“Beat Jeff Erickson” – Out of My Comfort Zone

Last week I participated in the first “Beat Jeff Erickson” draft of the season, as part of the NFBC’s RotoWire Online Championship. The Online Championship is a 12-team mixed league, with a 30-round draft. As always, that means seven reserves, no DL spots or trades, so we still have to try to hit our category targets through the draft and the free agent list each week.

I drew the 8th spot, which is the same spot I had in the Mixed LABR draft, albeit in a 15-team league, which is obviously a pretty important difference. Having done a number of drafts so far, I had a pretty good idea of what was coming to me in the first two rounds, and what my strategy would be for those two rounds. Francisco Lindor’s injury has opened up the third overall pick to a wide array of options, but there’s a pretty solid group of seven players that go from 3-8, meaning I’d have a choice of two of my top nine for the eighth pick. Sure enough, I had a choice between Ronald Acuna Jr. and Nolan Arenado, the two I thought most likely would be there. Once again, I went with Acuna, just as I had in LABR.

But that wasn’t the critical pick. Nor was the second round pick. Absent Max Scherzer dropping in the first round or Jacob deGrom or Chris Sale dropping in the second, I knew that I was going to start with two really good hitters. The critical question was what to do with my third round pick. Do I take one of the remaining aces, or do I push on with one more hitter? In the 12-team draft, I think that you can get away with not getting one of the first tier starters (or second tier if you set aside Scherzer/deGrom/Sale from the pack) and still compete; I wouldn’t try this in the 15-team Main Event. But when the rest of the league took seven pitchers out of the eight immediate slots before me, I decided to stick with hitters and take Charlie Blackmon at pick 3.8 (32 overall), knowing that the three remaining aces would go before my next pick. Indeed, Noah Syndergaard, Walker Buehler and Carlos Carrasco were all gone before my next pick. I would have taken the last of those three, Carrasco, had I gone with a pitcher, and I would have taken Blake Snell – who went one pick before me – instead of Blackmon.

After that there’s a tier drop among the starting pitchers and I didn’t want to drop into that next level, just to have a pitcher. The next inflection point came i the fifth round, when once again the league put me to the test. I was all set to take my first pitcher, but teams 2-6 snagged all of my targets – James Paxton, Patrick Corbin, Jameson Taillon, Mike Clevinger and Stephen Strasburg. Should I have pushed Jose Berrios, Zack Greinke or Jack Flaherty up to that level? I wasn’t there yet, but I admit to having second thoughts. Honestly, I thought that Berrios would make it back to me – alas, he went one spot before me. But again, I wasn’t willing to push my next pair of pitchers, German Marquez and David Price, up to that level. If the rest of the league was going to push pitchers, I was going to let them. And that’s how I ended up with six hitters to begin my draft. As I responded when asked about the team, it wasn’t necessarily the plan, but it was a contingency. I had general maps where I took my first pitcher in the third, or in the fifth, or in the seventh as I ultimately did. Here’s how the draft looked as a whole, and we’ll take about the rest of the team and my plan going forward after the grid:

So I was thrilled with my hitting floor – I have at least three high-floor hitters in that top six in Freeman/Blackmon/Votto, and Acuna should be there too. Mondesi is obviously the risky pick of the group there, as he could hit .210 and be sent to Omaha, or he could steal 50 bags with 15 homers. There’s such a wide range of outcomes with him, and I don’t think I’d normally take him if I didn’t have other built-in options to protect the batting average.

Knowing that I didn’t have an ace or even a second-tier starter, I knew that (a) I couldn’t afford to give up saves, and (b) I had to tackle strikeouts and wins with volume. I need to max out my two-start weeks, and by drafting more pitchers than I typically do, hopefully a couple of them take the leap up into the next tier by their performance. At the top, I wanted to get guys with locked in innings and stable ratios, and I think I accomplished that with Miles Mikolas and Kyle Hendricks, and to a lesser extent with Jhoulys Chacin later on. All-in-all I ended up with a whopping 15 pitchers out of my total 30 picks. In a 12-team mixed league, you can get away with less of a hitters bench, as there’s playing time available still on the waiver wire. Moreover, I’m less likely to bench many of my hitters anyhow.

