“I did it. It’s done,” Grey said, running his hand through his mustache in splendid celebration. A fire roared in the hearth and cup of sparkling Fresca waited by his side. He pulled on his faux fur thrift store coat, looking every bit the 5’7″ “Legend of Los Angeles” that Fantasy Baseballer Magazine had dubbed him. He moved to his easy chair, reached for the remote, and turned off the National Geographic documentary about the hunting patterns of the Siberian Tiger, which always put him in the mood “to eat the competition” in the draft room. With clear eyes and full heart, he recited his daily mantra, I am the fantasy master lothario. 40 rounds, player upon player upon player upon sleeper. Like a talk show host, he fended off attacks from the left and the right and emerged above the fray, insouciant to what carnage he left in his path.
His mental respite was shattered when Cougs came rushing through the door, home from the grocery store. She whipped off her mask, panting, the twinkle of a tear down her cheek. “Grey, I’m so sorry. Cookie crumbled!” she said.
Grey looked at the grocery bag with a knowing smile. “It’s OK, I was going to bake macaroons this weekend anyway.” He took the grocery bag, finding it light and devoid of gateaux. “Cougs must have tossed them in the trash before coming in,” he thought to himself.
The sound of the Price is Right “loser” horn startled him — the sound of a text incoming from Donkey Teeth. Grey pulled out his iPhone 5 and typed in the password: FML2020. The text from DT read, I’m sorry about Cookie. “Huh, I wonder why Cougs told Donkey about the crumbled cookies,” Grey wondered. Elbows are always the problem, another text chimed in. “Elbows?” Grey ruminated.
“Hey Cougs!,” Grey shouted across the kitchen, “Why were you buying gingerbread? It’s like 80 degrees outside.”
Did you make sure to draft David Peterson as backup? Bum-bum-buh-bummmm, whaaaaaa.
It dawned on Grey. Cookie. Crumbled. Elbow. Carlos Carrasco — SP1 — was hurt! His best fantasy team! A mental montage played through of the worst moments in his life: that Slam Diego rap video, the time he had to watch Magic Mike with his mom, and going on the Tea Cups at DisneyLand after eating 3 chili cheese dogs.
“Nah, it’s cool,” Grey wrote back to Donkey. “I also got Dylan Bundy in the 10th round. I’m fine. No crisis here.” And there was no crisis. For Grey had diversified his pitchers. He refused to pay a premium on talent that wouldn’t return on his draft investment. He licked his finger, straightened his mustache, and tied his faux fur jacket at the waist.
“Cougs, put on my macaroon-making playlist!”
Practical (Draft) Magic
In case you missed last week’s Top 100 Starting Pitchers for 2021 Fantasy Baseball — which was tough to do because it was only slightly shorter than Great Expectations but with just as many side characters — I talked about the importance of A) not paying a premium on pitchers, and B) drafting complementary pitchers to help your ratios. The TL;DR on the former is that only 40% of top pitchers by consensus ADP finish in the Top 10 SP, and the latter is that you can better reach your pitching goals by diversifying your pitcher rosters. Grey might have lost Cookie for some time, and some of us — myself included — already “lost” Framber Valdez. Remember last year when Justin Verlander and Stephen Strasburg went down? Verlander was usually a first round draft pick. Losing him = disaster. What’s the past tense of disaster? Disas-turd? Crapped out? I dunno. It’s down the drain with your team either way.
As it happens, I finished my draft for The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational this last week. So, it’s a perfect time to show you how I drafted my team using my own principles, which are more or less Grey’s principles, and he was the top pitching ranker in 2020, which means that you’re basically getting a mustache-free version of enlightenment when you read me. It’s like choosing pulp or no pulp in your orange juice!
First, I identified the stats I needed to remain competitive in the competition. I went to the NFC and sorted through the historical data and then calculated — both average and standard deviation — a number of scenarios among the top teams in both hitting and pitching categories. Then, I distilled that into a small chart that was much easier to understand, which gave me my average targets:
When you find your goals, you know where you can draft complementary pitchers. Now, there are a couple industry facts that Grey and Rudy have been telling you for years, and I’ll restate them for you: you can’t reliably predict wins or saves. Wins are — of course — dependent on many factors, and you can get reasonable “ballpark” estimates of how to draft wins (i.e., draft pitchers on winning teams). But, for the most part, predicting wins is an exercise in arbitrariness. Quick! How many wins does Zac Gallen have in his MLB career? 6! How many wins did Marco Gonzales have in 2020? 7! And Marco goes 100 picks after Gallen. Ridiculous. You know who had 6 wins last year? Pete Fairbanks, the nutso setup guy for the Rays. Matt Foster — middle reliever for the White Sox — also had 6 wins. Point. Driven. All this applies to saves as well. 50% of last year’s saves leaders don’t even have closer jobs this year. Wade Davis — who had the second most saves two years ago — is a non-roster invitee to the Royals. Come on! Davis could literally save every single win for the Royals in 2021 and still come in third in saves behind Kenley “Dodgers Win!” Jansen. You can merely look for opportunity and skill and make a best guess estimate on wins and saves. ERA, WHIP, and K/9, however, are usually pretty straight forward to predict. And you can pair some pitchers together to meet your goals.
