NFBC Main Event Draft, Part 2: This Is Not Our Beautiful House

Return with us now to the distant evening of April 2, 2015, when we were young, life was simple, and Jennrys Mejia was the Mets’ closer. Our task: conducting the NFBC Main Event draft (15 teams, 30 rounds) without embarrassing ourselves. The setting: the “Rhinelander Gallery” of a Manhattan hotel, and it is depressing indeed to think that we are so ancient that we remember not only when the Cincinnati Reds were officially nicknamed “Redlegs,” but also when they were widely known by the unofficial nickname “Rhinelanders,” a nod to the ethnic group that once dominated that city, and at some point during its hegemony concluded that chili is best served over spaghetti. The immediate situation: the approximate midpoint of the draft. For an outline of our overall approach to the draft and an account of the first half, see our previous post.

When your starting outfield on Opening Day includes Travis Snider and Gregor Blanco, as ours did, you owe your audience an explanation, and we will give you one below. But it’s easier to explain what we were doing with pitching, so let’s tackle that first. In case you don’t want to do any homework, here’s where we stood at the end of Round 17: We had two elite closers (Aroldis Chapman and Steve Cishek) and a deliberately bargain-hunted set of starters (Alex Wood, Gio Gonzalez, Ian Kennedy, Drew Hutchison, Dallas Keuchel) that we liked. So:

With Overall Pick 274 of the draft, we took Ken Giles, whose NFBC Average Draft Position was 257. Closers went latish in this league, and we could have had, say, Fernando Rodney in the 11th round, Addison Reed in the 12th, Santiago Casilla in the 13th, or, uh, Mejia or Joe Nathan in the 14th. But we decided that the marginal advantage of having a third officially-designated closer wasn’t enough to take one in those rounds. Instead, we asked ourselves: What relief pitchers (1) are very good and get a lot of strikeouts, and (2) won’t be getting saves at the start of the season, but (3) are the clear next-in-lines on their teams, and (4) have a decent chance of becoming the closer even if the top dog doesn’t get hurt. Our list had three guys on it: Giles (because of the Papelbon-trade scenario); Jordan Walden (we aren’t overwhelmed by Trevor Rosenthal, though the same evidently can’t be said of the Cubs’ and Reds’ hitters); and Danny Farquhar. If your list had Jason Grilli on it, we salute you, and buy us a drink (well, two drinks) with your winnings. In retrospect, we could have waited for Walden, who didn’t get taken until the 27th round, but the Giles pick was ok.

Pick 334: Mike Leake (NFBC ADP 309), whom we urged on you in a previous post. The theory, essentially, was that the non-Chapman wing of the Reds’ bullpen has changed significantly from last year, that it accordingly can’t possibly be as bad as it was in 2014, and thus that these relief pitchers will actually “relieve”—i.e. “give aid or help to”—the Reds’ starters. On the evidence of the first week of the season, this ranks with the Phlogiston theory for accuracy.

Pick 364: Chase Anderson (NFBC ADP 366). He’s “on the path to success,” said beloved Fangraphs editor Eno Sarris last December, by virtue of his (Anderson’s, not Eno’s, though Eno’s is probably good too) changeup and the large number of strikeouts it induces. Good enough for us.

Pick 394: Trevor Cahill (NFBC ADP 424). As it happened, he was traded to the Braves during the draft, which we (and no doubt everyone else in the room) knew at the time. But we’ve had our eye on him all spring. He was awful last year, but there were signs—an unprecedentedly high strikeout rate, significant differences between his actual and expected ERA and FIP, a stratospheric BABIP that just has to go down—to suggest improvement. Then Cahill showed up in spring training with a new “arm slot” – which, we discovered, doesn’t mean that it attached to his shoulder in a different place, or to a different body part—and pitched well in the Cactus League. In a typically judicious and microscopic analysis of Cahill posted scant hours after we drafted him, Eno, whose doctorate is in pitching mechanics, concluded that he’s a “decent gamble.” We’re considerably more bullish. By the time you read this, Cahill will have had his first start of the season, and we’ll know a bit more. (Wednesday morning note: Uh-oh.)

Pick 424: Pat Neshek (NFBC 367). Another possible-saves high-strikeout reliever, but (see below) no longer a member of Team Birchwood.

