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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:

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
  • 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…

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!

@LanceBrozdow

Even more of my writing can be found over on my brainchild, BigThreeSports.com.

   
  1. swaggerjackers says:
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    After drafting Synder, Cueto, McCullers, Duffy, and Paxton on my squad, I’m tempted to not take a single starter until round 10 then hit it hard for the next 5 rounds.

    According to Tristen’s early 2018 rankings, pitchers outside the top 100 include: Berrios, Tanaka, Rich Hill, Luke Weaver, Jon Gray, Zack Godley, Cobb, Danny Salazar, Tailon, Ervin, Chase Anderson, Happ, Aaron Sanchez, Lamet,etc, etc, etc.

    I could live with a staff consisting of some combination of those guys know + a streamer or two.

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @swaggerjackers:
      Yeah, I noticed the depth as well around 100 and beyond. Really going to be about exposure and which of those hit. All have their knocks, all have their upside. Gotta find the 2018 Godley/Severino.

      You have the right mindset!

  2. J-FOH says:
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    I have two words for Lester….DAVID ROSS

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @J-FOH:
      Ha!

      I wonder how much of an effect that has honestly, comfort on the mound is huge for some SPs, especially those as seasoned as Lester.

      • CMUTimmah says:
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        @Lance: AMEN! Predraft, I wrote a note on my draft sheet that said “DO NOT DRAFT, HIS CATCHER IS DANCING WITH THE STARS” I did NOT want any part of Lester, and ended up with him anyway when he fell to me in like the 6th round after taking DeGrom ahead of him. I figured I was getting value there… I was way, way wrong.

        If it wasn’t for Severino, Nola, Kuechel, and Verlander all working out and taking me to a title, I’d be very angry with myself for not listening to myself…

        • Lance

          Lance says:
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          @CMUTimmah:
          I’ll keep an eye on the new dancing with the stars, if they’re all catchers, I’ll have a nice crop of guys I won’t be drafting hahahaha

          As J-FOHH says below, the catcher issue is interesting, but I think it stems more from Lester himself.

          I think we sometimes overblow the easy reason cause it makes sense, instead of going to the much more complex answer and digging through it (I’m guilty of this all the time).

      • J-FOH says:
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        @Lance: I know Tim McCarver was Steve Carltons catcher and I believe Bob Uecker caught Phil Biekro. Mirabelli only caught Wakefield and when AJ Ellis was with the Dodgers he always caught Kershaw. There are countless examples. The one constant is all these guys had filthy ball movement like Lester. I think there is something to this…. baseball stuff. But besides all this I really enjoyed the read. Maybe razzball baseball should just be you ralph and grey

        • Lance

          Lance says:
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          @J-FOH:
          Hahaha that means a lot J-FOH! I appreciate it, I look up to those two, honored to get that kind of praise.

          We’ll be killing the offseason coverage, don’t you doubt that. I gotta step up my game!

          With regards to the catcher pairing, I think movement thing is interesting.

          It probably has to do with more with gameplan and syncing up. I can imagine if you’re on the mound and constantly disconnecting with a guy on approach, it can be distracting.

          The simpler example is just that SPs are creatures of habit. Some can survive with routine in other forms, but others just need a certain catcher to feel comfortable.

          Movement might be a factor too, I’d almost classify that as deception on a ball out of one’s hand and how that’s framed however. If a guy hides the ball well, and the catcher isn’t good at framing it, I would bet as an SP you’d get pretty tired of feeling like you lose calls to a bad catcher.

          Then again these guys are professionals. If you work with any pitcher long enough, you’re going to adapt to him. Some probably just have low tolerance for that window of time if it extends.

          So many intangibles, really fun to debate this.

          • J-FOH says:
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            @Lance: pitchers by definition are usually quirky people. I’m sure trying to catch a knuckleballer is no picnic and I agree with you about creatures of habit. I recall when Cueto went to KC, Sal Perez had to adapt his stance behind the plate to catch him. I love numbers but as I came along in fantasy I always remember the baseball side of it. I’ve had the luxury of knowing an ex pro player and he tells me all kinds of kooky things and stuff I missed as a fantasy analyst…. he also really hates Dominicans. That’s why this is fun. Numbers, arm slots, swing planes, adjustments, tweaks. My dodgers have kept me busy with adjustments to wood, Taylor and now darvish this year. No number tells that tale.

            • Lance

              Lance says:
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              @J-FOH:
              You’re spot on with all of this J-FOH.

              Knuckleballers must be absolutely insane to catch, I feel like it’s a dying art as well. So few left, and the two I can think of (Dickey, Wright) are older than most, although that’s a common theme.

              Love the baseball side as well, it’s vital to blend both to create consumable content. I’ve seen a lot out there that seems ingenious, but doesn’t catch because the application. I’ve taken to connecting periodically with a former independent ball player when I want to understand something better, or simply to shoot him a theory on something for other columns.

              Did you hear the other night (on broadcast) that Kershaw saw something in Darvish’s timing and thought he should adjust it? Goes out and deals – stuff like that just boggles my mind. Would love to have Kershaw break down what it was.

              • J-FOH says:
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                @Lance: haha I did catch that! Kersh!!!!

