ROTISSERIE: 11 Tips for Draft and Hold

In 2019, Tout Wars invited me to participate in their newly formed Draft and Hold league. What follows is my advice from four years of experience. Our league consists of 15 teams with a 50-round draft. We use 5x5 scoring with OBP instead of AVG. There are no in-season moves. The general idea behind Draft and Hold is to see who can out-draft and out-manage the competition without the aid of in-season transactions. Some Draft and Hold formats have one or two periods when managers can use a FAAB or waiver wire system.

Draft and Hold differs from Bestball in one major respect – setting weekly lineups. Whereas Bestball scoring automatically calculates your best performers, draft and hold participants are tasked with personally optimizing their starting lineup. Bestball uses points scoring as it’s easier to write a program to identify the “best” lineup. Draft and Hold can use any scoring format.

Before we continue, let’s quickly cover my bonafides. From 2019 through 2022, I’ve finished fifth, first, eleventh, and second. My victory came in the wonky COVID season. We began our draft before the league delay was confirmed. I led for the first two months of 2021 before an injury crunch destroyed my pitching staff. I learned much from that unpleasant failure. Last season, I refined my strategy and cruised to second place with a 21-point cushion. And by “cruised,” I mean I scraped and clawed and gouged every week. I even tried to lull winner Vlad Sedler into a false sense of complacency so I could catch up to him.

Tip #1 – Prep, prep, prep

In a league that drafts 750 players, deep knowledge of the player pool and team depth charts is a must. By round 30, you can see the bottom of the barrel. The managers who scrape the good bits off the sides are the ones who consistently perform well. Last season, I selected key performers Lars Nootbaar (32), Andres Munoz (35), Jace Peterson (42), and Matt Carpenter (46) after round thirty. The other 16 post-30th-round picks had either no or a negative effect on my bottom line.

Let’s look at those few successes. I selected Nootbaar on rumors of increased exit velocity achieved while working with Driveline. Munoz was a perennial pick of mine, awaiting an almost certain breakout. Peterson plays everywhere and doesn’t kill any categories. Carpenter was a swing-change candidate who used to rule OBP leagues. Gathering intelligence is a key to throwing successful blind darts.

Tip #2 – Adjust standard-league ADPs

There is no Draft and Hold ADP. Instead, you and your opponents will be looking at ADPs from NFBC, FanTrax, and other sources not fully optimized for the format. Scarce characteristics like saves, stolen bases, and catcher eligibility tend to go early. Whereas a typical league offers some opportunity to add closers, base thieves, and catchers on the waiver, we have no such option in Draft and Hold. Speculating on these categories late in the draft cuts down on opportunities to add redundancy. Speaking of…

Tip #3 – Redundancy and diversification are essential

When a league offers no opportunity to replace injured or otherwise failing players, it’s obviously essential to have backups on hand. After all, an unused roster spot scores no points. In my experience, it’s best to have three options at each position and more than 20 pitchers in total, of which at least a dozen should be starters. Productive multi-positional players deserve prioritization since they will help you maintain flexibility later in the draft and during the season.

Tip #4 – Layering of Debuts

In the early-middle rounds of the draft, you might find yourself flocking to either veterans with full-season projections or high-ceiling youngsters who might not fully arrive until midseason. Later on, you’ll want to hedge against those choices. If you selected Ezequiel Tovar in the mid-200s, you might want to use pick 525 on J.P. Crawford. If you picked Ha-Seong Kim instead of Tovar, you should consider a backup who might serve as an “upgrade” like Elly De La Cruz.

Tip #5 – Fallow is bad; bad players are worse

There is a high correlation between filling your active lineup and performing well in the standings. The teams with the most plate appearances and innings pitched are at an advantage in the volume-based categories. Yet, there come times when nothing is better than something. Take my 2021 performance. One-third of the way through, I was in the process of fumbling what started as a comfy early-season lead. When the dust cleared, I was in eleventh – mostly due to terrible pitching scores. I would have finished sixth if I hadn’t used so many starts from pitchers like Keegan Akin and Dylan Bundy.

Tip #6 – General roster balance

Last season, I rostered 28 hitters and 22 pitchers. Of the pitchers, 13 were starters and nine were relievers. My intended targets for this season are 27 hitters and 23 pitchers with a split of 15 starters and eight relievers. We’ll talk more about my reliever plans in a moment.

