Monday, March 10, 2008

Mock Draft Central: Pros and Cons

After a rocky start with Mock Draft Central, I've been through quite a few additional drafts and have been largely pleased by the experience. The folks are generally polite and erudite when it comes to fantasy baseball, it's moving at a fairly decent clip, and the menu system (while not nearly as good as Yahoo's) is easy to use. The "20 games played" positional requirement is a bit obnoxious, but I'll just have to adjust when my "real" leagues start up. Chone is much less valuable at 3B than at 2B.

It's not a panacea for all draft ills, however, as I'll discuss below.

Pros

There's no substitute for practice drafts. In my early years, I called them "Yahoo Public Leagues." Now I realize that's very rude. Mock Draft Central forces you to realize how much you've either forgotten, or didn't know. If at any point in the first 15 rounds or so you don't recognize a name, write it down and look them up. You should really do that for the entire draft, if you can.

A mock draft gives you a real sense of who's sliding and falling, particularly if you participate in more than one. If you are ending up with the same player in your first four or five selections from different draft positions, you are valuing that player more highly than everyone else. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it might be. After a while, you're going to get a sense of how the 2008 drafts are likely to flow. I for one have realized that steals are going to be an even more precious commodity than they were in the past, particularly from middle infielders. You can forget about Brandon Phillips or B.J. Upton falling to the late second round, and the "Big Three" shortstops are almost certainly going to be gone by pick 9.

With a wealth of undervalued/newcomer CIs like Alex Gordon, Evan Longoria, Ryan Garko, and Adam LaRoche, it seems like 1Bs in general are sliding pretty far while power/speed OFs are rising. Alex Rios is starting to look like an early third rounder and Curtis Granderson an early fourth rounder, while I've seen Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, and David Ortiz slide into the second round. This is all priceless information. There's no guarantee that your draft is going to play out the same way, but you're building valuable experience. Seconds are precious during drafs, and time management has to be practiced. When the three players you have queued up go back to back to back right before your selection, you don't want to be scrambling blindly.

Mock Drafts have also confirmed my suspicion that almost no one is taking a pitcher in the first two rounds that isn't named Jake Peavy or Johan Santana, and even rounds four and five are largely pitcher-less. (I'll be talking about likely draft "runs" in a later column). Relievers are similarly shunned. It's not uncommon to see owners forego relievers entirely for the first eight to nine rounds. Clearly, Mock Draft Central is populated by intelligent folk.

The talent pool of players I'd be happy to have in the first/second rounds is about 15 to 16 deep this year. You're hoping someone slides if you're drafting early in round one, because you may see every player you want in round two gone by the time it snakes back to you.

Cons

There are some problems with Mock Draft Central's format, and they can be pretty crippling if you don't take them into account. The first is the most obvious: not every draft is the same. You need to do more than one mock draft from different spots. Don't let the fact that a player slid too far in one draft lead you to assume you can repeat the same theft: you probably won't. Draft players according to the value you believe them to have, and only let them slide if you have a good reason for doing so (i.e., the two players drafting below you are loaded up on MIs, and they probably aren't going to take another one).

I think you should avoid the "projection" option entirely unless you are able to take it with a grain of salt. Look, the entire point of preparing for a fantasy draft is to identify undervalued players. Why would you then judge the quality of your draft on the established "projections" for the players selected? That option should be used just to give you a general idea of what you've done. Since you're targeting players who are likely to outperform their status, take into account that the stats are going to be skewed against you. Still, if you're finishing in the bottom three every time, you've got some problems.

Another more subtle problem with Mock Draft Central's projections is that they don't take into account innings pitched. Every decent fantasy league has an innings-pitched maximum. Yet time after time I see multiple teams in each draft take nine starting pitchers. They, of course, dominate the pitching categories, even though they'd actually run out of innings pretty quickly and get slaughtered across the board. This doesn't mean they happen to "win" that draft. It just means they're sucking points away from everyone else who drafted five SPs and four RPs. It's annoying, and if it happens in your draft, keep in mind that the available SP pool was ridiculously shallow for a reason (and won't happen in real leagues).

Finally, Mock Draft Central's projections don't take into account youngster speculation or mid-season moves. I always design three or four mid-season moves into my rosters (one SP, one or two RPs, and usually one or two guys I'm taking a flier on and will dump if need be). Grabbing dependable, declining veterans may gain you points in mock drafts, but they're not how you win real leagues. Think Hanley Ramirez as a late-round scrub two years ago versus Derek Jeter in the third round: how would MDC have judged those two picks? How'd they turn out? How about Alex Rios last year as compared to Vernon Wells? You get the picture.

I really like the site, but please, please, please remember that fantasy baseball is more than just the draft. Really.

Oh, and whatever you do, don't skew your draft towards "safe" picks to protect your "projection" ranking. The temptation is strong, I know.

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