Draft Room Tells

What tells can you pick up from your league mates that can give you an edge in your drafts?

If you’ve ever seen the movie Rounders, you know how important tells are. Not only did it cost Teddy KGB a big pot, it also cost him a tray of Oreos.

In poker, a tell is an inadvertent action that your competitor gives that can tip you off to the strength of their hand. In fantasy baseball, a tell is much the same. Your league mate can give you a piece of information that reveals her/his plan in the draft room.

In fantasy baseball, knowing your competitors can be a tremendous benefit.  When we play home leagues against our friends, we have advantages because we know them and might know how they play fantasy baseball. When we have competed against another manager before, we have some information that helps us in the draft. We know the kinds of players they like, we know if they draft power or speed early, we know their approach to closers and saves, we know if they are into numbers or if they play by feel, and, most importantly, we know how much they know, watch, and study baseball.  We know these things because we have watched them play, sometimes for years.

Knowing this information can help us make decisions at the draft table.

In preparing for TGFBI this season, my first job was to research my league mates. Finding their work on twitter and online helps give me an idea about their strategies and the players they like. This is an easy way to gather information about players in industry leagues, but we don’t always have easy access to the thoughts and opinions of those we are drafting against. When we are in a league against strangers, we don’t have the advantage of knowing how our competitors play. There are ways that we can gain some information about our league mates before (and during) the draft.

In exploring these tells, be aware of some of the information that you may be giving away to our keenly aware fellow managers. Before, during, and after your draft, you should be looking for your competitors tells; and making sure that you aren’t surrendering them!


Note Taking


Just like most poker software that allows note creation, when you are playing with managers you don’t know, it is helpful to take notes before, during, and after your draft. List all managers in a document or in a notebook and jot down any information that might be useful. Get into the habit of taking notes. You never know when a piece of info will help you. Keep in mind, too, that when you are playing in public leagues with strangers, you will likely be in multiple leagues with the same players, especially if you are playing best ball leagues or NFBC leagues.

While this info is fragmented, rudimentary, and speculative, it may combine to create a portrait of a manager that may prove useful. In a recent BB10, I was in a draft with a manager who drafted J.T. Realmuto with the 14th overall pick. I really wanted Realmuto and was targeting him with my third-round pick. In my notes for the manager, I will be sure to note that in BB10s, he highly values Realmuto. While it won’t help me today, it may help me in the future. Notes are a good way to remember other managers and to piece together their tendencies.

Get into the habit of updating your notes throughout the season. There are a ton of things that a manager might do that could help in-season decision making or help us in future years if we are facing them again.


Team Names


Look for information that may be conveyed in people’s choice of team name. This is the most obvious tell. While Acuna Matata might be the most irritating and overused team name, it could tell us that our league mate might really like Ronald Acuna. Duh. What it also might indicate is the kind of player that she/he likes. Maybe it tells us that the manager likes younger players or has an affinity for prospects. Perhaps they like balanced players who can contribute in both speed and power. Maybe they are a Braves fan. These are all possible notes to include. As we continue, we can add more information into our portrait to flesh out exactly the kind of manager she/he might be.

If a team is named The Cheesesteaks, it might indicate that a manager is from Philadelphia, and might be a Phillies fan. They may be more aware of Phillies players, their roster, bullpen, minor-league system, team strengths and weaknesses, and might be more familiar with the teams and rosters of the National League East. A team named the Green Monsters may hate the Yankees, and would never draft a player from New York. This may come in handy if you have a tough decision between a Yankee or another. If you are wondering if Gleyber Torres is going to get back to you for your next pick, this may be helpful.


League Settings


Some sites will allow managers to enter information about themselves in their settings. Some will allow managers to include their email addresses, location, profile pictures, amongst other privacy-questionable information. There may be information that can be gathered from this. While creepy, it may help your draft to know if the manager’s email is from a major company, or has a country extension (i.e. .ca or .co.uk). Anyone with an email that ends in .ca is likely from Canada and could be a Blue Jays fan.

Profile pictures, obviously, may tell a thousand words. Someone posting a picture of an Angels’ cap in their profile thumbnail, may pay that extra dollar for Mike Trout in an auction. They may know the Angels’ roster deeply enough to speculatively draft relievers from the LA bullpen.

We live in a connected world. It is naive to think that a prospective employer or romantic partner isn’t Googling us. While we should always keep it professional and courteous, it doesn’t hurt to do a quick twitter search for the manager to see if some general information can be found. Recently, I searched a manager’s handle to find that their timeline was filled with off-season White Sox news. I knew that the manager was more likely to draft Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, and Jose Abreu. I wondered if they might push up Luis Robert, or wait on top-tier shortstops and target Tim Anderson instead. Maybe they dislike Manny Machado or might not draft Chicago Cubs players.

