Saturday, February 23, 2008

Bennett and Bodin on Baseball II: How to Structure your Draft

[Editor's Note: This is the second article in the seven-part pre-season series, Bennett and Bodin on Baseball. The authors, Cameron Bennett and Larry Bodin, have both competed with distinction in the League of Alternative Baseball Reality ("LABR"). Dr. Bodin worked with the Director of Baseball Operations of the San Diego Padres baseball organization on a research project in 1997.]

The Draft

In a draft, owners move in a serpentine fashion selecting players. The position of each owner in each round of the draft is generally determined either randomly or some other rule that is adopted by the league. A primary reason for selecting players using a draft is that it is faster than an auction. In many cases, an auction can last more than 5 hours whereas a draft will generally take around 4 hours.

The Simplest Draft Selection Rule

The order of the draft in the simplest draft selection rule, assuming there are 12 teams in the league, is the following:

Round 1: Team 1, Team 2, Team 3, … , Team 12.
Round 2: Team 12, Team 11, Team 10, … , Team 1.
Round 3: Team 1, Team 2, Team 3, … , Team 12.
Round 4: Team 12, Team 11, Team 10, … , Team 1.

3rd Round Reversal or 3RR

In the 3rd round reversal or 3RR, Round 3 and Round 2 have the owners drafting in the same order as in the Simplest Draft Selection Rule discussed above. The order of the draft is reversed from the Simplest Draft Selection Rule starting with the 3rd round. Thus, in the 3RR, the order of the draft is the following:

Round 1: Team 1, Team 2, Team 3, … , Team 12.
Round 2: Team 12, Team 11, Team 10, … , Team 1.
Round 3: Team 12, Team 11, Team 10, … , Team 1.
Round 4: Team 1, Team 2, Team 3, … , Team 12.

The advantage of the 3RR is that it tends to equalize the draft if there are a few outstanding players. We became aware of the 3RR in the article, “NFFC to Introduce 3RR in 2007” written by Tom Kessenich in the April 2007 issue of Fantasy Sports Magazine (page 126). Bodin used the 3RR in his fantasy football league.

Allowing the Owners to Decide Their Position in the Draft

Allowing the owner to decide his position in the draft is a growing trend in sophisticated fantasy leagues. Under this approach, each owner specifies his preferred draft position. For example, the owner may declare that his preferred position in the 1st round is picking 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7. Then, the name of an owner is randomly chosen and this owner gets his first choice. If the owner’s preferred order is the one given above, then the owner gets to select 6th in round 1 and no other owner can select in position 6 in round 1.

A second owner is then chosen and this owner selects his position in the 1st round of the draft. Then, a third owner is chosen and this owner select his position in the first round of the draft, etc. The advantage of this approach is that an owner may be ambivalent about whom he perceives is the best fantasy player among the top six choices so he believes he might just as well choose in position 6 in the first round in order to get an earlier choice in the 2nd round.

Allowing the owners to decide their position in the draft and the 3RR are two interesting twists with regard to balancing a draft. Analyses have shown that these two twists help to remove the advantage that the person selecting first in the first round has in a draft.

A league can implement this approach with either the Simplest Draft Selection Rule or the 3RR or some other rule instituted by the league that the owner is participating.

Keepers in a Draft

The simplest rule is the following: if you want to save ‘X’ players, then you cannot select players in the first ‘X’ rounds.

In this case, the owner has the following decision to make in determining how many players to save (up to X) and the identity of these players. Is the owner willing to save Y players (Y less than or equal to X) and lose choosing free agents in the first Y rounds? This can be a difficult decision. Suppose the owner has 4 players that he wishes to save and X = 5 and the owner determines that these four players would be selected in the 2nd round if there were no keepers. Should the owner release all four players and select free agents in the first four rounds or should the owner save these players. There is no reason to only save 2 or 3 of these possible keepers since the 4th keeper in this example is more valuable to the owner than the other 3 keepers (the 4th keeper is like a 2nd round choice kept on the 4th round).

Example of Who to Save in a Draft (sent to us by our colleague Joe Romano).

Our colleague, Joe Romano sent us the following example for discussion: Joe is playing in a mixed AL-NL 12 owner keeper league that uses a draft to form the initial teams. Joe is allowed to save up to 5 players. The players on his short-list are the listed below, based on the 2/12/08 rankings according to (that website has no affiliation with Lance Berkman (25), Carl Crawford (27), Matt Holliday (4), B. J. Upton (31), JJ Putz (-), Michael Young (-), CC Sabathia (20), Carlos Zambrano (32), Chris Young (-)).

Examining the above list, the tracker indicates that Joe should saved Holliday and Sabathia (the 3 highest ranked players) , as 3 out of the other 4 who are listed in the top 50. This is where personal preference comes in.

If Joe wants pitching, then he should save Zambrano. If he wants hitting, he should not. If Joe wants speed, he should keep both Crawford and Upton. If Joe believes that Upton and Crawford may give him too many steals, then he should not save Upton (however, most of the SportsJudge team would not recommend keeping the six best players irrespective of skills in a league that allows trades).

