Like last year, there were some snafus with the drafting software... but it turned out just fine. In 2012 I had the wheel pick at the end of the first round and auto-drafted Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez even though I didn't want to take pitching that early. After cashing in on a handful of great starts by King Felix, I parlayed him into Mark Teixeria, Jose Valverde, Dayan Viciedo, and a couple of other roster improvements. It may not sound like a lot, but my 1B situation was atrocious and I had zero closers plus a couple of part-timers in the OF. It worked out very well, and I was able to finish in a respectable 6th place (and #3 in pitching even without most of Felix's season).
That's nice and all for my first year in a league of this caliber, but it left me wanting more. The competition is fierce, but I'd like to see if I can push for the title in year two.
I devised a strategy for this league and was able to stick to it for the most part. In a league like this, the rarest commodity is typically the middle infield slot (specifically MI, not SS or 2B as much) and the outfield. I made up my mind to prioritize outfielders, but not until I had my three middle infield slots filled. That meant I was de-prioritizing pitching and some of the corner infield slots, and I was okay with that.
Let's have a look at each position and how I addressed them:
2B - I'm a huge Robinson Cano guy this year but I just wasn't going to get him at #6 overall without some major surprises. There were no surprises. I decided that I didn't want Ian Kinsler and I also didn't want to let the position slide, so I figured if I could pick up Dustin Pedroia at pick #13 (it's a 9-team league) that would be good value. That is exactly what happened and I feel really good about it.
SS - When I looked at my draft position I felt myself being stared down by my old pal Justin Verlander. I assumed that Cabrera, Cano, Trout, Pujols, and Fielder would all go top 5 in some order. And they did. Okay, so pitching in the first round? Not necessarily a bad move, and I was buoyed up by Verlander and my #3 pitching staff last year, but I wanted offense. So, do I go with Josh Hamilton? He's got a much worse park factor this year and the injury history turned me off. Beltre? Always solid, but I'm de-emphasizing the corners. Man, so what else? Well, if you read my previous article in this space you know all the reasons why I picked Jose Reyes. He will be awesome this year. And, shortstop is the scarcest of scarce positions in the AL this year. (Even though I would contend that the MI slot is the neediest roster slot... I hope I'm clear on that distinction.) There is a massive step down to Ben Zobrist or Elvis Andrus, who are are the next guys at SS. Reyes gives me a big competitive advantage.
1B - Yes, I'm de-emphasizing the corners but I did need to try to pick up one of the better options before they were gone, especially if there was a good value. Billy Butler is #21 overall on Fantasy Pros and I got him at #24, so a little value there. And, I happen to be a big believer in Country Breakfast this year. There's little doubt that he's going to get me a .300 average and strong quantitatives. I think the prevailing concern about Butler is that his home runs jumped up last year from his typical 20-ish range (19 in 2011) to 29, so his 2012 total sticks out as an outlier. Think of it this way though, his homers went up by 10 but his doubles went down by 12. So, is it possible that his doubles power started to turn into homer power in his age 26 season? Man, I hope so... and now he'll be 27. Hit 30, Billy!
MI - Okay, here we go with the draft software snafu. I got kicked out of the draft right before my 4th round pick. I was going to take Yu Darvish which was good value at #31 (ranked #26) but I still had Jason Kipnis in my queue and that's who I got from the auto-pick. But, I think it's actually a really good pick for me. I like Kipnis this year and I think that he is a top 5 middle infielder (Maybe top 4... Cano, Reyes, Pedroia... Kinsler? Andrus? Zobrist? Kipnis? You could make a case.) in the AL, so to have 3 of the top 5 for my SS, 2B, and MI slots is incredibly strong. Plus, Fantasy Pros has him at #28 so he was still good value at the #31 pick. This situation did make me upset enough to stop drafting pitchers until round 9, though... but that's a story for later in the column.
OF - Okay, remember how I said I was going to emphasize the outfield since they are so rare? I invested picks in rounds 5, 7, 8, 9, and 13 in outfielders and I like my pulls. If you think about the position, it's pretty similar to running backs in football, since the resource is over-subscribed (as we say here at the Brain). In the AL there are 15 teams with 3 starters in each outfield, so 45 starters (minus platoons and part-timers). In a 9-team AL-Only league with 5 outfield slots there are, you guessed it, 45 starters. So, what that means is that even if you take a couple early, if you wait until the middle rounds to fill up your #3-#5 outfielder slots you're probably going to end up with some part-timers starting for your fantasy squad. That's not good. In round 5 I was feeling like I didn't have a lot of power, so I went ahead and took Mark Trumbo. I'm not happy about it and would have much, much rather had Chris Davis there, but unbelievably, Davis went off the board at pick #19. (Nineteen!!) So, I got my power with Trumbo. Round 7 was Nick Markakis (dependably great average, decent everywhere else) and round 8 was Brett Gardner (wild card, but should be good value). At that point I was feeling like stolen bases wouldn't be an issue for me at all, so I needed to think about HR but really RBI, too. Round 9 was Josh Willingham. I'm not a big believer in him, but I couldn't pass up the value. He's ranked #54 and I got him at #78. In round 13 it was Michael Saunders, who was solid last year and will play every day in an improved lineup with the fences moved in. He's a 20/20 threat and I think he represents excellent value for OF #5. I just hope he doesn't slaughter my BA.
