Written by: Ray Butler
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When I applied in January to participate in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational this season, I knew it would be a fantastic opportunity to network with other, likeminded industry writers, podcasters and radio personalities.
I also knew it would be a true test of my fantasy baseball skill, especially since TGFBI is my first industry league; it doesn’t help that I haven’t played in a redraft league in more than five years.
Traditionally, I’ve been a head-to-head, categories guy. Outsmarting an opponent in the waning hours of a matchup gives me the same high I receive when I snuff out a bluff at a Texas Hold’em table. As a matter of fact, prior to this season, I was a one-league fantasy baseball player. I’ve broadened my horizons in 2019, and I hope to continue expanding in the future.
TGFBI is a 5×5 (AVG, R, HR, RBI, SB, W, K, WHIP, ERA, SV) roto format with weekly lineup locks (Monday and, for hitters, Friday). Each league is a 15-team league, and there are a total of 21 leagues (and 315 participants) in the Invitational this season.
Full disclaimer: I did not prioritize my draft slot preferences prior to the Kentucky Derby Style draw. Having never participated in a KDS draw before, I figured I would just roll with what I was given and be happy with it. I was given the 4th slot in League 13.
I have my own pitcher projections and rankings, which I used throughout my TGFBI draft. I have not yet expanded to projecting and ranking position players, so I basically used a Steamer/THE BAT composite projection/ranking system for non-pitchers and adjusted it accordingly based on the research I’ve done this offseason and spring.
I did a few TGFBI-style mock drafts prior to the actual draft, notably with @CubbyNole, Daniel Preciado, Rhys White and others from their respective sites in different mocks. I tried to mock from the 4-hole when I was given the opportunity to, but I was more concerned with quickly gaining draft experience and figuring out what to expect in a 15-team format. With hindsight, I wish I would have been slotted somewhere between pick 8-12; I’ll utilize the KDS draw to my benefit in future seasons.
League 13’s draft ended Friday, and Smada‘s projections seem to like the draft I had…
Of course, they don’t hand out a trophy for ‘Best Draft’ in fantasy baseball. No one has ‘projected as the best team in a fantasy league’ in their Twitter bio.
But I’m still moderately proud of my draft, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
As you can see, I’m projected to have the 2nd-best offensive team and 17th-best pitching staff amongst the 315 TGFBI participants. Those are certain to change, however, as Smada determined the projections from last season had a 0.29 correlation with the final standings. The positive correlation will likely increase in 2019 thanks to no trades being allowed, but the post-draft projections are still not likely to be strongly indicative of season-long success in TGFBI. Don’t blame me for wishing otherwise, though.
From a big picture standpoint, I was probably helped by the fact that Depth Charts wasn’t much of a fan of most of my league mates’ drafts. League 13 (180.3) has the lowest ‘Average Ranking’ out of the 21 leagues. For reference, League 11 (142.0) had the highest ‘Average Ranking’. Erik Halterman finished with the second-best draft in League 13 according to the projections, ranking 38th overall out of 315 participants.
Here’s the final League 13 draft board for reference.
Despite being ranked so favorably, my draft was far from perfect.
Rostering an elite outfield was one of my top priorities going into the draft, but I highly regret selecting Andrew Benintendi over Trevor Bauer at 3.34. My starting outfield figures to be Benintendi, Yasiel Puig, Tommy Pham, Aaron Hicks and Jackie Bradley Jr. (with Randal Grichuk figuring to slot at utility), so I did draft the elite outfield I was looking for. But grabbing Bauer as my second ace behind Gerrit Cole would have really solidified the star-power of my pitching staff, especially if I had still been able to land Brad Hand, Shane Bieber, Andrew Heaney (gulp), Joe Musgrove, Collin McHugh, Matt Strahm and others later in the draft.
Ariel Cohen, the creator of the ATC projection system, penned a pretty convincing article in February about the safety of drafting two aces. If I had a do-over, I would have selected Bauer over Benintendi, then targeted an outfielder like Jesse Winker or Max Kepler to be my OF5 around 15.214 or so. A lesson learned.
I took Bieber earlier than anyone else in TGFBI, snagging him at 9.124 as my SP2. I love the starting pitchers from ADP 140-175 (namely Bieber, Nick Pivetta, Heaney and Tyler Glasnow, and I discussed them all here), but I knew I likely needed to reach a bit in order to roster two of the four. To me, Bieber offers the sturdiest floor amongst the quartet, which was important to me when selecting my SP2 later than all but two of my league mates.
Pivetta was gone by the time Round 10 had come back to me, so my plan shifted to snagging Glasnow and, with some luck, Heaney one round later. That plan changed again, though, when Rougned Odor fell all the way to pick 147. I happily drafted him 29 spots later than his TGFBI ADP (and 18 spots later than he was taken in any other league). I’ll shift Daniel Murphy (selected at 6.87, 18 picks later than his TGFBI ADP) to first base once he gains eligibility, so Odor should be my unquestioned second baseman for 95% of the regular season.
