The uptick of fantasy baseball chatter on Twitter came suddenly with the end of the NFL regular season. Though it's a year-round endeavor for so many of us, the excitement of the 2018 baseball season approaching is accentuated with us diving into the player pool and having kicked off our first few rounds of slow drafts.
I say it often, but if you're a fantasy baseball enthusiast, do yourself a favor and enter one of these NFBC Draft Champions leagues. They'll help scratch that itch despite very little familiarity of 2018 Average Draft Position (ADP) and so many players who have yet to be signed . The four-hour clock for each pick slows down the pace of the draft in a way where the actual draft becomes a very valuable research tool. You've got plenty of time to toggle between player stats each round and strategize how you want to build your squad. You'll all the while inherently be building the much-needed confidence for your actual March drafts by participating in these slow drafts as you get a strong feel for the player pool, positional tiers and identify who the helium players are (those pushed up the draft boards because they are loved by all). You do have to make weekly moves, but there is no Free Agent Acquisition Budget (FAAB, aka waivers).
I'm in the middle of a couple of slow drafts at the moment. The FSTA SiriusXM experts draft which was a slow draft through eight rounds before we bang out the remaining 21 rounds in person at the conference on January 22nd, as well as my first NFBC Draft Champions, and I've identified some early draft trends that will continue to take shape as we get closer to Opening Day.
Setting KDS (beyond your first round pick)
Almost every format of NFBC leagues allows you to prioritize your draft position via the Kentucky Derby Style (KDS) system. KDS lets you select your draft slot preference prior to the draft slots being picked, and it takes your preferred order into consideration. Fantasy players have different preferences depending on the player pool dynamics and tier drop-offs of the first couple rounds, but folks are all different. Some love getting someone like Mike Trout with the first overall pick and pairing him with back-to-back picks in rounds two and three (picks 30 and 31 in 15-teamers) while others prefer drafting a solid middle-of-the-first-round option and not having to draft at the wheel (pick 1 or 15) so that they are more in control when positional runs (ie, closers) occur. Of course, many of the great high stakes players are happy with a pick near the end of the first round and doing their damage from there. Snagging two of Correa, Kluber, Votto or Judge is not a bad way to go.
With the way this first round is shaking out in early drafts, a legitimate case can be made for targeting a latter half pick since so many of those middle first rounders are similar, despite offering a different base of standard roto stats. Here's a quick look at the first round as it stands in mid-January:
1 – Mike Trout, OF, LAA
2 – Jose Altuve, 2B, HOU
3 – Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, ARI
4 – Trea Turner, SS, WAS
5 – Nolan Arenado, 3B, COL
6 – Clayton Kershaw, SP, LAD
7 – Bryce Harper, OF, WAS
8 – Mookie Betts, OF, BOS
9 – Giancarlo Stanton, OF, NYY
10 – Charlie Blackmon, OF, COL
11 – Max Scherzer, SP, WAS
12 – Chris Sale, SP, BOS
13 – Corey Kluber, SP, CLE
14 – Carlos Correa, SS, HOU
15 – Kris Bryant, 3B, CHC
Sure, you may really be set on starting your draft with Nolan Arenado and could set a first-choice KDS of pick number three to ensure getting him, but can you strongly make a case for Arenado over Betts, Stanton or Blackmon? If you can, and feel confident about Arenado, then setting your preference for the third pick makes sense, but that's only part of the equation. You'd need to look at and project the next three rounds (or so) and see who you'd be pairing him with in order to truly justify that draft slot. If you're projecting Arenado with similar 5x5 value to a Stanton or Blackmon, it might behoove you to set your KDS with pick eight or nine as a preference, which would, in turn, guarantee you an earlier second round pick (pick 21 instead of pick 28). It really all depends who you like in the second round and where you see a major tier drop-off.
First-round busts are a guarantee
Keep in mind the annual bust potential of first round picks. First-rounders stick it to us each and every year. It's rare we see a full-blown skills drop-off, as any major fallers from out of the first round are usually injury related. Just look at last year's list of first round disappointments:
Betts (2), Bryant (5), Machado (8), Harper (9), Turner (10), Donaldson (11), Rizzo (13), Bumgarner (14)
Turner was well on his way to a magical season before getting hurt, and his current ADP of 5.36 reflects his upside and potential with 600-plus plate appearances. Bumgarner had that preseason accident that threw owners into a frenzy who drafted him in early March. Donaldson was someone I expected to bust, hence I avoided him in drafts, but I was just lucky as he missed nearly 50 games (yet still managed to swat 33 homers, picking up the pace in the second half). Betts, Bryant, Harper, Rizzo did not have bad seasons, but all failed to reach their draft day value last year. Betts represents a good "bounce back" candidate, though his price did not drop as harshly as I was hoping it would (fantasy players aren't stupid). Harper did hit .319 and would have easily hit first-round value had he played a full season (just 111 games last year), but he saw a significant drop-off in stolen bases from the previous season (from 21 to four) and has still yet to drive in triple-digit runs in a season, in his pro career. Injuries are impossible to predict, but where there's smoke, there's usually fire. And it's a big reason why someone like Harper isn't a bonafide top-three overall pick this year (despite the fact that he averaged 150 games in 2015-2016, stigmas run deep).
