Heartbreak in the Fifth Round: An NFBC Main Event Review

The NFBC Main Event is different. In case you’re unfamiliar, the National Fantasy Baseball Championship is a series of 32 individual 15-team leagues that also functions as its own super league of 480 teams. It’s a no-trading format, too, so balance isn’t just a strategy, it’s a must. It’d be great to win your individual league, but you’re playing to win the Main. It’s also loaded with some of the best fantasy players in the entire game. There’s something about a $125,000 dollar prize that brings out the best of the best!

This is my second year in the Main, but my first time doing a live draft. It paired perfectly with my trip to NYC for Tout Wars (more on that team on the podcast) making for a brilliant double-draft weekend. Tout Wars on Saturday and the Main Event on Sunday with my co-manager and friend, Dusty Wagner.

We got our league assignment last week along with our draft slot (distributed Kentucky Derby Style) and that amplified the hype. If you’re unfamiliar with KDS, here’s it described by the NFBC:

Here’s what KDS does: The KDS process allows owners to rank their order of preference for Draft Day, ranking their preferences 1 through 15 BEFORE the leagues are randomly selected. Some owners would rather draft in the middle, if they are selected early in their league; others like to stay near the top and others like to move down to the lower end. KDS allows that if you are fortunate enough. A sample KDS from an owner could look like this:

Finding out Chris Liss was in our league was a gift. First off, it basically becomes a 14-team league and 479-team Main at that point as he’s not a threat in the slightest and secondly because Chris is one of my favorite people in this industry. He’s a great trash talker and truly fits the “can dish it out and take it back” mantra that many trash talkers wrongly suggest they fulfill, too. He’s also really thoughtful about the game of fantasy baseball. You won’t always agree with him (or if you do, please seek help), but you have to appreciate how he’s always willing to dive deep and think critically about the game. Read his breakdown here and get the inside track on future superstar Nick Kingery!

Additionally we were slated to tangle with Matt Modica of CTM Baseball and his draft partner, Chris Vaccaro, each a severe threat on their own and together an excellent combo of high stakes fantasy sports minds. I can’t rundown the entire group, but rest assured it was a shark tank. I highlighted Liss and Modica because I know them personally.

Shortly thereafter, we learned that we would be picking 4th, our third choice. Dusty came to Austin a few weeks back and we mapped out some gameplans from all over the draft board and while I love the latter portion of the draft in the first round, it doesn’t map as well in the subsequent rounds (can really only map about five before it opens up too much). I liked knowing that one of Mookie Betts or Nolan Arenado would be there at #4, so I slotted that just behind the Mike Trout/Jose Altuve combo at #1/#2. Here’s our entire KDS:

OK, enough run up to the draft. Let’s get into it!

A quick overview of our first five round gameplan:

Here’s how it went down! (Listed with the position we’re putting them in, not all the positions they’re eligible for)

1.4 Mookie Betts OF1 – I truly don’t believe there’s a wrong pick between Betts and Arenado. In the end, we leaned toward the speed component offered by Betts. I’m not terribly concerned with Betts’ .264 AVG as a look under the hood doesn’t really suggest it’s a new level for him. I think he’s a much better bet for .300 than .270 this year (mind you, that’s a 20 hit difference over 650 AB – less than 1 per week – but I’m still confident saying the .300 is the better probability).

2.27 Alex Bregman SS – I think we’d have preferred Bregman in the third (Oh wow, Paul, you would’ve preferred to get a player later than you got him? How novel. You’re so brilliant!) – as I was sayingggg, Bregman would’ve been really awesome at 3.34, but no one really fell from the second round hopefuls so we took a guy we both really like. There’s certainly a path to building on his ’17 (maybe don’t front the league an entire month like he did last April) and even just a repeat, while not ideal, would not kill us. If deGrom makes it back in the third, we are rollin’!

3.34 Christian Yelich OF2 – deGrom went 3.31 (The Trout team went Sevvy/deGrom at the 2/3 turn) leaving Carlos Carrasco as the top arm on our board. I like Cookie, but not enough to jump him over Yelich. In retrospect, deGrom/Yelich might’ve been better, but as you’ll see later, the pitching we put together has substantial upside and includes a host of arms I love to have a big 2018. It’s easy to understand the hype for Yelich as his context changed in such a favorable way with the trade to Milwaukee. I wrote more about it in his player cap, which you can find on his profile. I also love where Vlad Sedler’s head is at on the matter:

4.57 Anthony Rendon 3B – This pick has been damn-near set in stone since Dusty’s trip to Austin. We identified him as a perfect fourth round target from just about anywhere on the board and we executed on that without hesitation. Rendon’s skills are established and peaked in 2017 as he enjoyed a power surge and actually had more walks (84) than strikeouts (82). He may come down from that, but he’s a safe bet for .285, 20 HR, and 8 SB with strong R/RBI numbers in the heart of the Nationals order.

