NFBC recap – chasing the white whale
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Yesterday was my sixth NFBC Main Event draft; I’ve won two league titles and finished in the top 10 nationally, and also have a third- and fourth-place finish on my resume, but last year was my worst season as I ended up ninth in my league. I needed to redeem myself this year.
Let’s get one thing out of the way early: I did not get Edwin Encarnacion, the white whale and holy grail of my draft planning this year. More on that below, but the bottom line is, no matter how much you like the player, you have to get him at the right value. I was willing to reach (in my opinion) to get him, but someone caught me offguard by reaching even more.
Unlike in an auction, when you have a theoretical chance to get any player as long as you have money left, in a straight pick’em draft you are at the mercy of your ability to time the draft properly to get the right players at the right prices. For the first half of the draft my timing was nearly perfect, and I got the majority of players I targeted, but things got more unpredictable after that, so I had to adjust to some unexpected circumstances.
With my trusty sidekick Mike Siano assisting, here are my picks in order starting out of the #13 slot in New York league #1, along with my latest composite projection for each player (AVG-HR-RBI-SB-R for hitters and W-SV-ERA-WHIP-K for pitchers). In every case except for a few I think these projections are very realistic, and some have considerable room for upside:
1.13 – I expected I would get David Wright here, and thought Adrian Gonzalez or Robinson Cano might fall to us, but ultimately we got the player we wanted from the start, Alex Rodriguez. At the age of 35 he may indeed be in decline, but he’s healthier this season than he’s been in years, and he’s batting cleanup for the best offense in baseball in a terrific hitter’s park. Projection: .279-35-105-10-95
2.3 – I gave serious consideration to Jose Reyes in this spot, figuring that his upside – .300 with 15 homers and 50 steals – gave him potential first-round value. But I ended up taking my original target, Dustin Pedroia (right), who lacks Reyes’ upside in steals but should match or exceed him in every other category, and whose batting average upside is critical to some of the lower-average picks I expected to take later. We wanted an encore of the laser show, and got him, while Reyes went with the very next pick. Projection: .299-17-85-18-103
3.13 and 4.3 – We planned to take two outfielders here out of a group of five or six, and wanted a good chunk of steals to go with Pedroia and A-Rod, so we took B.J. Upton at 3.13 and then the solid power/speed combination of Jayson Werth at 4.3. Even if Upton only hits .250 he has massive power/speed upside, and while moving to RFK from CBP will likely hurt Werth’s average, his power and speed combo should remain intact. Hunter Pence, Jayson Heyward and Andre Ethier also earned consideration; Heyward went on the turn after we took Upton but both Pence and Ethier were available at both picks. Projections: Upton .251-16-72-44-83 and Werth .271-28-93-15-91
5.13 and 6.3 – The classic 411 playbook calls for a stellar bullpen and stacking picks on the wheel, so while we examined several scenarios here, we decided to run the plays we trust. We made Carlos Marmol the first closer off the board at 5.13, going for his uniquely starter-like strikeout totals, then complemented that with Joakim Soria‘s miniscule ratios at 6.3. I generally don’t like taking the first closer off the board, and even with Mariano Rivera going on the wheel, we not only took the first one, we took two of the first three. But our fear was that if we didn’t move quickly here, none of the top tier we liked would be available at our next pair of picks, and we were justified as Neftali Feliz, Heath Bell, Francisco Rodriguez and Brian Wilson all went off the board before our next pick. The run on closers intensified quickly after that as FIFTEEN closers went in the next four rounds. Projections: Marmol 4-36-3.05-1.26-107 and Soria 3-38-2.56-1.09-73
7.13 – I wanted Stephen Drew here but didn’t expect to get him and didn’t, as he went at 7.1, so we got our second-choice target, Gordon Beckham. Even though his ADP and my valuation suggested something more along the line of a mid/late 8th-round value, the fact is that if we didn’t take him in this pair of picks we weren’t going to get him at all. His hot July and August last year, along with his favorable batting order spot and positive spring training reports, give me confidence that he is capable of a breakout season. Projection: .275-17-74-8-78
8.3 – My original target here was Shaun Marcum, but with sore-shouldered Mat Latos (right) still on the board I could not resist the potential reward for this degree of risk. Early reports suggest that although Latos will likely need a DL stint, his prognosis is still positive; I only projected him for 188.1 IP anyway, so even if he misses three weeks this pick can still pay off nicely. I usually don’t draft “ace” starting pitchers, but if Latos stays reasonably healthy I got one at a major discount. Projection: 13-0-3.35-1.16-180
