TGFBI Draft Annotated: Buyers’ Remorse

Now let’s have a look at the team we drafted in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational. The background: In 2018, our Fangraphs colleague Justin Mason was divinely inspired to organize a competition for members of what is amusingly called the Fantasy Baseball “industry”—a term that invariably induces in us visions of our fellow stat geeks wearing coveralls and carrying lunch pails as they troop into factories belching smoke (the factories, that is, not the fellow nerds). That first season, which we missed, there were 195 teams. Last year there were 315, and now there are 390, with owners drawn from corners of the internet both proximate and remote. We’re divided into 26 15-team leagues, each of which plays a season using NFBC Main Event rules: 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. The goal isn’t so much to win your own league as to finish at or near the top overall.

Last year—as we lose no opportunity to remind our readers—we did pretty well, winning our league and finishing either 7th or 9th overall, depending on which set of results you’re looking at. So, having come that close to immortality in our first crack at it, this year we have set our sights squarely on Valhalla.

Unfortunately, we may have gone off course already. Last year, according to the preseason assessment of Smada—whose devotion to Fantasy Baseball makes us look like mere dilettantes and dabblers—we had the 29th-best draft; this year, we were 56th. This in itself isn’t too troubling. Last year’s one-two finishers, Todd Zola and Reuven Guy, were 136th and 71st respectively, whereas the guys with the two top-rated drafts finished 45th and 195th. But last year we came out of the draft feeling pretty good about it. This year, not so much. So allow us to go over what we did. See what you think; as always, we invite your comments, whether encouraging or disdainful.

We were drafting in second position. No complaints, but of course when you draft at one end or another of a snake draft, you’ve really got to be proactive, or else you risk finding that, say, all the stolen bases or all the saves have vanished between the beginning of one round and the end of the next. But it’s possible to be too proactive, and in retrospect, that’s what we may have been, because we drafted according to envisioned outcomes that never came to pass. Otherwise, insofar as we went into the draft with specific strategic goals, they were minimal: get steals early, because you need a lot of them to do well in that category and they can be very hard to come by; first base is a surprisingly thin position, so don’t wait to grab someone; don’t sweat starting pitchers, because there are plenty of good ones to be had in the middle rounds. Here’s what happened:

1st Round, Pick 2: Christian Yelich (NFBC Average Draft Position 2; TGFBI ADP 3). Acuna was taken first, so it was Yelich vs. Trout, with Yelich’s higher stolen-base output the deciding factor.

2nd Round, Pick 29: Aadalberto Mondesi (34/31). We wouldn’t mind having this one back. We have something of a sentimental attachment to Mondesi, since we took him early last year and he was one of the keys to our success. And we don’t doubt that, if he’s healthy, he’ll steal 40-plus bases again, perhaps with some of the power he showed in 2018. It’s the “if he’s healthy” part that bothers us. Let’s quickly review Mondesi’s 2019. At the halfway point of the season, he was hitting .266 with 7 home runs and 28 steals in 31 attempts. On July 16th, he tries to make a diving catch and partially dislocates his left shoulder. It takes him six weeks to recover, and the Royals, not without misgivings, let him come back in September under the firm injunction that he not attempt any more diving catches. Whereupon, on September 22nd, he attempts a diving catch and tears his labrum. He still hasn’t played in a game this spring. And this is the guy on whom our season depends—it’s very tough to recover from the loss of a second-round pick.

3rd Round, Pick 32: Blake Snell (31/34). Another one we wouldn’t mind having back, though not because we dislike Snell or even because he got hurt—though not seriously, it appears– about three minutes after we drafted him. No, our regrets are tactical. We were all set to take Ozzie Albies, but drafted Snell in the mistaken belief that, if we waited until our next pair of picks, all the top-tier pitchers we like would be gone. As it developed, however…

4th Round, Pick 59 (52/55): Charlie Morton was still available.

5th Round, Pick 62: Anthony Rizzo (67/68). There’s a cluster of first basemen—Rizzo, Goldschmidt, Abreu, Muncy—available in the 5th round or so, after whom there’s a big dropoff at the position. So we got one of them.

6th Round, Pick 89: Eddie Rosario (92/92).

7th Round, Pick 92: Josh Donaldson (90/94).

8th Round, Pick 119: Taylor Rogers (116/107). We like Rogers fine, but we were in a bigger hurry to get a closer than we needed to be—or so we discovered as the draft developed and our fellow owners avoided closers as if they (the closers, not the owners) had cooties.

9th Round, Pick 122: Kyle Schwarber (138/140). We really like Schwarber, who as you perhaps know will be moving from the leadoff spot, where he wasn’t very good, to cleanup, where he was. And we knew he’d be gone by the time our next pair of picks came around. The real question, however, was whether we liked him more than we liked Lance Lynn, and the answer is no, we probably didn’t. This wouldn’t have been an issue if, as planned, we’d taken a hitter instead of Snell in the 3rd round, in which case we’d have happily taken Lynn. But at this point we needed a good hitter more than we needed a starting pitcher.

