15-Team League Draft Strategy

15 Team Leagues

Closers
* Get 2 Closers.  In 15-team formats with an overall pool, it’s imperative that you draft saves.  Just like in 12-team leagues, you must be balanced in order to win the overall… you cannot punt a category.  Otherwise, you will be bidding against 14 other teams for closers on the waiver wire.  That means either you’ll lose out to people overbidding on guys who may or may not maintain the job, or YOU’LL be the one overbidding on them.  In 15-team leagues each team averages 2 closers… make sure to get 2 closers, then get a 3rd crappy closer if one falls or take a closer-in-waiting like Vinnie Pestano or someone.  Start 2 closers full-time at all times to keep up in saves… if you get a 3rd closer, use him enough to build a lead in saves.

*At the same time, you cannot afford to pass on good hitters for questionable closers… so if the closers dry up quickly, draft hitters or quality starters then draft 3 lesser closers later… even if they are questionable.  There’s strength in numbers with closer candidates.

*As I was just talking about, drafting closers also helps you save money because the #1 thing owners blow their FAAB money on is closers… they’ll usually go for anywhere between $100-$400 depending on how aggressive your league is, what time of the year it is (early/middle/late), etc.  You don’t want to be caught up in a bidding war for closers, so it’s best to just set yourself up in saves in the draft.

*If you find yourself needing saves, keep an eye on who’s next in line to close for teams, and then speculatively pick up guys for $1-2 some weeks and see if you get lucky… this is a much better strategy than waiting for a guy to be anointed a new closer and dropping a third of your FAAB budget on him.  You’ll really need that money later when an established player (usually a hitter because you won’t see those too often) pops up on the waiver wire, such as Mike Morse, Brett Lawrie, and Desmond Jennings did last season.

Streaming 2-Starters

*Streaming starters is ridiculously hard in 15-team leagues… a lot of the time you’ll struggle just to get starters in your lineup because there will be nothing available on the wire most of the time.  The time to really make it up is when starters get called-up from the minors in the 2nd half.  Make sure you have money to splurge on those guys.

*It’s a good idea to just keep an extra bench spot for a starter instead of a hitter (instead of streaming guys).  This makes having hitters with flexibility VERY important (guys who are eligible at multiple positions) in deep formats.

*Here’s another tip, look ahead two weeks.  Don’t pick up a starter the week that he 2-starts for $15-20, pick him up the week BEFORE he 2-starts for $1-2 and just hold him on your bench until you can use him.  It’s a great way to beat your opponents to the punch while saving money.  And, oh, hey… I just so happen to keep track of that for you on my site.

Taking Risks in the Draft

*You still want to take some risks later in the draft in 15-team formats, but the misses are magnified now.  In 15-team leagues you DO need to draft a back-up at every position because chances are you might not see an adequate replacement player on the wire for months… if ever!  This is again why utilizing your minimal bench slots (7 total hitters/pitchers) is important by drafting players with positional flexibility… who are eligible at multiple positions.  You won’t be able to draft a back-up C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, and OF – that would take up 6 out of 7 bench slots… and the goal is to only have 3 bench hitters and 4 bench pitchers.

*Injury-prone players and health risks (such as Josh Johnson or Steven Strasburg, who has an innings limit) are severely de-valued in 15-team leagues because the replacement value is so low now.  When I draft Strasburg, I’m drafting 160 innings of Strasburg and getting 50+ innings of waiver wire fodder in a 15-team league… which would be like Nick Blackburn.  So basically, Strasburg gives you 3/4 of a starter’s stats and you’re getting the other 1/4 of the starter’s stats from Nick Blackburn… thus I would definitely move him, Josh Johnson, Tommy Hanson, etc down the draft board several spots from where I have them ranked for 12-team leagues.

Catchers

In 2-catcher leagues, such as NFBC 12-team and 15-team leagues, having 2 good catchers is probably the biggest advantage you could have positionally because everyone else will likely have 1 mediocre and 1 borderline bad player starting there while you have 2 actual good players at Catcher.  Carlos Santana, who plays everyday between C/1B/DH is especially valuable.  This gives him a HUGE boost in counting stats over other catchers who get days off throughout the season.  Santana could have late 2nd round value if he can hit for .260+ AVG.  Napoli meanwhile could have 1st Round value if he plays every day between C/1B/DH this season.  Catcher is by far the scarcest position (and it’s not even remotely close) in 2-catcher formats like NFBC.  In 15-team leagues, having 2 good catchers could make you elite if you can find starters at other positions that you’re skipping over by drafting 2 catchers somewhat early.

Positional Scarcity
Positional Scarcity refers to the fact that some positions don’t have as many good players that qualify at certain positions compared to others.  For instance, in 2012 (2-catcher leagues like NFBC), Catcher is the scarcest position (followed by SS, 3B, 2B, 1B, then OF).  Positional Scarcity is real – fantasy baseball is relative… if I take 3rd Baseman A  now, I can get Outfielder B later.. or I could take Outfielder C now and get 3rd Baseman D later… which combination of 3B and OF is better?  Look for pockets of value: If a SP in the 6th round produces similar value to a starter in the 2nd round, draft other positions that that value can’t be found later in (like at 3B, SS, or C).

