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Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Mocking and Planning, Planning and Mocking

Michael Clifford talks draft strategy in a 12 team rotisserie league.

Felix Hernandez
Felix Hernandez

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday night I was fortunate enough to take part in a 12-team AL-only auction mock draft that was put on by Baseball Prospectus and hosted by BP’s Mike Gianella.

Here’s the breakdown of the draft and the participants.

Rules

  • 12-Team Auction, AL-Only player pool, $260 budget
  • Two-catcher league, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, MI, CI, 5xOF, U, Px9
  • No reserve rounds (bench).
  • Standard 5×5 rotisserie scoring

There aren’t any outlandish rules so this is pretty straight-forward. The one small change is with no reserve rounds, there’s a bit of extra cash in the budget to spend on roster players. It’s not huge – even if there were six bench spots, there wouldn’t be more than $10 total spent on them – but it can skew values a little bit.

Participants (by nomination position)

  1. 1.       Howard Bender (Roto Buzz Guy)
  2. 2.       Peter Kreutzer (Ask Rotoman)
  3. 3.       Me
  4. 4.       John Halpin (Fox Sports)
  5. 5.       Pasco Varnica (Mastersball)
  6. 6.       Mauricio Rubio (Baseball Prospectus)
  7. 7.       Ron Shandler (Baseball HQ)
  8. 8.       Derek Van Riper (RotoWire)
  9. 9.       Brent Hershey (USA Today)
  10. 10.   Michael Stein (Fantasy Judgment)
  11. 11.   Mike Gianella (Baseball Prospectus)
  12. 12.   Nicolas Minnix (KFFL)

These are all very smart baseball minds and well-respected in the industry. A little bit of work cut out for me.

Here’s a brief breakdown of my thought process at each position going into the draft:

Catcher – This year is a unique year in this sense: Both Joe Mauer and Carlos Santana are among the top five catchers in mixed leagues and are in my eyes the top two catchers in the AL. What’s unique is that both of these guys are eligible for catcher yet neither of them will likely play much, if at all, at catcher. In a two-catcher AL-only league, this presents a unique opportunity to get 300-plus elite games out of the position that is essentially a black hole after maybe the top 12 catchers. After that, it’s J.P. Arencibia or Josmil Pinto or Chris Iannetta and that’s just absolutely brutal if you’re relying on those guys as your second catcher.

First Base – First base is not as shallow as might be believed and while it’d be nice to have a Chris Davis or a Prince Fielder, the reality is I could probably land Mike Napoli for about two-thirds of the cost and feel pretty happy about it. If I have someone like Napoli or Nick Swisher as my first baseman, I’m ok with that. Again, this is part because I hopefully will have gotten the catchers I’ve targeted.

Second Base – There have been five 2B in all of baseball that have done the following over the last two years (total): 30 HR, 20 SB, 100 RBI, 100 R. The names are Brandon Phillips, Ian Kinsler, Ben Zobrist, Jason Kipnis and … Kelly Johnson?

This is the one position where I’ll definitely let everyone else pay a lot more for the high end guys while I sit back. The hope is I can use my 2B/SS/MI positions to get enough steals to be worth half of my final steal total for the season.

Shortstop – Personally, this was another position I was willing to let other people pay for the elite talent and then mop up hopefully a fringe top-10 guy like Erick Aybar or Jonathan Villar.

That second name is interesting because Villar is a 40-steal threat on the bases. Villar strikes out a lot but he also knows how to take a walk. His ability to take pitches led to a 10-percent walk rate and a .321 OBP which was slightly above league-average. He might not do a lot of much else but he’s a source of big time steals.

Third Base

I had one name in mind going into the offseason for my third base position (preferably second, but he doesn’t qualify there on CBSsports) and that’s Brett Lawrie.

After the “Big Three” among AL third basemen in Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre and Evan Longoria, there are a ton of question marks. Can Josh Donaldson come close to repeating? Will Manny Machado be healthy, and if so how will it affect his performance? Can David Freese play 140 games? Can Xander Bogaerts live up to expectations and what can Bogaerts realistically contribute in the fantasy game over a full season?

