For the fourth consecutive year, I joined CDM Sports co-founder and FSTA Hall of Famer Charlie Wiegert at the annual SiriusXM-FSTA experts baseball draft in Nashville. As always, the FSTA conference, and specifically this draft, provides an opportunity to rub elbows with many of the top baseball minds and a few of fantasy baseball's forefathers.
Charlie and I drew the fifth spot among 13 teams and came up with a rough plan on how we were going to attack. The 'projections game' is typically a futile one, especially this early in the year. But we still set category targets to attain (ie, 300 HR, 160 SB), reviewed the player tier drop-offs and identified a few players at each position that we wanted to draft.
You can find the full draft results here.
By sheer coincidence in repeated draft slot, yet with a bit of intent, Charlie and I took PaulGoldschmidt as our number one pick for the third time in four years. It was difficult passing on budding superstar KrisBryant with the fifth pick. But we were content grabbing a guy who provides top 10 percentile numbers across all five categories and calls hitter-friendly Chase Field home (second only to Coors Field in MLB park factor for runs scored last season). Goldy's 32 stolen bases were a likely anomaly, but it wouldn't be much of a stretch to expect 20 to 25 in 2017 and a return to the 30-HR club. Moreover, batting average is highly variant and tough to project for most players, but pegging Goldschmidt for something between .285 and .315 is no stretch. He is a career .299 hitter who hit .297 last season - the first time since 2011 that he finished a season below .300.
Grabbing our first ace was the plan for the second round (2.09, pick 22). Charlie loves FreddieFreeman and his NL-leading 43.5% hard-hit rate, but we didn't want to go back to back first basemen. We assumed that one of NoahSyndergaard, CoreyKluber or ChrisSale would be available to us here, so we were pleasantly surprised to see MadisonBumgarner (NFBC ADP: 15) there. Bumgarner has maintained an ERA under 3.00 for four consecutive seasons, threw a career-high 251 strikeouts last year (27.5 percent k-rate) and has no major injury history. Syndergaard could very well finish the season with better numbers, but we felt more comfortable going with Bum. Had Sale been the only option of the top tier SP group available, we likely would have opted for a second hitter. Sale could win 20 games, but I'm afraid of that move to Fenway for his current price.
Drafting 'safe' floor players with our first two picks allowed us to take a bit of a chance in the third round. JonathanVillar was arguably last season's fantasy MVP - a late round pick who returned first round value and led the league in stolen bases (62). He won't repeat those 19 homers, but it's possible Villar returns value even with a 20 percent reduction in R-HR-RBI-SB-BA across the board. Villar is currently going in the second round of 15-team NFBC leagues, so you can technically say we got him at a bit of a discount at 3.05.
Here's how the rest of our top 10 broke down:
4.08 (pick 48) - IanDesmond (OF1)
We jumped on Desmond ahead of his 60 overall ADP loving the move to Coors Field. Expect a small drop in SB, but improvements in the other categories and a potential career-high in homers (he hit 25 in 2012). Desmond could approach triple-digits in runs again and drive in a boatload of base runners.
5.05 (pick 57) - Matt Kemp (OF2)
Another stretch ahead of his ADP and my least favorite pick of the draft since we don't know how the new park in Atlanta will fare for hitters. Kemp did slug 35 homers and drove in 108 last season. I still believe that he's relatively safe and that 26-95 is a reasonable projection. His .297 BABIP was his worst mark since 2010 and we're hoping for a bounce back in the batting average department.
6.08 (pick 74) - Aroldis Chapman (RP1)
7.05 (pick 83) - Carlos Martinez (SP1)
8.08 (pick 100) - JacobdeGrom (SP3)
We weren't planning on grabbing a third starting pitcher this quickly, but it was impossible for us to pass on a guy who is currently way undervalued. deGrom was a third rounder in 15-teamers last season and is discounted because of bad luck with wins (just eight last year), drop in k-rate and rise in ERA (but c'mon, it was still a respectable 3.04!). Forearm tightness that ended up being an elbow injury cut his season short early in September, but it sounds like he's healthy heading into spring training.
