It’s time to review the first half of our NFBC slow draft. We’re not certain why we’re bothering. Sure, we enjoy reading about expert drafts as much as the next lunatic who’s ignoring his real-world responsibilities. But assuming we’re experts because we write for Fangraphs and you probably don’t is like assuming that Justin Bieber has talent because he has a recording contract and you probably don’t.
And anyway, decisions in drafts, unlike decisions in auctions—or at least less than decisions in auctions—are always deeply contextual, and thus not very useful in thinking about valuation in a different draft. In an auction, you’re usually going to be able to pay an above-market price to get guys you really want. Whether that’s a good strategy or not is beside the point; at least you’re going to be able to do it. In a draft, especially if you draft in a middle position, you’re frequently going to be a helpless bystander as players you like, and were prepared to take a round or two before you thought the market would, get grabbed by other owners with the same idea. Of course, occasionally a player you like and thought you had no chance of getting falls to you. Either way, you’re constantly readjusting as the draft develops, players you wanted to get disappear, and players you didn’t especially want wind up on your roster because, say, there was a run on closers and you were left with a choice among Fernando Rodney, Joakim Soria, and Brad Ziegler.
On to the draft. First, the mise-en-scene: 15 teams, slow 50-round Richard Dawkins draft–no afterlife, so the players you take are the ones you’re stuck with. We were in the 5th draft position. Our strategy, insofar as we had one beyond not embarrassing ourselves, was: (1) Get stolen bases early. It takes a lot of stolen bases to contend in that category—at least 10 per non-catcher hitter, probably more, and we didn’t want to be constrained round after round to find the 10-SB guys. (2) It takes a lot of power to do well in the power categories—you’ve got to average more than 20 home runs and 70 RBI per hitter. So when in doubt, get power. (3) Buoyed by our unaccustomed success with mid-priced starting pitchers last season, we didn’t think we absolutely had to have an ace, though we were ready to take one if it looked like the right move. (4) Don’t fool around with closers. Too often, we’ve eschewed elite closers and taken mid-priced or lower guys we weren’t crazy about. It hasn’t turned out well. So we figured we’d get good closers as soon as our pick and their market value aligned.
One important thing that we forgot, and that may have cost us: large differences in Average Draft Price usually mean small differences in actual value. If you translate ADP into auction values using Jeff Zimmerman’s formula, you’ll see that once you get past about the 5th round of a 15-team draft, the round-to-round difference is about $1, and once you get past roughly the 10th round, it’s a good bit less. So you shouldn’t be wary of taking, for example, a guy whose ADP is 200 with the 170th pick. But too often, we were.
Here’s the first half of our team, with annotations when we have to explain ourselves, which turns out to be most of the time. Note that this draft is ongoing—we’ll be in about the 35th round when you read this—so feel free to season your derision with constructive suggestions for late-round picks. Note also that mid-priced hitters in this draft went a round or two later in this draft than they did in the recently-completed LABR draft, whereas mid-priced pitchers went a round or two earlier. Just one of those things, presumably–while it’s possible that the other owners in our league are eight-year-olds, androids, or both (or, for that matter, that we are), they appear to know what they’re doing.
1st Round, Pick 5: Paul Goldschmidt. Half an hour into the draft and the first curve gets thrown. We were hoping Trea Turner would last until our pick, and we figured the first three picks were Trout-Altuve-Goldschmidt. If we didn’t get Turner, we were prepared to take Mookie Betts, whom we love for reasons we’ll try to discuss next time we write about something other than this draft. Imagine our surprise when the first four rounds went Trout-Altuve-Turner-Arenado. We could have taken Betts (who went next), but it was hard to turn down Goldschmidt, especially since he steals bases. So we didn’t. We weren’t thinking about the humidor, though perhaps we should have been.
2nd Round, Pick 26: Dee Gordon. Roughly his market value, and exactly whom we were hoping to get.
3rd Round, Pick 35: Kenley Jansen. You could argue that he was a bit overpriced. His ADP is 39. But we had vowed to be proactive with closers, and we figured the best ones would be gone by the time we made our next pick.
4th Round, Pick 56: Aaron Nola. Only two more closers were off the board, so we weren’t in a hurry for another one. And starting pitchers weren’t going especially fast at that point, though everyone with an ADP lower than Nola’s was gone. There wasn’t another starter we especially wanted until roughly the 6th round, and we considered waiting, but we chickened out. Nola’s ADP is 63, so it wasn’t that much of a stretch.
5th Round, Pick 65: Rhys Hoskins. This was the Goldschmidt situation revisited. We like Hoskins fine, but we didn’t crave him, and had figured we’d use this pick for another closer (Knebel and Rivero were available) or conceivably a starter (Paxton, Cole, and Keuchel were around). But there Hoskins (ADP 52) was, and, like undisciplined shoppers on Black Friday, we couldn’t resist a bargain, even when we were looking for something else entirely. We like to think we got at least 35 home runs and maybe 100 RBIs.
6th Round, Pick 86: Cody Allen. By this time, the hunt for closers was in full cry. Five had been taken in the preceding eight picks, and only three that we really liked (Allen, Iglesias, Hand) were left. It was clear that we couldn’t wait, so we didn’t. Allen’s ADP is 92, so we didn’t overpay, and if we’d waited until our next pick for a closer, we’d have been looking at some very iffy guys—Greg Holland, Blake Treinen, Alex Colome (whom we don’t trust).
