Without a doubt, the best day of the year in all leagues and the No. 1 reason to play any fantasy sport, "draft day" is now one of the most exiting two-word phrases in sports, right up there with "sudden death," "Game 7" and "bat night". I'm so pumped up, I'm almost able to forget about my complete lack of ability.
As a newbie, I have a long way to go to be even mediocre. Realizing a lot has changed since I last played a simulated baseball game (that would be "RBI Baseball" on Nintendo, where I once hit triple-digit homers with Mark McGwire), I spent a week preparing for my draft.
After reading all the experts' advice, I turned to my readers' emails. Scott T. from Innisfil, Ontario, Canada, sent me his detailed cheat sheet, including a position-by-position breakdown, complete with tiers, detailed notes, average-draft position and a range of places the player had been previously drafted. It would clearly be Exhibit A if Mrs. T. ever filed a grievance against her husband (and yes, I realize there's an "I pity the fool" joke in there, but let's just move on instead).
I decided to use Scott's cheat sheet as my blueprint. After all, Canada has given us Norm MacDonald and Celine Dion, so the advice can't be more than half-bad. I like those odds.
After this prep, I feel better, but I'm still very nervous. Screwing up my draft is one thing, but having my failure broadcast all over the Internet would be a hard pill to swallow.
Settling my nerves, I set up my "war room" (aka "dining-room table"). I'm sporting an old jersey and my lucky headband. If a slow-pitch softball game had broken out in my living room, I would have still been overdressed. But I'm ready.
The draft begins with a bit of controversy. The commissioner has swung a deal to move up from No. 2 to No. 1. The guy moving down (here on out known as "Mad Cat," partly because of his actions, and partly because I hope he gets stuck with a lame nickname) insists it's part of his strategy. The rest of us insist he's lost his mind. We later found out we are both right.
After A-Rod, Mad Cat selects Reyes. Eyebrows are raised, but no one really thinks much of it. Out of the fifth spot, I happily grabbed Holliday. I wanted Prince in the second round (admittedly because I love his dad and his cartoonishly awesome power), but he went right before my pick. Instead, I settled for Carlos Lee.
I follow up in the third with Big Papi, one of my favorite players. If one of the five categories is "Most Big Goofy Grins," I'm clearly set. I'll probably try to take Rick Dempsey in the later rounds just to make sure.
Strategies are starting to come into shape. A lot of guys appear to just be going with best player available. Some are playing positional scarcity. My personal favorite is when people screw up the time zones despite having lived in CST for the past 20 years, show up 30 minutes late and discover they've autodrafted five pitchers. Always a crowd-pleaser, especially if the crowd has already collected his buy-in.
Mad Cat's strategy takes the cake, though. He follows up Reyes by taking Ichiro and Figgins and then three straight relievers: Putz, Papelbon, Saito. He appears to have cornered the market on steals and saves. He's also cornered the market in getting made fun of after each and every selection.
I go with Morneau and Granderson in Rounds 4 and 5. I'm all set to take Martin in the sixth, but the Prince owner grabs him in front of me again. I'm now getting fed up. Using Scott's cheat sheet as a guide, I take Kinsler and hope for the best.
Mad Cat is still at it, taking Jenks, Fran Cordero and Corpas. To say he's gone overkill on saves is an understatement on the level of "maybe Shelly Long shouldn't have left 'Cheers.'"
I finally get a pitcher in the seventh (Harang), and I go with Michael Young in the ninth. But I'm most happy with my eighth-round pick, where I landed Ryan Zimmerman. It might have been above his ADP (that's "average draft position" for you, um, newbies out there), but we share two friends on a social networking site, which, in our modern society, practically makes us related. Can't go against blood.
In my preparation, I heard that the middle rounds are where leagues are often won or lost. Naturally, I was hurting, as my newbiness started to shine through. I had to fight the urge to pick guys I remember appearing on the cover of "Sports Illustrated for Kids." Sure, I may have subscribed through college, but can you really blame me? That Buzz dude was hilarious.
Basically, I decided to go with the highest-rated player left, which led me to take Zambrano, Liriano, Myers, Victorino, Swisher and McGowan -- in that order. Hope they create as good a lineup as they would a law firm.
Mad Cat rounds out his strategy by drafting six straight guys who hit over .300 and stole a few bases last year, but have no power. His strategy is now complete. He aims to win SB, AVG, R, SV, ERA and WHIP every week and completely punt HR, RBIs, Ws and Ks (he didn't draft a single pure starter, never mind a punter).
In the later rounds, I got bored with repeatedly picking the best player available. Instead, I used the minutes between each pick to try to make up for years of apathy. Needless to say (which is needless to say, if you think about it), it did not go well.
I became obsessed with Trevor Hoffman. He fit the needs of my team perfectly, so naturally, in the 16th-round, he went right in front of me again. This time, I was enraged. One more time, and I'm going to break out my Jack Bauer costume from last Halloween, break into his house and scream "WHO DO YOU WORK FOR?!?!?!" over and over again until I get what I want.
Discombobulated to say the least, I wrapped up my draft with Towles, Soria, the Big Borowski, Blalock and Joba. With my final pick, I finally scratch my long-standing itch to take a player from my childhood. Welcome to the team, Mr. Barry Bonds! I know, I know. But how often do you get to take a seven-time MVP 205th overall? Probably as often as you get to cut a seven-time MVP in order to sign a backup catcher.
In the end, I'm fairly happy with my team, especially considering my newbiness. I had a ton of fun and now have a vested interest in more than a dozen players I didn't even know existed this time last year. I also did well enough to at least avoid being accused of tanking in order to get A-Rod next season. Most importantly, I managed to only draft one retired player, staying way under the predraft line of 4.5.
So what do you think of my team? What do you think of the Mad Cat's strategy? Did he outsmart himself? E-mail me to let me know. Until then, it appears that the wait is over and my comeback can officially begin.
Let's play ball!
Toby's draft results
C: J.R. Towles, HOU
1B: Justin Morneau, MIN
2B: Ian Kinsler, TEX
3B: Ryan Zimmerman, WAS
SS: Michael Young, TEX
OF: Matt Holliday, COL; Carlos Lee, HOU; Curtis Granderson, DET; Shane Victorino, PHI
UTIL: David Ortiz, BOS
BN: Hank Blalock, 3B, TEX; Nick Swisher, OF/1B, CWS; Barry Bonds, OF, FA
SP: Aaron Harang, CIN; Carlos Zambrano, CHC
RP: Joakim Soria, KC; Joe Borowski, CLE
P: Brett Myers, RP/SP, PHI; Dustin McGowan, SP, TOR; Francisco Liriano, SP, MIN
BN: Joba Chamberlain, RP, NYY