In my previous post, I looked at the hitting landscape for The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational (TGFBI) drafts. I also analyzed my own personal team in League #6 providing player commentary along the way.
Now let’s focus on the pitching.
The first closer, Edwin Diaz was selected in either the 4th or 5th rounds of all TGFBI drafts. Diaz was the consensus top closer.
Looking at a number of individual drafts, there were closer “runs” in either the 6th and/or 7th rounds. In general, teams didn’t want to leave the 7th round without the selection of at least one saves source.
Interestingly, there is a difference between the TGFBI experts and NFBC players in terms of the Milwaukee closing situation, a key fantasy relevant bullpen. The following is an ADP comparison of TGFBI to NFBC (Draft Champion Leagues from February 21 to this past week):
It seems that although Josh Hader and Corey Knebel were being drafted at roughly the same pick in the NFBC, Knebel was drafted far later in TGFBI. This is fascinating, because the rules of both TGFBI and NFBC are essentially the same. I am unsure exactly of the reason behind this, but it seems that NFBC players are more risk averse to leaving potential save sources on the board.
I spent the weekend in Manhattan over at the NFBC main event (twas also Tout Wars weekend) – and in peeking at the various drafts, it now looks like Hader is finally starting to go slightly later in drafts (ADP main event of 125 since Friday). Knebel is now the earlier draft target between the two.
Starting pitchers are being drafted earlier than just about any time that I can recall. There were three starters almost exclusively drafted in the first round – Scherzer, deGrom and Sale.
Five starting pitchers had 2nd round ADPs – Verlander, Cole, Nola, Kluber and Snell.
Other than the sheer quantity of starters selected this early [I remember the days when fantasy players rarely took pitchers in the first 2-3 rounds], what was also noticeable was the “double-up” of starters in the first three rounds. That is, a great number of teams selected two starting pitchers within their first three selections.
Ariel’s TGFBI Team
I participated in TGFBI League #6, drafting in the #2 draft slot (Board here). After taking Mike Trout with my first selection, I selected three straight pitchers – something that I have never done before. I selected two starting pitchers, followed by a closer.
- Luis Severino (Round 2.14 / Overall 29)
- Aaron Nola (Round 3.2 / Overall 32)
- Masahiro Tanaka (Round 11.2 / Overall 152)
- Joe Musgrove (Round 14.14 / Overall 209)
- Zach Eflin (Round 20.14 / Overall 299)
- Chase Anderson (Round 26.14 / Overall 389)
- Jose Urena (Round 29.2 / Overall 422)
- Tanner Roark (Round 30.14 / Overall 449)
I drafted Severino prior to learning about his injury. Obviously, had I known about his rotator cuff injury, I would not have drafted him in this lofty spot. No regrets here, injuries and uncertainty are a part of the game.
Continuing with the “draft aces early strategy,” I decided to double dip at the 2/3 turn and select one more ace pitcher – Aaron Nola. Nola finished 3rd in the NL Cy Young last season with a sparkling 2.37 ERA. That came along with a 3.01 FIP. Nola reduced his Hard-Hit Contact rate to 25%, raised his K% to 27%, and increased his GB% rate to 51% in 2018. His WHIP last season was a dynamite 0.97!
I expect Nola to regress slightly, but even so, he’s a very stable #1 starter that can anchor your fantasy rotation. As there are few starters these days to count on for 200+ IP and 200+ Ks, you’ll need to pay up for Nola, but it’s a worthy investment.
I’m not a Yankee fan, but I took Tanaka as my third starting pitcher. Amazingly, I was also considering teammate J.A. Happ for the same selection. I chose Tanaka for his stability and WHIP stabilization. I only project Tanaka for 163 IP, so I’ll either get even MORE value out of him than expected, or in addition, I’ll get a bit of replacement value too (hoping for the former).
I spoke about my next two pitcher selections on The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational Podcast – Beat the Shift episode with Rob Silver (Have a listen to this fantastic episode!):
With Joe Musgrove, I took the trendy pick this draft season. I was about to take Kenta Maeda, but I was sniped in the preceding pick by the Birchwood Brothers. Though I prefer Musgrove at a later spot in the draft, I am happy with his potential value. I also felt that I needed to select a pitcher in that spot, with the team after me (Chase Holden) light on pitching. At the 14/15 turn, Holden selected 2 pitchers, so I am glad that I got the SP that I wanted.
