Most leagues use a snake draft to build teams. Each manager is assigned a draft order (usually random) and chooses a player based on that order for the first round. Instead of keeping the same order each round, the managers choose in reverse order for every subsequent round. The draft “snakes” through the draft order. All odd-numbered rounds match the draft order (1-12) and all even-numbered rounds match the reverse of the draft order (12-1).
In order to succeed in a snake draft, managers need to have a plan and need to know how best to prepare and perform. Here are some things that managers need to consider in their snake drafts and some tips for putting together an amazing team.
What is the Best Draft Slot?
There are two ways to answer this question. A manager’s draft slot preference comes down to personal preference. Based on the player pool, a manager might see a steep decline in player quality at any point in the early draft, and they might want to ensure that they are in a draft spot that allows them to choose as many players as they can before that value drop-off. A manager’s preferred draft spot might change year-to-year based on ADP and the players that a manager determines are most valuable.
An integral part of a snake draft is the wait between picks. Managers at the ends of the draft will have very long waits between picks, but players in the middle will have less time between picks. In a twelve-team league, the first team to draft will have overall pick number one, but will take their second pick at 24th overall. That’s a 23-pick wait. A player who picks 6th will draft the 6th overall player, but will take the 19th overall player in round two; a 12-pick wait. The upside with picks at the ends of the draft (the wheel) is that those managers get to pick twice: as the last pick of a round and the first pick of the next. Despite a 23-pick wait, Team One will get to pick 24th and 25th overall.
While much of draft order preference comes down to a manager’s personal preference, let’s look at the numbers. If we look at 2019’s Earned Values from the Razzball Player Rater and drafted them from highest to lowest, we could create an ideal draft order. We could then evaluate the value of each pick. If we had access to many years of results, we could make the values even more accurate. For now, let’s examine the results for 2019 for a 12-team league:
Based on Razzball’s 2019 earned values, the numbers show that the order of the most valuable draft picks in a perfect draft are: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 12, 7, 10, 11, 8, 9. These numbers may change if averaged with data from previous years, but the results usually show that the most valuable draft spots are one, two, and three.
This doesn’t mean that if you draft first you will win your league. This is an ideal draft based on end-of-season numbers. Winning a draft isn’t about draft order as much as it is about drafting players who earn more value than their draft cost.
Ranking Players Pre-Draft
In a snake draft, the goal, quite simply and succinctly, is to draft players who put up better stats than your competitors.
How, though, do we evaluate players and determine their value? Let’s look a couple of players:
How do we know the exact value of each player? If we don’t have a value assigned to each, how can we know, for sure, which one we should draft over the other? Here is another example:
These players have exactly the same stats, so do they have the same value? Are they interchangeable in a draft? Maybe, but what if I told you that Player 1 plays second base and Player 2 plays shortstop? Are they equal? When should we draft them? Here is a final conundrum:
How in the world do we compare these two players? Which one do we draft first?
To answer these questions, we need to rank all the players in the draft pool. We need to assign a value that is unique to the league and regardless of position. We need a way to compare players who contribute to different stat categories and different roster slots.
Standings Gained Points (SGP)
Many excellent fantasy baseball writers have written about Standing Gain Points (SGP). I use this in all my drafts to simplify player ranking. I will, briefly, explain the methodology (with links to further reading).
Firstly, what is SGP? SGP is a way of calculating value based on the concept that we need to accumulate stats, but with the added understanding that the real goal of fantasy baseball is to gain points in each of our league’s categories. The stats a player earns are important, but they have to boost us in the stat category and earn us points. What is the difference between accumulating 287 home runs and 297 home runs? We need to determine the number of home runs that are needed in the league to move us up in the home runs category; in other words, how many home runs do we need to move from fourth place into third place, so that we gain a standing point.
1) Find the league’s previous results. Use the standings from the previous year (preferably years) to give an idea of how many stats are needed in each category to gain one standings point.
2) Project players, or use a projection, to predict what each player will contribute in each category.
3) Calculate the value of each stat earned by each player to determine the number of SGP gained by each player.
4) Assign a value to each player based on their projected stats earned.
5) Determine the “replacement level” for all positions.
6) Calculate how much better each player is to the replacement level player at each position.
7) Assign a value to each player based on their projected stats accumulation and the scarcity of their position.
When we evaluate every player based on how their stats can help us in each category, we can then assign them a value and rank them from best to worst. When it is our turn to pick, we know exactly what the projected value of each player is and we can draft the best player we can regardless of position, statistical category, or personal bias. We will examine this shortly using some examples.
