It’s draft season, which means it’s also draft recap season. Last year, I partook and subsequently recapped a few of my drafts. Folks seemed to enjoy them and/or find them beneficial. That’s good!
Incidentally, and unfortunately, all the drafts I recapped turned out terribly, and all my good teams (my league-winning National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) Online Championship team, my 3rd-place Tout Wars team, etc.) I let slumber. One of those terrible teams was my Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational (TGFBI) squad. I’ve returned to fight off my demons.
I will say: I feel much more well-prepared than I did last year. I feel more cogent, more lucid. Last year, I barely prepped. I was overconfident because of my 2018 success, in part, but primarily I was overwhelmed and burned out. I held firm convictions about hardly any player, which goes against every fiber of my fantasy baseball being.
This year, the opposite. I’m eager to correct my flaws from last year, starting, first and foremost, with actually preparing. Doesn’t mean I won’t totally botch this draft. I don’t fancy myself particularly good at 15-team leagues, excelling instead at 12-teamers, especially auctions. But, hey, no excuses. At least this time, someone else, instead of my own damn self, will have beaten me.
TGFBI is a 15-team league with an overall component (26 teams = 390 owners!) and abides by traditional NFBC rules, including a two-catcher format. Before the draft commences, owners set Kentucky Derby Style (KDS) preferences, which consists of an owner prioritizing the draft slots from which he or she would prefer to draft by ranking them. I outlined my preference below, with my resulting draft slot bolded, underlined, and reddened:
4 5 6 7 8 1 2 3 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
To my dismay, neither happened, and I knew, being too far from the turn, that I’d miss out on Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Walker Buehler, too, before my second pick. Good grief! I already resigned myself to leading with two hitters and making due from there. This is wildly suboptimal; my pitching has been quite pitiful both years of TGFBI, even during my moderately OK inaugural campaign (51st of 195).
Without further ado: 2020 TGFBI League 18 rounds one through 10. It’s a 30-round draft, so there will be two more of these suckers, for better or for worse.
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1.09 Trevor Story, COL SS
Min: 7 / Rank: 9 / Avg: 9.6 / Max: 13
Considered taking: Trea Turner (1.11)
Despite the hardship of having maybe the worst possible KDS draw for the ace-centric core I desired, I could at least console myself knowing I would almost certainly land Story or Turner, possibly having a choice in the matter. I did, and, to be honest, I surprised myself by opting for the Rockie. I like Turner a lot, and he might be better than Story on a per-game basis thanks to his speed.
But Story is one of three defending back-to-back top-10 fantasy players, the only one not named Mike Trout or Christian Yelich. The #1 overall player cannot earn more than #1 overall value; the best he can do is break even. Similarly insurmountable obstacles face the few who follow him. Alas, the opportunity to draft a player as early as the first round who could actually break even is one that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
2.22 Alex Bregman, HOU SS/3B
Astros hitters have some baggage to deal with, and rightfully so. But from a fantasy perspective, I’m not sure it’s entirely warranted. Bregman, trash cans or not, has elite plate discipline and an optimized approach that helps offset his somewhat pedestrian Statcast numbers for a fringe first-rounder. His availability caught me off-guard, so much so I had to recalibrate my entire approach.
I expected to grab Marte for his power-speed contributions or reach for Strasburg to anchor my rotation. Passing on Bregman, however, would have been an exercising in forgoing possibly the most expected value on the board. Having finished 16th and 8th the last two years, Bregman fell into my lap as another early pick with an abnormally high probability of breaking even.
3.39 Ozzie Albies, ATL 2B
Min: 7 / Rank: 33 / Avg: 34.3 / Max: 43
Considered taking: literally any pitcher
The Wizard of Oz!!! Big Albies fan. Albies is 19th in WAR through a hitter’s age-22 season since 1960, above fellow infielders Francisco Lindor and Elvis Andrus and teammate Acuña. None of this is fantasy-related. Just wanted to shower the Wizard with love.
Albies has shown remarkable consistency and a high floor at a young age. That consistency might lure some owners into a false sense of security, that there’s no more growth left. Maybe that’s true. But it could be a fatal expectation made of a historically great 23-year-old.
I keep hearkening back to past performance, but: Albies has two top-40 finishes in his first two seasons. Again, simply by virtue of Albies’ history, I may have another breakeven hitter on my hands. He won’t provide game-changing profitability (unless he takes another step forward), not in the way Adalberto Mondesi’s per-game contributions might be, but it would be astonishing if he failed me from a skills standpoint. It’s a league-winning, but not overall contest-winning, type of acquisition.
And now I am wildly off-course. I thought I would leave the first three rounds with no fewer than one starter, let alone the two I expected to have. Let’s get frisky, folks!
