's very different from the most money. You're going to want to spend all your money at some point, and if it's better spent on a keeper, 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 approach remains the same.
Keep players who are so amazing that you could not get them back: your Phat Alberts, Han-Rams, or players who are way undervalued. If you had drafted Jose Bautista in the 15th round of an AL-only league last year, it really doesn't matter whether you believe he had a career year last season; he's a tremendous value based on where he's ranked this year, so you keep him even if the penalty is a 15th-round pick. But say you had Daric Barton at the same price. Well, I'd say you throw him back because you can get him -- or a similar talent -- in the 15th round.
Drafting a team -- any team -- in fantasy sports is all about getting the most value out of each slot. Many more leagues were won last season by getting Rickie Weeks late than by drafting Chase Utley in the first. It's all about maximizing value.
OK, we know whom we're keeping. Or it's a start-from-scratch draft and we're raring to go. Well, before we draft, we'll 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 check this site at least once a day. And not just the fantasy section. Buster Olney, Jayson Stark, Keith Law, Jerry Crasnick and the rest of our baseball team provide great insight. Check out baseball news in local newspapers and other websites. Twitter is an amazing resource where you can follow all of our fantasy and "real" baseball analysts here at ESPN (including me at @MatthewBerryTMR). I'll do a bunch of mock drafts with my Twitter followers this preseason, so follow me and join in the fun.
Don't just read, either. It's not all about stats. Watch "SportsCenter," "Baseball Tonight" and ESPNEWS. And 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: The defense's fault? Pitched great for 5 1/3 innings but the manager left him in too long? Or does he just stink? That last question should be asked about both the pitcher and the manager. You know which guys I'm talking about. 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, many of them very good. See which you like, which you trust, and which are bringing original thought and deeper analysis than the others. But understand this: All the advice you'll find will be speculation, some more informed than others, but in the final analysis, only you are going to "dominate your competition" and "crush your opponent." All of us (including me) are just making educated guesses.
And even if I (or anyone else) nail every single prediction, it's how you apply those predictions that really matters. I went into this in some depth in the 2009 version of this column, which also has many of the same words, but, because it's two years older, is twice as wise as the 2011 version. I suggest you check it out, but the short(ish) version is that there is something that's really important to remember on draft day.
Rankings and projections are just a guideline, not a hard and fast rule that must be followed to a tee. Those ranks and dollar values are merely indicators for you to give you a general idea of value relative to the value of every other player and how other owners in your league might view these guys.
If I project a guy to be the 12th-best shortstop and he winds up being the 10th-best, does that help or hurt you? It helps, unless you bypassed the eighth-best guy for him.
It's also about understanding what your team is looking like. If the next guy on your rankings sheet toward the end of your draft is Rajai Davis, that's great. Unless you already have Carl Crawford, Chone Figgins, Elvis Andrus and Brett Gardner on your team, in which case, maybe you want to skip down a bit in the ranks and grab Mark Reynolds instead.
So just keep that in mind as you are at the draft table -- don't be a rankings or dollar-value slave.
One more thing on this issue: I hear from a lot of people that they don't fully understand sabermetrics and what exactly O Zone Factor percentage is, and they're not totally comfortable with BABIP, let alone xBABIP. I'm here to tell you that although sabermetrics can be very helpful in identifying future performance, they are not the be-all and end-all. I've never claimed to be a sabermetrician or even a big stats guy.
Fantasy isn't so much about accurate player performance projection. (Again, see my 2009 manifesto linked above. Or wait for my 50 Facts column later this year in which I will make the same point.) What fantasy is, however, is all about roster composition. It's something that gets overlooked way too often.
AJ Mass wrote a terrific article on this subject recently, and I highly recommend reading it. The idea is that, even if you knew every stat ahead of time, could you put together a winning team? You think you could, easy, but you'd be surprised. Just read it. Trust me.
Having said that, knowledge is power. The more you know about players, lineups, injuries, sleepers, coaching changes, schedules, etc., the better shape you're in. So prepare as though you're testing to get into Yale Law 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 television while eagerly uttering "Come on, Yuniesky Betancourt!" under your breath.
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.
Does it take one game, 10 games or 20 games for a player to be eligible at a new position? (It's 10 on ESPN.com.) How do you acquire free agents? If you can add multiple players daily with no transaction limit, streaming pitchers might be a good strategy option for you. But if you use FAAB and can add only one player a week, you need to have a much deeper and balanced draft.
If you don't use FAAB, are pickups on a first-come, first-served basis, or do you use priority waivers? When is your trade deadline? What are its rules? Can you keep players beyond this season? For how long? What's that going to do to your team in the future? A keeper league with a large keeper list might encourage a few more late gambles on draft day, whereas in a league in which you keep only one or two, it doesn't matter as much. You're likely keeping your first- or second-round pick, so you can concentrate solely on the coming year in the draft and deal with 2012 in 2012.
Can you use the disabled list? 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 bench slots mean you have to be more conservative. Every rule can make a huge difference.
Read them, then read them again. And for the love of all that is pure and good, if your league doesn't have a written set of rules, write some down before you draft. Insist on your league manager drafting a written constitution, and try to think of every possible circumstance: tiebreakers, penalties for collusion, everything. This is supposed to be fun, and nothing sucks that out of a league quicker than angry e-mail wars over rules confusion. Save the angry e-mail wars for deciding who loves the TMR more, baby!
