Steering Into the Skid – Results from the “Beat Jeff Erickson” Draft

My baseball draft season began in earnest Tuesday night with the “Beat Jeff Erickson” contest in the NFBC’s RotoWire Online Championship. As a quick reminder, there are two components to this contest – your 12-team league, and an overall contest that over 1,700 entries last year, at $350 per person. There’s no trading in the league, and the pressure to do well in the overall contest in addition to the individual league creates the incentive to contend in all categories.

That said, there’s a difference between competing in all categories, and exiting the draft with a perfectly balanced team. For starters, the latter concept is mostly an illusion – we think we have balance, but injuries and managerial whims often conspire from attaining that balance, let alone the volatile nature of the game. You may very well think you have 90 saves in the bag after a draft, but you might have 30, or you might have 120. The latter is fine, except that you probably invested more resources than you needed to hit your target number, preventing you from contending in other categories overall.

Tuesday night’s draft was exceedingly challenging. Of course, that’s a near-evergreen sentiment when discussing the NFBC. It’s not often that you run into a league where there are inexperienced players, ill-prepared players or those that are experimenting with strategy, given their investment in the league. As Chris Liss always preaches, having skin in the game forces you to take it seriously. These owners clearly took this draft seriously.

Here are the full results from the draft – more on my strategy, picks and the general nature of this draft after the grid:

I knew coming into the draft that I’d have the fifth pick – I actually like this slot quite a bit. I’m very happy with the talent available in the first 30 picks, and think that there’s a slight drop after that point, so I’m guaranteed three players in my first two tiers. Moreover, I like being in the middle of these snake drafts rather than at the end – the theory being that I won’t get caught off-guard too badly by the runs on categories and positions that you often see in a snake draft format. Let’s place some emphasis on that notion being a theory – and not in the scientific sense.

I had three scenarios loosely mapped out centering on what I did in the first round:

– Plan A: Select Nolan Arenado for the high-average power numbers, without getting much speed with my first pick. If Arenado was gone, Giancarlo Stanton would substitute in, accepting that I wouldn’t get the same batting average bump, but instead I would get a greater chance of attacking home runs. In this scenario, if recent ADP held form I’d then get a second-tier starting pitcher (assuming the consensus top-four – Kershaw, Scherzer, Kluber and Sale, in that order according to my preferences – were gone) or address speed with the second pick. I’d want two starting pitchers in the top five rounds, with perhaps three in six if my second starter was a little shaky compared to the rest of the second-tier starters, while waiting on closers until at least the eighth round where presumably I could still get Cody Allen. Presumably. In this plan, I had a notion of getting Starling Marte in the fourth round or Byron Buxton in the fifth. As it turned out, both were gone before my fourth-round pick came up.

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– Plan B: Select Trea Turner at 1.5 to give myself some freedom in where to get my stolen bases later, nailing two starting pitchers in the top-four rounds, and then hammering power bats between rounds 5-15.

– Plan C: Secure elite starting pitching early in the draft by going with Clayton Kershaw in the first round and a second ace in the top five rounds, while getting either Kenley Jansen or Craig Kimbrel too. In a way, this would be similar to Chris Liss’s draft in his “Beat” league. But I’m a little uncomfortable with this route, as the threat of Kershaw getting hurt again seems all too real. I had resolved pretty early not to go this way.

My hope of getting Arenado was dashed at the second pick, and Trea Turner went fourth, so I was left with the choice between Stanton and Kershaw, at least according to how I mapped it out. I went with Stanton, who just today got a slight bump in his projection, giving him four more homers and a small bump in runs and RBI. That bump put him over my other alternatives for the pick. However, Plan A took a detour very quickly, thanks to my second-round pick:

2.8 – Carlos Correa: Correa’s ADP has been soaring lately, so I hadn’t contemplated him falling to the 20th overall pick. But this apparently was the unicorn draft, as he was sitting there for me. At this early point in the draft, I’d rather take a clear best available player than conform to a plan and let someone else get the benefit of the bargain. Correa didn’t run last year, but did in 2016 and might still again. But I only have him projected for nine steals, so it’s not the end of the world if he doesn’t run. The only downside is that a lot of players that do run are middle infielders, and I locked myself from using this slot to address speed.

3.5 – Stephen Strasburg: Had Correa not been available in the second round, I would have taken Noah Syndergaard or Strasburg, so getting Strasburg here was a pretty happy result.

4.8 – Christian Yelich: As alluded, my preferred speed options went just before my selection here and I’m not a fan of taking Billy Hamilton in the early rounds, so instead I went after Yelich, who is a contributor in all five categories, with a decent speed ceiling in Milwaukee.

5.5 – Yu Darvish: I passed on Justin Verlander, Robbie Ray and Zack Greinke to snag Yelich, and all three in the intervening eight picks before this selection. In my opinion, Darvish represents the last of the second-tier starters, and thus was a must-pick.

6.8 – Dallas Keuchel: Because I drafted the lowest of the second tier, I wanted to get one of the top of the next tier, and then avoid most of the next group of starting pitchers. If Keuchel is healthy (if, if, if ….), he’ll go a long way towards stabilizing my ratios. The second tier closer-run was beginning here, and I’ve made it clear that I don’t wish to participate in that tier. I was also looking at getting speed here – and Jean Segura, Whit Merrifield and Chris Taylor all went in short order after this pick.

