Last Tuesday, just four days into February, I participated in the earliest LABR draft ever. We always draft in February, but had to do so a week earlier than usual this year due to owner availability. Though I’m certainly not a fan of February drafts, at least it provides me the needed motivation to finish my first run of Pod Projections (now available!) that drive my player values. Without the forecasts and valuation spreadsheet, I’d be drafting blind, and that’s no blueprint for a Yoo-hoo shower. This actually marked my return to the league, as I was on vacation last year when the draft was scheduled.
LABR Mixed is a 15 team league composed of fantasy baseball industry veterans, with traditional 5×5 roto scoring, standard 23-man active rosters (which means two catchers and nine pitchers), a six man reserve squad and unlimited DL spots. We use FAAB and begin with 100 units. The minimum FAAB bid is 1, not 0, so if your team is ravaged by injuries, there may come a time where you’re literally out of FAAB units and are forced to keep a hurt player in your lineup (yes, this has happened to me before and I’ve seen it happen to many a team I’ve competed with as well).
Because the draft was so early this year, I felt like I rushed to finish my Pod Projections and I wasn’t totally prepared with the knowledge of depth I needed give the competition. Luckily, my fears were unfounded.
I typically despise talking about draft strategy, so the only nugget worth sharing is thus — my goal is to maximize the value of my picks and come out of the draft with the highest projected value according to my spreadsheet…obviously with some semblance of category balance.
So let’s get to the team…
I was thrilled to end up with the third pick in the draft. I literally had the top three guys within a buck of each other, so I preferred not to try and rack my brain by debating between the three with the first two picks, so with pick three, I simply selected whoever was still available. That left me with Christian Yelich, who I had never owned before. His selection turned out to be somewhat of a curse, as it made me feel like I could afford to roster a bunch of lower batting average guys later. Turns out, I went a little overboard. Oops.
Apparently, my projections and values really love Adalberto Mondesi. The shoulder surgery does raise his risk, but he significantly underperformed his xHR/FB rate last year, so I think he has real potential to go 20/50, assuming good health. Though now the risk is with a new manager in town, will Mike Matheny drop him and his putrid OBP to the bottom of the order? That would crush Mondesi’s value.
Though I usually wait a while to draft my first starting pitcher in 12-team mixed leagues, that hasn’t been the case during my LABR career. I usually end up drafting one of the cheaper top 20 starters and rostering my first starter later than all, or the vast majority, of other teams. Never in a million years did I imagine that Zack Greinke would be my first starter, as I was fairly sure I was projecting a far worse season than literally everyone else. I still feel like that’s the case and he just fell to me for whatever reason, but given I saw value there even with my pessimistic forecast, I knew that was the time to jump. I then followed that up by drafting Noah Syndergaard before a huge drop-off to the next starter. My projections expect nearly a full rebound off his disappointing 2019. Two starters in the first five rounds?! Crazy for a Pod team.
I returned to selecting hitters and really started the “buy homers, ignore batting average” theme when I went Joey Gallo and then Mike Moustakas. I’ll have you know, this was not intentional. This just happened to be where the value was and I’ve learned after many years that it’s better to buy the counting stats and manage the ratios, because batting average (and the pitching ratios) bounce around more dramatically.
So Oscar Mercado seems massively undervalued, or perhaps it’s the “all-around contributor without standing out anywhere” undervaluation effect. He has some power, will steal bases, doesn’t strike out often, and figures to hear near the top of the Indians lineup.
I was shocked to find Carlos Correa still sitting around in round nine. I’ve never drafted him, as he was always overvalued. I’m wondering how much the Astros cheating has suppressed his perceived value. I did not make any adjustments to my projections after the news and don’t plan to do so. Oddly, I followed up the Correa pick with a second Astros hitter in a row, Yuli Gurriel. It’s almost embarrassing to draft him a year after his surprising offensive outburst, but this was a pick I felt I needed to make for the sake of my team batting average. Even with a standard projection expecting lots of regression, I thought he was an excellent value at this price.
As we were drafting, the news broke of the Mookie Betts/David Price trade. The trade had the potential to greatly affect the values of a number of players. In round 11, we were getting close to Price’s ADP, so I was wondering if any other drafters were going to scoop him up early given that it seemed he was going to be moving to the National League for the first time. If I remember correctly, I believe he was my most valuable starter on the board at the time, though well below many hitters (by only a couple of bucks). I knew a move to the NL and another elite team would really boost Price’s value, so I didn’t risk another team feeling the same way as I did and drafted him. Now I have to hope the trade does ultimately go through…and that Price is healthy and rebounds.
Aristides Aquino fit perfectly with the rest of my big power, low average team. I was a bit surprised how late he was still available, as I wouldn’t have guessed he would end up on my time. The Reds do have a ton of outfielders though, so any extended slump could result in a demotion to the minors.
After Aquino, I followed with five straight pitchers, including my first closer and another potential closer in Carlos Martinez. I cannot believe how fantasy owners have essentially given up on Masahiro Tanaka. It’s clear just by looking at the pitch’s SwStk% that Tanaka just lost his splitter, but unfortunately I have no explanation for what actually happened. I am just assuming/hoping that its effectiveness will return, and at worst, he’ll be back to his 2018 version. At this price, there’s way more upside than downside.
Just based on the size of his biceps, we all thought that Yandy Diaz had to show some power eventually, right? He finally does, and he gets rewarded by being available for me in round 18?! Perhaps it’s the fear of the Rays playing time merry-go-round, but you would think he’s got an every day job given his 2019 breakout.
Hunter Renfroe, welcome to my team of low-average mashers. You’ll fit right in.
A.J. Puk is the kinda guy who I laugh at for being drafted super early, so I don’t know how I got him at pick 298.
Did you realize Mike Yastrzemski hit 21 homers in 371 at-bats and his xHR/FB rate validated his strong debut? Our Roster Resource page figures he’s going to hit lead off and I think the power is for real. He defines the word “sleeper” and has serious profit potential, even on a poor Giants offense (a fact that has clearly pushed down his price). Remember their home park is becoming a little less pitcher friendly.
Speaking of the Giants, I want any starter who goes there, and one of those is Kevin Gausman, a perennial disappointment. I assume Oracle Park will remain quite pitcher friendly, and so there’s few better places to turn your career around then in San Francisco.
Kwang-Hyun Kim is an unknown, having come over from the Korean league, and when we aren’t really sure what we’ll get or what role he’ll pitch in, he has the potential to be a steal…or a dud dropped from my team after two weeks. I really liked Patrick Sandoval and his filthy changeup, but if the Angels acquire Ross Stripling, that would push Sandoval to the bullpen or back to the minors to wait his turn. Justus Sheffield was another lottery ticket at the end of the draft and he’s got a fantastic slider/changeup combo to build on.
In a shocking twist, I waited until the last minute to fill my two catcher slots. Boy, what a long ways I have come, as I began my career priding myself on drafting two top tier catchers. Of course, I ended up with two low (potentially suuuuuper low) batting average guys with power.
Overall, I was very pleased with how my roster turned out, and if nothing else, this is quite a fun team to follow with such home run potential. I just have to hope the BABIP fairies are working their magic.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.