Paperwork will save your life
or at least your draft
OK, now we need to roll up our sleeves. You need to prepare some paperwork before the draft to make life easier and more efficient for yourself. You'll need a few things.
First, get yourself an up-to-the-minute depth chart for every team in the NL and/or AL. Almost any baseball website has them, including this one. Ours are manned by Shawn Cwalinski, aka "C-Dub" for those of you who used to patrol the message boards over at the old TMR site or have used our Insider-only Answer Guys service.
But whichever one you like, find the most up-to-date one you can get.
When the draft nears its end and you're desperately searching for a starting middle infielder or a No. 5 starting pitcher, knowing who's starting -- or even who's on the right (or left) side of a platoon -- will help a great deal. Trust me. As you should know, generally speaking, 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 who qualifies where. Our cheat sheets include this information.
Even if you are doing your draft/auction online (where eligible positions will be listed), knowing who qualifies at multiple positions will help you realize the proper depth of certain positions. That's why our cheat sheets list all of a player's positions and rank him at all of them, too. Martin Prado is a guy I like not only because of his high batting average and nerdy name but also because he qualifies at both second base and third, two rather shallow positions this season.
Beware, 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. Kevin Youkilis will be listed at third base in some places this preseason, but he won't qualify there until a few weeks into the season, as he played only two games there last year. Be careful.
Whether you target Youkilis or not, that affects the depth of talent at first and third base, especially in AL-only leagues, so you need to know. Also, most sites, including this one, will base their eligibility on 20 games played last season. That's fine, unless you play in a league in which you need only 10 games to qualify. That's that whole know-your-rules thing again. So know your rules and have an eligibility sheet or notations on your list.
Tristan Cockcroft offers this take about draft prep, which I wholeheartedly agree with: "There's also no one correct way to make a draft sheet. Decide what works for you and stick to it. For me, it's breaking rankings down into positions, dividing players within by tiers and bracketing them accordingly, projecting an estimated dollar amount (or round selected), and determining how wide the player's range of risk and upside.
An injury notes column is helpful, as well as most valuable categories, so you don't forget to balance your roster. For pitchers, wins are fleeting. I'd rather rank by WHIP, K/9, BB/9 than by W and ERA. Any time you spend analyzing the latter two -- especially wins -- is wasted time.
I also like to make insanely detailed draft day cheat sheets -- think hundreds of rows and two dozen columns in Excel -- if only because anyone else who gets a glimpse of them at the draft table might be intimidated by them. (You know that owner who showed up with nothing but the magazine published in December? Yeah, that's your guy (or gal).) Sometimes that's all you need to convince someone you know what you're talking about, and right there you've probably got your opportunity to jack up the price an extra buck on the player you had absolutely no interest in. In reality, I probably use only maybe two to three of the columns on my sheets for actual draft day reference: player name, projected value, risk/upside. The rest is filler, probably something I used for reference months ago and was too lazy to delete.
Of course, now that I've admitted that, I've lost any leverage over anyone in my league who reads this. Or was that my intent all along? (Insert evil laugh.)"
Breaking down the positions
In my humble opinion, it should be our cheat sheet, but whatever magazine/website list you use for your player rankings, just bring one. And if you are drafting online, look at that site's rankings before you draft. If you don't agree with our rankings, that's fine, but when you are in the draft room on ESPN.com, those will be in front of your face. It's easy to get influenced by them, so have your cheat sheet, with your markings (or your custom draft list that you preranked online, which is super easy to do) in front of you.
The truth is that, as I said before, it's important not to get too hung up on specific rankings. If one magazine has Joey Votto ahead of Adrian Gonzalez and another has them reversed, who cares? They both rock, and you'd be just fine with either. What is important to do is to mark up your own list with tiers of players who are, in your estimation, of similar ability.
As Jason Grey writes to me, "Know the depth and tiers of value at each position. It's not necessarily about position-scarcity issues but about the relative depth at each position and how that depth is broken out within each position into groups of similarly valued players. Simply put, you can cost your team overall production because you're scrambling in the endgame, when it could have been avoided with a better understanding of the player pool."
Here's how you do it.
Take your list of first basemen. You've got Albert Pujols is in a class by himself. Then Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto and Adrian Gonzalez are the next tier, to me. Cabrera usually belongs in between those two tiers, but his off-the-field woes mean that, to me, he's more of a late first-rounder this season. Mark Teixeira, Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard and Kevin Youkilis in some order are the next tier. After that, it's the good but with a slight hitch, such as Buster Posey (because you're playing him at catcher), Kendry Morales and Justin Morneau (injuries), Paul Konerko (age), Billy Butler (can he hit for real power?) and Adam Dunn (will his average kill you?).
After that, it's the "not yet proven but have some upside" like Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez, the "do they have one last hurrah in them?" like Derrek Lee, Carlos Pena and Carlos Lee, and the "solid but unsexy" types like Aubrey Huff and Adam LaRoche. This is not a complete list, but you get the idea. The point is, you go through each position (keeping your league rules and scoring in mind) and make your own tiers.
