So I did it. Despite a decent amount of success playing this game and taking hitters in the first round of every draft I have participated in throughout the past 19 years, I went against the grain and took a pitcher in the first round. The simple explanation is that this game has changed and we must adapt. My Pocket Aces write-up goes into detail on the theory of investing in starting pitching with an early round draft pick or two. My Fantasy Assembly colleague, Kevin Jebens’ Trout vs. Kershaw write-up for who should be chosen first overall supports what I decided to do with my second overall pick in this particular draft. Kevin further supports investing in an ace in his Comparison of Starting Pitcher Tiers write-up.
This specific draft was the standard 5×5, 15-team, 50-round, slow-draft variety put on by the NFBC. The draft began in the NFBC’s opening week for such drafts in the middle of November. There is no denying that drafting a fantasy baseball team in the middle of November is the sign of an addiction. I’d be the poster boy for Draft Addicts Anonymous if such a thing were ever to exist. Hello, my name is Ron and I am a draftaholic.
Drafting a fantasy baseball team before the first bites of sweet potatoes and overrated turkey on Thanksgiving is as pure as it gets since no ADP data exists to influence a pick one way or another. If you have not tried drafting a fantasy baseball team this early, I highly encourage you to try it. Spoken like a true addict.
By now I am sure you have a clue as to what I did with my first round pick (second overall) in this draft but what shocked me the most is what I did in the second round. Here’s how the first 25 rounds played out:
1st Round Pick: Clayton Kershaw (2nd Overall)
When I landed the 2nd overall pick in this one I knew Kershaw would be my guy unless I was shocked to find Mike Trout still there. Of course Trout went number one and I was all in on Kershaw. This wasn’t shocking to me as I knew during some 2015 draft of mine I was going to try to build a team around God’s left arm. I much prefer the first round pitcher philosophy in the 15-team format than a 10 or 12 teamer.
2nd Round Pick: Madison Bumgarner (29th Overall)
Uh oh, did I lose you yet? Yes, the guy who has probably completed 75-100 fantasy baseball drafts and never took a pitcher in the first round just took pitchers in round one and round two! How do you like them aces? I’m Good Will Hunting for lefty aces of the NL West. I may be nuts going this route but there’s logic in this back to back ace route I’ve taken.
I personally have MadBum ranked third among SPs going into this next season, coming in just after Kershaw and Felix Hernandez. Bumgarner’s age, NL West division, great home park, health, and general linear ascension to ace status that I believe is about to peak in 2015 make him slightly more appealing to me than Scherzer, Strasburg, Price, Cueto, Kluber and others who come in behind him in my rankings. Here are the marks against some of the pitchers you might think are better bets than Bumgarner:
- Scherzer: Slight velocity dip. Team unknown.
- Strasburg: Always an injury concern.
- Price: Has had a down season before.
- Cueto: Always an injury concern. Home park favors hitters.
- Kluber: Is he for real? Probably, but still less track record than Bum.
- Yu Darvish: Injury issues.
- Wainwright: Injury issues. Age issues.
What locking up Kershaw and Bumgarner does for me here is that it allows me to wait a long time before I look to grab another starting pitcher. I figure on drafting about 1,500 innings between my top seven starting pitchers and my top two relief pitchers. Health permitting, Kershaw and Bumgarner should approach 450 innings with a combined 2.50 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP, and 470 Ks. That’s assuming some regression for Kershaw and an extremely slim improvement for Bumgarner. With my pocket aces in hand I’m now committed to going all offense for the next seven rounds before I grab a couple solid ERA and WHIP contributing closer types. The cushion Kershaw and Bumgarner give me will allow me to bargain hunt for the rest of my rotation.
Building My Offensive Foundation:
3rd Round Pick: Victor Martinez (32nd Overall)
4th Round Pick: Evan Longoria (59th Overall)
5th Round Pick: Nelson Cruz (62nd Overall)
6th Round Pick: David Ortiz (89th Overall)
7th Round Pick: Kolten Wong (92nd Overall)
8th Round Pick: Elvis Andrus (119th Overall)
9th Round Pick: Rusney Castillo (122nd Overall)
Having taken part in several NFBC drafts the past couple years I had a pretty good idea of when I needed to jump in and get a couple of closers. That meant from round three through round nine it was time to assemble the vest offense I could. To get into the top 13% of all hitting stat categories during 2014 in the NFBC I would need to accumulate an offense that can reach 980 Runs, 240 HR, 960 RBI, 165 SB, and a .270 Batting Average.
