The LABR Mixed Draft has historically kicked off my draft season. Not this year though. After a mediocre ‘early draft season’ performance (drafts before March 10th) in 2022, I vowed to get everything started earlier. By 2023 LABR draft day (Tues, Feb 21), I had one NFBC Draft Champions (15 team, 50 rounds) complete and another halfway done. I’d also spent time just listening to a couple podcasts, reading The Process, digging into areas where Steamer and/or I could improve the projections, and considering/obsessing over my draft process for ways to improve (Prepping for a marathon podcast with Rob “Pull Hitter” DiPietro is a good excuse to do this too). Whether it makes this post any more profound or this draft any more successful than last year, we shall see.
Last Year Recap (here’s my post-draft writeup)
I finished in 11th place last year which was my worst non-abbreviated season in LABR since Obama’s first term. That is a bit misleading of a finish because I finished with 83 standings points and was 7.5 points from 5th. League commish Steve Gardner lapped the field with 124 points and no other team topped 97 points.
Last year’s 1st round gaffe where I overlooked Ohtani + passed on Burnes to draft Ozzie Albies became catastrophic when Albies’ season went sideways because of injury. My 3rd round pick and staff ace was Lucas Giolito. My 4th/5th round picks were Wander Franco and Jazz Chisholm. A 22nd round Oneil Cruz would have been helpful to fill the gaps but, as you know, he needed months of AAA seasoning!
I guess aside from all the above I did well because it sounds like the recipe for a last place team. Yordan in the 2nd, Varsho/McLanahan/Framber in the 7th-9th and some solid FAABing kept me afloat.
My Draft Philosophy
My draft tactics and preferences change year to year. My philosophy is a lot more consistent.
In 2020, I christened a new acronym (DARWINISM) to the pile of fantasy baseball draft strategy acronyms. Below is a summary from that year’s post.
DARWINISM = Drafting A Roster Which Integrates Needs (of) In Season Management
When I draft, I am the General Manager. I will create draft plans/strategies that simplify my draft day decisions so I can put together a roster that complements my in-season Manager strengths and maximize chances of team success. Maximizing or ‘winning’ preseason standings is nice but not my main objective.
Some notes on DARWINISM:
- You are overtly customizing your draft strategy to who you are as an in-season Manager. It could be risky or risk averse. Hitter/pitcher balanced vs imbalanced. I am open to a variety of draft strategies/preferences. While I find really rigid draft strategies to be uninspired, my only recommendation would be to reconsider your approach if you aren’t seeing success.
- If you find that your drafting GM has a stronger voice than your in-season Manager, then you really need to step up your in-season play (a Razzball Tools subscription certainly helps).
- I think this type of strategy comes more natural to ‘gut’ players. The very nature of being a ‘quant’ leads to more draft ego and trying to ‘win the draft’. The concept of ‘value’ drafting sounds egoless but it is the opposite; its rooted in thinking one’s rankings are so good that you could win solely by exploiting other drafters’ inefficiencies. Do you go to the supermarket with a plan or do you just buy whatever’s on sale?
- The closest thing I have to absolutes are: 1) “Try not to draft player unless there is a reasonable chance they won’t be on the board during your next pick” and 2) “Don’t look at in-draft standings and projected stats”.
- #1 is pretty obvious.
- Re: #2, these mean nothing to your in-season Manager once the season starts. Figure out ways to isolate the slivers of value that may help your Manager – e.g., I have a view in my Draft Tool (free with a season-long sub) that lets me see how balanced I am across categories and how I look vs projected league averages per category. But everything is converted onto the same scale (category $) so I am not fixating on totals or succumbing to natural biases like how 21 vs 19 HR feels like a bigger difference than 23 vs 21 HR or how easy it is to laser focus on HR/SB/K at the expense of R/RBI/AVG/WHIP. You should not be obsessed with reaching targets – you are using them as guideposts not goalposts.
Thoughts On Drafting Resilience – New For 2023
The question I found myself asking time and time again during preseason prep is: How can I improve the resilience of my drafts? (Okay, I never said that question. It is a paraphrasing of less eloquent thoughts.)