Just from a privacy perspective, you should ensure that those settings on your own league page are private.


Introductory Messages


Often, hosting sites will have a message from the commissioner that welcomes people to the league. Be sure to read all posted league messages. Not only does it provide vital information that you may need for the league, but also might help to glean info from your competitors.

Some people will post info about themselves: “I have a wife and four kids.” A nice statement that might convey that the manager is busy and leads a hectic life. They may not have the same amount of time to research in the same way as someone without children. They may not be able to respond to trade offers as quickly. They may have more important obligations than taking an injured player out of their lineup. This isn’t to say that they are a weaker player, but they may not have fantasy baseball as their main priority. They might not have a lot of extra time to watch baseball, and may have to rely on scoreboard scouting.

Someone who concludes a message with, “Go Patriots!” may not only reveal that they might be a Red Sox fan, but that they may be an avid football fan. Maybe they are a manager that will check out of the league when football season starts. They may not follow the league as closely if they are middle to low in the standings in August and September. These are teams that you could pass in the standings when they devote their interest to fantasy football.


Slow versus Fast Drafters


Slow drafters could be slow for many reasons (or none at all!). Here are a few options: they have a busy life, fantasy baseball isn’t high on their priority list, they are unfamiliar with the draft software, they are unfamiliar with the draft pool and may have to research every pick, they are suffering over every decision and struggling to decide between players, or they are entering numbers in spreadsheets for this pick, and two or three possible picks down the line. Some of these options may help us, and some of them may not. Identifying “recreational” managers versus the more “serious” is important.

Recently, there has been some discussion about the strategical advantage of taking the full time in a slow draft. Using a full draft window could be helpful if there is news that comes out that could impact a drafting decision. In my opinion, this goes against the spirit of the slow draft; if you are ready to pick and it is your turn, then make your pick. Be aware that slow drafters might be intentionally slow in order to take advantage of breaking news.

Fast drafters are often tilted in slow drafts. Waiting for them is torture. Here’s what the fast draft might be telling us: they are anxious to get their player, they have a plan, they are excited about baseball and can’t wait to see how the draft plays out, they are technologically savvy and are always connected on their devices, or they don’t have much else going on and are constantly waiting and watching the slow draft room board. This could mean that they are keen, active, engaged players who know the game inside and out. They may listen to podcasts on their commute, or may get score, player, or injury notifications sent to their phone. It could mean that they are bored and just want to get things moving in the draft room. They may not be experts, and are relying on the ADP list in the draft room and are picking the top-ranked player.

When it comes to drafting speed, it is tough to draw any hard and firm conclusions. Do note the speed at which others draft to color the other notes you have taken. Be sure to note any managers who are auto-picked numerous times. It is likely that these managers will also miss lineup changes, and may abandon their team if they fall out of contention.


Auto Drafting


League hosting draft software often give managers the option of auto drafting. This can be an option that a manager chooses, or it can be forced upon a manager when they exceed their pick time allowance.  In any draft, there are usually many instances of players who were auto-drafted.

In your particular draft room, there should be a list of players that are ranked, usually by the hosting site’s consensus rankings. You need to be aware of this list when other managers have auto-drafted players. Are they choosing the top player from the hosting site’s list, or are they auto drafting other players (from their queue)? Are they auto drafting recently injured players? If they are chosen from the hosting site’s list, we can draw some very clear conclusions about the manager:

  • They are too busy to create/modify the draft order.
  • They are away from their computer for a moment or have abandoned the draft altogether.
  • They might be overwhelmed with the drafting software and may be frustrated by it.
  • They are getting players that they may not want.
  • Fantasy baseball is not their priority.

While these are all damning conclusions, keep in mind that this manager might be going through something difficult that is occupying their thoughts and their attention. They may need help and support, so refrain from critiquing them in the draft room.

Still, an auto-pick (especially numerous ones) is an advantage for other managers. Take note of managers who are auto drafting. Take note of the players that are auto-picked, especially if they are players you want. Sometimes managers run out of time and are stuck with a player that they might not want. They may be more willing to trade them away if they were auto-drafted.

If you are drafting around an auto-picker and you have noticed that they are choosing players atop the hosting site’s board, then you should know the player that they will pick each time it is their turn. Use this advantage to let them take players you don’t want (and plan accordingly), and also draft players you want who are at the top of that list before that manager takes them with their auto-pick. While auto drafting is an annoyance and can ruin a season for the absent manager, it is a gift to the rest of the managers in the league.

