Fantasy baseball players typically settle into three different camps on how they ‘run’ their snake drafts:
- Traditionalists – Use a piece of paper typically with tiered rankings
- Spreadsheeters – Use a spreadsheet that can range from a simple one tab cut ‘n paste job to one with tons of formulas, tabs, and conditional formatting. Player projections and/or rankings may be cut/pasted from a site, aggregated from various sources or the product of meticulous research.
- Toolers – Use a piece of software (usually subscription-based) to manage the draft. Projections can range from one bundled with the software or imported.
I have always been a Spreadsheeter. A couple years back I had a couple of epiphanies related to draft strategy (detailed in my 2020 LABR Mixed Draft Recap – search for DARWINISM) and completely overhauled my ‘draft room’. After some early success, I started sharing it with the Razzball writers for their industry leagues. Last year, I added it to our season-long subscription package. The response has been better than I expected given how different it is from the standard draft room.
I have seen my fair share of others’ spreadsheets. My experience with fantasy draft software is more limited. Between the two, I have seen enough (including those built on our site by developers and commenters) that I have a good idea on some of the more common approaches/standards. I think there are several flaws in these standards and will show how and why my Draft Room is better. If you are a Traditionalist, my guess is this post will not sway you but at least it will give you ammunition when mocking the guy with the laptop next you on draft day.
The one thing I am not going to do in this post is share Excel tricks or how I calculate various things. While I totally respect and identify with those of you who are DIYers, that is not our focus/passion at Razzball. I mean we want to teach all our readers how to fish. But we would rather build you the tools so you can have fun on the lake with some brewskis versus give you detailed instructions on how to build your own rod. This post may still inspire some of you DIYers to make changes though and, if you are really into DIY, I recommend my friends Jeff and Tanner’s book.
Here is a snapshot of my 2020 Draft Room. I have set it to the pick before mine in the 2nd round of the LABR draft. You can click on this image to see it full-screen. If you are looking at this via phone, it will be tough. Just skip this part for now and focus on the content under the image.
I know. There is a lot going on. Rather than make this a boring tutorial, I am going to focus on the areas where I think most people get it wrong (and I feel I get it right).
Doing It Wrong: Preparing By Mock/Low-Stakes Drafting & Fixating on ADPs
Doing It Rudy: Offline Review Of The Draftboard Looking at Player Availability Probabilities
Everything starts with how one prepares for the draft. If all of your prep is just ranking/tiering/valuing players, you are not preparing yourself properly for the hard Player A vs Player B decisions one has to make during a draft nor do you have an actionable plan for handling macro issues like “When should I draft SS?” or “How do I ensure I get enough speed, power, saves, etc?”
For those that do draft preparation, one standard approach is to do mock drafts. I think mock drafts involving human drafters are absolutely useless. There is no way for me to trust that all the people involved are drafting as if this was a real team or just experimenting. It becomes increasingly likely that as the draft goes on, more of the drafters are mailing it in.
Draft ‘wizards’ where you draft against simulated drafters informed (one would think) by Average Draft Position are an improvement. For one, they are much quicker. While the drafting might be more conservative/predictable than a real draft room, at least it is realistic. Lastly, since there is no social pact to complete it, you can abandon the mock draft once it has served its purpose (i.e., you determine a draft strategy is faulty after the first 10 rounds).
A third method I have heard is participating in low-stakes best balls like Fantrax’s TRAX 10. I think this is a great approach for better understanding the draft pool but not an ideal way to prep for a season-long league where draft strategies are different.
The fault that all of the above share is they are too rigidly constructed around draft rounds and selecting one player per round. For me, evaluating players and formulating draft strategies is a circular process involving multiple variables such as positions, categories, and player values. Often, I want to constrain one or more of those variables and then look across all rounds at all attractive player options (e.g., players I value more than the market).
