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How to Win Your Snake Draft

Many moons ago (actually six years to be exact), I began my fantasy baseball writing career with the Fantasy Baseball Generals. The site is long gone, but all the writers have gone on to greener pastures, including my friend Patrick DiCaprio who I broadcast the Fantasy Baseball Roundtable show with every Wednesday night. We had a loyal, albeit tiny, following and needless to say, my posts weren’t read by nearly as many people as they are here. So inspired by a reader comment, I decided to dig up a snake draft strategy primer I remembered having written, at which point I then learned that it was actually published at FBG. So this is an updated version of the step-by-step tutorial to winning your snake draft.

Draft Prep

1. Project at least the number of players that will be drafted, plus several more at each position to act as replacement level (if your valuation method requires this) and reserve round options. Either learn how to project players yourself, or choose a system like Steamer or ZiPS to save you all that work.

2. Calculate dollar values for every projected player using your preferred valuation method. You could use the SGP method described by Jeff Zimmerman.

“But Mike”, you ask, “why should I calculate dollar values if I’m participating in a snake draft, not an auction? You don’t bid on players in snake drafts silly!” What an excellent question dear reader. To begin with, I fail to understand how one could compile rankings without calculating dollar values from projected stat lines. Unless you have spreadsheet software embedded in your brain (and I’m becoming increasingly convinced that Steve Staude actually does), it is impossible to accurately compare two hitters who contribute in different categories. For example, consider these two imaginary players:

Player A 650 0.310 5 50 100 55
Player B 575 0.280 35 110 95 0

To make things simple, let’s also assume that they play the same position. Do you know which stat line is more valuable? I don’t have a clue. When you add positional differences and then pitching versus hitting into the mix, it complicates matters even further. So regardless of the method in which players are assigned to teams, calculating dollar values is vital.

3. You now have your list of players, projected stat lines and their corresponding dollar values. Next, sort your list by dollar value with every position, including pitchers, included to create a master list of players in descending value for something close to an overall top 300. Add ADP from a source that matches your league settings as closely as possible. If you’re in a two-catcher league, one-catcher ADPs are useless. If you’re in a league that counts OBP instead of AVG, an ADP from leagues using the standard five categories are useless. This is extremely important.

4. Do not come into your snake draft with a plan consisting of which position to fill in each round or a target list of players and when you hope to acquire them. While ADP will give you some idea of when a player might get drafted, you really cannot be sure who will be drafted when and who will be available for each of your picks. So all this planning will result in you having either a) wasted your time or b) been forced to follow a specific blueprint which then impeded your ability to maximize value.

Finally, it’s draft time!

1. Assuming you’re crossing off or deleting the players being drafted, your first move when it’s time for your selection is to look at the highest valued player on your sheet. If you used a good valuation method, any boost or reduction in value due to position scarcity (or lack thereof) and categorical scarcity will already be incorporated into your values. Do not bump up a second baseman even higher simply because you perceive the position that he plays to be scarce. That should already be accounted for in your dollar value! For many picks, especially your early ones, you will simply be selecting your top valued player still on the board.

2. After identifying the highest valued player still available, look down your list to see how many other players at the same position are within a couple of dollars of that top valued player. This check is going to come into play a lot more often after the first couple of rounds as players tend to be valued more closely together the further down the draft board you get.

3. If you see a multitude of players who qualify at the same position that are within a couple of dollars of the top player available, skip down to the next highest valued player at a different position. Repeat step 2 until you find a player at a position where there is a more significant drop-off to the next highest valued player available at that position. When you do find that player, draft away, but with one caveat.

You need to make a judgment call on how many positions to skip in search of a drop-off. Remember that you don’t want to leave too much value on the table by drafting a $15 player when a $27 player is still available. This is when your ADP values could help steer you. If it suggests that you could wait several more rounds for the $15 player, then forget him for now and go for the value. You also need to decide when to draft a starting pitcher. Because there are so many of them, there is rarely a time when there is a dramatic drop-off, except maybe in the early rounds when the top five or so starters are still available.

The point of this drop-off strategy is simply to maximize value, which should be your goal regardless of the player selection method your league chooses. What this method does is push you to draft the $15 catcher with the large drop-off in value after him, instead of the $17 first baseman that is followed by three other first basemen all valued in the mid teens. Assuming your luck isn’t terrible, there is a good chance that there will still be one of those mid teen first basemen still available when you pick again, whereas it is more likely that the catcher is gobbled up by another team. Since players should really just be treated as an expected statistical line, it shouldn’t matter which of those similarly valued first basemen you end up with. This strategy allows you to get both the catcher and that first baseman

4. Once you’re around two-thirds of the way through your draft, the above strategy essentially ends. This is especially true when drafting your reserve squad. At this point, you’ll be staring at a bunch of boring veterans or unproven youngsters. The vets may bear such names as “Marco Scutaro” or “James Loney”. Unless you’re in a deep mixed league (like 20 teams) or a mono league, you don’t want these guys. So have some fun and start drafting the young guns with upside, especially young starting pitching talent. Personally, I always load up on youngish starting pitchers with strong skills hoping expecting to land a breakout or two.

Other Consideratons

-Obviously, you cannot breeze through the entire draft selecting players solely based on the above guidelines. Of course, you must also take into consideration what positions you have filled and your categorical needs. I typically don’t care much to draft a perfectly balanced team, so I don’t pay too much attention to categorical needs. However, you don’t want to go completely overkill in any one category, especially speed, as you’ll be relying on making trades during the season that might not net you a satisfactory return.

-A savvy move is to monitor the positional needs of the teams drafting after your upcoming pick. If every team that drafts after your next pick already has its catcher(s), there’s no reason to grab one with that pick, since he’ll almost surely still be there when the draft snakes back to you.

-Utilize your ADP data! I instructed everyone not to ignore ADP a year ago and accounting for it is a must to avoid drafting an average team. Remember, if the goal is to maximize value, then drafting everyone at their exact dollar value is a losing strategy. The only way to accomplish a winning strategy is to draft players later than your calculated dollar value calls for. Your ADP values will guide you on around how long to wait before you should consider drafting the player in question in order to increase your team’s surplus value.

While the 10,000 foot view of a snake draft might make it appear to be void of any real strategy, there’s a true art form to successfully charming the snake (draft). Though I’m not a real proponent of mock drafting aside from just being a fun way to kill time and feed your fantasy baseball hunger, it might be worth partaking in one to test out a strategy like this to become more comfortable executing it.