NFBC: The best starting position—An early risk analysis

Each National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) Draft begins with the strategic element of selecting your draft slot. Which spots should you prioritize and how do you win from a poor draft spot? Based on early Average Draft Positions (ADPs) from 50-round Draft Champions slow drafts, let us show you how to pick your spot and develop your core.

KDS

NFBC uses the Kentucky Derby System (KDS) to determine your draft position. Each manager ranks his spots in order of priority. A computer randomly draws manager names and awards them their top remaining spot. So you can prioritize but you cannot completely control your destiny. For that reason, you need to have enough flexibility to win from any draft slot. For this article’s purposes, we will assume a fifteen team league and utilize the NFBC’s ADP list to forecast some likely team cores you can build. Each draft and every manager are different, but the ADPs give us the best estimate of draft positioning after more than 34 Draft Champion leagues have finished.

Uniqueness of Draft Champion Format

Fifty-round Draft Champion formats differ in that there are no in-season roster pickups. This is your team for the year, so risk analysis is more important because you can’t just go grab a replacement level player. You have to activate someone from your bench. More than ever, you need to make sure your core is reliable. Some also weigh in the ability to “handcuff” your starter with their replacement and the cost of that replacement which can also factor into your drafting decision.

Research-Based Priority

Previous BaseballHQ.com research revealed that the sooner you begin drafting, the more benefit accrues to your team. The standings differential between the top players and the rest of the pack provides an advantage that, assuming perfect drafting, never can be overcome. Unfortunately, those who use default rankings, those who fail to enter their own priority system, and some experts all use this same “no-brainer” 1-2-3 priority system.

If you plan for a different position, however, or understand the merits of each draft position, you can exploit natural drafting inefficiencies with a well-planned strategy. For example, many like to draft at the end of the round, the “wheel.” They plan their draft strategy accordingly knowing fewer managers will invert their priority grid by starting at fifteen and working your way down. We will discuss this and other strategies later in the article.

Which Draft Position Should I Choose?

Arguably, your first four positions in 2014 should be 2-1-4-3.  Mike Trout (OF, LAA) most often goes first with Miguel Cabrera (3B, DET) second but their standings contribution is close enough that going second can give you an advantage in the even rounds. They represent the only two players who yielded more than thirteen standings points in 2013. Chris Davis (1B, BAL) was third at 12.33, Paul Goldschmidt (1B, ARI) had 11.85 before you get to a half dozen players more than a standings point below them. These four yield a clear point in standings over all others. Your first priority would be to ensure you get one of them if you believe they will perform similarly to 2013.

Current ADPs, however, show Davis going outside the top five. Apparently, most feel Davis will not approach 2013 numbers. Instead, they tab Andrew McCutchen (OF, PIT) fourth before Clayton Kershaw (LHP, LA). While we certainly see the consistency and merit of selecting Kershaw fifth, our mantra has remained to avoid pitchers in the first few rounds due to injury risk, the unpredictability of wins, and the fact starting pitchers only contribute to four of five categories.

The top five picks seem pretty consistent throughout NFBC slow drafts, but after six you see a wide variety of draft orders. With this many interchangeable players, assuming the market is correct, you may want to move far down the draft order to select whichever is left over, followed by a top pick in Round Two.

The current ADP for the remainder of Round One with their primary risk factor looks like this:

6.    Chris Davis – repeat performance risk
7.    Carlos Gonzalez – injury history
8.    Hanley Ramirez – injury history
9.    Robinson Cano – change to pitcher-friendly park with huge contract
10.  Adam Jones –
11.  Ryan Braun – PED suspension
12.  Jacoby Ellsbury – injury risk/ large contract pressure with new team
13.  Bryce Harper – never achieved first round value; knee injury risk?
14.  Troy Tulowitzki – injury risk
15.  Joey Votto – injury risk; extreme walk level hurting counting stats?

Looking at this list, only Robinson Cano (2B, SEA) and Adam Jones (OF, BAL) offer the most reliability at their position. So a 9 or 10 should rank next on your priority list. But we don’t know what others will do, so the truly risk averse need to start at eight, then seven to ensure you get one of these two targets. We will later see how valuable the ninth spot is when get to rounds two, three and four.

After this, you clearly must take a risky player. If you must take risk, pick which risk you embrace at eleven or hedge that risk by selecting last so you get the sixteenth best player to spread your team’s risk across two relatively equal players. Looking at the first half of Round Two with their risk profiles yields some other interesting tidbtis.