7.5 – Lorenzo Cain: Speed was in short supply for my team and was getting pushed up in this draft. At least Cain was only three picks off his OC ADP.

8.8 – Robinson Cano: Six closers went between my seventh and eighth round picks, and while in general I actually applauded this trend, having expressed my desire to stay out of this tier, it worked against me, as Cody Allen went to NFBC veteran Bryan Vogel in the seventh round with 81st pick – six picks ahead of his OC ADP and 18 picks of his general NFBC ADP. One quick note – the NFBC is doing great stuff with their ADP data, allowing you to search by date and/or contest. Relying upon ADP can be dangerous – all it takes is a couple of owners to create an outlier situation, but on the whole I find the data more helpful than harmful, and love the presentation on the NFBC’s new draft software. As for Cano, this was a bit of a value pick, but perhaps a tactical error. I already had one non-running middle infielder in Correa, and Cano clearly won’t run at all. Justin Turner, who went two picks later, would have been a better fit for my team because of his position.

9.5 – Trevor Story: I love Trevor Story this year – you don’t even have to squint to see a potential 40-homer season. So I don’t care too much that he locked up my MI spot, or that he was ahead of ADP. He was my best player on the board in eighth and I waited one round. I wasn’t going to wait any longer. Tactics be damned, he wasn’t the mistake – if anything, Cano was.

10.8 – Brandon Morrow: The Nats didn’t sign Wade Davis, Greg Holland (at least, not yet) or anyone else – Sean Doolittle, my target for this round, is the closer, period. Thus any notions that he would be available with this pick were wiped out a few weeks ago – get good data, kids. I was hoping to get both Morrow and Hector Neris with my next two picks, and gambled that Neris was more likely to get back to me than Morrow. Neris did not get back to me. I don’t regret drafting Morrow though – the Cubs confirmed that he’s the closer and his skills are strong. But his health skill is in question, to be sure.

11.5 – Ryan Braun: This was a tedious value pick. Maybe I should have drafted Arodys Vizcaino simply based on the thinning closer pool, but this seemed like too much of a bargain to let go. But … it put me on a path where I’m “steering into the skid” regarding the volatility of the closer pool. I’m going to have to attack the waiver wire and have roster some shakier options. Hopefully the offensive tradeoff is worth it.

12.8 – Blake Treinen: Again, ideally Treinen would be my third closer and not my second one. I missed out on Vizcaino by two picks. I might not have gotten Treinen on the comeback anyhow.

13.5 – Jonathan Villar: Wouldn’t you know it, another Brewer! I swear, this wasn’t a plan. But keep in mind that I needed steals, Villar has the potential to steal 30-50 bases, and the Brewers as a whole run more than most. I hate having to fill my UT spot with a middle infielder, but a need is a need, and the likes of Delino DeShields Jr. and Manuel Margot were already gone.

14.8 – Adrian Beltre: My first corner infielder, yay! I always like taking Beltre – he’s either going to produce, or he’ll be hurt and I can find decent replacement value at third base. Plus, he’s a potentially decent power, high-average guy when those are in short supply.

15.5 – Yadier Molina: Another less than sexy pick that should provide batting average help to a team taking on some risk with Story and Villar.

16.8 – Garrett Richards: Richards is one of “my guys” – he’s not going to throw 200 innings, but if he throws 150 innings I’m going to get a big profit.

17.5 – Eugenio Suarez: Suarez has improved his batting eye skills considerably over the last two years, hits in a great ballpark and in an improving lineup. I tend to think that he’s undervalued here.

18.8 – Eric Thames: This was a bit of a bonk – I shouldn’t have taken yet another Brewer, especially one that could lose a lot of playing time to Braun at first base. I saw that power and decided I had to have that over Matt Carpenter. We’ll see.

19.5 – Kenta Maeda: Maeda hung around as the best starting pitcher on my board for a couple of rounds. Even in a down year last season he had a 1.15 WHIP and 9.38 K/9. He’s on a good team in a good ballpark, pitching in a division where one of the tougher parks just got neutered.

20.8 – Odubel Herrera: Herrera has the capability of going 20-15 this year, and like Suarez is in a good ballpark with an improving lineup around him. Plus, he owes me one after struggling for me in the Main Event last year.

21.5 – Yulieski Gurriel: I took Gurriel as insurance in case Thames really tanks or loses more playing time than I anticipated. He dropped pretty low because of his early suspension and the hand injury he suffered early in spring training.

22.8 – Keone Kela: Because I don’t have a third closer, I went a little early with my favorite speculative play. Kela might not win the job outright, but he has the best tools and strikeout ability among those in the Texas bullpen competing for the job. We’ll see if Tim Lincecum also factors into the equation after agreeing to a deal with the Rangers on Tuesday.

23.5 – Austin Hedges – Catchers suck, but at least Hedges has power.

Reserve picks – Lewis Brinson, Steven Matz, Matt Shoemaker, C.J. Cron, CC Sabathia, Reynaldo Lopez, Jack Flaherty. With the exception of Lopez, I wanted my pitching reserves to be on teams that are projected to compete this year. Lopez is my high-strikeout wildcard.

According to the NFBC ADP data, the highest undrafted player was Josh Reddick (267). The highest undrafted pitcher was Jimmy Nelson (302). The lowest ranked player taken was A.J. Puk (491), and the lowest ranked hitter taken was Leonys Martin (483).