CHASING THE 2013 NFBC: The strategies

While heading home on the train from Penn Station to Long Island after completing my 1st Main Event in 2009, I checked out the gift bag giveaway that at the time was a part of the NFBC live draft experience. I don't remember everything that was in the bag, but I do recall a copy of Fantasy Sports Magazine, whose publisher was also the original owner of the NFBC.

Flipping through the pages of the magazine, I found an interview with Robert Jurney, the NFBC Main Event champion from the prior season. That interview has stuck with me to this day, especially where Bobby reviewed his championship draft round by round and his thought process behind each pick. I found the draft fascinating. Not so much for what specific players he chose, but the type of players, especially during the early rounds of his draft. All offense. Pick after pick in those early rounds, he pushed pitching aside for another offensive weapon. A far cry from the way many draft their Main Event teams these days, but a strategy that was good enough for the 2008 NFBC Championship and its $100,000 payday.

There are many winning draft strategies that have been utilized by players while drafting for the NFBC Main Event.  In this article, we'll review some that I'm considering for this team in my chase of the NFBC Championship.

The Target Numbers

One difference the NFBC Main Event has from a stand-alone league is that to have any hope whatsoever to win the Overall contest, a team has to be at least competitive across all ten Rotisserie categories (BA, HR, R, RBI, SB on the hitting side; W, SV, ERA, WHIP, and K for pitching). Boot any, or crash and burn in any, and your hopes for an overall championship go with it.

It's been frequently noted— and 10 years of data supports the idea—that in order to win a Main Event championship, one has to obtain (or average) a little over 80% of the available points across each of the 10 categories. Therefore, though you may falter to 60% in one category, you do have the opportunity to win another category outright, or finish at 90% in two categories, or 85% in four, to make up the difference. No easy task, but doable. However, if you falter in two or more categories, then that task becomes more difficult—and at some point impossible.

Therefore, the Bobby Jurney strategy—waiting as long as he did on pitching—though often seen in stand-alone leagues, is seen much less frequently in an Overall contest.

The Draft Plans

In the history of the NFBC, there's been a number of draft plans that have made a name for themselves. Some have been around as long as Rotisserie baseball itself, others are recent inventions by those who won in the Main Event with them. We all know the aforementioned wait-on-pitching strategy. Some others that we've all heard of or used ourselves are waiting on relievers, or drafting relievers early, or a scarcity approach, or focusing on high average/power options in the first few rounds (where often my focus has been). A couple other examples:

Dual Aces: The flip side of wait-on-pitching, this draft plan has seemed to gain steam over recent NFBC seasons. Starting pitching has always been more highly valued in the NFBC Main Event when compared to more typical fantasy baseball formats. However, starting pitching has continued to be pushed up further and further in NFBC drafts to the point where it's not uncommon for multiple pitchers to go in the first round of drafts or for specific fantasy teams to utilize multiple pitchers as part of their core foundation.  There seems to be a growing consensus that the elite fantasy aces have become just as reliable as foundation hitters and that a true edge can be created by drafting a pair of them in the first few rounds over those who will speculate on them later.  

However, if more and more players are utilizing this strategy, the edge is minimized, even if so is the fear of falling behind in the hitting categories. There may be an opportunity with pitching continuing to be pushed so hard in NFBC drafts to return to the old but proven draft plan of waiting on pitchers while strengthening your hitting foundation early. That is if you have faith in your ability to speculate on pitching....LIMA Plan, anyone?

75/75 Plan: Brought to prominence by original NFBC Hall of Famer Shawn Childs, this plan advocates reaching targets of 75 projected home runs and 75 projected steals by the end of three rounds. The thought behind this plan is that by achieving those goals, the ability to reach the greater target goals for these counting stats with all 14 offensive players would be more easily achieved or surpassed, creating an edge in the process. 

I've heard of several players who've utilized this plan to success and Childs certainly has had his share, however I've yet to try it. The issue I've always had is that it would seem to limit you into the type of player you can go for, especially as the first three rounds progress.  If you're at 50/50 after 2 rounds (no easy task by the way), you are almost compelled to look for the best power/speed option available at the potential detriment of other categories, especially batting average, while also limiting the positions you could consider. 

100/100 Plan:  Another plan brought to prominence and great success by yet another NFBC Hall of Famer, two-time NFBC Main Event Champion Lindy Hinkelman. This strategy expands upon the 75/75 Plan and incorporates the Dual Aces as well by taking four offensive players who will meet the 100/100 HR/SB criteria and two starting pitchers in the first six rounds. 

