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Rounding Third: One Thing Leads To Another

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He's also in the FSWA Hall of Fame. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).

One Thing Leads To Another

We've commented before that in snake drafts every selection you make is a decision to forego another commodity later in the draft - each pick has a consequence, and you better be prepared for those consequences. One early decision can completely change the direction of your draft. I've used the "Choose Your Own Adventure" analogy before, but for some reason, I'd prefer instead to go with one of my favorite early 80's songs:

(Quick, name a movie that used a song from The Fixx in its soundtrack, preferably in the 80's. And if you weren't born by then, please accept my apologies for indulging in a little trip down Adolescence Lane.)

My experience in the NFBC Main Event this weekend reflected this concept. I had the 14th pick (out of 15 teams), and going into the draft I was hoping to emerge with two of Giancarlo Stanton, Bryce Harper, Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista, Justin Upton or Stephen Strasburg with my first two picks, in that order. The top three from that list got lopped off by pick 12 (with Tulo going third overall by Shawn Childs*), but I had Bautista, Upton and Strasburg to choose from with my first pick. Ideally I would have preferred the two hitters, as I came into this draft wanting to maximize power. Ultimately I went with Bautista because of that preference. Team 15, led by Ronny Mor, an NFBC veteran, immediately snatched Upton before selecting Jose Reyes with some debate, and told me he would not have gone with Bautista had I selected Upton instead. So instead of getting both Upton and Bautista, I went with Stephen Strasburg at pick 2.2.

*On an aside about Shawn's pick - he wanted to avoid taking Ryan Braun with the third spot, after Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera went with the first two picks. In last weekend's Main Event draft he selected Strasburg with the sixth overall pick. Clearly he isn't afraid to go get the guy he wants, and that fearlessness serves him well at the draft table. If you're unfamiliar with Shawn, he's got a superb track record in the NFBC and has played in a number of other high-stakes events and done well. I wouldn't have passed on Braun there, but the decision does demonstrate that there is some risk of suspension. My belief is that the evidence against Braun is pretty thin, and it's going to take MLB a pretty long time to first acquire whatever evidence is out there - after the state of Florida discovers what they can first. Braun's level of production is worth the risk, especially when you factor in the replacement value of whoever you'd stick in there if Braun did get suspended. I say all of this with the caveat that I don't own Braun anywhere - there was just one league where I even had a shot at acquiring him (NL LABR), but I had already purchased Stanton by the time Braun was nominated in the auction. Meanwhile, Harper went ninth in my draft (and apparently fourth overall in one of the NFBC drafts in New York) and Stanton went 12th.

The decision to take Strasburg led to a set of other decisions - by passing up a hitter in the second round, I declined to participate in the massive run on starting pitchers that ensued over the next three rounds. I tweeted during the draft yesterday that by pick 5.3 (63 overall), we already had 16 starting pitchers drafted, and that experience hasn't been unusual in the NFBC this year. I don't recall a season where starting pitching has been chased up so much - last year, I was able to get Matt Cain at pick 5.13 and Madison Bumgarner at 6.3. So I took hitters in picks 3-5, leaving me with another tough decision in the sixth round. Do I take the 21st starter (one from the likes of Matt Moore, Jon Lester, Yovani Gallardo, R.A. Dickey, Johnny Cueto or Kris Medlen), or go with the clear #2 closer, Aroldis Chapman, aware in the knowledge that he wouldn't get back to me. I went with Chapman, in part because I think he'll get the K's again that make up for half a starter, and allow me to extract value from other positions when the closer run commenced in all its breathtaking glory. And the other consequence of that decision - which is one I game-planned ahead of time if the starter run went as it did the previous weekend - was to load up on quantity rather than having that second ace at the top. Why force a pick just because he's the next best guy, when there's so much other talent at other positions? The other potential negative to this approach was this room didn't allow me to get all my pet guys - Jon Niese, Marco Estrada, Mike Minor, to name three, all got chased up too.

Overall, I'm happy with the team - who isn't though? One of the things that I liked about this logistically is that I was out of sync with the rushes at other positions, meaning that I extracted many of the top available players where I had needs while other commodities that I already owned were getting taken by others. That concept ties in with the maxim that the best strategies work best when they work alone. Here's how it ended up.

1.14 - Jose Bautista, OF: Bautista hit his sixth spring training homer about 10 minutes after I made this pick. I'm sufficiently persuaded that his surgically repaired wrist is fine.

2.2 - Stephen Strasburg, P: In other formats I've taken Clayton Kershaw ahead of Strasburg, but a contest like this dictates going for the marginally higher ceiling where possible, and Strasburg has just that.

3.14 - Edwin Encarnacion, 1B: So batting average is going to be an issue for me, I get that. But I'm trying to chase power in this league (see more below), and his was clearly the best available at the time. Jason Heyward agonizingly went one pick before me - he never should have been that close to me, but once he got there, it was frustrating. I went with Encarnacion over Allen Craig, who of course went with the next pick. This is not a recording, it is a theme.