This type of ranking is necessary when trying to decide on the players to keeper. In any event, in a 12 owner league, Joe has a 1st round choice, a 1st-2nd round choice and 4 high to middle 3rd round choices no matter who Joe decides to save. In a 15 owner league, Joe has a 1st round choice, 3 2nd round choices and the two very high 3rd round choices – Joe is in a dominating position .

We chose to use for our data because we think they did a good job (editors note: Fox is clearly better at predicting sports than politics). However, Joe could augment this approach by looking at several mock drafts and other Internet sites before deciding on the players to keep. This is a very good idea as the ranking of the players can differ by source. However, one should find some correlation between the rankings of the players between the various sources.

Other Possible Rules

Another rule that a draft league can have is the following: The owner loses his choice in Round ‘R’ if the player was drafted in Round ‘R’. This rule says the following. If a keeper was drafted in round 7, then if the owner decides to keep the player, then the owner loses his 7th round choice. In this case, the strategy is fairly obvious. If the owner believes that the player would be drafted by another team before round 7, then the owner should probably keep this player.

A variant of this rule is the following: If the player was drafted in Rounds 1 or 2, the owner loses their draft choice in the round that the player was draft. Otherwise, the owner loses their draft
choice in round R-2 if the player was selected in rounds 3, 4, 5, …… In this case, if a player who was drafted in Round 3 is saved, then the owner loses his draft choice in Round 1; if a player who was drafted in Round 4 is saved, then the owner loses his draft choice in Round 2, etc.

The problem with this variant is that the owner may want to save two players – one drafted in Round 1 and the other drafted in Round 3. Under the save rules mentioned above, the owner would lose 2 draft choices in Rounds 1 if he saved both draft choices. We do not know a completely fair resolution of this situation and the league would have to make the decision on how to handle this situation. One solution could be the following in the case of a tie, the person loses a draft choice in the round that the rule states it should be and the following round as well.

There are many variants of this idea of this rule. The league has to set the rules to be followed.

Draft versus Auction

In a draft, the person choosing first has the choice of selecting any available player and no other owner has a chance to pick up this player. On the other hand, in an auction, every owner has a chance to acquire any player as long as the owner has budget dollars available. For example, in a fantasy football draft, many owners including Larry Bodin (with his partner, John Sniezek) drafting first selected LaDainian Tomlinson and won their league.

Preliminary Notions of Strategy in Selecting a Team in a Draft or Auction

We now want to examine what an owner might do during a draft. The keepers have been named and we are on round X in the draft. The owner is about to select his next player. What strategy should the owner use in selecting this player?

Common strategies include “the best available player” or “the player with the most incremental value” or “the player that fits the most pressing need of the team”. Assume that the owner has assigned $ values to each player, even though the league is a draft league. Preparing these $ values can assist the owner in preparing for the draft.

Suppose the owner is considering selecting either Player A and Player B. His analysis of these two players is the following. Player A has a value of $25 and is the highest value player that has not as yet been selected. Three other players have values of $24 and are eligible to play the same position that Player A is eligible. The owner has a need for one player who is eligible to play the position that Player A is eligible.

Player B has a value of $22 and no other player eligible at that position has a value any higher than $17. The owner has a need for one player who is eligible to play the position that Player A is eligible.

Which player should the owner select? The best available player strategy says to select Player A while the player with the most incremental value says to select Player B.

Next Article in Our Series

We next discuss some aspects that the owner must consider in preparing for a draft or auction. We are getting closer to the BIG DAY – AUCTION DAY OR DRAFT DAY.

Bennett and Bodin encourage comments and questions and will attempt to answer these comments and questions both personally and in future columns. Bodin can be reached at and Bennett can be reached at

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Joe Romano said...


I really like the series so far. I have never seen the "preference" draft order before, but I really like it. Generally, I prefer to draft in the middle slots for a league (4,5,6 in a 10 team league or 5,6,7 in a 12 team league). It has been my experience that most middle 1st round players are about the same and you also get very good talent in the second round. I also like to be in the middle because it allows me to spot position runs and rationally decide if I want to avoid the run or jump in. The "preference" draft will allow a fair way for people to pick their poison. It helps to totally eliminate all complaints about a random draft order.

As for my keeper situation, I kept Holliday, Crawford, Upton, Berkman and Sabathia. My biggest question was between Chris Young and Berkman. Upton has too much upside for me to risk in the draft. As for Berkman, my biggest doubts were not with Berkman but the amount of talent at 1st base. I like a lot of mid to late round talent at 1st base that I believe could post very solid numbers. I like Young more than Zambrano. I think Zambrano is quickly becoming overrated. All of his stats shown a negative decline over the last 4 years. Young is generally underrated posted top 10 stats while not getting the recognition he deserved.

In the end, I went with Berkman over Young because of some rumblings I heard that few pitchers had been kept. The league keepers are kept secret until we post our own. I was 8th to post and as it turns out only 7 pitchers have been kept out of a possible 40 keepers. There will be plenty of pitching talent available and with the 4th pick I'll have the opportunity to draft Haren, Lackey, Young, Zambrano or other top pitching talent that hasn't been protected.

Thanks for the great content, I look forward to reading the next one.