9.05 (pick 109) - KendrysMorales (DH/UT)
Morales assumes the EdwinEncarnacion role in Toronto, though it's clear he won't fully fill those shoes. Lots of RBI opportunities in the middle of the lineup hitting behind Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista. DH-only guys like Morales and Victor Martinez are perennially undervalued because they limit roster flexibility, but if it's the right guy, I typically don't mind pouncing.
10.08 (pick 124) - JakeLamb (3B)
Big drop-off in the second half, but Lamb still managed to hit 29 home runs. Lamb really struggled against southpaws (.164 BA, four HR) and will have to make strides against them this season to earn his tag. It was a tough call between Lamb and Phillies' 3B MaikelFranco here, but ultimately Lamb's home park and superior lineup around him made the difference for us. I can't guarantee I'll be taking Lamb ahead of Franco in March drafts, but I guess it's a bit of a reward for last year's performance (as silly as that sounds) since I drafted Lamb on five of seven fantasy teams last year.
Here's the full squad:
C: JTRealmuto (11), DerekNorris (22)
1B: Paul Goldschmidt (1)
2B: JonathanSchoop (12)
3B: JakeLamb (10)
SS: Jonathan Villar (3)
MI: JoePanik (25)
CI: EricThames (13)
UT: KendrysMorales (9)
OF: Ian Desmond (4), Matt Kemp (5), DavidPeralta (16), DomingoSantana (18), TravisJankowski (21)
SP: MadisonBumgarner (2), CarlosMartinez (7), JacobdeGrom (8), JamesPaxton (15), MichaelPineda (17), GarrettRichards (19), TaijuanWalker (20)
RP: Aroldis Chapman (6), A.J.Ramos (14)
Bench hitters: JoshReddick (26), ZackCozart (29), DannyValencia (28)
Bench pitchers: Adam Wainwright (23), Ryan Madson (24), CarterCapps (27)
I'm very happy with this team overall and barring injury news this spring, will likely target many of these players in my solo future drafts. Not shy at all to say that our pitching staff could be the best one constructed at that draft table in Nashville and that I feel stronger about our staff than I do our hitters. EricThames is certainly a question mark, but I don't mind taking risks on bats I like after the first 10 rounds. I typically draft solid and stable guys early and take fliers on high upside players in the teen and later rounds. Our relief pitching situation is a bit dicey since RyanMadson still has to win that A's job and A.J. Ramos turned into a walks machine last year (nearly five walks per nine) and will have 26-year old KyleBarraclough breathing down his neck. Only JustinVerlander had a higher strikeout-rate than Michael Pineda among AL pitchers last season (tied with ChrisArcher). Pineda also had an xFIP nearly 1.5 runs lower than his ERA which portended some bad luck. He's wild and shaky at times and we don't want to go out of our way for AL East starting pitchers, but the 17th round is a good spot to find out what he has in store for us in 2017. GarrettRichards' ADP will certainly rise as we move towards March, so if you're doing any drafts now, be sure to grab him. Finally, ZackCozart and JoePanik won't set the fantasy world on fire, but they're underrated late round middle infielders. Don't forget that Cozart hits second in that Reds lineup ahead of JoeyVotto.
Though my projections are still in work in progress, I calculated us just short of our 300 HR target for our starting lineup (290) and way over the 160 SB target thanks to our OF5 selection of Jankowski (projecting him for a drop to 25 this year). As is always the case, we will have to be hyper-focused to stay one week ahead of our FAAB targets with this sharp and studly group of fantasy owners. Hopefully a couple of our late round fliers on both the hitting and pitching side far exceed their values and that our core guys in the first few rounds don't flirt with the injury bug.
Draft Observations and other thoughts
- Shortly after we took Villar, Dee Gordon (37 overall) and Billy Hamilton (40 overall) came off the board - both of them a bit quicker than I expected and ahead of their respective ADPs. Home runs were at an all-time high last year (including over 100 hitters with 20+ homers), while stolen base numbers were down. There were twice as many players with 30+ SB last season (14) compared to 2015 (seven). Nevertheless, we witnessed the lowest mark in stolen base opportunities (8.2 percent) since 2005. Stolen bases can be found in FAAB/waivers every year as was the case with veterans Rajai Davis (43) and Eduardo Nunez (40) and rookies Hernan Perez (34) and Travis Jankowski (30). But we can't always rely on identifying those guys early on or that we'll beat our league mates to the punch on them. Smart fantasy players will always be cognizant and aggressive chasing steals in drafts whether it be pairing the super speedsters with big power guys who offer zero power or piling up 10-20 SB guys who also offer a bit of pop.