I had two “vanity picks” in this draft – going into it, I wanted to walk away with Yusei Kikuchi and Nick Senzel. I’m excited about their upside and think that they will perform better than their ADP – despite that, I kept getting shut out on them. That’s in part because their range of picks in the NFBC is so wide. Kikuchi has an ADP of 177.9, but a range of 96 to 300. Senzel has an ADP of 221.5, but a range of 147 to 331. Especially in the case of Senzel, it makes sense to narrow our search range, however, as his stock has gone up considerably this spring. The great thing about the NFBC’s ADP tool is that you can do just that – by date, by the type of event, or even both if you want. I narrowed it by limiting it to just the RotoWire Online Championship drafts – 48 of them so far. Here, Kikuchi’s overall ADP moves up but not by a whole lot – to 166.7 with a range of 96 to 211 – so the back end really moved up. For Senzel, it jumps 15 slots to 206, with a range of 164 to 312. I have a feeling that’s going to rise even more as we get closer to Opening Day if he still has a chance to open with the big club. Anyhow, if you’re on a particular player, it’s really important not just to look at his ADP to see where you might get him, but look at his range. If it’s a priority for you to get him, and not just a happy accident, you’d better be prepared to select him at the front edge of his range. I did just that with Kikuchi (13.8 – 152 overall) and especially Senzel (15.8 – 176 overall).

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It’s no mistake that I have multiple Reds on my roster – and I don’t believe it’s because I’m a homer, either – though it’s possible I’m looking at them with Red-colored lenses. But I’ve made this analogy on-air and I’ll make it here. Our friend and colleague Mark Stopa correctly called the Chiefs the ticket to the carnival ahead of the NFL season last year – they were going to score a ton and they’ll concede a ton. I think that the same happens with the Reds during this MLB season. I want pieces of their lineup, and I want to avoid their pitchers. So I have Suarez/Votto/Senzel here, and I have copious shares of Yasiel Puig and Jesse Winker as well. I haven’t drafted Jose Peraza or Scooter Gennett yet, though I’m not against either. But Peraza worries me just a tad, because he’s been batting seventh often this spring.

I’m pretty happy with the team as a whole, but I was especially happy with picks 13-18 – all guys I actively sought as it got closer to my pick. David Robertson’s value increased once Bryce Harper signed with the Phillies (two days after this draft) – they are far less to sign Craig Kimbrel now, unless he’s willing to sign a one-year deal. I already loved the skills and now he has one less competitor to get saves – though SerAnthony Dominguez remains a threat, as does manager Gabe Kepler’s handling of the bullpen. But for the price, he’s an above-average second closer. Hyun-Jin Ryu will miss some starts, no doubt, but I want to make sure I get all of his home starts and select road starts. He’ll be an important part of my attempt to max home starts this year. Then I nailed two outfielders that are undervalued – I get the playing time risks associated with both Austin Meadows and Adam Eaton, but their ceiling far outpaces their cost.

I like my 19th round pick, Jorge Polanco, as well, but he comes with some regret. In my quest to bully Dodgers pitchers with good skills despite their shaky role, I wanted to get Ross Stripling in this draft. I thought I could wait one more round and took Polanco, when it turns out I couldn’t wait one more pick. My nemesis, Rob Giese, snagged him immediately after. It’s always unfortunate when one of the better drafters in the room is right next to you, cleaning up your mistakes. I also had Eric Heberlig, an NFBC legend, immediately before me at 1.7. There were a handful of targets plucked away from me on both sides.

My full squad:

C – Wilson Ramos, Omar Narvaez
1B/3B/CR – Freddie Freeman, Eugenio Suarez, Joey Votto
2B/SS/MI – Robinson Cano, Adalberto Mondesi, Jorge Polanco
OF – Ronald Acuna, Charlie Blackmon, Austin Meadows, Adam Eaton, Trey Mancini
UT – Nick Senzel (or Tyler O’Neill if Senzel gets sent down)
SP – David Price, Miles Mikolas, Kyle Hendricks, Yusei Kikuchi, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Jhoulys Chacin, Brad Peacock (assuming he wins the fifth starter job)
RP – Tyler Yates, David Robertson
SP reserves – Corbin Burnes, Julio Teheran, Mike Fiers, Mike Soroka, Matt Strahm
RP reserve – Ryan Brasier

Soroka will almost certainly be my first cut and was a mistake to draft. I almost always fade already-injured players, and we know for sure that he’s not going to make the Opening Day roster. In a 12-teamer I hate stashing guys like him.

Finally, when looking at the draft grid above, remember a few things have already changed since them in addition to the Harper signing – notably Salvador Perez, Miguel Sano and Luis Severino all had bad injury news, with Perez being the worst.