Never Say Never – Mixed LABR draft

I drafted in the Mixed LABR draft online on Tuesday night, selecting from the 8-spot in a 15-team league. Steve Gardner and the USA Today folks added the online Mixed league as a companion to the AL and NL auctions in Phoenix awhile ago, and after going back to Phoenix to do the NL one last year, I’m back in the Mixed this year because of my daughter’s soccer schedule (she’s in All-Stars and I help coach her team). I miss seeing everyone in the industry, but it’s a trade-off worth making, and I won’t have too many more years left to make that trade.

Anyhow, I drew the eighth spot – there was no selecting spots here, just a randomly generated draft order. One cool aspect of this league is that I was between two of my closest friends in the business, Yahoo’s Scott Pianowski and Joe Sheehan (of his own Newsletter, but also flying the Sports Illustrated flag for this draft). Cool, but also annoying in the sense that we kept poaching each other’s picks. I enjoy drafting in the middle of the draft – as first articulated to me by Scott Jenstad in an NFBC context, it’s a nice place to be because it’s easier to avoid missing out as a result of a run on a category or position, and you stay engaged better in the draft. The downside to that aspect is that when you’re doing an online draft, there are no breaks, and if your next pick is always 15 or fewer picks away, it’s harder to get away to eat (the draft started at 5:15 pm local time) or even go to the bathroom. That means sitting in the same place for four hours – not exactly a courageous feat, but one that always leaves me with a sore neck and back. Fodder for an epilogue to Profiles In Courage, I know, but bear with me anyhow.

Some things in this draft went according to plan and expectations, but enough was different that I felt that this team was a little different than many of my other ones drafted in similar formats. For instance, I ended up with Gary Sanchez on my roster despite frequently commenting about how the elite catchers rarely earn their value – I just happened to like the price here. My team here is structured starkly different than my FSTA draft, where I selected five pitchers in the first 10 rounds. But that’s ok – drafting at 1.8 presents considerably different choices than 1.1 (and just as importantly, 3.8 vs. 3.1). This became an exercise of taking what the room was giving me, rather than dictating choices to others. It’s going to be stronger offensively, and riskier on the pitching side, as you’ll soon see, but I’m ok with that balance. I would not draft this same team in the NFBC, only because there are no trades allowed and there’s an overall prize – I would have drafted closers far sooner there.

Here is the draft grid from tonight:

 

You’ll note the lack of closers on the squad. This wasn’t necessarily *the* plan, but I was open to that possibility all along. I think that the closer pool is as difficult as ever to handicap, with so many land mines present. That doesn’t mean you should write them off entirely, but at the same time I was unwilling to pay the premium it took to get the saves, at least at the draft table. There’s no overall contest in this league, it’s an early-February draft, and trading is allowed, so I’m not writing off the category yet. My one reliever, Drew Steckenrider, might not close after all following the Marlins’ acquisition of Sergio Romo, but I’m not convinced yet that’s a settled issue.

I was live-tweeting this draft, so the discussion of my picks is largely repurposed from that thread. My squad:

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1.8 – Ronald Acuna. I was hoping to have Max Scherzer available to me, but took him at 1.6. I debated between Acuna and Trea Turner for the spot. I also thought about reaching for Aaron Judge – I think he’s going to outperform his draft position. He went to and at 15, unfortunately.

2.8 (23) Trevor Story – Thought about Alex Bregman, though I decided ultimately to avoid going with the already-injured player.

3.8 (38) Blake Snell – The last of the aces that I was willing to take in the third round. Really liked a couple of hitters there, too, so it was a close call whether or not to pass on aces a la – but that’s his gig. Well, him and Todd Zola. By the way, I tweeted this before my next pick came around, hoping to disguise that “… a couple of hitters …” really meant Vlad Guerrero Jr., just in case one of my league opponents foolishly was following along and wanted to thwart me. But seriously, we’re all in this industry and have our own opinions – it would be naive, maybe even egomaniacal to believe that anyone would draft trying to thwart my intentions.

4.8 (53) Rhys Hoskins – I’m planning on using him at 1B when he ultimately becomes eligible there. I think that the move back will help the bat. When I took Snell I expected Vlad Jr. would be gone, but it was still hurtful to see and pounce (again).

5.8 (68) Gleyber Torres – Was hoping to get , but once again wasn’t cooperative. A general observation – I’ve already expressed some FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) on a couple of picks, but in 15-team draft, that’s going to happen a lot. In fact, every round. So I probably should tone that down.

6.8 (83) German Marquez – I missed out on a couple of other targets for my SP2, so I went ahead and took Marquez at his ADP instead of hoping he’d drop one more round. Even without an overall contest, I hate to be without K’s.

7.8 (98) Gary Sanchez – “I almost never take an early catcher …” except when Gary Sanchez drops to pick 98 in a two-catcher league. Seriously, I was a little shocked to see him available. His NFBC ADP is 58.37, with a “Max Pick” of 99. I almost pulled the trigger in Round 6, but for my acute need for a SP. One bonus to taking an elite catcher? You can wait forever to take the second one – it’s not going to matter as much if you’re getting less with the second spot.

