NFBC Slow Draft, Part 1: Stairway to Devin

Back to our originally scheduled schedule with a report on our (still ongoing) NFBC slow draft. The mise-en-scene: 15 teams, 50 rounds, up to 8 hours to make a pick, no in-season transactions. The dramatis personae: people who (a) in the month of January are reasonably conversant with and able to distinguish microscopically among the statistics, orthopedic well-being, and prospects of at least 700 professional baseball players, and (b) are willing to attend to–indeed, obsess over–this process, to the exclusion of sound hygiene and personal responsibilities. In short, our kind of guys.

Our draft selections were animated, or, if you prefer, enervated, by certain strategic considerations:

–We detected, or thought we detected, something of a dropoff between the first 20 or so likely draftees and the next group. Conversely, we thought that numbers 8 through 15 were approximately equal. And, having always drafted in the middle of the pack before, we hoped to avoid the frustration of being unable to plan effectively because we’ve always had to wait six or seven picks to make our next move. So, if we couldn’t draft in the first four, we were happy to draft in the last four. We wound up drafting 14th, which was fine with us.

–We knew that the concentration of stolen bases among high-end base stealers (20 or more) was greater last season than it had been in a long time. In other words, not only has the number of guys who steal that many shrunk since 2013, which you probably already knew, but there is–or at least there was last season–a wider disparity between the guys who steal a lot and the ones who steal a whole lot. And we also thought, as we’ve explained before, that Billy Hamilton is going to steal way more bases and score way more runs than are dreamt of in any autoregressive projection system’s philosophy. So we knew we wanted Hamilton early.

–We believed that the distribution of quality among first basemen and shortstops was bimodal, whereas the distribution at other hitting positions wasn’t. We accordingly planned to go after players at those positions in the earliest rounds.

–We figured, despite reams of empirical evidence from past seasons to the contrary, that we had identified some mid-priced starting pitchers who’d be undervalued, so we wouldn’t be in a hurry to get SPs, though we might get one or two earlyish if we saw a bargain.

–We weren’t going to chase an elite closer, but instead go after mid- or low-level closers and closers-in- waiting.

And now the results, annotated as necessary. We’ll give them in pairs because that’s how we were thinking of them during the draft. The numbers are those for the overall draft positions of the players in question:

14. Miguel Cabrera and 17. Carlos Correa. First base and shortstop, as envisioned. Max Scherzer went 13th, and we’d have taken him if we could have, despite the foregoing.

44. Billy Hamilton and 47. Yoenis Cespedes. His average draft position is 61, so we evidently took Cespedes a round early, but he was the best power hitter available that we liked.

74. Carlos Martinez and 77. Alex Bregman. A good price for Martinez, we thought. As with Cespedes, we took Bregman earlier than his ADP, but the acquisition of Hamilton liberated us to get pure power earlier than the guys who were nickel-and-diming SBs could afford to.

104. Justin Turner and 107. Kenta Maeda. This pair of picks prompted some disagreement in the Birchwood Brothers’ front office. Since our last pick, we’d watched helplessly as eight closers were taken, bringing the total to twelve and leaving Alex Colome as the only remaining closer we actually liked. (This led to the belated discovery that the downside of having two picks close together is that you can’t react to changed circumstances in time.) The wizened Birchwood Brother, who came up when men were men and gobs of tobacco juice glistened on the sun-dappled ball fields, wanted to take Colome with the first of these two picks. The young Birchwood Brother, an econometrician steeped in so-called “analytics,” but lacking an appreciation of intangibles, which is odd because what could be less tangible than numbers, insisted that the guy who had two picks between our two picks wasn’t going to take a closer, and suggested we take Turner, whom our fellow owner might want. The older BB, courtly as ever, acceded. So we took Turner (who did fit our strategy), and guess what happened? This would cause some anxiety later on. Meanwhile, there was no closer we yearned to have, so we took Maeda, who seemed like a decent buy at this point.

134. Tony Watson and 137. Ben Zobrist. Three more closers that we didn’t especially want were gone, so we took the last closer that we didn’t especially want, thereby avoiding closers that we really didn’t want. As for Zobrist: will someone please explain to us why his ADP is 170? You have here a guy who bats at or near the top of the most formidable lineup in the National League, gets on base a whole bunch, scored more than 90 runs last season, is a lock for double figures in home runs, hits for a batting average that won’t hurt you and may help, and qualifies at both middle infield and outfield. Why, then, are people taking him eight rounds later than Jason Kipnis and ten rounds later than Ian Kinsler?

