On my old blog, I posted a lot about my fantasy baseball teams. After finishing my final fantasy baseball draft yesterday, I decided to resurrect that old tradition here. This post will recap the draft for my NL only league that took place about two weeks ago. I’ll blog later about yesterday’s mixed league draft.
I started playing in NL only league because I wanted a challenge of playing in a deep fantasy baseball league. As a San Francisco Giants fan, I know a lot more about the National League, so this was a pretty good pick. It was also a way to apply all the knowledge I’ve accumulated from reading many years of the Baseball Prospectus annual books.
Let’s go round-by-round. (Overall draft position is in parentheses)
1. Kris Bryant (3) – As a general rule, I prefer having the first or last pick in the first round in a snake draft in order to have back-to-back picks between rounds. I didn’t get the first pick overall, but drafting third isn’t bad at all. More importantly, I got the player I would have drafted first overall if given the chance. For the record, the first two picks were Nolan Arenado and Clayton Kershaw.
There isn’t a lot to say about Kris Bryant. He’s the reigning MVP on the defending champs. What seals the deal for me is that he’s eligible to slot in as an outfielder for fantasy purposes. Third base is surprisingly deep this year, and past experience has taught me that outfield is often deceptively shallow. In any event, I think Bryant is the best player in the National League. No need to get fancy with the first round.
2. Johnny Cueto (18) – I had hoped to select Madison Bumgarner here, but he was taken with the last pick of the first round at tenth overall. My NL only team last year was decimated by injuries, which exposed a lack of pitching depth. I had the explicit goal of drafting at least one frontline starting pitcher. Johnny Cueto would be a number one starter on most Major League teams, and he’s reliable as hell. The fact he plays for my favorite baseball team doesn’t hurt either.
3. Buster Posey (23) – As an avid San Francisco Giants fan, it’s nice to have my favorite team’s best player on my fantasy team. I try to get Posey whenever I can in fantasy baseball. Taking him 23rd overall actually represented a discount because the ESPN rankings had him at 19th. If a fantasy team has to have a catcher, then he might as well be the best one in baseball.
4. Mark Melancon (38) – This decision was partially made for me because the other player I had considered for this draft slot, Gregory Polanco, was taken a few picks earlier. I normally don’t like drafting relief pitchers early, but the position is unusually shallow in the National League. I think it has something to do with the large number of NL teams in some stage of decline or rebuilding. Melancon is the undisputed closer for a good team. He’s consistent, reliable, and boring. These are ideal qualities I want in a closer. Again, being on the Giants didn’t hurt either.
5. Brandon Belt (43) – Yes, I drafted another Giant. No, it wasn’t entirely because of that. First base is a weird position is this year in fantasy baseball. After the guys at the top, it gets quickly generic. Brandon Belt represents a tipping point for me. He’s not a top player at the position, but he’s going to get reliable numbers over the course of the season. There’s also the outside chance he takes his game up to another level. I tend to view Belt as a working class man’s Joey Votto.
6. Addison Russell (58) – According to ESPN’s rankings, this was a big overdraft. However, Addison Russell was taken way too early in every mock draft I did. His value is being inflated by the Cubs recent title, but he’s still worth drafting here. He may not hit for a lot of batting average, but Russell is a rare shortstop who is hit 20 home runs this year. His excellent defense means that he won’t be part of platoon, which is something Joe Maddon will need to do because of the Cubs’ loaded roster. I was considering Stephen Piscotty here, but he was taken a few picks earlier.
7. Jake Lamb (63) – As a Giants fan, I see more the Arizona Diamondbacks than most people. I get the feeling that Jake Lamb will be the type of opposing player who performs well against the Giants for his entire career. If he’s going to cause me stress in real baseball, he might as well help my fantasy team. Additionally, Lamb is one of the few players in Arizona worth owning in fantasy baseball. He’s the unquestioned starting third baseman who’s going to hit over 20 home runs this year. Drafting Lamb also cements that Kris Bryant will be starting in the outfield for me.