7th Round, Pick 95: Justin Turner. The first of several horrible moments. We like Masahiro Tanaka and (especially) Luke Weaver a lot. Their ADPs are 100 and 107 respectively, so we figured we’d be able to get one of them with this pick. But they got taken with the two picks immediately before this one. This was, we see now, a direct consequence of our acquisition of Hoskins. We’d otherwise have taken Rivero in the 5th round, Tanaka or Weaver in the 6th, and a serious power hitter here. But we were a little shellshocked, one of us is a huge Turner fan, and in any event…
8th Round, Pick 116: Joey Gallo. …we were a bit lucky, and got our serious power hitter anyway.
9th Round, Pick 125: Zack Godley. Power, speed, and saves were checking out, so time for more starting pitchers. Godley was at his market value.
10th Round, Pick 146: Jon Gray. As was Gray, more or less.
11th Round, Pick 155: Yadier Molina. For reasons we’ll eventually get around to explaining, we think he might be a bit underpriced.
12th Round, Pick 176: Ian Kinsler. This was an uncharacteristically bold move in our otherwise timid draft. Kinsler’s ADP is 193, and the market apparently thinks it’s got him pegged: a 35-year-old coming off a season in which he hit .236, and thus, past glories notwithstanding, barely a top-20 second baseman. As we see it, though, Kinsler was one of the three or four unluckiest hitters in MLB last year, and we can imagine him approximating last year’s 22 home runs and 15 stolen bases while hitting his customary .270 to .290.
13th Round, Pick 185: Marcus Semien. Maybe we actually were pretty daring—Semien’s ADP is 219—but we think this was a steal. Semien, you’ll recall, hit 27 home runs in 2016, and, after coming back from a broken wrist in July last season, hit 9 home runs and stole 7 bases. He’s got excellent plate discipline, and you don’t have to squint too hard to see .260/20/20 or .260/25/15. Plus he’s supposed to lead off, so he should get plenty of counting stats. All in all, a 10th-round guy, we’d say.
14th Round, Pick 206: Kyle Schwarber. The sharp-eyed among you will have noticed that we’d gotten this far having drafted only one outfielder. Having paid a lot for Schwarber in last year’s auctions, we’re well versed in his downside, which has him hitting .085 and spending the summer in Iowa. And we suspect the Cubs as a team will disappoint. But Schwarber’s upside is intoxicating, and we got him at or slightly below market value.
15th Round, Pick 215: Aaron Hicks. Have you seen what this guy looks like after a winter of pumping iron? He looks like he could hit a wiffle ball over the right-field wall at Yankee Stadium with a badminton racket. Because Hicks was so disappointing for so long, people forget that he was once a first-round draft pick and a top-40 prospect, and may be inclined to discount his fine 2017, especially because he fell off in the second half. We think that’s a mistake.
16th Round, Pick 236: Sean Manaea. We believe him when he says (1) that his bad second half last year was attributable to his 25-pound weight loss, which was in turn attributable to (2) the medication he was taking for ADHD, a situation he feels he has fully corrected by (3) switching medications. The member of the family whose specialty is psychopharmacology even thinks she knows what the medications in question are, and she believes Manaea too.
17th Round, Pick 245: J.A. Happ. Undervalued; we envision a return to 2016.
18th Round, Pick 266: Tanner Roark. Ditto, only we’re less confident.
19th Round, Pick 275: Shin-Soo Choo.
20th Round, Pick 296: Stephen Piscotty.
21st Round, Pick 305: Stephen Vogt. We don’t get why the market disdains him (ADP 340, 26th catcher off the board). All right, we do get it: he’s 33, he’s hurt a lot, he hit .233 last year, and his defensive skills have eroded to the vanishing point. But he hit 8 home runs in 133 plate appearances in Milwaukee, and if he does that again he’s worth a buck or two, which is the equivalent of what he cost us.
22nd Round, Pick 326: Austin Hays. Another painful moment. Two picks before us, both Mikie Mahtook and Hanley Ramirez were available. We’d have been delighted with either. By the time we picked, both were gone. Nothing wrong with Hays here, we think, but we’d plainly have been better off taking Mahtook or Ramirez a round earlier and taking our chances with a catcher in this round.
23rd Round, Pick 335: Wilmer Flores. We’d like to tell you that we think Flores will win a starting job with the Mets and figure out how to hit right-handed pitching as well as he hits left-handers. We’d like to tell you that we drafted him before the Mets—whose personnel strategy entirely eludes us—signed Todd Frazier. But we can’t tell you those things. What we can tell you is that we pressed the wrong button at the wrong time, and that the guy we were trying to take was…
24th Round, Pick 356: Luke Gregerson, who was fortunately still available with our next pick. Gregerson’s season with Houston last year was way better than it looks, and we think that the Cardinals are serious when they say he’s their closer. If he gets that shot, we think he will thrive, just as he did with the Astros in 2015. Of course, this was before the Cardinals signed Bud Norris and, supposedly, Greg Holland, so maybe he won’t get the shot.
25th Round, Pick 365: Freddy Galvis, about whom there’s never anything to say.
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.