So the draft (or auction!) comes, and you've decided, "OK, I'm not settling for anyone less than Adam Dunn." So, during the draft or auction, you see Pujols, Miggy, Gonzalez, Howard, Fielder and Votto all get bought or drafted in the first two rounds. But instead of freaking out, you look at your little sheet and see that Youkilis, Dunn, Teixeira, Butler and Morales are still there. You'll be fine and don't need to jump in and spend too much for one of those guys.
Too many fantasy players get hung up on one particular player. This is a huge mistake because we're playing fantasy, not real baseball. I'm an Angels fan, and I hate, hate, hate, hate the Yankees. But I'll be in there bidding on Robinson Cano with the rest of them instead of passing now and hoping to get Howie Kendrick later.
A lot of players are generally the same. Maybe this one gets a higher batting average, this one steals a bit more, but at the end of the day, there are 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 as long as he's the right fit for your roster. (See the Rajai Davis example above.)
Extrapolate this to every position. (And I'll give my opinion on the tiers when I update my top 200 rankings.
But you need to figure out what those groups are before you draft or bid. Doing so 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.
You need to take your master list and cross off everyone who was kept. If everyone is keeping a first baseman, suddenly that's not nearly as abundant, you know?
That's why you need to make your lists, group them, etc. If you're lazy and have your ranks by auction values, just group players based on price from your list. If there's more than a three-buck difference, they're a different class of player.
Our cheat sheets also include everyone's overall rank, and that should help you figure out tiers as well; more than 20 spots (a couple of rounds), and you're talking a different ballgame.
I will tell you that scarcity comes much more into play in AL- or NL-only leagues than in 10- or even 12-team mixed leagues. Every draft and auction is different, and these are not hard and fast rules by any stretch. But, as a general baseline, if you are in an AL- or NL-only league and faced with a draft day dilemma, here are some good, basic rules regarding scarcity.
• Offense before pitching (you can always find a middle reliever who won't hurt you on the waiver wire)
• Power before speed (more on this in a bit)
• Starters before closers (and strikeout guys over control guys)
• Well-rounded guys over one-category studs (the 15/15 guy is better than the five-homer/30-steal guy)
And, of course
• A scarce position over a more plentiful one
So which is scarce this season?
In the American League, shortstop is by far the shallowest position. A trending-downward Derek Jeter, an inconsistent Alexei Ramirez and a "two-category and still not totally proven" Elvis Andrus are the best of a mediocre lot.
Third base gets ugly quick. After Evan Longoria and A-Rod, there are questions. Can Adrian Beltre stay healthy? Will Michael Young get enough at-bats (and if he does, will the DH thing mess with his head?), or will he be traded to an even poorer situation? And what about Jose Bautista? How much of last year was real? (More than you think, in my opinion.) And those are the good options before you get into serious "draft and pray they can come through" guys such as Danny Valencia, Mark Reynolds and Jhonny Peralta.
As a result, not only is it tough with third base later on but the corner will even get ugly. Second base isn't terrible, as you have 10 guys who can contribute: Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, Kendrick, Aaron Hill, Figgins, Ben Zobrist and Gordon Beckham, plus I like the upside of Sean Rodriguez and am intrigued by Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
Outfield is shallow for both leagues. You think it's not, but remember, you have to play at least five of them, and at least some people in your league will play an outfielder in their utility slot. This is very back-of-the-envelope math, but take a look at our Player Rater. Last year, the outfielders ranked 51-55 were, in order, Will Venable, Zobrist, Carlos Quentin, Cody Ross and Franklin Gutierrez. The idea is that, assuming everyone was rostering the top 50 outfielders (a big assumption), these guys would represent the average replacement-level outfielder.
The average numbers of those five? A .248 batting average, 68 runs scored, 15 home runs, 68 RBIs, 17 steals. It's not terrible, but definitely not great, especially in a 10-team mixed league. Your fifth outfielder most likely will be deficient in at least one category, and maybe your fourth and third, too, if you wait too long.
If you take a quick look at our outfield rankings, you start getting questions in the 30s, which is where you're likely looking for your fourth outfielder. Is Torii Hunter done? Can Carlos Quentin stay healthy and hit for a decent average? Can Adam Jones steal more than seven bases this season? Will we get more than one category out of guys such as Juan Pierre or Rajai Davis? Were Angel Pagan and Aubrey Huff flukes last season?
So I think it's important to hit outfield early and get at least two studs out there. I also think you should get power in the outfield when you can. More on this later.
Continuing in the AL, catcher isn't terrible. If you play in a two-catcher league, it's always ugly, but with guys such as Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, Carlos Santana, Matt Wieters, Mike Napoli and Kurt Suzuki, plus sleepers such as J.P. Arencibia and old faithfuls such as Jorge Posada, you can find someone decent. In the NL, if you don't get Brian McCann or Buster Posey, you're waiting. I like Miguel Montero and Geovany Soto better than the rest, as those two are solidly above replacement level, but that's it. So it's pretty thin in the NL at catcher. I think, other than outfield, most of the positions in the NL are in fairly good shape this year. Obviously, talent lessens as you go down the list, but there are 10 decent contributors at every base in the NL.
Assuming you are playing in an ESPN.com standard 10-team mixed league that plays only one catcher, be sure to wait. You'll get a very solid one late. You can probably land a Kurt Suzuki with your final pick.
