Monday night was the Fantasy Baseball Insiders League draft and I was fortunate enough to be included in the league among some luminaries in the fantasy baseball world. My man Jeff Boggis of Fantasy Sports Empires has launched a site that will contain updates on the league as the season progresses, which should be a lot of fun. I'll include the link at the bottom so you can check in on us.
It is a 12-team mixed league with 29 roster slots. Starting positions include two catchers, five outfielders, a corner infielder, and a middle infielder, plus all of the other usual suspects.
Here at the Brain we focus on strategy and tactics, so I'd like to give you my thoughts in that regard going into this draft. I'll tell you about the actual players in a minute and how they hopefully fit into the strategy as well as the spots where I didn't hit the goal. I definitely reached in a few rounds with what seemed like a very fast timer. It always seemed like I was under 30 seconds to go with my picks, and even though I got them all in on time there were several rounds where I grabbed someone from my queue a round or two early. I figured it was better to reach a little on a guy I like than to let the auto-pick give me the best available player.
Lots and lots of detailed strategy and analysis after the break...
As far as strategy goes, I knew that the competition would be fierce in this league but I also knew that in the middle rounds a lot of the writers would be taking players for whom they had publicly expressed a positive view. That's usually a guy being true to his word and putting his money where his mouth is, which is great. Strategically, I hoped that this concept might mean a player here or there would subsequently slip through the cracks and provide some extra value for me. So, in this league I wanted to see if I could accumulate value throughout as players slipped a bit and focus on picking up bargains instead of filling slots and building depth. I figured that those "slippers" would usually be corner infielders and starting pitchers, so I might end up with a surplus there.
I also carried a few bits of strategy over from my AL-Only draft. I wanted to identify areas where a resource was over-subscribed, if possible. In this league that definitely is catcher since every day there will be 24 of them starting in the league and there are definitely fewer than 24 catchers in the real world that I want starting for me in fantasy. I also dislike the depth at shortstop and second base, so I was hoping to do something there early too.
Furthermore, five outfielders isn't so bad in a 12-team mixed league but it isn't so great either. That's 60 fantasy starters any given day. There aren't many more than that as every-day outfielders when you start to take out the part-timers, specialists, and platooners. I'd say there are a little more than two per team on average among the 30 MLB teams. So, drafting a good group of OF before they well went dry would also be a priority.
Another bit of strategy for you... It is important to learn from your drafts and evaluate what you thought worked and what didn't. When you prioritize certain positions you have to de-emphasize others, but what I did to my pitching and third base in my first draft was less than optimal. In this draft I theorized that if I could sprinkle in some value picks throughout I wouldn't be in as much of a hole. I may have overdone it at 3B just a bit. And 1B.
The position I probably de-emphasized the most was relief pitcher. My starting point in this league is not great, but this is an area that can be addressed in-season so I'm not too concerned.
Okay, without further adieu, on to the picks...
#7 - I drew the #7 pick in the first round which is less than thrilling. I assumed, and rightly so, that Cabrera, Trout, Braun, Cano, and Kemp would go among the first six picks. I figured that either Votto or Pujols would be the 6th and I would take the other one at #7. Somewhat oddly, Andrew McCutchen went #4 leaving me with a choice to make. I went with Votto over Pujols due to his better age and much better park factor, plus Albert has been banged up a little here recently. It's splitting hairs, but I prefer Votto. Interestingly (to me, anyway), I believe that Pujols has the higher ceiling (based on history) as well as the higher floor (if the wheels come off for both guys, Pujols will be a little better). However, I believe that if you look at the space between, "the living space" (copyright 2013, tFSB), Votto should be projected a bit higher. I'll also note that Carlos Gonzalez was a consideration with the 7th pick, especially since he plays a more desirable position. Even as a 1B, Votto is the superior choice.
SS - Back around to me at pick #18 I went with my old pal Jose Reyes. He is way more dependable from a health perspective than people realize, and he should be phenomenal this year. This is the best lineup he's ever been in and by far the best park factor. Plus, shortstop is very thin so having an elite option there gives me at least a little edge to build on. This is the kind of pick that can win a league for you.
SP - Round 3, pick #31... I was hoping for Jason Heyward (went #24) or David Wright (#28) but they didn't last. David Price represented the best value at #31, so I did what I didn't do in my first draft and I invested a premium pick in a SP. At Fantasy Pros he's ranked #21 so to get him at #31 was excellent value. My next SP was a 10th rounder with Ian Kennedy. I waited a little longer than I initially wanted to, but Kennedy at that spot represented about a full round of value. I don't like the park factor, but Kennedy has been pretty strong in Arizona and gets a lot of K's so it should be at least a solid pick. Round 18 and 19 rolled around and I was feeling some pressure with only two SP's so I took Shaun Marcum and Jason Hammel. Rounds 22 and 24 were Wei-Yin Chen and Tommy Millone. It's not an amazing pitching squad, but it's not terrible. For the level of picks I spent I'm okay with it. I didn't satisfy my strategy of sprinkling picks throughout since I bunched up so many in rounds 18-24, but I feel like it worked out okay. It is a staff that I can manage throughout the season and with a few key waiver wire pickups, it could be average or a little better.
