Building a $14 NFBC Offense

Auction day is one of my favorite days of the year. Luckily, I get to enjoy three of those days annually. Unfortunately, COVID-19 and the delayed season has caused me to postpone the local league auction I commish, while a second AL-Only keeper league was postponed as well. So what to do when you love auctioning, but won’t have the chance to for a while? Fake buy players from auctions that did actually take place! For fun, I decided to check out the NFBC average auction values and build a standard 14-player offense for $14. That’s right, every player I selected had to be a buck. Imagine the pitching staff you could assemble with $246!

Perhaps there’s a reason for this (there must be!), but oddly there were only 19 auctions in March that made up the AAV values (versus 224 drafts). I am guessing it’s because the live auctions were canceled, but thought some auction leagues were already set up to run online to begin with. Anyhow, I arbitrarily decided to use AAV numbers from auctions since March 15. I wanted to only include auctions run after the season was delayed, but didn’t want to only use the last couple of days since there were so few auctions as it is.

There was only a total of 53 hitters with an AAV of $1, so that was my pool to choose from. Note that some of these players were only bought in one auction (four of them, actually), but two players were bought in as many as seven (of eight) auctions. And now, the most awesome collection of dollar players you’ll ever find…

The $14 Offense
Position Player HR* R* RBI* SB* Avg*
C Mike Zunino 17 41 47 0 0.202
C Chance Sisco 10 35 32 0 0.235
1B Jesus Aguilar 18 51 63 0 0.247
3B Maikel Franco 19 52 62 0 0.251
CI Chris Davis 13 33 38 0 0.191
2B Mauricio Dubon 12 53 47 12 0.264
SS Luis Urias 11 60 51 3 0.252
MI Dee Gordon 3 41 29 20 0.273
OF Mike Yastrzemski 22 75 64 4 0.247
OF Harrison Bader 16 61 49 15 0.236
OF Kyle Lewis 16 47 51 2 0.233
OF Domingo Santana 20 57 60 7 0.253
OF Teoscar Hernandez 25 64 67 6 0.233
Util Yoshitomo Tsutsugo 19 56 61 1 0.249
Total 221 726 721 70 0.242
*ATC projections

Yeesh! Well duh, spending $14 on offense won’t exactly lead to record-setting team totals. I don’t have typical NFBC team totals to compare these too, but I would guess these are last place HR, R, and RBI totals, bottom third (but not last) in steals, and perhaps bottom three in batting average.

For this exercise, I generally preferred young hitters I thought were undervalued based on a reasonable projection (like my Pod Projections) and young hitters whose projections are worth no more than a buck (i.e., not undervalued), but are a dart throw for a big breakout.

You know you’re going to be sifting through garbage when deciding between dollar catchers. It’s too much to ask for a dollar catcher to not kill your batting average, let alone help you in the category, so it made sense to just buy the power and hope for some good BABIP luck. Turns out, I decided to buy the exact same pair I drafted in the LABR Mixed draft.

Mike Zunino has been consistent, supplying excellent power (when he hasn’t hit his way out of a starting job) and destroying your batting average. This offseason, he worked on changing his swing. It could be nothing, and we’ll get more of the same good power, no average Zunino. Or it could be something and he suddenly becomes neutral in batting average, making him a profitable $1 investment. Chance Sisco was formerly one of the Orioles’ top prospects, and now it’s time to make good on that promise. He broke out over a relatively small sample at Triple-A in 2019 and he carried part of that power surge over with him to the Majors. He’s looking like a mini-Zunino himself, except with better batting average potential.

After a fantasy breakout in 2018, Jesus Aguilar fell flat last season trying to duplicate that success. The Marlins decided to take a chance on a rebound giving him ample job security with no standout youngsters itching to take his job. Before 2019’s flop, his power was absolutely real, so here’s hoping his 2019 was just a fluke and he fully rebounds. Though I think I’ve only owned him once, I remain intrigued by Maikel Franco. Any guy with power that annually posts a mid-teen strikeout rate is someone I’m interested in. The Royals are definitely not the best team to move to given their mediocre lineup and pitcher friendly home park, but there’s real upside here given the unique skill set. What Franco really needs is a swing change to up the line drive rate and cut down on all those pop-ups. That combo is killing his BABIP and preventing him from contributing in batting average despite such an excellent strikeout rate.