Starting pitching is crazy-deep this year. Crazy-deep. So crazy that I'm pretty sure I once dated it. I mean, look at our rankings. Matt Cain is No. 19. David Price, Yovani Gallardo and Francisco Liriano are outside the top 20. Look at the guys in the mid-30s: John Danks, Jonathan Sanchez, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Hudson. Potential bounce-back studs such as Josh Beckett and James Shields are outside the top 50! And you know what? It's because there really are 50 pitchers you might want to take before you even begin on risk-reward guys like them. But no matter how you personally rank them, there'll be enough pitching for everyone, and it will be really hard to distance yourself from the pack. Now, that doesn't mean you should completely ignore pitching. And it's important to note whether you have a league in which you can make daily moves (thus making it easier to stream pitchers) or a weekly league. And do you have a max-innings or start cap? That's also important.
What it takes to win
So, the great Mike Polikoff, who oversees our league manager product, pulled the results from all the prize-eligible leagues (in other words, the most engaged leagues) to find what the average winning totals were for each category.
Average totals per roto points earned, 2010
Average statistics accumulated by points earned in ESPN 5x5 mixed prize-eligible leagues, 2010
We'll discuss other categories later, but I want to concentrate on strikeouts here. Last year, the average team that got 10 points for strikeouts had 1,465 of them. In '09, that number was 1,442, and in '08, it was 1,406.
So, if you get 1,438 strikeouts (the three-year average), you're in pretty good shape. Ideally, you want three closers in your nine slots, especially if you're going the cheap-closer route (more on that in a sec). Looking at the top 17 guys who got saves last year, the average closer gets about 70 strikeouts. So assume you're getting 210 strikeouts from your three closers. That means you need 1,228 strikeouts from your remaining six starting pitchers, or 205 strikeouts per. That won't happen without streaming or replacing one closer with another starter. This underscores the need for at least one 200-ish strikeout stud. I like to grab one big anchor in the first few rounds, then wait and load up starting in Rounds 7 through 9.
Keep in mind that, more than with any offensive position, starting pitching comes into the league naturally. And thanks to the shallow nature of 10-team mixed leagues, you'll be able to mix and match and play the matchups throughout the season. Starting pitching is where you will need to be the most active during the season. The bottom line is: Get a big K stud early, then wait. The position is deep.
Now please remain standing for the national mantra.
NEVER. PAY. FOR. SAVES.*
I've written this a million times and repeated it until I was blue in the face. I've been saying it for a decade now, and I've seen a lot of other folks say it as well in different ways.
It's a volatile position; there's a ton of turnover; it's really only one category. Assuming you play in a league with people who know what they're doing, you won't be able to leave the draft table with the ideal team. You want to maximize value there, then pick up pieces during the season.
Certain statistics come into the leagues; certain do not. Saves is the category with the most waiver-wire depth. Look at this list of players who did not start last season as their team's closer or were on very shaky ground and went late in drafts, then notice the saves they wound up with. I make a list like this every year, and every year at least 10 names are on it.
Matt Capps (42)
Neftali Feliz (40)
Kevin Gregg (37)
Billy Wagner (37) -- He went super late last year.
Leo Nunez (30) -- So did he.
Brad Lidge (27)
John Axford (24)
Matt Lindstrom (23)
Chris Perez (23)
Octavio Dotel (22)
Jon Rauch (21)
Alfredo Simon (17)
Brandon Lyon (15)
Juan Gutierrez (15)
Fernando Rodney (14)
Koji Uehara (13)
Chad Qualls (12)
Now, "not paying for saves" doesn't mean you shouldn't invest in closers at all. You know your league best, and if it's one with deep rosters and an active waiver wire, you might not be able to grab the next John Axford.
But that doesn't mean you break the bank or use a high draft pick on a guy such as Jonathan Papelbon (37 saves, same as Kevin Gregg). It means you should use a late (17th-to-20th-round) pick instead of an earlier pick (say, 10th-to-12th-rounder). It means you pay in the very low double digits instead of the low 20s.
The argument against finding cheap closers 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 Jonathan Broxton and Joe Nathan (pre-injury) didn't enjoy owning them last year.
The other argument is that the elite guys will post great WHIPs and ERAs. And this is true, they will be better in these categories than the Francisco Corderos of the world. But do the math from above. They pitch about 70 innings. Assuming you have at least six starters, those six will pitch, on the low end, about 1,100 innings. Let's say they give up 420 earned runs, which is a team ERA of 3.44. The average ERA that earned 10 points last season, per Mike Polikoff, was 3.58.
The 3.44 is immaterial for this exercise, though. Now, let's take a "bad" closer such as Matt Lindstrom, who pitched 53.1 innings of 4.39 ERA baseball and had 23 saves. Adding that to the team above takes the team ERA from 3.44 to 3.48.
Let's do that three times, in fact. Let's add three Matt Lindstroms to this good staff. The staff ERA is now 3.50. (498 earned runs x 9 / 1,280 innings pitched). It's an additional six-hundredths of a point. Which is not insignificant. But the average difference between getting nine and eight points in ERA last season was eight-hundredths of a point. Difference between third and fourth? Also eight-hundredths of a point.
