In 30+ years of playing auction-style Fantasy Baseball, winning over 30 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 18th 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 October 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 top overall performance record encompassing all 17 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 in ’17. The 2018 season, however, was a disaster and the Dux finished 11th. The 2019 season didn’t look too promising as the projections had the squad in the middle of the pack but the boys overachieved and finished a strong 3rd while actually contending for the top spot during the Summer. Solid seasons from long-time team members such as Jose Abreu, Yasiel Puig & Yoan Moncada helped the cause as well as the spectacular rookie campaign of Pete Alonso, a great sophomore performance by Gleyber Torres and a healthy year for Stephen Strasburg.
So, as we approached the October Draft for the 2020 season, it appeared that the Dux had a much better starting point than last year.
Here’s the keeper list that was frozen on October 4th –
C – Willson Contreras $13
C – Tom Murphy $6
1B – Jose Abreu $19
3B – Yoan Moncada $10
1/3 – Pete Alonso $4
2B – Eduardo Escobar $15
SS – Gleyber Torres $7
OF – Yasiel Puig $19
OF – Niko Goodrum $6
P – Patrick Corbin $13
P – Brandon Woodruff $11
P – Sandy Alcantara $6
P – Alex Colome $6
Farm – Royce Lewis
Farm – Christian Pache
Here’s a quick review of the salary structure…
> October Draft – Player salaries are determined by the winning bid at the table and increase $5 each season. So, unless a team finds a break-out player in the end-game, there’s a reasonable chance that expensive veterans will only be on your team for one season.
> March Supplemental Draft – A 17-round snake draft gets all the squads up to a 40-man roster from which you determine 23 active players each week. All players chosen in this phase have a $1 salary. For current major-leaguers, the increase each season is $5 so the annual keeper lists have a smattering of $6 players that were great choices the previous year. Examples this time around include Sonny Gray, Kolten Wong, Domingo German, Marcus Semien, Jorge Soler & Adam Frazier . Minor-leaguers taken in this phase also have a $1 starting salary, but once they get to “the show”, their salary only goes up $3 per year. This is what might be described as the “dynasty” component in this particular league. An example would be Jose Abreu, who was taken as a free agent by my team in March of 2014 and now enters his 7th season on the roster at a salary of $19.
> In-Season Monthly Free Agent Selections – Teams can choose free agents once a month and drop someone on their roster in a corresponding move. The salary is $5 with a $5 increase in subsequent seasons, so you’ll see a few of these players scattered on keeper rosters at $10 each year. Current examples include Taylor Rogers, Christian Walker, Lucas Giolito, Jake Odorizzi & Bryan Reynolds.
The nine hitters on the keeper list had a salary total of $102, while the four pitchers equaled $36 leaving $122 to buy 10 players at the draft table. The basic allocation would be $67 for the five hitters and $55 for the five pitchers. So, the draft strategy was as follows…
> Spend $15+ to fill the 2/S spot and prioritize speed…someone like Andrus, Segura or Newman.
> Allocate $45-$50 for three OF’s who are solid everyday players…or overpay for the first two (Conforto, Castellanos, Schwarber, et al) and find an overlooked player for the 3rd spot (Hicks, Margot, etc.)
> Look for one of those end-gamers in the Utility spot that could be productive…Winker, Cooper, Hays & Grichuk come to mind.
> Three starting pitchers for about $40…Strasburg ($35 salary) wasn’t kept because the money needed to be spread around. Hurlers like Wheeler, Bumgarner, Ray & Musgrove are on the radar.
> Spend $12-$15 on a 2nd Closer…the priority is just finding someone who will have the job in March. Iglesias, Osuna & Neris all fill the bill
> Look for skills in the last pitching spot for a minimal cost…Lugo, Jimenez, Leclerc and others.
> 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 so many of MLB’s star players were already rostered.
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 down 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 aggressive for the positions needed because 1/3 & C were already filled. 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”.
One of the keys in a keeper league environment is to determine what the inflation factor might be on player salaries. You can do the math prior to the Draft, but until you actually hear the bids, you can’t really be sure. Every Fantasy league is basing their valuations on projections but when you’re bidding in October, knowing what a player actually “earned” the previous season can give some insight into inflation.
