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Monday, March 16, 2015

Fantasy Sports Invitational Challenge: AL-Only Strategy

There was once this guy who asked a girl to the prom and she said yes. He was excited but knew he needed to go and get a tux, reserve a limo, and get a corsage.  So, he went to the tux place and the line was out the door!  He waited and waited, but finally got the tuxedo.  At the limo place, same thing!  Line out the door and down the street, but he reserved a limo for the big dance.  When he got to the flower shop, wouldn't you know it... super long line.  But the girl was worth it, so he stayed in the line and got the corsage.

The night of the prom he rolled up in the limo and they went to the dance.  His date said she was thirsty and he said he would get her something to drink...

he walked to the table...


...there was no punch line.

But seriously folks, yesterday was the annual FSIC expert league.  It is one of the oldest and most respected expert leagues around, even though the famous ones like Tout Wars and LABR have surpassed it in notoriety by quite a margin.  The one I am in is the AL-Only league and like any "only" league it requires a lot of strategy and careful consideration, especially in the latter rounds.

Think about it, 10 teams and 28 rounds is 280 players.  There are 15 American League teams so we're drafting about 19 players per team on average...  Most teams have a 7-man pen and a 4-man bench, so if you remove the closer that leaves you with around 10 guys per team without regular playing time.  Since teams have a 25-man roster, that leaves you with about 15 guys per team with any kind or regular playing time, and that includes #5 starters, platoon situations, part-time DH's, and shaky closer candidates.  It's a minefield out there, and every team is going to have some seriously sketchy draft picks.

This league only has one catcher, but it does have middle infielders and corners ("MI" and "CI") plus five outfielders.  So, any given week this league will start 10 catchers out of the 15 available which is not too bad..  Plus approximately 15 each at 1B, 2B, SS, and 3B of the 15 available.  Pretty much all of them.  And in the outfield you'll need 50 each week when there are only 45 positions in the league before you even consider platoon situations.  The one thing that eases this a bit are the DH's which will often play a position as well like OF or 1B, but still there is a Utility position in this league so even those 15 AL DH's will dry up fast.

Another strategic consideration is at closer where there are less than 15 good ones out there and in this league you're going to want to have two to get an edge if possible.  My prediction was that the few elite options like Greg Holland would fly off of the board.  And, if every team in this league takes six starters, well that's four out of every five available and full rotations aren't even set yet.  Guys like Kendall Graveman are still battling for a spot.

So, my strategy involved a few things:

1. Prioritize OF.  Get three or four relatively quickly.
2. Don't worry so much about catcher unless you can get a great value.
3. Pick up value throughout. See who is slipping and scoop them up because in these expert leagues (all leagues, really) people have guys they like and will tend to reach a bit in the middle rounds to get their guys.
4. Get solid starters in their prime, in good ballparks, at good value.
5. Try to get good value on two of the lower-rated closers, plus a setup guy or two.
6. Prioritize MI over CI.
7. Always try to get the guy with playing time since they are at a premium.

So, how'd it go?  (Update Note from Dave I just calculated the total value amassed on these picks according to auction value on and the top 22 players equal $315 in projected value.  That's pretty awesome, iidssm.  I guess my next comment was accurate:)  I did pretty well on the value piece, with players slipping to me all over.  However, I did get sniped quite a bit as per usual in these snake drafts.  I felt like the guy waiting in all of the lines.

I had the #8 pick, so I also had #13.  Of course I'd rather get Trout at #1, but by my estimation there are only about 15 elite studs in the AL so I would get two while the top five teams would only get one uber-stud.

At #8 I was choosing between Adam Jones, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson.  I figured the two I didn't take would go before #13 and I might end up with David Price there.  I was prioritizing OF, so I went with Jones.  Crazy thing, at #13 Donaldson and E5 were both still there.  No punch line.

I took Donaldson thinking that 1B would be slightly easier to fill, but I honestly started to look at Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez there, knowing they wouldn't come back to me at #28.  I hoped that Chris Davis would make it.  Nope.  Long lines for all three, with Davis going #26. (Curses!)

Actually, at this point in the draft you could already feel the thinness of the AL-Only format... Since my last pick Prince Fielder, Brian Dozier, David Ortiz, Evan Longoria, J.D. Martinez, and Yoenis Cespedes were all taken.  As late 2nd's and early 3rd's those picks seem awfully rich, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do.  I was pleasantly surprised to still see Carlos Santana for me at #28.  In CBS leagues he qualifies all over the place: C, 1B, 3B, and CI.  He had a slow start last year bouncing around, but as soon as he settled into the 1B gig his production was strong the rest of the way.

Another value at pick #33 was Albert Pujols.  It's more than reminiscing about all of the good times we used to have.  Phat Albert was quietly really quite good last year.  Even though he is 35 now and gets more than his share of nagging injuries, his pure skill level is as high as anyone in baseball.  I believe that in the 4th round I'm paying at or near his floor.

The funny thing at this point was that I was adhering to some of my strategy at the expense of other parts.  I took an OF in the 1st round but no more in the next three picks and I'm clearly loaded at CI with zero MI's.  Plus no pitching yet.  I am accumulating value, though... and Santana can be my catcher with Donaldson at 3B and Pujols at 1B.

