Summer League Drafting 101

WAFC league.
Photo by Kevin Leclaire — UltiPhotos.com

It’s summer league season! This time of year means something different to everyone. For me, it means meeting new people, sitting in awful traffic after an exhausting day of work to get to a field site that might as well be on the moon, and imposing lofty ambitions to win the league on people who have never played Ultimate before.

Through trial and error over the last nine years captaining summer league teams, I’ve stumbled upon some useful draft strategies, which I am now graciously sharing with the Ultiworld.

NOTE: You can foster the development of young players and have fun while trying to win the league. That’s important. These are just some tips to help you start the season with the best team possible.

Do Your Homework:

Take this to the extreme. Beat the bushes. Anyone you don’t know, you need to stalk on Facebook. You need to message the one mutual friend you have, which is someone you don’t actually know or haven’t talked to in years, someone you probably couldn’t identify in a lineup of other faceless social media friends, and ask them how good the player in question is. Obviously, in a more tactful way than I just presented.

If they’re not on Facebook you should be prepared to go four pages deep on a Google search. Ultimate players usually do a pretty good job of letting you know they’re Ultimate players. This should clue you in to whether or not they’ve at least played before.

Go play some pickup games before the draft. Even the bad pickup game 30 minutes away on the worst field in the city. Pickup is where solid late round picks and sleepers are born.

The Do Not Draft List

While you’re researching all the people you might want to draft, keep a list of people you probably don’t want to draft. It’s not just about who you should draft but also who you shouldn’t. Keep this handy at the end of the draft when all the familiar names are off the board.

Don’t Miss in the First Round

Identify the point in the draft where the quality talent ends. However your league ranks it’s players – 1-10, X out of 100, etc. – you should be able to go down the list and see where the top end talent stops. You need to figure out how to get one of those top players. Sometimes a draft will have two full rounds of really good players, sometimes there are only 13 quality free agents for 20 teams. Find the line of demarcation between the first and second round and draft accordingly.

Just like in fantasy sports, if you miss in the first round you’re probably not going to win. Fantasy owners of Jamaal Charles in 2011 know what I’m saying.

If you’re having a hard time comparing two players try this; would 7 of player X beat 7 of player Y? It brings versatility into the equation, and, moreover, defense which should always be a huge factor when evaluating two similar players. It’s not a perfect system because some people are specialists but you get the idea.

Avoiding Overrated Players

Overrated as in “How on Earth is this person ranked this high?” This is particularly important in leagues where your draft position is determined by the aggregate score of all players on your team. For local folks, you should know what their actual ranking should be. Don’t be swayed by the big number.

If you take someone who is ranked 80 out of 100, though they should be a 60, you’re not getting the value to build the rest of your team. The later it gets the better that big number looks next to their name and it starts to get tempting. Unless it’s way late in the draft and everything else has evened out, let somebody else make this pick.

Evaluating Baggage

It’s easy taking baggage when it’s two really good people together. When it’s a really good player and their buddy who is not so good, things get a little tricky. Typically when you select a bagged pair, the lower ranked player will count as your selection in the following round. For this reason, I try to draft solo players.

You never know what can happen round to round. Captains start to panic and reach for people they think are sleepers, idiots draft their friends they promised they’d get way too early. All of the sudden there’s a great value pick that slipped to the next round. When you draft someone solo you can get that person, if you didn’t pick someone with baggage in the previous round.

The Devil You Know & The Devil You Don’t

People are going to over rank themselves. It’s human nature. Take suspiciously high rankings with a grain of salt.

Photo by Sandy Canetti — UltiPhotos.com

Let’s say there’s somebody new in town and they’re ranked really high. First round high. You’ve done your homework but it didn’t reveal enough about them to make an informed decision. Conversely, there’s another player you could draft there who’s ability you can speak to. You know how many games they’ll probably attend, you know how good their best game is, and you know how bad their worst game is.

Ignore the allure of the out-of-towner and take the known entity. I’ve been burned on this before and if you don’t get top talent in the eraly rounds of the draft it’s almost impossible to overcome. Again, you can’t miss in the first round.

