You don't need to beat 15 other teams to win this game. You need to beat the three teams in your division to make the championship playoffs. Focus on your division rivals. You face each of them three times during the season but the majority of your non-division foes you face just once. Develop a strategy based on the roster strengths and weaknesses within your division.
Let's use the East Division as an example. The Machine had the highest finish of any team in the division in 2011 so Donna will be naming her keeper first in each round. Based on last year's records, Leigh-Ann will go second, Sunni third and Leslie last. Because of her poor record in 2011, Leslie receives the advantage of watching her division rivals build their team before she has to make her decision.
In the first three rounds Donna keeps Jose Bautista, Jacoby Ellsbury and Matt Cain. Sunni keeps Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner and Evan Longoria. Leigh-Ann chooses Michael Pineda, Justin Verlander and Curtis Granderson. Leslie takes Yovani Gallardo, James Shields and Zach Grienke.
Donna has home run power with Bautista, stolen bases with Ellsbury and a strong starting pitcher. Sunni also has home run power with Longoria, a strong starter with Bumgarner and a catcher in Posey, who could give her a big advantage not in a category, but in productivity from a position. Leigh-Ann has decided to keep two very good starting pitchers and an all-around outfielder. Leslie, picking last, keeps three starters, which should make her strong in quality starts and strikeouts.
The four owners, eyeing each other, begin to make their strategic moves in the fourth round. Donna protects starting pitcher Dan Haren because Leigh-Ann and Leslie are building strong starting pitching staffs. Sunni decides she can't match the starting pitching staffs of her opponents so she keeps Michael Morse, a home run hitter. Leigh-Ann goes in a different direction - protecting Mariano Rivera, getting a jump on the saves category.
Leslie now has a decision to make. Does she match Leigh-Ann by keeping closer Heath Bell? Does she keep Matt Holliday to begin building her offense? Or, does she go against the grain and keep Jonny Venters, a premier set-up man who will provide holds and help her lower her already strong WHIP and ERA?
While other owners in other divisions are making their picks during the draft, our four East Division owners are really only concerned with how their division opponents are constructing their rosters.
You can't win every statistical category. Choosing your team is about making choices. In our hypothetical keeper draft, Sunni has just one starting pitcher through four rounds but is putting together a strong offense. If she decides to keep Lance Berkman with her fifth and final choice, she sends a message to her division opponents - "I'm building a team to bludgeon you to death." Leigh-Ann could keep Jonathan Papelbon and corner the saves category.
The point is, keep an eye on your opponents. Zig when they zag. Don't be afraid to "punt" a category. If Leigh-Ann has two closers leaving the draft Donna may want to add a third starter and "punt" saves. She can draft set-up men in March and beat her opponents in holds. If you decide to build a strong pitching staff, focus on just one or two offensive categories in March.
Your strategy doesn't have to completely take shape on Thursday. Owners will leave with just five of the 26 players they need so you can continue scheming until March 19. But when you leave Thursday, you should have a plan in mind based on the players you keep and the players your division rivals keep.
THURSDAY'S KEEPER DRAFT ORDER BY DIVISION
* Where each team picks overall in the draft is listed in parentheses.
The Bulls (3)
Bacon at Mile 11 (10)
Give it a Yankee (12)
Home Run 101 (14)
Los Coche Bomba (5)
High Cheese (7)
The Cys (9)
The Machine (4)
Jersey Boys (6)
Twinkle Toes (11)
Scully's Slammers (15)
Lower Haighters (1)
A-Rod's Mirrors (8)
Sasquatch Sluggers (13)
Vicious Fishes (16)