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Charging the Mound: Liss and Erickson Talk Baseball

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

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).

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 2:13am
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Charging

The long pre-season odyssey is finally over. Trips to Arizona, New York and two to Vegas, eight drafts/auctions in all, including the nine-hour Staff Keeper League marathon, the hellish seven hour home league draft where guys were taking five minutes to pick, two live auctions and of course the NFBC Main Event which we just completed last Saturday in Las Vegas.
I posted my overall portfolio last week, and just now added my Main Event review. Looking back on it, that draft went about as smoothly as possible in that I was never shut out of any position or commodity I needed, except maybe a little power late in the draft when I missed out on Matt Dominguez as a CI and had to settle on David Freese. That's in part because the RotoWire draft app had me low in HR and RBI, but I knew with Matt Kemp and Josh Hamilton, who are projected for only 21 HR each, in Rounds 4 and 5 that would likely be the case, i.e., I drafted them for 50-60 with concomitant counting stats, so I'm expecting more.

I also got lucky in that I managed to avoid "values" I didn't like. No Jose Reyes (whom I bought for $26 in LABR - great value!) at the 4/5 turn, no Hunter Pence, Matt Holliday or Starling Marte where I felt I "had" to take them. Even though I was early on Hamilton and maybe Joakim Soria, I got the guys I wanted and still felt like there were other guys I wanted in the following rounds.

Moreover, I rarely wound up regretting taking my guys where I did because the others I considered were almost always gone by the time I picked again.
For example, I took Brandon Belt in Round 9 because he was my highest 1B on the board, and I didn't think Matt Adams or Brandon Moss (my next two) would make it back to me, and, sure enough, they didn't. I filled up early with OF, but the late-round OF I had initially planned to get all went fairly early (Avasail Garcia, 13.14, Adam Eaton 14.9, Josh Reddick 15.11, Carl Crawford 15.13). In the meantime, I was able to fill my MI in those rounds with Anthony Rendon and Kolten Wong. In the end, having a tough room that didn't let bargains slip swayed me not to presume I'd get anything good later and to pick the players I wanted aggressively when I had the chance.

The one exception was Carlos Beltran whom I nearly took over Kemp and made it all the way back to me at the 6/7 turn. I thought he was a great value there, but I already had four outfielders and pushing it to five in the first six rounds was too much even for me. I passed and took Joe Nathan/Jonathan Lucroy (covering the two scarcest commodities, saves and catcher) and saw Beltran fall to Clark Olson at 7.12 which made me a little ill.

But no draft goes perfectly, and I wound up getting Ben Revere in Round 13 to fill the last OF slot and, with Mike Trout, give me the necessary steals to contend. I also got K-Rod in Round 27. I was sure he'd take the job eventually, but I had no idea eventually meant Opening Day.

The other day - maybe it was on the radio - you asked me if there were any players I wanted in whom I failed to land any shares. I thought Francisco Liriano was one, but I had forgotten we had kept him in the Staff League. Amazingly, I have only one share of Bryce Harper - a player I'd probably take ahead of Paul Goldschmidt - because I drafted too late to get him everywhere except the Main Event (where I had the first pick) and my home league (I got him at 15). The only two that got away entirely were Yasiel Puig (he's got a better chance to be No. 1 on the 2015 board than Andrew McCutchen) and Joe Mauer (I'd like a piece of 600 non-catcher at-bats from him.)

How was your Main Event draft? (I know the answer to this, but you can tell everyone else). And were there players you're disappointed not to own? Finally, anything (besides K-Rod, the Jose Reyes injury and the Wilson Ramos injury) move the needle for you on Opening Day?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Jeff Erickson"
Sent: Thursday, April 3, 2014 5:13pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: re: Charging

I still have one more draft - my old school AL-only 4x4 home league, the one that started RotoNews/RotoWire. It's a conference call, and it goes much better usually than my online auctions.

