I will be representing RotoExperts in the Fantasy Baseball League of Extraordinary GM’s (LEEG), a 15-team league that features analysts from across the industry. Hosted by FantasyAssembly, this is a standard 5×5 Roto league that is increasingly competitive as the competition stiffens. I’m honored to be the face of RotoExperts in this league, and I am confident that I have pieced together a competitive team that will make RotoExperts nation proud. Analyst drafts are always tough, as true values are difficult to come by. I took some risks, but there were also a handful of “safe” players that I felt fell a bit. Here’s a glance at my draft results and my thoughts behind the picks.
Round 1 – 3rd overall: Andrew McCutchen
Knowing I had the third overall pick, I came in with a two basic options: fill the first of my five outfield slots (McCutchen or Giancarlo Stanton) or fill my first base position with a five-tool stud that is a reasonable bet to accumulate 50 steals-plus-homers in Paul Goldschmidt. Ultimately, my decision was made for me, as Goldy went after Mike Trout. I had essentially settled on going with an outfielder anyway, banking on my ability to land one of three first basemen that I like more than most in the later rounds (Adam LaRoche, Brandon Moss or Kendrys Morales). The decision of McCutchen over Stanton was a tough one, but I fell in love with the elevated floor, especially understanding that landing Billy Hamilton with my third selection was the plan. Pairing the elite power of Stanton with Hamilton was appealing, but I elected to take the safe route that included more reliable speed (again, I had my later round power targets lined up, so I felt that the safety and speed of McCutchen was a tad more valuable to my plan than Stanton’s power). The Bucco’s star is coming off of three nearly identical seasons and is playing for a team that is only getting better: say what you will about my draft, but I’m not losing this league because of my first round pick … or my second rounder for that matter.
Round 2 – 28th overall: Adrian Beltre
Safety continues to be the name of the game. In case you haven’t noticed, I fully buy into the idea that you “may not be able to win a draft in the early rounds, but you can lose it.” Entering the draft, my plan was to select Ryan Braun (he went 34th overall) here, but I couldn’t pass on a rock solid option at a shallow position. Beltre missed time with an early season quad injury, lacked the protection of Prince Fielder, and got virtually no help from the top half of the Rangers lineup in 2014 … he went on to produce 19 homers, 79 runs, 77 RBI, and a .324 batting average: not a bad floor. I see no reason why he can’t improve upon those numbers this season, especially given my optimism in rebound efforts from Shin-Soo Choo, and the third base position gets awfully ugly awfully fast. The one thing he won’t do is steal bases, and that’s the one thing I wasn’t concerned with.
Round 3 – 33rd overall: Billy Hamilton
Ideally, I’d take Fast Billy somewhere in the 40s, but with this draft position, I was forced to either jump on him here or cross my fingers for him falling. In a draft full of analysts who are aware of the statistical edge of Hamilton’s speed, I elected the former and I feel good about it. He may not seem to fit my “safe” scheme, but why can’t he be considered safe? He’s not a five-tool player, but his skills are as well defined as any player in the league, and the numbers you’re expecting you’re going to get. The outfield position is deep, but in a 15-team league that requires five outfielders and a utility spot, the talent doesn’t last as long as you’d assume, which is why I targeted two with my first three picks (with the potential of landing three a real possibility). Much like Beltre in Texas, the Reds offense can’t do much less to help Hamilton than it did in 2014, thus making him a reasonable bet to improve some of his counting stats. Look for Hamilton to be a bit more aggressive at the dish (.335 batting average on the first two pitches of at-bats last season) and don’t rule out some nice growth from this 24-year-old that has less than 600 at-bats to his name.
Round 4 – 58th overall: Yu Darvish
Pre-draft, I thought that I may be able to land Darvish here if I was lucky. I’ve made no bones about it: I will chase strikeouts and chase strikeouts hard. I’m all in on Steven Strasburg (30th overall) this season, but with him going off the board in the second round, my attention turned to the 230-plus strikeout upside of the Rangers ace. Injuries kept his innings down last season, but his ability to get strike three was still very present (11.35 K/9) and it came with improved command (career-high 3.7 strike outs per walk). For those worried about him pitching in a hitter-friendly park … no park is “hitter friendly” if said hitters aren’t making contact. Consider this blind resume:
314.2 innings pitched, 25-13 record, 2.57 ERA, 33 homers allowed, 345 strikeouts, and a .208 batting average against
288.2 innings pitched, 22-11 record, 3.02 ERA, 27 homers allowed, 357 strikeouts, and a .215 batting average against
The first stat line is Chris Sale’s statistics at home since 2012 and the second line is Darvish’s. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m always going to build around a strikeout pitcher and hope that the ratios come around as opposed to the other way around. If a pitcher can strike batters out, not only does it help my Fantasy squad, it also allows him to wriggle out of jams that a contact pitcher may not be able to escape. Darvish was a nice value at this point (13th pitcher and 12th starter off the board) and a perfect fit for my beliefs in building a roster.