Look, there are so many variables that it's impossible to nail down. But the argument is that if you do lose a point or two in ERA and WHIP by not getting an elite closer, it is more than made up for by the better players you will get at all other positions because you didn't waste an early pick or a lot of money on said elite closer, the most volatile position that has the least effect (not no effect, but the least) on total categories. You're going to have to scrimp somewhere, and with the closer, it does the least damage.
In mixed leagues, it's almost ridiculous how many saves will be plucked from the waiver wire or in the draft's endgame.
Having said all that, if you are playing in an AL- or NL-only league, you actually have to pay for saves.
Yeah, you heard me. That's why the asterisk is up there. In those leagues, the replacement-player pool is much shallower, and it's much harder to acquire saves during the season because the better middle relievers are already owned, and they're the ones likely to get save opportunities if something happens to the incumbent closer. It's not impossible to find saves, mind you, but it is much harder.
In leagues like that, I'll pay for saves, just not a lot. I'll spend $10 to $15 on a low-end closer who definitely has the gig. I'll make sure I have at least one guy; I'll draft/buy a lot of high-upside setup guys who could become the closer (think Jake McGee, Aroldis Chapman and Brandon League this season); and then I'll plan to scour the waiver wire throughout the season.
I also think, in head-to-head leagues, you need at least one stud closer if you are playing categories. The "bad" closers tend to come from bad teams and don't have as many save opportunities in a given week. So I like to have at least one guy on a team who wins a lot in head-to-head.
If you are playing head-to-head points, of course, you can blow off saves entirely. In those leagues, it doesn't matter how you get your points as long as you get the most. And that might not always entail the services of a closer.
I already told you that you should bring only one cheat sheet to your draft, and it needs to be tiered and have positional eligibility clearly defined.
That'll be your go-to reference document for deciding which player to take among those still available.
But what about the players who already have been taken? Knowing who is off the board and which team he went to is as important as knowing whom to set your sights on. To that end, I prepare a sheet that has a place for every position for every team in the league.
Anyway, during the draft, I keep track of every player drafted by every team. If it's a salary-cap league, I also have a place to see how much money the others have left. Those of you with laptops can set up a spreadsheet to do all this for you. If it's a keeper league with a salary cap, it's especially useful to get a lay of the land: how much money everyone has left for how many positions to fill.
I cannot stress how important this is. As the draft progresses, you're going to want to be able to know whom all your opponents have, which positions they have filled and what they still need.
For example, say Team 1 takes Albert Pujols. You write down "Pujols" in Team 1's first-base slot. 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 middle infielder. But say there's a corner guy you really like (we'll say Casey McGehee, who never gets respect) and want to grab, as well. You look at your sheet, see that almost everyone has a shortstop and, according to your cheat sheet, Rafael Furcal, Starlin Castro and Ian Desmond, all of whom you have tiered together -- are still out there.
So you should be OK to wait until your next turn for a shortstop; you don't need to burn the pick here. Conversely, the three teams picking after you all need third-base or corner guys, so you'd better grab McGehee now, else you'll never get him.
This sheet will save your draft more than once toward the end, and that's when leagues are won and lost -- not in the first few rounds. It doesn't take a genius to say "I'll take Albert" in the first round. Grabbing Martin Prado in the 23rd round when three others had their sights set on him? That could win you your league, baby.
I also like to have a list of sleepers I want to target. That way 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 Brett Wallace." Or Mat Gamel. Or Ryan Raburn. Or Mike Minor. Or Peter Bourjos. Instead of saying, "Oh, hell, I can't think of anybody -- I'll just take a crappy outfielder who will never see the light of day in my starting five."
Trust me, just because you know whom you want right now, it doesn't mean you'll remember it when your brain is fried. It takes a few seconds to write a few names down, but the fruits of that labor can be savored all summer long.
And now we pause for something really nerdy.
If you are in a keeper league with a salary cap, I suggest doing inflation calculation. What's that, you ask? Well, basically, keeper leagues always have guys who are kept well below their value.
I'm proud to have Evan Longoria for $15 in my AL keeper league. His list price in a start-from-scratch AL-only league is $34. As a result, the prices of available players will go up in the auction because there is relatively less talent available but more money to spend.
Now, just Longoria himself won't move the needle too much. But with a couple of guys multiplied by the number of teams in your league, you'll have some figuring out to do before you actually know what kind of money is chasing how many players in your league.
So you look at your handy ESPN 5-by-5 AL-only cheat sheet, and you see we list Adrian Gonzalez at $31. But that's only at a start-from-scratch auction. You'll be a better judge of what to pay for Gonzalez if you spend a little time calculating draft inflation.
I cannot take credit for the formula, which you probably remember from high school math, and this has been written about elsewhere, but -- here's how you do it.
Let's say it's a standard 10-team league with 25-man rosters and a $260 cap. That means there is a total budget of $2,600 (10 x $260) of available money to spend 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 apiece. So each team spent a total of $100, for a total spent of $1,000 (10 x $100).
OK, here's where we get even nerdier. Take whatever price list you have decided to use and calculate how much "value" is being protected. For example, Evan Longoria is projected to go for $33 this year. So although I have him at a $15 price, his value is $33.
So you add up all the total value on the teams. Again, for simplicity's sake, let's say every team is protecting $160 worth of value. The value protected is $1,600 (10 x 160), but the total spent is only $1,000.
Subtract both numbers from $2,600 (the total budget):
• $2,600 minus $1,600 (value protected) = $1,000 of value left.