Jeff Zimmerman, “Fantasy Rankings Prep Part 1 of 3.”
Jeff Zimmerman, “Fantasy Rankings Prep Part 2 of 3.”
Jeff Zimmerman, “Fantasy Rankings Prep Part 3 of 3.”
Average Draft Position (ADP)
Average draft position is often provided on the league’s hosting site. It uses the draft results for all the drafts on the site to average every player’s draft position to create an ADP and rank all players. If your hosting site does not create an ADP, the NFBC has a good ADP that can be searched to include all drafts that match your league’s setup. It is beneficial to use ADP because it can provide a manager with an idea of when players will be drafted.
While it isn’t foolproof, using ADP can help a manager earn value in the draft. Let’s say, for example, that in 2019 drafts we believed in Ketel Marte, and viewed him as a seventh-round pick. We could draft him in the seventh, but ADP tells us that we don’t have to. His ADP in 2019 drafts (according to FantasyPros.com) was 250th overall. That’s the 21st round in 12-teamers and 17th round in 15-teamers. Ketel Marte was the 18th overall player according to the Razzball Player Rater, and if he was drafted in the 21st round, as his ADP suggested, he provided tremendous value to his managers; league-winning value.
Of course, managers can draft a player whenever they want. Some managers ignore ADP. If I think that Marte is worth a seventh-round pick, then I can draft him in the seventh round. Marte earned value if he was drafted in the seventh round, but he earned far more value to those managers who drafted him in the 21st round.
When you are using ADP, if the information is available, take note of the earliest pick and the latest pick of the player. This gives managers a range of picks in which others have chosen the player. If can illustrate just how polarizing a player is, but can also indicate just how early we may need to draft a player if we really want them. If Kris Bryant‘s ADP for is 65, let’s say, but the earliest pick he was drafted is 47, we can’t wait until 65 to draft him if we want him; we might have to consider drafting him closer to his earliest pick.
For more on ADP, I explore it also in my article, “How to Manage Your Drafts: Draft Prep”.
Take the Best Player on the Board
In the early rounds of drafts, don’t worry about positions, just take the best player on the board. Use your rankings to take the player that you believe is best, but will not return to you for a subsequent pick.
This is worth repeating because it is a salient point: Take the best player on the board who, you believe, will not make it back to you in a subsequent pick. This considers ADP and the value of all the players ranked around your pick. It also considers the SGP ranks, discussed above, and the value includes an adjustment for positional scarcity.
Here is an example of our pre-draft ranks with the value that I calculated using SGP:
With the 63rd overall (6th round, third pick) pick, who do you draft? We take the best player who we do not think will make it back to us in the next round (our next pick is in 19 picks, 82nd overall). We can remove Tim Anderson, Jorge Polanco, Michael Brantley, Michael Conforto, and Lucas Giolito, because we can assume, based on ADP, that they will be available next pick. That leaves Tommy Pham, Yasiel Puig, Walker Buehler, and Roberto Osuna who might not be available with our next pick (seventh round, 82nd overall).
It is at this point that we should consider the differences between players. They are all ranked very closely so the profit doesn’t really matter too much. Remember that our values account for positional scarcity and are based on the amount of SGP that each player will contribute. We should take Pham because he is ranked highest, and may not return for our next pick.
Why not take Buehler? His ADP is the lowest, but our rank is our rank. Pham is projected to earn more so we draft him over Buehler. Just because his ADP is 40th doesn’t mean that we automatically take him. We should, in theory, take seven players before we take Buehler because our rankings value the seven players above him. Until we consider other factors.
Team Construction Considerations
But wait! Let’s continue with our example and consider another important factor: positions and team construction. We know that we need to fill roster spots, and we have limited roster spots to fill. I have already mentioned that we should be drafting the best available player, so it is here that we need to consider the positions we have on our roster. Let’s say the best available players in the previous five rounds were Alex Bregman, Xander Bogaerts, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rizzo, and Kirby Yates, and we drafted each of them onto our team. We have a player slotted into our 3B, SS, SP, 1B, and RP spots, but we do not have an outfielder. Another point in favor of Pham.
We also need to consider our team’s roster requirements. This is a three-outfielder league. At this point, we may have a case against Pham. Since the values are so close, we might prefer not to fill our outfielder spot with Pham, but take Buehler instead. We might also decide on Buehler because we can see from the looks of the other team rosters, that most managers already have one or two outfielders. We could take Buehler, support our pitching staff, and then hope that one of Pham or Puig gets back to us. If they don’t, we have valuable options in Brantley and Conforto in subsequent rounds.
