In 30+ years of playing auction-style Fantasy Baseball, winning over 25 championships can make you feel like an “expert”. The real test, however, is when you compete in a league full of experts. That has been a yearly challenge for The Old Duck and it presented itself once again as the 15 owners in the Xperts Fantasy League (XFL) gathered in Phoenix last week for their 16th annual draft.
As a quick refresher, the XFL is the only experts keeper league within the fantasy industry and many of the owner’s names are familiar to those who have viewed the landscape of fantasy sports over the years. These brilliant guys produce websites, magazines, newsletters and blogs that help guide you in becoming a better player in your league. The league is a 5 X 5 format (with on-base percentage replacing batting average), a 23-player live auction draft in early November with a $260 budget and a supplemental snake draft in late March to round out the 40-man rosters (23 players are active each week during the season). Donald’s Dux (my squad) has captured four championships and holds the best overall performance record encompassing all 15 seasons of the league.
After finishing 1st, 1st, 2nd & 2nd from 2011-14, the Dux struggled with 7th place finishes in 2015-16 and then a more respectable 5th place spot this year. The 2017 season was decent but the squad never really had the stats to be in the top three spots. Strong performances from Jose Abreu, Jonathan Schoop, Didi Gregorius, Domingo Santana, Yasiel Puig, Nelson Cruz, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo, Gio Gonzalez & Zack Greinke couldn’t offset the disappointing campaigns from Odubel Herrera, Jayson Werth, Brandon Crawford, Leonys Martin, Matt Moore & John Lackey. Throw in the injuries to Julio Urias, Tyler Thornburg & Jerad Eickhoff along with the role-changing trade involving David Robertson and the Dux were like the Red Queen in “Alice In Wonderland”…running as fast you can to stay right where you are.
So, as we approached the November Draft for the 2018 season, the strategy seemed simple…take advantage of a strong keeper list and do a better job at the auction. As always, money management would be factored into the equation with a budget mix of 2/3 for hitting and 1/3 for pitching.
Here’s the keeper list for the Dux that was frozen on October 20th –
C – Wilson Contreras $7
1B – Jose Abreu $13
1/3 – Anthony Rizzo $33
2B – Jonathan Schoop $11
SS – Didi Gregorius $11
2/S – Yoan Moncada $4
OF – Yasiel Puig $16
OF – Domingo Santana $16
P – Gio Gonzalez $12
P – Kelvin Herrera $6
P – Brad Hand $6
Farm – Willy Adames
Farm – Gleyber Torres
Farm – Kolby Allard
Farm – Alex Verdugo
The eight hitters had a salary total of $106, while the three pitchers equaled $24 leaving $130 to buy 12 players at the draft table. The basic allocation would be $68 for the six hitters and $62 for the seven pitchers. So, the draft strategy was as follows…
> Find three OF’s in the $15 range prioritizing at least one SB contributor because speed is becoming more and more scarce. This will not an easy task, as most of the speed guys left in the pool are suspect. Players like Rajai Davis, Ben Revere, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarod Dyson and Delino DeShields all have the skill but will they have the playing time? Secondarily, pay $15 for an everyday 3B and then take end-game shots at C & Utility. One other factor imbedded in this approach is to not overpay for HR-only players. With the likelihood that the juiced ball is here to stay, power will be the easiest commodity to find in March or during the season.
> On the pitching side, allocate $50 for four starting pitchers, $10 for a second-tier Closer and one end-gamer for the final pitching spot.
> Not much research needed to be done on the offensive side, as I could bid on any position player and was only concerned about getting regular playing time and some SB’s. On the pitching side, the plan needed to be a little more precise. My advice to players has always been to not “chase” any particular player. Find a group of players that fit your need and focus on getting one of them. This was the biggest challenge because at least 80% of the top twenty SP’s were already rostered. Here’s what the tiers looked like a few days prior to the draft…
Tier 1 – Greinke, Jake Arrieta, Johnny Cueto & Jon Lester
Tier 2 – Jose Qunitero, Jeff Samardzija, Rich Hill, Lance Lynn & Ervin Santana
Tier 3 – Taijuan Walker, Kenta Maeda, Chase Anderson, Ivan Nova, Drew Pomeranz, Trevor Bauer, Alex Cobb & others.
The Dux needed to get at least three of the pitchers on that list and then try to find some hidden skills guys like Zach Davies, Patrick Corbin, Michael Wacha and Tanner Roark.
The need for an additional Closer comes from role uncertainty. Hand could end up being the 2018 version of Robertson…traded to a contender and becoming a set-up man. A few potential additions would be Archie Bradley, Hector Neris, Juan Nicasio, Sean Doolittle and Alex Colome.
Before reviewing the results of the draft, there’s one other important league rule for readers to understand. Even though the word “list” is being used in this discussion, the really unique aspect of the XFL is that team owners can bring nothing to the table…no lists, no projections, no research, no draft software, no laptops, no tablets and no smart phones. When you sit at the table, major league depth charts are handed out with the names of keepers crossed off and that is your only reference material during the auction. Even the depth charts are as neutral as possible with players listed by position and alphabetically. You don’t get any help as the typical MLB team could have 12 relief pitchers on the sheet and you need to know which one might get (or be next in line for) Saves.
