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On Fantasy Draft Preparation: Essay or Multiple Choice?

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For years, I viewed a fantasy baseball draft as something of a standardized multiple choice test. Here's a sample question:

17. It's the 12th round. You need a shortstop. Which do you choose?

A. J.J. Hardy

B. Erick Aybar

C. Stephen Drew

D. Alexei Ramirez

Actually, if I'm honest with myself, most of the questions looked like this instead:

32. It's the next to last round. You don't know what you need. Your cheat sheet says the following players are available. Which do you choose?

A. Utility infielder on your favorite team

B. Guy whose name you recognize

C. Is that even a real name? It sounds made up.

D. Refer to the sleeper article in the fantasy magazine that you spent $9 on. Choose the first player that is still available.

It makes sense to view your selection in a fantasy draft as something of a multiple guess quiz, just maybe with more answer choices. When it's your turn, you choose from a small number of viable candidates for your pick based on what your draft software says (or if you're really daring, what ADP says), and then, once you've narrowed down your answers by eliminating the obvious wrong ones, you color in the bubble, making sure to completely fill it in without causing any stray marks with your #2 pencil.

At the end of the draft, every team has the same number of players. No extraneous information is given, nor is it asked for. The draft doesn't care that you understand the difference between xFIP and tERA or that you could graph a flow chart of each team's bullpen hierarchy from memory. In the end, all that matters is the answers that you have provided, and to some degree, they will either be right or wrong. The team that passes with the highest grade wins.

Yes, the draft looks, acts, walks, and talks like a multiple choice test. But it's not. Consider the many flaws in the first question posted. What does my team look like up to this point? Have I loaded up on power hitters or am I already winning the SB category? How many pitchers do I have? How many shortstops have already been taken, and by how many teams? Why are the answer choices in that particular order? What pick do I have, and am I on the end of the round or in the middle? Most importantly, who are you to say that I need a shortstop right now?

The fantasy draft itself is not a multiple choice test. Instead, the fantasy draft forces you to formulate your own multiple choice questions before you even attempt to answer them. Think of it as more of an essay test:

17. It's the middle of the 12th round in a draft for a league that uses OBP instead of AVG. You lack a starting shortstop, catcher, and outfielder, and you have 2 starting pitchers and a closer. Several of your early round selections are low-OBP, high power guys, and your pitchers have excellent rate stats but their strikeout potential is average. The three people drafting in front of you have drafted a starting pitcher, an outfielder, and a closer. Craft an essay describing the needs of your team and how you plan to address them. Will you target a specific position or a certain type of player? Using ADP info and your own rankings, come up with several viable candidates for this pick and choose one. Support your arguments using relevant statistics. You have 90 seconds.

Could you answer this question satisfactorily? If all you're doing to get ready for your draft is printing out a rankings list you found by Googling "Fantasy Baseball 2012 Cheat Sheet" (Hi, new readers!), your team is going to end up with 23 (or whatever) players, just like everybody else, but it's going to be mediocre at best. The guy who wins leagues year after year does so because his knowledge of the game and the players that make it up goes way beyond name recognition. He can look at his team in the middle of the 12th round and understand its strengths and weaknesses so that he can adjust on the fly.

I once had a history professor who was sort of a jerk, but I learned a lot from him because he loved to teach us lessons, J. Walter Weatherman style. Once, he told us to prepare for a multiple choice test on a certain subject and even gave us a study guide, complete with all of the right and wrong answers. When we arrived on test day, Scantrons and #2 pencils in hand, we were instead instructed to complete an essay test over the same material. (He ended up not counting the test, which actually ticked me off even more.) The lesson was simple: If you're studying in such a way that you can choose the correct answer out of several options, you're not really internalizing the material. You can use all the study guides and test preparation manuals (and cheat sheets) that you want, but there's no substitute for truly knowing the material.

Study up. If you haven't drafted yet, you're running out of time. The new SAT has an essay portion, and that's the most important part.