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How much does the draft really matter? I have been hearing claims that the draft is the
most important part of the season, and that you can win alone on the draft. Looking at
draft results and power rankings seems to suggest otherwise.
I collected the draft results for all 252 teams this year. But how should I judge the “goodness” of a draft. One way would be to set rosters and and calculate the current standings. Besides for being more work than I want to put in, it is not the best way to go. Some owners drafted more innings pitched, and some drafted players on the DL that would come back later. So what I decided to do is to calculate the “value” of a team’s draft by summing the player rater values for all players drafted by team–this is the “Draft Rating” in the table to the right. This is nice, because it uses a metric that calculates points in the standing, removes subjectivity and gives value to drafted bench players.
Clearly some owners drafted much better than others, as the draft rating range is almost 110 points. Congratulations to those in the top 10.
Looking up and down the list you can see that there are teams with great drafts but low power rank, and teams with poor drafts but high power ranks (you can sort the table by Power Rank). One can see all teams in the plot below. There seems to be only a medium correlation and dependence between the draft and a team’s success. But as we know correlation does not imply causation. Those who draft well, are more likely to be experienced owners who know value better, trade and play the waiver-wire well.
There are stronger correlations at the extremes. In other words, the dependence seems to get a little better if you had a very bad draft or a very good draft. It should be stated again that correlation does not imply causation. Many teams with horrible drafts may have soon quit, while teams with great drafts tend to become more active. Since the correlation is already not too strong, the causation is probably even smaller.
You should learn from this that the draft is important, but not nearly as important as the moves you make after the draft. There is an enormous value after the draft in free-agency (such as Jose Bautista last year), which can be worth more than your first few rounds of picks. Trading opens up the door for even more talent.
If you draft a team, only change you roster, and not pick up or trade for value, it is impossible to win a league where the other owners are adding and trading for players.
In 2010, I started playing fantasy baseball. A friend was desperate for another owner, and asked me to join. He wanted to see what I knew about baseball, so he asked me if I heard of Hanley Ramirez, the typical first player drafted that year. I had no idea who he was talking about, as I had not followed baseball in many years, so I set out to do research on players. It was a few days before the draft and I only had time to research hitters. When draft day came along I just passed on starting pitchers for the first 15 rounds. I seemed to do very well that year, and repeated this “strategy” the following years.
I had accidentally stumbled on something – don’t draft starting pitchers early. So here I set out to understand why this is, and see if It holds up in other leagues.
Below is a plot of the (average) number of picks spent on hitters in the first 3 rounds versus the team’s standing (2011 data). As is very evident from the plot, those who are among the top of the standings used their early picks to take bats. Roughly a 1/3 of the owners that only took bats in those rounds are in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in their league. Similarly, 1/3 of the owners who took a SP are in 10th, 11th, or 12th.
This trend holds very well for Rounds 1 -5—those who concentrate on bats did significantly better. But at some point you need to start taking pitchers. Below is a similar plot to the one above, but rounds 4 through 8. The top two teams still took more pitchers than average, but as whole, it still not a good place to draft too many pitchers. This is the place where draft value of batters and pitchers normalize. At this point owners were drafting Kershaw, Weaver, Hamels, Verlander, etc…, who have not only lived up to their draft position, but have outperformed the pitchers drafted earlier.
This demonstrates that drafting pitchers early on was a bad idea, but it doesn’t answer the questions as to why. Here are the reasons:
- Pitchers are more injury prone. Two-thirds of all time spent on the DL are by pitchers.
- SP is deeper than hitters, and talent drops off slower than with hitters. This is simply because we only need 6 SP per team, but 13 batters per team, while an MLB team has a 5 SP rotation and a 9 batter lineup. Statistically speaking, since there are so many more batters than pitchers, there will be more batters who perform at a higher statistical significance. In other words, suppose you took a group of 200 people and measured their height, and took 100 people and measured their weight. The tallest person in 200 group to likely have a more extreme height than extreme weight of the heaviest person in the group of 100. You can see this effect in the player rater. The best batters are more valuable than the best pitchers.
- The average pitcher is less valuable than an average batter. Simple. Batters produce in 6 categories, while starting pitchers produce in 4. You can see this effect in the player rater, which measures expected points in the standings vs. replacement.
- There is much more luck in pitching. Rarely does a top 5 pitcher from a previous year make it into the top 5 again. But this is also the reason why drafting a pitcher in round 4-8 is such a good idea. There is a great deal of upside that luck can bring.