9.13 – I targeted Carlos Quentin and had no reason to think that I wouldn’t get him, given his late 10th round ADP and my mid ninth-round valuation, so I was surprised when he went at 9.3. Instead I took who I felt was the best available outfielder, Torii Hunter. Both ADP and my valuations had him as a late 8th round pick, so I felt this was good value for a player who, while no longer in his prime, is still a very solid four-category contributor. Projection: .275-22-81-13-77
10.3 – Although my original target Wandy Rodriguez was still available, I was more pleasantly surprised that 8th-round target Shaun Marcum was still on the board, so I grabbed him a full two rounds later than originally anticipated. I assume he stuck around based on worries about his shoulder, but I’m not at all concerned and think he could approach “soft ace” status this year while making an outstanding transition to the NL. Projection: 13-0-3.69-1.20-170
11.13 and 12.3 – I likes me some Marlins, targeting Ricky Nolasco and Gaby Sanchez here and getting both. Nolasco is a perennial underachiever based on his rate stats and leading indicators, and may just be overrated, but this is fair value for him based on ADP as well as my projections, and I think he’ll finally break through and exceed them easily. There were better power than Sanchez left on the board, but I think he has upside in several categories. He has strong plate discipline and contact skills so he could sacrifice some power to be a .290-.300 hitter, or he could gear up from the #5 spot in the Marlins order to hit 25-30 homers. Either way he’s a solid value here and in his age 27 season. Projections: Nolasco 13-0-3.97-1.23-181 and Sanchez .272-20-81-3-73
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Let’s take quick break here and review: through 12 picks I’ve gotten 10 of my 12 targeted players, only missing out on Quentin and effectively passing on Wandy to gamble on Latos, so I actually could’ve had 11 of 12. I’ve got two middle infielders, two corners, three outfielders, three starters and two closers… optimal balance for a deep NFBC style league. Whether my player valuations are realistic or not is a topic for another discussion, but without question I’ve read this draft board as well as can be done through the first half of the regular draft, and I’m completely on course to build the team I’m after.
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13.13 – I had originally considered Neil Walker or Jose Tabata here, but both were gone, not that I needed another second baseman or speed-oriented player. Instead I opted for who I felt was the best available power bat, my former NFBC whipping boy Alfonso Soriano (right), whose ADP had him going in the middle of this round and who I projected as a 12th round value. He won’t hit for average and carries considerable injury risk, but the power is still there and he will still steal the occasional base. A value/need-based pick. Projection: .257-24-84-8-69
14.3 – I targeted Hiroki Kuroda here as my #4 starter, but he went with the pick immediately after we took Soriano, becoming the first player we lost “out of our queue.” Instead we traded some strikeouts for a few wins, picking up Tim Hudson, who we just missed out on in last year’s draft. His ERA and WHIP will likely climb from last year but should still be solid, and he should pick up a few more wins than Kuroda. Projection: 14-0-3.48-1.25-125
15.13 – From the moment we found out we got the #13 pick, I penciled this one in for my long-time mancrush and 2011 pick for “this year’s Jose Bautista” – the infamous Edwin Encarnacion. ADP pegged him as an 16th-17th round player, and my valuations made this pick the perfect balance of risk and reward. Unfortunately though Team 14 – who took Kuroda from us two rounds earlier – also liked E5 and even more than we do, taking him at 14.2, right before we took Hudson. This one hurt. We recovered well value-wise by taking Chase Headley, who I had projected as a 13th-14th round player, but missing out on my single-most coveted pet player really stung. Projection: .264-13-65-16-70
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Having taken Headley instead of Encarnacion, the issue that already had us concerned suddenly came into sharp focus. Instead of getting 50 or more homers from Quentin and Encarnacion, we took a tandem of players in Hunter and Headley who will probably top out around around 35, and if our two targets go off as we think they might, the discrepancy could become even greater. We compensated with more speed – our pair should get 25 or so steals more than our targeted pair – but by taking Upton over Pence in the 3rd round we committed ourselves to getting cheap power in these middle rounds and we didn’t get it.
So, from here on out, we had two paths to choose from: try to chase power and make up for the two lost picks, or maximize speed and make sure we win that category and finish well in runs.
