ALTERNATIVE: Best Ball format in an industry dynasty draft

Photo: My Team After 1,500 Players Were Drafted

Meet Best Ball

Industry buzz around Best Ball leagues has been growing. It carries some appeal for the busy: once you draft your team, you are done for the year. The site will determine, after the fact, which of your players had the best week, and those become who "started" that week. In a head-to-head format, if your best scorers beat your opponent's best scorers, you won. Or if it's a season-long cumulative league, your "best" lines from the week constitute your score. No more struggling to figure out who will start, or which batter might sit against lefties. It's your best against your opponent's best.

For those who enjoy the draft above all else, this is clearly the format for you. I play in head-to-head leagues, so I am frequently faced with that quintessential H2H frustration: the bad luck of starting the wrong guys that week. Seeing your star struggle while the scrub on your bench hits 4 HR out of nowhere is maddening. In Best Ball, the game would "sit" that star and start that scrub; you never have to worry about who to start again. I won't give up regular H2H, as I do find it fun to try to figure out who to start (even if the results frustrate me at times). But trying out Best Ball has been an itch I've been meaning to scratch.

So when our friends at Prospects Live started tweeting about a series of Best Ball dynasty leagues, I was mildly curious. When I clicked through to the rules, and saw that it was H2H and points-based instead of category-based, I was strongly interested. And then when I realized that this was to be a true dynasty league where we would draft and hold players for five years, I was fascinated and had to try it. I opted for one of the higher-priced leagues on the theory that those would be more likely to take the draft seriously. Indeed, our league was one of the first to finish our slow draft, which took around a month to complete.

The format includes four more annual supplemental drafts, where we can add and replace up to 10 new players each year. Primarily these will be the players selected in MLB's June draft, plus some July 2 foreign players. Each year that goes by, however, will make those draftees less and less valuable, as our five-year window winds down.

Here are the scoring rules:

  • 30 teams, 50 rounds, 1,500 (!) players drafted
  • Open player universe (MLB, minors, college, high school, kid next door)
  • Weekly H2H matchups among the 30 teams, highest score wins the weekly match
  • Each week the best 10 hitters and best 9 pitchers are scored
  • No positions, just 10 hitters and 9 pitchers
  • Cumulative points scored count toward determining best overall team of the year
  • Yearly prizes for the best team, grand prize for the best scoring team over the five-year period

The points scoring is as follows: 1 point for each hit, RBI, R and BB. 3 points for HR and SB. 3 points for a win or a quality start, 6 for a save, 1.5 for each IP and for each K, -0.5 points for a walk allowed or a hit allowed, and -1.5 points for each ER allowed. Analyzing the scoring categories, it was clear that for batters, you wanted power and speed, and for pitching, you wanted veteran SPs who can give you quality innings, and closers are also valuable. It was also interesting to see that batters cannot accumulate negative points, but pitchers certainly can. Although as I will explain later, there are ways to ensure you never get negative points from a pitcher.

My draft strategy

Much of the fun of trying a different format like this is coming up with a strategy for both the draft and in-season management (which, as stated above, there is little of in this particular instance). But here's some observations I used to guide my draft:

1. Points is points
I ran BaseballHQ.com's Custom Draft Guide for the league scoring, and my basic strategy was simply to go down the list. Without positions to care about, all that mattered was getting the most points. Points is points, as they say, and it doesn't matter how you get them.

2. Ignore positions
Since there were no position requirements, I realized I did not have to draft any catchers. Since only the top four or five catchers might be valuable as starters, I could safely ignore the rest. Just throw all the batters in a pot and select the best of them. Most catchers were so far down the list, they were easy to ignore. Similarly, if I wanted to ignore the closer carousel, I could. If I wanted to ignore steals and just draft power guys instead, that could work. Not having to worry about drafting catchers, or speed guys, or transient closers is more freeing than you can imagine!

3. Use depth to avoid negativity
I also realized that you could avoid negative pitcher scores if you planned ahead. What is better than a negative score? Yes, a positive one—but also a zero or blank score is better than negative. I realized the only way you could get a negative score is if you only had negative-scoring pitchers that week. As long as you had enough arms on your squad, even the current minor leaguers (with zero points) would be used in place of a disaster start from a major league pitcher.

That last insight led me to a new freedom: the freedom to draft even poorly-skilled players. Yes, we all want those 500- and 400-point batters and pitchers, and what good is someone who might only score 100 points all year long? Well, it depends on point distribution: will the 100-point scorer average a neat 4 points per week? No, they will have lumpy scoring.