8.8 (113) David Dahl – Another pick where I couldn’t pass up what I perceived to be a great value. I have Dahl ranked around 65-70 overall. If the Rox sign CarGo and start him overall I’ll be angry. But … I think there’s so much upside here. I don’t want to keep referring to ADP, because reflexively using that can be dangerous, as you start substituting that for your own judgment, but again, this pick was closer to his outer-bound – his Max Pick is 119. I also took him, much earlier, in the FSTA draft.

9.8 (128) Justin Turner – Was debating Turner vs. Matt Chapman, but made the decision for me one pick ahead of me. Turner was important to me because he helps lessen the batting average risk that Sanchez carries.

10.8 (143) Kyle Hendricks – I needed another SP after going so offense-heavy early, he was my top one, despite the lower K rate.

11.8 (158) Rich Hill – Ahead of ADP and I don’t care. Like him for what he provides, and I hope to mix-and-match when the Super Blister arrives. Almost took my first closer, but got sniped. I’m ok with that.

12.8 (173) Rick Porcello – I don’t need validation from the guy behind me to enjoy a pick, but … it’s pretty nice to snipe twice in a row.

13.8 (188) Brandon Nimmo – I was debating between Harrison Bader and Nimmo, but once again decided for me, taking Bader. FWIW, I would have taken Bader for the SB potential.

14.8 (203) Kenta Maeda – Good pitcher on a good team, innings are light of course, but that’s what you get in the 14th round. I like him a little more now that the Dodgers have traded away Alex Wood.

15.8 (218) Jorge Polanco – Could be a 15-15 guy, still hit well after coming back from his suspension, and I like his lineup around him.

16.8 (233) Justin Smoak – First base is *sort of* scarce this year. It’s scarce at the top, where you want high-average power guys. But mid-round first basemen are plentiful. Carlos Santana went one pick before this by and I like that pick a lot too.

17.8 (248) Jose Martinez – I don’t really need him, and I don’t know if the Cardinals will play him everyday, but I love the skills and the multi-position eligibility. I think that the talent wills out.

18.8 (263) Drew Steckenrider – Eh, bad team but at least he has the job, I think. That’s what you get in the 18th round. In retrospect, though, I should have backed him up with Sergio Romo. Romo certainly was affordable enough.

19.8 (278) Jhoulys Chacin – Another not-so-trendy SP – but starting for a good team, and I’m buying the version we saw in the playoffs.

20.8 (293) Reynaldo Lopez – The phrase “Plausible Upside” could be what applies to Lopez, or a badly named yacht. I like the K% down the stretch, while acknowledging the flukiness of September stats.

21.8 (308) Austin Barnes – The rules of this game require us to start two catchers, might as well get one I kind of like. At least likes him, as we talked about on today’s MLB Podcast.

22.8 (323) Yandy Diaz – Has the hard-hit rate, just learn some launch angle please! A bit of a vanity pick – probably could have waited, but hell, it’s the 22nd round, there is no waiting.

23.8 (338) Julio Urias – He’s going to be a streamer, both for me and in real life. Hopefully I can time it well and mine the upside.

24.8 (353) Leonys Martin – Maybe the Indians won’t sign or trade for an outfielder? Martin could run a lot and start in center field.

25.8 (368) Daniel Palka – A little bit of a power-speed platoon with Leonys Martin, picked the round before.

Picks 26-28: Michael Fulmer, Yonny Chirinos, Brad Keller – SP dart throws, all have displayed some form of upside in the past. Will fill my last reserve slot with a hitter of some ilk.

29.8 – last pick, Hernan Perez – Qualifies everywhere, runs, could be the Brewers’ 2B for at least half the season until Hiura is ready. Or … he could be buried on the bench and be my first cut. You decide.

Overall, I’m happy with the strategic decisions and the result of the roster. A reminder, Opening Day is just the starting line, and shortfalls in one area can still be addressed, even if they’re not optimal. I should have paid a little more attention to what Pianow was doing overall, right next to me – he poached me on a couple of cheapie RP’s, as I didn’t really want to end up with just one possible closer – zero or two would have been better. Had I been more attentive, I would have taken Ryan Brasier before he did, for instance.

The RotoWire draft software likes my result – it damn well better, as it’s fueled by my projections! Still, for your edification, here’s the projected standings – keeping in mind that this is a reflection of a static roster, with stats accumulated by the starters of each team:

 

Weirdly enough, it has me last in saves! Stunning, I know. I can address that (and so can everyone else with their respective shortcomings). Also, it’s not shocking that I’m projected to lead in wins and K’s – after all, I have eight SP’s “active” with this projection. That’s also likely to change – it would be terribly inefficient to lead the league in wins by a margin of 16. So take this projection with a metric ton of salt.

I love doing early drafts like LABR. The conventional wisdom of the industry or from high-stakes players hasn’t fully settled in, so some of the crazy late March inflation that we usually see isn’t fully there, and we can still draft more of our targets. But that window keeps getting pushed earlier – thanks to leagues like the NFBC and mediums like Twitter that get the word out on certain players sooner than ever. Hopefully this draft holds up well over time.