Note: I'm chronicling my experience as a first-time fantasy league player. You can see part one here.
So I’ve got three days to figure out a draft strategy. The first order of business is to learn exactly how rotisserie baseball works.
ESPN Fantasy Baseball has a helpful blurb:
Rotisserie, or 'Roto', is the most common way to play Fantasy baseball. In this scoring format teams are ranked from first to last in each statistical category. Points are then awarded according to the order in each category and totaled to determine an overall score and league rank.
Most standard Roto leagues will score according to Avg, HRs, RBIs, Runs, SBs for batting and W, SV, K, ERA, and WHIP for pitching. Your team scores points based on total accumulation in each of those categories. The strongest team in the category will get the most points (according to the number of teams) and so on.
OK, I still don’t know how it works, but apparently I want players who can excel in one or more of these five categories. To that end, ESPN has made a ranked list of players for the draft. This might not be as much work as I had thought.
I won’t notice until later that the Ross Gload League uses OBP instead of batting average. It probably doesn’t matter too much, because (A) I don’t have time to research OBP before the draft, and (B) I’ve decided to build my team around pitching.
My reasoning is this: First, pitchers are more likely than position players to get injured. If I stockpile arms, I’m less likely to be in trouble when one of them goes down. And if they all stay healthy, I’ll have some good trading chips that might get me some offensive help later in the season.
My decision is also driven by ESPN’s rankings. No pitchers are in the top 10, and no relievers grace the top 30. I might have discovered a market inefficiency.
Of course, it’s also possible that pitchers aren't as valuable as hitters in rotisserie leagues. With both saves and pitcher wins in the equation, no pitcher can score high in every category. Maybe the joke is on me. The only way to know whether my strategy is a winner is to try it.
I set my sights on five starters: Yu Darvish, Felix Hernandez, Max Scherzer, David Price, and Chris Sale. If things go right, I can grab two of the five while rest of the league is focused on position players. I can pick up a reliever in the third round; maybe Greg Holland. If he’s not available, Joe Nathan or Koji Uehara should be.
I don’t know how severely this will handicap my offense, but I’m committed to this strategy. We're too close to the draft to start second guessing.
It looks like Alex Gordon and Billy Butler should still be available in the fourth round. They’re both ready to rebound from down years; maybe I can snag one of them. If I read the rules correctly, Butler’s lack of a defensive position won’t lose me any points, but I will have to slot him into the Utility position.
But I’ve got yet another hurdle to clear. The draft is at 7:30 pm, and at that hour I’ll be reading to my kids before bed. By the time the last kid is tucked in, the draft will be over. So I read up on auto draft. If I understand correctly, it just picks the top available player whenever it’s my turn. All I have to do is reorder the list however I like, and everything will go according to plan.
Except that I can’t see how I could possibly order anything past the first three or four rounds. Is Manny Machado a better pick than Josh Hamilton? Who will provide more value to my team? Will either of them even be available in round five? If not, then who will? Really, the best I can hope for is to fill all the position slots before we run out of major leaguers.
Actually, that last thought doesn’t occur to me until I see the draft results, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Ultimately I slide Darvish up to third in the list (because I’d still take Trout or Miggy over any pitcher), and Scherzer, Price, Sale, and King Felix into the top 12--figuring if I put them in my first round, they'll be at the top when we get to the second round. I push Holland, Uehara, and Nathan into the second 12, intending to get one of them in the third round.
After that I go through the list, picking players and sliding them up a dozen slots or so: Gordon and Butler, in the hope that I will nab one of them in the fourth round; Hosmer and Sal Perez, even though I doubt I’ll get either; Yordano Ventura on the off chance that he catches lightning in a bottle; Oakland’s Sonny Gray because I’ve read good things about him at Beyond the Box Score.
There’s nothing else to do but wait.
I next log into ESPN about an hour after the draft is complete. I drew number six, so I drafted right in the middle of each round. I’ve landed Darvish, Scherzer, and Holland, so that part of my strategy fell into place. I’ve got three Royals (Holland, Butler, and Perez) and two ex-Royals (Jake Odorizzi and David DeJesus) for what that's worth. I’ve got five players from Detroit; I’ll have a conflict of interest rooting for them all year. I have a third baseman I’ve never heard of (Marcus Semien), who is likely to start the season in AAA. (Where is a third baseman tree when I need one?) And I’ve got an unspecified infielder (Jon Singleton) who has never sniffed the majors in his life. Auto-tag doesn't even recognize him.
Semien and Singleton will probably be household names, even All-Stars, by 2017--but that’s not going to help me today. Did my draft strategy blow up in my face? I won't know until the season is here.