NFBC: Mastering the art of Draft-and-Hold slow drafts (the Draft Champions)

Drafting fantasy teams early in  Spring Training is usually a risky proposition. We are nowhere close to important position battles settling, and of course there is always the chance your second-round pick gets hurt before the season even begins. Or worse yet, separates his shoulder chasing down a fly ball to the wall at the WBC. But there’s a trade-off for those who begin their prep early and have a good feel for the player pool. Drafting in late February and early March provides us with an opportunity to take advantage of market inefficiencies in relation to early ADP. Being able to spot those aces and kings deep in your draft gives you a leg up over your competition.

The NFBC (National Fantasy Baseball Championship) is one such site where many of our subscribers play. One of the more popular formats is the 15-team, 50-round Draft and Hold slow-draft league known as the Draft Champions (or DC). DC's provide an opportunity for early birds to get their worm. Having eight full hours to make your pick (though few usually wait that long) allows us to slow down our thought process and critically analyze options at each round. They are a great way to prep for our main drafts where snap decisions are made on a quickly ticking clock of one minute’s time. Drafting NBFC DC’s provides us with insight on players who are consistently pushed up ahead of their current ADPs and those less popular who may be available past their average draft positions. It also prepares us with getting comfortable with team depth charts and the overall player pool. By the time the Pirates have decided on their fifth starter or the Brewers on their starting catcher, you’ve already done the homework to figure out whether their past stats or set of skills fit the bill for your squad—are they worth a spot on your team, and if so, what round.

Avoid the Inevitable Injury Bugs
The operative word here is "hold." There is no trading or free agent bidding (FAAB) over the course of the season so you are stuck with the players you draft. Therefore, it behooves us to be especially mindful of players with significant injury histories and those coming off surgery in the offseason. It probably doesn’t shock anyone that Mets’ veteran third baseman David Wright has an ADP of 521 this year. Wright was diagnosed with spinal stenosis two years ago and has spent a total of 253 days on the DL over the last two seasons—ironically for injuries not related to his spine (a strained hamstring and a herniated disc in his neck). Wright is appropriately pushed back to 34th round status as few are willing to take a potential zero to an already tight roster. Drafting players with injury history simply puts one behind the eight-ball in terms of roster flexibility in what we know will be a long and grueling season.

Reviewing the five-year injury logs in the Forecaster is a prudent exercise before jumping into DCs. If you skip all the way to the end of the list of hitters in this year's Forecaster, you’ll notice that Nationals’ first baseman Ryan Zimmerman has spent at least one minimum DL stint in each of the past five seasons. Keep Bill Macey’s Forecaster study about injured players top of mind. Since 2010, 43 percent of pitchers who spent time on the DL one season ended up on the DL again the following season. That number is a tad lower for hitters—38 percent. Per Macey, the average number of days these pitchers spent on the DL is 88 days, while hitters who fit the criteria spent 58 days that following season. Let others take the risk on injury-riddled players while you fall back on healthy young players with upside and a shot to produce for your squad. The importance of avoiding or minimizing our exposure to players with injury histories cannot be overstated.

Roster Flexibility
It’s no secret that multi-position eligible players have some extra value built into their ADP. That is especially the case in leagues with no FAAB. We don’t have to go out and chase every player eligible at more than one position, but those who we deem to be draft targets should be pushed up a few spots (or in some cases, a couple of rounds) in our own draft pre-rankings. Multi-position eligible players provide our rosters with flexibility that will come in handy when players on our team inevitably hit the DL. Javier Baez’s 116 NFBC ADP has his three-position eligibility (2B, 3B, SS) already built in to his price despite not having an official position with the Cubs. Daniel Murphy and Matt Carpenter are two top-75 ADP guys who you can slide in at both CI and MI positions (1B, 3B, 2B, SS) depending on who else you have on your team and what the upcoming schedule dictates. If you already have any of these players on your list of targets, don’t be afraid to reach on them if you’re in a tough spot. Their flexibility shouldn’t be the primary reason for your pick at that point, but it could be the tie-breaker when deciding between similar options. On the other end of the spectrum, don’t be afraid to draft UT/DH-only studs like Kendrys Morales (ADP: 174) and Victor Martinez (ADP: 237) simply because you can only plug them into one slot. Many fantasy players purposely avoid them, but both offer a good chance to out-earn their draft slots yet again this year and they offer headache-free full-time at-bats at that position so long as they are healthy. Essentially, set it and forget it. It probably goes without saying, but let this be a reminder. Avoid taking "zeroes" in your starting lineup at all costs. Drafting players who are multi-position eligible helps mitigate that risk.