• $2,600 minus $1,000 (total spent) = $1,600 of money left.
This means that at the auction, $1,600 of money is chasing only $1,000 of value. You now divide money left by value left; $1,600/$1,000 = 1.6. This is your draft inflation rate, so at the beginning of the auction, you can spend $1.60 on every $1 of value and still break even. So let's say Gonzalez comes up for auction, and your trusty ESPN cheat sheet has him listed at $31. You quickly multiply $31 by 1.6 to come up with $50. That's his value in this league at this point in time.
The bidding gets to $37, and your competitors, who all have him as a $31-35 player, drop out. "That's six bucks more than he's worth," people say. But you know that's actually a bargain for the Red Sox's new first baseman. You're saving $13!
Inflation calculation is a bit time-consuming and can be a little confusing, but if you want those money lists to help you, you need to do this. Every dollar counts! And where it really helps is with the superstars. The prices get so ridiculous that many folks drop out, but they end up becoming the biggest bargains because sooner or later the league's values will even out unless a bunch of owners leave money at the table. So you just have to ask yourself, would you rather spend those extra five bucks to get Adrian Gonzalez or Daric Barton?
Basic drafting strategies
You've done your research; you've got your cheat sheet; your numbers and rankings all add up. You're ready, right? Not so fast, cowboy. You should have a plan before you step into the draft, knowing what kind of players you're looking to target, when and for how much. We can't devote tons of space to each one, but here's a quick rundown of a couple of the more popular strategies.
The LIMA plan: Invented by Baseball HQ guru Ron Shandler and named for unlikely late-90's fantasy ace Jose Lima, LIMA stands "Low-Investment Mound Aces." Basically, with a $260 salary cap, you spend only $60 on pitching, $30 of that on a closer. The idea is to get a bunch of pitchers whom your competition frowns upon but whose underlying numbers indicate that they've been unlucky to this point, are primed for a breakout or are simply undervalued because they have no name recognition. If you get enough of those guys, at least a few of them are bound to break out, and your investment is low enough that you won't have to think twice about throwing back a guy who doesn't work out in favor of a good waiver-wire pickup.
Then, with $200 for offense, you load up there, dominating all the offensive categories. You have to really know pitching and pay close attention to the trends all season long, but it has proved very effective to those who know how to play it.
The ZIMA plan: This is my twist on Ron's LIMA plan. Basically, it's the same thing; spend most of your money on offense, then fill in some cheap, low-risk pitching, mixing in starters and high-upside relievers (guys who could close). The difference is that in my version, you spend $30 of the $60 on one upper-tier elite starter (such as Roy Halladay) or two upper-level starters -- (say, Dan Haren and Ubaldo Jimenez) for about that $30-35 and don't pay for saves at all, looking to snag those off the wire later and hoping that one or two of your high-upside relief guys turns into a closer.
The MRI theory: This is colleague Pierre Becquey's invention, and I've used it very successfully in various leagues. The idea here is that you get two high-strikeout aces for your staff (last season, in an NL-only league, I had Tim Lincecum and Chris Carpenter), then you spend the rest of your money on middle-relief guys. All need to have high strikeout rates and preferably have the potential to close, such as Hong-Chih Kuo or Matt Thornton. (I always add one twist here: I'll be willing to go to low double digits if a decent middle-of-the-pack closer is available; think Ryan Franklin.) You're going to dominate in ERA and WHIP thanks to the mix of your aces and the fact that your middle relievers' ERA and WHIP will be a lot more valuable to your squad because you're pitching so few innings.
That allows you to Maximize your Relief Innings, hence "MRI." Once you've laid out your ERA/WHIP cushion, you can go fishing for starters later in the season to pad your wins and strikeouts (where you'll be in the middle of the pack, thanks to your high strikeout-per-nine-innings rates) while knowing exactly what kind of punishment your ratios can take. Since middle-relief guys are pretty cheap, you should be able spend a lot of money on offense.
Positional scarcity: This is where you go after players who play positions at which there is not a lot of talent. The idea is that there is a much bigger difference between Brandon Phillips and Juan Uribe than there is between Matt Holliday and Shane Victorino, as both sets of players are about the same distance apart in our current ranks. Almost every first baseman and outfielder is an offensive guy, but there are many catchers and shortstops who have major league jobs thanks to their defense but do nothing for your roto team.
So you go after Troy Tulowitzki (remembering that shortstop is pretty scarce this season), letting others fight over Prince Fielder or Ryan Howard. I am a position-scarcity guy, as well, and usually will use the money I'm saving for offense by using LIMA to pay a premium for players at scarce positions.
And even this season, in which I believe outfield is shallower than years past, it'll be easier to find an in-season outfielder who will come out of nowhere than to find a shortstop or catcher that way. But even more than position scarcity, I am into
Category scarcity: This one is my invention. (At least I've never read about it anywhere else. 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. And this year, power is really scarce. Check out the power numbers of the past five years, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information stud David Bearman:
HR per game:
Now, also from David, let's look at steals.
