When I'm flying, I want the aisle seat. When I'm sharing a square or rectangular pizza, I'll gravitate towards the corner slices. Sometimes it's nice to be on the end.
But in a roto draft, the rules are different. Put me somewhere in the middle, please. I don't like picking on the end. The turn isn't my thing.
I had the No. 1 overall pick in Razzball's 12-team mixer on Monday (I selected Miguel Cabrera right before his infield mishap), and I'm on the opposite extreme in Yahoo's 13-team Friends & Family Draft, which kicks off in a couple of hours. To be clear, I'm not saying there's any great disadvantage to any draft slot. This isn't like football, where the starting lineups are short and one player can make a gigantic difference. Baseball is the ultimate marathon game; you've got 25 players and six months to work it out in the F&F, to fix whatever problems you come across.
Nonetheless, we all have our preferences. Let's discuss why I don't like picking on the turn (I know some of you are in leagues where you can choose or at least influence your draft slot) and then I'll close with strategy themes that tie into picking on the ends.
Why I don't like the turn
You really can't play off your neighborhood. One of my favorite elements to drafting is gauging what the teams around me need; the idea that if I read them properly, I can make the right decision when it's time to take Commodity A now, expecting to get Commodity B for later. When you're dealing with a handful of owners and a small area of picks, it's possible to be fairly accurate here. But if you're on the end in a large league, you lose this marginal element. There will be almost two full rounds between any of your picks.
Your patience gets tested. When you don't have a pick for a couple of full rounds, the devil basically appears on your shoulder and tries to start trouble. Go ahead, read your email, check the hockey scores, surf around a social networking site. I always feel more engaged in the exercise when my picks come with more regularity.
You have to anticipate draft behavior to a greater degree. A lot is going to go down in the time you're not selecting players. In a 15-team NFBC style draft, a team slotted at the turn will wait 28 picks. You have to try to anticipate what will happen while you're not in the mix, but at some point noise kicks in, it's just static to the inner sim. Heck, a player or category run could start and complete before you ever get a chance to jump in the pool.
The No. 1 pick in 2012 offers no distinct advantage. The top 4-5 players look very similar to me, and the depth thins out enough that a 3.01 selection doesn't look that much better than a 3.12 (or 3.15) selection. With this in mind, if forced to choose between wheel spots this year, I'd prefer to pick last in the odd rounds and first in the even rounds. But being somewhere in the middle is always preferred.
Keys for success at the turn
Focus is gigantic. Spend the down time loading up the player queue (especially with that buried treasure), or perhaps hunting down a last-second piece of player news. Stay engaged, alert, sharp.
Have a good sense of where depth and scarcity lies - both with positions and stats. This is something we always want to do anyway, but it's more important to me when I'm on the turn because I'm more likely to miss out on some sort of run. I think the outfield has a lot of acceptable OF4 and OF5 types this year (you may not agree; that's your prerogative), so I'll be fine with filling those spots later if it comes to it. I also see starting pitching as very plentiful in 2012 (at all tiers), so I'll be fine filling part of my staff on a budget.
Flip side, I see power as scarce, and middle infield as thin. First base is top heavy. Third base is deeper than everyone thought two months ago, with some of the position shifting. And there are always a limited amount of sound-bet closers to be had. With that in mind, I figure a lot of my first 12-13 picks today will include power sources, middle infield staples, and a couple of closers.
Try to kick-start a run. Be careful with this idea: it might not work very well if you don't know your room. But if you do have a good sense of how your opponents play and when they are likely to attack certain commodities, it can be a good idea to kick the hornet's nest first, start the buzz going. Maybe picking a couple of closers in the tenth and eleventh round, say, will lead to a heavy closer run for the ensuing picks you're watching. At that point, every similar player they take is a gift to you - they're leaving other commodities on the board for your next go.
Be very disciplined with early reaching. You'll hear a lot of owners toss around the phrase "I had to take (so and so) now, I didn't think he'd get back to me in the next round." I've never subscribed to that theory, not literally. Your early picks should fit your plan and the value of your slot, as simple as that.
Let's go back to the F&F example for today. I'll have the 13th and 14th overall picks, then I'll sit on my hands until the 39th and 40th picks roll around. I think it's very unlikely that Jay Bruce will be available at the 39-40 spot, but that is not a good reason to take him at 13 or 14. Value matters, amigos. And in a snake draft, you have to accept that some slots simply lock you out of certain players. I doubt I'll get a shot at Matt Kemp when the first round comes to me.
Any draft slot can be a winner, of course. Today, we go to bat with Lucky 13.