The actual approach at the draft table needed to be somewhat passive-aggressive. Passive in the sense of being patient, as eight other teams had a similar (or higher) amount of money to spend and aggressive in the sense of acquiring solid starting pitchers. And, of course, never forget the words of a world-class poker player who once told me, “If you sit down at the table and don’t spot the pigeon, it just might be you”.
It became apparent early on that the available dollars at the table were going to impact pitching prices dramatically. Greinke came out early and went for the inflated price of $50. It also became clear that the group was going to go all-in for offensive stars when Paul Goldschmidt cost $65 and J.D. Martinez $55 in the first round. The highest priced SP last year was Cueto at $30 and the top hitter was Miguel Cabrera at $45 (he went for $17 this time).
When I digested those prices, my thought process changed. The sense was that the best available players at each position were going to be more than just overpriced and I needed to be aggressive in filling roster spots. The initial switch in strategy came when Kenley Jansen was brought up. Elite Closers usually go for around $20 in this format (Zack Britton was the highest priced last year at $22), so the Dux acquired Jansen for $23. He earned $25 in this league for 2017 and has the type of consistency that you look for at the back-end of your bullpen. Later in the draft, Corey Knebel went for $21 while both Aroldis Chapman & Wade Davis cost $17. While this somewhat altered my pitching budget, I felt that based on the Greinke valuation, top-tier SP’s were going to be out of my range. That proved correct later in the proceedings when Quintana went for $31, Arrieta for $30, Lester for $22, Bauer for $20 and Cueto for $19.
The next two players rostered were Wacha at $10 & Samardzija at $17. The Dux had now spent $50 on three hurlers and would have to wait until much later in the draft to fill the remaining spots on the staff.
Turning to offense, the Dux next acquisition was Eduardo Nunez for $18. Although his late-season leg injury is troubling and his destination for ’18 in unknown, he qualifies at both 3B & OF and had 64 SB’s the last two seasons.
Now it was time for OF’s. Michael Taylor joined the squad for a surprisingly low $9. Yes, plate discipline has always been an issue, but he’s the Nats CF at the moment and produced 19 HR’s & 17 SB’s in 399 AB’s. Next up was Shin-Soo Choo for $12 and despite his age (35), he’s a five category asset in this format. The third flyhawk (a 1950’s term) was Odubal Herrera for $16 with the hope that he’ll return to his 2016 form at age 26.
Getting four offense players for only $57 left the budget with $25 for the final five players. Shifting some dollars from hitting to pitching allowed the Dux to acquire two SP’s from the Braves…Luis Gohara for $8 and Julio Teheran for $10. Then, in the end game, it was Randal Grichuk for $3 in the Utility spot, Corbin for $3 as the 6th SP and Jason Castro for $1 as the 2nd Catcher.
An obvious criticism could be that the allocation of money didn’t fit the 67/33 goal. Spending $95 on pitching made the split closer to 63/37 but there are two factors in play here…1) the four offensive players came in under budget by at least $6 and 2) hitting is much easier to find in the March Supplemental Draft than pitching.
Just to keep your mind percolating during the off-season, here are some random thoughts from the Draft…
> When it comes to Saves, sometimes guys who aren’t yet the Closer (Bradley, $11) go for more than guys who have the job (Sean Doolittle, $7)
> November is much too early to evaluate injured players…Mark Melancon went for $1, as did Matt Shoemaker & Troy Tulowitzki
> Reputations don’t matter as Felix Hernandez was rostered for $4, Carlos Gonzalez for $7, Chris Davis for $9, Rick Porcello for $4 & Cole Hamels for $8
> Never ask the question, “why did someone pay $18 for Aaron Sanchez” without clearly understanding that someone else bid $17
> Other big contract players included Daniel Murphy for $40, Michael Conforto for $33, Andrew McCutchen for $32 & Buster Posey for $31.
> $1 players the Dux would love to have included Reynaldo Lopez, Josh Reddick, Andrelton Simmons, Yonder Alonso, Carl Edwards Jr., Brandon Woodruff, Jose Reyes, Maikel Franco, Kyle Barraclough & Nova.
> And, of course, the annual exercise of listing players who were not even drafted…Fernando Rodney (worth $10 in ’17), Kurt Suzuki (19 HR’s), Nick Markakis ($8 in ’17), Ben Zobrist (multiple positions), Scooter Gennett (27 HR’s), Mark Reynolds, Logan Forsythe, Jonathan Villar, Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera, Matt Harvey, Tommy Joseph, Francisco Cervelli, David Freese, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Jedd Gyorko, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, Hunter Pence, Jayson Werth, Mitch Moreland, Dustin Pedroia, Jackie Bradley Jr., Alex Gordon, Joe Mauer, Todd Frazier, Chase Headley, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Gomez, Kevin Pillar & Albert Pujols.
You can peruse additional league information at fantasyxperts.com