In 30+ years of playing auction-style Fantasy Baseball, winning over 25 championships can be good news and bad news. The good news is that you’ve proven your skills by establishing strategies and methods for success. The bad news could be that you’re hesitant to adjust and make significant changes because you’re afraid to mess with the baseline that has achieved positive results. That was the quandary that presented itself as the 15 owners in the Xperts Fantasy League (XFL) gathered in Phoenix last week for their 15th 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 14 seasons of the league.
After finishing 1st, 1st, 2nd & 2nd from 2011-14, the Dux have struggled with 7th place finishes the last two seasons. In 2015, injuries to Yasiel Puig, Devin Mesoraco and Carlos Gomez somewhat derailed the offense. On the pitching side, Tanner Roark lost his rotation spot during the off-season, Kyle Lohse imploded, Ervin Santana got suspended and Addison Reed & Steve Cishek lost their Closer gigs early in the season. In 2016, similar collapses happened with an outfield that included Puig, Andrew McCutchen, Michael Brantley, Ben Revere & Colby Rasmus.
So, as we approached the November Draft for the 2017 season, the first question was whether the strategy was flawed or was it just the player choices. Objectively, it seems like the answer is the players because the attempt to balance the roster by spending 38% of the team’s draft budget on pitching yielded a respectable 49 points while the hitters failed miserably. What to do now? The 62/38 idea has failed for two seasons, so is time to go back to the old 70/30 guideline?
Here’s the keeper list for the Dux that was frozen on October 21st –
C – Wilson Contreras $4
1B – Jose Abreu $10
1/3 – Anthony Rizzo $28
2B – Jonathan Schoop $6
SS – Brandon Crawford $11
2/S – Cesar Hernandez $7
OF – Yasiel Puig $13
OF – Odubel Herrera $16
P – Jerad Eickhoff $6
P – Julio Urias $4
F – Willy Adames
F – Gleyber Torres
F – Yoan Moncada
F – Alex Verdugo
The 8 hitters had a salary total of $95, while the two pitchers equaled $10 leaving $155 to buy 13 players at the draft table. Historically, under the 70/30 strategy, the allocation would have been $87 for the six hitters and $68 for the seven pitchers. Realistically however, the hitters on the keeper list really only provide about $25 more than their salary, so shifting a similarly large percentage as the past two years to pitching didn’t really make sense. The initial strategy was to think in terms of a “halfway” point equaling a 65/35 split. That would shift about $13 from hitting to pitching at the Draft leaving approximately $74 for the six hitters and $81 for the seven pitchers. So, the draft strategy was as follows…
> Find three OF’s in the $20 range prioritizing at least one SB contributor. Pay $15-$20 for a second Catcher, the most scarce commodity at this draft. Then take end-game shots at 3B & Utility
> On the pitching side, allocate $45 for four starting pitchers, $25 for two closers 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 – Johnny Cueto, Zack Greinke, Felix Hernandez, Cole Hamels, Jacob Degrom
Tier 2 – John Lackey, Jeff Samardzija, Marco Estrada
Tier 3 – Dan Straily, Matt Moore, Junior Guerra, Ervin Santana, Ivan Nova, Hisashi Iwakuma, Gio Gonzalez & 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 Robbie Ray, Zach Davies, Jason Hammel and the like.
For the $25 allocation on the two closers, the list included David Robertson, Kenley Jansen, Craig Kimbrel, Zach Britton, Roberto Osuna, Cody Allen, Wade Davis & A.J. Ramos. If getting one of those proved expensive, the next tier had Francisco Rodriguez, Jim Johnson, Tyler Thornburg, Ken Giles & Tony Watson.
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 six other teams had a similar amount of money to spend and aggressive in the sense of acquiring solid starting pitchers. It became apparent early on that the available dollars at the table were going to impact pitching prices dramatically. Cueto came out early and I stayed in the bidding up to the mid-20’s…he went for $30. It also became clear that the table was going to pay dearly for offensive stars when Miguel Cabrera brought a $45 sale price in the first round.
After not rostering anyone in the first round and a half, it was time to start spending money. While I’m not a huge Nelson Cruz fan, he was the highest-earning available OF in the pool with a 2016 value of $25 in this format. Paying $35 for him didn’t make me happy but my displeasure dissipated later in the proceedings when J.D. Martinez & often-injured Carlos Gonzalez both went off the board at $39. Andrew McCutchen (who I threw back at $25) sold for $37 and Jose Bautista brought $34.
After the acquisition of a slugger, it was now time to focus on Pitching. David Robertson doesn’t have the allure of Jansen or Britton, but the $15 price was reasonable…he contributed 5 Wins & 37 Saves in ’16. One of the toughest challenges in Fantasy Baseball is finding the Closers and it’s even tougher in November. To emphasize the volatility of bullpens, five major league rosters didn’t have a relief Pitcher kept or drafted when we finished…Angels, Twins, D’Backs, Phillies & Giants.