SB per game:
It's a slight difference, but more people are stealing these days than hitting home runs. Let me put it another way, once again going back to Mike Polikoff's numbers on what it takes to get 10 points in a category:
In 2009, the average of total homers hit by a team getting 10 points was 327. Last season? It was 298. Runs required were 1,188 in '09 and 1,153 in '10. RBIs? 1,168 in '09, 1,114 in '10. And steals were 224 in '09 and 214 in '10 -- much closer than the other categories. Offense was down across the board, making all those numbers scarce.
So I'm going for boppers this year. Ideally, boppers who steal, but my belief is that you can find cheap speed when you need to. There are a lot of the Michael Bourn, Rajai Davis, Brett Gardner, Juan Pierre, Nyjer Morgan and Coco Crisp types late in your draft.
Check out these positional stats:
Home runs and stolen bases by position, 2006-10
Source: Elias Sports Bureau
As you can see, power was down across the board, but it was down the most at first, second and outfield. There are no first basemen who steal, and you're almost guaranteed to get power from whoever you draft there, although in very different quantity. It's why I have as many first basemen as high as I do in my ranks despite the relative depth at the position).
There is some power at second base, but not tons, so if you can get some power there -- Cano, Utley, Phillips and Dan Uggla on the higher end; Aaron Hill, Kelly Johnson and Zobrist a bit further down -- that's great. You'll get speed at shortstop and in the outfield; you won't be able to avoid it. As you can see, there have been significant upticks in stolen bases in the outfield from '08 to '09 to last season.
So where you can, you want power, especially power in the outfield.
I also try to protect batting average, ERA and WHIP at all costs.
I go for a balanced team; don't get me wrong. But I want to make sure I'm covered in the categories that are hard to get after the draft. And if you get in a hole in one of the average categories, it's really hard to make up ground.
One last thing: Note that last season, 98 players had at least 10 steals, and 35 had at least 20. I like to get one or, at most, two big-steal guys, but honestly, if you just make sure that almost everyone you draft (save for first base and catcher) can get at least 10 steals or so, you'll be middle of the pack in speed without even trying.
As I've alluded to, I try to get as many multicategory guys as possible. Once again, per Katie Sharp of ESPN Stats & Info, 44 players had at least 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases last year. That's a lot but is down from 2009, when 56 players did it, and 2008, when 49 did it.
The lower numbers for offense across the board just further underscore what we've discussed already: There's a lot of very good pitching these days.
Modified Labadini: The Labadini Plan, as it is known, is named after Larry Labadini, who first tried it in a national competition in 1996. Of his $260 budget, he spent $251 of it on offense and just $9 (or $1 per player) on pitching. This is extreme, obviously, but I do believe you can do a modified version of this, especially in our standard 10-team mixed leagues. The idea is that you way undervalue pitching and spend, say, $30 to $40 of your $260 on pitching. (Or don't take a starter until at least Round 12.)
That's because in a mixed league with only 10 or 12 teams, there will be lots of quality starting pitching both late (and cheap) in the draft and available during the season on the waiver wire.
If you do this, you must nail offense and be the kind of person who works the waiver wire very well. But considering I already feel you don't need to pay for saves, this definitely can work. A subset version of this is
Streaming pitchers: Again, the idea is that you have both a fairly large free-agent pool and the ability to change your roster daily. Or at least add multiple people every week. This works best in head-to-head formats, but the idea is that you just play the matchups every day, grabbing junk pitchers who have favorable matchups off the waiver wire. You have a constant turnover of pitchers, as every day you go with whoever has the best matchup. This really works only in mixed leagues and leagues that do not have transactional limits.
Having said that, the more active you are definitely has an effect on how well you do. Once more, we sent the great Mike Polikoff into the league manager tools to find out whether the number of transactions an owner did corresponded with how well he finished. Not surprisingly, the more active the owner, the higher he finished. The draft-and-stand-pat approach is a pretty quick way to get to last place.
Average Transactions Per Finishing Position, 2008-10
3-year average of acquisitions, activations and trades per team, ranked by finishing position
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, no matter what your team looks like. It's a much more basic, carefree approach, assuming that by doing this, at the end of everything, you will have a good, balanced team.
By the way, never get in an early bidding war if you can help it. Another guy will come along. Second, be cautious when drafting rookies and young players. For every Buster Posey who comes through, there are a lot more Matt Wieters types who will take longer to develop. Dependable isn't sexy, but it does help you win.
Regardless of which plan you choose (and there are a lot of others not on this list), have one. But be ready to chuck it, or at least bend it, if the draft doesn't go the way you hoped. And it often won't. You must be patient and stay focused, but if you stick to your guns when you shouldn't, you'll end up shooting yourself in the foot. It's a "know the rules before you break them" kind of thing.
No One Knows Anything: Ron Shandler calls this total-control drafting, but I named it after the famous William Goldman saying. The idea is to totally ignore the cheat sheets and dollar values because you know they'll be totally different at the end of the year. When you want a player, you bid whatever it takes to get him. Period. Never worry about what others are doing or what the correct price is. Decide who you want on your team and get those players 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 Gonzalez, whom I grabbed for $3 in a 10-team mixed auction last year, would return $48 worth of value or that Adam Lind, for whom I paid $20 in that same league, would return $-1 of value. (If I had kept him on my team the whole year. The bum.) Prices (or draft round) are really only relevant on draft day, then only in determining the market against your fellow bidders/drafters. NOKA says forget the other drafters, get whom 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.
