2019 MLB Draft Guide: Does Draft Position Matter?
Sometimes you get to choose your draft position. Sometimes you don't. Does it matter where you draft? Of course it does and Howard Bender tells you exactly how and why it affects your fantasy baseball draft and strategies.
Whether you’re a novice to fantasy baseball or you’ve been playing for years, the question of where it is best to draft from in a particular season is a constant. And similar to the question of whether or not the first round matters, you’ll get that same crotchety response of “it doesn’t matter” from old-school analysts who feel they’re above basic strategy questions. They couldn’t be more wrong. Does draft position matter? Of course it does. Draft strategy isn’t just about deciding which players or positions to target in a particular round. There is a lot more to it.
Decades of playing this game affords you the knowledge and experience to successfully draft from any spot in the order, but if you haven’t been playing in 12 industry leagues for the last 10 or 20 years…guess what? You need a little guidance and that’s what Draft Guides are all about, right?
Even if you’ve been playing in the same league for the last five years, you may still have the question and it is rightfully justified. Heck, if you’re competing in the National Fantasy Baseball Championships (NFBC) which uses the Kentucky Derby Style (KDS) for draft preferences, you are justified in asking the question. If someone tells you it doesn’t matter, you need to find another source for your fantasy baseball information.
There are a number of ways to look at this, so it’s probably best if we break down a draft order into three components – the beginning, middle and the end, a.k.a. the wheel – and discuss the pros and cons of each. From there, we can determine exactly where we’d like to be for the upcoming season. Remember, the player pool is always changing. The top tier of talent can be at a premium one year and surprisingly abundant the next.
For the sake of blanketing as many leagues as possible, we’ll discuss this in relation to a typical 12-team, snake-style draft.
The Beginning (Picks 1-4)
There is a lot to love about being at the beginning section of your draft order. You know you’re getting one of the super-elites, whether it’s Mike Trout , Mookie Betts , Max Scherzer or whomever else you feel is at that level. There is great comfort in knowing you own one of the absolute best in the game and, barring injury, you know you’re getting beast-like production. You know exactly who you’re building your team around and can adjust your subsequent selection strategy accordingly.
There is also a lot to be said about having your picks so close together. Some owners like to pair-up their draft picks when it’s their turn which helps them cover a specific need or position without too many coming off the board in between. Some folks like to lock down two outfielders, some like to double-tap the starting pitchers and we’ve even seen someone start off a closer-run by grabbing two of the elite closers back-to-back.
And how about starting those runs? Who doesn’t love that power? Rarely does a position-run start in the middle of a round. Usually you’ll see someone kick off the round by tapping into a relatively untouched position and the herd follows suit. You want to draft from strength. You want to be proactive. Being one of the owners who simply takes a closer in the middle of the run could be construed as your opponents selecting for you, not the other way around.
Now obviously there’s some downside here as well. If you’ve got a selection in one of the top four spots, you’ll have to watch at least 16 players come off the board before you get a chance to grab your second and third guys. Unless there are some glaring draft mistakes, the rest of your league is sitting-pretty with two top-20 players while you only have one. Depending on how the rest of the round goes, some might end up with the No. 1 player at two positions.
Along those same lines of so many players coming off the board in between your selections, you’re really committing to your overall strategy with very little wiggle room. If you grab a pair of players with the hope that, upon your next two picks, you would like to hit another position you are light on, if the desired position has a run, you could be forced out. For example, if you pick three infielders to start, then double-tap the starters because they’ve been flying off the board and then decide to go for the outfielders next, if there’s a serious outfield run during the 16-plus picks that happen in between your selections, the outfielders left may not be your desired targets. You can either reach or be forced to wait longer on the position.
And one last con to throw your way, if no one bites on the run, sure, you’ve got your guy, but you may have been able to get him a round or two later when everyone else was apparently looking at the position. Not Earth-shattering by any means, but just something to think about.
The Middle (Picks 5-8)
Having your selection in the middle part of your draft order can be a great place to be as you watch the draft unfold for you before you have to commit to a player. No, you’re not going to get Trout or Betts, but you’re still looking at one of the elites, a top-10 player for sure. And when it comes back around for your next selection, you’re still getting a top-20 player who could give you an edge over the people who drafted first and are still waiting for the “second-round scraps.”
Watching a handful of picks come off the board affords you time to adjust your strategy on the fly in a much better fashion. If a position run starts, you’re still in a spot where you can grab a top guy in the run and not feel like you settled for someone because everyone else jumped in ahead of you. You also have the option of shifting gears towards another position which keeps the draft room wondering what you’re going to do. It’s the proverbial zig when everyone else decides to zag.
One of the things we hear most about a snake-draft is that you don’t pick your players, the rest of the draft room does. If you choose to join the run, then you’re forcing the hands of those drafting behind you. If you don’t, you’re grabbing a quality option at a different position which then pushes those behind you into the choice of either joining the run as well, following suit with your pick and getting a less-appealing option at the position you hit or, trying to start a run of their own as they seek out another option elsewhere.
Again, it’s a matter of personal preference, but being in the middle of the draft allows you to make the proper adjustments for yourself while also pushing those behind you into a decision they may not want to make at the time of their pick.
The End (Picks 9-12)
Making your pick at the tail-end of the draft has many pros in common with making your pick at the beginning. You can start positions runs, you can pair-up your picks and there are much fewer players pulled off the board in between your two picks. Once it comes time for your first pick, you’ve now seen what the rest of the league is doing, can evaluate what they might do in the upcoming rounds and make the decision to try and steer everyone else’s draft in a way that might benefit you down the line.
As for the cons, they’re also very similar to what might work against you if you were picking in one of the top four spots with one relatively large exception – the first round. Unless there’s a glaring mistake by someone else in your league, you may not get a top-10 player. To some, that’s a significant disadvantage. Yes, you’re going to get two of the top-15 overall, but you probably have zero shot at the uber-elite and have to make certain concessions at other positions as a result. Again, not an Earth-shattering con – just something to consider based on how you like to draft.
On a personal standpoint here in 2019, I prefer to be in the middle with a lean closer to the end if I can’t have one of the first two picks to land me Trout or Betts. After a number of mock drafts for other magazines and web sites, it would appear that picks 3-through-10 are fairly interchangeable and more just a matter of personal preference and draft strategy. In the first round, players like Francisco Lindor , Trea Turner and José Altuve are all great middle infield options with both speed and power, so if you covet speed or fear position scarcity, you’re well-covered by all three. If it’s power you seek, you’ll have your choice between Nolan Arenado , J.D. Martínez or even José Ramírez . Pitching? Well if no one takes Scherzer, then he’s there right alongside Chris Sale and Jacob deGrom .
From that point, you’ll have an array of options at your fingertips and a better idea as to what direction you want to take through the first several rounds. You’ll have the flexibility to decide whether to join or avoid position-runs and you’ll get a longer look in either direction as to what your opposition is doing. Again, this is just personal opinion. Do some mocks and see where in the draft your comfort level is at its peak.
Above everything else, yes, your draft position does matter. It matters based on how you like to draft and preparation is the key to your success. If you have your draft position ahead of time, then it’s easy to set up your basic strategy. If you are in a draft that doesn’t reveal the order until the last minute, you should have three basic strategies set up ahead of time (one for each section outlined above) with decisions on how, why and when you’re going to pivot based on where you end up.
Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise. Everything matters when it comes to how you set yourself up on Draft Day.