4.2 - B.J. Upton, OF: Did I say that BA will be a problem? Yes, yes it will. Once again, I decided to chase counting stats. He was the highest player in my queue by far on my RotoWire iPad draft app. If I hadn't gone with Upton, I would have taken Freddie Freeman, who went 13 picks later.

5.14 - Yadier Molina, C: The gains he made the last two years are real. He addresses my batting average and has the potential to give me 7-10 stolen bases from a spot where others are getting none. The three picks preceding me were Aaron Hill, Shin-Soo Choo and Desmond Jennings, all options I would have considered here. Molina was the sixth catcher selected (Posey, Santana, Mauer, Wieters, Victor Martinez) but my second-ranked catcher. Wilin Rosario went immediately after that.

6.2 - Aroldis Chapman, P: Discussed above.

7.14 - Ian Kennedy, P: I considered Brett Lawrie here, and of course he went immediately afterward, along with Jeff Samardzija. I should have gone in the opposite order - I would have been fine with either pitcher on the comeback. The two picks preceding my pick were Martin Prado and Eric Hosmer, both of whom I wanted. This is not a recording.

8.2 - Miguel Montero, C: Having lost Lawrie and the other third basemen that I wanted in this spot (wasn't willing to take Chase Headley yet), this turned out to be a pretty obvious choice. Montero was the last of this tier of catchers, depending on how you feel about Jonathan Lucroy, and is another high average catcher at a low-average position. The other possible alternative I had here was Paul Konerko, who went two picks later.

9.14 - Melky Cabrera, OF: I'm getting him everywhere, and I understand the reasons for skepticism, but at minimum he should help in batting average, runs, and stolen bases, hitting towards the top of a great lineup.

10.2. - Pedro Alvarez, 3B: It's not often that a 10th round pick can make or break your draft, but Alvarez could be that guy. He's equally capable of hitting .210 and getting sent down as he is of hitting 35 homers. Again, I'm chasing power here. All my other 3B candidates in this tier went in the ninth round - Will Middlebrooks, Kyle Seager, Todd Frazier and Mike Moustakas. It's the opportunity cost of a better starter or a second closer that makes this a tough pick.

11.14 - Cameron Maybin, OF: The second of three consecutive BA risks that I went with, but I couldn't pass up the power-speed combo. I was an oasis of hitting in a massive pitcher run - at one point, we had 26 of 29 drafted players have yellow pitching stickers, and I had two of those non-pitchers, as Ronny pointed out to me. I would have had one of those yellow stickers with Marco Estrada, but for Team 13 immediately before me again. I didn't know KC Cha or Tyson Bouyack (Team's 12 and 13) before this draft, but both were solid players that continually stymied me with some of their selections.

12.2 - Danny Espinosa, 2B/SS: Espinosa was my first middle infielder; again, batting average is his problem, and his counting stats were the target. This was clearly a mistake pick, though - I could have waited 27 more picks and still gotten him, I bet. It cost me a pitcher.

13.14 - Jason Motte, P: The closer run in all its glory had just about commenced, but Motte was still available as the 26th closer. I understand the risks, but it's one worth taking. If he misses two months, this pick still could be ok, and if he misses less time, I'm fine with it. The only other closer that I considered here was Brandon League, who went in the 15th, some four rounds after Kenley Jansen.

14.2 - Jedd Gyorko, 3B: In the NFBC Gyorko only qualifies at 3B to start, which is disappointing, given that he might not get his 10 games at second until June. But I believe in the bat, and he'll give me some insurance at third in case Alvarez flops.

15.14 - Alexei Ramirez, SS: Ramirez always seems to be there this year - no longer does he get chased up. I took him over J.J. Hardy and Derek Jeter.

16.2 - A.J. Burnett, P: My colleague Michael Salfino doesn't believe in Burnett, but he doesn't have to repeat last year to be worth this spot. I've got him raising his ERA from 3.51 to 3.79 (which won't likely include the 12-run beatdown he suffered at the hands of the Cardinals like last year) and striking out 180 batters. Those K's are what I need.

17.14 - Jurickson Profar, SS: I own Profar in plenty of spots, so I need to discuss him on the merits, only the timing of the pick. Two picks dictated going here - Mitchell Boggs at 17.1 (I would have considered him in this spot to protect Motte, though I had hoped to wait until the 19th round) and Oscar Taveras at 17.5. Taveras is my favorite of the prospects currently without a job, as his bat is the most ready to play, but Profar isn't far behind. If I didn't get him with this bracket of picks, I wouldn't have gotten him, and given that my middles are weaker than most until Gyorko qualifies, he's necessary.

18.2 - Matt Harrison, P: Harrison doesn't strike out a ton of batters, so he doesn't get a lot of love, but his ratios should help balance out the risks I planned on taking later with my quantity of starting pitchers.

