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:

 

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.

 

KNOW THY LEAGUE’S PROSPECT RULES

 

Not every dynasty league has the same rules about:

  1. The difference between a prospect and a player.
  2. How many prospects you can keep on your roster.
  3. Whether you can draft prospects in your dynasty league draft.
  4. 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.

 

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.

 

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:

Category OBP HR R RBI SB
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.

Category W SV ERA WHIP K
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.

Position C 1B 2B 3B SS LF CF RF SP
Average Age 30 30 28 27 26 29 30 29 29

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.

 

ASSESS THE VALUE OF YOUTH DURING THE DRAFT

 

If Vladimir Guerrero Jr. isn’t the only prospect picked before the fourth round, youth is at a premium in your league. (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire)

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.

 

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.

 

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:

Age G AVG OBP SLG HR BB K ISO
Victor Robles 21 384 .300 .392 .457 28 129 252 .157
Eloy Jiminez 22 408 .311 .359 .519 65 117 310 .208

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?

 

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.

Travis Sherer

All Seattle Mariners fans have learned the future is all we have because the present is always too painful. I am Western Washington University alum, a local sportswriter, an official NCAA basketball statistician, a freelance radio and television production statistician, and a minor league standup comedian.

sdf

Comments


Some dynasty guy

Cool article. Couple of thoughts, intended in the spirit of friendly discussion:

#3 “Win Now vs. Later”: part of the challenge is knowing your leaguemates’ intentions. If 8 of the league’s teams are all trying to build only for the future, any one of those teams is going to have a pretty tough time building for the future. Likewise if you have several teams going for it, the veteran pool will diminish more quickly and it gets harder to execute. Of course you might just have a way you prefer to play (and the point is to have fun), but if you are trying to optimize your strategy for value, figuring out where most people are NOT going, and going there, is going to work better.

#4: I’m not sure how much this point helps dynasty owners. I think everyone knows that getting guys in their prime is better. What I think owners sometimes miss is that not EVERYONE on your team has to be in their prime to be competitive. In the end you need production, and then you need enough of that production to be coming from guys in their prime (or young) to be sustainable. Exactly where that line is probably depends on league, but if you are in a league where veterans tend to get discounted, this can be a great market inefficiency to exploit. You can let other guys exhaust their farms to get that 4th or 5th 25-year old stud, while you simply plug in a new 33-year old every year. Of course you may end up in a league that highly values veterans, but in my experience that is rarely the case — dynasty leagues tend to attract prospect hounds and so AA guys end up on pedestals while guys with 10 years in the league are going for draft picks.

#6 One thing people sometimes miss is that because only a subset of teams are competitive, you may only have a market of 3-4 teams for your extra piece, and then if none of them happen to need that position or they just don’t like that guy, you’re kind of out of luck. You are talking about initial dynasty drafts, and at that point it’s hard to know what the trade market will look like over time, so picking up guys to trade is risky. (basically I agree with you, for additional reasons)

#7 I would have re-worded this as “take traditional prospect rankings with a grain of salt”… I also don’t think Eloy over Robles in 2-3 years is a slam dunk. Although I’m also reminded of Francisco Lindor, who everyone said to rate under his traditional rating for years because he will “definitely” be glove-first… this is a humbling hobby :). I try to avoid catcher prospects at all costs, though, after many mistakes over the years, and fortunately have played in leagues where that doesn’t bite me (single-catcher formats).

#10 I think this contradicts your earlier rule about win-now vs. win-later. If you want to win now, you have to take some of these guys in the first ten rounds because otherwise you are leaving too much value on the table. I mean you really wouldn’t take Justin Verlander until the 11th round? I think the point is more that if you take too many of those guys, you won’t be competitive in 2-3 years, but if you aren’t willing to consider any, you probably won’t be competitive now, and your league may not exist in 2-3 years. I think in this case we agree that the vet should go lower than they would in a redraft, but I just differ on the degree of the discount needed. I might say “at most 2 players 30 years or older in the first ten rounds, and only if they come at least 3 rounds after their redraft price” (exact model would take more thought but you know what I mean?)

Anyway I really did enjoy the article, as there isn’t enough dynasty strategy content out there. Look forward to your other guides!

Travis Sherer

I appreciate your thoughts! You make good arguments and I don’t really disagree with many of them, I’ll just offer a different interpretation:

3. Certainly how many teams try to go with youth will dictate just how well you can pull that strategy off. In this extreme circumstance where most of the teams are trying to go young, I would still lean into youth if this is what you want to do and perhaps get a few guys entering their primes (26-27) as to those approaching their primes (23-25). Also, those who generally try to go the youth route do not go all-in on that approach. You’ll find them picking Josh Donaldson in the 15th round instead of going for another prospect. Usually, those who try to go young try to make up for it later by taking fliers on vets in the rounds where you can really clean up on either formally hyped prospects like Julio Urias.

4. The point of this commandment was to make sure people understand what actually is old when picking. I’m in a dynasty league where guys say they can’t do anything with a 28-year-old player when trying to trade because they can’t count on him for two years, which makes no sense.

6. A fine point.

7. While I agree with you, there are few slam dunks when it comes to prospects, I still say the difference between Jiminez and Robles is significant. Their peaks might be similar, but how long they can sustain those peaks is the issue. Jiminez’s skillset is more sustainable than Robles’ because a large part of it isn’t based on speed, especially since he has a decent eye already and doesn’t swing for everything. Certainly, there are outliers like Lindor who go from being “glove first” to being elite hitters, but they are outliers and I would not build my draft strategy around exceptions to rules. That doesn’t mean managers shouldn’t look for them or draft them, I just wouldn’t presume to think I could spot them if they followed Lindor’s progression, which is to say absolutely no evidence of power until he got to Cleveland.