For example, below is a filtering of all Shortstops with plus speed ($5+ SB) ranked by overall $ value. To the right, I have the first 12 rounds and the percent likelihood the player will be available at my draft slot. Green represents very good value. Red is awful value. The percentages leverage the min/avg/max picks in NFBC ADP which I update constantly throughout draft season and I find more informative than just ADP. In this draft (where I pick 12th out of 15), my first choice could be taking one of the top 3 SS if they fall to me but I have multiple options to consider throughout the first 12 rounds. (In LABR, I ended up with Andrus and Newman).
In a nutshell, there are not enough hours in the day to prepare for every draft situation since every draft is going to be unique. Mock drafting is inefficient and insufficient (shout out to Walt Frazier) at preparing for all the possible ways a draft may go. Using the Razzball Draft Room, you can easily identify multiple candidates for any combination of category value/position/round/likelihood of being available in advance of the draft to avoid having to make hard decisions on the fly while still having a strong support system if/when you need to pivot in-draft.
Doing It Wrong: Adding up projected stats and comparing vs ‘targets’ derived from previous year(s) stats
Doing It Rudy: Sum my Category Dollars and compare vs fixed dollar targets
Apologies to those of you who were nodding along with my takedown of mock drafts and now are thinking “What the f***? You are coming after projected stats and targets?”
Let me start with what I think is the ideal and then it will be clear why I think the standard practices are flawed:
- All stat categories should be on the same scale (particularly hitters and pitchers) so you don’t have to waste brainpower determining whether 25 HRs and a .260 AVG is greater than 20 HRs and a .280 AVG.
- Your player projections and your targets reflect the same hitting/pitching environment.
- Your player projections and target reflect the same outcomes. This is a little more esoteric but projections are 50th percentile outcome and we know some players are going to hit the 90th outcome – see Pete Alonso 2019 HRs – but we just do not know who. So actuals reflect the gains of overachievers and ideally churn out underachievers to net higher than a 50th percentile outcome. In addition, ‘actuals’ could reflect bench optimization that is difficult to reflect in a draft room – e.g., streaming pitchers.
- You are not obsessed with reaching targets – you are using them as guideposts not goalposts.
- Related to #1 and #4, you avoid our natural biases with stats/numbers and focus on skill/value. This is a point that I am in lock step with industry legend Ron Shandler albeit maybe for different reasons (his BABS draft process is motivated more by the noise and imprecision of projections while I am motivated more to make quicker, less biased decisions – e.g., ooh i want the 30 HR guy….even though the 20 HR guy gives me more of what I need in other categories).
I achieve all five in my Snake Draft Room by:
- Using my category $ which converts all stats onto the same scale (the sum of category $ + $1 = a player’s total $ value)
- My targets are modeled off this year’s projections vs using previous year(s).
- Since my targets are modeled off this year’s projections, I am using the same 50th percentile outcomes. I am only grading my team based on the expected projections of the 22-23 starting players (any in-season bench optimization will color my draft strategy)
- I set my category targets at basically 50% – e.g., if I am drafting 23 starters in a 5×5 league and want a 67/33 hit/pitch split. then $260 – $23 ($1 each) = $237 that needs to be divided up. $237 * .67 / 5 = $32 for each hitting category and $237 * .33 / 5 = $16 for each pitching category. Even then, I am not overly obsessed by it as, depending on the league/format, I may want to focus heavily on upside/speculation in later rounds vs safe stat accumulators.
- The category $ reflects the player’s underlying stats without having to see the stats (though they are in another tab in the Draft Room if you HAVE to see them)
The standard practice is flawed because:
- Just adding stat totals means they are on different scales. This could of course be addressed by converting each into a percentile where you divide your team’s total into your target…..well, except that doesn’t work very well for ratios.
- Targets are based on previous year hitting environments that do not match the projection’s environment.
- Targets are based on greater than 50th percentile outcomes and, particularly in daily roster leagues, may reflect unrealistic outcomes.
- There is nothing stopping someone totalling stats from setting 50th percentile targets vs, say, 70th-80th percentile outcomes. But I do think seeing stat totals exacerbates one’s desire to ‘win the draft’ vs implement the optimal strategy and roster construction.
- Similar to #4, you are just opening yourself to your own stat biases.