What does drafting a resilient draft plan/roster mean to your GM and in-season Manager?
- The GM wants to successfully execute a plan. If a couple sniped players or an unexpected position run stymies your plan, that isn’t resilient. That’s fragile. Learning not to fixate on position scarcity or a set of specific players helps here.
- The in-season Manager wants a roster with the resiliency to not capsize when things don’t go perfectly – i.e., top picks get injured or underperform, your 11th-30th rounds don’t provide sufficient depth, etc.
Two recent NFBC Main Event teams – each with similar ‘room average’ hit/pitch splits – cemented my 2023 plans towards resiliency.
- A 2021 Main Event team that hit the NUTS on pitching (67 standing points, hit on SP1-4/RP1/RP2 in draft) but got hit in the nuts on hitting. Lost half a season of Acuna and got maybe a month out of a 3rd round Luis Robert. The 4th round pick was Gleyber Torres who was a massive underperformer.
- A 2022 Main Event team with a very good offense (63 standings points) that had SP underperformance (Berrios, Manaea, Kikuchi) with only Ray, Rodon, and Bednar providing any real value from the draft.
Both draft plans were resilient. They had category balance. Evenly split resources on hitting and pitching. My co-manager and I had plans and largely succeeded with them despite being up against elite competition. If the other half of the hitting/pitching equation did well (or we picked better players available at those slots), these were both teams that could’ve won NFBC Main Event leagues and competed near the top of the overall leaderboard. That’s the thing though. Most drafted teams can win their league if everything breaks right. A resilient team has a slightly better chance at winning even if things don’t go ideal.
The strong pitching team finished 2nd with 104.5 points. The strong hitting team finished 6th with 84 points.
Why? In the explicit voice of in-season manager Rudy, “I feel way f***in’ better these days FAABing hitting than pitching.”
It is not important that your in-season manager agrees with mine. It is that your in-season manager’s voice is heard on draft day.
|POS||PICK #||PICK||PLAYER||TEAM||NFBC ADP||DIFF|
|2B||41||3.11||Jazz Chisholm Jr. (OF soon?)||MIA||42.6||1.6|
|MI||161||11.11||Nico Hoerner (2B soon?)||CHC||136.9||(24.1)|
|UTIL||11||1.11||Shohei Ohtani (SP)||LAA||9.3||(1.7)|
|BENCH||320||22.5||Brendan Donovan (2B/3B/OF)||STL||310.6||(9.4)|
|BENCH||380||26.5||Spencer Steer (3B)||CIN||415.4||35.4|
|BENCH||311||21.11||Reynaldo Lopez (RP)||CHW||383.7||72.7|
|BENCH||341||23.11||Kyle Bradish (SP)||BAL||345.7||4.7|
|BENCH||401||27.11||Kevin Ginkel (RP)||ARI||585.4||184.4|
|BENCH||410||28.5||Cody Morris (SP)||CLE||398.3||(11.7)|
Draft Strategy Overview
- Invest more than the room on pitching – roughly 58/42 vs an expected room split of 63/37. Spend for quality and quantity – aim for 8 SP you would consider starting week 1 if the matchups are good.
- Spend up for one good RP and then draft in bulk in the back half of the draft.
- Aim for balance across hitting categories – particularly on power/speed/AVG. If you have to go cheap, go cheaper on SB (you have to make some concessions if spending less on hitters than the room).
Early Round Notes
- Ohtani, Cole, Burnes, and Bo Bichette all made it to my pick 11. I felt all three pitchers would be gone by pick 20 so Bichette was out of running since I did not want to go bat/bat. I picked Ohtani with the mindset that I could build around him as primarily a pitcher or hitter based on how the draft played out.
- Burnes and Cole making it to pick 20 was a surprise. I went Burnes knowing that: 1) I didn’t have to worry about what made it back to me in 3rd/4th round for SPs, 2) I could still go SP in Round 3 and lock Ohtani in as a hitter, and 3) Passing on Riley means I am probably not going to draft a 3B for a long time (and that’s fine).
