This article is part of our Rounding Third series.
Release the Kraken
If you've listened to RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today, read the most recent Charging the Mound or watched our videos, you know that Chris Liss and I contend that the upper tier of starting pitchers tend to be undervalued by the fantasy community - both by players and especially by the industry. But how do we act on this assertion? I meandered to the conclusion in Charging that the best way to profit from this perceived value is to employ an extreme strategy and get not one, not two, but three pitchers from the upper tier if possible, with the notion that profit is profit, no matter where we find it. Such a strategy necessarily entails a bit of fortune in getting those aces at the right junctures in the draft, and some sacrifices in other areas to make it work. But all draft selections are a decision to pursue one set of skills over others, so let's not overly dramatize the notion of sacrifice, at least in pursuit of this plan or other strategies.
I had the opportunity to put my strategy in motion Wednesday night, drafting in the RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Online Championship (plenty of leagues still available if you want a shot at this format and the $75,000 grand prize), in a "beat Jeff Erickson" league created by the folks at the NFBC to give 11 folks a shot at beating me and getting a free subscription to RotoWire if they do so, in addition to winning the cash prizes in their league and in the overall contest. It's a 12-team mixed league, no trading, 30-roster spots. You can see similar RotoWire draft reviews from Chris Liss and Andrew Martinez. Derek VanRiper and Peter Schoenke still have their drafts coming up.
Drafting from the eighth spot, I suspected that I would end up with either Bryce Harper or Jacoby Ellsbury in the first round, with Carlos Gonzalez as my fall-back option, and Clayton Kershaw as my pie-in-the-sky best hope. Sometimes dreams come true, and I was able to land Kershaw at 1.8, later than I've seen him go in all of my drafts. Hurray for variance! Here's how my first round went:
|2||Miguel Cabrera||3B||Glenneration X|
|3||Paul Goldschmidt||1B||Tiger Slappy|
|4||Andrew McCutchen||OF||Wheelin Down Huston Street|
|5||Chris Davis||1B||Belmont Ave Bombers|
|6||Bryce Harper||OF||High Hopes|
|7||Hanley Ramirez||SS||SlickRick in da Hizzouse|
|8||Clayton Kershaw||P||Release the Kraken|
|10||Ryan Braun||OF||Big Stick Ballerinas|
|12||Carlos Gonzalez||OF||PANAMA RED|
The funny thing is that I mocked out my three-aces strategy twice, experimenting with a 2-3-4 rounds SP strategy and a 2-4-5 one, not really suspecting I'd get Kershaw, particularly after blabbing on-air that I had Kershaw ranked third overall and would clearly take him at #8. It's not that I expect people to deviate from their strategy, just to beat me (even though, after all, this is a "Beat Jeff Erickson" league), but I figured it would be a fluke if it happened.
When I took Adrian Beltre in the second round to provide a base of high-average power, Chris Liss asked me if I considered Darvish there. I did, but I told him I liked the potential for what I was going to get in the next two rounds, thinking that I might just get my two aces. And sure enough, it came to fruition, as I got Max Scherzer at 3.8 (32 overall) and Chris Sale at 4.5 (41), who was one of the final two aces (in my rankings, at least) remaining, the other being Justin Verlander. David Price was also remaining, but even after a small bump up in his projection today Price is in the next tier for me, because his velocity dropped off last year and spent a stint on the DL with a sore shoulder.
After taking those three starters, I knew I had to pound the hitting next and eschew the elite closers. This is what I ended up with for the remainder of the draft (with many of the player comments regurgitated from my Twitter feed, as I commented on the draft in real-time):
5.8 (56) Justin Upton - given that I waited on hitters, I went for upside than other more sure things. This is a player that typically went in the top 20 last year - I'll take the 35-pick discount and hope he lands somewhere between his previous rate and his current discount.
6.5 (65) Eric Hosmer. Joe Mauer went a couple of picks before me, as did Matt Holliday. Had they lasted, especially Mauer, I would have been sorely tempted. But I wanted to build a batting average base at the top of the draft, knowing that I'd have to take more risks in that department later. Hosmer provides that, and he runs more than most first basemen, which was important to me given that I couldn't afford an early specialist.
7.8 (80) Yadier Molina - Think it was time - Posey/Mauer/Rosario/Lucroy/Santana were all gone. I wasn't thrilled with this pick, given how he spent time on the DL and trailed off toward the end of the 2013 season.
8.5 (89) - Leonys Martin. A reach according to the ADP, but I want the power/speed combo, and I would have been upset to not get him. Other than my overall strategy, this might have been my biggest early gamble in the draft. If he ends up platooning or flopping because of his batting average, this could be trouble. But he also could end up being a 15-40 guy, which given my start on offense would be a huge boost. Joe Nathan went one spot before this pick - I might have considered taking him here or in the next round if I thought it might be possible to wait.