10. We can agree to disagree on this. Or maybe it’s an interpretation of win now? I believe it means win this year, next year, and hopefully be in contention for one more year before a rebuild is necessary. If you think win now means win only this year, go ahead and pick those players. If win now means win for more than one year, I’d stay away from guys who will be 32 by the end of this season. Very few players survive the combined gauntlet of increased injury risk and regression over two more seasons to justify a pick in the top 10 rounds of dynasty drafts, regardless of strategy. Having done a few dynasty drafts, I will say that most of those 31-year-old contributors will be around by the 8th round.

Thanks again!

Brian

Great article! I do have a question, though, about the comparison you used in Rule 7. Wouldn’t a lot of the value one would get from Robles in a dynasty league be related to SB? He has 129 career minor league stolen bases vs. 15 from Jimenez. In a world where the MLB home run totals have been historically at an all time high and stolen bases declining YOY, and with Robles sporting a career .392 OBP, this makes a huge impact for a speed challenged team on player value.

Travis Sherer

A good point Brian, but Robles’ speed numbers have not been fantastic, even in the minors. He may be very fast, but it hasn’t resulted in a 75% success rate since he was in High A. Now, that could change and he could become a better base stealer in the majors, but as he figures that out, he will be wasting prime speed years doing so. Conversely, Jimenez’s skillset tends to last longer, and power generally affects more categories than speed does in most leagues. This goes back to my original assessment that both players might have the same overall WAR (or Robles might have a higher WAR) when it’s all said and done, but they will have gotten there different ways, and I believe Jiminez’s way will be much more valuable in fantasy leagues than Robles’ way.

theKraken

Re: #1 – How many players have 5 useful seasons? How many of them already have a few in the bank – giving them less than 5 left? Don’t overvalue the future! Winning championships is about having the best players on your team and format doesn’t matter for that – don’t let the future cloud your judgment. I think dynasty is closer to redraft than most think. The difference is that you have a farm system with trade chips, but the players on your roster will be judged by their production this year, which will also be the best indicator of next year. Aging stars go for pennies on the dollar in a dynasty.

theKraken

Finishing that thought. When you get married to young players, that usually is a bad thing. For example, what if you drafted Byron Buxton and still think he is your future? You probably have not acquired any better options because you are waiting on him… it hurts short and long-term. I don’t think you should be thinking about keeping them for a long time. What if the player doesn’t blossom? I player that is not on the block or producing isn’t helping your squad.

theKraken

Re #4: healthy people still lived long lives. When you see average ages, that is weighed down by infant moralities and death in childbirth lol.
#5 – that is an interesting one and it will become clear very quickly in the draft.
#6 – I disagree with that. Draft the best players you can. If you do a good job with that, then you will be able to fill holes later. Not saying to load up on trade pieces, but that is what you call the top guy on your board when the lineup spot is already filled.
#9 – I disagree with the most. On a long enough timeline every elite RP starts off as a scrubby failed SP prospect or some kid out of nowhere. You don’t have to pay for them and they are always available near the deadline on non-contenders. Many elite setup guys are distant memories as they face more hitters – no need to target them in my book. In a dynasty let everyone else fight over the RP. I never have much trouble finding RP whether its late draft, waivers or trades.
#10 – I woulnd’t take it that far, but it is interesting to think about. Will Hoskins actually outproduce Goldy over 5 years? Its not a given and even if it happens, its really more about the peak years IMO. I have a fresh draft coming up and I will not be shying away from older dudes.
In nay case, thanks for these. For people new to the format, these are gold. Even for crusty dudes like myself, it provides food for thought. In reality there isn’t a way to do it but many ways of doing it.

trythevealchild

Great stuff, Travis! What’s one suggestion [commandment] you would give for someone in a league where the top 50 players and the top 20 prospects are kept (so deep-ish keeper league)? Guessing that #1 above is the most applicable? Thanks!

Travis Sherer

I’m guessing by the top 50 players and prospects kept you mean that each manager gets to keep a certain amount of players (5) and prospects (2). If so, I’d say many of the commandments above are still valid, although 8 and 10 should be lax. Five keepers is not that many. Within two years you could have a completely different set. I did a league similar to this a few years ago and I’d say the best strategy advice I can offer you is this: (1) for prospects, pick guys who have phenomenal upside. By that, I mean pick prospects who have the potential to be the best of their position only. For example, if you have a choice between Forrest Whitley and Nick Senzel, go with Whitley. Senzel has the opportunity to be an all-star. Whitley has the opportunity to win Cy Young awards. Following that line, I’d go with Kirilloff over Tucker, Franco over Tatis, Eloy over Robles, Hiura and Brujan over Urias, etc. (2) For keepers, yes, it is nice to have the best young keeper around but don’t go overboard thinking you need to have five guys under the age of 25. In fact, I would dissuade you to try. Unless you get really lucky, you’re going to end up losing performance/potential because you emphasized age and five keepers isn’t enough to support going all young because you can’t get enough youth to lower the odds that you’ll be better than other teams who opt to win now down the road. I still wouldn’t recommend picking keepers over 31. But a guy like Goldschmidt, for example, is still worth picking high in your league because he’ll be good for the next few years — and if you draft Andrew Vaughn, you’ll have a replacement ready for him when by the time he isn’t worth keeping. (3) Prioritize position. Unless you get Baby Vlad or Alex Bregman, I would prioritize a less scarce position than 3B for a keeper, as an example.

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