Starting pitching now had to be prioritized and the Dux went to $19 to get Zack Greinke. He won’t be as good as he was in ’15 but can’t be as bad as he was in ’16. DeGrom & Hamels went for the exact same price later in the Draft.
It became obvious very quickly that my plan of getting a top-rated second Catcher is the $15-$20 range wasn’t viable. The inflation factor for this position creates bidding excess. The early run of backstops included Yasmani Grandal at $27, J.T. Realmuto at $24, Russell Martin at $20 and the injured Wilson Ramos for $16. I shifted the money to other offensive positions.
Back to pitching for the 4th pick, we rostered Matt Moore for $14. Apparently healthy, a full season in S.F. could bring decent numbers…his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was a full run lower in the NL.
The 5th pick brought another OF in Domingo Santana for $11. Injuries impacted his ’16 campaign but he’s still only 24 and had 11 HR’s in half a season.
In every auction, there is a “sticky” moment when your strategy gets impacted and you have to change priorities in mid-stream. The 6th pick was the spot for me this time around as I was looking for speed in the 3rd OF spot. Of the available players, Hernan Perez & Leonys Martin had the most SB’s in ’16 ( 34 & 24). They both have drawbacks as Perez isn’t guaranteed everyday playing time and Martin struggles with OBP. Going in, I was willing to pay $10-12 for either one, so I decided to test the SB market by putting Perez on the table. Moments later, I’d acquired him for $5 and wasn’t sure if I was really smart or really stupid. In either case, the Dux had some additional dollars for other players.
Back to SP’s for pick #7, Jeff Samardzija was added for $9. A good arm in a good ballpark, he doesn’t have to be an ace as our 5th starter.
The 8th pick was one of those moments when you immediately say to yourself “why did I do that”? Gio Gonzalez at $7 isn’t a disaster, but the money could have been used elsewhere. The little bit of good news is that the Nats have picked up his 2017 option and his FIP might indicate that he pitched in some bad luck in ’16.
It was now time to get a 2nd Closer and we met our spending goal by drafting Tyler Thornburg for $9. The Brewers are re-building and won’t go out to sign another Closer. Thornburg had 90 K’s in 67 IP with a ratio of under 1.00…he should have the job.
With only four spots left (C, 3B, OF & P) and $31 in the budget, the Dux appeared to have so many dollars that waiting for the end-game was probably not a good idea. It became even more problematic when I put the aforementioned Martin (who had 15 HR’s in addition to his steals in ’16) on the table. To my surprise (or consternation), the result was the famous Roto sound of crickets and he was rostered for $1. Now we really had too much money!
Adding Derek Norris for $5 as our 2nd Catcher didn’t change the dynamic and we were left with $25 for one hitter and one pitcher. Scanning the roster sheets, it appeared that the only real power left belonged to Jay Bruce. I stayed in the bidding into the 20’s but one team with slightly more cash had the same idea…he went for $23!
Eventually, Jayson Werth was drafted for $10 (Perez being shifted to 3B). Interestingly, even though Bruce hit 12 more HR’s (33-to-21), Werth’s better OBP (.335-to-.309) made them worth about the same value in ’16. The downside is that Bruce is eight years younger.
$15 for a Pitcher at the end of the draft is overkill, so we took more of a known commodity (rather than taking a risk) by paying $6 for John Lackey. Not a sexy pick, but a duplication of ’16’s numbers will make him a bargain.
Leaving $9 on the table is never a good thing, but knowing that I would have paid significantly more for the two speed guys makes it palatable. In the end, the expenditures were 65% for offense and 35% for pitching. The positives are that SB’s won’t have to be chased in March and the roster has seven established SP’s. The downside is that HR’s must be added and too many of the Dux are “long in the tooth”.
It was disappointing to not be in the end game finding bargains. That approach had helped my team tremendously in the past as players like Josh Willingham, Michael Brantley & Anthony Rizzo were all drafted for a dollar or two.
Just to keep your mind percolating during the off-season, here are some random thoughts from the Draft…
> The timing at the table impacts pricing dramatically…Roberto Osuna went for $11 early and Francisco Rodriguez went for $14 late
> Cody Allen was $13 and Andrew Miller was $9
> Last year, Felix Hernandez was a keeper at $34…this year, he was drafted for $13
> Never ask the question, “why did someone pay $20 for Danny Salazar” without clearly understanding that someone else bid $19
> Reputations occasionally supersede recent performance…examples are Sonny Gray (5.69 ERA) for $11, Michael Conforto (.220 BA) for $18 & Alex Gordon (.220 BA) for $16
> $1 players included Melky Cabrera, Mike Napoli, Ian Kennedy, Ervin Santana, Logan Forsythe, Mike Montgomery, Zach Davies, Denard Span & Jhonny Peralta.
You can peruse additional league information at fantasyxperts.com