Looking at the hitter group I acquired above the first thing that might jump out at you is that I am a little Jurassic with my bats. VMart will be 36 in December, Cruz will be 35 in July, and Papi is getting ready to play Gin Rummy at the old folks home as he checks in at age 39. I would normally be worried about the age of hitters but in this case I essentially locked up three DHs and that comes with a lot less injury risk. Admittedly though, VMart won’t likely come close to repeating his power output of 2014, Cruz should regress a tad, plus we still don’t know where he will sign, and Papi has to hit a wall eventually. What I did like about these three guys along with Longoria is that each could reasonably reach at least 80 R, 25 HR, 90 RBI and in the case of Victor Martinez I am getting a pretty reliable batting average that will allow me to take some risks later on.
I’m also banking on the youth of Kolten Wong and Rusney Castillo to contribute nicely in 2015. I feel that Wong might have been a bit of a reach with the 92nd overall pick but speed at 2B outside of the elite guys who were long off the board was pretty thin and I knew I had to get an SB advantage over the rest of the league somewhere in my lineup. Wong could easily approach 25 SBs in 2015 and should contribute double-digit power as well.
Castillo is a total wild card. Reports on him suggest he could be a nice all around fantasy contributor with double-digit power and 30 SB potential. His brief appearance at the end of 2014 showed promise as Castillo produced 2 HR, 3 SBs, and hit .333 in 36 ABs. I’m putting him down for a 10 HR/25 SB season. Having gone power heavy with my first four bats, Wong, Andrus, and Castillo can provide some wheels.
10th Round Pick: Dellin Betances (149th Overall)
11th Round Pick: Joaquin Benoit (152nd Overall)
At the time of this draft I didn’t know what was going to happen with the back-end of the Yankees bullpen. All I knew was that Betances has the goods and I want his upside on my roster regardless of what happens through free agency. Betances will almost certainly have an innings decrease if he becomes the Yankees closer but should still be good for nearly 85 Ks in 65 innings pitched. In Benoit, I got a guy who over the past five seasons has posted ERA/WHIP/K totals of 1.34/0.68/75, 2.95/1.05/63, 3.68/1.14/84, 2.01/1.03/73, and 2.54/0.77/64. He is the most veteran presence in the back-end of the Padres bullpen and I think he should have a clear path to earning a boatload of saves in 2015. With Benoit’s contract up at the end of the year I also know I have to be worried about a deadline trade next summer.
Hunting for Value and Upside:
12th Round Pick: AJ Pollock (179th Overall) – I had Pollock’s name queued up as a consideration back in the 9th round when I took Rusney Castillo 122nd overall. I’m thrilled to have landed Pollock’s upside at this point in the draft. He could easily be 2015’s Charlie Blackmon with slightly less power and I like his upside about as much as both Rusney Castillo and Mookie Betts who went off the board much earlier in this draft.
13th Round Pick: Brandon Belt (182nd Overall) – Belt’s 2014 AB total was cut down significantly due to injuries that should not be an issue moving forward. Otherwise, what did he do to deserve falling in 2015 drafts? I’ll gladly take a little more power from him in exchange for some batting average as he displayed in his abbreviated 2014 stat line. Since I went with pitching in rounds one and two and missed out on the big power/speed options early on it helps to pick up a little extra SB help as I move through the draft and Belt could be good to chip in 7 to 10 SBs in a full season.
14th Round Pick: Collin McHugh (209th Overall) – The only thing I don’t like about McHugh is that he may struggle to win games pitching for the Astros. Otherwise, everything about his 2014 performance seems believable to me. I have him penciled in for some progression across the board and he still looks like a great value pick at 209 overall.
15th Round Pick: Yasmani Grandal (212th Overall) – This is a two-catcher format and Grandal will serve as my first catcher selected for this roster. I like catcher qualified players that don’t necessarily have to strap up every night. Grandal spent plenty of time at 1B when he wasn’t behind the dish in 2014 and will be another year removed from knee surgery. I like two different possible outcomes for Grandal. One has him spending even more time at first base in 2015. The other has him traded out of Petco to a place where hitters actually have a chance. Admittedly though, this pick is more a product of the NFBC’s format as I would not consider taking Grandal this early in single-catcher formats.