My next pitcher selection came all the way in the 20th round. I selected Zach Eflin.
Eflin as shown above, is getting more swinging strikes, throwing more first pitches for strikes, and has increased his fastball velocity from 92 MPH in 2016 to 94 MPH this past season. With a K/9 approaching a batter per inning, Eflin managed to strike out 123 batters in 128 innings last year.
After throwing 70 innings with an ERA of 3.56 ERA in the first half, Eflin ended the year on a sour note – ballooning to a full season ERA of 4.36.
This poor end of the season will mask Eflin’s first half success, and at the same time will keep his draft price down. However, he still managed to keep his skills mostly intact in the second half, and even increased his groundball rate. His 2H also had some bad luck on fly balls with his HR/FB% nearly tripling!
ATC isn’t projecting Eflin for a sub-4 ERA in 2019, but close to it. He projects to earn a $7 value (15 team mixed standard 5×5). I was elated to acquire him with my 20th pick of the draft.
My final three starting pitcher selections – Chase Anderson, Jose Urena, Tanner Roark – were merely taken for volume. I tend to select volume pitchers late rather than upside pitchers. Especially with selecting 2 aces up top, I’m looking here more for depth rather than potential value – and I plan to use those three bench pitchers for matchup play only.
- Edwin Diaz (Round 4.14 / Overall 59)
- Will Smith (Round 12.14 / Overall 179)
- Brad Boxberger (Round 22.14 / Overall 329)
- Wily Peralta (Round 25.2 / Overall 362)
My goal in the draft was to obtain one stud/dependable closer, one mid-tier closer, and then one low-tier closer if possible late. For the save statistic, sometimes quantity beats quality. I prefer to commence the season with extra saves sources, rather than to spend time and FAAB dollars chasing saves later on … if the cost of saves isn’t too great.
For this plan, I had succeeded. Diaz has a high strikeout rate and is slated to be the Mets closer. Last season, Diaz recorded 124K in 73 IP – which is a tremendous number of strikeouts for a relief pitcher, saves or not. With the 2nd to last pick of the 4th round, it was time to grab the consensus #1 stopper.
For my 2nd closer, Smith was the last high skilled stopper with a likely locked-in role. A late 12th round pick seemed to be the appropriate time for the pickup.
For my potential 3rd closer, I grabbed Brad Boxberger in round 22. Boxberger is the apparent closer of the Royals (according to this). He may not get many save chances – but in a 15-team league is an excellent 3rd source of saves. Then, three rounds later, I secured the KC saves situation in grabbing Wily Peralta. On his own, Peralta is below replacement level, but as a handcuff, his value rises in my possession.
Having 3 complete save sources in a 15-team league means that I am seemingly starting with surplus saves. Although I still may try to acquire more saves on the waiver wire, I am not in a dire situation to start the season, and I can focus my attention and free agent dollars in other directions.
This team isn’t the best team I’ve ever drafted, but it is far from the worst. I have enough of a base in each category to be dangerous, and I am pretty well rounded, other than batting average. Towards the end of the draft, I tried to acquire as much power as I could, and I somewhat neglected batting average – not having enough of an early lead in AVG to do so. However, batting average is a tightly knit statistic (bunched), yes is volatile (less predictable). I preferred to bank on the offensive counting stats as they were available to me late in the draft.
Unfortunately, Severino is hurt, but I don’t take that into account when I evaluate how I actually drafted. Had TGFBI been a couple of weeks later, I surely would have taken a different starting pitcher in his stead.
How do you like my team?
Ariel is the 2019 FSWA Baseball Writer of the Year. He is the creator of the ATC (Average Total Cost) Projection System. Ariel was ranked by FantasyPros as the #1 fantasy baseball expert in 2019. His ATC Projections were ranked as the #1 most accurate projection system in 2019. Ariel also writes for CBS Sports, SportsLine, RotoBaller, and is the host of the Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational - Beat the Shift Podcast (@TGFBI). Ariel is a member of the inaugural Tout Wars Draft & Hold league, a member of the inaugural Mixed LABR Auction league and plays high stakes contests in the NFBC. Ariel Cohen is a fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) and the Society of Actuaries (SOA). He is a Vice President of Risk Management for a large international insurance and reinsurance company. Follow Ariel on Twitter at @ATCNY.