And before we leave the pitchers: How is this draft different from all our other drafts? Because in this one, we didn’t draft T.J. House, whose praises we’ve been trumpeting since we started this blog. He went in the 20th round, 10 picks before we’d have taken him. In view of his first start of the season—1 1/3 innings, 6 hits, 3 walks, 6 earned runs—this may be a stroke of luck.

As for hitters: When Round 18 of the draft started, we still needed two outfielders, a middle infielder, and a utility guy, as well as a bench that, we figured, would consist mostly of outfielders. For our UT guy, we took A-Rod (ADP 295) with the 297th pick. What to do about players whose real-world conduct you find repellent is an issue about which the denizens of Fantasyland disagree. We ourselves are remorseless Objectivists. We’d draft a werewolf if he’d get us some saves. Thus, we don’t care about Alex Rodriguez the public figure, dismaying as he may be, or Alex Rodriguez the person, whoever he is. We don’t even care about Alex Rodriguez the entertainer/performer, although he’s always been a pleasure to watch on the field, or even Alex Rodriguez the Yankee, though he happens to play for a team of which we’re lifelong fans, and we’d just as soon he help them win. Rather, we care only about “Alex Rodriguez,” the label—the brand name, if you will– on a package of stats. And we think that package will contain a nice surprise. We’re persuaded because the Yankees are persuaded. At the start of Spring Training, it was clear, the entire franchise, from Brian Cashman on down, would rather have seen A-Rod swallowed up by the earth than standing on it in pinstripes. Indeed, they may still feel that way, but they also recognize, after watching him all spring, that they’ll do better with him as an everyday player than they otherwise would. So we took him. It’s working out pretty well so far, right? And if you want to post a comment explaining that that’s not what “Objectivist” means, it’s your time and your dime.

Now, about those outfielders: we took Travis Snider with the 267th pick (ADP 327); Ender Inciarte with the 327th pick (ADP 373); Seth Smith with the 357th pick (ADP 397); Gregor Blanco with the 447th pick (ADP 405); and Jake Smolinski with the 417th pick (ADP 408). We hadn’t targeted Snider, but we’re happy to have him. He was, essentially, a challenge pick. All of the next 8 outfielders to be drafted (Hunter, Fowler, Saunders, Taylor, Rajai Davis, De Aza, Rasmus, and Eric Young) had earlier ADPs, but we think Snider will outperform them all. What we think, more precisely, is that he will hit a ton of home runs. First of all, he’s moving from PNC Park, which is very tough on left-handed power hitters, to Camden Yards, where the species thrives. He will also play plenty of games in Yankee Stadium and Rogers Centre, which are just as hospitable, although we grant you he’s played plenty in Rogers before without setting it alight. More importantly, we suspect he figured something out in the second half of 2014, in which he hit .288/.356/.524. He’s never done anything like that before. Snider gets hurt a lot, and has a history of starting strong in a new place and then faltering, so we’re not preening about his hot start this season. But we are nonetheless proud members of the Fangraphs Snider-in-2015 cadre.

We’ve already offered serial effusions about Inciarte, so we won’t repeat ourselves about him now. Ideally, he and Snider will hold down the OF4 and OF5 slots week after week. We recognize, though, that that may not happen. Snider’s high-risk and has disappointed before, while the approach to roster construction and lineup selection of Diamondbacks’ GM Dave Stewart and Manager Chip Hale doesn’t inspire confidence that they’ll have their best players on the field or even in the dugout. We suspect the D-backs would be better off with Key and Peele, or Simon and Garfunkel, than with Stewart and Hale. While they figure that out, though, Inciarte may languish.

So we needed a back-up plan, and chose to go with a platoon strategy. Platoon players are always tricky in non-daily leagues, but NFBC allows lineup resets twice a week. So we’ll be resetting, generally, every three games. The numbers that make a platoon arrangement add up will cross your eyes, and we’re already running long with this post, so we’ll run them down in detail for you another time. But the concept is simple. In any given three-game stretch, either two or all three games will be started by a right-handed pitcher about 80% of the time. Say you’ve got a left-handed hitter who’s part of a strict platoon on his major-league team. Let’s call him “Smith.” If you use Smith whenever the team’s facing two or more right-handers over the next three or four games, you will get somewhere between 350 and 400 at-bats out of him. If you use someone else—ideally, a left-handed platoon player on a different team—when two or more lefthanders are in the offing for Smith, you’ll get another 75 to 100 at bats from that someone. If you get the right guys and get them cheap, you’ve scored a coup.

