"Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win" - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
I was a cynic when it came to the practice of mock drafts for preparation of a fantasy baseball season. Why spend 30 minutes picking players that will never help me win a championship, while putting up with trolls who thought it was a riot to pick Antonio Alfonseca with the 3rd Overall pick? The whole thing appeared to be an exercise in futility.
A couple of seasons ago I often found myself experiencing the all too familiar feeling of having the next player on my queue taken the pick before mine. After wasting 30 of my 90-second clock cursing the manager who stole MY player, I often settled for taking a guy I was targeting in future rounds. This lead to a lot of terrible fantasy teams as well as a lot of soul searching for a better method of dealing with sudden changes to my plan.
Enter mock drafts.
I decided to overlook my general disdain for imaginary drafts in mid-February and sat down to try my hand at a mock draft. 45 minutes later I left the war room a believer. Maybe it was because I drafted an awful team and knew I wasn't going to be stuck with that roster all season, or maybe it's because the other 11 teams were on auto draft and I sat alone in a draft room for 45 minutes trying to make an emotional investment into something being operated entirely by computers. Either way, I came out of the mock draft doing something I rarely ever considered: thinking about the draft process. For the first time my fantasy baseball analysis went deeper than a player comparison. It became a study about a manager's emotional mindset, their comfort in the draft room, and the ability to quickly recognize an opportunity to improve on the plan that was set heading into the draft. Since those 45 minutes spent in solitary cyber space, I have thought more and more about the value of mock drafts. Below are my top 10 reasons for conducting as many mock drafts as possible this pre-season:
1). Picking from every draft position
Where you pick in the draft has the obvious consequence of affecting the players you pick. Secondary ramifications that often go overlooked are the time in between picks and the ability to start or miss a run. It can be overwhelming how quickly it comes back to you after making a pick in an even-numbered round when you have the 3rd overall pick. A pick at the turn offers you the double-edged sword by giving you permission to start a run, but also threatening to miss an entire run by making you watch 22 picks go off the board before you select again. Understanding these nuances and having experience with the adversity is crucial for draft day success.
2). Be prepared for recurring decisions
Every mock draft I've been in, I find myself deciding between Desmond Jennings and Michael Bourn between the 6th and 7th Rounds. The decision between Eric Hosmer, Freddie Freeman, or Anthony Rizzo in the next 2 rounds always gives me fits. And I always seem to be debating between Lance Lynn and Jarrod Parker to bolster my rotation. I'm willing to bet every manager comes across similar decisions with different players, and it's important to identify these prior to your real drafts so you can be best prepared.
3). See how late your guys might go
Some mock drafts I'll make an effort to never pick a guy I'm interested in. My goal is to see how far the players I actually like will fall. I'm a big believer in a breakout season for Will Middlebrooks, so I will always grab him with my Round 12 or 13 pick in mock drafts. But what is the likelihood he drops to Round 14? I'll never know unless I intentionally let him go in some drafts and see how far he drops. Every draft is different and there is no guarantee I will get Middlebrooks in Round 14 just because it happened once in a mock draft, but if he never once fell to Round 14 in my mock drafts I can be confident that I'm getting the best value possible when nabbing him in Round 13.
4). Understand positional tiers
There are plenty of articles ranking each position into tiers, so I won't go in to much depth, but I will stress the importance of knowing how long to wait on picking a position once a certain tier has dried up. Once all of the second tier 2B are picked, how long until you crack that 3rd tier? Do you jump into it the very next round or is there enough of a difference between tiers that you can wait it out and get proper value later in the draft? These questions are crucial to have the answer to.
5). Anticipate positional runs
In over 50% of my mock drafts this season, 4+ RP's have been taken in Round 13. Since 5-7 closers are already off the board by Round 13, I will make sure I definitely have a closer by the end of Round 13 in all my standard 5x5 roto leagues. The same fulcrum point can be determined for when the SB well dries up. Recognizing and anticipating these trends can make or break a draft.
6). Identify common sleepers
I have yet to participate in a mock draft where Billy Hamilton was not selected. I've also seen a lot more love for Leonys Martin than I had anticipated. To go with the often-hyped sleepers such as Marco Estrada and Michael Saunders, I can see how others react to the commonly identified "sleepers" and if their ADP has risen to the point that the sleeper label no longer applies.
7). Learn to let go
There is nothing worse than placing your next pick into the queue and spending the next 5 minutes looking for late round players, only to see your guy get picked before you're up and now you're caught with your pants down. This was a huge leak in my fantasy game, and I let it disrupt my emotions to the point where the rest of the draft became a lost cause. Learn to have a second, third, and fourth option for every pick and accept the fact that your number one preference will not always fall in to your lap.
8). The draft isn't everything
Leagues can't be won on draft day, but they can certainly be lost. There are an almost infinite number of combinations of players that will lead a manager to a championship. There are many different ways to win a league and all of them start with leaving the draft with confidence and an identity. Analyzing every roster you put together in mock drafts will help you quickly identify the strengths and weaknesses of your real drafts. This helps with making early season trades to fill the inevitable hole or two that will be left open in the draft.
9). Try different strategies
You want to see what it's like to go SP, SP, SP, SP, RP, RP, SP, RP, followed by all offense? Go for it. Want to corner the SS market by going Tulo, Hanley, Reyes, and Castro? See how that works out for you. Trying random strategies can be extremely beneficial if you analyze your team's strengths and weaknesses post-draft. Even if you decide to not use the strategy, you gain valuable insight in to knowing where certain categories really dry up.
10). Because it's tradition
The first spring training games are a great milestone for marking the near return of Major League Baseball, but why not hit the milestone earlier with mock drafts? Enjoy them because it's the first sign that baseball is back and we are only a few weeks away from writing another chapter in America's storied pastime.