Draft Report – 4th Pick, League 20

It’s year three of The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational, and I need to get a fantasy baseball article on the books to make sure Justin Mason doesn’t revoke my invitation for next year, so here we go with a TGFBI draft report. I’m looking to continue improving on a 79th-place finish in 2018 and a 36th-place finish in 2019, but the overall pool of analysts is deeper and sharper than ever.

And while I’d like to think I’m good enough to sit at the TGFBI’s top tables, so to speak, I’m worried I have more of a Knish mentality than a Mike McD mentality when it comes to this sort of large-field contest. My brain never feels calibrated quite right for the overvaluation of workhorse starting pitchers, the scarce categories of stolen bases and saves, etc. Generally, I’m more comfortable grinding advantages based on median-type expectations and trying to “win small” within the context of a single league. I tried to be mindful of those tendencies of mine going into this draft because squaring off against 389 other experts doesn’t leave any room for mediocrity.

Mediocrity is relative, though, and no squad in a 15-team league will be perfect coming out of the draft. Most of the work required for an overall victory will take place during the season. So for the purposes of this draft, I wanted to set up as well-rounded a team as possible, focusing on winning my individual league with flexible pieces, and keeping the overall prize in the back of my mind. I drew the fourth pick in League 20. What follows is my thought process behind each pick of the draft.

Round 1 – Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF, LAD (4th overall)

I probably had the fourth draft slot ranked higher than most entering the KDS draft lotteries. My hope was that a top-three drafter in my league would chase Jacob deGrom or Gerrit Cole and bump one of the top-three outfielders to me at four. Nope, the holy triumvirate of Acuna, Trout, and Yelich would not be broken in League 20. I settled for Bellinger because I wanted an elite counting stat producer with at least a moderate contribution in steals who wouldn’t kill my average. Other considerations along those lines included Trevor Story, Francisco Lindor, and Trea Turner, but I used Bellinger’s dual eligibility at shallower positions as a tie-breaker against overall depth of shortstop.

Round 2 – Aaron Judge, OF, NYY (27th overall)

I had fleeting daydreams of Bryce Harper (TGFBI ADP of 21.2), J.D. Martinez (22.1), or Starling Marte (23.8) sliding to this pick, but thought it was more conceivable for Rafael Devers (23.7) or Anthony Rendon (23.8) to drop based on the perceived depth of third base this season. So it should come as no surprise that the back-to-back-to-back picks ahead of me in this round were Marte, Rendon, and Devers. If only one more pitcher had been selected in the top 26 picks!

I was left weighing Aaron Judge vs. Pete Alonso, figuring that Aldalberto Mondesi, Javier Baez, or one of the second-tier starting pitchers would wrap back to me in Round 3. I settled for Judge because taking on strategic health risk is fine with me in a high-variance format like this. When he plays, Judge rakes, and I valued his advantages over Alonso in batting average and steals. The negative news on Judge has continued to pile up since I made this pick, but c’est la vie, it felt justifiable at the time.

Round 3 – Javier Baez, SS, CHC (34th overall)

Surprised to see Pete Alonso still available, I strongly considered trying to put a stranglehold on homers by adding him to Bellinger and Judge. But the same reason I passed on Alonso in the second — batting average risk — is the same reason I and other drafters continued to let him slide. He didn’t go until pick 3.09 (39th overall), notably after Yordan Alvarez.

I decided to hold my plan from the previous round and take Baez. My first two players should chip in some speed, but I wanted to add a more legit steals contributor. Don’t let last year’s total of 11 swipes fool you, Baez can move (86th-percentile sprint speed per Statcast), and he projects for king-size contributions in the other counting stats, with a .270-plus average to boot.

Round 4 – Lucas Giolito, SP, CWS (57th overall)

This is pretty indicative of how I approach pitching in most drafts. I might be wrong to do it, holding too much bias from more common 10- and 12-team leagues without an overall competition, but I find comfort in drafting hitters early. And if I win this thing, I want to win my way.