Perhaps a weekly sequence will look like this: 5, -17, 10, -1, 23, 0, 2, -4, 15, etc. Most of those weeks are worthless, but not all! Those 23 points could be useful, especially if it's among the nine best scores that week. Those 15 points might also be useful. With a deep bench, you can afford to grab those scrubs with the knowledge that they will sit on your bench 90% of the time, but that other 10% they will be more valuable than even a top minor leaguer.

4. Minor leaguers are not as valuable as you would expect
And that led me to my last insight: fade minor leaguers. In a five-year period, how many of even the top minor leaguers will prove useful? Certainly the Wander Franco owner is likely to be pleased, and a few other top names will prove productive. But I'm betting it will be fewer than people think. A typical minor leaguer who spent 2019 in A-ball and got written up on Top 100 lists because he did so well might progress this way:

  • 2020: High-A, then Double-A to end the year
  • 2021: Double-A, then Triple-A to end the year
  • 2022: Triple-A, then call-up in May, struggles, sent down, back in September
  • 2023: Tries making team out of spring training, gets benched when the team signs a veteran at his position
  • 2024: Finally helps in the final season of this league

Compare that to someone who is 30 years old in 2020, not especially exciting, but with a starting position, and will have that starting position in 2021, 2022, 2023, and maybe start to lose time by 2024 at 34 years of age. Those boring veterans will be more productive over the five-year period than all but the best prospects. Let the other owners chase those sexy names, and let them take the Top 100 guys. My strategy was to grab boring veterans as long as I could, then pivot toward taking 8C-type prospects who are not the top names, but listed in the Minor League Baseball Analyst as likely to be a starter no later than 2022. Finally, I would finish my draft by taking those 100-point scrubs, knowing that even if they only help 10% of the time, that's probably 10% more than some of the prospects drafted who aren't expected until 2023 or later.

The draft

The draft was held on Frantrax, and took place from mid-January through mid-February. I was randomly assigned the 25th-slot (out of 30), so I knew I would not get any top names. I would simply have to find quality where I could. Here are some picks I made and my rationale for making them. The full draft list is shown in the photo at the top of the article:

1.25 Nolan Arenado
I was pleased to get someone at pick 25 who might be worth a Top 15 pick. The rumors of him possibly being traded out of Colorado probably made him fall, but he can hit anywhere. Still, I am glad he seems to be sticking with the Rockies for now.

2.36 Stephen Strasburg
The top SP were taken early and often in this league, once the owners saw how dominant pitching can be if you have a top pitcher. So I took my foundation pitcher here.

3.85 Cavan Biggio
Wow, it really hurts to wait 48 spots before I can pick again! That round saw Springer, Stanton, Goldschmidt, Muncy, and Ketel Marte get drafted, plus many, many SPs, and the first of the prospects in Wander Franco, Luis Robert, and Jesus Luzardo. I wanted young power, and grabbed Biggio. With no negative points for strikeouts, I just wanted the production.

4.96 James Paxton
Oops. Thought I had my second steady pitcher, but now I have to hope for 4.5 years of production.

5.145 Nick Castellanos
Sometimes you get lucky. He fell to me since he was a free agent at the time of the draft, and then put himself into a great situation by signing with the Reds.

33.985 Michael King
I waited almost 1,000 picks before I finally took a prospect. I was the last owner to do so, and even here I went for a guy likely to contribute sooner than a higher-ranked Double-A guy. This started a mini-run for me where I took four minor leaguers likely to help out soon, before I reverted back to get more RPs already in the majors, more prospects, and more scrubs.

Lessons learned

Looking at my team, it seems quite weak, the weakest team I have ever drafted. But I am not used to 30-team, 50-round drafts, and looking at my team through that prism, and comparing to the other teams in the league who chased prospects early and often, I am quite pleased with the results. A fellow owner and industry writer tracked our draft, and by his measure he thinks I will come in 2nd for 2020. That's nice to hear, but I know it means I'll probably finish in 20th place!

The key takeaway for me is that you must know the rules of your draft and format, and then draft with those rules in mind. There are players on my team I wouldn't think of drafting anywhere else, but I know that Noe Ramirez and his 111 projected BPV is going to help me a week or two each year, and then I will be glad to have him. With 14 extra batters on my bench, and 17 extra pitchers, most of whom are already in the majors or will be soon, I will give the site plenty of random scores to choose from each week. With that many extra players to select among, I should be able to randomly luck into some hot streaks from unlikely players. Until then they will sit on my bench doing no harm. In fact, some of my zero pitchers will do good when they replace a poor Rick Porcello start (you know he will have a few).

What now? I am done for the year. I have no batter older than 31, and only some bench RPs older than 31 among my pitchers. I may lose a few to retirement, but I am guessing that in five years my team will still mostly consist of those boring veterans. Time will tell if my strategy is correct. Now it's in Best Ball hands and I can just watch. I can't wait to see how it turns out!

 


Click here to subscribe

  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.