4.52 Aaron Nola, PHI SP
I didn’t expect to face such difficult decisions so early. Difficult decisions aren’t always a bad thing, either! In this case, I had my choice of spoils: three (or, if you include Zack Greinke, four) starters whom I liked enough to anoint my ace. Greinke (4.60) felt like a pedestrian (albeit high-floor) choice, and Darvish, while tantalizing in the upside he flashed from June 15 onward last year, is maybe too risky for my risk-averse tastes, at least in a deep format where I’d have more difficulty replacing him from a barren waiver wire.
This left me with a decision between Nola, a fantastic but not truly elite starter, or Morton, slightly better on a per-inning basis but aging and relatively more fragile. Ultimately, I opted for the illusion of safety in the form of Nola’s youth and volume. I figured if Morton, in his age-36 season, misses a month or more of action, I’d face a similar struggle I tried to avoid with Darvish. This decision, like the last one, reinforces more of a league-first (rather than overall-first) approach, which I’m fine with.
Part of me was worried about Nola’s issue with walks last year, but he has already addressed the issue in media sessions this spring. It suggests to me he will remedy it, especially because he is a command guy first and foremost. Color me unconcerned.
5.69 Nelson Cruz, MIN DH
Min: 58 / Rank: 76 / Avg: 76.2 / Max: 90
Considered taking: Joey Gallo (7.104), Marcell Ozuna (6.76), Eddie Rosario (5.75), Kris Bryant (5.74), Paul Goldschmidt (6.77), Max Muncy (6.80), Jose Abreu (7.83)
I’m glad I didn’t pull the trigger on Gallo, whom I almost selected but went more than two rounds later instead. I almost got fancy with this one; I almost played the odds to see if Cruz would come back around to me in the 6th. But, ultimately, it made no sense for me to select inferior bats for the sake of playing a game of cat and mouse.
Some folks are reticent of Cruz’s age, and rightfully so — he’s 39 — but his last six years of production resemble a superior version of late-career David Ortiz, who basically walked off into the sunset (and almost certainly into the Hall of Fame) on his own terms, still near the top of his game. Alas, I fully expect Cruz to be one of the best hitters on a per-game basis. It’s primarily about health here, but even 500 plate appearances would net him yet another top-100 season.
(Drafting Cruz made me sad I wouldn’t pick up a nice, cheap share of Khris Davis. However, I’m glad I didn’t play the waiting game; another owner popped him about two or three rounds earlier than I planned to, and I know it would’ve flustered the hell out of me.)
6.82 Jeff McNeil, NYM 2B/3B/OF
Min: 64 / Rank: 86 / Avg: 86.0 / Max: 102
Considered taking: Joey Gallo (7.104), Mike Moustakas (8.108), Oscar Mercado (7.99), Jose Abreu (7.83), Josh Donaldson (6.90), Matt Chapman (7.93), Marcus Semien (7.94)
I’m not overjoyed with this pick or anything, primarily because I don’t consider McNeil the best player on the board at this juncture. Normally, I am still trying to accrue the best remaining talent before adding my supplemental pieces. (To be clear, I love McNeil, and I think he boasts an extremely high floor. But from a roster construction standpoint, I anticipated investing in power rather than hedging batting average.)
What I decided, ultimately, is power will run much deeper for much longer in this draft than batting average will. Moreover, I needed a little more speed, and while McNeil contributed only modestly in 2019, I think he’ll steal more often in his second full go (his 2018 debut and minor league rates were significantly higher).
In taking McNeil, I have solidified a high floor that I can henceforth slowly dismantle with contact-deficient power bats that come a dime a dozen in the middle rounds. While I don’t have the Donaldson-type power I once hoped to snag here, I can emulate it from a later round — something I can’t come close to doing for batting average in the twilight of the draft. All in all, an uncomfortable but necessary pick. (What I’ve convinced myself, at least.)
7.99 Oscar Mercado, CLE OF
Min: 78 / Rank: 104 / Avg: 103.3 / Max: 131
Considered taking: Joey Gallo (7.104), Mike Moustakas (8.108)
This pick surprised me more than any other thus far because I had no intention whatsoever to draft Mercado (although, if you’re paying close attention, you’ll notice I toyed with the idea in the previous round; I’m glad I could wait another round). Generally, I think it is perfectly satisfactory to ignore a few players on the draft board. I try to have an opinion about everyone relevant, but I can’t reasonably consider every single combination of players without frying my brain. You have to find ways to simplify and streamline without hamstringing yourself.
This was supposed to be my lauded Moustakas pick. For three years now I have been bullish on Moustakas — especially so this year, given his move to hitter-friendly Cincinnati — and yet I was forced to confront my fear I was falling behind on speed. I liked Mercado as a pseudo-prospect several years ago, but for some reason I soured on him during FAABapalooza/FAABageddon last season. I came away from my deep dive on him this offseason quite impressed, and he represented maybe the best remaining speed option (in that he’s not one-dimensional).
I like the audible I called, but now I’m short not one but two power bats relative to what I thought I’d pick up the last two rounds.