8. Jameson Taillon (78) – This is the point in the draft where research and preparation started to matter. There were more question marks and less certainty. The only starting pitcher I had drafted was Johnny Cueto in the second round. Jameson Taillon isn’t without risks. He doesn’t have a long track record of success, but he has the upside of being a solid number two starter on a decent Pittsburgh Pirates team. That sounds good for about a 3.50 ERA and 150 strikeouts. I already had enough offense. I needed to draft some pitching.
9. Ben Zobrist (83) – Position versatility is overrated in fantasy baseball in mixed leagues, but it’s pretty useful in NL only leagues. It allowed me to put Kris Bryant in the outfield when I saw another third baseman I wanted, Jake Lamb, later in the draft. Ben Zobrist is eligible at second base and outfield. He’ll produce numbers good enough in fantasy for both those positions while allowing for flexibility in the later rounds of the draft.
10. Matt Moore (98) – A good fantasy team takes five good starting pitchers. At this point, I only had two. Matt Moore pitched better than the numbers suggested after getting traded to the Giants midseason. He’s the number three starting pitcher for a playoff contending team. I think he’s something of a sleeper, overshadowed by Bumgarner and Cueto.
11. Brandon Maurer (103) – This selection was dictated by math. There are 15 teams in the National League. Each of those teams has a relief pitcher solely responsible for getting saves at any given time. There are ten teams in this fantasy baseball league, meaning getting two relief pitchers as reliable sources for saves represented a numerical advantage. I already had Mark Melancon as one source for saves. Brandon Maurer was only one left as a second option after Neftali Feliz was take a few picks earlier. Maurer got the job late last year for the Padres, did well, and his main competition for the job will start the season on the disabled list.
12. Eugenio Suarez (118) – I wanted to draft Hunter Pence here as a third outfielder, but he was taken a few picks earlier. The Cincinnati Reds are deep in rebuilding mode. Eugenio Suarez took over for third base last year after the Reds traded away Todd Frazier. Suarez performed well enough to have a defined role this season without competition for playing time. I’ll slot him in at corner infielder, where he’ll hit 20 home runs with a good enough batting average.
13. Asdrubal Cabrera (123) – This is one of my favorite favorite picks in the draft. At this point, I was looking for guys with defined roles for their respective teams. Asdrubal Cabrera is the starting shortstop for a contending team who’s capable of hitting 20 home runs. He’s a surprisingly durable player on a team that usually has tons of injuries. He’ll probably have a similar season to Addison Russell, but taken at a fraction of the draft cost. Taking Cabrera here makes me feel better about reaching for Russell earlier.
14. Brandon Drury (138) – This was a speculative pick a the time of the draft. Brandon Drury didn’t have a defined defensive position last year, but ended up with a full season’s worth of statistics. Since the draft, he’s been named Arizona’s starting second baseman. With his multi-position eligibility intact, this new route to regular playing time made him more valuable since the draft. At worst, Drury will be a poor man’s Ben Zobrist in fantasy baseball terms. The collection of Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Brandon Drury allow for multiple options at middle infield and outfield.
15. Hunter Renfroe (143) – Despite the multiple lineup possibilities I mentioned earlier, I still needed starting outfielders. The San Diego Padres are awful. They will probably have the worst record in baseball this year. The organization is in the middle of full rebuild. Hunter Renfroe is the best outfielder the Padres have who has a route for regular playing time. If he gives me 20 home runs with a decent batting average, then I’ll be happy.
16. Michael Lorenzen (158) – I’m not the biggest fan of handcuffing my closers, but a strategy I like to employ is to handcuff other people’s closers. I’m not going to draft a relief pitcher like Raisel Iglesias because he represents too much of a reach. However, Michael Lorenzen will be available many rounds later while having an outside chance at taking saves away from Iglesias. Rebuilding teams like the Reds have unstable, fluid bullpen situations where roles can change quickly. Even if Lorenzen doesn’t displace Iglesias as the team’s closer, he’ll get decent peripheral numbers in strikeouts.
