NFBC recap… Yoo-Hoo shower!
I’ve been eager to write this blog post for a long, long time, but only finally found the time to do it. This year was my 19th of fantasy baseball, and I’ve won my fair share of leagues since then, but none was as satisfying as winning my 15-team mixed NFBC league this year, and coming in fifth in the country (out of 390) for good measure.
Some 411 fans may recall that I took a good deal of grief on this blog following my draft, and I felt there were at least one or two other teams in my league that were better than mine on paper, so winning the league after a very tight September pennant race did provide great feelings of relief and vindication. I was so psyched to win that I actually did a traditional Yoo-Hoo shower for the first time in years!
So how did it all happen? I’m not going to deny it, there was some luck involved. My team stayed extremely healthy, with Edwin Encarnacion the only one of my core players to miss any significant length of time due to injury; Asdrubal Cabrera, Chris Iannetta and Joe Saunders were the only others to spend any time at all on DL. But for the most part it was a classic 411 draft approach complemented by some well-chosen and timely free agent pickups…
Have a plan and stick to it
I used my own projections and my own rankings and generally tried to take players when I thought they were the best available, rather than trying to project who might last until later picks. (The few times I tried to time picks, I lost them… if there’s a guy you want who you think can help your team, get him.) I targeted hitters who were at or near their peak ages, even if it meant “reaching” at times, and ended up with 11 of my 14 starting lineup bats between the ages of 24 and 29. That approach helped yield not only second-round monster Prince Fielder (below, who I had targeted with that pick going into the draft), but late-round offensive anchors Jason Kubel and Cody Ross, and contributors like B.J. Upton, Shane Victorino and Adam LaRoche, as well as the catcher tandem of Russell Martin and Iannetta.
While I didn’t draft a perfect team, I was mostly able to execute my pre-draft plan and come out with a reasonable balance of all categories, and enough depth and flexibility that I could overcome whatever weaknesses existed. In fact, of my first 22 picks, only Alexi Casilla and would-be third closer Manny Corpas failed to make any contribution, and they were easily replaced.
You can’t win your league in the first round, but you can lose it
Upton was a major disappointment in the first round, but in hindsight, there’s no one else I could’ve reasonably taken at that point who would’ve done much more. Matt Holliday went with the next pick but was viewed as a major risk and, given his performance before being traded to the Cardinals, rightly so. Big names Josh Hamilton, Carlos Beltran and Alfonso Soriano all missed major time due to injuries. There were players who performed better than Upton who went with later picks, but at the time, there wasn’t another player on the board who I could’ve picked there and had it been viewed as any less of a reach. In any case, Upton‘s 41 steals led my team, and his cycle against the Yankees on the last Friday of the season was a big part of the strong finish that helped me win the league.
Pursue position scarcity
My goal was to have a dominant catcher tandem, but Martin was a letdown in the third round, and for that matter so was eighth rounder Iannetta. (Even worse, Jayson Werth went with the very next pick after Iannetta, but I already had Upton and Victorino and did not want to load up outfield that early.) However, I did get a combined 22 homers, 102 RBI’s, 103 runs and 11 steals from the pair; that run production was mid-pack in my league at the position but only one other team got more steals from their backstops. Add in sixth round stud Derek Jeter and I used three of my first eight picks on up-the-middle players.
Don’t chase starting pitching
I opened my draft with seven bats and two closers, only opting for my first starter in the 10th round, then taking three more in a row with my next three picks. Wandy Rodriguez (below) was the only List of 12 guy I was able to grab, and he matured into the bargain ace I had hoped for, but I also took four more young and improving starters who, coincidentally, are all on the List of 12 for 2010: Ricky Nolasco, Matt Garza, Jered Weaver and Saunders. In fact, an incredible run of solid starters went off the board following my first starter, including Josh Johnson, Adam Wainwright, John Danks, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, Scott Baker and even Justin Verlander. Folks, you simply do NOT need to draft an elite ace to build an excellent starting rotation.
