Time to reflect on our just-completed draft in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational. The mise-en-scene: 315 Fantasy Baseball writers (including 11 from Fangraphs) from all corners of the Internet, divided into 15-team leagues, each of which plays a season using NFBC Main Event rules, i.e. snake draft, standard 5×5 Rotisserie, 23-man starting lineups, 7-player reserve roster, weekly pitcher substitutions, twice-weekly hitter substitutions, weekly in-season FAABs. Guaranteed immortality to the overall winner.
We’re fairly pleased. According to TGFBI’s projections, we assembled the 19th-best team overall, though only the 3rd best in our own league, inches behind Ariel Cohen of Fangraphs (18th overall) and way behind Brian Creagh of Friends with Fantasy Benefits and Expand The Boxscore (7th overall), whose brilliantly-executed draft strategy (ace starters early, multiple cheap possible closers, punt steals, load up on everything else) has left us awed. Here’s what we did; take whatever you need.
We drafted in third position. Our strategy, beyond our usual “Try not to embarrass yourselves,” wasn’t detailed. The only approach we were committed to was to get speed early. We concluded, after extensive study followed by participation in our traditional 50-player slow draft, that power is freely available at every phase of the draft, whereas speed isn’t. Moreover, the speed that is available later on tends to be one-dimensional, while the fast guys who go early have good counting stats and/or batting average too. Also, you need a lot of steals to compete in stolen bases—about a dozen per non-catcher hitter—and rather than struggle to get those steals round after round, we decided to buy in bulk early.
1st Round, Pick 3. Max Scherzer (NFBC Average Draft Position: 5; TGFBI Average Draft Position: 5). We wouldn’t call this a no-brainer, but it was a surprisingly easy call for guys who’ve never before drafted a pitcher before the fourth round. How much better and how much more consistent can a player—not just a pitcher, but any player—be than Scherzer? We in fact had him as the third most valuable player in the draft anyway. The most popular third pick seems to be Jose Ramirez, but his .218/.366/.427 second half concerns us a little. A month ago, we might have taken Francisco Lindor, but his calf injury ended that notion. And Scherzer’s record enabled us to indulge our unhealthy weakness for low-strikeout pitchers later on.
2nd Round, Pick 28. Starling Marte (35/36). Probably most valuable of the next cluster of high-speed guys.
3rd Round, Pick 33. Adalberto Mondesi (40/39). Our season likely rises or falls with him. He has a huge upside, including big power potential. Moreover, he tried to steal a base nearly half the time he had an opportunity to do so, which is a lot. If that keeps happening—and it looks to us like the Royals will live and die with the stolen base, so it probably will—he will steal 60 bases. Even if his batting average collapses altogether, he should retain substantial (albeit not third-round) value.
4th Round, Pick 58. Eddie Rosario (82/89). We don’t regard this as a stretch. Rosario had a good year in 2018, but he was on his way to an absolutely great one (.320/.529/.578) when he hurt his shoulder on June 21st. He missed only one game, but the difference for the rest of the season was stark. If his shoulder is healed, as we gather it is, he’s a top-20 hitter.
5th Round, Pick 63. Nelson Cruz (84/99). That’s right, he’s DH-only, so he limits your lineup flexibility. And he’s 38. We don’t care. As Bill James notes, he plays like a 28-year-old. And, as you no doubt know, he has signed a 1-year contract with Minnesota. His career stats in Target Field: .325/.355/.667, 10 home runs in 117 at bats.
6th Round, Pick 88 and 7th Round, Pick 93. Brad Hand (88/81) and Roberto Osuna (90/80). Nothing exposes one’s character, and especially one’s character flaws, the way gaming does. The laid-back Birchwood Brother would have preferred to draft one good closer and one or two speculative closers or closer-wannabees. He thinks, no doubt correctly, that making the investment necessary to get two good closers is a suboptimal strategy. The anxiety-prone Birchwood Brother can’t stand waiting to see if, say, Cody Allen wiil still be available in the 11th round, and prefers to get it over with. The a-p BB got his way.
8th Round, Pick 118. Rougned Odor (118/127). Odor recovered from his horrendous 2017 batting average to hit .253, with a huge increase in his walk rate. In the second half, he seemed to put patience and power together: he went deep once every 20 at bats, he walked in over 8% of his plate appearance, his hard-hit rate put him in the top 10 of that category, and his infield fly-ball rate dropped by half. His poor stolen base rate may jeopardize some steals, but we expect a 25 HR/10 SB/.250 season, which makes him a bargain at this draft position.
9th Round, Pick 123. Andrew McCutchen (133/140). We made this pick right before the Bryce Harper signing, which of course enhances McCutchen’s value. We don’t get why he’s not more highly regarded. He’s younger than you think (32), he’s a member of the hitter Quadrinity (as to which see here), and his sojourn with the Yankees last season gives you a taste of what he can do on a contending team with a powerful lineup in a hitter’s park.
10th Round, Pick 148. Eric Hosmer (170/171). This one was purely remedial. We’re not fans of Hosmer, but his numbers (aside from his quasi-MVP season) are phenomenally consistent, we didn’t have a first baseman, and we detected a big drop between Hosmer and the next batch of them.
