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Lessons Learned From a Shallow Linear Weights Draft

I previously wrote about the lessons I learned from a mock draft and a funky Yahoo draft. I let Chad Young cover the lessons from an Ottoneu draft that we shared. Today I’ll walk through a shallow, linear weights, points league draft that I conducted last night.

It is an 11-team keeper league with a snake draft. We can keep four players at a cost of previous draft round + two (ex. I kept Edwin Encarnacion in round 19 last year so this year he cost my 17th round pick). We use an approximation of linear weights with only whole numbers, so the weights aren’t entirely accurate. We also have some adjustments to ensure that replacement level players post positive point totals. I’m sure there are some mathematically leverageable inefficiencies in the scoring system, but it’s a free league so it’s not worth the effort to me. The league was originally formed via Tom Tango’s blog and includes fantasy writers and frequent commenters.

The league uses shallow rosters with a friendly 1400 innings pitched threshold and 156 games played per position. We have five SP, five RP, and one each of C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, LF, CF, RF, UTIL. This year, I kept Encarnacion (rnd 17), Allen Craig (rnd 18), Sonny Gray (rnd 21), and Michael Wacha (rnd 23). We have 25 rounds total. The late round keepers gave me the 2nd, 6th, 12th, and 20th overall picks in the draft, although I had to pass on keeping Cliff Lee (1st rnd).

The shallow roster format always catches me off guard since all of my other leagues are at least twice as deep. Due to the depth of pitching this season and my decent pair of sophomores, I went into the draft planning to snatch one of Lee, Verlander, Wainwright, or Scherzer while focusing the rest of my attention on position players. I planned to use my 12th overall pick on the pitcher.

I began the draft by taking Adrian Beltre and Giancarlo Stanton with my first two picks. At that point all four pitchers I targeted were on the board and I only needed to survive five picks to get one of them. Whoops. They all dropped off the board, so I jumped on David Price. Per my numbers, Masahiro Tanaka was the next best available starter, and I’m officially not on the band wagon.

To this point, I had mostly executed my plan, but this is where things got funky. Despite owning Encarnacion and Beltre, I took my UTIL early with Freddie Freeman. He was easily the top value on the draft board, although perhaps I should have overlooked that in favor of Ben Zobrist‘s position flexibility. In the other leagues I’ve drafted, first base has been very thin and I clearly didn’t adjust for the depth of this league. Mistake #1.

When my fifth pick came around, a first baseman once again stood as the top value by a wide margin. So I selected Jose Abreu and began planning trades. After that 5th round pick, the values flattened such that I could draft a couple dozen players and expect the same Points Above Replacement (PAR). Josh Donaldson was actually far and away the top value, but I didn’t want to make my corner infield crunch any worse.

Over the years, we established that elite relievers would begin going off the board around round three or four. Saves or holds status doesn’t matter in this league, but closers still tend to go first. The last of the elite closers was off the board with pick 7-3, which was right around when I felt comfortable targeting relievers. A few other known names like Joaquin Benoit went shortly after round seven, so I chose to wait on relievers. I ended up using late round picks on Alex Torres, Sergio Santos, Kevin Siegrist, and Nick Vincent. Last season that quartet produced about 7.9 points per inning. For comparison, Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Greg Holland posted about 8.1 points per inning. Obviously, the latter group projects to be better in 2014, but I feel pretty good about my late relief grabs.

Middle infield was another problem area in the draft. Only a couple players stand out in our league, like Troy Tulowitzki, Robinson Cano, and Hanley Ramirez. They were kept. I did have a shot at both Dustin Pedroia and Jason Kipnis, but I decided to sleep on Chase Utley instead, who I projected to produce more points per PA. Utley will require active management, but that plays into my strength as a fantasy owner. Well I slept on Utley too long – he was taken with pick 7-10, just five picks before I would have grabbed him – and I was forced to take Jed Lowrie, Aaron Hill, and Kelly Johnson later in the draft.

In years past, the value hasn’t been nearly as flat as it was this season. Even in a linear weights format, the talent drop off is definitely after pick 275. In traditional 5×5 leagues where there are many players like Justin Ruggiano who simply don’t work in linear weights, the draft pool is very deep. The biggest problem with my draft plan is that I didn’t account for replacement levels correctly. I took Alex Cobb with my sixth pick and Shelby Miller with my seventh. I considered Utley at both spots but convinced myself he would be available with my eighth. In retrospect, I should have passed on my fourth and fifth pitcher since I later picked Johnny Cueto and Corey Kluber. Chris Tillman and Hiroki Kuroda went undrafted and they both out-pitched Miller last season.

I’ve said more than once on these pages that starting pitching is very deep. I still didn’t quite learn that lesson and was left with a team that could have been slightly better. Below I have included my roster with an estimated range of points. In the four years that the league has run, the winner has had between 15,100 and 15,650 points. I didn’t factor much injury risk into the points projections. Or science. They’re just guestimates of my expectations.

Position Name low proj. high proj.
C Wilin Rosario 525 650
1B Freddie Freeman 875 1000
2B Aaron Hill 450 1000
3B Adrian Beltre 950 1050
SS Jed Lowrie 625 825
LF Allen Craig 700 900
CF Curtis Granderson 500 1000
RF Giancarlo Stanton 750 950
UTIL Edwin Encarnacion 900 1050
BN OF Christian Yelich 500 750
BN CI Jose Abreu 450 1000
BN UTIL Kelly Johnson 450 800
BN CI Chase Headley 550 900
SP David Price 900 1050
SP Sonny Gray 800 1050
SP Johnny Cueto 500 1000
SP Alex Cobb 750 950
SP Shelby Miller 750 950
RP Alex Torres 350 500
RP Sergio Santos 300 550
RP Kevin Siegrist 250 500
RP Nick Vincent 300 400
RP Kevin Gausman 300 500 *as RP
BN SP Corey Kluber 550 900
BN SP Michael Wacha 550 900
Total 14525 21125
adj Total 12475 16875