I like the team you drafted Saturday. We spent a lot of time talking about our options in our respective drafts in the run-up during the week, during the drive and the night before. Not just about the first round, or the 2-3 combo, but also how to make all the pieces fit. We didn't predict a four-outfielder-in-five-rounds start, but you were ready to adjust if that was what the draft gave you. In particular, I like how you handled the closers, anticipating the run even though this was your first Main Event. As we were texting our picks back-and-forth during the draft, I like what you got on the closers better than I did - I didn't get shut out, but I didn't get the ones I wanted, coming *this* close to getting Nathan and missing out on Soria when I thought I'd have a shot on him.

We ended up with three players in common, none of whom we discussed in much depth beforehand - Rendon, A.J. Pollock and David Freese. I actually have a handful of shares in Rendon - I look at him as a growth stock, with a good chance of taking a leap in production this year, even if he doesn't run. Whether Pollock has a green light on the basepaths will be a big deal for me. I gambled on Billy Hamilton (more on that in a second), so that meant not taking some of the other speed-first options like Rajai Davis and Eric Young Jr. I have a bunch of guys that could get 10-15 stolen bases, though, and Pollock has the upside for a little more. Freese was one of the last corners available when I needed one too - it was essentially he or Daniel Nava at that point.

Every draft is a series of choices and decisions that have consequences for future picks. I know, Captain Obvious speaking here, but what I'm driving at is I think I did a better job anticipating the decisions I would have to make Saturday than I did in previous NFBC events. Thus, there were fewer "impulse" picks or ones where I just went with "best available," instead having a pretty good plan of what I was going to do at certain junctures of the draft. We can't map out every pick, but in an event like this you'd better have a good clue about your alternatives all the way through the draft, including in the final 10, where often we can find a lot of value.

Thus, I had a pretty good idea I wouldn't have my preferred choices of Bryce Harper and Hanley Ramirez at 1.12, and that I would have the chance at Clayton Kershaw, who I have everywhere else. I passed on Kershaw, less for diversification and more out of fear given the reports that he was topping out at 88-89 mph in Australia, and that the type of injury he had was similar to Jurickson Profar's teres major injury. In a way, though, the big decision on how to build my team didn't come in the first, where I took Adrian Beltre, but in the second round. Do I take my No. 2 starting pitcher in Stephen Strasburg, ensuring I get one of the aces? Or do I take another very good hitter and build off of what I had in Beltre and risk losing one of the top 11 aces? I went with the second option - Joey Votto - who I hope gives me a great batting average base, even though his team context is worse than last year's. I also debated Carlos Gomez in this spot, but after having such an awful batting average last year, I wanted to emphasize that category early.

I knew there was a really good chance that I wouldn't get an ace thanks to that decision - the NFBC typically is a year ahead of other leagues I've seen in terms of changing the draft environment. The elite starting pitchers are going earlier and earlier, and this was the most extreme case I had seen this year - by pick #42 (3.10), the top 12 starting pitchers were all gone, with Chris Sale being the last of them to go. I didn't want to push Zack Greinke into that class, so I went with Plan B in my "Choose Your Own Adventure" map, taking another high-average guy in Dustin Pedroia at 3.12.

Coming back in the fourth round, I had three paths - take an elite closer to make up for the lack of an ace (which for me was Kenley Jansen, tops on my list anyhow, but usually second after Craig Kimbrell, who was already gone), go for an elite catcher, or address speed, which was woefully lacking in my top two picks. I opted for Door No. 3, and because this is the Main Event, I went big, taking the most volatile player in the draft in Billy Hamilton. Suffice to say, Opening Day was not encouraging. I could have taken Starling Marte instead, which would have been a "safer" option - but that safety is an illusion. After you criticized my Marte pick in LABR, I took a second look at him, and, cough ... you're right. He had a big drought over the second half of the season, which was fueled in part by injury but also some shaky plate discipline. If the risk is still there, why not go big on the upside? Still, while I might not be hyperventilating after Monday's dud (Adam Wainwright is a pretty good pitcher, after all), I'm nervous.

