ROTISSERIE: Why Total Control Drafting makes sense

If we can sum up Total Control Drafting in one phrase, it is: “Draft who you want.” There are a number of reasons why this makes total sense. But the most important reason is that many fantasy baseball sites and writers just do not understand some of the core concepts of the economics and processes of fantasy baseball. And these misconceptions, like viruses, replicate and multiply rapidly.

Of course, Ron Shandler has written about this before, so we are not going to reiterate the ideas of Total Control Drafting. But there are three additions that are worth discussing.

1. The concept of “value” is false—so draft who you want

The idea that “value” exists a priori is a myth, and yet it is one of the bedrock foundations of fantasy baseball analysis. Of course at the end of the season we can say that a player has generated a “profit” or had “value.” The myth is that we have no idea who these players will be in the preseason, or that anything we do to identify or procure one of these players in a draft or auction makes a difference.

First, to predict “value” one has to know how it will be measured. And, as addressed in my last column,  ADP is a silly way to predict “value.” The difference in where a guy is drafted in 100 drafts and whether he is a “value” or whether his average position has any predictive value in an individual draft is mostly worthless.

But what about auction values? We know for a fact that ADP has nothing to do with a player’s actual production. But auction values have some relationship to actual production. We can determine just how much one HR or SB is worth, and that given a certain projection exists, we can take that projection and translate it into a dollar value.

So, there is a relationship between a forecast and the projected dollar value of a player. Is this useful?

In theory, yes. But in reality, no.

We need look no further than the Baseball Forecaster to prove this. Only two-thirds of all players will generate a dollar value within +/- $5 of their projected dollar value. For players in the $10 or less range, you have no idea where any individual player will end up. All you know is that if you identify ten players projected to be worth $15, only 6 or 7 will produce within a range of $5-15. And in the lower part of the player pool, it is closer to completely random as to which individuals among the group will do so.

So, in practice, you can basically take any player you want, and still have as much of a chance of a profit as you would if you only drafted or auctioned players at or below their projected dollar value. You can take the player regardless of price, and this will still be true. So if you like Jose Reyes (SS, TOR) at $25 and project him at $25, it makes no sense at all to drop out of the bidding at $26 or even $30, since there is virtually no practical difference at all between the prices.

Total control drafting recognizes this fact.

2. At least if you lose you lose with your best judgment

One might say that this is ludicrous; you shouldn’t care about your personal views. And that is right; but it is not the point of this topic. It is the fact that no matter what process you use, your success or failure is mostly luck.

This is a sobering but undeniably true facet of playing fantasy baseball. There are dozens of differing theories and processes out there, from dozens of different sites. But the seasons boils down to one fact: your success this year is based on luck.

There is no doubt that the team that generates the most “profit” in roto will win or that the team that has the most points in a head-to-head will likely—but not always—at least make their playoffs. The fallacy is that in one year you have some control over which profitable players you get.

We will spare the math, but most of us we will never know if we are skilled players or not over our entire fantasy careers. The randomness inherent in the game will dwarf your actual skills over a small sample, and the sad fact is that most of us will never get into the long run. Maybe daily fantasy gamers can, since the game is more like horse racing or poker than traditional fantasy games. But in full-season roto even 100 performances is not really enough to know much about your skills.

But the one thing you can control is whether you get the players you prefer the most over anyone else—if you use Total Control Drafting, that is.

The beauty of Total Control Drafting is that it is you against the world. You are not beholden to ADP, or “value” or the other somewhat specious processes that are generally trumpeted in the industry. If you do not like Andrew McCutchen (OF, PIT) as a first-rounder, then you pass. You are not stuck with your process that requires you take player x simply because you are following that process. You want a less-risky player and you want to draft Prince Fielder (1B, DET) or David Price (LHP, TB), then do it!

You are at least betting on your own judgment; you cannot second guess that. And, as mentioned above, no matter what process you use it is not likely to make a difference in the short term anyway. It is all about your judgment versus everyone else’s and that is as much as you can hope for.

3. Flexibility is key and Total Control Drafting is completely flexible

After reading and seeing recaps of the recent LABR auctions, it is clear to me that even among experts the overall state of auction skills in the industry is waning. And this makes evolutionary sense as fewer and fewer people are playing auction games. The reason for this is slavish adherence to dollar values and an inability to be flexible in what the auction gives.

Just listen to or read the various analyses in the participants’ articles and podcasts. Alleged experts were spending $15 for $2 players to avoid leaving money on the table. And in one LABR auction in 2012 there was over $20 left on the table. At least they avoided that disaster this year.

In almost every instance, this happened because the so-called expert refused to go an extra dollar for a player. When we have a player pool that is so variable that a full third will produce outside of a $10 range it makes no sense at all.

But Total Control Drafting makes perfect sense in this context.

We are not after a perfect auction but an optimal one. There is simply no legitimate argument that a Total Control Drafting method is much closer to optimal than slavish adherence to a process. The single most important aspect of an optimal strategy in any endeavor, in life or in fantasy, is to continually adapt and respond to what goes on around you at every instance.

A boxer, basketball coach, financial advisor or job manager must keep bobbing and weaving and adapting after every decision and result is generated. Our game is no different. Fantasy baseball is not accounting, though it appears many experts view it that way, even when it results in spending $15 for a $2 player or worse. After every player the entirety of the player pool, and their resulting values, changes a great deal. Adapting on the fly to this is the most important skill.

And Total Control Drafting gets you far closer to the optimal solution of the fantasy baseball drafting game.

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