Here’s what I did in TGFBI:
- I studied the winning TGFBI teams from 2018-2020. All the teams in the top 10% of the competition had two starters by round 5. Sometimes trends are there for a reason.
- When drafting, I knew my “SP1 Targets” from my tier that I posted last week (and is re-posted here).
- Starting from the 5 slot, I drafted Mike Trout. In the second round, Bo Bichette was on the board. Couldn’t pass up another 5-tool guy in Roto. In the third round, I was faced with my biggest test: Rafael Devers was on the board. In a 15-team league with over 400 participants, you can’t pass up Rafael Devers at that value. I had my list of SP1 candidates, and many of them were still on the board. Welcome to Dong Town, Raffi!
- In rounds 4 and 5, I drafted Hyun-Jin Ryu and Jose Berrios. Two of these guys are on my “SP1 Draft List.” I cut and pasted it below. I know how to do that because I homeschool a second grader.
- In round 7, I drafted Framber Valdez. Pre-injury pick, duh. However, when his finger injury turned into a year-threatening mangling, I knew I could pivot and replace him quickly on my roster. So, I found the pitchers I targeted on my SP2 list and tried to pick options that would complement my Ryu/Berrios start.
- In rounds 12-13, I took Andrew Heaney and Chris Bassitt, followed by the recently-signed Jake Odorizzi in round 17. For every Framber you loose, an Odorizzi opens.
So, there’s my starting rotation: Hyun-Jin Ryu, Jose Berrios, Andrew Heaney, Chris Bassitt, and Jake Odorizzi. I also have 5 more SP that I got at the end of the draft: Matthew Boyd, J.A. Happ, David Peterson, Austin Gomber, and Alec Mills. You know who is in the Top 50 WAR, Top 10 IP, and Top 30 Ks since 2016? J.A. Happ. Blerg. But also, “Value!” But for now, let’s break down the predicted stats for my starting 5 using a couple of projection systems. I give you my goal and the standard deviation (SD) of the top 15 teams in the TGFBI competition.
ERA Goal: ~3.80, SD=~0.21
WHIP Goal = ~ 1.18, SD=~.03
K/9 Goal = ~ 9.71, SD=~.40
Let’s do one of those spiels that Grey does where he does the hypothetical yelling at himself thing.
THIS IS DUMB. YOU DIDN’T MEET ANY OF YOUR GOALS.
Remember the part where I said I did a bunch of study on previous TGFBI winners? They all had top hitting teams. Pitching merely needed to be competitive. So I prioritized meeting my hitting goals. Additionally, I gave you the average pitching results of those teams; some were much better, some were much worse. I’m basically in the middle. If you take the high side of the standard deviation on each goal, that’s where I wind up. I’m cool with that. I put together a starting squad that nearly matched the pitching scores of top TGFBI teams without expending premium draft capital on pitchers.
BUT YOUR GOALS
Don’t be a slave to goals. They’re guideposts. In last week’s article, I gave you about 400 words about why I think Hyun-Jin Ryu will do significantly better than the projection systems have him ranked. Know what happens if we plug in Ryu’s 3-year average instead of his projections (which both Grey and I contend are skewed)? I meet all of my goals. Except K/9.
HAHA! I GOT YOU ON THE K/9! ADMIT DEFEAT!
Actually it’s a Roto league, so total strikeouts are the key. You don’t need to be efficient in this league. And in your league — like, *your* league, the one that *you*play in — you probably don’t need to be efficient either. Quick! Who’s projected for more strikeouts this year: Jose Berrios (9.41 K/9, ADP 91) or Zac Gallen (10.25 K/9, ADP 51)? It’s Berrios. How about something more extreme, like Zack Wheeler (8.06 K/9, ADP 113) or Kenta Maeda (10.11 K/9, ADP 58)? Yup, it’s Wheeler. How about Zack Greinke, who barely throws 90MPH and is ADP 112, versus the hot taek Zach Plesac, ADP 77? It’s Greinke by a factor of 10%. Always take the Zack with a K for the, you know, Ks. Zach with an H should be a setup man or something.
WHY ARE YOU DRIVING THIS POINT INTO THE GROUND?
Because unless you’re in one of those wonky K/9 leagues, you could draft Berrios, Wheeler, and Greinke and defeat a roster of Gallen, Maeda, and Plesac in the strikeouts category while drafting them 3-4 rounds later. Look at my team: I reached my goals by taking unsexy pitchers at reasonable draft value.