- I did not love the way the board shook out for my 3rd-6th round picks but I am good with the Jazz/Romano/Eloy/Darvish picks. There were several combos of players that I would have been fine with that included SP/RP/Bat/Bat or SP in various orders. With 2 SPs in first 6 rounds, I basically settled in my mind with Ohtani as a 75/25 hitter/pitcher.
I have used a similar post-draft writeup structure for a while now as I find it more interesting than a pick-by-pick analysis. This format does mean I talk more about my competitors’ teams than most post-draft write-ups. I do my best to be respectful yet honest.
Hopefully, you’ll find some piece of strategy you can apply to your upcoming drafts. I have updated this to reflect changes in my philosophy since last year. Some of it incorporates learning. Some of it is driven by changes in the player pool.
LABR is 15-team mixed with standard 2-C rosters, 6 bench spots, and unlimited IL. Weekly league w/ no Fri-Sun hitter swaps. $100 (vs $1000) FAAB with $1 mininums. All FAAB acquisitions must be on your starting roster the first week and all acqusitions must be on the major league roster as of Sunday.
You’ll see me note a lot of percentages about pick values. I calculate pick values based on my auction dollar projections. The #1 pick gets the $ value of the 1st ranked player, etc. Generally, the last pick in the 22nd round is worth a dollar (13 hitters + 9 pitchers * 15 teams) as I budget $0 for the 2nd catcher. The 23rd to 29th rounds are valued at or around $0.
|Topic||In General||My Team||Observations on Other Teams|
|Hit/Pitch Mix||As noted in the above, I have chosen to shift away from a projected room-average 63/37 hit/pitch split to something in the 58/42 range. (Note all mixed league Player Raters are set at 63.5/36.5)
|In 2021, the split was 61/31/8 which was the highest pitcher split I’ve ever seen in this league.
In 2022, the split was 63/28/9 (and I went 63/32/5).
In 2023, the split was 63/27/10. If you treat Ohtani solely as a hitter, I’m 62/28/10. If you treat him as a 75/25 hitter/pitcher as I noted above, I am at 59/31/10.
|All teams fell between 57%-69% on hitting which is the first time I can recall no 70+% hitting teams.
Ryan Bloomfield (BHQ) and Dr. Roto (eponymous.com) were the other two managers who went under 60% on hitting.
Mike Podhorzer (FG), Scott Pianowski (Y!) and Tim McLeod (Prospect361) led the room with 67-69% hit with Mike and Scott spending less on SPs and Tim spending less on RPs.
|In-Season Resilience||*NEW for 2023*
This is a qualitative vs quantitative assessment on a team’s roster construction having a chance to succeed if things don’t go perfectly on player valuation.
|In retrospect, I like my 2022 draft’s resiliency as I compensated going heavy bat/light SP early (6 of first 7 picks were bats) by taking 5 SPs in the subsequent 6 picks. My starting pitching didn’t crater because Giolito was awful as McLanahan and Valdez hit while Pablo Lopez was okay. I did hit on one late RP (Rainey) but would’ve been nice to have gotten at least one hit on Sims, Whitlock, or Tyler Wells. (What are the historical chances of two closer candidate darts in February being converted to starter in March?) There just isn’t enough resiliency in mixed 15 to survive the time missed by Albies/Franco/Jazz and Giolito’s stinker.
This year’s team seems maybe a little more resilient. I like the quality/quantity of arms going into the year. My biggest concern is this team is just okay on power with Ohtani. Power came at a premium so I swerved to just building a well-rounded team (R/RBI, speed, AVG, top in projected hitter PAs).
|This is a tough call because everyone has different in-season strengths as managers so giving general benefit of the doubt.
Jennifer Piacenti’s team projects well but Mikolas/Martin Perez/Means/Skubal as an SP4-SP7 (the latter two obviously IL stashes) starts the season too fragile in SP even with no injuries IMO. Mike Podhorzer went similarly low volume on SPs in first 20 rounds but adding some resiliency with 5 SPs in the final 10 rounds.
