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 17th 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 top overall performance record encompassing all 16 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 last year. The 2018 season, however, was a disaster, especially in the 2nd half and the Dux finished 11th. Starting pitching was the culprit as injuries to Jeff Samardzija, Michael Wacha & Steven Matz derailed the Wins & ERA categories. Of course, less than stellar seasons from position players like Odubal Herrera, Willson Contreras, Jonathan Scoop, Domingo Santana & Eduardo Nunez didn’t help either. Even though the squad was in the top five around the All-Star break, strong performances from Anthony Rizzo, Gleybar Torres, Yasiel Puig, Shin-Soo Choo, Didi Gregorius, Patrick Corbin & others couldn’t make up for the negatives.
So, as we approached the November Draft for the 2019 season, the strategy wasn’t easily defined. My Fantasy DNA doesn’t allow for giving up early to approach a rebuild, but reality can’t be ignored.
Here’s the keeper list for the Dux that was frozen on October 19th –
C – Willson Contreras $10
1B – Jose Abreu $16
2B – Yoan Moncada $7
SS – Willy Adames $4
2/S – Gleybar Torres $4
OF – Yasiel Puig $19
P – Patrick Corbin $8
P – Vincent Velasquez $6
P – Brad Hand $11
Farm – Royce Lewis
Farm – Michael Baez
The six hitters had a salary total of $60, while the three pitchers equaled $25 leaving $175 to buy 14 players at the draft table. The basic allocation would be $109 for the eight hitters and $66 for the six pitchers. So, the draft strategy was as follows…
> In the days before the Draft, reality indicated that this keeper list wasn’t strong enough to assume the team could contend, despite the available dollars. Five other teams had similar budgets and the talent pool was shallow, so too much money would be chasing limited assets.
> The logical approach seemed to be 1) overpay for two star players who could be used as trade-chips in June if the team wasn’t competitive and 2) concentrate on filling other roster spots with younger players who might have reasonable enough salaries to still be keepers for 2020.
> Find a solid 3B for $20 or less, a 2nd Catcher for less than $10, a 1/3 for $10 and four OF’s for a combined budget of about $70.
> On the pitching side, allocate $40 for four starting pitchers, $25 for two additional Closers (also possible trade assets) and one end-gamer for the final pitching spot.
> 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.
> The four best hitters in the player pool were J.D. Martinez, Paul Goldschmidt, Charlie Blackmon & Anthony Rizzo. On the pitching side, the four were Zack Greinke, Stephen Strasburg, David Price & Kyle Hendricks. The initial goal was to get one hitter and one pitcher from this group.
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 aggressive as the eight “stars” would probably come out early. 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 November, knowing what a player actually “earned” the previous season can give some insight into inflation. For the eight players mentioned, all expect Strasburg had a season uninterrupted by injury, so their 2018 stats were a reasonable baseline.
The first player nominated would tell us much of what we wanted to know. Last November, Goldschmidt went for $65 at the table and ended up earning $29 in our statistical format. This time, he was bought for $45, which still represented a 50% inflation factor. That percentage was now in the front of my brain for the remainder of the Draft.
Martinez came out soon after and he had earned $40 for his spectacular ’18 season. The Dux bid aggressively and rostered him for $56…a 40% inflation factor. Last November, he was $55.
Blackmon ended up costing $45 (73% inflation) and Rizzo $42 (90% inflation).
Greinke was my next target and I stayed in until $30, finally letting him go to another team at $31. You can never beat yourself up at these moments because there’s no guarantee that $32 would have been enough. The inflation factor on the $31 bid was 48%. Soon after, the Dux paid $30 for Strasburg…taking a reasonable chance on his health due to his potential. Eventually, Price went for $23 (53% inflation) and Hendricks for $17 (21% inflation).
The targeted 3B were Mike Moustakas, Eduardo Escobar & Wil Myers. We opted for Myers due to the SB potential and got him for the $20 allocated in that spot.
Next was a Closer and Sean Doolittle was the choice for $15. His injury during the season was not arm-related and the peripheral stats were off the charts.
Wellington Castillo for $9 was probably the worst pick of the day, but in a league with 30 Catchers needing to be rostered, it helps to have two with some sort of positive value.
Next up was Brandon Woodruff of the Brewers for $6…let’s hope he gets a rotation spot ahead of Freddy Peralta and/or Corbin Burnes.
Arodys Vizcaino filled the 3rd third Closer spot at $10 and then we still ended up with Eduardo Escobar at 1/3 for $10.
At this point, it was almost “end-game” territory but too many teams still had too many dollars, so targeting any player in particular was a fool’s game. The Dux heard “crickets” on their next bid, as we added Giants OF Steven Duggar for $1. If the season started today, he might just be the starting CF and lead-off hitter. If not, the position flexibility of the roster can put him in the Utility spot, where he is easily replaced by someone in the March Draft.
Then $4 for Steven Matz… he looked healthy at the end of the season and his 5-11 record was not aligned with the numbers. Next up was D’Backs OF Steven Souza for $9…injured most of ’18, he had 30 HR’s & 16 SB’s in 2017.
Kole Calhoun was our last OF at $1, Sandy Alcantara our final pitcher for $1 and then Tigers 3B Jeimer Canderlario in the Utility spot for our last $3.
The Dux spent $169 on offense (65% of budget) and $91 on pitching (35% of budget), which were the exact target numbers. As for the other aspect of money management, it looked like this…
> C – $8 allocation, $9 actual
> 3B – $20 allocation, $20 actual
> 1/3 – $10 allocation, $10 actual
> OF $69 allocation (4), $67 actual
> U – $2 allocation, $3 actual
> SP – $42 allocation (4), $41 actual
> RP – $24 allocation (2), $25 actual
Just to keep your mind percolating during the off-season, here are some random thoughts from the Draft…
> November is much too early to evaluate injured pitchers…Jimmy Nelson went for $1, as did Danny Salazar, Michael Pineda, Sean Manaea & Garrett Richards.
> Reputations don’t matter as Yu Darvish went for $9, Jay Bruce for $2, Jake Arrieta for $6 & Brandon Belt for $3…and Felix Hernandez wasn’t taken.
> Never ask the question, “why did someone pay $25 for Jesse Winker” without clearly understanding that someone else bid $24
> Other big contract players included Justin Upton for $34, David Dahl for $28 & Justin Turner for $27
> $1 players the Dux wouldn’t mind having included Chris Ianetta, Jordan Hicks, Yonder Alonso, Zach Britton, Marcus Semien & C.J. Cron
> And, of course, the annual exercise of listing players who were not even drafted…Nick Ahmed, Dansby Swanson, Addison Russell, Jason Heyward, Matt Harvey, Carlos Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Starlin Castro, Gio Gonzalez, Jeremy Jeffress, Todd Frazier, Asdrubal Cabrera, J.P. Crawford, Josh Harrison, Kolten Wong, Jedd Gyorko, Dexter Fowler, Joe Panik, Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Ian Kinsler, Jason Kipnis, Josh Reddick, Alex Gordon, Albert Pujols (again), Zack Cozart, Brett Gardner & Kevin Pillar.
You can review additional league information at fantasyxperts.com