8.112 Carlos Carrasco, CLE SP
Make this, what, three unexpected picks in a row? I’m on record as not having a strong opinion on Carrasco coming into this season, and that’s fine. Again, I preach having strong opinion on everyone — even if that strong opinion is “no opinion.” Sometimes, circumstances make it difficult to evaluate a player. Carrasco had leukemia! That is a big deal. In leagues in which I have a financial stake, I’m out, way out, just because it is a largely unprecedented risk.
Incidentally, that rationale made it easier for me to pick up what will probably be my only Carrasco share in redraft leagues. His peripherals suggest he didn’t lose much in terms of stuff, just that his command suffered. (I also talked myself into him by saying, hey, Jameson Taillon recovered from cancer treatments, too. No two cases are ever alike, and having watched my mom struggle with cancer for more than a decade, I’ve seen what it can do to a human body.)
I have incurred a lot of risk here, but I think a bad season will look more mediocre than downright atrocious, and a full rebound looks beautiful. It’s a calculated risk, at least. Do I sound confident to you?
9.129 Elvis Andrus, TEX SS
Min: 114 / Rank: 136 / Avg: 131.8 / Max: 168
Considered taking: Jorge Polanco (10.136), Hyun-Jin Ryu (10.142), [redacted – still available]
Because I’m not. I’m not confident, because I have now made four picks off plan. This was supposed to be a starting pitcher, especially with Ryu staring me in the face. But I saw Andrus and thought about how he, after Mercado, is the true last stand for multidimensional speedsters (his above-average plate discipline and contact skills beget an underrated batting average).
Maybe I over-invested, and now I’m short three power hitters, or at least two power hitters and a starter. This extended audible will have soon-to-be cascading consequences. I will likely have to concede elsewhere — probably at corner infield, or maybe at catcher. At some point, I need to pick up some semblance of a closer. I have a vision in place, but I’ll be threading a needle for the next seven rounds.
But I do like Andrus, I do. Despite his age, he remains highly productive — he ranked 61st overall per Razzball’s end-of-season Player Rater, and he has never been worse than that in any full season. Basically, assume clean health, something he has benefited from every year except 2018, and he nearly guarantees me a profit. Best player on the board? Not necessarily. Fits a need? Sure. Should return solid value? Absolutely.
10.142 Hyun-Jin Ryu, TOR SP
Min: 94 / Rank: 134 / Avg: 131.3 / Max: 169
Considered taking: [redacted – still available]
Sometimes, you choose the player, and sometimes, the player chooses you. After skipping him for two rounds, Ryu falls back into my lap, right when I expected I’d settle for [redacted] (although I would still really like to have [redacted], too).
I’m not particularly queasy about reports that the Blue Jays might limit Ryu’s innings. In fact, I’m kind of relieved. A cautious approach to his innings management might ensure high-quality (arguably elite) innings throughout the season, even if it means we only get 150 of them. (I’m still betting on the over, but the Jays have no incentive to push him, unless they magically and unexpectedly contend.)
To some, 150 innings from an SP3 sounds like, well, not a lot. But how many of the arms before Ryu will throw fewer? Injuries are unpredictable. The Jays being gentle with him might be better than anything the Dodgers ever did for Ryu.
To be honest, I’m shocked the Depth Charts projections compare so favorably to my own, at least for the hitters. I was certain mine would be more generous; after all, if I’m not winning according to my projections, whose team am I even drafting?
As for the pitchers, let’s just say my projections incorporate contact quality a little more aggressively. Nola is excellent, Ryu is solidly above average, and, actually, Carrasco is below average — but his leukemia season is probably under-weighted in my model relative to ZiPS or Steamer.
* * *
What do I need? More power. And closers.
I would be transparent with you if I didn’t like my team — I value honesty in these here parts — but I like what I’ve done so far! I haven’t felt enslaved to ADP or influenced by groupthink, and I actually feel confident in each pick, even the audibles. Last year, I sometimes felt like I was throwing darts or defaulting to community groupthink to steer my decisions, especially away from my gut. Too early to say? Oh, absolutely. But no one said a boy can’t dream.
Moreover, I understand my team’s current weaknesses and exactly how I need to execute from here on out. I have my plans (and back-up plans) mapped out for the next six-or-so rounds. I may not pull it off — like I said, I’m threading a needle here — and that’s fine if I don’t.
(I mean, it’s not “fine.” I’m highly competitive. It would suck if I screwed this up again. But this is my first draft of the year, and some of my opponents in the overall have drafted literally dozens of teams at this point. I’m just getting warmed up!)
Hope whomever enjoys draft recaps finds this helpful, interesting, whatever. A penny for your thoughts? To view all data TGFBI-related, click here. I’m in League 18, FYI.
Currently investigating the relationship between pitcher effectiveness and beard density. Two-time FSWA award winner, including 2018 Baseball Writer of the Year, and 5-time award finalist. Featured in Lindy's Sports' Fantasy Baseball magazine (2018, 2019). Tout Wars competitor. Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant.