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 on-line last week for their 19th annual draft. Our previous drafts were all done in-person but circumstances create changes.
As a quick refresher, the XFL is the only expert’s 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 auction draft after the World Series 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 18 seasons of the league.
The 2020 season didn’t look too promising as the projections had the squad near the bottom of the pack but the boys overachieved and finished a strong 4th after a slow start. Solid seasons from team members such as Jose Abreu, Ian Happ, Pete Alonso & Teoscar Hernandez helped overcome lots of pitching injuries to Milos Mikolas, Madison Bumgarner, Steven Matz and others.
So, as we approached the November Draft for the 2021 season, it appeared that the Dux had a much better starting point than last year.
Here’s the keeper list that was frozen on November 1st –
C – Willson Contreras $16
1B – Jose Abreu $22
3B – Yoan Moncada $13
1/3 – Pete Alonso $7
2B – Wilmer Flores $6
SS – Gleyber Torres $10
OF – Ian Happ $6
OF – Randy Arozarena $8
OF – Teoscar Hernandez $6
OF – Dylan Carlson $4
P – Kevin Gausman $6
P – Brandon Woodruff $16
P – James Karinchak $4
Farm – Royce Lewis
Farm – Christian Pache
Farm – Triston Casas
Here’s a quick review of the salary structure…
> November 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 (done in July for 2020) – 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 Clint Frazier, Dominic Smith, Framber Valdez, Anthony Santander, Corbin Burnes, Trevor Rosenthal, Dylan Bundy and the four $6 players on the Dux roster. 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 8th season on the roster at a salary of $22.
> In-Season Monthly Free Agent Selections (only in August for 2020) – 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.
The 10 hitters on the Dux keeper list had a salary total of $98, while the three pitchers equaled $26 leaving $136 to buy 10 players at the draft table. The basic allocation would be $71 for the four hitters and $65 for the six pitchers. So, the draft strategy was as follows…
> 30 Catchers will be rostered in this league and a significant percentage of them have negative value. Only six were kept, so there will be feeding frenzy for backstops. J.T. Realmuto is available but he went for $33 last year and there’s no reason to think it will cost less this time around. The Dux will be willing to overpay for a second-tier Catcher like Travis d’Arnaud, Salvador Perez, Sean Murphy or Christian Vasquez but if that doesn’t work, taking Victor Caratini (Contreras’ back-up) for a single digit price will allow dollars to be shifted to another priority.
> Spend $20+ to fill the 2/S spot and prioritize speed if possible. The pool is weak with Didi Gregorius (unsigned at the moment), Marcus Semien (also a free agent), J.P. Crawford, Jean Segura & Cesar Hernandez heading the list.
> Allocate $25+ for a solid 5th OF…Michael Conforto, Charlie Blackmon, Kole Calhoun, Eddie Rosario, Brandon Nimmo, Nick Castellanos & Kyle Schwarber are all available.
> Look for one of those end-gamers in the Utility spot that could be productive…players like Manny Margot, Garrett Cooper, Leody Taveras, Victor Reyes & Ramiel Tapia would all fit the bill. It is always easier to find an end-game hitter than an end game pitcher.
> Four starting pitchers for about $50…Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer & Stephen Strasburg will all be too expensive. Hurlers like Zack Wheeler, Carlos Carrasco, Sandy Alcantara, Julio Urias & Joe 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. Rasiel Iglesias was a member of the team in ’20 and still has the skills.
> Look for skills in the last pitching spot for a minimal cost…Andrew Heaney, Tyler Mahle & Seth Lugo all fit the type.
> 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. With this year’s Draft being done remotely, we’re all on the honor system.
The actual approach at the draft table needed to be somewhat aggressive for the positions needed, so money could be shifted later in the process. 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”.
Note – All of the previous paragraphs were written prior to our November 14th draft date. That original date was pushed back due to one of our owners being hospitalized by Covid-19. Thankfully, he is home and recovering well, so the draft took place on December 5th.
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 see the bids, you can’t really be sure. Every Fantasy league is basing their valuations on projections but when you’re bidding in December, 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. J.D. Martinez had a terrible 2020 at age 32, earning less than $10 in our statistical format. Was it an aberration or is he on the down-side of his career? Our experts strongly voiced their opinion as he went for $27.
The rest of the 1st round looked like this…
- Realmuto $28
- Hendriks $19
- Rizzo $25
- Kershaw $30
- Scherzer $33
- Sale $18
- Goldschmidt $30
- Carrasco $29
- Conforto $35
- Hand $15
- Vasquez $16
- Segura $11
- Strasburg $30
- Cruz $25
The Dux didn’t roster a player until the 4th spot in Round 2, when we added Marcus Semien for $24. At age 30, he’s only one year removed from a 3rd place MVP finish. Javier Baez went later in the round for $26, while Jose Altuve was $22 in round 3.
By the end of round 2, ten starting pitchers were already rostered, so it was time to act and Zack Wheeler was the choice at $25. Four picks later, the Dux got their Closer with a $16 bid on Iglesias. Young Pitchers are always somewhat of a crapshoot, but Cristian Javier seemed like a good addition. His $15 price was somewhat high but the skills look good and we were sticking to our aggressive posture.
At the end of round 3, it was time to address the Catcher position. Realmuto & Vasquez were already gone and when Sean Murphy was nominated, the Dux went the extra dollar(s) and paid $19. Getting a solid OBP performer (.364 in ’20) at a scarce position is an advantage.
At this point, the Dux had filled 2/S, C, SP (2) & Closer for a total of $99…about $10 more than the amount budgeted prior to the draft. It became clear that the last OF spot didn’t need to be a particular priority because there’s a reasonable chance that Farm player Cristian Pache could be in the Braves line-up on opening day. It seemed more important to get another quality SP, so Joe Musgrove joined the squad at $12. Even though he’s on a lousy team, the stuff is tantalizing.
With $25 remaining for four players, we added Brandon Nimmo, Tyler Mahle, Drew Pomeranz & Cesar Hernandez
The Dux spent $160 on offense (62% of budget) and $98 on pitching (38% of budget), which were close to the target numbers. We filled 2/S, C, OF, 4 SP’s and 1 ½ Closers with players who shouldn’t have too many question marks. The overall strategy was very different than my normal approach. My mindset was to avoid thinking about “bargains” or keepers for 2022. Of the ten players drafted, there’s a good chance none of them will be keepers a year from now. That is offset by the fact that almost all of this year’s ten keepers have a chance to be on the roster again in 2022.
Just to keep your mind percolating during the off-season, here are some random thoughts from the Draft…
> Reputations don’t matter as Adam Wainwright, Johnny Cueto, Miguel Cabrera, Jon Lester, Evan Longoria & Jake Arrieta weren’t drafted.
> Never ask the question, “Why did someone pay $28 for Joey Gallo” without clearly understanding that someone else bid $27.
> 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…Brad Keller, Spencer Turnbull, Danny Duffy, Adam Duvall, Diego Castillo, Mark Melancon, Kevin Pillar, Jackie Bradley Jr., Rick Porcello, Robbie Grossman, Jesus Aguilar, Robbie Ray, Nick Ahmed, Colin Moran, Brandon Crawford, Archie Bradley, Jonathan Scoop, Stephen Piscotty, Kevin Kiermaier & Orlando Arcia…among others.
You can review additional league information at fantasyxperts.com