Tip #7 – Anticipate and adjust to your competition

Draft and Hold isn’t a format for the faint of heart. There’s a decent chance some of your opponents will be active social media users. Take any opportunity to glean information about their strategy (such as this article) and use it against them. It only takes a few timely snipes to rattle a draftee.

At a macro level, try to get a sense of what skill sets will be drafted earlier or later than expected. As mentioned already, you can typically count on confirmed closers, base thieves, catchers, and multi-positional hitters to go early. Some years, starting pitchers go in bulk in the early rounds. Sometimes, only a dozen starters will be chosen with the first 60 picks.

Tip #8 – Relievers are an unavoidable trap

Saves are a tough category in this format. In 2021, the league leader had 89 saves. No other manager recorded more than 64 saves. While the manager deserves kudos for winning the category, his roster would have performed more efficiently if he’d foregone Edwin Diaz or Liam Hendriks. Last season, the gap was slightly narrower – 86 saves for the leader, 76 for the next best, then a drop to 65 saves. Even just 40 saves on the season will typically score between six and nine points.

The trouble with closers is the “safe” ones go very early. Depending on your draft slot, a run might wipe out the entire cohort before you have a chance to select. In a standard fantasy league with a waiver wire, you could adapt by churning through backup closers until you catch a winner. Since Draft and Hold leagues are usually selected early in Spring Training, not only can’t we churn, we don’t even have a good idea of which relievers took a step forward over the winter.

I’ve taken the path of speculation all four seasons and have never recorded more than 43 saves. Last season, I mustered a pitiful 10 saves.

Tip #9 – Punting is viable

Despite punting the saves category, my 118.5-point performance (maximum of 150 points) was the third-highest point total in league history. Sadly, I happened to be up against a team that posted the second-highest point total.

It’s tempting to think saves were my downfall. Consider this. My second-round pick was Aaron Judge. Before my third choice, Liam Hendriks, Josh Hader, Raisel Iglesias, Edwin Diaz, Emmanuel Clase, and Ryan Pressly were selected. Should I have taken one of them over Judge? Obviously not. My third-rounder was Pete Alonso, another pick who scored me more points than any available closer achieved. Even my botched fourth-round selection of Tyler O’Neill contributed to more roto-points than the best remaining closer – Jordan Romano.

Punting the saves category worked out last season in part because my placement in the draft didn’t give me the opportunity for an efficient move. That doesn’t mean it’s always the right call. After all, the league winner had the second-most saves. Had I spiked two of my reliever gambles –  a group consisting of Jordan Hicks, Andres Munoz, Andrew Kittredge, Jake McGee, Tyler Rogers, Dinelson Lamet, Mike Mayers, and Tyler Duffey – I could have won the league.

The other readily puntable category is stolen bases. Especially for the 2023 campaign when we have little sense of how runners will react to the new rules.

Tip #10 – Don’t forget the scoreboard

Often, you’ll lack somebody on the bench who might be considered a viable starter. Your decisions are all too obvious. When you do find yourself with options, it’s important to remember this is a Rotisserie league. The only reason I had any shot to win last year is because I actively sacrificed power for speed whenever I had the opportunity. Usually, that meant playing Peterson or Taylor Walls instead of Nelson Cruz. I fell three stolen bases shy of a tie for first and still had a nine-homer buffer thanks to Judge and Alonso. A couple earlier sacrifices might have yielded the title.

Tip #11 – Never throw the towel

This can be a frustrating format. You might have a week where only half your hitters are healthy or your pitching staff throws five bad innings. Consider my 2021 experience. I was fresh off a 2020 win and leading through the end of May. I felt like I had magic mojo. Then… I snatched defeat from the proverbial jaws. Folks make mistakes when their options are so limited. Sometimes their roster withers entirely. You never know when a contender will be crippled.

Conversely, last season, I was sure I botched the draft. I whiffed on so many complementary pieces, and my Opening Day lineup had unused positions. I paid full freight for O’Neill, Ketel Marte, and Oneil Cruz. I was counting on Josh Lowe, Alek Thomas, Nolan Jones, and Vidal Brujan to provide a mid-season boost. Those key offensive players all disappointed. Luckily, Judge covered my mistakes, and my starting pitcher draft game was perfectly executed. Grind for every place in the standings. Even if you don’t come away with a top finish, you’ll make smarter decisions in future opportunities.

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