9.8 (104) Desmond Jennings - One of these years he'll either repay my love or I'll kick the habit. In retrospect, this was the time to jump on a first closer - David Robertson and Glen Perkins went between this pick and my next pick, and then a bunch more after my next pick.
10.5 (113) Jedd Gyorko - Needed power and MI, and hopefully my other BA baseline picks allow for his risk there.
11.8 (128) Michael Cuddyer - Boring pick, but he does a little of everything.
12.5 (137) Jonathan Papelbon - Finally broke down and took a closer. Not my favorite mid-tier guy, but I gave job security a priority here. The plan (we all have plans) was to immediately go with another closer in the next round. However, after I took Papelbon at 12.5, Romo, Balfour, Grilli, Soriano, Henderson and Janssen all went. I really thought that Janssen would slip because of concerns about his shoulder, but no dice. I shouldn't be surprised that I misjudged the closer market, as it's something I do nearly every year in the NFBC. So instead of closer #2, I had to go a different route.
13.8 (152) Andrelton Simmons - If you listen to the show, you know my love is pure. He controls the strike zone, he hits for power, has supreme job security because of his defense (and the contract extension he signed this spring) - all at such a young age. There are two big negatives - his infield fly rate, and his position in the batting order, which was eighth often last year.
14.5 (161) Chase Headley - Best available, ties up my corner, but serious Last Year's Bum value. Headley was one of the few left-handers that didn't benefit from the adjustments to Petco, but then again, he had a thumb injury in spring training that lasted into the season. He won't hit at 2012 rates, but he doesn't have to for me to profit here.
15.8 (176) Curtis Granderson - Granderson is another Last Year's Bum, and ballpark overreaction, in my opinion. Weren't we debating him as a first or second round player two years ago?
16.5 (185) Nate Jones - I like him to win and hold onto the White Sox closer job. He's my second closer - and given how he's less established than others, I wanted to get a third right away. However, the NFBC Closer-Hating-Gods struck again, and after I took Jones, Parnell/Street/Hunter/Axford all went. So I'll wait for the next. Still others I like.
17.8 (200) - Matt Adams. Just filled my UT. I'm actually lower on Adams than most, but this was 80 spots below his ADP.
18.5 (209) Neftali Feliz - I'm not certain he'll win the job, actually, but he'll go sooner. I'll try to get Soria later if it fits.
20.5 (233) Jimmy Rollins - The old-and-boring tour continues. But hey, he's only my MI. Doesn't have to do much to justify the pick.
21.8 (248) Kyle Lohse - Readily acknowledge I like him more than most. I see three years of good ratios in a row, and an improved team.
22.5 (257) Joakim Soria - The price was right, and here's hoping Ron Washington names one closer by OD, so I can cut the loser for a SP.
23.8 (272) Welington Castillo - Solid BA, should get more plate appearances this year with Navarro gone.
25.8 (296) Tim Hudson - Just keep streaming, just keep streaming, what do we do we stream, stream, stream.
26.5 (305) Gregory Polanco - Token vanity/upside pick. I like him better than Taveras this year, but less than Springer (who was gone). My vanity however cost me Hector Santiago, who I was *certain* would come back to me in the 27th round. Alas, I was wrong.
27.8 (320) Nathan Eovaldi - Chasing that velocity, another streaming option in that tasty NL East.
28.5 (329) Wily Peralta - Another "like better than most" guy - think he puts it together this year after showing signs late.
29.8 (344) Marcell Ozuna - Decided to add an extra OF over an extra CR because I have Adams at UT, so as to better stream half-weeks.
30.5 (353) Chris Owings - A gamble that he wins the Diamondbacks' starting job, and I get two extra games (thanks to the two games in Australia, where I can slot him in for my MI without repercussion) plus some ballpark upside.
I don't know if I'll try the Three Aces Kraken in the 15-team Main Event, because missing out on the extra hitter or two early on is so much more costly given how deep into the hitter pool that we go. But I'm happy with this result, especially in the identity of which three aces I got and which two hitters I nabbed immediately after the Kraken.
Here's the squad by position:
C - Yadier Molina, Welington Castillo
1B - Eric Hosmer
2B - Jedd Gyorko
SS - Andrelton Simmons
3B - Adrian Beltre
MI - Jimmy Rollins
CR - Chase Headley
OF - Justin Upton, Leonys Martin, Desmond Jennings, Michael Cuddyer, Curtis Granderson
UT - Matt Adams