The goal is to mine value from the talented but slightly less trustworthy third tier starters. That typically means buying into young up-and-comers before the hype officially makes them too expensive, as I did successfully with Jack Flaherty and Mike Clevinger in the fourth and fifth rounds of last year’s TGFBI draft. It can also mean buying a bounceback candidate after a down year.

When it came time to take my first pitcher this year, I was left to ponder Lucas Giolito, the up-and-comer, versus Aaron Nola, the bounceback candidate. Both former top prospects felt like nice values relative to where previous pitchers were drafted. I broke the tie in favor of Giolito based on his superior fastball. It backs up his 2019 breakout, whereas some of the statcast metrics for Nola are less inspiring.

Round 5 – Anthony Rizzo, 1B, CHC (64th overall)

Boy, was I relieved I passed on Pete Alonso after I saw Rizzo fall to this spot. Season after season, Rizzo ranks higher for me than most because I value his across the board contributions. Tommy Pham was the only other strong consideration here, as I pondered trading speed for some of Rizzo’s power and average. But the outfield ranks felt deep to me at the time of this pick, so I snagged Rizzo for first base and moved Bellinger to the grass.

In hindsight, I may have overrated the depth of outfield relative to first base, and I probably should have given more consideration to Eloy Jimenez, who was drafted right after I took Rizzo. The hype on Jimenez could very well be real, and I could see him going nuclear and outproducing the more known commodity I chose in Rizzo. Some number of those ceiling-smashing sorts of picks will be required to win the overall, but I prefer to chase that upside later in my drafts.

Round 6 – Matt Chapman, 3B, OAK (87th overall)

I had hopes of Pham making it all the way back to this next pick, but it wasn’t even close (he went 75th overall). My more realistic backup plan was to target Matt Chapman, Max Muncy, or Josh Donaldson for third base (and also second base in Muncy’s case). Looking at where they all sat in the draft room’s default rankings at the time of my Rizzo pick, it was a pretty safe bet. I missed on the dual-eligible Muncy and had my choice of Chapman or Donaldson. With one health risk in Judge already rostered, I had to shy away from Donaldson, but I was pretty sure I’d be able to find other ways to invest in Atlanta’s offense later in the draft.

It’s not like Chapman is ho-hum consolation prize, though. His career ISO (.243) is higher than Donaldson’s (.236). Admittedly, we’re dealing with a much smaller career sample for Chapman, but his scorching exit velocity (top 4% in each of the past two seasons) and elite hard hit rate (top 7% in each of the past two seasons) back up the impressive power, and he’s just entering his prime at age 26. Plus, Chapman should play every day thanks to his elite defense (which isn’t something we can expect from Muncy).

Round 7 – Marcell Ozuna, OF, ATL (94th overall)

Braves offensive investment confirmed! Ozuna crushes the ball (91.3 MPH career exit velocity), so you have to love seeing him slated for cleanup duties behind the trio of Ronald Ocuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, and Freddie Freeman by RosterResource. On the whole, his projections look as good if not better (more runs, RBI, and steals) than those of the aforementioned Eloy Jimenez, so I was delighted to get Ozuna 29 picks later.

I should note that the instinct to take a second pitcher did kick in at this pick. I ignored it. The top starter on my board was Sonny Gray, but I’m wary of paying market value for hurlers coming off career years (his TGFBI ADP ended up at 94.7). I figured there was a slight chance of Gray making it back to me in the next round, and even if I missed, I didn’t see too big a value drop-off to the next bunch of starters in my rankings.

Round 8 – Zac Gallen, SP, ARI (117th overall)

As the draft snaked back toward me in this round, I had Carlos Carrasco primed at the top of my queue, then I got sniped by the drafter at 116th overall. Knowing I still needed to draft a starter with this pick (and probably another with the next pick), I dove deep into the think tank to parse through the group of Lance Lynn, Madison Bumgarner, Zach Wheeler, Max Fried, Kyle Hendricks, and Zac Gallen. Hendricks was the only hurler I could easily rule out, as his low strikeout projection wasn’t going to cut it as my No. 2 starter. Sorting out the other options was a tougher task because their projections were similar enough, with pros and cons for each player. On one hand, I felt like I needed upside for a major breakout because I was playing from behind after investing so little in pitching through the early rounds. On the other, I wanted a safe-ish workhorse type to guarantee a certain level of innings pitched and strikeout volume.

