StrategyJanuary 13, 2003

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Tiers of a Crown

By Greg Sanders

If you are an avid fantasy league participant you will probably prepare for the upcoming baseball season by spending $30 on outdated magazines that list Tom Glavine with the Braves and Mike Hampton with the Rockies (don’t worry magazine publishers, you’re still getting my money).

These magazines will ultimately be used by fellow league owners to determine who they will target on draft day, or “Christmas in March,” as I like to call it. What I use these rags for is to obtain a list of names of players who qualify at each position, rather than rankings or dollar values.

I am not here to predict who the best player at each position is going to be in 2003; that’s your job. But perhaps I can give you an advantage in the war room, where the foundations of championships are laid.

Steps to Tier Success

1. When you are ranking players, break them into positions and for each one, only rank twice as many players as there are teams in your league (we’ll get to pitchers a little later). For example, if you are in a ten-team league, only rank the twenty players who are the best at each position (triple that for outfielders obviously, and also raise that number if your league starts an extra corner or middle infielder). Don’t get caught up in ranking players who are “hot rookies” or “sleepers” after your twenty top performers at each position are identified. You’ll be too tempted to take them in the last couple of rounds so that you can say, “I told you so,” once every ten years when a prospect pans out.

2. Break your players into tier groupings, with a tier consisting of players you think will post numbers similar to one another. There is no set number of players who belong in a particular tier, but you should most likely have five tiers. At shortstop for example, my first tier would only include Alex Rodriguez, my second tier would include Miguel Tejada, Derek Jeter, and Nomar Garciaparra, and so on… My reasoning for giving A-Rod a tier to himself is due to the fact that no other player at his position comes close to his expected output based on ability and durability. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be happy to settle for any of my tier two players and I would be almost equally satisfied if I landed any of the three (hence they are all in the same tier). Jimmy Rollins might be my fifth-rated shortstop but there is a significant gap between what I can expect from him and what I can expect from Jeter, Tejada, or Garciaparra. These are exactly the talent drop-offs that constitute a division of tiers. Once you get started in the process, you’ll be surprised at how the tiers devlop themselves.

3. Draft your highest tiered players each round. You have now turned your art into a science as you will grab players according to their scarcity at each tier. For example, if all tier one and tier two players have been drafted with the exception of tier two second and third basemen, the following process would occur: If I have the choice of choosing a second baseman in tier two or a third baseman in tier two, I will look to see how many second basemen are left on that tier as opposed to how many third basemen there are. If there are more second basemen available, then I’m drafting the third baseman and counting on one of the second tier second basemen to be there my next time around.

4. When drafting back-ups always back up your weakest ranked starters with your highest rated back-ups. For example, if I am lucky enough to draft A-Rod (first tier) I will not draft a back-up for him until the last round of the draft (fifth tier). However, if my starter is Omar Vizquel (third tier) I’ll be backing him up with another third tier shortstop or at worst a fourth tier guy.

5. As far as starting pitching and relievers go, they also go through the same tier process, with relievers being tiered separately from starters. In my league there is one more offensive category than pitching category (with one of the pitching categories being saves) so I always focus on hitting first. If there is an abundance of players at various positions who fall into the same tier it is then and only then that I grab an arm. Your league’s scoring system will dictate how important pitchers are to you, and it may be that you weigh your pitchers as heavily as your hitters and therefore need a stronger staff than my league requires, but remember that good pitchers are always popping up throughout the season while drafted ligaments are tearing and blisters (or Becketts, as I like to call them) are popping.

This system might sound simplistic but it has won me two titles and six final four appearances in seven years. By eliminating emotion and panic on draft day you will wind up with a roster filled with moreplayers on your “Christmas list” than you would otherwise.

Cleveland native Greg Sanders is an avid fantasy sports enthusiast, having run a highly competitive fantasy baseball league for the past seven years. In those seven years Greg has earned two league championships, been in the final four six times and suffered through a disastrous 5-16 campaign. You can’t win ‘em all…

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