So! Draft strategy takeaway: Diamond Hands. You. Will. Be. OK.
Don’t believe me? Small sample size? Let’s try another league. Catch me below this picture.
This is the public leaderboard provided by Derek Rhoads for the RazzSlam, showing the projections for my team within my league. That 243.8 team, leading the league by nearly 15% in projected points? Yup, mine. When did I draft my first pitcher? Sonny Gray in round 7. My rotation? Sonny Gray, Jose Berrios, Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Patrick Corbin, Andrew Heaney, Robbie Ray (swoon!), Yusei Kikuchi (swoon!), and Madison Bumgarner. I met all my goals and more in that league. I added Jose Quintana and J.A. Happ after I snapped this, too.
Of course, know your league scoring and settings to adjust your pitcher ratio. My home league is a points league where pitchers are overpowered, and I usually take them in the 3rd round (I got Jack Flaherty this year, swoon!). Faithful readers know that Rudy usually targets a pitcher in the 2nd/3rd round of his 15-team leagues, but that’s still Jack Flaherty/Luis Castillo range by ADP. I would love them as my SP1. But unless you’re seeing pitchers fall in ADP, keep those diamond hands steady, and draft hitters while you’re waiting for the return on investment for pitchers to come to fruition.
So, we’re at 1800 words and I’ve given you the most important thing I can give: draft strategy. Here are your mantras going into your draft:
- Rankings are just organizing your draft strategy. Don’t be a slave to “hierarchy.”
- ADP is a trap. Use ADP to estimate when you can acquire your players, not how to value your players. This is one of the hardest mindsets to unlearn and it takes practice.
- Diversify across leagues. If you’re playing in just one home league, this doesn’t matter. But if you’re “industry” or “semi-pro” or trying to make some money, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Injuries happen. Cookies crumble. Diversify.
News and Notes
Mike Minor: Minor’s on the Royals now and throwing 94 in spring training, which is way above his career average. He’s a back-end guy in standard leagues and a good rotation filler in best balls. His upside is capped on the Royals, but KC also brought in a ton of new talent this year, so that other team in MO might surprise.
Robbie Ray: Throwing 97 in spring training, nearly 5% above his career average. You know the problem though? His fastball was the problem. He couldn’t locate it worth a damn. Unless throwing really, really hard solves 5 BB/9 issues, velocity means nothing other than the impact energy when he nails somebody in the chest. It was his sinker that was the easiest pitch to locate and batters couldn’t do anything with. But he’s looked good in spring training so far. Fingers crossed for my sweet prince.
Sonny Gray: Dealing with back spasms. Had them last year, too, which caused 2 bad games in an otherwise fine year. You know who had four bad games and wasn’t injured but did run out of pine tar? Gerrit Cole. Caution on Gray.
Madison Bumgarner: Throwing near his career-average fastball speed. Looking good in spring training. He’s only 31. He’s a year younger than Stephen Strasburg. Recovery possible? Indeed. He reported that he skipped his throwing regimen last year during the pandemic, which led to a sub-90 MPH fastball and an injury. Looks like he’s back on track this year…maybe? Definitely worth a grab in tournaments.
Stephen Strasburg: I gave Stras a lot of crap last week. I’m still not drafting him anywhere important. There’s very little track record of success returning from carpal tunnel surgery in pitchers, mostly because it’s a bit rare of a condition. David Price is one example. Look at David Price and tell me you want that in the 5th round. Again, if I’m wrong on Stras, I’ll take that L. But the guy couldn’t feel his hand last year, and success in spring training is a mirage. We won’t know until May, at the least, to see whether his stuff maintains. On top of all this [waves hands wildly at the previous sentence] he was pulled from Sunday’s start with lower body stuff. [redacted puberty joke here] ENYWHEY. No, don’t draft him unless you’re being contrarian.
Shohei Ohtani: He’s been a bit all over the place. Which is what he is. People think he’s supposed to be the second coming of early career MadBum — good with the arm, good with the bat, plays in California — but truth is, he’s a league standard player. That’s it. There’s nothing wrong with just being average. Except public perception is that he’s this “fallen from grace” angel that needs to be redeemed. Just let him be. He’s probably going to be a nightmare to own in standard formats. But if you’ve got best ball scoring — especially on NFC where he counts as both a pitcher and a batter — he’ll be a steal at his current ADP. Take the good and leave the bad in best ball.
Corey Kluber: Looking good in spring training. But recalling my off-season breakdown of pitchers of his age coming back from nearly 2 years off: it’s Bartolo Colon and Rich Hill that have had any measure of success in the past decade. Kluber would be the third pitcher of his age in the last decade to return any semblance of fantasy value after extended time off due to injury. Draft at your own peril. Plenty of good pitchers out there at his ADP (Tyler Mahle, Zach Eflin, Aaron Civale, Triston McKenzie all going after Kluber), so I’m passing on the former ace.