The two players who best fit the bill in my mind were Lynn and Gallen. I wanted to draft them back-to-back, so I checked ADP, the draft room’s rankings, and various rankings from around the industry to help me guess which player was more likely to slide a few extra picks to me in Round 9. I settled on Lynn being the safer bet to wheel, even though he felt like the better pick to meet my criteria for this pick, and I drafted Gallen.

Lynn went with two picks later (of course), but I’m still fine with the Gallen selection. Judging by his combined inning counts between the majors and minors over the past two seasons (he’s actually pitched more total innings in that span than Carlos Carrasco), Gallen could max out or exceed his projections for 145-162 IP. We know his stuff is good, so if he outperforms his volume expectations, this pick should help me bridge the chasm between my team and the early-round pitching investors.

Round 9 – Max Fried, SP, ATL (124th overall)

Like Gallen, Fried isn’t projected for as many innings as Lance Lynn, but he’s close enough in that regard (~170 IP), while his FIP projections are slightly better than Lynn’s. Another silver lining of “settling” for Fried is the overall strength of his team. RosterResource projects the Braves to take the NL East with 97 wins, so even on fewer innings, Fried could provide more wins than Lynn, whose Rangers team is only projected for 78 victories.

Round 10 – Elvis Andrus, SS, TEX (147th overall)

In a 15-team league, roster deficiencies start to rear their ugly heads in the double-digit rounds, and I still had quite a few at this point. Steals and pitching stats remained needs, and I only had one middle infielder rostered. Enter Elvis Andrus to hit two birds with one stone. I would have rather found my second baseman before filling my middle infield spot, but the keystone men available didn’t offer the same stat profile as Andrus, who should contribute significant steals and continue to crank out a respectable average and other counting stats from near the top of the Rangers batting order, same as it ever was.

Round 11 – Keone Kela, RP, PIT (154th overall)

I neglected to mention saves as a need, but those were something else I considered chasing in Round 10. I didn’t have a strong preference between Keone Kela, Raisel Iglesias, or Nick Anderson, though, so I snagged Andus and deferred my relief pitcher pick to this round. Iglesias was gone when action was back on me, and I opted for Kela over Anderson because Kela has already been named the closer for the Buccos, and I didn’t want to deal with the Rays’ closer by committee shenanigans.

Round 12 – Archie Bradley, RP, ARI (177th overall)

Saves were a bugbear for me last season in TGFBI. And maybe there’s no such thing as a “safe” closer after the top five or so, but I feel like I got two who are solid. For now, at least, right? Right?! Please don’t make me go through this again, TGFBI… Insecurities aside, I like where I landed Bradley because it was slightly below his ADP (172.0), and it forced the No. 1 and No. 3 drafters to continue the closer run with Alex Colome and Ian Kennedy, pushing more non-closer options back to me in the next round.

Round 13 – Jake Odorizzi, SP, MIN (184th overall)

This pick, lucky No. 13, was a key turning point in my draft and perhaps the one I’ll regret the most. On second thought, nah. It will probably be one of the closers drafted immediately prior. (WHY, TFGBI, WHYYYYY?!) Anyway, the itch to take a second baseman was getting strong, and I had Ryan McMahon tabbed as my target. But because I was so locked in on McMahon, I had more time to comb through available pitchers and refine my preferences among them for future rounds. So there I was, trying to figure out how to rank Joe Musgrove, Andrew Heaney, Luke Weaver, Lance McCullers, Mitch Keller, and Joey Lucchesi — it’s a common challenge for all fantasy owners this season — and then I clicked over to Jake Odorizzi’s FanGraphs page, and McMahon became an afterthought (playing time concerns relative to Garrett Hampson and Brendan Rodgers also played a part).

Odorizzi suddenly became my second chance at a late-blooming veteran starter with a refurbished brand. In other words, this was the makeup pick for passing on Lance Lynn five rounds prior. Both showed eerily similar improvements between 2018 and 2019 in their peripheral strikeout-to-walk numbers, but what really sold me on Odorizzi was simply his team’s context. The Twins project for triple-digit wins, and Odorizzi should chew up a lot of innings en route to notchingthose wins.

Round 14 – Andrew Heaney, SP, LAA (207th overall)

Another reason I was comfortable passing on Ryan McMahon in the 13th round was the chance of getting Kolten Wong or Brandon Lowe later. Once they were both drafted, each a few spots before this pick, I didn’t see a lot of differentiation between the cheaper guys I like (Starlin Castro, Jonathan Schoop, Cesar Hernandez, etc.). I resolved at this point to wait a very long time to secure my second baseman.

My attention turned back to starting pitchers, and I was somewhat shocked to see so many of the guys I considered against Odorizzi still available a round later. Andrew Heaney was my pretty clear second choice to Odorizzi in the previous round, so I pulled the trigger.

Round 15 – Lance McCullers, SP, HOU (214th overall)

My shotgun blast approach on starters continued in the 15th round. I had already estimated that Odorizzi, Heaney, and Lance McCullers were pretty close in draft value. More importantly, all three have profiles with potential to break out and return big gains on these draft costs. Spending five straight rounds on pitching set my offense back, but I’m happy I got so many bites at the mid-tier starting pitcher apple. As long as one of them goes boom, and the others don’t completely bust, I’ll be satisfied with the strategy I implemented in this section of the draft.

If I have a regret, it’s that I didn’t give more consideration to Mitch Keller over McCullers. Keller wasn’t really on my radar yet, but after seeing him go immediately after this pick, I dug in deeper and became a lot more interested in him for subsequent drafts. Keller’s 2019 ERA of 7.13 and WHIP of 1.83 were a big reason I was scared away initially, but his FIP last season was 3.19 and his xFIP was 3.47. That’s a huge discrepancy. Who knows exactly where the truth lies with Keller, but he’s a good bet for more innings pitched than McCullers with similar (or maybe even better?) strikeout and walk rates.

Round 16 – Brian Anderson, 3B/OF, MIA (237th overall)

Not much to see here, just a boring pick in the name of chasing at-bats and counting stats, but there are a few key reasons to like Brian Anderson. The dual eligibility is nice, he’ll bat near the top of his team’s lineup, and the dimensions of Marlins Park should shift in favor of hitters this year. Meanwhile, Anderson has steadily improved his barrel percentage, launch angle, expected WOBA, and hard hit rate in each season since joining the big league club in Miami. His hard hit rate is especially notable, as it’s sat above 42% in each of his full seasons, and his 2020 mark of 45.7% ranks in the 86th percentile of hitters. All in all, a .260 average with 20 homers and chip-in steals seems like a lock, but there’s room for extra power if the new park factors in Miami turn out more favorable than expected.

Round 17 – Miguel Andujar, UT, NYY (244th overall)

Looking ahead to the players likely to be available in future rounds, I wanted to put a premium on preserving my batting average with this pick. Ryan Braun was also on my radar, but despite his impressive consistency over the past few seasons (in AVG especially), his advanced age worries me. Plus, the Brewers’ additions of Avisail Garcia and Justin Smoak don’t bode well for Braun’s playing time.

I didn’t want to punt power altogether and grab a hollow batting average guy, so it came down to utility-only Miguel Andjuar (.287 career average, ~.270 projection for 2020) versus outfielder Nomar Mazara (.261 career average, ~.255 projection for 2020). I broke the tie in favor of Andujar based on his batting average advantage and as a hedge against my second-round pick of Judge. If Judge does end up missing significant time, that should lead to extra work for Andujar beyond his Steamer projection of 113 games and 465 plate appearances.

Round 18 – Jonathan Schoop, 2B, DET (267th overall)
Round 19 – Danny Jansen, C, TOR (274th overall)

In hindsight, I probably should have given more consideration to Starlin Castro over Andujar in the 17th round. Castro projects for a higher batting average and more locked-in playing time, but I thought there was a chance he’d make it back to me. And if he didn’t, I was confident I could get Jonathan Schoop as a consolation, who was really buried in the draft room’s rankings.

Normally, I would have tried to delay the Schoop pick one or two more rounds based on his low default ranking. But I knew his projection for 25-plus homers wouldn’t go overlooked in this group, and this was the “necessary evils” point in the draft. If I continued to tempt fate by passing on second basemen and catchers, I would probably regret it, so I planned these two picks together, drafting Schoop for starters.

For my first catcher, maybe I should have played it safer and invested earlier, but I liked waiting to make a post-hype investment in Danny Jansen. He was bad last year, full stop, but let’s remember he was a legit prospect beforehand. Also note that his bad batting average last season was fueled in part by a horrific .230 BABIP, and he still managed to post 13 homers, 41 runs, and 43 RBI in his 107-game sample despite those batting average woes. Knowing that I’d be slumming it later with my second catcher, I thought it was worth going for the upside of what we once thought Jansen could be.

Round 20 – Gregory Polanco, OF, PIT (297th overall)
Round 21 – Kole Calhoun, OF, ARI (304th overall)

The rounds leading up to these picks were marred for me by negative updates on the health of Aaron Judge, so I knew I couldn’t wait too long to add some outfield depth. Enter Gregory Polanco, another risky post-hype buy, and Kole Calhoun, a steady/boring pick who should be able to add some homers and RBI if and when I need a sub for Judge.

Round 22 – Josh Lindblom, SP, MIL (327th overall)

It had been six rounds since I last drafted a pitcher, and I wanted someone with a locked-in role as insurance against the sketchy innings pitched projections for Gallen, Heaney, and McCullers. I opted for the repatriated Josh Lindblom, who parlayed domination of the Korea Baseball Organization into a three-year contract with the Brewers. It’s tough to know how he’ll fare now that he’s back in the big leagues, but his projections for 8-plus strikeouts per nine over 150-plus innings were pretty appealing this late in the draft, and the Brewers’ offense should give plenty of opportunities for wins.

Round 23 – Jurickson Profar, 2B, SD (334th overall)

I felt like I needed backup at second base in case Jonathan Schoop busts, and I was hoping to get a share of Shed Long, but the young Seattle middle infielder was sniped just before this pick. Jurickson Profar was the highest guy left on my board at the position, so I pulled the trigger. He burned me last year, but his price has adjusted accordingly. If he can hold off Brian Dozier, Profar should be a decent source of counting stats in an improved Padres lineup.

Round 24 – Kevin Gausman, SP, SF (357th overall)

Like Lindblom above, here’s another boring innings-eating pick. Kevin Gausman likely won’t have the same sort of run support and win potential, but he is still only 29, so I’m hoping he can finally deliver on the former hype now that he has escaped the Orioles’ system. The K-rate should be solid, and moving from Camden Yards to San Francisco’s pitcher-friendly ballpark should help Gausman deliver on his projections for a WHIP under 1.30.

Round 25 – Miguel Cabrera, 1B, DET (364th overall)

Looking at the remaining catchers at this point, I figured I needed to boost my batting average a bit, so I was glad to find the immortal Miguel Cabrera still available. His power is dwindling, but he has consistently hit for average throughout his career. Plus, he’s still slated to hit third for the Tigers, which bodes well for his runs and RBI production. Meanwhile, he’s reportedly slimmed down to aid his health for this season, so hoping for a little rejuvenation in the power department isn’t crazy (for what it’s worth, only the Steamer projections are buying in). At the very least, I should be able to use Cabrera early in the season if Judge hits the DL and I need to shuffle Bellinger from corner infield to an outfield spot.

Round 26 – Isan Diaz, 2B, MIA (387th overall)

Profar was the boring pick to back up my shaky starter at second base. Isan Diaz is the upside pick. His 2019 numbers are ugly, but we can blame some of that on his .224 BABIP. I’d rather focus on his minor league numbers when projecting for 2020 because Diaz’s power and walk rate numbers from that time with Miami’s farm clubs are otherworldly (plus, he offers a little speed). If he can scrape together playing time ahead of the more hyped Jon Berti, this pick should pay off.

Round 27 – Martin Maldonado, C, HOU (394th overall)

Defensive stats don’t count in TGFBI, but here are Martin Maldonado’s defensive WAR numbers from Fangraphs over the past eight years, starting in 2012: 16.4, 13.2, 9.9, 16.4, 14.3, 34.0, 21.2, and 9.3. That means he’s going to stay in the lineup. He’ll be a drain on my batting average (.219 career), but that’s the case with most of the catcher who were still available at this point. I just wanted the counting stats.

Round 28 – Adam Haseley, OF, PHI (417th overall)
Round 29 – Zach Eflin, SP, PHI (424th overall)

Maybe I chose to speculate on some late-round Phillies just so I would have more interest in the local broadcasts since moving to eastern Pennsylvania late last year. Or maybe Adam Haseley projects for a decent power-speed combo from the strong side of Philadelphia’s centerfield platoon (hopefully with upside for a full-time role). And maybe Eflin can parlay last season’s top-ten Command+ performance into a breakout. If you read this far, maybe you’ll all start calling me Mr. Maybe. Regardless, late-round picks like these are fungible. It’s unlikely Haseley and Eflin will stick on my roster all season, but if they show out for my fantasy team in early spring, I’ll hold on, and those local games I’m stuck with on TV will be all the more enjoyable.

Round 30 – Rick Porcello, SP, NYM (447th overall)

Staying on brand in the final round, Rick Porcello is about as boring as they come. He’ll fit in nicely with my other yawntastic picks. I considered plenty of higher-upside options at this stage, but decided to take a wait-and-see approach on those players. If a spring injury creates an every-day role for a promising prospect, it will be a lot easier for me to cut Porcello than a sexy bench stash where I’m emotionally invested. Plus, Porcello’s starting role feels safe, and I might need that security for spot starts if early-season rotation spots don’t materialize for Gallen, McCullers, Lindblom, or whoever else.

So You’re Tellin’ Me There’s a Chance…

Take them for what they’re worth, but the wonderful TGFBI projections from @smada_bb have my squad rated 68th in hitting, and 51st in pitching, and 25th overall out of 390 teams. In terms of drafting a balanced team, mission accomplished. All I have to do now is weather the storm of in-season management and put myself in position to win. How hard could it be? Never mind, please don’t answer that. Instead, check out my full squad:

C: Danny Jansen, C, TOR
C: Martin Maldonado, C, HOU
1B: Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF, LA
2B: Jonathan Schoop, 2B, DET
3B: Matt Chapman, 3B, OAK
SS: Javier Baez, SS, CHC
CI: Anthony Rizzo, 1B, CHC
MI: Elvis Andrus, SS, TEX
OF: Aaron Judge, OF, NYY
OF: Marcell Ozuna, OF, ATL
OF: Brian Anderson, 3B/OF, MIA
OF: Gregory Polanco, OF, PIT
OF: Kole Calhoun, OF, ARI
UT: Miguel Andujar, UT, NYY
BN: Miguel Cabrera, 1B, DET
BN: Jurickson Profar, 2B, SD
BN: Isan Diaz, 2B, MIA
BN: Adam Haseley, OF, PHI

P: Lucas Giolito, SP, CWS
P: Zac Gallen, SP, ARI
P: Max Fried, SP, ATL
P: Keone Kela, RP, PIT
P: Archie Bradley, RP, ARI
P: Jake Odorizzi, SP, MIN
P: Andrew Heaney, SP, LAA
P: Lance McCullers, SP, HOU
P: Josh Lindblom, SP, MIL
BN: Kevin Gausman, SP, SF
BN: Zach Eflin, SP, PHI
BN: Rick Porcello, SP, NYM

Thanks for reading if you managed to make it this far. I hope these insights into my draft strategy were interesting and/or can help you in your upcoming drafts for the 2020 baseball season. If you have any questions, comments, or (constructive) criticisms, hit me up on Twitter, @gregsauce.