5.64 James Paxton P1 – So we didn’t get our ace within those first four picks and yet we got my 17th-ranked arm as the 20th starter off the board. We immediately planned to back him up within the next couple rounds and you’ll see how that went in a moment. Paxton obviously has a dodgy health record that makes projecting 30+ starts tough to do, but it’s worth noting that he made 31 starts between Triple-A and MLB, tallying 172 innings, in 2016. Paxton was also #17 among SP on ESPN’s Player Rater in his 136 innings last year. For the Main, we really need more volume than that, but he should be awesome even if he’s closer to 24-26 starts than 29+.

This round also contained the heartbreak of the draft, albeit with a silver lining. With ninth pick in the round, Ozzie Albies was taken and I slumped in my chair for the first time all draft. Sure, there were others players taken that I really wanted us to get, but this was the first and pretty much the only one that really stung. The silver lining? He was the 69th overall pick.


6.87 Luis Castillo P2 – Round six was always slated to be The Hype Beast round. I’d successfully sold Dusty on Albies here, convincing him that there was still upside even without a perfect-world breakout from the budding superstar. It was a cut above his 117 ADP through March 16th, though the weekend would show that this target was just a tick above his 91 ADP in Friday, Saturday, and Sunday’s Main Events (nine leagues). His slot of 69 in our draft was the high of the group.

Tangentially, we’d also started warming to Ronald Acuña, who was having a huge spring and shouldn’t be down for more than a couple weeks. But Dusty quickly quashed hopes of landing him by correctly cold calling that Mike Massato would take him in the 15-spot with one of his picks about five minutes before he did just that, pairing the rookie outfielder with Trevor Story. Honestly, Acuña was more of a “ya, we could definitely do that if the situation comes to fruition” as opposed to a flat-out target.

Castillo is essentially the Albies of pitchers for me: a hype beast that I’m open to jumping at the high pick cost for because the skills are there to fully back up their scintillating 2017 debuts, even if it’s not the highest probability outcome. I wrote about Castillo in detail here.

7.94 Brad Hand P3 – A group of closers (Knebel, Allen, Diaz, and Rivero) went off in the mid-fifth and definitely had us considering one in the sixth, but two of our favorites were still on the board and we valued Castillo more than either Hand or Raisel Iglesias. We decided to risk one of them being here in the seventh and were able to get Hand (Iglesias went 6.90). Hand has made the most of his Andrew Miller starter kit the last two years with a closer’s role in hand. The 28-year old southpaw did a great impersonation of Cleveland’s stopper in terms of skills and his arsenal took big jump toward Miller’s after a 15-point increase in slider usage to 45%. As the full-time closer from late-July on, Hand went 19-for-21 in saves with a 2.15 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, and 30% K-BB rate in 29.3 IP.

8.117 Travis Shaw CI – Shaw’s tremendous breakout season is made more impressive after learning what he was dealing with in his personal life. His newborn baby had a rare heart issue that required surgery and then an extended stay in the NICU at the hospital. This could understandably explain his lower numbers at home despite the remarkably friendly venue of Miller Park. His wRC+ was 96 at home, 45 points lower than his incredible road mark. Baby Ryann is doing a lot better these days as this story in Wisconsin State Journal highlights:

Any disappointment was tempered when the Shaws were able to bring Ryann home from the hospital not long after the season ended. Instead of returning home to Fort Myers, Florida, the Shaws opted to stay in Milwaukee, keeping Ryann close to her medical team at Children’s Hospital and Shaw close to Miller Park, where he spent the winter in the batting cage and working with strength coach Josh Seligman.

The fact that he was able to keep an OPS north of .300 while dealing with that is incredible, let alone his very credible .790 mark, likely on minimal sleep and maximum anxiety. Any downgrade in his road work (.937 OPS, 18 HR) could easily be offset by improvements at Miller Park. He admits to wearing down late in the season, which marries with his production as he dropped to a .713 OPS in the final two months, and focused on strengthening himself for the six-month haul.

The bottom line is that I could easily see a repeat of a season that made him the fifth-best 3B in 2017 and there are paths to even more production for the 28-year old slugger. This did give us our CI ahead of our 1B, but I think eschewing a better player at an easier position to fill your roster in some arbitrary order is a negative EV play, which is the fun poker/DFS term for saying “a bad decision”.

9.124 Garrett Richards P4 – We noticed that Ohtani was still here at 124, despite his mid-70s ADP. We briefly considered him, but I’m fully on the Richards train so we opted for him, hoping for even an amalgam of his 2014-15 seasons, which would yield a 3.18 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. Richards fanned 25% of the batters he faced in 28 innings last year, but he’s still never reached the strikeout-per-inning mark despite a rising and consistently strong swinging strike rate. Health is definitely the risk factor here, but the upside is huge.