Round 5 – 63rd overall: Jordan Zimmerman
I really didn’t think Zimmerman would be here, so I was more than happy to make him the fifth member of my team. The NL East is the division you want to target when it comes to starting pitching, and even though Zimmerman is, at best, the third starter on his own team, that doesn’t mean he can’t be elite. In this era of injury plagued pitchers, it cannot be stated how impactful three consecutive 32-start seasons are, especially when you consider that it comes with a sub-3.00 ERA. Now, the strikeout upside isn’t ideal, but I’m banking a bit on a career-high 6.28 K/BB (fifth best in baseball) and love the team that he plays for. Look at all of the advanced statistics you want, there isn’t much that would indicate regression. In fact, the improvement in HR/FB rate could signal growth, as the long ball has really been Zimmerman’s only limitation.
Round 6 – 88th overall: Julio Teheran
This would be the top value based on my ranks, as I have the Atlanta ace ranked inside of my Top 15 starters. Entering the draft, I had come to terms with him potentially being my top pitcher and selecting him in the sixth round. The lesson learned here is that owners seem to be willing to overpay for the absolute elite or wait on specific lower ranked options that they rank higher than the field. Sonny Gray, Gio Gonzalez, James Shields and Cliff Lee are just a few of the pitchers that fell into this value vortex, something that could well become a trend to exploit in drafts. If this continues to be the case, I would strongly explore the idea of drafting five hitters right off the bat and then drafting 3-4 starters over the next five rounds. Finding value is the key to “winning” a draft, and if you can draft strong pitchers when everyone else is filling up their batting order, you’re going to end up with a better staff than you may have thought possible. Teheran is my favorite of the bunch, but there are pitchers in this middle tier for everyone, and I’d recommend considering a pitcher (or two or three) as the draft approaches pick number 100.
Round 7 – 93rd overall: Mark Melancon
I never pay for saves and would be happy to lead a movement for relievers to be left out of the Fantasy game altogether. That said, the top shelf closers should hold a bit more value than in years past, as the drop-off seems especially steep. Melancon has job security and 1.65 ERA over the last two seasons (142 innings pitched), making him the last of the closers that I feel good about maintaining value throughout the season. The NL Central isn’t especially intimidating, and this Pirates team should win their fair share of games again this year, making Melancon a strong volume play at the very least. Batters swung more and made less contact last season, a trend that suggests we could be looking at the next dominate ninth inning man. He strikes out hitters, doesn’t walk any one, and rarely gives up hard contact. I’ll take that pedigree to stabilize my closer position and worry about the rest of my relievers later.
Round 8 – 118th overall: Yan Gomes
Remember when I was talking about picking your spots with power? Here’s another player to target, as it is very possible that he leads all catchers in round-trippers this season. His ISO is trending upward and he’s hitting more fly balls, a combination that would suggest sustainable power numbers. While still young, his career HR/FB rate of 13.8 percent has me sold, and this Indians roster deserves more credit than they are getting this preseason. Look for the counting numbers to continue moving in the right direction with increased exposure to major league pitching. At this point in the draft, I’m paying for his 2014 numbers (61-21-74.278) and expecting growth. For the record, as much as I like Gomes, the odds are very slim that I take a catcher before the 15th round in any league that starts only one catcher.
Round 9 – 123rd overall: Daniel Murphy
Not a pick that is going to captivate the room, but one that I felt fit my team and held reasonable value. As a .290 career hitter with double digit power and double digit speed, Murphy is a safe option that should be just fine as a starting middle infielder in a 15-team league. He stays on the field (1,825 at-bats over the last three years) and doesn’t possess a major flaw, something that is just as valuable as possessing a major strength. Again, not a pick that I loved to make, but I like winning leagues, and Murphy fills a void that I was otherwise going to have issues with.