- I'm going to be wary of drafting players with injury history more than ever. I've come a long way from drafting guys who start the season on the DL "hoping" for the best, to simply avoiding them altogether. I didn't mind waiting for my 11th round Yu Darvish last season. But I'll never forget drafting Corey Hart in the 9th a few years ago as a 15-day DL stint to open the season turned into 30 days, then in two months and finally, into a lost season. I'd rather those situations be OPP (other people's problems) and I advise you to do the same.
- I typically play the 'every other year' game. DanielMurphy is one such example. I drafted him between rounds 14-17 in almost every draft I could last year expecting him to our-earn his draft slot, but never did I think he'd put up such a monster season. Now, as a third rounder moving up towards the second round, I won't touch him. He's a great hitter, but he's fully priced now coming off that .347 BA, an average I don't expect him to duplicate or come close to this season. It's the same line of thinking that had me off of Carlos Correa, the first rounder, last year. Now that his ADP has cooled a bit, I'm willing to bite. More examples include Andrew McCutchen (avoided him at 2nd round ADP in 2016, buying him in the 5th/6th this year) and the middling Brandon Crawford. Crawford is an unsexy player who I typically wouldn't ever target. After his sub par season in the power department, Crawford's ADP has fallen to somewhere between the 16th to 18th round - a spot I'm very comfortable grabbing him at, especially after noticing that he did make some improvements. His .275 BA was a career high as was his 35.2% hard-hit rate.
- If you don't know Gene McCaffrey of WiseGuyBaseball, you should check him out. He coined the term "Last Year's Bum" (or LYB) over a decade ago to identify players we should be targeting coming off bad seasons (often times, injury related). One of the studies I spend the most time on in January and early February before my drafts kick off is identifying these candidates and targeting the ones that best fit the profile for a rebound.
- Be sure to figure out where the tier drop-offs are within the overall player pool as well as within the positions themselves. You'll note off the bat, that there is a steep drop off at catcher after BusterPosey, JonathanLucroy and GarySanchez. If you're playing in a two-catcher league, you'll have to decide your strategy at the position - are you going after one of the big three, or have you identified a couple of mid-range targets you're comfortable with? Since every point counts in roto and it could be the difference of a league win or second place, that catcher #2 certainly matters if you didn't draft well and 'catch' yourself chasing the likes of Curt Casali and Caleb Joseph all season only to get 200 at-bats of a combined .207-3 HR- 18 RBI (Joseph hit zero last year, by the way).
- The shortstop position in 2016 was more in vogue than virtually chasing Pokemon was. We now have a sexy top eight that go within the first 60 picks, and an extremely steep drop-off down to the likes of Eduardo Nunez and Javier Baez around pick number 130. It's important to have some idea of which shortstops you like among those top guys, or if you see some bloomers as punt plays so that you can concentrate on other positions in the early rounds.
I could go on forever, but let's stop there for now. If you're looking for the very best way to prep beyond your normal research and don't mind dropping 150 American dollars, join one of the NFBC Draft Champions leagues. They are 50-round slow drafts (eight hours per pick, though most folks respectfully don't take longer than an hour or two on the clock). It usually takes a couple of weeks to complete, but the slow and deep-round nature of the draft helps you really concentrate and refamiliarize yourself with the player pool, bench guys, projected lineups and rotations and of course, bullpens. It requires you to do Player A vs Player B analysis on the spot and it prepares you intrinsically for your home leagues and national contests when February and March come around.
Finally, since I left my FSTA draft partner Charlie way back in the beginning of this piece, I wanted to mention CDM Sports' Diamond Challenge. It's the oldest salary cap fantasy baseball game in all the land, has an addictive format and offers solid league prizes as well as a $25,000 grand prize. It's the game that got me hooked on fantasy baseball in the mid-1990's and has yet to lose my attention or interest.
Good luck with your prep and please don't hesitate to reach out to me on Twitter: @RotoGut