Build around your bullpen
Knowing that I was going to wait as long as possible before picking starters, I wanted to grab two high-strikeout stud closers in the first six or seven picks, and couldn’t have asked for anything better than to have Joe Nathan and Jonathan Broxton available when I picked in the fifth and seventh rounds. Those two and free agent steal Andrew Bailey (more on him later) combined for a dozen wins and 109 saves, with an incredible 274 strikeouts in 210.1 innings and an even more amazing 2.22 ERA and 0.94 (!) WHIP. I made a big investment in my bullpen and, as much as any other reason, that helped me win my league.
(As an aside, note that of the first nine closers taken in this draft, only Brad Lidge failed to post a season that would at least be called “OK.” Francisco Rodriguez, Brian Fuentes, Jose Valverde and Joakim Soria all had their flaws, but for the most part, the top shelf delivered. As noted in previous blogs, this is to be expected.)
Roster spots have value
None of my reserve round picks turned out to be worth much, although Matt LaPorta and Justin Masterson did find their way onto my second half roster, and David Aardsma was a 27th round lottery ticket jackpot. Yes, I cut Aardsma before the season even started, when Brandon Morrow was named the closer, but I don’t feel too bad about that because I got Bailey only a few weeks later! From that point forward I pursued free agents with a specific purpose in mind, even if it meant stashing them on my bench waiting for the proper moment to emerge to put them in my lineup. And when they were no longer needed I did my best to stay objective and move on in favor of players who had a better chance to help.
I ended up using 29 hitters and 21 pitchers over the course of the season, maximizing my at-bats and innings each week as fully as possible. And with a deep, flexible set of choices on my bench in any given week, I got timely contributions throughout the season from guys like Gary Sheffield, Kyle Blanks, Michael Brantley, Aaron Laffey… and yes, even Carl Pavano!
Be aggressive in free agency
If my draft put me in a position to compete, it was my success in finding key free agent additions throughout the season that truly put in a position to win the league.
Russell Branyan, Edwin Jackson and Joel Pineiro were early pickups who provided dividends all year long; Branyan finished second on my team in homers, while Jackson and Pineiro combined with my drafted starters to form a deep and consistent rotation corps. By late April I picked up Bailey, grabbing him before he earned the closer job, and he went on to combine with Broxton and Nathan to form an awesome bullpen that was the backbone of my pitching staff. Chris Coghlan (below) arrived at the perfect time to replace Casilla as my second baseman, and Carlos Gonzalez also provided a major offensive lift in the second half. Picking up Juan Uribe in September to replace the injured Branyan was my final major free agent move. All of these players ended up playing pivotal roles in my success, but just as importantly as player selection was money management.
(I got both rookies of the year in free agency! Take that, Wieters and Price!)
Each NFBC team gets a $1000 free agent budget and bids on free agents in weekly blind bidding. There is no Vickrey here… the highest bid gets the player at that price, with no refunds, which requires carefully crafted bids and sound budgeting. I was generally conservative with my bids, but spent aggressively when needed, particularly in the successful bids on Coghlan and Gonzalez. Overall, I overbid (that is, the amount I bid greater than the runner-up bid) by a little more than 52 percent… however, as high as that might sound it was actually the lowest average overbid in my league!
* * *
I knew coming out of the draft that my team would be competitive, so I was very discouraged when we got off to a terrible start. However, we led our league in the weekly standings four times in a six-week stretch through May and June, moving into first place in my league, and holding the top spot for most of the rest of the season, other than a summer slump that briefly dropped me into second place in August. Once I got into first place in late May I felt like mine was the team to beat, but with so many other strong teams in the league I truly never felt I had it locked up until the last day of the season. It was only when my offense exploded on that final day that the victory was certain, and I was completely sure I couldn’t be caught.
Add it all up and I finished with 124.0 points, 6.0 ahead of the runner-up team. I led the league in only one category (saves), but finished second in WHIP, third in runs, ERA and strikeouts, fourth in homers and wins, fifth in batting and steals, and sixth in RBI’s. (Here are the complete
2009 NFBC NY1 standings.xls.)
Looking at my roster, there were very few superstar names, but I got a contribution from all 23 active spots every week and didn’t waste any at-bats or innings. This was a victory of building a complete and balanced team, not just of picking the most stars. (Here are the complete
2009 NFBC Schwartzstops stats.xls.)
Already looking forward to defending my title and pursuing my third NFBC crown in 2010!