The first player nominated might tell us some of what we wanted to know. The last two seasons, J.D. Martinez went for $50+ at the table and ended up earning $26 for 2019 in our statistical format. This time, he was bought for $34, which only represented a 30% inflation factor. Did that mean the inflation factor was going to be less than usual?
That question was answered when Joey Gallo was the 2nd players off the board at $37. Even accounting for injury time, this seems to be about a 100% inflation factor. The 3rd player was Chris Sale at $29 and he only earned $8 in an injury plagued season, so that inflation factor would certainly be 50%+. The answer was now clear…inflation would be traditionally high and overpaying for assets in the early rounds would be necessary.
The next eight players told the tale…Charlie Blackmon ended up costing $32 (60% inflation), Stephen Strasburg $38 (40%), Jose Altuve $34 (100%), Paul Goldschmidt $30 (58%), Clayton Kershaw $30 (30%), Zack Greinke $31 (7%), James Paxton $23 (130%) & J.T. Realmuto $31 (107%).
The only “bargain” in Round 1 seemed to be Hyun-Jin Ryu, who sold for $18 despite earning $27 in 2019.
The Dux didn’t roster a player until the 5th pick in Round 2, when we added Madison Bumgarner for $14. Despite the perception that his 9-9 season was mediocre, he earned $13, pitched 200+ innings and recorded 200+ K’s.
In the middle of the 2nd Round, we brought up Andrus and were will to pay $18-$20 based on our budget. The bidding seemed to stall at around $17, but then picked up again, driving the final price to $24. The Dux dropped out at $20. The plan was then to bring up Newman at our next opportunity but Segura was nominated in the interim, so we took him for $13. Not the base-stealer he once was, he still contributes double-digit HR’s & SB’s while hitting in a strong line-up.
Now it was time to get that Closer and Rasiel Iglesias was the choice at $16. Quality Closers in this league go for $12-$18 and it is always a roll of the dice. His record of 3-12 was ugly but 34 Saves and a K/9 of 12 says the stuff is still solid.
The rest of the picks were unexciting but balanced. $48 was allocated for three OF’s and we added Manny Margot, Kyle Schwarber & Brandon Nimmo for a total of exactly $48. $40 was set aside for three SP’s and Bumgarner, Miles Mikolas & Joe Musgrove only cost $33, allowing us to add another SP in Stephen Matz. The Utility spot was filled by Garrett Cooper, who qualifies at both 1B & OF.
The Dux spent $169 on offense (65% of budget) and $91 on pitching (35% of budget), which were the exact target numbers….and we didn’t leave any money on the table.
Just to keep your mind percolating during the off-season, here are some random thoughts from the Draft…
> October is much too early to evaluate injured pitchers…Nathan Eovaldi went for $1, as did Lance McCullers, Aaron Sanchez, Michael Pineda & Alex Wood.
> Reputations don’t matter as future Hall of Famers Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols weren’t drafted.
> Never ask the question, “why did someone pay $30 for Frankie Montas” without clearly understanding that someone else bid $29.
> And, of course, the annual exercise of listing the players that weren’t even drafted. You can decide if the experts were right or wrong…Anthony Santander, Jackie Bradley Jr., Rick Porcello, Yolmer Sanchez, Leury Garcia, Christian Stewart, Josh Reddick, Wade Miley, Nicky Lopez, Alex Gordon, C.J. Cron, J.A. Happ, Mike Fiers, J.P. Crawford, Domingo Santana, Rougned Odor, Hunter Pence, Justin Smoak, Teoscar Hernandez, Nick Ahmed, Mike Leake, Julio Teheran, Mark Melancon, Jason Heyward, Jose Quintana, Jose Peraza, Ian Desmond, Kiki Hernandez, Starlin Castro, Eric Thames, Orlando Arcia, Ryan Braun, Todd Frazier, Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco, Colin Moran, Chris Archer, Dexter Fowler, Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, Brandon Crawford, Kevin Pillar & Ryan Zimmerman.
You can review additional league information at fantasyxperts.com