Tiers
Tiers are also important.  If I miss Player A in round 9, will Player B in round 10 be MUCH worse?  If there’s several guys left in a tier at a position, you probably don’t need to rush to draft one… but if there’s only 1 guy left in a tier at a position, then you need to place a higher priority on getting that player.  Pay attention to the flow of the draft and don’t get caught on the wrong end of a run just because you think you should be able to wait on a player.

Draft Offense over Starting Pitching
*Draft offense over starting pitching.  Make sure you get a few guys who you think should be aces, but it’s more important to get hitting because pitchers will be much easier to find later in the draft and throughout the season on the waiver wire.  The easiest thing to find is starters, next is outfielders.  At the end of the draft you don’t want to be looking for a MI… all that’s left are OF and SP… so draft your infield early even if there’s a slightly higher-rated OF or SP available, though don’t pass up elite OF studs who can help in all categories (Kemp/Upton/CarGo/etc).  In 15-team leagues, even SP and OF start to dry up at the end of the draft so don’t put them off too long.

*Never EVER draft a starter in the first 2 rounds (possibly even 3) unless we have someone like Pedro/Schilling/Big Unit circa 2000… which is to say HUGE strikeout numbers, fantastic ERA/WHIP, and lots of wins (they were dominant in 4 categories).  The fact of the matter is that the very best SP can only ever contribute in 4 categories (ERA/WHIP/W/K) because they can’t get you saves.  Meanwhile, most hitters you want to draft in the first 3 rounds will contribute in 5 categories, or at least be dominant in 4.  Clayton Kershaw is the #1 rated SP and I wouldn’t take him until the 3rd round because while he gives you a fantastic ERA/WHIP, he doesn’t strike out like 10+ batters per 9 innings and his team isn’t that good offensively so you can’t even count on 20+ Wins – he’s not dominant in 4 categories.  He’s dominant in 2, very very good in 1, and good in another – not good enough to replace a top-flight 1st/2nd round hitter.  People drafting Justin Verlander in the 1st Round are out of their freaking minds.

1st Round Picks

Your 1st Round Pick MUST have 0 question marks… and if he does have a SLIGHT blemish, then he must make up for it with enormous upside and/or positional scarcity.  For example, in 2010 I did not value AROD, Josh Hamilton, or Adrian Gonzalez as 1st Round picks based on their injury concerns.  Now, it turned out that Gonzalez was fine as a first rounder, but AROD and Hamilton hurt themselves and had bad years for 1st round picks.  In a draft I was in I chose Miguel Cabrera over Adrian Gonzalez because Cabrera had absolutely no question marks, he’s very healthy and has never really had an off year.  The saying goes, “You can’t win a league in the first round, but you sure can lose it.”  Shawn Childs called me conservative for doing so, as he took Adrian Gonzalez with the next pick.  Don’t take your risks here, save them for later in the draft when the risk/reward differential is greater.  I take plenty of risks, but missing on a 1st Round pick can sink a team.  In 15-team leagues, it is absolutely imperative to hit on your 1st round pick… you really can’t afford to take any sort of risk in this deep of a league… so I’d move guys like Tulo down my list due to his slight injury concerns.

Qualitative Categories vs. Counting Categories
*First of all, the qualitative categories are WHIP, ERA, and AVG.  Counting Categories are every other category (W, K, SV, R, RBI, SB, HR).  Not every category is created equally – some categories are more important than others.  For instance, with starting pitchers, it’s more important to get pitchers with good ERA/WHIP than getting ones with more strikeouts and wins because you can chase Wins/Ks in free agency, but you can’t chase ERA/WHIP… once your quality stats (ERA/WHIP) have deteriorated they are very difficult to build back up, and it takes much longer to do so.  The same goes for AVG with hitters… early on in the draft, I try to build a good team AVG because finding SB or HR guys is much easier than finding legitimate .300 hitters.  Those great AVG hitters also allow you to take guys like Mark Reynolds and his .220 AVG and 40 HRs.  AVG is also something you cannot chase in free agency like you can HR or SB.  Now, again, this is not to say I’m looking to draft Placido Polanco over like Brett Lawrie or anything, but I’m just saying that guys who can provide elite AVG (while also giving you SB and/or HR too) are few and far between and will be a HUGE boon to your team.

Avoid Drafting “Judys”

*…at least early in drafts.  You want to focus more on balanced (HR/SB) guys and power hitters than SB-only guys (Judys) because Judys are deficient in both HR AND RBI, whereas power hitters are usually productive in HR, RBI, and R.  Later in the draft if you feel you need some steals, go ahead and draft a judy if you need one… just make sure your team is based on power hitters and balanced hitters.  Also, SBs are much easier to pick up on the waiver wire than HRs.

Avoid Drafting Old/Young Players

*Don’t draft pitchers before age 23 or age 37+

*Avoid SB guys after 33, and don’t draft SB guys age 36+…power hitters around age 36-37 don’t fare too well either

*Try to draft pitchers ages 23-29 (especially 23-27)… they seem to fall off quite a bit around age 30-31

*Don’t expect much from hitters under the age of 23 (Jay Bruce his rookie year, Jason Heyward, etc – they don’t have a good track record)


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