What is the most important skill for fantasy players on Draft Day? Whether you are in an auction or in a draft, it is the ability to be flexible. Yet, most fantasy writers say the opposite.
How many times have you heard that the key to success on Draft Day is to have a plan? You are told not to let what happens dissuade you from your plan, not to waver and to make sure that you pursue your objectives with something approaching single-mindedness of purpose. A Google search of “fantasy baseball stick to your plan” revealed the following tidbits:
“Knowledge is power and the ability to stick to your plan…”
“Go into the draft with a plan, don’t just wing it”
“Stick to your plan to pick guys who fill your desired team model”
“The main objective here is to stick to your plan”
It is important to have a plan. But to what end? Here is an example that I flubbed a few years ago in NFBC, and one I have written about before:
The league was the standard NFBC mixed league, 12 teams, and I had the 12th pick. Based on position scarcity I targeted the best available C with one of the wrap-around picks in Rounds 3/4.
Round Three wound down and my target, Brian McCann, was on the board and he was the best catcher left. With the eleventh pick your opponent drafts McCann. And now I had 60 seconds to make a decision.
What would you do?
If your answer is that you stick to your plan and take the next best catcher, then you have made an error. What did I do? Well, I spit the bit at the time, taking the next highest-ranked catcher on the board based on our ranking list, and that was, sadly, Russell Martin right before he turned into a pumpkin.
Compounding the error was that on the Fantasy Baseball Roundtable Show on I predicted that Martin would not be a top-10 catcher, and yet he made it to my team. You cannot do worse than that folks.
I had a plan in mind, and it was going perfectly until the rug was pulled out from under me right before my pick. A very quick decision was needed, so I stuck to my position- scarcity plan. I did not let the action dissuade me from the correctness of my strategy.
After many years of experience in auctions I landed on what I call the Jeet Kune Do plan. Jeet Kune Do is a martial arts discipline that is “the style that is no style.” So my usual plan is the plan that is no plan.
In auctions I have a general idea of what is to be accomplished and how to achieve it, but even my dollar values are very fluid and act as guidelines and not dogmatic limits on my spending. The same holds for ADP, which I do not even look at after round three and even before round three only casually.
There is simply no way to predict how people will react to what happens in the fire of the auction, nor can we eventually foresee how one bad bid will affect what happens 10 rounds later. If you disagree then you are probably the guy complaining that someone stole your card at Blackjack, but then fail to thank the guy when you get a Blackjack ten hands later.
Experienced auction players know this very well. Being able to adjust on the fly is how you minimize the bane of all auction players; opportunity cost. We have all been there:
You go the extra dollar to get a player, and then find yourself in the end game wishing that you had that money back. But, you went that extra dollar because power was at a premium, Adam Dunn was only at $22, your plan was to get that scarce power and then bottom-feed for pitchers.
Even in draft leagues, it is the sad fact that consistency and predictability do not exist to any meaningful degree. Within the context of an individual player and an individual pick or selection, we only have the very roughest idea of how a player will perform. As a result, the emphasis on increased accuracy of projections and increasingly fine differentiations between players and their values, or using ADPs (another practice that I detest) is a hindrance, not a help. It holds us back and unnecessarily limits our decisions. We fail to react to what happens on a strategic level.
Another example: we are all told that in auction leagues you should wait, save money and gobble up the values that come up in the middle of the auction. What happens if others have the same idea? That, in a nutshell is the problem with most fantasy advice; it ignores what others will do if they have the same idea. If you stick with your plan in these circumstances you will fail.
Flexibility is not just important in planning, it is important in evaluation and in thinking about what players you will find acceptable. This is the flaw that most owners exhibit. They fail to go the extra dollar or two on certain players in the early stages and then were left bidding up in the middle.
When you are in an auction and values are wildly high in the early stages it is fine to stay the course, let others overbid and then jump in and strike like a cobra waiting in the wings. In that circumstance the gain made in the middle is more than balanced by the loss your opponents take in the early rounds. While value is fluid, it is not so fluid as to allow an extra $10 to be paid on a player.
The flip side is an Experts’ League. Against experts the auction values will be fairly close to accurate; no one will wildly overpay. When that happens, you do not gain enough in the middle rounds to balance the loss of talent in the early rounds.
So, you need to monitor the proceedings. Your plan might be to lie back, but if dollars are not flying early you are destined to fail. If you refuse, in these circumstances, to overbid by a dollar or two on players you like, you may fare moderately but you will not win. Adapting to what happens and tossing your plan out the window is often a far better strategy than sticking to your guns.
So, we see that when dollars fly early you need to sit back and wait; when they do not fly early you need to be aggressive and not wait. But how can you know what will happen ahead of time? You may have a rough idea, but that is not enough. You can have a plan going into battle but be ready to jettison it early; waiting too long will be a death sentence. And if others intend to have the same plan as you- which you cannot know until the auction is underway- it will be big trouble. There is a reason that battle plans do not survive contact with the enemy.