So, I started a series of articles on trading strategy last season but it wasn’t received well. It seems like most people don’t really want to dig through one of 2,000 word diatribes about how to email a league-mate during trade discussions. Hey, I can understand that and so I cut the series after two entries – I am after all a man of the people. I was completely prepared to let the “Rules of Trading” idea fall by the wayside but then over the last few weeks we have received numerous emails from frustrated managers. They complain about how rude their trade partners are when answering offers, how slow other managers are to respond and how many bad offers they receive. (Honestly that last complaint is ridiculous to me and I have zero respect for any complaint about receiving bad offers – seriously, I have zero respect…nada…none)
Since we are receiving such a volume of complaints and questions I really feel like I need to do an abbreviated “Rules of Trading” article. Hopefully it can help solve some of these issues. I mean, I am really good at trading. I rarely say something cocky like that but it is the truth. Two years ago I completed 55 trades in the Elite League. You do not make that many deals by just blindly sending out offers…okay, part of it is sending out blind offers but there are still guidelines people. So, I offer to you my abbreviated “Rules for Trading” minus the strategy. Note: This mainly applies to public/redraft leagues. In long term leagues where you know the managers really well some of these rules-oh hell, all of these rules- can be modified and added to over time.
1. Never Be Rude, Always Be Polite.
There is never any reason to respond to another manager in an aggressive way. In an attempt to be clear: there is NO good reason to be aggressive to another manager. NONE. ZERO. DOES NOT EXIST. Not only will you come off as an asshole but you will severely hurt your chances of pulling off a deal. The guy poked fun at you, so what? Or maybe he actually got inflammatory and called you a cribble, why do you care? No matter what the other manager says there is never a good reason to be an ass and responding in kind. Be nice and be the bigger man – it will pay off.
2. Do not tell another manager what he needs.
There is nothing that will piss off another manager faster than you telling him what he needs on his team. It is presumptuous and pejorative. Treat the other manager like an adult and let him think for himself. Now, there is nothing wrong with explaining your thought process on the trade but do not cross the line from explaining to preaching.
3. Always say “Thank you” when you decline.
No, I do not care how bad the offer is or even if you have received the exact same offer 14 times in the last hour â€” say thank you. It goes a long way to be establishing good rapport with your league. The other manager took time out of his day to send that offer and deserves a polite response.
4. Do not be a bitch and whine about receiving a bad offer.
Let me make this clear- if you complain about an offer you are being a little bitch. That is just a fact. Now, before you get offended please understand that I am not implying that you are fundamentally a little bitch but by definition a little bitch whines, so if the shoe fits… And as I stated earlier, if I receive an email from you complaining that someone sent an offensive offer I will change your name to “Lil’ Bitch” in the Elite standings. I won’t even give you the respect of spelling out “little”.
5. Do not post names in the CBox or in public
Do not go onto a CBox and post offers someone has sent to you. Do not discuss trade details on the CBox. It is incredibly lame to cock block another manager and posting details in public does just that. You instantly lower a player’s value if other managers know he is being shopped and it is a cheap tactic and it is completely bush league. It is utter BS to post something like “Cory offered me Sabathia for Braun, can anyone top it?” I will literally consider driving to your house and punching you in the neck if you blow up my offers like that. Now, if you want to talk to an individual owner in private about my offer then I can understand but mass emailing/messaging the league is completely wrong.
6. Always Counter
When you decline a trade, do the following: Type “Thanks for the offer but this really isn’t what I am looking for right now” then hit the button labeled “decline and counter”. Always counter an offer because you never know what may hit. The other manager may be trying bail on his players or may be willing to overpay for yours. Always counter and you will be rewarded for the effort.
7. Never say “This player is off limits”
That is the most absurd and ridiculous statement. No one should be off limits in a redraft. For the right price ANYONE should be traded. Unless of course you don’t want to win your league; but if that isn’t your objective why are you in the game? If you would prefer to just watch your favorite players then buy MLB Extra Innings and get out of my fantasy league.
8. Never say “I am not trading now, I am standing by my draft”
You may think you are a draft guru and maybe you are the next Bill James but I will run laps around you if you stand pat. No team comes out of the draft complete and no team is ever perfect. There is always room for improvement and you should always be open to a deal. As Elite member Cory Miller says, “If you aren’t moving forward, you are moving backwards.” I have the stats from 3 years of elite leagues to prove that players that make moves win and players that stand pat don’t. You can try to name all sorts of examples to refute my assertions but I have a massive spreadsheet and actual data that says you are wrong. I am not saying that you have to sell short but if there is an opportunity to improve your team don’t let our stubbornness/pride limit you.