Starting Pitcher Combo:
16th Round Pick: Kyle Lohse (239th Overall)
17th Round Pick: Danny Salazar (242nd Overall)
When I took Kershaw and Bumgarner early, this type of combo pick is something I envisioned pulling off at this exact time of the draft. With just two picks between mine, I knew there was a good chance I could pair up two pitchers as I’ve done here. I really don’t know if there are two pitchers that complement each other quite like Lohse and Salazar do. This is the perfect mix of steady reliability and huge upside. Lohse is the veteran anchor with a predictable ERA and K total to go with a favorable WHIP. Salazar is the young guy with filthy stuff who turned the corner in the second half of 2014 and could be ready to dominate in 2015.
Filling in the Missing Pieces:
18th Round: Josh Reddick (269th Overall) – Kind of like the outfield version of my earlier pick of Brandon Belt. 20+ HR pop with 5-10 SB potential.
19th Round: Chris Owings (272nd Overall) – Has SS eligibility going into 2015 but could quickly pick up 2B eligibility as well if the DBacks slide Aaron Hill over to 3B and stick Gregorius at SS. Owings has 12 HR/12 SB capability.
20th Round: Dioner Navarro (299th Overall) – I’m not at all worried about the arrival of Russell Martin. I believe the Blue Jays will either find ABs for Navarro at 1B, as the DH, to spell Martin, or they will trade him away to a team that will use him as their fulltime catcher. A catcher combination of Grandal and Navarro is exactly how I like to approach the catcher position.
21st Round: Dustin Ackley (302nd Overall) – Ackley really seemed to make strides in the second half of 2014 and I’m banking on more of the same in 2015 as he gets to hit in front of Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, and whatever other middle of the order bat the Mariners bring in this offseason.
22nd Round: Mike Leake (329th Overall) – I like contract year pitchers like Leake who will be looking to cash in on a big season. Leake is kind of like a poor man’s Kyle Lohse or Rick Porcello.
23rd Round: LaTroy Hawkins (332nd Overall) – Hawkins is a closer and I’ll use early and often in my active lineup until he either flames out or the Rockies move on from him. This is a weekly format and my 50 players are all I have to work with so I need to take saves when I can get them and I’ll worry about plugging in additional starting pitchers later on. My goal is to rack up 90 saves one way or another and I can see Hawkins tacking on 15 of them for me.
24th Round: Colby Rasmus (359th Overall) Rasmus is simply an insurance plan for the injury prone Josh Reddick and the rest of my outfield group.
25th Round: Sergio Romo (362nd Overall) No idea where he will land but I have to believe there’s a good chance he will either land a closer’s gig or will be in position to earn saves at some point during the 2014 season. With Betances, Benoit, Hawkins, and Romo on my roster I can afford to wait quite a while before I hunt for another relief pitcher.
I’m hoping to get another chance at a top five pick in a 15-team draft this season. If that happens I’ll likely choose an offensive player first and then go with starting pitchers in rounds two and three. As for how this team turned out, I love it and I’m ready to be crowned a champion already. Okay, we all feel that way after a draft. What impressed me most is that an offensive team can actually be put together with serious potential to meet some pretty lofty stat goals. I will look to do a re-cap at the end of the 2015 season for how this team performs. My best guess is that the pitching staff will keep it competitive all year and the hitting will determine if it is a legitimate contender or not.
Offensive Outlook – My upside plays of Kolten Wong, Rusney Castillo, and A.J. Pollock are going to be big factors in determining whether or not this team can meet my expectations. Some drafters may be hesitant to roster as many older offensive contributors as I have here with Victor Martinez, Nelson Cruz, and David Ortiz. Each of these players should spend most of their time in the DH role and for that reason they should not be viewed as any more of a health risk than the average player.
Pitching Outlook – Health permitting, with Kershaw and Bumgarner at the top of my rotation this should easily be among the top pitching staffs in this league. The upside of pitchers Collin McHugh and Danny Salazar mix nicely with the steady, predictable performances of Kyle Lohse and Mike Leake. The bullpen of Dellin Betances, Joaquin Benoit, LaTroy Hawkins, and Sergio Romo offer me a variety of different options who should see chances to earn saves throughout the year.