I was understandably ecstatic to land Odor when I did, but I subsequently paid a pitcher toll because of it. Glasnow was selected one pick after I grabbed Odor, but I selected Heaney at 11.154 as my SP3. Of course I’m concerned about the elbow woes this spring, but it’s (at least somewhat) important to note Heaney dealt with a similar ailment last spring before beginning the season on the DL. He went on to post a 3.68 xFIP with a strikeout per inning in 180 IP. I’ve got several shares of Heaney in 2019, but I’m not panicking yet.
Based on ADP, I reached to draft Joe Musgrove as my SP4 at 12.177. But if I’m right about his 2019 outlook, I’ll be ecstatic I got him there. As long as he can stay healthy (easier said than done), I really think he breaks out this season.
Despite Cole being the only star in my rotation, I finished the draft quite content with my pitching staff: Cole, Bieber, Heaney, Musgrove, McHugh, Sonny Gray, Strahm, Michael Fulmer and Trevor Richards. I also grabbed Hand, Drew Steckenrider, A.J. Minter and Keone Kela as saves/ratio guys. I’ll obviously need Heaney and Fulmer to return to form, and Strahm winning a rotation spot out of camp would be a huge bonus. Don’t sleep on Trevor Richards, either. He’s added a cutter and curveball to his arsenal, which means he should be able to throw his meh fastball less this season. He sports one of baseball’s best changeups, and he’s had a fantastic spring thus far.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t briefly discuss my first-round thought process before diving into any other position players. Drafting fourth overall, I thought I’d be debating Max Scherzer vs. J.D. Martinez. I would have taken Scherzer had that been the case, but the process became much easier when League 13’s draft started Mike Trout–Mookie Betts–Christian Yelich. My reaction? Taking Jose Ramirez at 4th-overall. There’s been a lot of discussion this offseason centered around Ramirez’s poor second half last season; specifically, people have identified that pitchers began attacking JoRam with offspeed offerings more frequently after the All-Star break in 2018.
I decided not to overthink my first round decision, though. A lot of the realization I had re: Ramirez’s 2018 second half was identical to a recent tweet from Max Freeze:
Some people are passing on Jose Ramirez as the 3rd overall pick because of his poor 2nd half when he hit just .218 on an unlucky .208 BABIP. Prorating his “poor” 2H over 160 games looks like this
If that’s his floor, sign me up
— Max Freeze (@FreezeStats) March 14, 2019
There’s not many surprising anecdotes about Benintendi, Puig, Pham and Hicks (get well soon) that are worth sharing here, but I’m all aboard the Jackie Bradley Jr. train in 2019 and will have a bold prediction on him before Opening Day. I didn’t put in the time or research to definitively prove this, but I’d like to think my starting outfield would compete against any starting outfield drafted in TGFBI this season.
I was very aware of the fantastic work RotoWire’s Jeff Erickson published in February on TGFBI category targets from last season. Of course there will be a little variance this season compared to 2018, but I created an Excel spreadsheet to track my progress towards those targets throughout the draft.
It was the spreadsheet that suggested I needed to add power in the second-half of the draft, and I was able to grab Wilmer Flores (16.237), Grichuk (17.244), Tyler White (18.267), Ryan Zimmerman (24.357) and Kendrys Morales (27.394) to remedy that. Smada’s post-draft projections (pictured above) have me ranked 17th out of 315 participants in home runs.
I’d love to tell you I had a secret formula that led me to ingeniously holding off at catcher until Francisco Cervelli and Chris Iannetta fell into my lap, but I didn’t. It was basically a position punt, though I do think Cervelli had decent value at pick 304. Combined, the duo projects to hit .247 with 81 runs, 20 home runs and 86 RBI. All the meh.
I’m very much on the record of being a fan of creating versatile (multi-position eligibility) rosters when possible, but missing out on players like Asdrubal Cabrera, Ketel Marte, Chris Taylor, Yuli Gurriel, Trey Mancini, Marwin Gonzalez and Kike Hernandez meant I wasn’t able to organically accomplish this feat. However, Daniel Murphy and Wilmer Flores both (eventually) being 1B/2B eligible gives me some nice MI/CI flexibility when needed, and I drafted Nick Ahmed (30.447) with my last pick to give me the same amount of middle infielders (5) as corner infielders.
I’m excited to finally creep into industry fantasy baseball, and—projections aside—I believe I’ve built a team capable of competing for the overall championship in TGFBI. As the importance of fantasy baseball and prospecting continues to grow in my life, I’m hopeful to someday have the privilege of competing in Tout Wars, LABR and Main Events. The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational is the first step in making that dream a reality, and I’m honored to be included in such an awesome league. 2019 is going to be a fun, fun year.
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Featured image courtesy of photographer Jason Miller and Getty Images