Yes, I did it. I intentionally chose Chris Davis for my $14 squad. Who else has ultimate upside of a 30-40 homer season, considering he’s done it before, and multiple times? Odds may be slim, but they are higher than the vast majority of dollar corner options. After a second straight brutal season, Davis has apparently “made a commitment to turn things around“, which included changing his diet. It sounds like the typical “best shape of his life” noise we hear all the time during Spring, and it likely is. But what if it’s not? This is the type of guy you buy for a buck and cross your fingers. If he stinks after two weeks, he’ll probably lose his job for good and you would just drop him anyway, having lost little.

Between second base, shortstop, and center field, Mauricio Dubon should get plenty of playing time for the Giants. He has shown some power, with HR/FB rates between 11% and 12% since 2018, while he has swiped as many as 38 bases (2017), in the minors. He doesn’t strike out too often and has amazingly posted a BABIP above .300 in every one of his 11 minor league stops, except one. Power and speed from a middle infielder for a buck? Yes, please.

Attention drafters! Luis Urias, who figured to miss the early part of the season recovering from a fractured hamate bone, should now be ready when the season starts. Now calling Milwaukee home, he’s in a much better park to prove his 2019 Triple-A power breakout was for real. The assumption was that the Mariners second base job was Shed Long Jr.’s and Dee Gordon would serve in a utility role. But that isn’t a sure thing, and Gordon still has the wheels and solid batting average to contribute positive fantasy value. Might as well buy him for a buck to see if he wins a starting job. If not, drop ’em.

With a seemingly secure job in the Giants outfield and my xHR/FB rate equation validating his 2019 mark, I’m a fan of Mike Yastrzemski at his ridiculously cheap price. Surely the power spike could be a fluke given his age and up-and-down power in the minors, but you’re not exactly taking much risk to find out at a buck.

Since Harrison Bader is excellent defensively, he gets a longer leash than most, but obviously he needs to raise that wOBA back above .300. With both power and speed, his only issue is his passiveness at pitches inside the strike zone. Even though he has posted high strikeout rates, it’s not because he swings and misses often. Instead, it’s because he doesn’t swing enough at strikes, which is why his career looking strike rate is significantly higher than the league average during that time, and his looking strikeout rate was significantly higher last year.

Boy, who saw that outburst by Kyle Lewis?! He sure hit the ground running. An amazing 47% of his plate appearances ended with either a homer or a strikeout. While his xHR/FB rate of 40.5% perfectly matches his actual mark, the sample size was so tiny that it hardly matters. It does, however, validate that he has big power potential, as you can’t totally fake a mark that high, even over a small sample. You’ll never see Dee Gordon post a mark that high in any sort of sample! That said, nothing in his history portended this was coming and you can’t succeed with a strikeout rate that high unless you’re also walking at a double digit rate. He could easily lose his job and be back in the minors after a month…or, he could hit 30+ homers and bat .250 and lead your $14 offense to victory.

With power, some speed, and a real skill for posting high BABIP marks, Domingo Santana has always been an exciting fantasy asset. It’s too bad he stinks at fielding and the Indians already have another butcher in the field expected to serve as their DH (Franmil Reyes). So it’s anyone’s guess how much playing time Santana actually gets. It would be fun to watch him dramatically push up his fly ball rate, as he remains stuck well below the league average. If he does get 600 plate appearances, he’s a lock to earn a substantial profit.

Teoscar Hernandez is your prototypical power hitter, hitting lots of fly balls and striking out often. The good news is he’s expected to open the year as an outfielder, rather than a DH, which might give him the chance to stay in the lineup more regularly. The next step is to get the strikeout rate below 30%, which would make him a more powerful version of Randal Grichuk.

I had my choice of a variety of boring hitters for my utility slot and debated which direction to go in. Ultimately, I decided to take the most mysterious path, option for the former Japanese league star, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo. He averaged 34 homers over the last four seasons in Japan and from Eric Longenhagen:

He has all-fields power created by a swing I’ve compared to Eddie Rosario’s. Multiple sources have confirmed to me that Tsutsugo averaged an exit velocity of 92 mph (108 mph max) last year in Japan, which would rank among the top 30 big leaguers…

That won’t directly translate, of course, due to the difference in pitching quality, but he’s clearly got legit power. He’s a lefty, which means he’ll likely be platooned and might not even be in there against every righty given the Rays love for mixing and matching. But he could change all that if he surprises offensively. For a buck, I’ll take the unknown with the potential for a nice profit than the safer, low-upside guys.

We hoped you liked reading Building a NFBC Offense by Mike Podhorzer!

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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id hari kari if i had to play zunino or davis