GM's OFFICE: Stuck in the middle

Ed DeCaria's excellent research piece (Using ADPs to guide draft strategy) has been rattling around in my head since we published it a couple of weeks ago. And there is a particular reason for that: I haven't really been happy with my drafts so far this year, and Ed's piece seemed to surface some of the reasons why. I think there might be some macro-level points worth exploring here, if you'll join me on a bit of a journey of self-reflection.

One of the beautiful things about Ed's piece is the sheer number of different ways he sliced the data. The slices that are at the front of my mind right now are the "category value by ADP" splits, found toward the bottom of the piece. In particular, this paragraph is on the nose for me:

After a bias toward high batting average and high run-scoring players in Rounds 1-4, these categories are largely ignored from Rounds 5-13 as owners focus on pitching, steals, and power. From Rounds 14-23, there is a lot of additional accumulation of value from average and runs, mostly at the expense of pitching, but also a bit at the expense of power in the end game.

There's certainly a "chicken or egg" element to this sort of analysis, at least in terms of attaching causation. In other words, Ed is identifying the trend, but not the motivation behind it. Are drafters not focusing on a particular asset (or category) at a stage in the draft because they just have other priorities at that stage, or because there are just no players by valuation that offers a particular type of contribution at said stage?

For a specific example, let's look at Ed's chart of SBs by ADP throughout the draft:

The draft starts with everyone chasing SBs. And of course that isn't sustainable. So, when SBs tail off in this chart (roughly ADP 50-55 is the second dip below the midline), is it because:

  • Everyone has already built an SB foundation and is pivoting to other priorities?
  • There just aren't any more SB sources that offer good value at that point?

The answer, of course, is "Yes, both of those can be true," or at least, working in combination.

Anyway, back to my own drafts. I feel like they have started off fine, but then I've gotten sort of lost in the player pool after the first five rounds or so... that feeling when the draft is dictating to you instead of the other way around. I've found that what I was looking for in, say, rounds 6-12 wasn't matching what the draft was presenting to me at my picks... in terms of both position and category. Let me re-quote what Ed said about that part of the draft in particular:

After a bias toward high batting average and high run-scoring players in Rounds 1-4, these categories are largely ignored from Rounds 5-13 as owners focus on pitching, steals, and power.

Highlighting just one aspect of that quote, I've pasted four draft boards below, just the Round 5-12 range of each draft.  I've intentionally sized these images to be too small to really worry about the names. Instead, just focus on how much yellow appears on these charts. (Yellow=pitcher). Three of them are drafts I've participated in, the fourth is the LABR-Mixed draft from earlier this week, where Ryan Bloomfield represented BaseballHQ

Pitchers make up 39% of the players we draft in a 14h/9p league, so certainly we expect to see a decent representation of yellow here. But this is a LOT of yellow! My personal draft plan hasn't really involved chasing much pitching in this range. I might be looking for a #2 SP in rounds 5-6 (very top of these images). I've been consciously avoiding the first of the closer runs and targeting what I think are safe harbors for Saves in the second or third wave of that run, whenever it comes, but generally in the vicinity of rounds 9-11. (This has netted me a lot of Hector Neris in these drafts, which is perfectly acceptable to me.)

Put those together, and in this eight round range, I'm looking for two or maybe three pitchers. Three pitchers in eight rounds is roughly in line with a 9/23 roster split, nothing remarkably about my approach there. I'm neither fading nor loading up on pitching in this section of the draft, in an absolute sense. But, relative to the rest of the league, I'm lighter on pitching in this phase and heavier on hitting. (If you squint, you can see that just about every team takes at least three pitchers in this section, with many taking 4 or even 5. At least, the number of teams taking 4+ is greater than the number taking 0-2.)

In a vacuum, I'm fine with zigging while the draft is zagging. In fact, it's where I prefer to be. If I can grab an extra elite bat while the rest of the draft is chasing the first starting pitching run, I love that. Same thing during the initial closer run; I'm glad to scoop up whatever is getting ignored, and then figure out saves a tier or two down the board.

But, these drafts aren't happening "in a vacuum". And something about this year's player pool has me uncomfortable with the hitters that are falling to me in this rounds 5-12 range. Bringing it back to the two questions above:

  • Everyone has already built an SB foundation and is pivoting to other priorities?
  • There just aren't any more SB sources that offer good value at that point?

Maybe this is a case where other drafters are similarly uncomfortable with the hitters in this tier, and that's a contributing factor to why pitchers are getting pounded in this range.

My takeaway is that I shouldn't be so smugly self-assured to always want to be zigging when the rest of the draft is zagging. Sometimes the room knows what they're doing, and it's ok to follow the group. Zigging for the sake of zigging isn't a strategy; it needs to have a purpose.

This also raises for me the question of whether I need to develop sort of a middle-out draft plan, where I need to dig deeper into what's available and what I particularly like in this range of rounds 5-12, and then adapt my early-draft and end-game plans around what I want to happen in the middle.

That's my homework for this weekend... oh, and reading that research piece of Ed's a few more times.
 


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.