Smith, as opposed to “Smith,” is a Fangraphs darling (see, for example, Paul Swydan’s New Year’s Eve celebration of him), a left-handed hitter who mauls righties, can’t hit lefties, and is moving from a terrible hitters’ park (Petco) to a somewhat better one (Safeco). It appears he is in a strict platoon in Seattle, and will start whenever the Mariners face a right-handed pitcher. So our plan is to start Smith in any semiweekly segment in which the Mariners figure to face two or more righties. That, we estimate, will get us about 375 at bats from him, with 50 runs, 50 RBI, 10 home runs, and a .270 average. And when Smith doesn’t start for us—which figures to happen in about 10 semiweekly segments during the season—we plug in Blanco, who, even if he winds up in a platoon or as a part-timer once Hunter Pence returns, should get us another 10 or so runs and RBIs, a couple of stolen bases, a .260 BA, and maybe even a home run or two. Add up the stats and they’re not bad for two reserve-round picks, and that doesn’t even count Smolinski, which is a good thing because—see below—he, too, Is no longer a Birchwoodian.

As for the middle infield: We’ve bent your ear about Jose Ramirez (our 304th pick, ADP 306), who we think will be a top-10 shortstop, before. Likewise DJ Le Mahieu (our 387th pick, ADP 357), who would in fact be a top-10 second baseman if he could play nowhere but Coors. The plan is to use Le Mahieu when the Rockies are at home, perhaps in place of Ramirez at MI, perhaps in place of Prado at 2B, conceivably even in place of A-Rod at UT if he starts showing his age, and otherwise go with our infield of Prado-Alicides Escobar-Ramirez.

So that’s it. How congruent was our actual draft to the one we’d envisioned? We’d give ourselves a B, maybe a B plus. We wish we’d stuck to our original program, laid off Alex Wood in the 6th round, and taken J.D. Martinez for our outfield. We’re not unhappy to have A-Rod, but we suspect we’d have been even happier with Adam Lind, a tremendous platoon hitter who went with the next pick. We could have waited a round or two for Cahill, and picked up Mitch Moreland, who may turn out to be more useful. Blanco and Smolinski weren’t inspired picks, but that’s what FAABs are for. On the whole, though, we did what we said we were going to do.

And, having done it, how are we doing? As dawn broke on Monday, April 12th, we were third in our 15-team league and 81st in the Main Event overall, which given how porous our pitching has been isn’t so bad. Cishek blew two saves, so we regretfully jettisoned Neshek and paid 15 FAAB units (total budget is 1000) for A.J. Ramos, who’s the likeliest Marlins closer if Cishek can’t get it together. We briefly exulted at the prospect of Smolinski’s getting the Texas left-field job full time after Ryan Rua was hurt, but that didn’t happen—he’s still on the short side of a platoon. The long side, summoned from the minors, is legendary minor-league power hitter Carlos Peguero, who played himself into and then out of that job during spring training. He’s 28, and his slash line in 242 major league plate appearances over four seasons is a grim .205/.260/.388. He’ll strike out a bunch, but he’ll also hit home runs, perhaps in great profusion, probably not. We paid 5 FAABs for him to find out, and stuck him on our bench. Stay tuned.

The Birchwood Brothers are two guys with the improbable surname of Smirlock. Michael, the younger brother, brings his skills as a former Professor of Economics to bear on baseball statistics. Dan, the older brother, brings his skills as a former college English professor and recently-retired lawyer to bear on his brother's delphic mutterings. They seek to delight and instruct. They tweet when the spirit moves them @birchwoodbroth2.

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This was a great read, as is all of the Birchwood Brothers content.

That being said, this Dave Stewart/Chip Hale narrative that FG has been preaching is getting absolutely ridiculous.

– Tomas is in AAA
– Inciarte and Pollock (best 2 OFs) lead the Dbacks in starts and PAs (albeit, SSS to PAs)
– Cahill was traded
– Ross was cut

The D’backs are playing their best players. The narrative was that we’d see Tomas and Trumbo starting every game which clearly hasn’t been the case. Inciarte is going to play. A lot.