2018 Fantasy Baseball: Mixed LABR Recap and Draft Advice
The 2018 Fantasy Baseball season is officially underway. How do I know? The Mixed LABR Draft just took place. Once again, I was thrilled to be a part of it, but even more than ever before this year, as I am the defending champion. With that in mind, I'll recap my strategy, results and thoughts from the draft so you can apply the lessons learned to your upcoming drafts and take home the title… like me.
Since winning the LABR Mixed League last year, the most common question I receive is, "What was your strategy?" Surprise! It's been the same every year, and I don't plan on changing. This is now my fifth year in LABR and using this strategy has led to two fifth-place finishes, a third-place finish and winning last year. The only finish that truly matters is first place, but you can see that I have a high level of success in a league filled with 15 of the sharpest minds in Fantasy Baseball.
So what is my strategy? It's quite simple and was my plan once again this year: Control Hitting! When it comes to rotisserie Fantasy Baseball, hitting is the most controllable aspect. It's more predictable than pitching and you can attack five categories. With pitching, you always automatically sacrifice one category since we play with Wins and Saves.
(Side note: move to Quality Starts. You add more predictability and value your ownership skills over luck of wins by using them.)
It's also easier to find pitching value on the waiver wire each year whether it's surprise starters or new closers (the old adage, "Don't pay for saves"). In addition to going hitting heavy, I also employ the BPA (Best Player Available) approach. Each draft demands that you adjust to the trends, flow, position scarcity, etc., but BPA is the smartest strategy. Chris Towers of CBS Sports had a good Twitter conversation on that very fact recently.
Projected overall finish of the No. 12 player at each position (roto):
C - 291*
1B - 68
2B - 83
3B - 66
SS - 109
However, once you remove multi-eligible players likely to start at other positions from the 3B pool, No. 12 drops to 102.
— ADP Boy (@CTowersCBS) February 13, 2018
No. 36 outfielder is projected to finish 96th, by the way.
Which is to say, with the exception of catcher and 1B, the positions largely have a similar amount of starting-caliber depth, so you should typically just draft the best player available at your spot. https://t.co/JiNEL5vaiH
— ADP Boy (@CTowersCBS) February 13, 2018
No. 24 catcher? 409 OVERALL
— ADP Boy (@CTowersCBS) February 13, 2018
Oh, and one more time… #BanTwoCatcherLeagues!
Last year on my way to the LABR title, I finished first in three hitting categories and third in the other two (71 points). By dominating the hitting categories, I merely needed to finish mid pack on average with each pitching category. I didn't finish seventh or eighth in each pitching category… in fact, I led WHIP, was fourth in ERA, middle of the pack in Saves and near the bottom in Wins and Ks (41 points). That's the perfect example to show that if you can control hitting, you don't need to be that good in every pitching category. And after all, in a league this size, it's near impossible not to struggle in one category. If you look at the 2017 standings, everyone had at least one category finish of fifth worst or lower.
I'm not suggesting this is the only way to win, as there are several strategies that can work. However, I have found the most success in attempting to control hitting. Five categories are more than four, you can find in-season pitching help easier and hitting projections have a lower outcome variance.
Well, right off the bat (no pun intended), you can see I have tons of power and no speed. So, my controlling hitting plan is probably the weakest it's been in my five-year LABR career. We'll get to the speed issue more in the Takeaways section, but for now, we'll focus on my team. Using my projections, I come up with around 1,050 Runs, 315 HRs, 1,050 RBIs, 90 SBs and a .275 team average. All of those numbers should have me contending near the top except for the stolen bases. For reference, I won stolen bases with 163 last year and second place was 145. Last place was 89, so it's not looking good.
On the pitching side, I have around 80 Wins, 90 Saves, 1,275 Ks, a 3.55 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. Fortunately, the Saves and Ks should rank in the top half, while the ERA and WHIP should lead the league (1.21 was my league-best mark last year) and Wins sitting below the middle by a bit. Project all of those categories out, and I'm looking at a 109 total. If I am smart and find help, whether via the waiver wire or trades, I could get to the middle of the pack in steals and push that mark to 114 (five point jump) and have a score better than last year. Obviously, that's easier said than done, but I traded more than anyone else did last year… MLB.com's Fred Zinkie included!
For player specifics, here are a few notes:
Giancarlo Stanton, NYY – He was my target with the eighth pick, as his power is elite, and everyone hits 15 home runs these days.
Aaron Judge, NYY – This was not my intent, especially as a Mets fan. I was hoping for Joey Votto, and thought about Francisco Lindor or Anthony Rizzo, but they all came off the board right before my pick. Judge's value is around Top 15, and I couldn't pass on his falling this far. If I knew Judge was going to be there, I would have went Mookie Betts first, but that's why snake drafts are inferior to auctions (more on that later too).
Noah Syndergaard, NYM – He's one of the very few pitchers outside of the Top 3 that could push for a spot there if he makes it through a full season. Remember, he was coming off the board around the turn in 12-team leagues last year.