C - Round 4 produced Matt Wieters who is one of my favorite catchers this year. It was pick #42 which is a sizable reach according to Fantasy Pros, but much less of a reach in a two-catcher league, in my opinion. Also, my favorite players on the board at this point were Billy Butler and Yu Darvish and those guys played the same positions as two of my first three picks... So, instead of doubling up I decided to go another way with Wieters. I followed up in Round 7 with my catcher number two (we start two) with Miguel Montero. Also a reach. However, I've got two excellent catchers that I love and that should give me another small edge to work with. I should have taken a third catcher for my bench but failed to do so. A move for another day.
2B - Options at 2B (that I would be happy with) were running out and in Round 5 I took Jason Kipnis. Look, he was terrible in the second half and this pick was a reach of about a half-dozen draft positions, but I wanted a strong option at 2B and I think I have it in Kipnis. He excelled in the minors and was fantastic in the first half last year. I'm hoping he just hit the rookie wall in 2012 and he'll know how to deal with it much better in 2013. Plus, he's got a better lineup around him which ought to lead to more runs and RBI. In my opinion, Kipnis has a pretty solid floor for 14 HR and 26 SB, so I can work with that at 2B. In Round 13 I took a second 2B - Chase Utley. That would be your stereotypical boom or bust pick, but I believe he'll slot in well at middle infield. That said, I realize anything can happen with Utley so it is important to have another MI option but unfortunately that didn't come to pass until my last draft pick. Another area of need to work on during the season.
OF #1 - I was starting to feel some pressure to fill my outfield slots but I kept looking at the gaping hole at 3B to fill. Round 6 was one of those situations where the clock seemed to be ticking three seconds at a time. I wasn't thrilled with the best available options and definitely pulled the rip cord on the pick. I love Chris Davis this year, but the #66 pick was way too early since I likely could have gotten him a couple of rounds later. In retrospect I should have taken Max Scherzer there, but I went with Davis. I love his position flexibility and his power is amazing. Plus, even though he is looking like a .270 hitter in the majors he did hit .318 in his minor league career so there is room for growth there. Plus, for the first time in his life he has a full time position to call his own with no one behind him. He is the full-time 1B for the Orioles for the whole year and he'll be hitting in the middle of a really good lineup. I realize this was a big reach, but it was only a reach compared to ADP and not in the way I value the player. Besides, he went #19 overall in the other draft I was in so far this year so it could've been worse.
OF #2-#5 - I wanted to get my OF slots taken care of before the cupboard was bare, and I feel like I did a pretty good job of investing picks and filling the need earlier than most. Brett Gardner in Round 9 looks like another reach based on ADP, but he brings a lot to the table and should score a ton a runs and grab a lot of bases. He will probably produce a mediocre BA and only contribute a handful of homers, which is fine. He'll drag down my numbers a bit at RBI, but he'll be fantastic in R and SB and average elsewhere. Overall, he should be more than a net positive. Alejandro De Aza in Round 12 is OF #3. He'll give me BA and runs and probably SB's, though I wish his success rate was higher (70.8% in the minors). Josh Reddick in Round 15 was good value (needed the power) as was Dexter Fowler in round 17. I do expect regression with Fowler, though... But even so, he is the real type of guy who "won't hurt you" (not Keppinger) since he'll produce average stats across the board, though a little light in RBI.
So, there's five OF in the first 17 rounds of a 29-round draft. I completed the task a little later than I wanted to and frankly the quality isn't exactly what I was hoping for. I was able to add the much ballyhooed Leonys Martin in Round 21 to be OF #6. There is a lot of upside with Martin, but his track record is just too short and chaotic to make any sense of it. We'll see. I added Chris Carter in round 27 who should be a good bench option... He'll get OF eligibility soon to go with 1B so he can backup a few spots and he'll get tons of playing time on a bad team. So, he's a good fill-in type of guy who could get me some cheap home runs on Mondays and Thursdays. Martin and Carter are fairly unproven, but as bench guys what I'm looking for are full-time at bats with big upside. Those two meet those qualifications big time.