10th Round, Pick 149: Nick Anderson (167/143). Please allow us, as (we think) the first Fantasy writers to target Anderson last spring, to opine: he really is as good as he appeared to be in his 23 games with Tampa Bay last season.

11th Round, Pick 152: Jorge Polanco (152/161).

12th Round, Pick 179: Andrew Heaney (187/192). We’re happy to have him, but we could have waited two rounds for, say, Adrian Houser or Joe Musgrove and taken a hitter instead.

13th Round, Pick 182: Kevin Newman (190/190).

14th Round, Pick 209: Hunter Renfroe (250/228). This would be a “what were we thinking” pick, except that we know exactly what we were thinking, which is that Renfroe will hit 50-plus home runs this season. Before he got hurt last season, he was on pace to do precisely that. Now he’s healthy, blowing his teammates’ minds with his gargantuan home runs, and likely to find the AL East ballparks at least as friendly as he found the ones in the NL West.

15th Round, Pick 212: Brian Anderson (227/216). His multi-position eligibility and the fact that Marlins Park will supposedly be a bit more congenial to power moves him up a little in our eyes.

16th Round, Pick 239: Dylan Bundy (247/244). As we noted last month, he’s become a groundball pitcher, and now for a change he has an infield that should help him.

17th Round, Pick 242: Dylan Cease (254/269). The Lucas Giolito of 2020.

18th Round, Pick 269: Kurt Suzuki (293/297). Just before we picked, it looked like a run on catchers was starting, which explains this and our next pick. It wasn’t, and we’re glad to have these particular guys, but we could have waited a couple of rounds for Tucker Barnhart and Victor Caratini and been just as glad.

19th Round, Pick 272: Danny Jansen (280/277).

20th Round, Pick 299: Wade Davis (291/274). Bud Black has ordained Davis the Rockies’ closer, and we note that it’s not just for old times’ sake. Before Davis got hurt last May, he was pretty much his old self. We posit, and he asserts, that the subsequent nightmare was injury-related. If so, he is the steal of the draft.

21st Round, Pick 302: Andrelton Simmons (336/338). That’s right, our Utility guy is a shortstop. What of it? Possibly because of his nonpareil fielding, Simmons is invariably underrated as a hitter by the Fantasy market, and he offers a little of everything, which is what we were looking for with this pick.

22nd Round, Pick 329: Kyle Seager (305/300).

23rd Round, Pick 332: J.A. Happ (356/349). We didn’t take him two rounds too early, you took him two rounds too late. Happ spent the off-season with the Driveline guys tinkering under the hood of his pitching mechanics. He believes it made a difference, and after seeing his performance this spring, so do we.

24th Round, Pick 359: Miguel Cabrera (387/369). Every year, we get a superannuated professional hitter, and every year it’s a mistake. In 2017, it was Matt Holliday. In 2018, it was Victor Martinez. In 2019, it was Kennys Morales. We were starting to worry that we couldn’t do it again, but we managed.

25th Round, Pick 362: Shed Long (338/387). Long presents an interesting puzzle: late in the draft, do you take an unproven player whom you really don’t expect to succeed simply because there’s a chance that he might? Even as we made the decision to take Long, we recognized that he’s likely, in the fullness of time, to lose his job to Dee Gordon. But we needed a backup second baseman, and the small chance that he can replicate his excellent 2019 MLB performance as the Mariners’ leadoff hitter led us to take the gamble. If we’re wrong, or maybe we mean if we’re right, that’s what FAABs are for.

26th Round, Pick 389: Jackie Bradley, Jr. (412/398).

27th Round, Pick 392: Matt Shoemaker (395/409). Shoemaker’s appalling string of unrelated injuries really looks to us like bad luck rather than some sort of chronic vulnerability. And anyway, his start last season was just so good. We’re not counting on him, but we’re optimistic.

28th Round, pick 419: Cameron Maybin (437/474). To the naked eye, Maybin looks like an aging speedster having an atrocious spring. As Maybin himself points out, though, all his springs are atrocious—that’s what they’re for. To our clothed eye, Maybin’s superb half-season (.285/.364/.494) with the Yankees last year, though in many ways unprecedented, is who he’s become. We’ve never seen anyone give more decisive evidence of swing refurbishment than Maybin. Here are his 2018/2019 granular numbers, according to Statcast: Barrel Percentage 4.1/10.2; Exit Velocity 86.4/88.8; Launch Angle 7.5/11.1; Hard Hit 33.1/39.5; Sweet Spot 34.6/35.9. He’ll be leading off and playing every day for Detroit, and we think the same numbers are possible, except over twice as many plate appearances.

29th Round, pick 422: Trevor Rosenthal (497/649). You say that Ian Kennedy is the entrenched closer for the Royals, while Rosenthal is just a washed-up former closer on a minor league contract hoping to stick with the worst team in the AL? Take a look at the spring those two guys are having and tell us if you still think so.

30th Round, Pick 449: Eric Lauer (504/521). A couple of weeks ago, we explained why we like Lauer: because he was terrible in Coors and good everywhere else. We were pretty pleased with ourselves for noticing this, but that was before Lauer hurt his shoulder.

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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4 years ago

Imagine picking 3rd and Trout is available