Try Not to Reach

I say “try” because if you’ve drafted before you’ve probably done it. You want to remain objective. You can’t get every person you want. Other captains are going to be picking all their buddies way too early trying to get the band back together but if you just stand pat you can assemble a good team in the midst of all the madness.

Actual Captaining

There are always some players in the draft you know from other leagues who have the potential to be great picks but they’re so streaky it can potentially ruin your team. People that’d be nice to have if you can keep them from doing crazy things like throwing hammers to force side in cuts or having a meltdown after missing a D and sitting at the edge of the woods for five points. Can you control that person? If you can, go for it.

The Later Rounds of the Draft

At this point you have no earthly idea who any of these people are. You can’t spend 10 minutes looking up every possible 15th round pick. Here are some quick tips on how to fill out your roster.

  • Look at their listed shirt size. Compare it with listed height.
  • Check the end of people’s email address. Mike@carleton.edu > Mike@zoominternet.com
  • Seek low attendance. The meat and potatoes of your team should be pretty well set. You should have your difference makers in place. Now you should be looking for people who aren’t going to be at games. In league it’s not always how good your best players are but how bad the bottom of the roster is. Also, the less players you have at the games the more points your top players get. High schoolers are usually pretty flaky. Stone cold adult rookies might come to one game and think “My god… this isn’t the kind of Frisbee I played at camp in middle school” and never come back. Most recreational leagues give you two timeouts per half and the ability to add floater players if you don’t have enough people. Take advantage.
  • Ask if you can pass. I mean, do you have to draft someone in the final round? It doesn’t hurt to ask.

***

Here are some profiles of my most and least favorite summer league players.

The Young, Turnover Machine Handler

These guys are usually rising sophomores or juniors who’s last words of wisdom from their college captain were, “Play summer league and really work on your throws. Do whatever you want. Try stuff out.” In two years this guy might be awesome. In the here and now, he just sprints to every dead disc so he can throw stall two flick blades to the stack. Avoid.

The Old Guy with the Beer

Photo by Sandy Canetti — UltiPhotos.com

Me personally? I’m looking for this dude in the draft. Beer Guy usually wants to win, which means he has identified his current level of ability and is happy to cheer along from the sideline, reliving his glory days as a player when there was a two point line and the game was played with 165 gram Frisbees. Then at the end of the game you get beer. Pick this dude. 

Flag Football Meathead

What he lacks in knowledge of the rules and overall body control, he makes up for in tribal tattoos. Inevitably (probably during a horizontal cut from the dead middle of the stack) he is going to clobber your female teammate. It is a mathematical certainty. Avoid.

Outrageous Name Guy

Hey, it’s the end of the draft. You’ve got to pick somebody. Why not take a guy who is somehow inexplicably named Sinatra Outlaw? Maybe a 25 year old guy named Paul McCartney who’s parents surely knew about The Beatles bass player yet for whatever reason decided to name their kid Paul anyway.

This year I drafted a 17 year-old kid named Gordon Frack. There are lots of ways to go with a name like that. Make a bunch of Gordon Lightfoot comments… maybe use “Frak!” instead of the F word like in Battlestar Gallactica… you can also work in references to fracking, which is the environmentally controversial technique used to extract natural gas from deep within the earth. So when Gordon Frack scores a goal this year I can yell, “Who cares if fracking is bad for the water table?! Mortgage the future!” Even though that’s seriously annoying and/or is completely unfunny, it is your duty as a summer league captain to run stuff like that into the ground.

Anti-Fun John/Jane Doe

They hate everything you love. Tasteless cheers, heckling, Beer Guy’s weekly stories about the ongoing custody battle with his ex wife… J. Doe just isn’t into it. Unfortunately, by the time you identify this person, they’re already on your team.

***

By the end of the first game, you’re going to know if the team you’ve assembled has any real shot at winning the league. I’ve put together teams and known immediately we were bad. No matter. It’s still fun to see all the insane stuff that can only happen in league Ultimate like a 10-0 scoring run or a rookie’s first layout catch or someone driving to the wrong field site two weeks in a row. So if you’re on a bad team, just enjoy it. And if you don’t have a Beer Guy make sure you take the initiative and start bringing beer.

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