16 (15). Yu Darvish – pitcher and workload risks
17 (14). Edwin Encarnacion – third wrist surgery
18 (13). Prince Fielder – new team but better ballpark
19 (12). Adrian Beltre - age
20 (11). Evan Longoria – injury; never achieved first round value
21 (10). Jason Kipnis
22  (9).  Yasiel Puig – repeat performance risk
23  (8). Freddie Freeman

At the wheel you can very likely nab reliable Prince Fielder (1B, TEX) to team with your chosen risk profile. One strategy might be taking slot eleven hoping Cano or Jones slides to you but planning on which risk of the later first round you want to take. For example, you think Troy Tulowitzki (SS, COL) as a shortstop is worth the injury risk and take eleventh to get him. On the return you have high reliability players like Jason Kipnis (2B, CLE) or Freddie Freeman (1B, ATL) to pair with him. BaseballHQ.com’s Custom Draft Guide would suggest you nab Carlos Gomez (OF, MIL) whose ADP is #26 for maximum value and stolen bases Tulowitzki fails to provide.

If you get your wish for an early pick, who might you get on the rebound? 

27 (4). Max Scherzer – pitcher and performance risk
28 (3). Jose Fernandez – pitcher and repeatability risk
29 (2). Jean Segura – repeatability risk
30 (1). Jay Bruce – not produced season worthy of draft slot
31 (1). Dustin Pedroia – lack of dominant upside
32 (2). Stephen Strasburg – pitcher, health, no full season to warrant spot
33 (3). Adam Wainright – pitcher
34 (4). Ian Desmond
35 (5). Jose Reyes – injury risk
36 (6). Alex Rios – inconsistency

The top spots suddenly look less attractive from a risk perspective. Having drafted from the fourth slot once already, I found this area paralyzing. Ian Desmond (SS, WAS) seems the most reliable and balanced option that covers a scarce position. Do you chase the reliability with little upside of Dustin Pedroia (2B, BOS) or take your first pitcher earlier than normal? Working the wheel, do you take two shortstops to create an artificial shortage in hopes others will panic?

We discussed the value of the 9-10 spots earlier. These draft positions seems ideal to take your choice of ace starters or excellent offensive players at the end of Round Three. This part of the draft represents this year’s sweet spot. Several of these players are proven staff anchors or excellent hitting talents.

39 (9). Justin Verlander
40 (10). Jose Bautista - injury risk
41 (11). Felix Hernandez
42 (12). Shin Soo Choo
43 (13). Cliff Lee
44 (14). Justin Upton
45 (15). Madison Bumgarner

Even waiting for that wheel in the first round could still yield Madison Bumgarner (LHP, SF) and another offensive stud in the fourth

46 (15). Albert Pujols - injury risk
47 (14). Matt Kemp - injury risk
48 (13). Matt Carpenter - performance repeat risk
49 (12). Chris Sale
50 (11). Eric Hosmer - performance repeat risk
51 (10). Elvis Andrus
52 (9).  Allen Craig - injury risk
53 (8).  David Price

Even if you select another hitter in Round Three, you get an ace like David Price (LHP, TAM) in Round Four to lead your pitching staff. Towards the end of Round Four you arguably see no pitching aces left but plenty of reliable hitters like Hunter Pence (OF, SF), Matt Holliday (OF, STL), and Adrian Gonzalez (1B, LA).

54  (7)  Hunter Pence
55  (6)  Starling Marte - performance repeat risk
56  (5)  Matt Holliday
57  (4)  Adrian Gonzalez
58  (3)  Aroldis Chapman
59  (2)  Zack Greinke - injury risk
60  (1)  Ryan Zimmerman

Once again that #4 spot looks pretty good as one the three reliable pieces most likely will remain on the board at that time. The top spots make it hard to justify getting a pitching anchor. Round Two features many pitchers but that seems too early. Cole Hamels (LHP, PHI) could be an option for the top pick in Round Five with an ADP of 61, but after that you will find it difficult to balance your lineup despite the incredible pitching depth in this draft.

Conclusion

While the research suggests drafting earliest yields the most advantage, the 2014 draft pool offers attractive core building at spots nine through fifteen in the draft pool due to the excellent values present there in rounds three and four. The fourth spot offers some excellent opportunities in rounds one and four, but like the other early draft positions, you may need to reach for your starting pitching ace in the third round.

When selecting an ideal draft slot, the actual number is often not as important as being in the general vicinity of that spot. Eight and ten should yield many of the same players as nine while fourteen will yield the same target players as fifteen.

Remember that ADPs are just what that first letter stands for—averages. Each draft is different. If you really want a particular player at a certain spot you need to draft him there. ADP simply gives you the ability to more easily decide between two similar options. By selecting the player with the earlier ADP, you have a better chance of getting both than if you selected the one with the later ADP.


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