MASTER NOTES: A rookie stakes takes on snake mistakes

As you probably heard on CNN, I’m in my first snake-draft league in quite a few years. It’s The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational, a 15-team mixed league following the NFBC format, including an overall championship involving all 195 teams. I'm not expecting to contend for the overall, but I'd like to have a decent showing in my league. I'll have to make fewer mistakes.

The draft started last Sunday (Feb. 24, if you’re keeping score at home), but my mistakes started a week or so earlier. with the Kentucky Derby System for choosing a draft slot. I set up my KDS preferences looking for spots on the ends, hoping to get Trout, Betts or Ramirez or to have the “wheel" at the end of the odd rounds. So I entered 1-2-3-4-15-14-13-12 as my first eight choices, leaving all the middle slots for someone else.

That was a mistake. As a rookie, I should have figured out that my safest slot would be somewhere in the middle, for two solid reasons. First, if I was in the 7-8-9 area, I would never be further than 17 picks from my next turn. Second, as result, I would avoid the hazard of getting caught on the wrong end of a “run,” especially on pitchers.

Because of how I entered my slot preferences, and the luck of the draw, I got slot #14, which is fine for an experienced owner, but not so good for a newbie. Through the first 10 rounds, I was caught about three times missing on the starts of runs, twice on starters and then on the top closers. As Fred “Bonehead” Merkle once said, “Oops.”

My next source of confusion was on my first visit to the website draft room, where a gigantic “4:00,” sat in the upper-left corner, right below a notation of “Round 1, Pick 1.” I had been nervous about being under time pressure to make my picks, but four minutes per pick seemed like more than enough time, even for a novice like me.

But then I started thinking—always a bad idea—and I calculated that with 23 regular rounds plus seven reserve rounds, our 450 draft picks would take 30 hours to complete. If we scorched through at one minute each, we were still looking at almost eight hours, which threatened my plan to watch the last episode of True Detective with Mrs. Masternotes.

So I figured it wasn’t reading four minutes, zero seconds per pick; it was saying four hours, no minutes, for the whole shebang! That’s my kind of draft!

But then I started thinking again, and I calculated that making those 450 picks in four hours would be around half a minute per pick, which was definitely not going to be a comfortable pace for this novice. I concluded that there must be something else going on, so I used the “chat” feature to ask how long we got for each pick. “Four hours,” one of the guys in the league posted immediately. “It’s a slow draft.”

You’ve probably read or heard a thousand times that the first tenet of fantasy drafting  is “Know the rules of your league.” I’m sure I’ve said it myself a few times. As Mrs. O'Leary's cow once said, “Moo-oo-oo-oops.”

I thought my next mistake was in how I responded to the run of closers, in the sixth round. I had second pick in the round coming off the wheel. Edwin Diaz had gone off the board in the fourth, which didn't start a run, and I wondered if I should try to start the closer run by taking Blake Treinen. I opted not to, in part because of the news about Clayton Kershaw. I had drafted Kershaw at the end of round four, which I thought was a fair discount for the news that he had experienced some minor discomfort in spring training. After the pick, of course, came the news that the discomfort was not as minor as we had been led to believe, and terms like “shoulder inflammation” and “MRI” were finding their way into the reporters’ vocabularies.

So I grabbed Jose Berrios instead. The closer runs started a few picks later, with Treinen, followed by Chapman, Jansen, Osuna, Hand and Kimbrel over the next dozen picks. For saves, I got David Robertson in the 12th—as it happens, a few picks before the owner who got Treinen added Cole Hamels.

Because I had four hours to consider the question, I ran a simulation to assess my choice. Would I have been better off with Treinen in 6 and Hamels in 12? Or with what I got, Berrios and Robertson?

I set up two identical seven-pitcher staffs, both with identical 3.55 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 938 innings. To one team, I added my Berrios-Robertson (B-R) pair, and to the other team, I added the Treinen-Hamels (T-H) combo platter. Using BHQ projections, the results seemed to favor my B-R in three of the five pitching categories:

  • In wins, B-R added 19, T-H added 17
  • In WHIP, B-R combined with the foundational staff for an 1.181, T-H 1.190
  • In Ks, B-R added 283, T-H 253

The Treinen-Hamels side was better in the other two categories:

  • In ERA, T-H ended at 3.518, B-R at 3.534
  • And in Saves, T-H had 29 to B-R's 24.  

These results struck me as pretty close overall, within the margins of error across the board. So was taking Berrios over Treinen a “mistake”? I don’t think so. Nor was it a huge tactical win. And since so much depends on where the rest of a roster is at the start of the 6th round and again at the start of the 12th, it’s impossible to say which was the right choice, even in hindsight.

Overall, lacking any other grand strategy, my approach has been to take the best remaining player, based on the BHQ projections, with allowances of no more than one round for position and category situations. I've heard that to compete in the overall, a team needs to be top-10% or 15% in all the categories. As we entered the 15th round, HQ projections had with a competitive team in my league, and good balance in the categories.

Except for saves. And we’re down to the dregs of the saves barrel, with risky guys like Drew Steckenrider, Matt Barnes and Mychal Givens out there.

Damn. Maybe I should have taken Treinen after all.

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