There will be landmines in that first round once again this season, and most of the time it's unpredictable. That's why setting a KDS strategy around projecting your first four rounds is so important.
Plan your pitching
To keep this from being a novel as I'd like to post smaller/focused articles throughout the preseason, let's quickly touch on the importance of aces. It's well known in NFBC circles that winning is not possible without aces (where in the draft those aces come from is another story entirely). This mostly arises out of the fact that most NFBC contests pay out an overall prize, and in order to compete in overall contests, punting categories is simply not an option. Satellite (closed) leagues can certainly invite cat-punting strategies and you can surely wait on starting pitchers, but in the crème de la crème that is NFBC, you simply won't survive unless you've hit on a bunch of versions of a 2015 Jake Arrieta or a 2017 Luis Severino in the later rounds. Most drafters luck into those types of situations as opposed to strategically maneuver themselves into them. Hence the importance of making sure your squads have strong strikeout and ratio bases because our inevitable streaming of crappy two-start SPs usually always decimates a fantasy team's ERA and WHIP.
Hence, building a KDS strategy around one of the big four arms (Kershaw, Scherzer, Sale, Kluber) could work in your favor in NFBC leagues. That means setting the 10 or 11 pick as your primary choice and being comfortable with someone like Machado, Francisco Lindor or Freddie Freeman as the first hitter on your team as a second-rounder (works for me!). It's something that's been pulling at me, especially when I look at some of the second and third round SP options I'm not sure I'm comfortable building my rotation around. If I start with two hitters, will I truly sleep well the night after my draft knowing my ace is someone who lines up for half of his starts in Chase Field? That's the case if you're taking Zack Greinke (ADP: 43.09) or Robbie Ray (ADP: 43.45) as your SP1. Taking it a step further, note that helium SPs like Luis Castillo and Luke Weaver are gaining steam like gangbusters and are starting to consistently get taken by the sixth round in 15-teamers. I don't know about you, but I'm not fully comfortable with one of those guys as my SP2 unless my SP1 is one of the big four or possibly Stephen Strasburg (ADP: 23.15).
It's truly a matter of what you feel comfortable with, but more so, being able to properly study the options in the first four rounds and getting a feel for where you believe players should go. I say it time and time again: ADP is a valuable tool, but quite often, it's taken to heart the moment we begin to look at it, and it seeps into our consciousness to the point where we're unable to identify players who are actually mispriced. Putting together our own rankings list (primarily based on our own projections; or taking medians from reputable sources) helps us distinguish our own thoughts from those of the masses. If you think Aaron Judge regresses and hits just 35 homers with a .260 average, then you know that he's an easy pass for you at his 16.64 ADP.
Get them Bags
Finally, make sure you recognize the true premium we must put in stolen bases yet again this year. Over the last two season, there were over 200 hitters who smashed 20 or more homers (first time since 2000), so as long as you're doing your homework (ie, projections), you know you can find power throughout the draft (and in FAAB). Meanwhile, there were just six players who stole 30 or more bases last year. Compare that to 2011 and 2012 when there were over 20 with 30-plus swipes those seasons. Sure, you'll likely find some steals over the course of the season on FAAB, but in leagues like the Draft Champions, you're stuck with who you have since it's a Draft-and-Hold format. It's why someone like Dee Gordon feels like a valuable third-round pick to me this year, especially given his new environment in Seattle. Of course, Gordon can get popped for PEDs again or completely fall off the map this year, but there are truly only a few guys who can give you a certifiable advantage in the SB category, and I'd much rather roll with someone who can actually hit (*cough* Billy *cough* Hamilton).The alternative (and safer) strategy here is to target several guys who project to steal between 15 and 25.
So many ways to skin the cat, so the earlier you dive in with the prep and feel comfortable with the player pool, tiers and tier drop-offs, the more confidently and effortlessly you'll draft this March. Jump into those draft waters today to assist you with that preparation.