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16.3 – It was an easy decision. Without a difference-making power bat left on the board, or even one likely to hit 25 homers, we took “best available” player Will Venable (right) to try and lock down the steals category. I considered Mike Cuddyer and Nate McLouth here, but figured Venable gave us the best chance to secure points, as none of the three of them are great gambles top more than 20 or so homers. Projection: .250-17-64-32-67
17.13 – I usually take my third closer in the 18th round, so I went a few picks early to nail down Johnny Venters. Even if he only gets a third of the save chances in Atlanta, that should be worth a dozen or so saves, and he should contribute excellent strikeouts and rate stats. I considered taking him with the previous pick where we got Venable, so I was pleased that he lasted this long; Craig Kimbrell had gone much earlier at 11.6. Projection: 4-13-3.35-1.29-77
18.3 – Not only were we short on power by this point, but we’d taken some considerable batting average risks, so I grabbed Omar Infante. I didn’t want to lock up my utility spot this early and don’t believe he’s a .321 hitter like last year, but he should hit in the .290’s and score plenty of runs while batting second in Florida, and has three-position eligibility. A poor man’s Martin Prado, minus a half-dozen homers. Projection: .295-7-52-7-72
19.13 – Intended #5 starter Anibal Sanchez went earlier in this round so we took Jason Hammel, who is also on my Tout Wars roster. He has the strikeout and ground ball rates to survive in Coors Field, and will contribute plenty of strikeouts. Projection: 12-0-4.49-1.39-145
20.3 – I had originally considered Russell Martin as early as the 13/14 turn, so I was very happy to grab him here. Reports out of spring training have not been especially positive, but the Yankees do not have a backup catcher to legitimately challenge his playing time, so he should get enough at-bats to justify this pick. Projection: .264-8-42-9-56
21.13 – Clayton Richard is a reasonable sixth starter when pitching at home in PETCO Park, although he’s not trustworthy on the road just yet. Maybe I can platoon him with Hammel. Projection: 11-0-4.06-1.40-134
22.3 – NFBC rules do not require a legal roster after 23 rounds, but I like to draft it that way, and I still needed a shortstop. I had effectively conceded that position by the mid rounds, so I decided to jump early on a likely early reserve pick and take Jed Lowrie (below). He could steal the job from Marcos Scutaro, and will play a lot in case of injury to any of the Red Sox infielders, so he scrape together the 360 at-bats I projected him for, and potentially many more. Projection: .262-11-51-2-50
23.13 – I certainly didn’t set out to draft half of the Padres offense, and I had enough batting average risks, but Nick Hundley was the best available catcher left here. He’ll play more regularly now that Yorvit Torrealba is gone, and has pretty good pop, although PETCO masks it. Projection: .243-13-54-5-47
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My strategy for the reserve rounds in NFBC is to build some starting pitching depth, hedge any potentially thin offensive positions and/or injury risks, and add at least one long-shot closer and/or prospect. My reserve picks:
R1 – Yet another Padre, Brad Hawpe, who will be eligible at 1B and OF. He’s hit fairly well away from Coors in his career, so if he bounces back as expected, he could be my UT in a home/away platoon with or even instead of Infante. Projection: .256-19-72-2-67
R2 – Yet another one of my Tout Wars starters, Randy Wells, who is having a strong spring and is coming cheap even though leading indicators say he should improve upon last season. Not bad for a #7 starter. Projection: 11-0-4.08-1.36-137
R3 – Orlando Cabrera, who I hope will hold down an everyday job long enough until Lowrie wins one. I wish Infante was shortstop eligible in NFBC like he is in Tout Wars! Projection: .270-5-43-11-60
R4 – I’ve been saying all winter to anyone who will listen that Joel Peralta is my super darkhorse candidate to lead the Rays in saves, and I put my money where my mouth is. He’s such a deep sleeper that they NFBC didn’t even have a sticker for him to put on the draft board, but I think he’s going to shock the world Axford-style this season. Projection: 3-11-3.71-1.19-60
R5 – Jesus Montero could win the job from Martin, or could win a backup catcher/DH role, or could get traded somewhere and play every day. Or he could just languish in the minors while Martin continues to play regularly. This is the catcher equivalent of a handcuff and should ensure I don’t have a zero at either catcher spot this year. Projection: .276-9-35-0-26 in 197 at-bats
R6 – Mike Leake will start the season in the Reds rotation and hopefully build on last year’s decent debut. Or he’ll stink and I’ll cut him. Hey, in the 29th round, these are the chances you take on your #8 starter. Projection: 9-0-4.37-1.42-46
R7 – Ryan Kalish is a super lottery ticket; he’ll start the season in Triple-A and would likely only be recalled if he was going to play regularly. This could be a throwaway pick but at this point in the draft it’s not like we missed on anyone that valuable! Projection: .258-7-34-20-39 in 277 at-bats
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Overall this team should be in the middle of the pack offensively, although we have plenty enough speed to lead our league in steals. We should have a solid pitching staff that could be outstanding if Latos is healthy and if our late-round starters enjoy the positive regression in their hit and strand rates that we expect. In classic 411 fashion we have a tremendous bullpen, which should help offset any weakness in our starting pitching group. Add it all up and our team should be competitive in our league, and if we can stay healthy and find one more solid bat in free agency, we could win our league. I’m not getting my hopes up for the overall though, too much injury risk and not enough in the Triple Crown categories to worry about that right now.
Regardless though, I’m glad I was able to get so many of picks in the early going, and after that it became another lesson in sticking to a plan while maintaining flexibility. It will be six months or so before we see if I did either well enough, but at least now I have some new pet players to root for!
Looking forward to comments and feedback… play ball!