My #1 thing on 15-team mixed draft – you don’t have to invest in SP quality (especially if you do well in finding mid-to-late draft SPs) but you do have to invest in SP quantity.
Joe Sheehan’s projected PAs are about 500 less than the average for the other 14 teams b/c of a combo of projected IL time, projected lineup spots and guys I more project to play 75% vs 90+% of the time. You can take this with a grain of salt but it feels like a construction that’s fragile for hitter counting stats.
|Upside vs Reliability/ Volume||Have a mix of high ceiling and high floor players (with early picks ideally being both) while trying to maximize PA/IP volume.
Remember, you are trying to beat 10-14 other teams. Embracing some risk/upside puts you in a better position to separate from the pack.
|Moving from a balanced hit/pitch mix to slightly more on pitching leads IMO to being a little more conservative on reliability/upside to ensure PA volume.
I have Jazz Chisholm and Andrew Painter as guys I’d say are squarely upside plays. I don’t have an old team but I would say this team is less upside/sexy than recent years.
|Kyle Soppe’s ESPN squad was ‘high floor’ in 2022 but Tatis and Robert on one team. Ooh mama.
Tim McLeod bit early on Jordan Walker according to ADP (14th – though that looks like a bargain a week later) and of course some first year players from Asian leagues (Senga, Yoshida) but this qualifies as a ‘responsible’ draft from Tim “I get older but prospects stay the same age” McLeodaughey.
Scott Pianowski finished 2nd last year with his lunchpail crew and he brought his hardhat to this draft as well.
|Bouncebacks||I like them as long as health not a major question mark, skills/age look positive, and properly discounted.||My 2022 squad didn’t have any significant bouncebacks. This squad has a 20th round Austin Meadows.||Joe Sheehan has a Castellanos/Rendon bounceback duo.
Fred Zinkie had back-to-back bounceback guys in the 11th/12th with Javier Baez and Brandon Lowe.
Comeback kid lover Zack Steinhorn went Ke’Bryan Hayes in the 15th and quickly followed with Conforto, Berrios, and Kelenic.
|Hitter Category Balance vs Best Player Available||In a weekly league with FAAB, I prefer to come out of drafts without glaring weaknesses. So it is something I monitor during the draft.||I feel solid across all 5 hitting categories assuming Ohtani as a full-time hitter. I feel better in R/RBI/AVG vs HR/SB. From my early drafts, it seems clear that HRs are the toughest stat to excel at if you invest above average in pitching. This should not be surprising to anyone.
|Here are teams that fall into the standard hitter category imbalances:
Solid balance from Mike Podhorzer, Ryan Bloomfield, and Jeff Erickson.
|ADP vs “Get Your Guys!”||I prefer to wait as long as possible for guys I like but adjust based on draft room dynamics. At the very least, avoid drafting guys with high chances of being on the board for my next pick.||I’m focusing on the first 15 rounds where getting value vs ADP is most important.
In LABR, I have typically been about average for the room which averages about 5 picks before ADP. While I have taken my share of upside plays, avoiding overpays vs ADP keeps me grounded.
Last year my average top 15 round pick in the first 15 round was 4 picks before ADP. This year I was actually the ‘value’ winner, averaging 5 picks after ADP.
This was not a goal of mine. In retrospect, my general draft plan to “go heavier in pitching, emphasize counting stats + non-SB” required me to ‘take what the room gave me’. Value drafting on its own means little to me but executing a draft plan that meets DARWINISM and getting value seems good.
My biggest value plays (let’s define it as 1+ round discount) in the top half of the draft were Nico Hoerner (24 picks lower than NFBC ADP), Cal Raleigh (20 picks below ADP), and Brady Singer (22 picks). I also had no picks in the first half of the draft where I reached more than a 1/2 round above ADP.
In the back half of the draft, I took no free fallers and reached on all 4 of my RP darts.
|The room was more conservative this year at 2.5 picks above ADP vs 6 picks last year. Not having someone draft Trevor Bauer in the 4th round helped.