9. Always take the value.
Yes, trading Pedroia for Pujols will leave you with a hole at 2B but who the hell cares? ALWAYS take the value. There is no reason to worry about positions until the All-Star break in my opinion. I am not implying that you should then sit on your trade-you should flip the value and continue to make incremental gains.
10. Upgrade your Bench
Huge trades are born out of many small trades. Never stop moving and upgrading a MR or a bench bat to someone slightly sexier can open up tons of trade options. Simply moving from Juan Rivera to Garrett Jones can open a huge opportunities in trade talks. Never stop trying to improve your team and don’t expect to win the lottery in one deal. Waiting on a rape trade will leave you empty handed; it is best to make small and steady improvements.
11. Always Have Offers Out
Like I said earlier: if you aren’t moving forwards you are moving backwards. You should never be sitting without any offers out. Personally I keep a minimum of 6 offers out at all times. ALL TIMES. Do not get lazy.
12. Trading is Work, Play the Percentages
In the Elite league last season I sent over 3,500 trade offers. If you do that math that means that my offers were successfully less than 2% of the time. It may surprise you to learn that the 2% success rate is actually high in my experience. Bottom line: Trading is work and you cannot be successful unless you put in the time to send offers, send counters and respond to emails.
13. Do not let a MR kill a deal.
If you have a good deal where you profit pretty handily do not let a MR kill the trade. Seriously, I cannot count how many times people have had me over a barrel only to screw the pooch in the end because they didn’t want to part with a MR. Now, I am not implying that you just give away your elite MR but if the trade clearly nets you value and all it takes is a MR to push it over the top, then don’t be an asshole– take the value.
14. Always take the bat.
You cannot give up Zach Greinke for Seth Smith but if you are offered an elite bat for an elite arm. Take the bat.
15. Be Responsive.
Do not let offers sit for weeks. When you see the offer then take the time to respond. Even if you can’t decline or accept, send the guy an email and let him know you are thinking it over. Do not be an absentee manager that makes you a douche and is the second offense on this list that will cause me to actually drive to your house and punch you squarely in the neck.
16. Do not accept an offer if a player is hurt after the offer was sent.
If a manager sends you an offer for Kendry Morales and you accept after Morales breaks his ankle you are an asshole. Rest assured that there is a special place in hell for anyone that plays this sort of game. Be a good sport and do not take advantage of a bad situation.
17. Always get a throw in.
You never know who the other manager may view as a throw in. If you are doing a 2:1 then get the players the other manager is dropping. I am shocked at least 5 times a year at what some managers will “throw in” to complete a deal.
18. Do not be afraid to take a 2:1
Yes, yes we always want you to get the best player but that isn’t a hard and fast rule. Sometimes the values really do line up right and you can legitimately win a trade even though you are giving up the best player. Do not limit yourself to silly aphorisms and instead think out each trade individually.
19. Be creative.
Think outside the box in order to get a deal done- include WW priority, include draft picks, guarantee a players health, make player performance part of the deal, etc. Trading is not just limited to Player A for Player B. In order to get the most out of your deals you will need to be inventive.
20. Learn to lose a deal.
No one likes it when a player wins everything they do. Sometimes you really need to make it look like you are losing a deal to put others at ease. Now, this is a real skill and not something I can lay out in this brief format. Suffice to say that sometimes taking a slight hit in value can open up the league to trades. Trading is infectious and once it takes hold in a league the momentum can really open up opportunities for a savvy trader. To create that momentum sometimes you need to make a bit of a sacrifice.
21. Do not get frustrated.
It is always when you are most frustrated that a breakthrough happens. Do not give up and preserver. If you stay steady and work the trades will happen.
22. No matter how big you win NEVER rub it in or admit it
If you are able to trade David Freese for Evan Longoria do not play it up. Simply say that you think it is good for both teams, that Freese is in a great lineup and wish the other guy luck. Do not ever under any circumstances gloat/talk shit to a trade partner or the league.
23. Do not get greedy.
A bird in the hand etc. etc. If you have a guy on the line for a win do not try to push it. It is better to take what you have then to scare someone off and lose the deal. Greed will kill you every time.