There were 14 picks before I would select again, with some interesting names. Four closers, four starters, Danny Santana, Kole Calhoun,  Brandon Moss... plus a couple I like there in Kyle Seager and Pablo Sandoval.  At #48 I was in the market for my second OF and took Alex Gordon, which I feel like was good value again.  At this pick I was considering Carlos Carrasco and hoped he would slip to #53.

No such luck.  I took Sonny Gray.  Holding my breath there, but the pitching was starting to go.

It was thinning out fast...  I took Mookie Betts as a 2B, hoping he has a regular job and knowing I can use him in the OF if I get another 2B later.  Then Anibal Sanchez, who was good value at #73.  The next two picks would be similar with Shin-Soo Choo (more value, I hope) and Chris Archer.

So, ten rounds in now and I'm not really feeling all that great even though I do have three or four of my outfielders, three starters (even though they aren't my favorites), and I'm all stocked up at corner infield, plus a top catching option if needed as such.

At this point I'm still looking for value but I need middle infielders desperately as well as saves.  Otherwise, not too bad.

In round 11 I was hoping for Xander Bogaerts, but he went one pick before me.  I looked at my sheet and the best value was Brian McCann.  I was surprised he lasted that long and figured everyone was de-valuing catchers in this league.  Well, I can play Santana in five different slots and it is a luxury to carry two good catchers so I took McCann.

Round 12 brought Neftali Feliz.  I don't love him, but he seems to be healthy now and he also seems to have the job.  With all of the closers that went off in the 4th and 5th rounds this seemed like good value.

I followed up this one with Joakim Soria in the 13th, who I expect to get the job any day now.

The 14th round brought a pretty steady contributor in steals with a solid BA in Rajai Davis.  OF #4 (or #5), check!  I felt good about that pick at this point.

Looking at the board there had been eight shortstops taken so far, so I felt like it was between me and one other player for J.J. Hardy and even if he was gone I could deal with Brad Miller.  Well, in the next 14 picks they both went.  Ugh.  Worst pick of the draft for me was Josh Rutledge as my SS.  In round 15.  It was a desperation pick even though he does have upside.  These lines are long for middle infielders.

It was really getting thin at this point, and my next three were Jesse Hahn (upside, good park factor), C.J. Cron (crushing it, good AB's with Hamilton out), and Omar Infante (if he hits I can bump Betts to the OF).

Wade Davis in the 19th and Danny Farquhar in the 20th will be solid contributors for me and might vulture some wins and saves while striking out more than their share per IP.

In the 21st round I felt like I still needed another SP but I was eyeing another MI.  Jonathan Schoop was taken so I queued up Didi Gregorius.  He went the pick before me.  Okay, outfielder?  No, Seth Smith and Matt Joyce just went... Starter?  Miguel Gonzalez is gone, too.  Ugly situation.  I like upside and park factor, so I went with the aforementioned Graveman.  I think he's got the job and I think he'll be solid, especially at home.

Long lines for guys with playing time.  Long lines.  James Jones and his 27 steals (with only 1 CS) in just 312 AB's last year, went to me next.  David Murphy was my next pick, and he is likely a starter in Cleveland and surprisingly not too terrible...  Playing Time + Average Stats = Value.

I then took Eric Sogard, who is terrible, but he plays and qualifies at both MI positions.  Don't judge me.  Long lines!

Rickie Weeks is an upside lottery ticket play in the 25th round.  He was pretty good last year and if he finds a way to get AB's he'll have sensational value at this pick.  There are plenty of trade rumors since the M's don't really need him.

My penultimate pick was Craig Gentry, who is platooning with Sam Fuld and I don't believe in Sam Fuld.  Okay I don't believe in Gentry either, but I like him a whole lot more than Fuld.

Last pick was another setup guy - Edward Mujica.  He had a neck issue last year plus issues dealing with the transition to the AL.  Nevertheless, he still got 8 saves.  And do you remember how great he was before last year?  Pretty great.  If he's healthy he is the next closer in Boston should Koji bow to Father Time.... That, or he could be traded.  There have been rumors... So he could be closing somewhere else.  Not a bad gamble in the last round.

So, there it is.  My OF is pretty strong, my corners and catchers are stupendous, and my RP situation is pretty good for my low investment.

I feel like the rotation is a patchwork of guys I don't normally take, but there is a lot of upside there:  Sonny Gray, Anibal Sanchez, Chris Archer, Jesse Hahn, and even Kendall Graveman.  I must love park factor because I took almost all of the Oakland staff.  Wins might be an issue.

However, backing up those guys in the ratios and K's are Davis, Farquhar, Feliz, Soria, and Mujica.  I think that is a strong supplementary crew.

The middle infield is a train wreck on this team.  Mookie Betts might be without a position, and if that is the case it's even worse.  Josh Rutledge is my SS and Omar Infante is the MI.  Ew.  At least I've got Eric Sogard and Rickie Weeks on my bench, so you know, there's that.  Horrendous.  My only hope here is that the composite BA can stay above .270 and playing time is high enough that the counting stats remain at an average level... and those things can happen.  It is important to understand the downside risk in the areas that you de-prioritize so even if there isn't much ceiling the floor isn't too low either.  Then, your areas of strength can be free to carry you to victory.

Knock Knock.
...who's there?

...Sogard who?

There is no punch line.

Thank you, folks... I'll be here all week.

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