Fantasy 101: The 10 Commandments of Dynasty Drafts
The key to winning in dynasty leagues is to not make the wrong decision. Sure, it sounds simple enough, but it is actually really hard to avoid. Just ask my friend: a magician named Gob.
So you’re ready to start drafting your dynasty league. Are you sure?
You are about to make 25-plus decisions, and each could have more potential destructive power than a flaw in the thermal exhaust port. In dynasty leagues, however, one mistake doesn’t cause the whole planet to blow up. Instead, you’ll find out five years down the road during a sangry tirade during which you scour pages of your league transaction history for the moves that slowly brought your team to where it is right now, sitting in ninth place for the second consecutive year. What you don’t realize is that you should have named your team the Death Star because you built it with a fatal weakness during the draft that lead to more mistakes down the road.
Fear not! Pitcher List is here to help put you in the right frame of mind for your dynasty draft with the 10 Commandments of Dynasty Drafting to help you dominate the galaxy for years to come:
1 — THOU SHALT NOT DRAFT ACCORDING TO SLOT
The last thing you want to feel after any fantasy draft is that your roster doesn’t contain the players you want. That is especially true in a dynasty league, because like Katy Perry or Tom Arnold, you’re stuck with Russell Brand or Rosanne Barr for life — unless you can find a creative way out of it. Yet that happens all too often because managers repeatedly make one simple mistake: They wait on the players they want, thinking they’ll be available the next round.
Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar: It’s the fifth round of your draft. All you can really think about is that you want Gleyber Torres. The Yankees young second baseman is a good pick in the fifth round, so why not pick him now? I’ll tell you why: because he’s a great pick in the sixth round! So you draft Luis Severino instead and wait. Then someone else picks Torres! You’re stuck contemplating how much you’d get laughed at if you offered the other guy Severino for Torres straight up.
The strategy of trying to pick the player you want right before someone else does — or to get him at the lowest possible price — makes sense only in yearly redraft leagues. In those leagues, two things win championships: (1) not losing value in the picks you made and (2) those short gains in a player outperforming that low pick in a single season. And when evaluating players for one season, there is a lot less discrepancy than evaluating the value of players over five or seven years because that value is compounded annually.
Winning championships in dynasty leagues is about getting the players you want before someone else gets them. That means you will have to reach for a younger player because you believe in him more than most. Does that mean you pick Walker Buehler in the first round of a dynasty draft because you really want him? No. It means if the third round is here and Buehler is atop your draft board but it’s possible he might fall to the fourth round, you pick Buehler. In dynasty drafts, you are making a longer investment in all your players. You should pick the players you want because you’ll potentially be stuck with them for years. Otherwise, you’ll have a team full of players you didn’t really want, and you’ll be overpaying for the ones you do by trying to trade for them.
2 — KNOW THY LEAGUE’S PROSPECT RULES
Not every dynasty league has the same rules about:
- The difference between a prospect and a player.
- How many prospects you can keep on your roster.
- Whether you can draft prospects in your dynasty league draft.
- Whether international signings count as players or prospects.
Know who are the youngest players eligible for your draft. In a dynasty format, youth itself is valuable. That said, there will be prospects in a dynasty league draft who have yet to play a game in the majors getting picked before last season’s All-Stars.
It is a near certainty that there will be at least one manager who does not fully understand who is in the player pool, and in dynasty drafts, that confusion is often because of defining which prospects can be drafted. Look for the number of games played or innings pitched limits in your league’s rules. Don’t be the one who doesn’t get it and misses out.
3 — DECIDE TO WIN NOW OR LATER
Are you drafting your team with the hope of building a dynasty down the line? Or are you drafting your team hoping to win the first few years?
Pick one, because trying to have it both ways will leave you with a few really good prospects and a few really old dudes. Have a plan, and stick to it. If you elect to go the dynasty (long-term) route, draft as many players 25 or younger that you can and come back here for my guide on drafting young in dynasty leagues. If you’re drafting to win right away, pick players either in their prime or entering it — and come back here for my guide on drafting a dynasty team that will win now.
How much time you plan on dedicating to the minor leagues and MLB Draft prospects should be a key indicator of what kind of dynasty draft strategy you should execute. If you don’t plan on doing much more than looking at a couple of prospect lists, you should probably draft for today. If you read Japanese reports about Kotaro Kiyomiya or have read about the Dominican Republic’s Robert Puason, playing to your strengths in prospect evaluation should be your route.
4 — CONSIDER AGE AS MORE THAN ONE NUMBER
Age matters a lot in dynasty leagues — in the right context. I’m 36, and if I lived in the middle ages, I’d be dead by now. Fifteen years ago, being a 36-year-old MLB All-Star was a fairly common thing. Times have changed. Cost-controlled contracts keep a steady stream of young stars moving through MLB. That said, there are some factors to consider when you are determining how long a player will be able to continue production as he ages. Below is a table showing the average age of the top 15 performers of each standard 5×5 category in 2018:
|Average Age of Top 15||29||28||28||29||27|
As probably would be expected, speed is the statistic that ages the worst because it has the lowest average age for a top contributor. What does that tell us? That speedsters who have few other skills should be picked lower because what they are good at does not last opposed to other skills. It is difficult to find a player who is around 25 to carry your team in on-base percentage or RBI, so if you have a chance to find such a player (Jose Ramirez), he should rank extraordinarily high. Also, if you find a player — excuse me — if you find THE player who ranks in the top 12 in all categories and is younger than the average age of each, you should pick him. What I’m saying is: Pick Ramirez.
|Average Age of Top 15||27||29||29||30||28|
As far as pitching goes, the story is the same. The top contributors tend to be in what is the tail end of their primes (28-30). This is certainly true of WHIP and ERA, which are the hardest to maintain. What this means is that if you want to win, you’re likely going to need some 29- or 30-year-old pitchers. Getting young hurlers who can contribute to these categories is rare and should be valued as such. I must say that I was surprised to see the wins average age so low considering most pitchers younger than 25 are on some kind of innings limit, making it hard to accumulate wins either because of shortened starts or skips in the rotation. The age of saves shows a bias for another time in the majors that affects fantasy: Closers should be experienced. It’s almost a pay-your-dues situation that relievers, even if they perform very well, have to endure to eventually become the closer. So once again, if you can find a closer younger than 25, you have a rare commodity.