One note for DIYers – using SGPs or z-scores can help neutralized #1, #4, and #5. Good luck with #2 and #3.
Doing It Wrong: Tracking other teams’ picks and/or looking at In-Draft Standings
Doing It Rudy: Just mark players as drafted and focus on your category dollars
Don’t get me wrong. I cannot stop myself from looking at post-draft standings even though I know they are garbage. I do not put any stock in them. I am just so amped after a draft that I devour all content – whether it be leaguemate reviews or post-draft standings. I might create my own too.
I know it is a disorder BUT it does not affect my draft.
You should spend as little time as possible on draft board maintenance. I want to mirror the Traditionalist experience of just crossing out one’s name on a list.
Both taking the extra effort to assign a team (even choosing from a pull-down menu is more work than ‘x’) and looking at in-draft standings are time better spent looking at your notes and coming up with Plans A/B/C/D for your upcoming pick.
In addition, if your goal (like me) is executing the ideal team for me vs ‘winning the draft’, looking at in-draft standings is the LAST thing you want to do as it will bias/impact your decision-making.
Basically, I DO NOT CARE how the other teams are looking. Completely irrelevant. I just need to track how I am doing. The draft board itself is easy enough to determine whether teams who are between my next two picks are likely to be targeting the same player as me – e.g., one of my only reaches was on Elvis Andrus as there were still 1-2 teams with SS/MI openings and could use speed). One benefit of focusing on the draft board is you don’t space out and miss any players being drafted.
Doing It Wrong: Only measure players by season-long value
Doing It Rudy: Measure players by season-long value AND per-game value
One way I always evaluate my drafts is balancing upside with reliability. If anything, I am pushing myself to draft more upside than in the past – particularly with late picks. Stated quite simply, I feel like I can always backfill with stat accumulators in FAAB so better to take shots late in draft at upside.
I think all drafters are balancing upside/reliability but can get lost later in drafts because how do you identify upside?
As I noted in a recent post regarding a trade analyzer enhancement, a total value (like my $ value) based in performance AND playing time. My draft room comes with $/Game as well which neutralizes the playing time and is, thus, a great measure of upside. Late in drafts when I may be running low on targets, I will find myself filtering on this column for, say, $5+ $/Game players who are still available.
Last note: If you are interested in using my draft room, it is available as part of the season-long Roto Deluxe and DFS Premium packages. Season-long packages start at just $24.99 and this draft room is just an appetizer (or maybe an amuse bouche?) vs the main course. You are also getting daily/weekly projections throughout the season in an easy-to-use tool. Our subscribers range from the most competitive players in friends & family shallow mixed leagues to high stakes players.
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Subscribed this evening solely because I wanted to use your draft tool. That just sounds wrong. Anyways remember there are no stupid questions just stupid people who ask questions.
So with that said how do I access said tool (still sounds wrong). I cant find it in the drop downs.
Ha. Links are emailed with your welcome email upon signup.
Good stuff Rudy. I originally came to RB as a commenter for Grey’s humor/musings and stayed for your analytics.
Party on Wayne.
party on mr. iorg
Similiar to potential positional adjustments to, do you ever weight categories differently? Ie. Steals? I play in a weekly H2H category league with IP and QS as two categories. Considering the ablity to stream 2 start SPs, I feel like IP at the draft may be overvalued as a category when determining $ value.
For H2H, i would discount SB and SV. I wouldn’t even worry about IP.
Thanks for this write-up. As a DIY auction league guy, I eat up any information that helps me improve my own DIY spreadsheet tool for auctions. (I based it on the free spreadsheet that has been distributed on Razzball the past several years, but I have modified and developed it so heavily that it is barely recognizable as being related to that one.)
Conceptually, I value players using the same category $ idea as you do, though my tool does not display that as explicitly for use during the auction as your War Room. Now that I see how you do it, I may incorporate something similar. Because I have done only auctions, I tend to concentrate more pre-draft on coming up with an overall plan for which players to target at each position that will hit my projection targets and fit into my budget (based on NFBC AAV), and then re-jigger as necessary if the bidding on my targets gets out of hand.