                I remember when my dad pointed out Takashi Saitos slider from middle level down the third base side after seeing it once. I’m like WTF. But he was right and I went home to add him because the Dodgers needed a closer coincidentally. The old man was right. I love observations in baseball. I automatically go to the follow through on a pitcher to know if I like them. I don’t even look at the arm until I see where the shoulder goes and how they bend at the waist. If they don’t do that then I automatically have trust issues. It’s my quirk. It’s also why I hate Carlos Rodon. He has raw talent for days and could be amazing but that man refuses to bend at the waist and follow through to the plate. And I think that’s why he always gets hurt. His delivery is un natural.

                • Lance

                  Lance says:
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                  @J-FOH:
                  Love it man!

                  Rodon is an interesting one, I’ve always been interested in trying to figure out what reasons for some injuries are. Rodon has always had the shoulder issue -often more worrisome than elbows- and can’t seem to escape it. I’ve always like his stuff honestly, but see where you’re coming from with the critique!

                  • J-FOH says:
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                    @Lance: maybe if he treated his arm as a whip and stopped throwing the way he did his shoulder wouldnt be so messed up

                    • Lance

                      Lance says:
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                      @J-FOH:
                      Whip it, whip it real good

        • Laura Holt

          Laura Holt says:
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          @J-FOH: Great article, Lance! Love “false blanket” for SPs that you erroneously think are boring but safe — I think my #1 false blanket this year was Maeda. Hope you don’t mind if I borrow the term in my future articles… which, evidently, I wouldn’t be writing here if my former follower (insert sad, confused emoji) J-FOH got his way…

          • J-FOH says:
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            @Laura Holt: Laura! My way? I’ve never said a bad thing about you. I told Grey at the Dodger game what great work you did. I just took the season off and went on a walk about, like Crocodile Dundee. I would never slander the first lady of Razzball

            • Lance

              Lance says:
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              @J-FOH:
              I have made it an offseason goal of mine to mix that picture I saw on twitter seamlessly into a column of mine.

              Just wait….

              • J-FOH says:
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                @Lance: you mean the video I made with Grey. I wasn’t in love with Maeda this year either. But it was mainly because after the innings logged last year and the first year post Japan, my gut said he wasnt going to be the same. Doesnt matter too much because he is a beast in the pen

                • Lance

                  Lance says:
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                  @J-FOH:
                  Was that a video?!

                  Jeeze my memory is shot hahaha

                • Laura Holt

                  Laura Holt says:
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                  @J-FOH: I was referring to ” Maybe razzball baseball should just be you ralph and grey”! But moving on, I almost dropped Maeda in a couple leagues but was at the game, about 10 rows behind home plate, in the first game he pitched out of the pen… his stuff looked so sick I had to hold on to him. I’m already stressing out over who my “go-to” mid-draft starters are going to be next year — I want to break up with almost all of them!

                  • Lance

                    Lance says:
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                    @Laura Holt:
                    He was one of those guys who had kind-of-appealing peripherals all year. I know Streamonator liked a ton of his starts, I rolled him out there a few times. But in sum, yeah, it wasn’t 2016 Maeda.

                    I’m interested to see where he’s sitting next year though. He sat 174-221 in the set of four mocks Mason is running. I personally think that is great value for a guy who had a virtually identical K/BB two years in a row.

                    He’s tempting for 2018!

                  • J-FOH says:
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                    @Laura Holt: I totally forgot about you when I wrote that and was just giving hell to the guys here. I could never give you hell. I’m the worst person ever. My sincerest apologies.

                    • Laura Holt

                      Laura Holt says:
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                      @J-FOH: As long as we’ve cleared that up! ; )

                    • J-FOH says:
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                      @Laura Holt: I’m glad we can move past this. I owe you one

          • Lance

            Lance says:
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            @Laura Holt:
            Laura!

            Thanks a ton for the kind words. Absolutely use “false blanket” – Maeda is a great example. I have to say, I didn’t see this coming from Lester however.

            My #1 false blanket probably would’ve been Arrieta. I had him in a bust post of mine (… I think haha), I’ll call him Lance’s Maeda hahaha

            Looking forward to more of your work.

            • Laura Holt

              Laura Holt says:
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              @Lance: Thanks, you too! And I feel like I’d need to get a hell of a deal to draft Lester next year… no matter how many charts and graphs I see on him, I’m more worried about the mental end of things and he just seems way too unpredictable to be worth a serious investment (#47?!) at this point.

              • Lance

                Lance says:
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                @Laura Holt:
                I’m on the same page with you for Lester. I don’t know who took him 45th, but dam, that’s some wild stuff.

                Only logic with that is completely scrapping 2016, which you just can’t do without perfect information.

  3. CMUTimmah says:
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    I’ve owned Jon Lester two times in my life. 2012 and 2017. I’m not saying David Ross was the only reason, I feel like somehow I’m more of a curse than the Madden Cover also.

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @CMUTimmah:
      Love this hahahaha (the madden curse comp… not you owning an underperforming SP…)

  4. thorbs says:
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    Great writeup…

    Just a thought for a future article that would need some bold calls – who do you think might be the “next in line” to take the Big 4s place?

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @thorbs:
      I like this idea actually! Going to put it in the back of the mind. I think I’m going with deeper sleeper form these mocks next, but the projecting of elites is much more interesting.

      First name that jumps to mind for me is Luis Castillo.

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