3B - Okay, I promised you overkill at third base. Don't you worry. Remember, my plan was to try to accumulate value throughout the draft when good players slipped, and based on everything I've written so far that seems pretty much hit or miss. Mostly miss. Nevertheless, I feel like I got good value with my third basemen. Slotting in as the starter, Pablo Sandoval was still there for me at pick #90 even though he is rated at #70 on Fantasy Pros. I love the Panda and was hoping he would fall to me based on issues of his conditioning and his health last year. He did drop, but I'm not afraid of his issues. He doesn't have any more hamate bones left to break and his conditioning in the off-season was good enough to win the MVP award in the Venezuelan Winter League. Sandoval said he's hoping to pull off a new kind of Triple Crown and get a third MVP in the WBC to add to the one from the Winter League and his World Series MVP. Also, he's awesome in odd-numbered years. It's the even-numbered years you have to worry about. Okay, so Sandoval at 3B... Who else?
CI - In round 11 Will Middlebrooks was still sitting there, so I scooped him as my backup to Sandoval and my starting corner guy. He doesn't have a long track record, but he seems to be fairly projectable for .270 with more than 70 in each of the R&R stats with an easy 20+ home runs and a handful of SB's. I needed some power there and there is significant upside with Middlebrooks. I added Lonnie Chisenhall way down in round 25, so he could see some time at 3B or CI for me as well. I admit that it is something of a hunch with him, but it feels like he may "arrive" in 2013. He got some MLB experience last year, he's crushing the ball in Spring Training, and he's in an improved lineup. He's also got the full-time gig for the first time, sort of like Chris Davis. And, speaking of Davis he and Chris Carter can also fill in at CI when needed. Especially if one of my backup outfielders gets hot. CI should never be an issue for me since I did go a little overboard with three 3B on top of my four options at 1B. Oh yeah, you may only count three 1B so far, so allow me to introduce my Utility guy...
Util - Justin Morneau in Round 16. It felt like awesome value at the time, but upon inspection this is about where he is valued. That's okay though, since he has big (like "former MVP" sized) upside. His career took a major derailment due to concussions and the related after-effects, costing him half of 2010 and basically all of 2011. You could see a noticeable improvement in 2012, and now that he's a couple years into his recovery hopefully he'll be back to normal for 2013. Head injuries can take 2-3 years to resolve, assuming that full recovery is possible. There is a fair chance that Morneau explodes this year. He's 32 in May which is at the tail end of the prime years for a 1B plus he's in a contract year (for what it's worth).
Bench - I've mentioned most of my bench already (Martin, Chisenhall, Carter) but I was able to grab my backup SS in Round 29 - Alexei Ramirez. I understand that Ramirez doesn't seem to be aging too well, but I needed a backup at SS and with this pick I snagged the #198 ranked player with pick #343. Not too shabby. Ramirez could get the occassional start for me at Util and MI to go along with a handful of SS starts on Mondays and Thursdays. I have at least two options everywhere, though as I mentioned there are two starters at catcher and I ought to have a third for the bench. Overall it is a fairly flexible bench even though Chisenhall may end up as more of a luxury. Hopefully he goes off and I can trade him for a pitcher, which I sorely need. And, speaking of pitchers...
RP - If there is one area to skimp it's at closer, but I do feel like I was able to accumulate some decent picks late in the draft. I did spend a 14th rounder on Glen Perkins, who I really like this year, so that's one fairly solid guy. I backed him up with Jared Burton in Round 28, so I've got the saves situation in Minnesota covered, such as it is. In a 12-team league you'd like to have three solid closers, and I just don't have that yet. Bobby Parnell in Round 20 could be the second one, if he wins the job for the Mets. I also took Vinnie Pestano in Round 23. He should start the season as the closer for the Tribe and could have an opportunity to run with the job, so he could be closer #3. I also got Phil Coke in Round 26. Jim Leyland is concerned about Bruce Rondon in the role and actually verbalized his preference for Coke over Joaquin Benoit recently. So, there is a non-zero chance that Coke gets that job. If that happens this group starts to look really strong. For now though I've got one closer, his backup, and three setup guys... and that has to improve. I think it will.
So, that's the team. I gotta tell you, I felt better about it before I started writing. I feel like I wrote the word "reach" a lot and expressed a lot of concern about the squad throughout. The outfielders aren't as strong as I had hoped and my pitching is below-average across the board. I also lack that 3rd catcher.
On the bright side, my corners are terrific, my middle infielders are strong with big upside, and I think that my two starting catchers will give me an edge there. I have good backup options everywhere but catcher and there is really good balance throughout. I also have one stud starting pitcher and I can play the home/road splits with guys like Millone, so I should be able to manage the team to average pitching numbers.
I used a spreadsheet of my own design to track my team as I drafted. I looked at the statistics needed to score well in each category as I went so I could see when I needed to add power (for example the Josh Reddick pick) or runs or something else. I could also monitor qualitatives like batting average. I'm conservatively predicting on the offensive side that this team will score thusly: .279 BA, 280 HR, 1,053 R, 1,061 RBI, and 210 SB. If I can get average pitching numbers that offense will put me in the hunt for the championship.
Even with my multitude of reaches.
Here's that website I mentioned at the top: http://www.fantasybaseballinsidersleague.com