My tool does track other teams’ picks to assess their positional needs, as I believe having a complete understanding of the end-game situation in an auction can allow you to identify and press some advantages – e.g., at some point last year I realized there were only two other owners who could roster a 1B and ended up getting Pete Alonso for $1. OTOH, you are certainly correct that it takes a significant amount of time and effort to supply that info to the tool during the auction, which may be better spent on other activities. I will monitor that during our mid-March auction to see what I think for future seasons.
I do not participate in any snake draft leagues or daily moves leagues, so I do not really have a use need for your spreadsheet or the tools, but I sure wish I had a copy just to examine your Excel techniques — I need to perform a lot of time-intensive surgery on the spreadsheet for each new season and would bet that your spreadsheet has “solved” some of those manual labor issues. Oh well.
Good luck this season!
Well the tools are just as valuable for weekly FAAB. They are my Not so secret weapon in expert leagues and NFBC :)
As someone who has developed a tool or two of my own, I have looked into the tools available out there and I have a ton of respect for yours based on what I know. I feel confident that they are as good or better than anything else out there, and I would recommend them to anyone. If I was going to buy tools, it would definitely be yours.
That said, I managed to pick up Frankie Montas, Hector Neris, Hansel Robles, Zac Gallen, Yandy Diaz, Bryan Reynolds, JD Davis, Aristides Aquino and a handful of other useful players in our FAAB last year, so yeah, I am pretty comfortable with my FAAB process.
nice. continued great FAABing!
Here’s my advice: Just buy it, bro. It’s like $30.
Sounds like you’d get a lot of use out of it. Can’t imagine that’s not worth it for you.
Love this article Rudy. And this is right up my alley. I’m a spreadsheeter who turned into a tooler since I adapted my spreadsheet into a web app – eventually you get to the point where excel isn’t cutting it. It can do a lot, but there’s a lot from a UI perspective that you can improve by moving past excel.
I have lots of questions, but to start, from a data analysis standpoint I’m interested in how/why you come up with the 67/33 split. It seems like, with the level of detail that goes into this, you’d want your spreadsheet/tool to potentially look at that split and determine what is actually optimal rather than starting with an assumption.
Many more questions but I’ll start with that.
I want to invest my hit/pitch $ to mirror the market. This makes it easy to identify bargains vs having to account for me, say, $1 heavy on all pitchers. I also want to be balanced so I can grab anyone in faab vs, if I had a pitcher-heavy team because I sensed a market inefficiency, i have to save most of my $ for hitters. Make sense?
Thanks for this Rudy. I used to view the process in terms of time available for construction and analysis. I came to the conclusion that imprecision at the front end rendered a lot of my monkeying around ineffective at best. I think your war room is a solid option for me and others like me should they still exist. Great stuff!
I am in a 16 team H2H points league (snake draft) and it’s pretty balanced as far as SP/Hitters but at some point towards the end of the season, SPs are a hot commodity because of the 2-start weeks during playoffs…
What’s the best approach when drafting in a points league?
You want SP depth from the draft. I am typically 2 bat / 4 pitch on my bench.
During season, it is all about grinding the waiver wire for replacement SPs so you are stocked by end of season. Always be churning the bottom of your roster.
I am always looking to pick up SPs each week if Streamonator finds a good matchup.
Appreciate the insight into how the war room works Rudy. The % chance of the player being taken in a round is very cool.
On another note, any advice on strategy for someone who is picking one slot before you in an NFBC DC? Asking for a friend.
Nice. Just do your best :)
For the 3rd DIW/DIR, this is the reason I’ve decided to not use my spreadsheet during the draft this season. I have a habit of tracking everyone else’s picks and it’s a lot of busy work that isn’t really useful. This year I’m just going to print out the most updated version of my spreadsheet, cross players off when they’re taken, and as lame as it sounds, trust in myself. I put enough time and effort into fantasy baseball to have an opinion on everyone, and I should be fine leaning into that to work with contingencies as they happen. No spreadsheet is going to spit out something like “temperature of the draft room” as everything is happening.