Aside from that pick there was one other critical juncture in the draft. Having taken two starting pitchers (Gerrit Cole and Hyun-Jin Ryu) and then David Ortiz with subsequent picks, I debated going with the last available top tier catcher (Matt Wieters) versus my preferred remaining second-tier closer, Joakim Soria. There was no way Wieters would be available to me in the eighth round - Wilson Ramos had already gone, and as it turns out Jason Castro went later that round. There was some small chance Soria would make it, and if not, then I would have a few others from which to choose. So I went with Wieters, and instead of Soria I ended up with Jim Johnson and Jonathan Papelbon. Neither are exciting closers, but both have reasonably firm holds on their respective roles.

One consequence of the last weekend draft is that many of the guys I had hoped to get in the mid-rounds were now everyone's targets and thus went earlier. Tony Cingrani went in the eighth round, as did Andrelton Simmons and Andrew Cashner. Matt Adams, Sonny Gray and Danny Salazar went in the seventh! Other old-and-boring guys kept falling, and I took my share of them later, like Curtis Granderson and J.J. Hardy, as this draft is almost always one where people ensure (I want to make sure I don't use the word "reach" - it's been turned too much into a pejorative in our industry) they get their guys.

I don't have that half-closer that you have in Chapman (and what a half!), and that's a small regret, especially seeing Sergio Santos already closing games for the Jays. But I won't give up on that when opportunities most assuredly arise.

The ones that got away? I didn't get Freddie Freeman anywhere - he got too pricey as draft season progressed. I still don't have any shares of Jose Fernandez - that stinks. And to stick with a Marlins theme, Steve Cishek is someone who I might have underrated - great K-rate, good ballpark and division and a team that might be a lot better this year. I think I might have undervalued his team context and not projected enough saves for him.

The needle movers this early on have to be injuries and closers. Everything else is nice to notice, but way too granular to conclude anything. Even in the case of Billy Hamilton - if the Reds moved him to eighth in the order or something off that one game it would be a needle-mover, but fortunately they're not overreacting.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Friday, April 4, 2014 6:09pm
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Re: Charging

Rendon's off to a good start, and there's never been much doubt about his ability to hit, only to stay healthy. Second base is rough for that, so we'll see how he holds up, but if he plays 140 games, he'll earn us both a nice profit.

I have Billy Hamilton in only one league, but I'm not particularly worried about him. His manager backed him up (after benching him) today, and I think the Reds are committed to him for at least a couple months. Dalton Del Don, who we had on the show today, brought up some research by Mitchel Litchtman that showed Hamilton saved the Reds Triple-A team 55 runs last year per his UZR. And that was in 123 games. I wish I could buy him low somewhere, but Hamilton was such a polarizing player that all the naysayers (yes, you Ray Flowers) don't own him and all the guys that do aren't going to sell him just yet.

One interesting feature of the NFBC with 28 different leagues all drafting from the same player pool is that you start to realize that value is relative. I might reach for two closers early and a mini-run starts, while in your league they might go two rounds later. But that just means that players that went earlier in your league will go later in mine. All the same players save for a few in the end game are drafted in every league. Put differently, when you have 15 strong owners (or at least 13) who have done their homework and aren't going to let bargains slip very far, you need to play the board and your particular cheat sheet much more than you do ADP. Get your guys, start the runs, take what the draft gives you at positions you need to fill.

I didn't get Freeman anywhere, either, but he was a mid-second round pick in most leagues, and I'd still prefer Stanton and Puig (yes, I know he's already in trouble) to him.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Jeff Erickson"
Sent: Saturday, April 5, 2014 1:11 pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: re: Charging

I agree with you the Puig trouble is mostly just noise, or at least it was, but Mattingly is the wrong manager for this to happen. I still don't think it's all that much to get worked up about in the long run, but it doesn't matter what I think. It matters what Mattingly thinks.

Hamilton's at-bats on Thursday at least looked better - twice he worked it to a three-ball count. I did bench him, however, for the weekend in the NFBC once it came out that Hamilton was going to get a night off. Now he has the minor finger injury to worry about. I like that Bryan Price is backing him up, but what else can he do? If he's not, you might as well send him down. I'm not panicking, but anytime he wants to get his first hit, good by me.

You're right about the "who slipped" analysis in the NFBC - it's all about putting together the right combination. And you are for the most part powerless to determine when those guys start to go, unless you're the one starting the runs.