A few weeks ago, I wrote about four analyst mock drafts currently taking place at the benevolence of Justin Mason. With so much to digest, content ideas swirl around as I determine what would be most beneficial to the masses of Razzball. Ironically, this wavering over what to highlight in the mock drafts has delayed my reaction to what has unfolded so far. If there is one thing I’ve learned in this great community of fantasy baseball nuts, it’s the power Twitter has to spur ideas. I tip my hat to you, Mr. Farnsworth:
Mock 1: 89
Mock 2: 100
Mock 3: 165
Mock 4: 47
— Keith Farnsworth (@fantasy_keith) September 29, 2017
Talk about variance. Certain tweets elicit a violent shake, like your dog emerging from water – or maybe you emerging from your shower — nevermind, I don’t like that visual — and this was one of them.
I’m enamored with analyst mock drafts early in the offseason because we’re drafting off knowledge, gut, and less research than normal. Once we hit March, ADP for most players is tough to move. The majority of fantasy industry has a tendency to draft with an eye on predetermined ranks when they’re plastered right in front of you, and even though that affect may be present in the room Mason has built for us, with so little projection and ADP to go off of, the impact is dampened.
Let’s start with Lester himself — a pitcher the general population knows more for his infamous case of the yips – or “the creature” for Khris Davis — than playoff prowess and formation of a stellar career.
2017 is by far the worst he has pitched since 2012. Both periods of time earn the general tag of “outlier” but his most recent lapse comes at the spry age of 33. Consistent mechanics have been a staple of Lester’s game; perennial carbon copy is a great phrase to use, from his arm slot to pace to follow-through and beyond. I salivate at seasons like Lester’s 2017 as troves of mechanical digging often sprout in the face of failure. Yet, the only real change I see is a slight convergence of release point on all his pitches — invisible on television to the untrained eye.
Eno Sarris, of Fangraphs and The Athletic, pegs the inability to establish an inside fastball to righties and the subsequent home run issue as an obvious culprit for his struggle. Lester’s four-seamer and the pitch’s laughable effectiveness eerily resembles that of 2012, and with his insistence on using the pitch early in counts — ~10% more likely to use his four-seamer when batter is ahead, or first pitch in at-bat — it seems like an inescapable loop of disappointment. On top of that, his sluggish velocity suggests there might be more than one reason for producing a 2017 with a step back. I would venture a guess the issues relate to something more than just mechanics, and predicting how well he can correct is the key to his 2018 season.
Speaking of “playoff prowess,” just to confuse us more, Lester hurled six innings of one-run ball against a Nationals lineup that faired well against left-handed pitchers during the regular season (top 10 wRC+ v LHP). His repertoire didn’t veer much from his regular season; mixing in a changeup slightly more than usual and leaning on his sinker at an above average rate. Why I’m not immediately back on board after one decent start in a big spot is because we didn’t see Lester go back to establishing his fastball inside, as Sarris mentioned was an overarching issue. His plan versus both lefties and righties was to stay away, and it seems like the Nationals obliged.
Thankfully, Lester’s 2017 fantasy season is over. Please don’t look at our Player Rater for the names nearest the Cubbie; I’ll do it for you.
Matt Albers 196th overall.
Jon Lester 200th overall.
Lester was the ninth pitcher off the board this season in NFBC leagues, let’s reminisce over the chunk of others inside the top 20 that didn’t turn out so well…
- Madison Bumgarner – 3rd SP, currently 291 overall
- Why? Dirtbikes.
- Noah Syndergaard – 4th SP, currently 503 overall
- Why? The Mets.
- Jake Arrieta – 8th SP, currently 90 overall
- Why? His 2016 FIP is almost identical to his 2017 ERA… didn’t somebody tell me that was a better predictor of success or something? Hello… is this thing on?
- Johnny Cueto – 10th SP, currently 347 overall
- Why? The Giants are an even-year team, obviously.
Elite arms – for the second year in a row – will dictate drafting strategy. Jeff Zimmerman points out in his own analysis that Kershaw-Sale-Kluber-Scherzer each went in varying orders, on average, prior to the end of round two. In the past, drafters have been pretty good with calling these top names (Bumgarner’s injury was a fluke, Syndergaard… well, I’ll say less of a fluke). But after that, as I break out above from the prior year, the field becomes landmines. And I really don’t expect much to change in 2018.
If you’re not one of those four teams getting a bonafide ace, it’s hard to rationalize reaching for any pitcher until you start to round out your offense.
Lester is 2o16’s example of this philosophy. Coming into the 2017 season, he seemed like a rational pick to lead your staff if you were pitching averse, but the level of comfort a fringe-centerpiece like Lester gives you is a false blanket. Instead of vulturing value off the bottom of SP tiers, becoming enamored with a pitcher before the sixth round starts is a strategy that I have not liked the resulting team’s structure of in these early mocks.
Each year, starting pitcher presents a slew of decisions for owners: when to start, who to target, how many, and how often.
Lester’s ADP variance between Mason’s four mocks is a reminder to remain salient of what betting on a pitcher — that isn’t Kershaw-Sale-Kluber-Scherzer — can do to your team even before the draft ends, and well into the heart of the season. Each of those mocks possessed a different owner tendency to invest in an asset with a track record for greatness and now acute anxiety over performance and age. Each had some trouble valuing a pitcher of a tier that we’ve all plucked arms from in real drafts and become incorrectly content with the base they have. This year will become a season laying off those meddling “elite” starters in favor of the buckshot strategy. When you see the offensive value around where Lester is going if drafted as an early SP2 like he was in mock #4, you’ll wholeheartedly agree.
For now, I’ll leave you this week with an Easter egg of sorts. In searching for Keith Farnsworth’s tweet above, Twitter led me to this gem from six-plus years ago, good times…
— Mock Draft Central (@MockDraftCent) February 12, 2011
Oh, and you can check out the mock drafts by following any of the four links in this tweet.
You’re not following me on Twitter?! SHAME!
Even more of my writing can be found over on my brainchild, BigThreeSports.com.