Sunday, July 23, 2023

Odd Man Out: The Problem with Serpentine Drafts

In this article, we’re going to continue the trend of discussing topics related to Fantasy Sports. Specifically, the innate problem which I see within the serpentine draft format. I feel that this topic is particularly appropriate for this time of year, as football fans are gearing up for their own fantasy league drafts.

If you’re unfamiliar with the serpentine draft format, it is best described as:

A serpentine draft, or sometimes referred to as a a "Snake" draft, is a type in which the draft order is reversed every round (eg 1..12, 12..1, 1..12, 12..1, etc.). For example, if you have the first pick in the draft, you will pick first in round one, and then last in round two.


I’ve created a few examples of this draft type below. The innate issue which I see within this draft format, pertains to the differentiation between the projected point value of each draft selection, as determined by a team’s draft position. The more teams present within a league, the greater the point disparity between teams.

Assuming that each team executed an optimized drafting strategy, we would expect the outcome to resemble something like the illustration below.

Each number within a cell represents the best player value available to each team, each round. The green cells contain starting player values, and the grey cells contain back-up player values.

As you can observe from the summed values below each outcome column, each team possess a one point advantage against the team which selected subsequently, and a one point disadvantage against the team which selected previously. The greatest differentiation occurring between the team which made the first selection within the draft order, as measured against the team which made the last selection within the draft order: 11 (1026 – 1015).

As previously mentioned, the less teams within a league, the less the number of selection rounds. As a result of such, there is less of a disparity between the teams which pick earlier within the order, as compared to teams which pick later within the order.

Below is the optimal outcome of a league comprised of ten teams.

While the single point differentiation persists between consecutive teams within the draft order, the differentiation between the first selector, and the last selector, has been reduced to: 9 (856 – 847).

This trend continues across ever smaller league sizes: 7 (1024 – 1017).

In each instance, we should expect the total differentiation of points between the first draft participant, and last draft participant, (if optimal drafting occurred), to be equal to: N – 1. Where N = the number of total draft participants within the league.

All things being equal, if each team is managed optimally, we should expect the first team within each draft to finish first within each league. Second place would belong to the team which drafted second. Third place belonging to the team which drafted third, and so on, etc.

If all players are equally at risk of being injured on each fantasy team, then this occurrence does little to upset the overall ranking of teams by draft order. It must be remembered that teams which drafted earlier within the order, will also possess better replacement players as compared to their competitors. Therefore, when injuries do occur, later drafting teams will be disproportionately impacted.

I would imagine that as AI integration begins to seep into all aspects of existence, that the opportunity for each team owner to draft with consistent optimization, will further stratify the inherent edge attributed to serpentine draft position. As it stands currently, there is still an opportunity for lower draft order teams to compete if one or more of their higher order competitors blunder a selection. 

In any case, I hope that what I have written in this article helped to describe what I like to refer to as the, “Odd Man Out” phenomenon. I hope to see you again soon, with more of the statistical content which you crave.