For the last DIW/DIR, since my spreadsheet spits out a stat-line for the replacement player, it adjusts everyone’s projected stats by assuming a percentage of their projected lost playing time can be filled in at the replacement level by someone off the bench/wire.
i like tracking in my war room but prefer print and cross-out over tracking everyone. and there’s probably a point in draft season where i’d be fine doing it that way b/c i’m so ‘in the groove’.
cool on replacement level insertion. a bit more complex than just looking at $/Game but like the ingenuity.
Rudy, off topic here. I entered my email for the NFBC Razzball leagues. I haven’t heard anything, nor do I see my name on the NFBC contest link. I signed up only yesterday so I was a little tentative but just wondering.
Thanks for all you do.
If you just signed up yesterday, the leagues might be filled up already.
i know 3 leagues are full and NFBC is working on the 4th. you should’ve gotten an email by now to join. shoot me your email address at [email protected] and i’ll inquire.
Sent my email. My fault if I miss out.
I am in a yahoo 12 team 5×5, is no closers a viable strategy? just add a couple of sps in there and you dominate Ws and Ks every week while spending little on pitching. U can also compete in ERA and WHIP of course. I had this idea bc the new FAAB system might make streaming harder?
i deemphasize saves in H2H. i wouldn’t go solely SPs though as your ratios will get crushed. maybe draft some premium set-up guys in late rounds and then, if some become closers, even better.
Thanks! But I was thinking that by having a surplus of Sps you only play the ones with favorable matches?
Yup makes sense.
Wish you had something like this for auctions, Rudy; I would snap it right up. But it looks like I am constrained to my purchased auction software complemented with your auction values and spiced with Grey’s takes on players when that differs substantially from the software. Works OK, but seems to be subject to some of the “Doing it Wrong” errors you outline above.
I feel like auction is too easy to DIY but maybe i’m wrong. i feel like the % likelihood calculator is harder to do than just identify i said this guy is worth $32 and the market pays $30.
will consider for 2021.
Great insight into what you are doing on draft day. I have been following your wisdom around for the better part of a decade now and I truly feel you and Grey have this thing figured out. I am a little different as far as how I approach everything as there are two industry tools I feel are above the rest. Your War Room and the Rotowire Fantasy Baseball Draft App.
As far as tools go, typically for real time snake drafts I exclusivley use your War Room spreadsheet with the ability to figure out where I am at any given time versus my targets for each category. It’s quick and perfect to know where you are at and what your team needs to improve on.
For auctions (My home ones dont move as fast as Tout Wars) and Slow Drafts (NFBC) I use the War Room and the Rotowire App. Your rankings and category targets are still what I am looking at because comparing to another team mid draft doesn’t really tell you anything and may make you chase something you dont need as you stated. However, I find with the extra time it does help to know where everyone around you is at and what they still might be looking for as far as positions go. Don’t want to get sniped on my sleeper 2B I really want near the turn if the two teams before I pick again haven’t picked one up.
If you can talk Jeff Erickson into putting your rankings into the app it would also make my life so much easier.
Great Stuff, Thanks Rudy.
thanks man. i find auctions are easy enough to DIY….but see less issues using an app (and i like the guys at Rotowire) if it’s a slower draft. you’ve got more time to think through the decision.
Rudy, what is this years stats needed to win fantasy league? 10 team 5×5 OBP, QS K/9 for pitching.
Where can I find that, I looked in the War Room
LOL, did you read this post?
I don’t think I’ve ever published targets for that league type. Just some 5×5 ones. That usually goes up in early March.
Hey Rudy, love, love, love the war room, but one question:
For a 6×6 OPS league, is there any point in trying to polish the rod and swap out the current hitter $ values for your OPS values? And, if so, would you simply re-sort the total list? Or does that not make sense for any number of reasons (ADP targets would be out of sync, it’s not that simple, etc.)?
Yeah, swapping in 6×6 OPS isn’t super hard if you are competent at Excel. If you unhide the ’12’ tab, you’ll need to do a copy/paste values so it’s no longer linked to the 5×5 player rater on the site. Delete all the hitters (can sort by one of the hitter categories), copy in the 6×6 OPS from the site and re-rank. You’ll then haev to add in OPS to the draft board. the target will change from $32 to $32 * 5/6 since you have 6 categories.
