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03/14/2007 2:15 PM ET
Money matters: The best bets on draft day
How to gamble wisely when it matters most

 Ask Rotoman
 Peter Kreutzer

Given the paucity of the second-base field, is Philadelphia's Chase Utley worth a first-round pick?  (AP)

Question 1: STRATEGY


My draft is this weekend, and I have the eighth pick in a 10-team league. I’m struggling with who to take because the experience level of the owners in my league varies. Some rookies ahead of me may make some odd picks (lots of Dice-K fans). Is Chase Utley worth a first-round pick since second base is so thin, or should I grab a stud outfielder like Carlos Beltran?

“The Thinker“

Dear Thinker:

I have spent a little time in casinos, and I’ve spent a small portion of that little time playing blackjack. Alas, my inexperience has resulted in a few instances when perhaps I didn’t double down when I should have, or when I split some cards I shouldn’t have, and a whole chorus of other people sitting at the table let me know I wasn’t living up to their expectations.

At first thought, I derided these critics as superstitious and silly, since luck is luck and cards are independent, but a friend who plays some serious blackjack set me straight. At any given point, he said, the deck (or five-deck shoe) can favor the house or the players (or neither). Knowing when it doesn’t favor the house is the advantage serious blackjack players have, but it’s an advantage that can be quickly squandered when bad players burn through good cards they shouldn’t have played. I then understood why all those people, even blue-haired old ladies, were cursing me out.

The same doesn’t apply to a fantasy draft or auction. Every time another owner takes a lesser player, it helps another owner stock up on better players. In such a game, the better the decisions you make, the better your team (regardless of what others do). You have to distinguish between your interest in a particular player (let’s say, Dice-K) and his projected value on draft day.

I (along with everyone else) want Diasuke Matsuzaka on my roto team this year. Right now, in an AL 4x4 auction, I think I’d pay $18 for him. In 5x5, I’d go to $20, because I’m feeling aggressive. If I were in a draft, that might mean taking him in the sixth round with something like the 80th pick. But a quick look at some average draft positions in real leagues shows that he is often going much higher.

You know what, if someone wants him in the fourth or fifth round, I’m going to let him go. For me, I have to push him to take him with the 80th pick. To push him up further means skipping guys I think are going to be as good and safer, and obviously that would be a mistake. For me.

And for you, if you agree with me, stick with your game, get your guys, don’t be scared by runs (they always help the disciplined drafter who doesn’t get sucked into the madness), and benefit from the mistakes of others. Dice-K may not be one of them, since we really don’t know how his ample skills will transfer to the big-league stage, but if he pays off for someone who’s willing to take a bigger risk than you, doff your cap and say congrats.

As for Utley, he’s going in the second half of the first round on average, ahead of Beltran and Vladdy and even Carl Crawford and David Wright. He gets a little bump because he’s a second baseman, which may be enough to convince me to take him ahead of Beltran (if that’s the choice), but not the other guys (especially since there’s a clot of elite shortstops you can choose from in Round 2).


Question 2: KEEPERS

Hello Rotoman,

My keeper league has an option for up to three prospects to carry over from last year's roster. My dilemma is that I have four eligible players -- Ian Kinsler, Kenji Johjima, Jered Weaver and Nick Markakis -- and I like all of them. I loved having Weaver in the late months of last season, but I'm worried that he may hit a wall as hitters become more familiar during his first full-length season in the Majors. Considering these four players, which one would you advise I cut from my squad?


Dear Dreamy:

Your three hitters are comparable enough that we first have to decide if Weaver is better than them. If he is, then we’ll decide which hitter to give the pink slip.

Weaver started last year in the Minors, though by most accounts he was ready for the Majors. He dominated at Triple-A Salt Lake City, not an easy place to get over, which led the Angels to ditch his brother and give him a big-league job. In the Majors, Weaver was simply excellent, using his fine control and variety of pitches to dominate hitters and win 11 games in 13 decisions. He did allow 15 homers, but that isn’t a problem when you allow just one baserunner per inning.

That might have put Weaver among the elite of Major League starters. Problem is, he was dealing with biceps tendinitis at the start of Spring Training, and it looks like it’s going to cost him a few starts at the beginning of the season. There’s no indication this is going to be an ongoing problem, but the fact that Weaver’s a sophomore hurler who hasn’t really been tested a second time through the American
League -- combined with the injury -- is enough to drop him below the hitters you’ve got as alternatives.

Weaver’s still someone to claim in the mid-rounds along with all the other talented starters who have question marks floating above their heads, but when it comes to keepers, it’s better to go with the surer thing.


Question 3: SAVES

Dear Rotoman:

The issue of whether good teams generate more save opps seems to be up for debate again. How many save opps did KC get last year? And wouldn't Mo Rivera's value on KC be quite a bit less than his value on the Yanks?

“Opportunity Knocks”

Dear Knocks:

I looked at last year’s Major League team stats to compare the number of wins to the number of saves, the number of save opportunities and -- for kicks -- the number of blown saves.


Now, there are some problems here. Kansas City’s bullpen was so ineffectual that it ended up with more save opps than wins. This primarily points out that the team stats don’t track exactly with individual closers (though they can), since any pitcher can blow only one save per game (even if his name is Ambiorix).

But a look at how the various columns correlate (a statistical function that measures how similar sets of data compare to other sets) tells us that:

There is no correlation between wins and blown saves, or saves and blown saves, at least according to 2006 data.

There is a 25 percent correlation between save opportunities and wins, which means that teams that win games have some more save opps, but not a lot more.

There is a 65 percent correlation between wins and saves, demonstrating (probably) that teams that win more convert more saves (but not necessarily a higher percentage of saves).

There is a 78 percent correlation between saves and save opps, suggesting that the save opp is the thing.

The bottom line here is that you’ll be able to get saves from bad teams if they have an effective pitcher closing, so Mariano Rivera as a Royal would take a little hit in value, but not as much as you’d perhaps expect (or fear). Go for the pitcher, not the team.


Question 4: THE BIG ONE

Dear Rotoman:

I read every year about not rushing to get closers because there are always unheard of guys who gain the bullpen's top spot during the season. Fantasy experts say all you have to do is work the waiver wire and grab these guys, and you're fine. Problem is, in my league, there are three or four vultures who stay up until 3 a.m. just to grab future closers. So what specific strategy would you suggest to those of us struggling to find the next Saito before the rest of the league does?

“Sleeping in Seattle”

Dear Sleeping:

Assuming you aren’t going to change your league’s rules, the only way to sweep in before the vultures is to load up on closers-in-waiting at the draft/auction and not spend anything on closers. This gives you a chance to get lucky and ensures that the money you spend isn’t devalued by all the free stuff that’s to come.

You run the risk of finishing last in saves, but in the league you describe, that could happen even if you spent a lot on one sure-thing closer. And you might do much better, with a superior offense and starting pitching to boot.

Until next time,

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This story was not subject to approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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