The most ‘Get your guys’ drafter (using just top 15 round picks) was surprisingly Ray Flowers at +12 with 5 of his first 15 picks being reaches of 1+ rounds on ADP. He was actually tied for first last year in being the biggest ‘value’ drafter.
The next 4 ‘boldest’ were between 6-7.5 picks ahead of ADP which was a marked decrease for last year’s leaders in Alan Harrison and Tim McLeod.
Zach Steinhorn (-4.2) and Jeff Erickson (-3.5) were the best value drafters after me.
About 50% of the top 25 bargains vs ADP were RP and another 30% being SPs. Granted my ADP is from SP-happy NFBC but that is a little surprising.
Conversely none of the top 25 reaches were pitchers. The top reaches included two by Ray Flowers – Ketel Marte (+77 picks) & Jesse Winker (+65 picks) and one by Scott Pianowski – Eugenio Suarez (+68 picks).
|Anticipate Other Teams’ Picks When Prioritizing||Get ahead of position runs to minimized getting sniped. When near a turn, be strategic on your pre/post picks. Do not sleep on guys you like if you feel they will not make it back to you.||At pick 11, there is only so much you can do to anticipate the 8 picks behind you.
Whether it was skill or luck, I was rarely sniped between my odd and even picks. I should have gone Luis Urias over Josh Naylor with my 15th pick based on the board and Urias having multi-position eligibility.
|Hard to judge other teams on this.|
|Closers||Closer situations have never been more muddled thanks to bullpen committees and role fluidity. This has led to the clear RP1s going earlier in drafts.
In the past, I liked securing one RP1 (like last year with Pressly) and then a number of lottery tickets for RP2.
For at least this year, unless there is a dramatic ADP fall, I’m punting RP1 as well.
|After only investing 5% of draft capital on RPs last year (note: all picks after round 23 are valued at $0), I was almost exactly league average at 10.1% (vs 9.9%)
I don’t love my Jordan Romano (4th round, 5th pick) in light of the room deemphasizing RP vs NFBC but I didn’t like the available bats + SPs at that pick much more than my 5th (Eloy) and 6th (Darvish) round picks.
Satisfied with my RP darts in Trevor May (18th round), Reynaldo Lopez (21st), and the AZ due of Andrew Chafin (25th) and Kevin Ginkel (27th). Hopefully one hits. If two or three hit, giddyup.
|The room invested 9.9% in RPs after 9.2% and 8.1% in the past two years. So even if it seemed RPs went cheaper than NFBC ADP, there still feels like some gravitational pull.
Jennifer Piacenti was highest with a ~14% investment in RPs when she took advantage of the room’s fading of the low-end RP1/high-end RP2 and snagged Holmes, Bednar, and Fairbanks in rounds 9, 11, and 13. I like the values and, if they all hit, there is surplus trade value. Just don’t know about the opportunity cost.
Everyone else was in a tight band of 7-11% on RPs except for Ray Flowers and Tim McLeod who came in between 4-5%. Both drafted 4 closers between rounds 15-30 which mirrored my play from last year. I prefer Tim’s RP1 in Jose LeClerc vs Ray’s Jorge Lopez (both taken in 15th round)
|Middle Infielders||The glut of MIs, especially SS, has made ‘scarcity’ arguments scarce. I just wanted to avoid filling up on MIs too quickly.||I had my second straight AWFUL MI season in a row. After 2021’s awful ‘no MIs in first 10 rounds draft), I splurged last year and got injury-whipped with Albies/Franco/Chisholm and then super duper bargain Oneil Cruz got left on the farm for half a year.
I split the difference this year using a 3rd (Jazz), 9th (Amed Rosario), 11th (Nico Hoerner), and 22nd (Brendan Donovan). So I’m relying on MI to really help in SB and then contribute in the other four. The question marks include health (Jazz), lineup position (Hoerner, Donovan), and playing time (Donovan).
|MIs in the first 15 rounds went about 10 picks ahead of ADP so the room was a little more bullish than the average pick.