10.147 Shohei Ohtani P5 – Wow, he made it all the way back! It seems that 7 ER outing had a major impact of his draft stock as he dropped to 104 ADP for the weekend with our 147 being the max. There’s just no way I’m dropping him a ton after 2.7 innings in Spring Training. I wasn’t taking him at the mid-70s ADP, but I’ve been ready to move any time after pick-100. I‘d be surprised if he was worse than a 3.70 ERA/1.25 WHIP for around 140 innings aka CC Sabathia’s 2017 (3.69/1.27 in 149 IP).

11.154 Nomar Mazara OF3 – Look, there’s no massive breakout to be found in the numbers. No neon signs or flashing lights that anyone with a cursory knowledge of stats can spot. There’s a .275/30 HR season in here somewhere, but this pick slot doesn’t require he do it this year to pan out. He doesn’t really need to improve vs. lefties to drive a breakout season, either. There’s plenty of room for growth against righties, after a .786 OPS last year and .788 career mark.

12.177 Ian Kinsler 2B – As with Betts, I just don’t see anything in the secondary numbers that shows why he deserved a .244 BABIP. I’m left feeling there was a sizable chunk of bad luck thrown in there as his core plate skills all held or improved in the face of the BABIP dip and subsequent .236 AVG. His team context got a massive upgrade when he was sent to LA and I think he’s one of the best bargains in the draft. Depth like this as 2B is why you’re probably better off using someone like Jose Ramirez at 3B as it’s likely the more shallow of the two positions.

13.184 Jonathan Lucroy C1 – We jumped Lucroy here as we were both committed to getting solid mid-tier options at both catcher spots and after two of our primary targets came off the board recently in Evan Gattis and Wilson Ramos, we were comfortable gambling on the Lucroy bounce back. He had a dreadful season that was artificially inflated by Coors Field at the end and while he refuses to blame any sort of injuries, I have a hard time believing he played the season anywhere near 100%. That said, this is now two of the last three seasons with a sub-100 wRC+ for the 32-year old, but he’s got a full-time job and strong plate skills that make me hopeful for a return to catching prominence.

14.207 Brad Brach P6 – We’d have probably gone Kelvin Herrera in the 13th had he had not been scooped two picks before so once we were back on the clock with Brach available, we quickly picked him. He’s got a half season clearance and I’m not entirely certain he’ll be ripped from the role if and when Zach Britton returns. We plan to dip into other bullpens as the draft continues so even if it’s only the half season, it should be enough time for us to find another suitable option to go with Hand. In short, we’re feeling good about our saves situation and future plan at this point in the draft despite not getting one of our top five as originally planned.

15.214 Michael Fulmer P7 – Despite a major dip in an already-meh strikeout rate, Fulmer still had a helluva season all things considered. He posted a 3.83 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 164.7 innings and lost time to an ulnar nerve injury that required offseason surgery. It’s the same one Jacob deGrom had in the offseason heading into 2017. It will restore the feeling in Fulmer’s hand and in the process improve his changeup, a feel pitch. It was noticeably worse in 2017 and likely fueled the strikeout drop. I still see more than his 20% mark from 2016, too. A 95-mph electric heater, a strong upper-80s slider, and a mid-80s changeup that was elite throughout the summer of 2016 en route to a Rookie of the Year win. We haven’t seen Fulmer’s best.

16.237 Austin Barnes C2 – A guy I definitely bought in on last year and felt I’d be pushing up the draft board throughout 2018 until injuries and role uncertainty crept into the picture. But I still love the skills, especially at this slot compared to a 192 ADP from New Year’s Day through March 16th.

17.244 Yonder Alonso 1B – I find that when I read down a roster I expect the 1B to be better than the CI instinctively and then if he’s not, I simultaneously ding the team for the 1B without giving proper credit to the CI advantage. It’s just how I’m trained to look at teams when I’m snap judging them. I understand why it’s often preferable to hold the CI spot open and fill 1B/3B first as you try to enhance your chances at getting an endgame gem, but they’re all just positions. This draft really drove that point home for me as we took Shaw before filling 1B. I think we could see this phenomenon play out with 2B/SS/MI, too, as 2B is so deep that I can definitely see myself with two of them in 2B and MI well before I take my SS.

As for Alonso, we dig his gains despite the second half dip. I included Alonso in my All Sleeper Lineup (lol, remember when The Dentist was pick 212?) highlighting how his park change is the best of his career.

18.267 Cesar Hernandez MI – Hernandez is also mentioned in that Sleeper piece. He’s budget DJ LeMahieu and that might be understating Hernandez a bit when you consider his SB gap helps close the AVG one. DJLM had that outlier .348 season in 2016, but I’d call him a true talent .300 and Cesar a .285.

