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Plan Z: Winning with Style

Millions of people play fantasy baseball each year. It follows that hundreds of thousands of these folk win their fantasy league championships. And while this is an impressive feat, to be sure, it is hardly a unique one. We congratulate the winner, give him or her a trophy to put in his living room, and next year the slate is wiped clean. We each want something more: we want our foes to look upon our works and despair.

What follows is a strategy guide, but it is not a strategy guide. It does not pretend to maximize your chances of winning; in fact, it does quite the opposite. But what Plan Z sacrifices in terms of probability it more than repays in terms of potential payoff. Because when you play fantasy baseball the normal way, you win for a year. When you play by Plan Z, you win for a lifetime. Stories will become legends, which will in turn fade into myth. You’ll be a baseball Beowulf.

The rules of Plan Z are deceptively simple. They are, in order:

1. Only draft players whose names contain a Z.

That’s it.

There are a few things you can do to tilt the scales slightly back in your favor. Points leagues will offer far better chances than roto leagues, because of your roster’s lack of flexibility. Shallow leagues will give your opponents less of a chance to potentially stock up on your players. And since you’ll only have a chance if your team happens to stay healthy, avoid leagues that offer DL slots; they’ll help your opponents more than you.

Otherwise, your strategy is very simple. The key is to plan ahead: go into your draft knowing exactly who you want, and what round you expect to take them. Don’t broadcast your strategy during the draft, on the off chance that someone will play spoiler. And if it doesn’t work out, shrug your shoulders and smile. If you lose, it’ll be forgotten by October.

The following is a sample mock draft, with the occasional advice or alternatives. (Round estimates are rooted in MockDraftCentral’s ADP; adjust accordingly.) Use what you can, but don’t feel bound by my choices or timing. After all, Plan Z is a demonstration of self-expression.

Round 1: Carlos Gonzalez, OF (ADP: 10)

If you don’t get CarGo, it doesn’t cripple your strategy, but it doesn’t help it any. Outfielders are the second most common source of Zs outside of starting pitchers, but the excess in quantity is offset by a lack of quality. There’s really no one else worth considering at this spot.

Round 2: Adrian Gonzalez, 1B (ADP: 30)

Yes, a bit of a reach, and it’s tempting to take Tulowitzki if he’s still on the board. But between Tulo’s inauspicious injury history and the depth at shortstop, Gonzalez is the safe choice. His outfield eligibility also doesn’t hurt if you manage to land Rizzo. Added bonus: he has a double-Z name, which earns extra credit.

Round 3: Hanley Ramirez, SS (ADP: 34)

Round 4: Aramis Ramirez, 3B (ADP: 40)

There are actually lots of attractive options at this point, including Ramirez, Ryan Zimmerman, Felix Hernandez, and Anthony Rizzo. Much as I love King Felix, we can fill pitcher later, and Rizzo’s position is already taken. Therefore I’d go with Ramirez over Zimmerman, despite the Z initial, because of the wide disparity in their average playing time. If you go the other way, though, I can’t blame you.

Round 5: Ben Zobrist, 2B (ADP: 66)

Here’s where you face your biggest choice of the draft. If one of the players above falls here, particularly the hitters, it’s going to be tough to pass on them for the Rays’ glue guy. But if you try to wait on Zobrist, remember: he’s the only starting second base Z in the game. If someone grabs him, you may as well rage-quit.

Round 6: Gio Gonzalez, SP (ADP: 76)

Round 7: Max Scherzer, SP (ADP: 96)

Zack Greinke is also an option here, but as of press time, it was assumed that he would never lift a baseball again the rest of his life.

Round 8: Nelson Cruz, OF (ADP: 97)

Round 9: Victor Martinez, U (ADP: 109)

If Martinez is eligible at catcher, this is a no-brainer. If not, and someone else looks inviting, you can try to wait and grab David Ortiz a few rounds later.

Round 10: J.J. Putz, RP (ADP: 114)

Tell yourself that you’re not paying for saves. You’re paying for Z relievers with warm bodies. Seriously, it’s Putz or nothing, and if you happen to get caught outside a closer run, you’re finished. It might be worth overpaying for Putz and targeting Ortiz this round instead.

Round 11: Jordan Zimmerman, SP (ADP: 118)

When there’s no one else worth taking, grab a starter.

Round 12: Salvador Perez, C (ADP: 139)

If Victor Martinez is ineligible, you can consider reaching on Perez a round earlier. But there are actually lots of catchers around at the end of the draft, so don’t sweat it too much.

Round 13: Jeff Samardzija, SP (ADP: 141)

Round 14: Alejandro De Aza, OF (ADP: 147)

Round 15: Chris Perez, RP (ADP: 153)

I know. But for the sake of the Z, we have to make sacrifices.

Round 16: Anibal Sanchez, SP (ADP: 199)

There’s a major dropoff here, with no Z having an ADP between 153 and 196. This means that you’ll probably be able to get who you want from here on out.

Round 17: Todd Frazier, 1B/3B (ADP: 202)

Round 18: Alexei Ramirez, SS (ADP: 215)

Here are your middle/corner infielders, if necessary, or else your principal backups.

Round 19: Carlos Gomez, OF (ADP: 206)

If someone grabs Gomez, you’ll probably want Ichiro here.

Round 20: Matt Garza, SP (ADP: 239)

Round 21: Wandy Rodriguez, SP (ADP: 227)

It’s unlikely you’ll need more starting pitchers, but here is where the talent lies, so you may as well draft back-end rotation options in case you can flip a starter for one of the hitters you had to pass on, like Rizzo.

Round 22: David Hernandez, RP (ADP: 266)

Well, at least you’re guaranteed one source of saves.

Round 23: Zack Cozart, SS (ADP: 271)

If your league has a DL spot, you may as well use one of your last picks on Alex Rodriguez, on the off chance that he does come back after the All-Star Break and isn’t awful and you actually need him. Or you can just erase his existence from your memory and live a slightly happier life.

Round 24: Carlos Ruiz, C (ADP: 250)

If you missed out on Zobrist, you may as well draft Macier Izturis here and then weep quietly for what might have been.

Round 25: Marc Rzepczynski, RP (ADP: n/a)

Sure, there are more talented players out there to take with your final pick, such as Edinson Volquez, Zach McAllister, or personal favorite Erasmo Ramirez. But it feels right to end a draft like this on a Rzepczynski. If you made it this far, you may as well end on an exclamation point.