19.14 - Hisashi Iwakuma, P: Iwakuma was by far my top starting pitcher on the board, and as an added bonus I snaked Ronny at the 15-spot. He fits the same profile as Harrison - not a big strikeout guy, but his ratios will help even out the risks of other streaming starters that I'd take later on.

20.2 - Ross Detwiler, P: Perhaps a reach, but Detwiler is one of my guys, and I'm getting increasingly soured on Dan Haren's prospects. Detwiler is the Nats' fifth starter in name only - he won't end the season as their fifth.

21.14 - Adam Eaton, OF: The season only begins on April 1 - it doesn't lock your rosters the rest of the way. Eaton fell way too far, in my opinion. If I weren't so obsessed about adding quantity of starting pitchers, I would have gotten him among my previous tandem of picks.

22.2 - Phil Hughes, P: It looks like Hughes will miss at most two starts, barring a setback. I'm a little nervous about this one because of Hughes' gopher-ball tendencies and that he'll get less run support this year, but I like what he did after May last year. He's one of those decent K-rate guys worth taking a risk that I was referring to earlier.

23.14 - Justin Smoak, 1B: I'm really happy with this one, again. Yeah, yeah, I hear you on the batting average risks, but this is a fine post-hype sleeper price.

24.2 - Wily Peralta, P: Here's another of the strikeout-rate risks worth taking the gamble. Gets a home start against the Rockies to start the season.

25.14 - Zach McAllister, P: Unfortunately he doesn't get to pitch against his own team, but again I think that there's a strikeout-rate upside to be mined.

26.2 - Kyle Kendrick, P: A tip of the hat to my buddy Corey Schwartz on this one. Halfway through the year, Kendrick scrapped his slider, his big negative pitch the last couple of years, to good effect. So I'm starting to change my opinion on his late-season turnaround. The last of my 10, count ‘em, 10 starting pitchers.

27.14 - Jeff Francoeur, OF: I'm actually going to use him until Eaton is ready. I needed someone actually playing, otherwise I would have taken Delmon Young here. Nate McLouth went after this pick, and that might have been better with Wilson Betemit out for the O's.

28.2 - Kelvin Herrera, P: My token attempt at grabbing a closer-in-waiting. Greg Holland's velocity woes this spring might have been overblown a little bit, but there's enough uncertainty with him and enough to like about Herrera that he's worth a dart throw. It was either Herrera or David Robertson here.

29.14 - Donovan Solano, 2B: A fill-in middle infielder. Might be someone else on the waiver wire I prefer instead.

30.2 - Tyler Moore, OF: My favorite major league bench bat play. Time to break out the Jayson Werth and/or Adam LaRoche voo-doo dolls.

I don't rigidly adhere to setting targets (see Chris Liss and I discuss those issues), but they have their uses, especially in a format like this one where there are no trades. The rule of thumb often is to try to estimate the third or fourth place finish in each category if you want to compete in all categories. There are some obvious pratfalls - some players will get hurt, some will overachieve and others will fall short. Don't stop adding that commodity once you've hit your target, and so on. I did one slightly different modification, and took the 85th percentile in each category from all the participants in the main event last year to come up with my targets, purposefully overshooting. Here's what I came up with, compared with the final totals of last year's winner Dave Potts (who drafted second in my league this year and next to me in my individual league last year - his other main event team won it all) and my totals from last year.

Category 2012 Champ 2012 Erickson 2013 Target
Batting Average .2848 .2740 .2734
Runs 1135 1057 1060
Home Runs 297 243 278
RBI 1139 877 1026
Stolen Bases 159 163 185
ERA 3.658 3.708 3.592
Wins 97 98 103
Saves 91 73 89
Strikeouts 1408 1404 1366
WHIP 1.210 1.185 1.215

Trying to use a draft app's projected standings tool to estimate your result has a few faults - if you include just your starters, you're going to miss out on replacement values for when they're projected to be out. That's a huge issue for me with Profar, Motte, Eaton and Hughes all starting on the DL for me. But it overestimates your outcome if you include the reserves, particularly with the counting stats, for obvious reasons. My resolution to overcome this was to aim for 110% of my counting stat targets while including the reserves, directing my attention first towards power, as that was where my shortfall was last year and it's also the hardest area to improve on the waiver wire.

So, how did I do? Batting average will be my biggest weak spot, but I think I can contend everywhere else, and I've consistently found in my drafts that batting average is a problem everywhere - it's down across the league.

Epilogue: League-mate and NFBC veteran K.J. Duke (did I mention this was a tough league? It was a ridiculously tough league - numbers 5, 9, 30, 32, 47 and 51 all-time in NFBC play are in this league) came up with a splendid action-junkie idea to create a separate draft gambling on the success of those drafting in the various Main Event leagues. You cannot draft yourself or anyone in your league, on the off-chance that someone would want to throw their league or the entire contest in the hopes of winning a side contest. *Of course* I'm in - just draft your teams and hold, no transactions. I think there may be a spot or two still open if you're an NFBC player and are interested.