19.274 Addison Reed P8 – It’s hard to envision a 41-year old Fernando Rodney holding the job all year, but he did manage a 2.38 ERA and 0.95 WHIP while going 33-for-37 in SVs from May 1st on last year. Reed’s been great the last two years and showed he can handle the ninth inning.

20.297 Logan Morrison UT – Altered his approach to focus on flyballs and saw a tremendous power surge en route to 38 HR. With health, I don’t see how this isn’t 30 HR at nearly pick 300.

The Final 10: In the interest of your time, we’ll pick up the pace a bit for the final third of the draft.

  • 304 Brad Boxberger P9 – They still haven’t announced the closer in Arizona so we figured why not take a shot? We both acknowledge that Archie Bradley is better, but they also seem to prefer him in the Andrew Miller role.
  • 327 Jorge Soler OF4 – Raking in spring, former hype beast with a clear path to playing time, and still just 26 years old. This could be a game changer if he comes through. This led one of the few times we were truly sniped. We took Soler thinking Derek Fisher would make it back, but he went two picks later and broke Dusty’s heart.
  • 334 Dustin Fowler OF5 – Tracking toward a starting role and went 11 HR/21 SB per 500 PA in the minors.
  • 357 Curtis Granderson RES1 – A solid bat with an early opportunity. I didn’t realize until writing this that he’s also mashing in spring so maybe we get Mets Grandy and not the Dodgers one.
  • 364 Nathan Eovaldi RES2 – The prodigal son returns! A long-time Sporer favorite is once again healthy and creating some buzz with his elite velo.
  • 387 Albert Almora Jr. RES3 – I included Almora in my Post-Hype piece from a while back.
  • 394 Yoshisha Hirano RES4 – Snagged 2/3rds of the Diamondbacks closer candidates and if neither gets it, we have two easy cuts early on. Not every pick has to have a rosy long-term outlook.
  • 417 Jaime Garcia RES5 – Always seems to be a good run within a Jaime Garcia season, so maybe it’s early and we can get some strong innings and then move on.
  • 424 Austin Hays RES6 – Generated a fair bit of sleeper hype early on in draft season before Colby Rasmus was brought in, but now Mark Trumbo is out for a month-plus and perhaps Hays can break camp. He popped 32 HRs across High- and Double-A last year.
  • 447 Daniel Norris RES7 – I wanted to get a piece of the Tigers rotation as a bet on new pitching coach Chris Bosio. He did some good work with the Cubs and I think there’s some solid raw talent in Motown. Originally wanted Boyd, but he went in the 29th.

So that’s the team. That’s the beginning of our quest for the Main Event crown. A recap of the squad in roster form (reserve):

CATCHER – Lucroy, Barnes

1B/3B/CI/UT – Alonso, Rendon, Shaw, Morrison

2B/SS/MI – Kinsler, Bregman, Hernandez

OF – Betts, Yelich, Mazara, Soler, Du.Fowler, (Granderson), (Almora), (Hays)

SP – Paxton, Castillo, Richards, Ohtani, Fulmer, (Eovaldi), (Garcia), (Norris)

RP – Hand, Brach, Reed, Boxberger, (Hirano) – Boxy and Reed won’t both start, but I don’t know which SP will be in week 1 so I’m just listing it as drafted.

It lacks many 30 HR hitters or any 30 base stealers, but it’s a well-balanced core with contributions to most categories coming from everywhere. This should also mitigate some of the damage of injuries that will inevitably pop up. Betts, Yelich, Kinsler, Bregman, and Hernandez should lay the foundation of 90-100 SBs.

It’s not a difficult path to success with the pitching. It requires health more than skills growth, a position I greatly prefer to the reverse of that. We have two relatively established closers for the near future, a decent shot at a third right out of the gate (though probably not a true 67% chance as I’d say the probabilities are 55% Bradley, 35% Boxy, and 10% Hirano), and a really strong #2 behind a 41-year old closer.

I’m pretty happy about how the team turned out. I think we accomplished a lot of what we set out to do and I’d recommend that anyone in draft a partnership have some study sessions on the player pool because two picks from being on the clock is not the time to hash out how you two feel about a particular player. Dusty and I had a deep understanding of the player pool and how we wanted to attack it. Next up is Opening Day and then the initial FAAB phase. Dusty is really sharp with bids and ensuring that we don’t grossly overpay and waste any of our $1000 budget. We’re so deep in Liss’s head that he’s already trying to think of ways to outsmart us in bidding. We can probably bankrupt him by Memorial Day with insane overbids. #ThisAintPortugal

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Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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Can someone explain the Bregman hype to me? I can’t really see him as a 2nd/3rd round pick unless you think he’s going to score 110 and knock in 95. I don’t see where he gains in avg/sb/hr with his exit velos and barrel rates, and I think there’s a tiny bit of avg downside.