17. Howie Kendrick (163) – The Phillies are rebuilding. They had something of a uptick last year, but they’re still very bad. Howie Kendrick isn’t a great player. He’s not even the best player on the Phillies. However, the Phillies’ outfield was so bad last season that Kendrick was brought in simply to provide some stability. He’s also second base eligible. Kendrick is another player with a defined role for playing time and multi-position eligibility for flexibility in fantasy baseball.
18. Robert Gsellman (178) – If you’re a pitcher for the New York Mets, then you’re probably going to get hurt. That makes Robert Gsellman one of the more stable fifth starters in baseball. At least three the guys ahead of him in the Mets’ starting rotation are coming back from serious injuries. One of them (Zack Wheeler) hasn’t thrown a pitch in a Major League game since 2014. Another (Matt Harvey) had surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, which is notoriously difficult to recover from. This all means Gsellman will probably be in the Mets starting rotation all season, health permitting. As my fourth starting pitcher, he’ll at least give me innings. He’s talented enough to make them valuable innings.
19. Michael Saunders (183) – At this point in the draft, I still needed to fill two starting slots. There weren’t a lot of options left by the 19th round. As I mentioned earlier with Howie Kendrick, Michael Saunders is a veteran player brought in by the Phillies to add some stability to what was a terrible outfield situation last year. Saunders is good for about 20 home runs.
20. Adam Conley (198) – My plan was to get five starting pitchers who would cumulatively get 1,000 innings. I had drafted four starting pitchers by this point in the draft, including Robert Gsellman as something of a flier. Adam Conley is young, throws hard, and gets strikeouts. He also plays for a Marlins team that plays in a pitcher’s park with a good defensive outfield. I’ll be happy if Conley and Gsellman combine for 350 innings and 300 strikeouts with an ERA under 4.00.
21. Hunter Strickland (263) – This is purely insurance for if anything bad happens to Mark Melancon, who I took in the fourth round for saves.
22. Albert Almora (218) – I still had one starting position player slot to fill. Albert Almora was one of the few guys available who had a reasonable path to a full season’s worth of stats. Almora is the Cubs’ best defensive outfielder. The rest of the team can hit, so he’s guaranteed playing time provided he can still field. He’s also still young enough to improve at the plate.
23. Brad Hand (223) – I drafted Brad Hand as insurance for Brandon Maurer. I dropped him after I realized that my fantasy team has bigger problems if it’s relying too much on Brandon Maurer. Moreover, Hand isn’t even the next in line for saves if something happens to Maurer. I picked up Kevin Siegrist, who has a more direct route for saves for the Cardinals.
24. Corey Knebel (238) – As I mentioned earlier with Michael Lorenzen, I like drafting other people’s handcuffs for saves. The closer for the Milwaukee Brewers is currently Neftali Feliz, who has a scary injury history. Corey Knebel isn’t a great pitcher, but he’s the best option available if something happens to Feliz. I also like drafting these random relief pitchers because it eliminates the need to draft a sixth starting pitcher, which is normal for most fantasy baseball teams. Michael Lorenzen, Hunter Strickland, Kevin Siegrist, and Corey Knebel are projected by ESPN for the following: 250 innings, 250 strikeouts, 15 wins, and 19 saves.
25. Derek Law (243) – I dropped Derek Law a few days after the draft. I had already drafted Hunter Strickland as insurance for Mark Melancon, so keeping Law seemed excessive. I picked up Chris Marrero, who is part of the left field platoon for the Giants after a monster Spring Training. The NL West has a large number of left-handed starting pitchers, so Marrero should play more than most platoon players. He’s on my bench for fantasy baseball.
I like my team overall. My starting lineup has hitters who are going to get a full season’s worth of stats. I’m thin at outfield, so I’ll need my infielders with positional flexibility to make up the slack if something goes wrong. I would have also liked one more top starting pitcher, but I hope a deeper bullpen will make up for those numbers. This is a team that will require daily maintenance because of possibility flexibility and heavy bullpen reliance. My main regret is that this team has no speed at all. I’ll be scrounging for steals the entire season.
As of right now, I have six members of the San Francisco Giants on this fantasy team. As they go, I’ll go.