"A strategy works best when it works alone."
The first time I participated in Tout Wars, the famed experts league, years ago, veteran participant John Coleman uttered those words, and they have stuck with me since. A simple yet powerful concept.
Well, if you're trying to find something different for draft day and maybe throw a knuckleball at your fellow owners, here are some more strategies that can be used regardless of your draft format.
High Risk, High Reward
Second place is the first loser. If you're the kind of player who would rather have a sequence of year-end finishes of 11th, first and 11th, as opposed to second, second and second, this might be the strategy for you.
Load up your team with two categories of players: (1) proven players coming off down seasons; and (2) injury-prone players, or guys coming back from a major health issue last season. These players will be available at discounted prices, and the overall potential of your team likely will be the highest in your league.
In his book "Mad As Hell," Mike Lupica relates a story about reporter Dick Schaap going to interview Tony Phillips in the late '80s, when Phillips was a part of the Oakland infield. Phillips was coming off a bad season but had turned it around. He chastised Schaap, saying, "You're like the rest of the front-runners, coming around now that I'm doing good." To which Schaap responded, "You wanted me to come around when you were hitting .203?"
The lesson: Don't be like Dick Schaap. It can pay off if you are the first guy to jump on the bandwagon when the player has just hit .203 (or .205, if it's Richie Sexson).
If the luck goes your way, you could have an unstoppable team -- or you could finish firmly rooted in the basement. Grab Sexson, Randy Johnson and Rocco Baldelli at bargain prices, stock up on aspirin, and roll the dice.
Going for broke? Yep. Incredibly risky? Absolutely. But as my friend Joe Sheehan says: "Flags fly forever."
Dumping a Category
"Dumping" might be too strong a word, but do you need some reasons to "forsake" the pursuit of saves on draft day?
How about B.J. Ryan, Chris Ray, Octavio Dotel, Eric Gagne, Brian Fuentes, Armando Benitez, Salomon Torres, Jorge Julio and Bob Wickman? All were closers at the start of last season and didn't finish with the job, and that list actually was a little bit shorter than it has been in recent years, but we also could throw guys like Huston Street and Brad Lidge in there as players who were out of the ninth-inning duties for a good chunk of time.
As Matthew Berry pointed out in his Draft Day Manifesto, 10 closers who didn't start the year with that role recorded double-digit saves last year.
I won a LABR title by dumping saves. It wasn't planned, but when you have a highly competitive league in which the spread between teams is thin, it's possible. I did try to acquire saves during the season, but it was cost-prohibitive, so I focused my attention on the other categories.
On the flip side, I also have won a Tout Wars title while ignoring saves on draft day and trading for them later. I wound up picking up four points in the category rather than zero, which wound up being enough. Strengthen your offense or starting pitching instead of going after saves. Then see which closers appear healthy and stable during the season and use your excess in other areas to acquire one. I would argue that is a less risky way to proceed.
Am I saying saves aren't important? No. What I am saying is that chasing them at the draft table isn't necessarily the most efficient use of your resources.
Saves is not the only category you can forsake at the draft table.
Don't be concerned with batting average, and load up with players like Nick Swisher and Carlos Delgado. You're not going to win a title without being competitive in the power categories, but why pay full price? Get your pop on the cheap. The bonus is that sometimes you luck into a decent batting average with a few players you were least expecting it from, and you wind up not dumping the category despite your best efforts. Put another way: Don't pay for batting average. Pay for a player's contributions in other categories and take batting average out of the equation entirely. This might be even more effective than forgetting about saves. You could even use a combination of the two.
In an ideal draft, don't dump anything. But if the going rate for certain production is out of your comfort zone, don't chase.
All Younger Players
In this one, you'll want to build up a combination of rookies about to emerge, such as Clay Buchholz, Homer Bailey and Evan Longoria, with already-established players like Cole Hamels, Chad Billingsley and Nick Markakis. You even throw in some guys that haven't lived up to the hype yet, like Alex Gordon and Stephen Drew, and then fill out your roster with sleeper players like Kevin Slowey, Franklin Morales and Elijah Dukes.
The obvious downside of this strategy is that that for every Ryan Braun, there are half a dozen players like Lastings Milledge, who don't produce out of the gate. It is also the nature of the fantasy player to overvalue the potential of a promising rookie or second-year player, and some of these players may be more expensive to acquire than you were planning on. But the premise is to bank on catching enough breakout years for a relatively cheap price to be competitive.
The low-risk strategy
With this method, you are looking for stable, reliable production. Rookies and players coming off significant injuries need not apply. Solid veterans are what you want to fill your roster.
Is this a boring strategy? Certainly, in the sense that there are no hot "potential breakout" players involved. However, it can be a successful -- and less stressful -- one. When in doubt, clobber them with consistency.
Shadow the winner
If you are in a league that has been around more than one year, one strategy is to emulate what has been previously successful. How did last year's winner construct his team on draft day? What was the composition of his final roster? What categories did he do the best in? How did he accomplish that? Is there a guy that always seems to be battling for the title every year? What makes him successful? You can learn a lot by studying the rosters and standings of the previous season.
Bonus tip: In an auction setting, bid up the defending champ on every player he's bidding on. You run the risk that he will catch on and start bidding on players he has no interest in to counteract you, but at the very least you might be able to annoy him and throw him off his game a bit.
Most fantasy owners are more concerned with their offense, so if we're going by the tenet of trying to use a strategy that works alone, how about being the guy who goes after all the best pitching?
I have seen a league in which an owner drafted nothing but the best pitchers and outfielders over the first 10 rounds and wound up winning it all. The next season, he did it again, with the same result. Some people might not have the stomach for this because you never know when you'll hear the words "Kazmir" and "MRI" in the same sentence (as we did this week), but if you're feeling bold -- and a little lucky -- there's no reason it can't work.
These are all strategies that could be helpful in deciding how you want to approach your draft, but the overriding rule about any strategy is to be flexible. The dynamics of each draft are different. If particular players are presenting buying opportunities, don't be afraid to change course to take advantage of the value that is available.
Jason Grey is a graduate of the MLB Scouting Bureau's Scout Development Program and has won two Tout Wars titles, one LABR title and numerous other national "experts" competitions.