A.J. Pollock, ARI – Kind of wish that humidor news came out before the draft, but I needed speed, and Pollock can be a league changer if he plays 150 games. Okay, stop laughing at that 150 games part.
Daniel Murphy, WSH – Injury is a bit of a concern as of today, but he's a terrific hitter and significant average boost.
Shohei Ohtani, LAA – I took him purely for the pitching ability, and I'll be happy with 160 innings. Few pitchers make it 200-plus innings, and elite production over 160 innings is more valuable than good production over 190.
Yoenis Cepedes, NYM – Like Pollock, Cespedes will rank among the best if he plays 150 games. After my start and Cespedes still being here this late, I say, "Screw it! Let's go #ALLIN with the fun!" Either I'll be in first or focusing solely on football come June.
Yuli Gurriel, HOU – Deserves more respect; plus he had 1B/3B dual eligibility. I have Gurriel for .274-67-18-74-3, and that might be a bit conservative.
Lance Lynn, STL – Also deserves more respect. Sure, he could end up in a poor park, but notching just 10 Wins with a 3.40 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 150 Ks would have him inside the Top 35 starters.
Blake Parker, LAA – He should be the closer favorite for the Angels, but Mike Sciosia isn't known to be logical. If Parker doesn't have the job, his ratios and strikeouts should still help similar to Dellin Bentances, who I took later.
Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr, PHI – Williams bat is high quality and people forget how gaga people were over Altherr heading into last year. Hopefully, one of them severely outplays the other and guarantees that I have the third Phillies outfielder.
Ervin Santana, MIN – This late, I'll let him sit on my DL to get his quality numbers after his return.
Jeimer Candelario, DET – Power is real. Could be a nice find.
Matt Harvey, NYM – Hey, it can't get any worse, and if it's just as bad, I'll cut him.
Mallex Smith, TB – C'mon Mallex! Here's hoping he can replicate his June and July with 13 stolen bases and a good average… heck, I don't even need the average if he plays full time with that speed.
Chance Sisco, BAL – Great bat, poor defense. But the talk is that the Orioles are impressed with his defensive improvement, opening up the possibility to Sisco (that thong, th thong thong thong) getting the lead catcher job.
If you didn't notice through the breakdown or by looking at the draft board, speed is at a premium. We're talking Christmas Eve, you waited too long, let me check eBay for the Nintendo Classic, premium.
Dee Gordon went 26th, Billy Hamilton went early fourth and Elvis Andrus mid fourth (extremely early for him), Whit Merrifield climbed all the way into the fifth round and Lorenzo Cain the same. This continued with any player carrying 20-plus steals ability going above normal cost. Every time I planned to jump in on a "cheap source" of speed, that player came off the board at least one round earlier than expected. Even Jonathan Villar, who isn't guaranteed a regular starting gig, went in the 13th round. If you want speed, you're going to pay a pretty penny. You will have to suck it up and take players earlier in snakes, and I'd expect the inflation to carry over to auctions. At least in auctions, you can better react and not get caught in a run.
Two other quick observations. Pitching doesn't look to be different from most years. Four came off the board in the first, and while only two were in the second round, five more went in the third (including two closers) and six in the fourth. The two elite closers, Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel, may cause sticker shock in the third, but getting top-end saves with a terrific ERA and sub-1.00 WHIP is a significant edge at closer. If you make that move though, understand the position value and don't wait until the mid-level closers for your second option. Pairing Jansen or Kimbrel with a Felipe Rivero, Cody Allen or Giles gives you a distinct advantage at closer. Waiting until you get to the Arodys Vizcaino/Hector Neris level eliminates your edge gained from drafting one of the elites.
Second, outfield thins out quickly, and it's not just the draft effect that should give you concern. Even before the midway point of the draft, we already find outfielders with question marks such as playing time, injuries and/or lacking category production. Owners have been slow to react to the implementation of starting five outfielders, and it's time to adapt. Not only does everyone need to start five (already 60 deep in 12-teamers and 75 in 15-teamers), some owners will drop an outfielder in the utility spot. It's also quite difficult to find help throughout the season with few impact outfielders popping up and numerous owners chasing the same options on waivers.
Thanks again to Steve Gardner for continually making LABR a terrific Fantasy Baseball league.
I'm #ALLIN for fun this year, as I feel like I'm playing with house money after winning last year… as long as I don't bottom out!
Derek Van Riper is my LABR nemesis, as he sniped me SEVEN times!
FantasyPros projected standings (61 hitting, 48 pitching = 109, hmm) has me third behind Zinkie and Alan Harrison (Fantasy Fix). I was fifth last year, so… I don't know what that means.
I'm usually the king of waiting on pitching, but I couldn't pass on Thor and Scott Pianowski took it to another level. I'll be interested to see how it turns out for him.
Even with 15 teams and 29 rounds, I was surprised to see Jose Bautista still on the board. Sad times.
Main Image Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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