It is also good practice to collect league fees before the draft because an auto-drafted manager is unlikely to stay in a league after the draft.


Comments in the Draft Room


Be sure to read all the comments in the draft room. Most people will talk in the draft room about all manner of things. The draft is often the highlight of the season. It’s supposed to be social, it’s supposed to be fun! Just be aware of what people are telling you about their fantasy skills and team management.

Someone who complains about their draft position and laments the computer-generated draft order and prefers the KDS format may have good knowledge, and may understand the intricacies of the game. I expect that if you know what KDS (Kentucky Derby Style) stands for, you are experienced and knowledgeable, or at least devote yourself to fantasy baseball. Expect them to be aware of underlying stats and consume strategy research.

Be aware of compliments. If someone curses you for sniping Yasiel Puig, you may be able to trade with them later in the season either for that player, or one like them. Also, be aware that Puig may be the kind of player that that manager likes, and they might snipe a similar player from you later. They may also be eager to replace Puig with another outfielder, or a player heading to a new team/ballpark. If someone is upset because they didn’t get Luis Robert, consider that they may love rookies, and may take Drew Waters earlier than ADP.

Look for people who may be friendly with other managers. If two people seem to know each other, they may be friends or may have played in leagues together before. This doesn’t mean that they are colluding, but it does mean that they might have knowledge of how the other plays and their tendencies. I have a friend who loves to draft speedsters. He always wins the stolen bases category and struggles finding power. This is an advantage to me when we go into drafts together. This tendency won’t be revealed to other managers until he drafts Adalberto Mondesi, Mallex Smith, and Victor Robles, but the friend of the other manager might have the benefit of this knowledge.

Some people in the draft room are there to engage, tell stories, make jokes and have fun. These are usually people who enhance our experience. We love these people! These may be players that might be interested in trade talks. They might be recreational players looking to enjoy a few hours of personal time. They may be confident, experienced experts. We can’t know for sure, but they make fantasy an enjoyable hobby.

Also, look for those who are not engaging with the room. These people may be shy and nervous, or dedicated and focused. They may be aware of the tells that others might be making, and may not want to give up them up.


What This All Means


The elephant in the room here is that tells can involve jumping to conclusions and may be based on prejudices. Be aware of these prejudices and biases, and avoid them. Each piece of information that you can gather creates a more complete picture. Relying on one detail and making a large assumption is as inadvisable as it is problematic.

I don’t mean to suggest that you should jump to a final conclusion when you see one of these tells. Coming to a firm decision that a manager from Detroit will draft Miguel Cabrera in the twelfth round is a mistake. These tells give us a little bit of information that we notice, document, and then assemble to create a picture that may help us during the draft and during the season.

Every good poker player knows about tells. Winning poker players also know of their own tells. Keep in mind that someone may be trying to trick you. Jumping to conclusions is a huge mistake. We can’t say for sure why a manager makes a decision. Don’t assume anything about another manager based on one piece of information. Don’t ignore that information either. Use it to help you make more informed decisions later on in the draft and in the league. The more detailed and complete the notes on a manager you have, the better the chance that the portrait that is created will be of benefit.

If you do notice a tell and have reliable information, keep it to yourself. A critique of the “tell scene” in Rounders is that the main character, Mike McDermott (played by Matt Damon), finds Teddy KGB’s tell and then reveals that he has found it. This was a Hollywood movie; a real poker player would use that tell for years!

In case it isn’t obvious, you should be sure not to give any tells. Avoid falling into the above tells and passing on important strategy information or personal information to a draft room of strangers. The information that you glean from a tell can help you make better decisions, but you should also be aware of the information that you may be passing on, because some of it just may be giving other managers an edge.

Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Mark McElroy

When I am not watching baseball or writing about fantasy baseball, I can usually be found cycling in and around Victoria, BC. I am a manager at Pitcher List and can be found on Twitter @markmcelroybb.

2 responses to “Draft Room Tells”

  1. Mystery says:

    I’m someone who is constantly making inane (but fun) chatter in the draft/auction room. I do a lot of research and prep for drafts so going in I’m quite comfortable, my goal is to try and “distract” the other owners a bit by trying to get them to constantly read the draft chat and also possibly give other owners the impression that I’m not as “serious” about it. It’s also just fun and makes the draft a more enjoyable experience, but it only really works for me if I’ve done the prep first.

    • Mark McElroy says:

      Absolutely! Be sure to have fun in the draft room and do what works for you. It is interesting that you are “making inane (but fun) chatter” in a deliberate attempt to “distract the other owners”. This is part of the gamesmanship of the draft room and your league mates need to be aware. Be friendly, of course, and look for some of the things that others might be doing to distract you!

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