This last table shows the average age of the top 15 players in each position receiving the most at-bats (or top 30 innings pitched for starting pitchers). Now, this may not contain the top 15 performers in each position, but what this shows us is most teams are still starting mostly players at the tail end of their primes in almost half of the positions. Catcher, for example, is extremely thin right now in the majors, with really five to eight options who can help you every day — and maybe two of those are younger than 28. If you have one of these catchers, hold onto him like grim death and have no qualms with riding until he falls apart. Catcher is not a position that you are likely to find a young stud. And if you do, never let him go until he retires. Shortstop, on the other hand, is a position where teams have a revolving door of young starters and prospects. It also means that once a player hits the end of his prime, he’s moving off the position. Draft accordingly.
5 — ASSESS THE VALUE OF YOUTH DURING THE DRAFT
Some dynasty drafts are full of managers who are skeptical of prospects, and some are full of managers who want nothing more than to be the one who “discovered” Vladimir Guerrero Jr. What type of league you are in will reveal itself in the first four rounds. If there is more than one (meaning Vladito is not the only) prospect who hasn’t played a game in the majors picked in those first four rounds, youth is at a premium, and you are going to have reach for any prospect you hope to draft.
6 — THOU SHALT NOT PICK PLAYERS TO TRADE LATER
The sixth commandment is good policy for any type of draft, but for our purposes, this ties into the first commandment: not picking because of slot. Most of the time, a manager will pick a player he hopes to trade later because he doesn’t see anyone he wants who fits the current round. So he picks someone hoping that he can flip that player for a player he wants later instead of just going for that player earlier in the draft. Or you should instead pick a player you might think is a reach but you still want. There is a sense that you lose value if you reach for a player in drafts, and in one-year leagues, yes, that is more often true. In dynasty leagues, managers are unencumbered by the more strict concept of value because a player’s future is usually more important than his present.
7 — IGNORE DEFENSE
Nobody is memorizing fielding metrics as part of their draft strategy because defense has no value in virtually any fantasy league. But have you ever wondered why all the top prospect lists and MLB Draft rankings are filled with shortstops and catchers? Because they all bake in how hard those positions are to field and add that to the overall value. Learn to spot when a young player is ranked high because of a combination of his bat and his defense and properly rate him for yourself — which is to say lower. A perfect example of this in 2018 is Washington Nationals center fielder Victor Robles. He’s young, he’s athletic, and he’s a patient hitter, but he lacks the kind of dynamic bat that is generally associated with his player/prospect status (top 3 in most prospect standings). Fantasy-wise, there should be no reason he is compared with Chicago White Sox outfield prospect Eloy Jimenez, who is not as athletic but a much more dynamic bat with a better track record. Still, as the season inches closer, more people will be asking: “Who should I draft: Robles or Jimenez?”
Take a look at the difference in minor league numbers:
Enough said. Draft Robles first only if your league incorporates defensive runs saved as a counting stat.
8 — IGNORE ROLE & TEAM
Players change situations all the time, whether it’s by trade or free agency. If you believe a player has the ability to be great but you’re concerned about the ballpark he plays in, you’re not evaluating a player in the dynasty league context correctly. Drafting players because of temporary position flexibility (such asAnthony Rizzo’s eligibility at second base in 2018); temporary home field (such asTrevor Story in 2019, who plays at Coors Field but begins arbitration in 2020 with Brendan Rodgers behind him); or in a pitcher’s case, temporary run support problem (Jake deGrom), is shortsighted and puts you in a position to only properly value a player for 2019 while completely missing his value for the rest of time. Which would you rather be right about?
9 — DRAFT THE BEST RELIEVERS
Draft the best hitters too — and the best base stealers. I know, like many of these commandment titles, this one sounds stupid — until you read The Curious Case of Delosh Betader. Yet, this is one of the more difficult switches when managers go from redraft leagues to dynasty leagues. Even if your league counts saves as a category, do not make the mistake of taking average or replacement-level closers over elite setup men or elite middle relievers. In a dynasty league, you need to be patient with relievers. If they are lights out, they will likely become a closer one day. There is no need to suffer through a closer with a 4.00 ERA who gets saves but kills you in everything else when you can get a quality reliever who will help you with the peripheral stats (ERA, WHIP, K/9) along the way before eventually closing games.
10 — DRAFT NO ONE OLDER THAN 31 IN ROUNDS 1-10
This is going to be hard because you will see all that production from older players go to other teams, but you won’t remember how hard it was in two years when all of those players are 33 or older and declining — and you have none of them. I’ll go one step further: Do not draft anyone older 30 in the first four rounds. Let somebody else take an aging J.D. Martinez, who had trouble staying healthy even in his prime. Let someone else gamble on the three-to-five-year futures of Clayton Kershaw and Paul Goldschmidt before pick 40 while you concentrate on getting Buehler or Rhys Hoskins, two players who will likely be better for longer going forward.
The only exception to the rule is Max Scherzer. Because Scherzer is the best at his position by such a wide margin, you can reasonably expect him to be valuable for two to three more years. Even still, I’d take Chris Sale over Scherzer because of age.