Round 10 – 148th overall: Zack Wheeler
At this price, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Wheeler’s Fantasy stock is low as the result of his young teammates that have more shine to them. We assume that Matt Harvey is going to be the next big thing, and with Jacob deGrom dusting off his Rookie of the Year trophy, Wheeler’s impressive 187-strikeout performance is seemingly being pushed aside. What if I told you that he averaged 7.8 percent more strikeouts per hit allowed and had a lower ERA in the second half of the season than David Price? Or that he allowed three or fewer earned runs in 15 of his final 16 starts last season? Yes, his teammates are great, but that shouldn’t lower the asking price this much. At the bare minimum, you’re looking at a 24-year-old that is a good bet to strike out 200 batters, and that’s valuable when you consider that he was selected after Justin Verlander and Drew Smyly in this draft.
Round 11 – 153rd overall: Brandon Moss
Round 12 – 178th overall: Howie Kendrick
Round 13 – 183rd overall: Anibal Sanchez
Round 14 – 208th overall: Aramis Ramirez
Round 15 – 213th overall: Steve Pearce
My beliefs when it comes to filling out a roster are pretty obvious when you evaluate these five selections. I value cheap run-producers on offenses that I view as above average (Moss, Ramirez, and Pearce) and my love for strikeout upside is no secret. Is there some downside here? Sure, but at the bare minimum, I’m getting power, and that’s difficult to find at this point in the draft. Kendrick was a player I had targeted once I missed out on Jason Kipnis (67th overall pick). His aggressive approach and position in a strong lineup are two reasons I think he is a strong value here, especially given his five category abilities. He’s hit at least .285 in eight of his nine professional seasons, a nice bump in a tough category, and is coming off a season in which he produced (runs-plus-RBI) a career-high 160 runs.
Round 16 – 238th overall: Asdrubal Cabrera
Round 17 – 243rd overall: Mike Zunino
Round 18 – 268th overall: LaTroy Hawkins
Round 19 – 273rd overall: Tyler Clippard
Round 20 – 298th overall: Josh Reddick
Filling some positional holes in the second half of the draft drove most of these selections, but so did the ability to find power upside. I’m figuring that with Billy Hamilton, I can survive in stolen bases in the early going, so I elected to load up on some power options. The thought here is that some hit and some don’t, but that power is going to be difficult to find in free agency. If need be, I can cut some of these big bats for speedsters as I am confident that SBs can be found, while 20-plus homer guys simply aren’t. Zunino and Reddick have shown enough upside to have me encouraged given their price tag. Hawkins and Clippard should start the 2015 season as closers, and while maintaining that role is no certainty, I like that both have proven competence in the middle innings. Save upside is nice, but these two should be marginally useful even if they don’t finish off games. I don’t love either one of these relievers, but in the chase for saves, they have value at this point.
Round 21 – 303rd overall: Drew Stubbs
Round 22 – 328th overall: Joakim Soria
Round 23 – 333rd overall: Tony Watson
Round 24 – 358th overall: Edinson Volquez
Round 25 – 363rd overall: James Loney
Round 26 – 388th overall: Matt Joyce
Round 27 – 393rd overall: Yusmeiro Petit
Round 28 – 418th overall: Marco Gonzales
Round 29 – 423rd overall: Vance Worley
Round 30 – 448th overall: J.P. Howell
Nothing too exciting in the final 10 rounds, but some players that have reasonable upside. Soria isn’t the closer in Detroit right now, but given Joe Nathan’s dismal 2014, he might as well be option 1B. His role has been a bit all over the place, as he has bounced around from Kansas City to Texas to Detroit, but don’t forget that he is still just 30 years old and did nail down 115 of 124 save opportunities from 2008-2010. Joyce stands to gain value in the middle of a loaded Angels lineup with Josh Hamilton sidelined and/or suspended, a role that could be extended given the uncertainty of Hamilton’s future. His lifetime .441 slugging percentage is a nice place to start, not to mention that April and May have been his two strongest months over the last three seasons, making him at least a reasonable option in the early going. Maybe he holds onto the gig and Los Angeles requires an extensive rehab stay for Hamilton? There is essentially no risk here and significant upside given the talent around him. It was slim pickings when it came to late round pitching, so I elected to roll the dice on a hybrid in Petit. Is he a starter? Is he a reliever? I really don’t know and I’m not sure the Giants do either, but he is a good pitcher and I’ll bank on a creative franchise finding a spot for him. Over the last two months of last season (including playoffs), he struck out 10.8 batters per nine innings and recorded nearly 20 outs per walk, a skill set that deserves a look at this point. Gonzales isn’t assured to be a starter for the Cardinals in 2015, but I’m willing to roster a player that one of the most stable franchises in professional sports felt comfortable taking in the first round of the 2013 draft. He recently turned 23 years old and has yet to explore his potential: why not?