11th Round, Pick 153. Charlie Morton (117/121). For some reason, the very sharp players in this league let Morton fall about two rounds past where he should have been. We were happy to get him.
12th Round, Pick 178. Rick Porcello (172/162). The erratic Porcello does seem to be due for an off year. But—aside from the facts that he’s durable, can be counted on for wins, and is suddenly striking out a batter an inning—he is one of a couple of dozen pitchers to qualify for both the Trinity and the Quadrinity (as to which see here; we’ll have more about this in the next week or two).
13th Round, Pick 183. Jorge Polanco (186/192).
14th Round, Pick 208. Kenta Maeda (205/210). A 14th-rounder is, we think, about a $6 or $7 player. Even 100 innings of Maeda will get you that.
15th Round, Pick 213. Kyle Schwarber (199/213).
16th Round, Pick 238. Marco Gonzales (263/272). We are willing to toss out the four games he pitched after he hurt his neck, tried to pitch through it, and wound up on the DL. His ERA for the rest of the season was 3.13, and in the 21 innings he pitched after coming off the DL he gave up 4 runs. He is primed for great rate stats and conceivably a bump in strikeouts.
17th Round, Pick 243. Tucker Barnhart (276/287). The two picks immediately before this had been catchers, and we feared a run on the market. It never developed, but in any event we love Barnhart. We loved him last year, too, and he was disappointing, but he hit the ball just as hard as he did in 2017 and was quite unlucky not to have better stats to show for it. Plus, Barnhart caught a lot of innings last season, and wore down a bit in the second half. It sounds to us like multi-position player Kyle Farmer has won the heart of new Reds manager David Bell and might stick as a third catcher, perhaps helping second-stringer Curt Casali ease Barnhart’s burden.
18th Round, Pick 268. Kevin Pillar (276/275). He’s hit about .250 with about 15 home runs and about 15 steals for two years in a row. His glove guarantees he’ll stay in the lineup. Why won’t he do the same again, and if he does, why isn’t he worth way more than the average 18th-round pick?
19th Round, Pick 273. Anibal Sanchez (277/293). We wrote a little about him a couple of weeks ago. First of all, like Porcello he qualifies for both the Trinity and the Quadrinity. Second of all, you can dig as deeply as you like into his 2018 and not find anything suspect. And third of all, why not believe what the numbers say, which is that his rejuvenation is attributable to a likely-sustainable change in his pitch mix?
20th Round, Pick 278. Kurt Suzuki (313/330). Sanchez’s favorite catcher has accompanied him to Washington, but that of course isn’t why we got him. We got him because he can really hit.
21st Round, Pick 303. Jeimer Candelario (391/343). He was headed for a good season when he went down in May with tendinitis and wasn’t quite the same after coming off the DL, plus his BABIP thereafter was rock bottom. Assuming (optimistically, we acknowledge) that the tendinitis doesn’t recur, he will hit second and play every day, which should produce 20 home runs, a few steals, a .260-.270 average, and about 150 runs-plus-RBI. In other words, a player worth $6 or so purchased for a dollar or two.
22nd Round, Pick 308. Jakob Junis (352/328). True, he gets hit hard and gives up home runs, and probably won’t get a lot of wins. But he has an elite slider that he started throwing a lot more in the second half, thereby increasing ground balls and reducing the hard-hit ones and the home runs. It’s the second-half Junis we think we’ll see all season.
23rd round, Pick 333. Brandon Belt (324/323). Why not? He says he’s healthy, and if he is he’s worth way more than a dollar, even if he doesn’t stay that way all season.
24th Round, Pick 338. Tyler O’Neill (368/348). We’re not sure what the Cardinals are doing with their outfield. They seem committed to Dexter Fowler as their right fielder, even though he’s done nothing in the past year to suggest he can handle the task. Now they’ve re-signed Jose Martinez to a two-year contract, even though his outfield butchery got him benched last season. Meanwhile, here’s O’Neill, probably languishing at triple-A despite a plus glove and arm and 9 home runs in 142 major league PAs. We suspect he’ll be starting sooner rather than later.
25th Round, Pick 363. Brandon Lowe (416/462). He fits beautifully into Tampa Bay’s replaceable-parts offense. If you’re willing to disregard the 0-for-17 start to his career—and we are—he had a 140+ wRC with good power and speed, which is in keeping with his minor league record, plus he figures to qualify at multiple positions before long.
26th Round, Pick 368. Trevor Richards (398/389). Plenty of strikeouts plus significant second-half improvement in his rookie season.
27th Round, Pick 393. Yolmer Sanchez (492/taken by only two teams). As a plug-in who’ll play every day, hit 10 home runs and steal 10 bases, and will qualify at multiple positions (he’s now at second base, having traded positions with Yoan Moncada), not bad.
29th Round, Pick 423. Dexter Fowler (472/524). Maybe he’s not done for. He sure doesn’t think so. We’ll know by the end of spring training. That’s what FAAB are for.
30th Round, Pick 428. Jaime Barria (437/520). One of us would probably have taken CC Sabathia here. But the other one—who happened to be minding the front office when this all-important pick came up—couldn’t bring himself to select a 300-pound near-retiree with a heart condition.
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.