March 11, 2010

One of the more popular draft day tactics is target drafting. This involves setting goals in the scoring categories, tracking your statistics and making sure you achieve your targets. On paper, it makes perfect sense. But practically speaking, just how effective a means to help construct your team is it?

Before we delve into the logic of the practice, let us first discuss the manner it is implemented. History suggests that in order to win a rotisserie league, you need to amass 75-80 percent of the maximum number of points. Assuming you want a perfectly balanced squad that scores equally in each category, this entails finishing third across the board in leagues with fewer than 12 teams and fourth in leagues with 12 or more teams. You now need some archived standings to determine the third or fourth place total from your league in recent seasons. Going back three years and getting an average will suffice. If historical standings are not available or it is a brand new league, tracking down a similar league will be fine.

So you now have your category targets to shoot for during your draft or auction. Using the projections fueling your values or rankings, all you need to do is keep a running total of the statistics you accumulate. Some people will even track the entire standings and not just how they are doing with respect to their goals.

Sure seems simple, right? But let me ask a question to those of you that track either your statistics or the league standings. How many times have you fallen short of your targets or failed to leave the draft in first place? I am guessing not many. Now how many of these leagues have you won? Nothing personal, but I am also guessing not many. Or at least something less than all of them.

While the practice seems elegant, it is wrought with pitfalls that render it not as useful as it seems on the surface. It does have utility, perhaps a lot for some people. But it is by no means a guarantee of success if you meet your targets or lead the standings after the draft.

One reason why the results can be misleading is there is an inherent bias since you are tracking and scoring the statistics you use to evaluate the players. So not only are you drafting players you favor, but you are avoiding players you do not like and your opponents are saddled with their lesser numbers, at least according to your estimation.

But perhaps the more important reason as to why the tactic is less than perfect is because it ignores any in-season management of your roster. And now that the vast majority of leagues either have reserve lists and/or allow in-season acquisition of players via waivers or as a free agents, this is a major shortcoming.

The projections for some players incorporate some loss of playing time if they have displayed a penchant for getting hurt and missing chunks of time. One of two things will happen. Someone like Ian Kinsler or Chipper Jones will get hurt and you can replace them while they are out, or they will surpass their playing time projections. Either way, the end result is a different category total than you achieved on draft day, as only the projected stats of Kinsler or Jones are considered. Clearly, the counting stats should improve. The net gain or loss will revolve around the ratio stats, but the point is either way, the totals are not reflective of those right after the draft.

A similar situation arises for unexpected injuries. You get to replace players with reserves or pickups and will add on stats not accounted for on draft day.

If your league allows movement between a reserve roster and active roster, you undoubtedly will take advantage of matchups in an effort to have the strongest active team daily or weekly. You can turn a pair of .260 BA, 15 HR, 10 SB hitters into a .280-20-15 guy with their judicious deployment of a roster spot. This is especially true on the pitching ledger if you deploy a middle reliever in the stead of a back-end starter with a questionable match-up. You can turn a guy with a projected 4.75 ERA into someone below 4.00 if you reserve him for the more difficult starts. None of this roster management is represented in your original targets.

You will more than likely release a player not performing up to expectations and replace him with someone whose numbers end up exceeding your original expectations for the released player. This is still another means of altering your original post-draft totals.

Another potential problem with focusing too much on targets is sacrificing some value solely in an effort to make your target or win the draft. You have the next six months to manage your squad. If you are 20 steals short of your target and have already attained your objective in the others, it is probably a mistake to take a 5 HR, 20 SB guy and leave a 15 HR, 10 SB guy that hits for a better average on the table.

As alluded to earlier, though, target drafting does serve several positive purposes.

One of the suggested reasons as to why the method is not ideal was the inherent bias of drafting your own numbers. The implication was that you better hit your targets or finish on top of the league standings. But what if you do not? Quite frankly, this tells you that you have some work to do with respect to perfecting draft or auction dynamics. If you cannot win using your own numbers, you need to take a long look at your strategy and see where you are falling short.

While it has been explained that simply meeting target objectives does not assure success, tracking only home runs and stolen bases can help make sure you are at least balanced. The idea here is if you stay in balance and draft ample homers and steals, your runs and RBI totals will naturally fall in line.

And finally, if you are a target drafter and/or track standings, and perhaps even buy into several of the arguments presented, but still feel as though you want to continue doing what you have been doing, that alone is more than enough reason to not give it up. If doing this affords you a level of comfort, or perhaps aids in keeping you focused, then by all means, track away. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, fantasy baseball is 90 percent mental, the other half is knowing the players.

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