NFBC Main Event – Vegas

I love all of my leagues, but nothing beats the live draft of the NFBC Main Event. With the $125,000 grand prize, there’s more at stake than in any of my other leagues, and the competition level is as fierce as it gets. I’ve aligned so much of my draft prep to the NFBC, perhaps to the detriment of other leagues, that it might hurt my chances in those other leagues. It’s a factor I’ve tried to be more cognizant about in my various drafts.

This year’s trip to the NFBC Main Event might have been the most enjoyable I’ve had yet. Instead of driving solo (I typically like having some flexibility when to arrive and depart) on the 3.5 hour trip to Vegas, I rode along with Tim Schuler, Scott Jenstad and Vlad Sedler. The drive there flew by – I never get the relaxed trip to Vegas, but riding along for this one was pretty sweet, with the added bonus of being able to pick the brains of Scott, Vlad and Shoe.

Friday morning Scott, Shoe and I golfed at the Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort, which was about 30 minutes northwest of the strip. The resort there has three beautiful courses – Scott found a great online rate for the Sun Mountain course, which was just the beginning of his winning ways for the round. I didn’t hit a fairway until the 11th hole, which makes it hard to score well, or so I’m told. Here’s a poorly shot (reminiscent of my tee shots) photo of the neighboring Snow Mountain course:

Fortunately the wind didn’t kick up until about the eighth or ninth hole, and it wasn’t too strong – unlike my previous experience there, when it was a nightmare. As you can see – there’s nothing there to stop the wind once it revs up. Final scores:

Scott – 90
Shoe – 91
Jeff – 98* (with one mulligan)

Friday night, instead of playing poker on my own as I usually do, Vlad Sedler put together a meet-up of NFBC and CDM folks at the Encore (Wynn) Player’s Lounge while watching the tournament games and playing bar shuffleboard. I had a little more aptitude there, though not quite as much CJ Kaltenbach (@TheSeigeDFS). Shuffleboard is best played in the 2-4 beer zone – your mileage may vary on your tolerance and beer selection.

I got down to the draft room at the Bellagio a little later than I had hoped on Saturday morning (see also, Friday night) after having to get some work done at the room, so only had about 10 minutes to hob-nob with the other drafters. There were six Main Events (15 teams apiece) taking place in the room, which was more spacious than we’ve had in the past.

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I drew the third slot, which was towards the top of my preferences in the KDS exercise to select our draft slots. I had narrowed my choices down to two players – Nolan Arenado and Trea Turner. The former brings rock-solid power with a high average, a combo that’s hard to find. The latter brings a huge stolen base upside, production at shortstop, the potential to score a ton of runs and non-negligible power. Most of the other speed guys out there come with a tax on other categories. I had Turner in one of my Draft Champions leagues earlier, and had been shut out on Arenado earlier, so I went Arenado here, knowing that I’d have to be very cognizant of getting speed later. Here’s the full grid – I’ll share my observations afterward:

Every draft I’ve done this season, no matter the format, has pushed up speed, and most have pushed up starting pitching, especially so in the NFBC. I knew that those two commodities would be highly prized here, so even though it seemed eye-opening while it was happening, it wasn’t a surprise. Once the news came out on Madison Bumgarner on Friday, that sense of urgency to get your starters at the top only accelerated.

I was initially concerned that I wouldn’t be able to get one of the second-tier starters (Strasburg, Carrasco, deGrom, Severino, in that order – assuming that Syndergaard would be long gone) with either 2.13 or 3.3, after initially hoping to get two of them. Fortunately, the starting pitcher inflation didn’t really kick in until the next tier. DeGrom was the surprise pick at 2.8 before Strasburg or Carrasco, but luckily the latter two fell to 2.12, guaranteeing that I would get one or the other. I would have preferred Strasburg, but was really happy with Carrasco.

The real inflation kicked in during subsequent rounds and tiers. I got shut out of (at least according to my slots) the entirety of the third tier before my fourth round pick, with Aaron Nola going still six picks away from me in the fourth round. Instead of reaching into the next tier to get my second starter, I took the value given to me with Craig Kimbrel at 4.13 and Nelson Cruz at 5.3. On our radio show today Chris Liss suggested that I might have been better off taking Justin Verlander to launch the third tier at 3.3. In retrospect he might have been correct – you have to know your league, and how picks fit with each other. Just because a set of players (in this case, Alex Bregman, Josh Donaldson and George Springer) are “worth” more in valuation systems, in a snake draft the market isn’t always efficient, so it’s often a matter of getting your pick to fit.

Unfortunately, I kept getting shut out of tiers of starting pitchers because of this – taking “value” in drafts is a great tactic, and one experience shouldn’t dissuade you from finding it. But eventually in a league like this, where there’s no trading and there’s a significant portion of the entry fee going to the overall prize among all leagues, you need to get something from overpriced commodities too. Thus I didn’t end up with any of the “helium” starting pitchers (those that have had rapid rises up the rankings this draft season), instead settling on “boring” candidates like Kenta Maeda, Gio Gonzalez and Lance Lynn. Drafting boring players isn’t really that awful – some of the better competitors in this contest do that – but it doesn’t feel great at the time, and looks worse when reviewing your draft.*

* Incidentally, this is the second time this draft season that I’ve felt worse looking at a team with a little time and distance. That might be my nature, my exposure to the talking circle after the draft, or that these teams are actually worse off than I initially felt. You make the call.

Speed also got pushed up in this draft. Ozzie Albies continued his meteoric climb up the charts, going at pick 6.2 (77 overall). Delino DeShields, described by multiple competitors last weekend as the bellwether for speed prices, went at pick 8.9 (114). Ironically, the only speed merchant that didn’t get priced up was the ultimate speedster, Billy Hamilton, who went to Dave Potts on the wheel at 8.1 (106), well below his ADP of 79. As if Dave (for those who don’t know, is an overall champion and NFBC veteran) needed the help.

My need for speed led me to take two players I infrequently draft, Jose Peraza and Cameron Maybin. Both have their flaws and incumbent risk – for Peraza, both his batting order slot and his job security are in question, and for Maybin it’s his ability to stay healthy. Peraza could end up being a “Last Year’s Bum” and well worth my 13th round spot if he lives up to last year’s hype, or he could play two months. I’ll need him to start hot, no doubt.

I’ve already made one change to this roster, with the first run of free agents running on Sunday night. Adam Wainwright hurt his hamstring in a sprinting drill after Saturday’s draft, so the Cardinals called Jack Flaherty back up to replace him. I love how Flaherty gained velocity on his fastball last season and the strikeouts to go with it, and he only continued to build on that this spring. His window might be short if Wainwright recovers quickly. But you don’t have to squint too hard to envision matters going well for Flaherty, allowing him to stay up even after Waino returns. It’s worth the risk in a league this starved for quality starting pitching. I dropped Joe Panik to make room for him.

I won’t break down every pick, but feel free to ask me on Twitter or Facebook about any of my picks. Incidentally, Scott, Shoe (partnering with Derek VanRiper) and Todd Zola all competed against each other in a different Main Event. Keep an eye for their draft reviews. DVR and Shoe had the same three-slot as me.