After the top three third basemen, it’s wide open and Brett Lawrie is among the top skill sets of the rest of 3B pool.

Outfield

There are more elite outfielders in the NL than the AL. The aging Carlos Beltran, the young Wil Myers and the so-far disappointing Yoenis Cespedes are all among the top 10 outfielders on Fantasy Pros for AL-Only. Meanwhile, the National League has names like Hunter Pence, Allen Craig and Jason Heyward outside the top 10. After the top five or six outfielders (at most), there aren’t many guys that have the upside to be truly elite. Because of my pitching strategy, and money spent on catchers, I won’t be targeting the handful of elite outfielders.

Pitchers

With just nine pitcher slots and not many closers to choose from, I hope to land one anchor closer – specifically Jim Johnson or Glen Perkins, then a lower tier closer and one set-up guy. Ideally, I won’t spend more than $30 on the three relievers.

As far as starters go, there are three anchors I am targeting in the American League: Yu Darvish, Felix Hernandez or Chris Sale. I like Scherzer but I think I’ll have to pay more than I want to (which is about what Felix or Sale should go for), so I’ll hope for one of the first three.

After I get my starting anchor, I want two more guys that I can rely on. I might not need high-K guys, but I’ll need good ratios. My hope is with the savings in the outfield, I can spend a bit more on my top three pitchers and really solidify my rotation.

This is the plan going into the draft. I hope for a strong starting staff at the top, two elite catchers, tons of speed in my middle infield, a cheap outfield and I’ll stay out of the expensive talents on the corners.

Of course, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. That pavement is congealed with the souls of fantasy players that have gone into a draft with what they thought was a solid plan and probably would have been better off auto-drafting. We’ll see how this goes.

Oh dear.

Before I go through my team, there are two things to mention right off the bat:

  1. I left $8 on the table and that’s a cardinal sin in auction leagues: Leaving money on the table is giving away value and it’s a bad feeling. Knowing who ends up on your roster and who you could have had instead with that $8 is excruciating.
  2. My outfield cost a grand total $29. That’s with five outfielders. It’s the same price I paid for Joe Mauer.

This draft didn’t go well for me.

I got Mauer for $29 which was a bit more than I wanted to spend (I was hoping my $27 bid would stay) but was in line with my plan. I also got three pitchers with my first four picks in Felix Hernandez ($26), James Shields ($19) and Matt Moore ($11). I had about 30 percent of my $260 budget gone and one hitter to show for it. I wanted to get Lawrie, Villar and ended up over-paying for Napoli, so it left me without much in my CI/MI spots. In fact, Jeff Keppinger and Nick Punto. I know… I know.

With a top three in my rotation of King Felix, Shields and Moore, I did what I wanted to do with my starters and for a decent price ($56). I also got a few pieces in my infield I wanted – Lawrie, Villar, Billy Butler at UT, Napoli at 1B – but my outfield. Man, my outfield.

Jonny Gomes, David Murphy, Dustin Ackley, Robbie Grossman, Justin Maxwell. That’s my $29 outfield. I’ll wait while you vomit.

I got my pitchers early but the depth at outfield quickly ran out and I didn’t get certain players I targeted like Colby Rasmus and Alejandro De Aza. The result is probably the worst 12-team AL-Only outfield in modern fantasy baseball history.

I went into this draft with a plan. I deviated from the plan early, waited too long to fill my lineup and was left with scraps for half my hitters. If this were a real league, I would be fortunate if my hitters were league average for the season. My pitching is good, my hitters would leave me in the middle of the pack. My anticipation of how my budget would be spent as the auction wore on was poor and it cost me.

The take away from this: Mock draft and mock draft and mock draft some more. Knowing when you’ve deviated from your ideal plan is one thing, having another plan to keep you from making mistakes once you have deviated from your first plan is another. I thought I could get the players I wanted, I didn’t, and my team is pretty bad because of it.

At least there’s no money involved.

My team:

bp team

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