Patrick Corbin: Drop in velocity last year led to career-worst numbers. Sounds like a lot of pitchers struggled last year, right? Wonder why. Maybe the same reason so many pitchers were injured. And a half-million Americans died. Huh. Maybe I should turn on the news and find out why. ENYWHEY. Velo back into “normal-ish” range. Could be a huge value. You can see I took him in RazzSlam, and I’m hunting him elsewhere as well.
Carlos Carrasco: Cookie’s got a sore elbow. “It always happens in spring training!” the coaches say. Then April comes and they say, “It’s still sore, so let’s try a platelet rich plasma injection.” And then May comes and they say, “Long toss from 120 feet!” And June comes and it’s “Felt a twinge in his elbow in his first start of the year, going to see Dr. Freeze.” And then you see Cookie in 2023. Blergh. I hope this isn’t the trajectory. Please, please don’t let it be the trajectory. But even if Cookie is fine and he really is just a slow starter, the Mets are reporting that he’s good to go. Have the Mets ever been wrong about injuries? Never ever. I’m not moving him in the ranks, but you should be cautious as all get out about drafting him.
Kwang Hyun Kim: Sore back. Missing playing time in spring training [teeth sucking noises]. The Cardinals aren’t short on pitchers, and Kim was already “friend zoned” last year between spot-starter and rotation member. His upside was already pretty limited, and he’s gonna be a streamer for me. I haven’t drafted him in any format yet.
Tejay Antone: Wade Miley was supposed to be the 5th starter on the Reds, but he’s injured, and Antone has sizzled in spring training. Stonks are going up, but he’s also the 5th starter / spot-starter on a middling team in the NL Central. Blerg. Definitely a streamer in standard leagues if not a last-round flier. For tournaments though? Smash the draft button if you’ve got the rest of your rotation figured out. Also, after I wrote this, he strained his groin. This is why we can’t have nice things. Cautious end of rotation guy.
Tarik Skubal: After basically saving the face of the Tigers franchise last year — and there was nothing to actually save so that’s not a monumental statement — Skubal still ins’t guaranteed a rotation spot. Seriously. Michael Fulmer got blown out on Sunday, and he’s supposed to be the third starter. Jose Urena walked as many batters as he struck out last year. Julio Teheran…you’re going to put Juilo in before Skubal? OK, it’s the new-look Tigers under can-banger A.J. Hinch, and the Tigers aren’t competing in 2021. Hinch doesn’t want to play for this year, but instead line up players for the future [waves hands and does jazz fingers]. If Skubal doesn’t open the year in the rotation, it’s because the Tigers are trying to get some sort of value out of players like Teheran so they can trade them away in June before unleashing the Skubal, Mize, and Manning Project, which is also the name of an awesome jazz combo. I used the words jazz three times in this paragraph! Caution on Sk00bs.
I said it last week and I’ll say it again: tiers. Really, don’t overthink it. Draft your pitching squad based on complementary skills if you’re in Roto formats, and opportunity if you’re in points formats. If you want my detailed breakdown on the tiers with comments, go check in on last week’s entry. A couple players moved but nothing to be shocked about. Yes there are a bunch of ties. Leave your questions and comments down in the boxes below and leave your hate mail in your desk. Have an awesome week and see you soon!
- K/9 = Strikeouts per nine innings
- SwSt% = Swinging strike percentage
- FIP = Fielding Independent Pitching
- Barrel% = Percentage of Batted Ball Events that a batter connected on the barrel.
- HardHit+ = Relative to the league average (100), was a player hit harder (>100) or weaker (<100).
|Tier 1: Set it and Forget It|
|Tier 2: Your SP1|
|Tier 2 Sub-Tier A: Risky SP1/Elite SP2|
|Tier 3 Sub-Tier A: SP2 with Top 20 Upside|
|Tier 3 Sub-Tier B: SP 3-5 to Support Your Rotation|
|4||Lance McCullers Jr.||9.16||11.4||3.7||10.3||116|
|Tier 4 Sub Tier A: Streamers|
|Tier 4 Sub-Tier B: Dart Throws and Best Ball Pitchers|
|Kwang Hyun Kim||5.54||7.3||3.88||4.2||94|
Aye, you made it this far, didn’t ya. EverywhereBlair is, well, located at home right now. He’s a historian and lover of prog-metal. He enjoys a good sipping rum. When he’s not churning data and making fan fiction about Grey and Donkey Teeth, you can find him dreaming of shirtless pictures of Lance Lynn on Twitter @Everywhereblair.