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Fantasy Baseball Strategy: How to Use Mock Drafts to Your Advantage

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Believe it or not, baseball season is right around the corner. Yes, it's still January, and the NFL playoffs have only just begun, but pitchers and catchers will be reporting before you know it. If you haven't put together a rough draft of your ranks just yet, it's time to shut yourself off from friends and family until you can emerge from your bunker with a list. Once you've got an idea about who goes where, it's Mock Draft Season, buddy. This may have been a step you've skipped in the past, or you remain unconvinced of its utility, but mock drafts can be a very useful fantasy tool. If you're not participating, you're missing out. Below, I've listed 5 reasons mock drafts can be beneficial.

1. Mock drafts show you how much you don't know. It seems like every time I participate in a draft, whether it's real or fake, I find some deficiency in my game that I didn't know existed. Sometimes I realize that my knowledge base isn't as deep as it should be, especially when it comes to a certain position or two. Here's a hint: If your mind goes blank and you find yourself grabbing whichever shortstop is ranked highest on the particular site that's hosting your draft, you need to go back and do some more homework. A lot of this can be related to the clock - it's easy enough to evaluate a player when you have time to dig into his stats, injury report, heat maps, hit tracker, etc...but you can't compare 2 or 3 players across 6 different sites in 90 seconds. Participating in a mock can help you figure out exactly where you should focus your research going forward.

2. Mock draft results can help you determine consensus. This is maybe the most important point. Fantasy players, even experienced ones, can get so focused on how they view players that they forget to take into account how their opponents may view them, which is just as important. Whenever I'm constructing my cheat sheet, I always make sure to include the latest ADP (average draft position) information - at the very least. This information is freely available at Mock Draft Central, and I recommend grabbing the data from the site that hosts your league as well, especially if the draft is going to be held online. (Remember how you blanked out and took whatever catcher the system told you to take in your mock? People are going to do that in your league. Be prepared.) By the way, it's not a bad idea to check your ranks against ADP. Tangotiger has shown that the wisdom of the crowds is not to be trifled with when it comes to projections. I'm not saying you can't be individualistic. You should certainly trust your instincts and your research. Often, however, there's a reason you're the only one ranking Carlos Beltran over Matt Kemp, and it's not because you're a misunderstood genius (sorry).

3. Mock drafts can help you tier your position ranks. It's easy to say that third base is weak this year. But exactly how weak is it? And exactly how many players are worth owning? A quick look at mock draft results will show you that, as of this moment, there's a huge drop-off after the 9th third baseman is taken, so maybe you want to make a note to yourself that grabbing one of the first 9 should be a goal when you draft. It's also worth noting that Evan Longoria has been the first 3B taken in every single mock draft (see the note above about consensus). It's easy to notice little gaps here and there that, if you take notice of them, will help you group your ranks into tiers, which is very helpful on draft day.

4. Participating in multiple mock drafts can help you see how players are trending. I mentioned a minute ago that you should at least include ADP info on your cheat sheet. I said at least because I'll pick several random dates throughout the preseason (which usually correspond with days that I'll have time to get around to doing it) and input the ADP data. That way I can tell which way players are falling and rising. By the way, if you're willing to pony up for a subscription to MDC, they'll give you a trending report (which is probably more accurate than my method). I'm cheap, so I do it manually. This is an important exercise for at least two reasons. First, by identifying risers and fallers, I'm forcing myself to keep up with the latest news. I may not have heard about Player X's new cut fastball if I wasn't closely watching ADP. Second, I'll have a good idea how long I can or should wait before drafting a player. A general rule of thumb is that you have to draft ahead of trends. In other words, if Player X's ADP has risen from 158 to 135, you'll generally have to grab him before 135 if you want him. Conversely, if Player Y has fallen from 47 to 81, you can usually wait until after 81 if you still think he's worth a pick.

5. Running a mock draft is a great way to do a test run on a new strategy. Maybe you've spent some time this offseason developing a draft strategy - last week I emailed back and forth with a guy that is thinking about completely punting on starting pitching in a 6X6 head-to-head league, so that he can focus on winning all the hitting categories and try to steal saves or WHIP each week. It's a bold strategy, Cotton, but will he be able to get the hitters he needs to make it work? It would be foolhardy to spend so much time and energy formulating a strategy without trying it out to see if it really works first. Experiment with it. Try waiting until the end to grab a first baseman or spend the first three picks on starting pitching, then take a step back and evaluate your team when it's over. You might just discover the latest inefficiency that's going to work for you.