The best bargains tended to be guys who are balanced contributors like my Rosario/Hoerner + Mike Podhorzer’s Wander Franco but there were similar players who went 1+ rounds ahead of ADP. Get ur guys?
|Catchers||I used to prefer punting Catchers given the demands of the position lead to greater injury risk and more volatile offensive numbers IMO.
I have increased my adjustment for catchers slightly and snag my first catcher somewhere between rounds 4-12 when there is value and there isn’t a more pressing draft need.
|Despite considerable heckling from the Razzball DM room, my Varsho pick in round 7 last year was one of my best. I expected better AVG and less power than he provided but the PAs and SBs delivered as hoped. D’Arnaud in the 16th round was fine though I wish I chose Kirk instead.
This year ended up similar to 2022 with a 7th round investment in Alejandro Kirk and 13th round in Cal Raleigh. This ended up being 9.5% of my draft capital which was the third most in the room.
|The 6.9% spent on catchers is a meaningful jump from recent years (5.5% 2022, 4.8% in 2021, 4.6% in 2020).
The 15 catchers drafted in the first 15 rounds averaged just 3 picks above ADP. The 8 catchers taken between round 16-20 averaged 30 picks above ADP. So a little bit of panic in the room.
The top investors at catcher were Fred Zinkie at 16.1% (Realmuto/Sal Perez) and Tim McLeod at 15.7% (Varsho/Melendez + speculative bid on Endy Rodriguez in 22nd)
Four teams spent less than 3.5% with Mike Podhorzer going full dumpster dive at 0% (Elias Diaz/Joey Bart) and Steve Gardner at 1.8% (Bo Naylor/Carson Kelly).
|Starting Pitchers||Draft quality and quantity. Mix upside and consistency but put a little more weight on quality vs quantity of IP.
Get 7-8 SPs you feel comfortable starting in most weeks. Draft 1-2 extra SP if there is value or upside.
|For the second straight year, I finished 3rd in draft capital spent on SPs (again, assuming Ohtani used 25% of time as SP) with 31%.
After taking Ohtani/Burnes/Darvish in the first 6 rounds, I slowly added SPs throughout rest of draft with Lance Lynn (10th), Brady Singer (14th), Alex Cobb (16th), Andrew Painter (19th), Kyle Bradish (23rd) and Cody Morris (28th).
I like the quality of SPs but, given I likely need to play Ohtani more as a UTIL, I feel like I could use another SP especially if Painter doesn’t make the team. Cody Morris is an easy cut in the 80+% chance he doesn’t make the opening day rotation.
|The room averaged 8.7 SPs which is a slight tick up from last year’s 8.5 SPs/team.
The average SP draft capital expenditure was 27% and ranged from 21% (Piacenti) to 32% (Zinkie).
All teams had 7-10 SPs with 4 having 10 and 2 having 7.
I noted Jennifer Piacenti’s potentially fragile SP haul earlier. I liked Scott Pianowski’s triple SP2 / double RP2 build with Valdez/Musgrove/Ray and Alexis Diaz + Sewald. Drafting only two more SPs through round 22 (Stripling/Lauer) feels light and his SP resilience will be tested week one with the bad break in Musgrove’s toe.
That said, based on my projected teams ranks for W/ERA/WHIP/K, Pianowski got the best ‘bang for the buck’ in the room.
|Speed||SBs are generally in such short supply that it is more important than ever to have a plan for where you can draft speed at value.
BUT, after considerably prioritizing speed in last year’s early rounds, my experience this year is that the situation is not as dire.
|I am not prioritizing SBs this year but have no desire to punt it. As I stretch out my hitter $ to spend more on pitching, I am increasingly open to zag from the standard fantasy preference to get speed from power/speed types vs guys where more of their value comes from SBs.
Ohtani/Jazz was a strong enough SB start that I never had to go out of my way for speed. Amed Rosario and Nico Hoerner came at discounts and no other player on my team is projected to contribute more than 10 SB. My team projects above average in SBs but clearly will be driven by Jazz’s health.
|The top 26 SB contributors were drafted on average 2 picks earlier than ADP so there was no draft day premium vis-a-vis NFBC.