Balance is the Key
Veteran players in any format typically track their projected stats as they draft to help them figure out which direction to go with upcoming draft picks. Some do so by hand with ballpark figures while other use software such as RotoLab, which automatically tracks projected stats and standings as you draft (not to mention, RotoLab uses BaseballHQ projections). You don’t have to have your own player projections set this early in the year to take part in a DC, but you do want to have a rough sense of what players are projected to produce in 2017.

Say you started your draft off with heavy power early (Anthony Rizzo in the first followed by Nelson Cruz or Giancarlo Stanton), it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that you’ll have to target some stolen bases soon. Conversely, a team with the 15th pick who starts with Trea Turner and Charlie Blackmon probably isn’t going to target Dee Gordon with their late third round pick. Sure, we can tinker with different strategies—and the DCs are a good place to do that—but we want to build a solid base across all of the categories so that we are competitive everywhere and can cherry-pick specific categories later. It’s Roto 101. Though power was plentiful last season (over one hundred 20+ home run hitters) and should be again this year, typically the later round power comes with a risk in the batting average category. Going light on power early can put you in a bad spot chasing the likes of Lucas Duda and Chris Carter later—great as one-off additions, but potentially hazardous to your BA if you’re adding them in bulk to offset your light power from earlier in the draft. The draft is a constant balancing act. The fact that you have an eight-hour clock and don’t have to make decisions on the spot allows you time to critically analyze your next move like a game of chess.

Cover your Bases
It’s always wise to have a rough idea of how many players you plan on drafting at each position. It’s not an exact science, but knowing that you have 50 picks and your roster is set, it’s important to have enough backups at each position since demotions, slumps, and injuries are a virtual certainty. Of your 50 picks, 20 to 25 should be dedicated to pitchers, even though you’re only starting nine pitchers compared to 14 hitters. The pitcher options get dicey after round 25, so it’s important to have either done your homework or have a good place to refer to for team depth charts.

Starting pitchers are another tightrope act in the later rounds as we will constantly be deciding between a team’s worst starter who can crush your ratios (like a Kyle Gibson or Edison Volquez) and a young, upside pitcher who will need a strong spring training to win a rotation spot (Chris Devenski or Matt Andriese). Since it’s hard to lock in more than two closers in this 15-team format, many employ the strategy of loading up on prospective closers—usually semi-stud late inning relievers or high strikeout-rate guys who have a path to a closer role if injuries or major regression strikes. Be careful not to overload your roster with too many of these middle relievers because you want to have a shot at competing in wins and strikeouts, and you won’t get there without a full onslaught of starting pitcher options.

There’s nothing wrong with jumping a round or two on Addison Reed if you drafted Jeurys Familia and are concerned with a possible suspension. And certainly no issue with covering your bases if you think a job is shaky or the current closer could get traded midseason (like drafting Nate Jones for your David Robertson).

Before clicking submit on your next pick, make sure you have a good feel for where your current roster is stat and need-wise and survey options at each position. Better yet, have a tier ranking system at each position and keep the NFBC ADP list handy so that you can deduce whether it’s worth drafting certain players where you’re considering them. Among your 25 to 30 hitters, make sure to draft at least four catchers and 10 outfielders while maintaining depth and flexibility with your middle and corner infield spots. It's another scenario where roster flexibility with multi-eligible position players comes in handy.

Using BHQ tools
Finally, for these late-round picks we’re uncertain on, we have a bevy of BHQ metrics to use as a guide. Whether it’s bb% or ct% to ascertain plate discipline, PX for assessments of budding power or the trio of Spd, SBO and SB% to assess stolen base capabilities, everything we need is at our disposal. Moreover, it helps to identify players that have made strides in these categories in the second half of last season as a possible foreshadowing of production to come.

The Minor League Baseball Analyst is a highly-recommended book for you to get familiar with the minor league prospects; realistic expectations for them, and most importantly, if and when they will be promoted to their respective major league teams. Drafting 19-year old Vladimir Guerrero Jr. might look nice on paper, but given the fact that he’s about to just now start Single-A, there’s very little chance you’ll see him with step up for a single at-bat for your fantasy team this year. The speculative minor leaguers we want on our rosters are usually those of high pedigree and with a path to promotion and playing time with their big clubs this year. An easy way to put yourself in a hole in these no-FAAB drafts is to draft a bunch of future studs who spend all of 2017 in the minors.

These NFBC Draft Champions leagues have quickly become the most efficient way to get a feel for where players get drafted in relation to ADP and the ultimate way to prep for your timed drafts in March. For me, they have replaced mock drafts altogether since folks there aren’t monetarily invested and those mocks don’t accurately mimic how a real draft would go. I’ve completed two of these NFBC DC's already and with pitchers and catchers reporting to camp, I’m ready to get a third one going. It’s a fun time to start a DC as we’ll start getting specific player news as the games have started.

Good luck, and please feel free to reach out with any questions about this format—I’m at @RotoGut on Twitter.

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