C - Matt Wieters in round 6. He might be what he has been: a .255-ish hitter with about 23 HR's. But, after all of his hype and his amazing minor league numbers, you have to admit that he has untapped potential to explode in his age 27 season. Nevertheless, I got good value (#42 at #49) and only really paid for his likely production. The fact that he could get better is gravy. High floor, high ceiling at a fairly scarce position. That fits into my strategy.
Okay, so with all of those picks in mind we've come to round 10 with zero pitchers of any kind, no third baseman, no corner infield guy, and no utility guy. However, the squad is elite at 2B, SS, and MI and very strong at 1B and C plus it has 4 of it's 5 OF (with the 5th in round 13) slots figured out. If looking at position scarcity to get an edge on the competition was the right strategy, well, we are in great shape.
SP - In round 9 I was staring down Doug Fister, but he went two picks before me and I settled for the value pick in Josh Willingham. In round 10 I ended up with Anibal Sanchez. Not bad at #85 (ranked #70). I then took Wei-Yin Chen in round 12. Rounds 14, 15, and 16 were all SP's that I thought were good value: Jason Hammel, Tommy Millone, and Derek Holland. I followed that up with A.J. Griffin in round 18. A lot of these guys have serious home/road splits so I'll try to use that to my advantage. It's a weekly league, so when Millone or Griffin have two road starts I'll sit them. The reverse for Holland. Sanchez, Hammel and Chen are probably going to have to start every week. It's not a great staff, but it's not terrible for as long as I waited. Plus, I do have a gameplan there. That, and starting pitching can be found in-season which is why we de-emphasized it.
RP - I took Glen Perkins in round 11. There were a lot of closers on the board, but I believe that Perkins is entrenched in that role and I thought I could get Jared Burton later as his fairly-clear backup. I took Burton in round 23, so I'm all set there. In a 9-team AL-Only league if you can lock down the closer role for two teams you are ahead of the curve in saves. At this point I've got one so I set my sights on clear setup men who are behind a guy who is either very old, very young, or shaky. Joaquin Benoit in round 24. He is the alternative to an unproven rookie. Wesley Wright in round 26. I don't think anyone believes Jose Veras keeps the closer role for the Astros, so they will probably want to see what they have in Wright. Round 27 yielded erstwhile Rays closer Kyle Farnsworth. It was my last pick, he used to be their closer, and the guy in front of him used to be Fernando Rodney.
3B - I waited and waited and waited... And reluctantly took Manny Machado in round 17. It is exceptional value as he is rated #95 and I took him at pick #150. I don't see a lot of reason for optimism, but he was the best option available to me. If he hits .250 with 16 HR and 14 SB I'll be happy. In the minors he was a .263 hitter with what amounts to about 17/17 for homers and steals. After this pick I felt like I needed a fallback option, and I took Jeff Keppinger in round 19. Keppinger is eligible at 1B, 2B, and 3B and hits for a high average, so he's a great bench guy. I also ended up with Alberto Callaspo in round 25. Assuming he's the every day 3B in Anaheim, that's actually another semi-solid option depending on who he's up against in a given week. I'll watch the matchups and park factors and pick one of the three guys for 3B each week. For as long as I waited, this could have been much, much worse.
Utility/Bench - I've covered a couple of my bench guys already but let me round out the squad for you: J.P. Arencibia in round 20, Mitch Moreland in round 21, and J.D. Martinez in round 22. The value on Arencibia was too good to pass up and the #12 catcher in round 20 seemed like a good idea. His average will kill me, but it isn't really that far south of Wieters, so he could get a start every once in a while if his week looks better or he is on a roll. Two startable catchers is a luxury, so maybe Arencibia is trade bait at some point. Moreland is the starting 1B in a strong lineup with a great park factor supporting him. He could get some CI starts for me when he's at home. In 2012 J.D. Martinez was a huge sleeper darling for experts everywhere due to his fantastic minor league numbers. But, alas, he didn't deliver on the hype. I can't see the lowly Astros sitting him this year, so maybe he starts to deliver with another year under his belt. He hit .334 in the minors with mediocre HR totals and buckets of doubles... Maybe those doubles start going over the fence like they have for Billy Butler. Maybe not, but it's round 22 and he's likely to hit for a high average and get tons of playing time. That is great for a #6 OF. If he starts to deliver he'll be OF #5 and Trumbo will slide to CI, which could make this squad a contender.
My To-Do List -
- One way or another I need another closer. Hopefully that is Wright or Benoit, but I should be able to acquire one at some point early on.
- Also, if I do the home/road angle with Holland, Millone, and Griffin I'm probably going to need another starter. Last year the league had one more team and the AL had one fewer team, and yet I was still able to find guys like Wei-Yin Chen and Drew Smyly who delivered great results. If I only need one more guy, it shouldn't be a terrible task.
- Another outfielder is a priority since playing time for Martinez isn't guaranteed and I would like to use Trumbo at CI. This could be a challenge.
- Having 3 options to pick from at 3B is probably overkill and not sustainable. I may have to do something with Callaspo in favor of a 7th OF or a backup SS.
- Something has to go right for me in the Utility slot, too. If Trumbo is in the OF and I'm mixing and matching Machado, Keppinger, and Callaspo at 3B... well, that means Mitch Moreland is my CI and probably Arencibia is at Utility. That's not so good. I really need something good to happen in the OF so I can slot Trumbo to CI and then pick the best week for Utility among Moreland, Arencibia, Keppinger, and Callaspo. It would appear that this team hinges on J.D. Martinez, oddly enough. That, or finding another unknown gem for OF #5.