If you dont’ want all the work, change the targets so that SB is valued less and HR/RBI are valued more. That’ll make you draft a little more OPS-y. Just know the %s are based on 5×5 so speedsters will be discounted a bit more.
Makes sense, thank you.
I might get this just so I can dissect it being a total Excel nerd.
That being said, a few years back I made a spreadsheet that shifted the value of the projected stat categories left compared to my team’s projected output for the entire season. Basically, every player chosen strengthened or weakened the players left.. for example, Billy Hamilton in that season would become increasingly valuable as each individual league draft wore on, but his value wasn’t the same for any of the drafts. Basically, he bubbled up to the top based on how I drafted earlier to gain steals.
I ran about 50 or 60 simulations to get an idea of what an projection range would look like for each category, and said I want to reach for 1 std dev above the mean in each category as a target. The mindset being if I am an 8 in every category, I will likely win a 10 team head to head or roto league by having a competitive advantage over every other team in some of the categories, as teams typically punt.
It worked well for that season, but the prep work was not worth the effort when you consider that it didn’t factor in injuries, projections being missed, etc. Yours seems super comprehensive. Might get the blood pumping to try something again…
I see what you were going for w/ the player’s relative value. I think that some draft software do something like that. I don’t like it. There is enough imprecision in your team projections that I want to generally be focusing on best player available. I’m actively trying to stay balanced throughout the draft b/c i don’t want to be ‘desperate’ and have to draft out of need.
A lot of my draft prep is spent trying to figure out all the ‘outs’ i have in case things to break right for something like SBs. This tool is what I use.
I REALLY like this idea of your spreadsheet adjusting category values based on the players you’ve already selected. I might just try to pull that off. (And here I thought I had the nuts & bolts of my spreadsheet completed last season, so this year would be a breezy preseason.)
I am continually attempting to be more numbers-based in fantasy baseball. But it’s tough for a traditionalist and for someone who is far more right-brained…it’s a challenge. My strengths are adaptability (when the draft goes awry), endless mocking, “reading the room,” etc. I’m excited for a third year of TGFBI…one good one, one bad. It’s fun against a lot of others who are fanatical about this game. ADP is huge for me simply because so many people follow it to a “T.” Myself included, formerly. This offseason I spent more time identifying players I like more than others and really getting a sense of what I think is available at a given position.
All that said to say…really enjoy reading what you left-brained people have to say. So thanks for sharing. One day when I retire I may have time to catch up to you on a numbers basis.
you can’t be any more right-brained than Grey and he uses the draft tool.
i think when done best, it’s like the software in cars that adjusts your car if you don’t stay in the lanes and stops short if you’re going to crash.
on setting category targets
$260-$23($1 each) = $237
or did I miss something
omg…that was so f’in dumb. corrected it. thanks!
You gotta harness in the good energy, block out the bad. Harness. Energy. Block. Bad. Feel the flow Happy. Feel it. It’s circular. It’s like a carousel. You pay the quarter, you get on the horse, it goes up and down, and AROUND. It’s circular. Circle, with the music, the flow. All good things.
Peace my brother.
Always appreciate your help with my rod, Rudy.
you’re welcome. now you can stop w/ the catfishing.
Rudy, I am in a league that allows each team to keep 6 players from year to year – no time limits. Further, to fill out our rosters we have an auction ($145 budget) rather than a snake draft. How would your product help me in that league, or would it? Presently, I make a spreadsheet focusing on those positions where I need to buy players and then I rank them using Gray’s top 500 but include your Yahoo! 12 5×5 dollar value next to their name. How would your product improve what I am currently doing? Thanks.
so this is a pretty limited snake draft tool. 5×5 for 10, 12, 14, and 15 team redraft mixed leagues. i imagine mine can be repurposed for that but not taking on custom work right now.
IMO auction drafts are something I suggest DIYing if you’ve got the skills.