OK, it's game day, baby. Time for the big show. Don't bother cramming on the way in or anything stupid like that. It's like a test. You know it or you don't. You're pregnant or you're not. You tell her "No, of course that dress doesn't make your butt look fat," or you sleep on the couch. You want to project an air of confidence -- even if you don't feel it. Make others sweat, be it in person or through chatter in your draft engine. That's my first draft day hint.
1. Never show fear. Just be confident. You don't have to be cocky or a jerk. But occasionally sighing a breath of relief when the owner before you picks as if to say, "Glad you didn't grab the correct guy," will do wonders to rattle your weaker-willed leaguemates.
1A. Tristan submits this addendum, which is similar: The most seemingly ridiculous, yet entirely critical, piece of draft day advice: Be you. More specifically, treat it like you would Christmas day because if you're a serious player, it pretty much is. With the exception of a quick, last-second check of the breaking news, say, 30 minutes before the draft, complete your draft prep at least several hours before -- or better, the day before -- your draft, as you would work at the end of the workday on Christmas Eve. Get a good night's sleep; I can't stress how critical this is. Not too much, not too little, just the amount that puts you in tiptop shape that day. And enjoy yourself on draft day. Do whatever you feel, whatever makes you most comfortable. For me, I ALWAYS have chicken parm, pizza, Five Guys or whatever specific craving I have at that instant, preferably right before the draft or, failing that, during it. It just makes me feel right, and "right" is where it's at. Just be "right" and you're already way better off than everyone else there.
2. In auctions, throw out a young, hyped player early. Reliable performers like Roy Halladay and David Wright will be thrown out soon enough. But the first guy I'm throwing out this year is Pedro Alvarez. Don't get me wrong, I love Alvarez this year. But so does everyone else. And 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 much later in the auction.
3. If you find yourself getting run out of a position, don't panic! Say you've got Pick 11 in a 12-team league and find yourself on the short end of a second-base run. Instead of reaching for a guy such as Omar Infante just to have someone, grab another closer, even if you already have two. Or a second decent shortstop. Give yourself something to trade for what you need.
4. If you are in a snake draft, especially at one end of one, grab what you need when you can. Let's say you really want a good No. 1 first baseman. You see there are at least six guys left whom you wouldn't mind having. So you grab another starting pitcher. But one good run, and you're left holding the bag. 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).
4A: And, as Jason Grey writes: Be adaptable and ready to change your strategy/plans on the fly based on the flow of the draft or to take advantages of opportunities that present themselves. Trying to shoehorn things into your set strategy when the draft isn't going the way you expected is a way to come out with an incomplete team.
5. Don't listen to anyone else during the draft! (Basically, don't fall for No. 1.) As I mentioned in my theory section, nobody knows anything! And that includes me and any other fantasy baseball analyst. Yes, we "experts" probably spend a lot more time looking at stats, trends, players and teams and the like 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 that "experts" (and notice I put the word in quotes. I consider myself an analyst, not an expert. There's no such thing in fantasy.) aren't always right other people in your league sure as hell aren't. If they mock your pick or sneer at your team, who cares? Screw them. Don't let it rattle you! I often find that the loudest person at the draft is the stupidest. I've seen too many good drafts screwed up because someone listened to some loud jerk rather than trusting his own opinions. Listen, you've done the research, you've played the game you've even read this far. You're into it. And your opinion is as good as, if not better than, anyone else's in that room.
6. For those in auction leagues, especially keepers, consider bringing last season's rosters with you. Say someone throws Evan Longoria, you look at last year's roster and see one person had him at $36. It's likely that the owner who had him last year will go up to $36 to get him back. 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 you bid the guy up to $36. It's not a strategy for the weak of heart; you can get stuck. But worst-case scenario, you're stuck with Evan Longoria. Not the most unpleasant thing in the world. And if you're successful, you can take a lot of money off the table a little bit at a time.
7. For the players you get, write down the name of the last person who bid on him or the ones who complained that you snatched him up right out of their draft queue. That will come in handy later when you're looking for trade partners.
8. The later the draft or auction goes -- and it will go long -- the more people get antsy and stop paying attention. This is when you need to be your sharpest. This is when the cheap guys come in. This is when you get the $1 Jose Bautista. This is when you win or lose your league. Not by paying $40 for David Wright. Or $126 million for Jayson Werth. Just saying.
8A. Jason Grey adds a similar thought: Focus on upside at the end of the draft. You need to hit on a breakout player or two to improve your chances at winning. The "safer" plays will be in the free-agent pool if you need them. Too many players take the safe route in the late rounds.
9. Always look for bargains. No duh, right? Yes, but look everywhere. To me, Hanley Ramirez at $45 is a bargain in a keeper league. Because in a keeper, I think he's worth $57 this season. Many times, the best bargains are the superstars. Whatever you had to pay for Roy Halladay last year, he more than earned it.
10. 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 or makes some very questionable picks so if I'm telling you that guys who do this for a living make mistakes, go easy on your draftmates.
11. Have fun. Remember, we do this for leisure. We all (especially I) take it very seriously, and I play to win, but it's not worth ruining friendships over.
Unless you've got a shot at winning. In which case, you can always get a new friend.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- has closed his manifesto with that joke for years now, and doesn't have any plans to change it. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. He is a charter member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his cyberfriend