When we create our rankings and read that we should take the best player off the board, we need to do so within reason. We should also consider three important aspects when choosing between players: our team roster slots (team construction), the rosters of the other managers, and the other available players that we could draft instead.
In my Fantasy 101 article, “How to Manage Your Draft: Roto Strategies,” I provided a draft tracking tool that you can use to create a balanced draft. Balance is important in drafting. In that article, I go into much more detail, but for this example, let’s use a snippet of that table:
|Name||Pos.||HR||HR Projected||HR Total||SB||SB Projected||SB Total||R||R Projected||R Total||RBI||RBI Projected||RBI Total|
|Name||Pos.||K||K Projected||K Total||W||W Projected||W Total||S||S Projected||S Total|
As we draft, we jot down the projections for each counting category and try to hit predetermined targets by the end of our draft. As you can see from our sample draft, we are very comfortable in most hitting categories. Home runs, runs, and RBI are all well ahead of our goal. We are, however, falling behind in the stolen bases category. In our pitching categories, we are okay, but because we only have just one starter, we are a little behind in strikeouts.
Because we are looking to draft a balanced team, we need to consider where we will get contributions in scarce categories. At this point in the draft, we have a surplus in power, but lack speed. From our hitting options, Pham, Puig, Brantley, and Conforto, who can help us in speed? Pham stole 25 in 2019, Puig had 19, Conforto nabbed seven, and Brantley had three.
With Pham’s contributions in steals, our balanced draft tool looks much more well-rounded, while still providing a positive boost in other categories:
|Name||Pos.||HR||HR Projected||HR Total||SB||SB Projected||SB Total||R||R Projected||R Total||RBI||RBI Projected||RBI Total|
It is helpful when deciding between players of equal value to consider the balance of your team and to draft players who can maintain balance in all categories. Prioritizing Pham for his stolen base contribution because we know that we are deficient in steals at this point in our draft can help simplify the decision between players with relatively comparable value.
While balance is important, that isn’t to say that we can’t draft surplus. If you are in a league that allows trading, you can always trade surplus stats for stats that you need. A surplus can occur in categories or positions, so if you build a team that isn’t balanced, you can tailor a trade in-season that can benefit both teams. If you are not in a trading league, be sure not to build too many stats in any one category. Winning by the stolen bases category by one earns the same number of points as winning it by 25 steals.
Floor Early, Ceiling Late
Early rounds should be populated by players with safe floors. Floor is the expected low for a player. What is the floor for a player like Nolan Arenado? If we look at his stats from the last five seasons, his lowest stat production was .287, 37 HR, 97 R, 110 RBI, 3 SB. Those are cherry-picked as the lowest category stats since 2015 and they are still incredible. Arenado has a safe floor. Giancarlo Stanton‘s 2017 season shows his ceiling (.281, 59 HR, 123 R, 132 RBI, 2 SB), but in 2019 we saw what his floor looks like: .288, 3 HR, 8 R, 13 RBI, 0 SB in just 18 games.
If you refer back to the perfect draft table above, first-round picks earned between $45.80 and $32.30. That’s a lot of value that we need and if you drafted Stanton in the first hoping you would get his ceiling, you didn’t get anywhere near that value. If you drafted Arenado’s floor, however, you would have almost earned that goal. Because early-round picks are so expensive, aim for floor and hope for ceiling.
In the middle and late rounds, you can take more chances on high-ceiling players. If you drafted Ketel Marte in 2019, because you hoped he would break out, you could have drafted him 250th overall. That’s a draft cost of about $4. If he struggled, it only cost you $4 (a 21st round pick), but if he hits his ceiling, as he did, you would have a player who earned second-round value.
Drafts are one of the highlights of the fantasy season. We spend the long off-season poring over player projections, ADP, team rosters, and stats looking for every edge we can find. The draft is the culmination of that hard work and is the start of the fantasy season. With preparation and a plan, the draft should be fun and should be a way to build the team we love that will, if managed well in-season, take us to the championship.
The strategies of using Standings Gain Points, understanding and using ADP, choosing the right players after determining scarcity, considering league rules and team construction, building a balanced team, and drafting floor early and ceiling late, should give you a good base for a strong draft. Be sure to have a plan for all stages of the draft, but be flexible enough to deviate from the plan if needed. Drafts rarely, if ever, go exactly as planned and if you are looking fastball and an off-speed pitch comes at you, preparation will allow you to adjust quickly.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)