164. Joc Pederson and 167. Jameson Taillon. It may appear that we got Pederson way to early, but we think he’s going to be terrific. He murders right-handed pitching of course, and last season he showed improved plate discipline, swinging and missing less and substantially upping his walk rate. And his hard-hit ball rate was 38.7%, which was 28th in the majors. You say he’s just a platoon player? Possibly, but even so he’ll get close to 500 PAs, and his power/speed combination makes 25/10 or even 30/10 look doable.

194. Brad Miller and 197. Cam Bedrosian. Miller was the bargain of the draft as far as we’re concerned. We got Bedrosian way early for a guy coming off surgery and supposedly in a three-way competition for Angels’ closer with Huston Street (who hasn’t been good for two years) and Andrew Bailey (whose 12-game revival after 4 ½ seasons of futility and surgery we regard as a blip). But Bedrosian was superb last season, and we think, or at least hope, that the competition stuff is just Mike Scioscia keeping Street mollified for the moment.

224. Derek Norris and 227. Aaron Nola. We were so busy responding to the run on closers that we didn’t notice the run on catchers in our league. Suddenly, eighteen catchers were off the board, which shouldn’t have happened for another four rounds or so. We could have waited until then and seen what was left, but Norris was a guy we’d had our eye on all along. Yes, his 2015 was atrocious. But he can still hit home runs, he’s still young (27), his defense will keep him in the lineup, and we attribute last season’s malaise to clinical depression induced by 113 games spent in the immediate company of the Padres’ epochally awful starting rotation. He’s in Washington now, and that should make all the difference, though that’s what they said about Trump, too.

254. Matt Holliday and 257. Collin McHugh. This was before the Yankees got Chris Carter, but we’re still happy: Holliday evidently really is in the best shape of his life. More importantly, we like Holliday because we were dazzled by the Yankees’ comments when they signed him. It used to be that, whenever an aging veteran had a bad year, his apologists would say: “He was unlucky last season. He hit the ball hard, but right at people.” This is the first time, though, that we can recall a team actually invoking, in impressive detail, the guy’s exit velocity. Really–you could take that portion of the press release that accompanied Holliday’s signing, change the names as necessary, and plug it into half the articles in Fangraphs, and no one would know the difference. We felt we had to acknowledge this conclusive evidence that Statgeekese has become the lingua franca. It felt to us like the end of 1984, except this time around Big Brother learns to love Winston Smith. What better way to commemorate this milestone than to take the player who prompted its creation?

McHugh we like because he qualifies as a member of the Holy Quaternity, which we’ve written about before. It’s a way of using granular stats to identify undervalued pitchers. We’ve had modest success with it in the past, and we’ll report on it again, more comprehensively, within the next month. Meanwhile, please trust us–McHugh qualifies. We regard him as more desirable than Ian Kennedy, Ivan Nova, and Anthony DeSclafani, who were the next starting pichers taken and whose ADPs are all lower.

284. Addison Reed and 287. Josh Bell. We see now that we omitted to tell you about a vital element of our strategy. We needed to get a first baseman with a history of knee problems who reinjures his knee in an off-season workout, has surgery, comes back too soon, and underperforms all season. In 2015, we got Victor Martinez in our slow draft and missed winning our league by one point. Last year, we were also-rans. So we knew what we had to do, and we give ourselves extra credit for prescience because we did it even before Bell got hurt.

314. Devin Mesoraco and 317. Mike Foltynewicz. As noted above, catchers went early in this league–except for Mesoraco. You could almost feel the entire league tiptoeing around him as catcher after catcher was taken, including by us. When we finally reached the point where his ADP and his draft position were roughly congruent, we couldn’t resist. So we didn’t.

334. Howie Kendrick and 337. Huston Street. We see Kendrick on our roster the way the Phillies appear to see him on theirs: as a useful, multi-positional spare part or stopgap rather than a guy certain to be in the lineup on opening day. As for Street: our confidence that Bedrosian will outpitch him couldn’t quite eclipse our fear that it won’t matter, because of course Street is the Proven Closer.

Back with the second half next week. As always, we yearn for your insights, your plaudits, and even your persiflage.

We hoped you liked reading NFBC Slow Draft, Part 1: Stairway to Devin by The Birchwood Brothers!

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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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Not a fan. A lot of AVG risk here aside from Miggy. HUGE SB risk if Hamilton underperforms or gets hurt. Never a fan of this particular strategy going into a draft.

Your staff is

Love Taillon and Nola, but without a truce Ace to bolster this staff it feels rough. I think McHugh is the only guy whos thrown 200 IP (barely) while 1 or 2 others have come close. You’ll struggle with K’s for sure. Health will be huge for you as Maeda, Taillon, Nola all had issues last year.


Saves are always attainable (check that, no in-season transactions….), but again the lack of a no doubter here hurts. I could see none of these pitchers ending up with more than 10 saves by year’s end.