If able to execute this plan successfully, it comes with the benefits of both the previous strategies, creating edges on both sides of the ledger. However, it also comes with the aforementioned issues, as well as being a very difficult plan to pull off.  Still, Lindy's won two NFBC Main Event titles, I'm still chasing my first.  Who am I to question extreme success?

Reaching vs Value Drafting

Whether to reach for the players you want or to grab value when it falls to you has been a debate that's gone on since fantasy sports first started holding snake drafts. The NFBC is no different. Their message boards have often discussed this topic and I've seen prominent players achieve success utilizing both strategies. I've witnessed a prominent high stakes player manage high Main Event finishes by scripting his exact draft plan, guarantee its execution by reaching for his players as early as the 2nd round and continuing throughout the balance of those drafts, essentially forfeiting a 2nd rounder in the process.

I don't script as detailed a plan and I would never forfeit a 2nd rounder to get players to meet that plan. I appreciate when value falls to me in drafts and typically will try to adjust in-draft to make it work. It's usually not until the later, even double digit rounds of drafts that I will start reaching more than a round for a player. However, once those later rounds are reached, the reaching for players begins as well, quite often and more aggressively.

Todd Zola of Mastersball had an interesting article based on his concept of APE which basically assigns a value to each draft spot throughout a snake draft. One of the most important lessons to be learned from his concept is that though the difference in returned value for each draft pick in the early rounds is great, the value gaps reduce significantly as the draft goes on, until a point in the later rounds where there’s practically no difference at all. 

That’s the time to reach, since if there’s no value difference between rounds at that point, reaching is only an ADP-based idea rather than a value based one.

Scarcity vs Best Available Player

This is another debate that's been ongoing since the inception of fantasy sports. I've often found myself drafting with not so much a scarcity approach, but a positional one. My draft plan is often one that works backwards, from the later rounds of the drafts to the early rounds. Since my targets are usually of the later round variety, if those targets are typically found at one position or another, OF or P, corner or middle infield, I'll gear the early rounds of my drafts towards players from positions that my targets don't populate.

However, it doesn't stop there. I believe we all have strengths and weaknesses in FAAB. I know I do. Some of us are better at finding that $1 starting pitcher, others that closer in waiting a handful of weeks before he gets the role. Some the OF who'll return a bit of power and speed, others the MI with some pop that won't hurt your BA. I gear my later rounds towards my strengths in FAAB, so if those picks don't pan out as many a late rounder won't, I'll be looking for a replacement at a position where I've had success finding players before, not in positions where I haven't.

ADP and KDS

KDS is a tool offered by the NFBC to allow its players more control in determining their draft spots. Rather than completely randomized draft slotting, the KDS instead randomly chooses the order of who gets to decide which slot they prefer. Therefore if the first chosen decides he'd rather draft from the 4-hole rather than the one, he gets that spot of his choice.  This continues until all 15 teams decide on their preferred spot of what remains open at any given point.

Many utilize this tool in concert with ADP to decide which is the most advantageous position from which to draft for their strategy.  At one time, I tried to do the same. 

However, over the years I've found that the player or players I was trying to set myself up to draft by predetermining the best spot to draft one or more of them never seemed to work out. The players I was aiming for would be gone by the time I'd get to draft and I'd be left with players that didn't fit my plan as well. 

I also came to realize that the 1-spot always has more value "throughout" the draft than the two, and the two more than the three, and on and on through the draft order.  Since KDS is really only utilized to game your draft for the first two or three rounds, it doesn't take into account the rest of the 27 rounds where you'd be giving up value by voluntarily moving further back in the draft.

Therefore, my KDS for this Main Event team and every team I draft this season will be 1-15.

Summary

As noted, for past Main Events I've often targeted high average power during the first few rounds, looked for value early while reaching late, and focused on certain positions early while waiting on others. It's a pretty straight-forward approach. For the Glenneration X / BaseballHQ.com team, will I follow a similar strategy or try one of the more exotic draft plans that have worked so well for so many in the past?

The week this article posts, I'll be traveling to the Las Vegas NFBC drafts. The following weekend, I'll be part of their NYC event.  Between the two on March 27th, I'll be drafting the team that is the focus of this series and implementing the draft plan that I eventually decide upon. 

My next article in two weeks will detail that draft and my thought process behind each pick.


Click here to subscribe

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