Drafting a team, 5x5 style
January 27, 2003
Brendan Roberts
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Your pulse quickens. The hair on the back of your neck stands on end. You get that warm feeling in your face and ears. Suddenly, you realize you're not breathing.

No, I'm not talking about the time you got that speeding ticket. But if you know what it feels like to be pulled over after zipping through a school zone (been there, done that), imagine a reaction even more intense. I'm talking about draft day.

Your fellow league owners -- the ones you were just chumming around with moments ago -- are now your enemies. Are you unprepared as you enter your draft or auction? If so, that sudden feeling you're hit with is fear of embarrassment. If you're well-prepared, it's eagerness.

If you're reading this, chances are you want to get started right now. So without further ado, here's the first of a three-part series on draft strategies. This one will focus on 5x5 (or category) roto leagues. I'll cover points leagues and auctions in another two.

Now, these tips mainly focus on the differences in league setups. For the most part, a stud hitter or pitcher is going to be dominant in any setup. But there are certain nuances that might jack up a player's value or must be considered. Here are a few for category leagues:

THINK SPEED

Since the dawn of baseball, the importance of the stolen base has been one of the most debated issues in the game. Many consider it exciting, while others consider it overrated -- a contention that is supported by the fact that only two of last season's top 13 stolen base clubs made the playoffs.

However, there's no doubt that the steal is ultra-important in 4x4 and 5x5 leagues, in which it has a category to itself. Simply put, a stolen base is worth much more than a home run. There were a total of 5,458 homers hit in 2001, or an average of 2.25 per game. Meanwhile, there were only 3,103 steals that year, or 1.28 per game. There were 41 30-homer players vs. 18 30-steal players. Though total steals are down from past years (about 18 percent since 1990), the number of elite basestealers is about the same. That places a premium on those top guys, as a successful 5x5 club usually has two or three 30-steal players.

Now, there usually are around 20 30-steal guys a year, most of them outfielders. Don't avoid taking a big-time basestealer in the early rounds. Though you shouldn't be afraid to overrate legit one-category basestealers such as Roger Cedeno and Luis Castillo, the real premium is placed on multi-category basestealers or 30-30 guys such as Vladimir Guerrero and Alfonso Soriano. Oh, and one last thing, Ichiro Suzuki still is the king here, considering he could lead the majors in three 5x5 categories (steals, average, runs).

RELIEVERS RULE

So, how tough can it be to come out of the bullpen to get the final three outs in a close, 27-out game? Apparently pretty tough, because the guys who do it often are revered. And in no other setup are closers valued more highly than in 4x4 or 5x5 leagues. Being its own category, saves, like steals, place extra importance on having a guy who can pick up lots of them.

There are a handful of closers (seven to nine of them) who consistently pick up 30-plus saves each season. The jobs of these hurlers are safe, and they have remained relatively injury-free while racking up their totals. Considering the importance of having a dependable save guy, especially in leagues that start two or more closers, it's not unrealistic to expect most of these guys to go in the first five or six rounds. If things are shaping up nicely at other positions in the early rounds, don't be afraid to take a dominant closer. But if you miss out on an elite closer, don't try to redeem yourself by taking a fringe closer early at the risk of missing out on a stud hitter.

I've heard experts and owners talk about "punting" the saves category. I strongly disagree. In a 12-team, 5x5 league, the winner usually ends up with about 100 category points, which is an average of third place in the 10 categories. Punting a category -- and likely taking a "1" for it -- means you must average second place in the other nine. That's a pretty tall order. While you still can finish in the top three in the league, your goal is to win. And how bad can a single closer pick by the end of the fourth round screw up your strategy? You don't need to win the category, but try to avoid finishing last in it.

KEEP CATEGORIES IN MIND

Your goal in 5x5 ball isn't to put together the most powerful or the fastest bunch -- it's to do a combination of both. Try to win all categories by rolling with the punches during the draft.

If you draft Sammy Sosa in the first round and Jim Thome in the second, you're looking pretty good in homers. So work on another category (wins, saves, steals) with the next few picks. Of course, the ultimate goal is to find hitters such as Guerrero and Shawn Green who can boost every offensive category; or pitchers such as Randy Johnson or Curt Schilling who can fill the four starting pitching categories.

Though five-category hitters are rare, there are plenty of four-category guys. It's not inconceivable that a successful owner can fill his team with enough multi-category guys that he need not target a guy who ranks consistently in the top five in any one category. If that can be achieved, go for it. But if that doesn't look realistic in the first few rounds, be ready to amend your strategy.

AVOID THE RUNS

I'm not referring to some gastrointestinal disorder. I'm talking about a flock of picks at the rare positions. As I've noted before, there are very few solid shortstops and catchers available in a draft. Above, I note the importance of speed merchants and saves hogs. Though getting these elite guys is desirable, be sure not to pick a player earlier than expected because there has been a "run" at that position or category prior to your pick. In another words, don't dive deeper into your Top 100 and pass up five guys you had ranked higher to pick a saves guy because elite closer options are limited. You can always find a bargain pick at that position. Or, if you're overloaded at outfielder, you can trade with a guy who's overloaded at, say, shortstop.

CONSIDER LEAGUE CHANGES

Are there rules changes in your league, or is this a new one? No matter the setup, there always are ways, big or small, to take advantage of the rules. Are your lineup changes weekly or daily? If they're weekly, depth at positions isn't as important. How many will you start at each position? If you start three relievers instead of two, the onus is on you to land good closers. It's important to know these details -- and know them before you start preparing for the draft.

DON'T OVERRATE AN EXPERT

Confidence problem, Brendan? Not really. I just know that all owners/experts have a tendency toward one category of players or another, and that occasionally reflects in their preseason rankings or predictions. Some experts overrate young talent. Some overrate home run hitters or basestealers. Some emphasize starting pitching over offense. There's no right or wrong way because it's all opinion.

That's the beauty of a 5x5 league. There are so many different directions to take a club while filling out a draft card, and we all have our own favored path. Of course, while our position rankings are the best (of course), I'd recommend poring over a couple of rankings lists and hearing different opinions before combining it all to make your own rankings list. Be sure to bump up the players you like or denote sleepers -- the satisfaction of winning is so much greater when you are the one who made the risky predictions.

 

2001-03 MANIAK FANTASY LEAGUE

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