February 19, 2016
Expert League Draft Recap
LABR Mixed 2016
On Tuesday, February 16, Bret Sayre and Mike Gianella participated in the League of Alternate Baseball Reality (LABR) Mixed Draft. This is Bret and Mike’s third year in LABR Mixed. After a debut season that saw them finish 14th out of 15 teams, Bret and Mike won the league last year after holding off a late charge by MLB.com’s Fred Zinkie. Below, Bret and Mike discuss their draft.
Mike: Pre-season projected standings are nonsense. Unless they project your team as the winner. Then they’re great!
Table 1: PFM Projections, LABR Mixed 2016 (Top Four)
Table 1 breaks out how Baseball Prospectus’ PFM sees the LABR draft results. While it is easy to be cynical about touting your own website’s projection system liking your team, we should point out that we didn’t draft using PECOTA or the PFM as a guide.
Bret: So with the gratuitous “here's how great we are based on our site’s projection system” table (and subsequent disclaimer) out of the way, let's get right into strategy. That is our favorite topic to talk about, after all. If you've listened to Flags Fly Forever, or just read almost anything we've written, you know that we're huge advocates of BPA (best player available) drafting for at least the first ten rounds of a draft, and to an extent for the entire active portion (with some slight tweaking as we get further in). You can call us doctrinaire, stubborn, or whatever you want—we like to think of ourselves as value arbitrageurs. My belief is that the more you try to get cute categorically during a draft, especially in the early-middle rounds, the more you eschew value and rely on your own interpretations of what these players will be at too granular of a level. Don't get me wrong, there's a place and time for that, and we'll get into when that was for our team. We saw any modicum of what we thought our team might look like get thrown out the window early, which is why getting attached to a prediction of your team is a bad anchor to drop.
Mike: We had the seventh pick in the first round, and did get the player we wanted there in Manny Machado. With the drop off at third base after the top four players, our hope was that either Machado or Josh Donaldson (in that order) would slip to us at no. 7. When Steve Gardner of USA Today Fantasy Sports took Anthony Rizzo fifth overall, we knew we were getting a third baseman, and when Nolan Arenado went to Ray Murphy of Baseball HQ, Machado was ours.
Jake Arrieta in the second round is where our pre-draft expectation shifted. Based on our composite rankings, I thought that Jose Abreu or Jose Bautista would fall to us in the second round. But with both of those hitters off the board, Arrieta was the best player on the board. It isn’t our M.O. to draft pitching early, but Arrieta was impossible to pass up at that slot. The nice thing about drafting Arrieta there is that it reinforced the idea that we could focus on value and not “worry” about taking our first pitcher “too late” in the draft.
Bret: The interesting thing about where Arrieta fell was not just that we weren't expecting him to be there (a la Justin Upton in 2015), but the pick kickstarted a massive run of starting pitchers in the late second and third rounds, which ended up benefitting us greatly as we wound back around. We talked on the pre-recorded LABR piece of this week’s podcast about how we were somewhat confident that we'd end up with Lorenzo Cain in the third based on our consolidated ranks. However, the mass focus on arms (nine of the 15 picks in the third round were starters) allowed George Springer to leak further than we thought he should have. And with this description of yet another pick, the strategy really comes into light. Expect nothing, pounce on value, worry about the rest later.
The next seven rounds consisted of us taking more players who were considered to be “falling” in the room, at least per our rankings and the early ADP information available. Here is how our team looked after 10 picks against both of our data points:
Table 2: Baseball Prospectus LABR Mixed: Round 1-10
So, Mike, which of the rest of these picks was most surprising to you and which was most exciting to you?
Mike: You mentioned Upton above, and that’s what Springer was for us this year. I’m not the biggest fan of his (and had him ranked lower than you did), but in the third round and with the 37th pick overall I nearly jumped out of my chair when we drafted him. Getting a hitter with a 20/20 floor after getting Machado as our anchor made me feel really good about our offense no matter what we did the rest of the way.
Hamilton was the biggest surprise. There are always a lot of experts who don’t like him and won’t draft him regardless of how far he slips, but I thought for sure that someone would dive in and grab all of those steals in the late fifth or the sixth round. Even with the risk and the limitations surrounding B-Ham, it was next to impossible to pass up on him at that point. And because we had so much power already with Machado, Springer, Jones, and Carpenter (we hope), we could take the power hit (and the playing time risk) and Hamilton.
And, hey, we drafted a top-tier closer for the first time ever!
Bret: We did! We talked about the possibility since we ran our internal mock draft (which Mike wrote up last week) and I got Davis in the fifth out of a similar draft spot. Our rankings seemed to be taking into account the extremely soft underbelly of the closer market more than some of our competitors early on, but seeing where some of the closer reaches happened in the ninth to 12th rounds, it was generally factored into everyone's thought process somewhere.
Hamilton is fascinating as his draft spot was worth the risk we took on. The upside with him hasn't changed, he's just less likely to reach it. We're back in the if stage, but if Hamilton can hit .260, he's going to return first round value. Also, the playing time concerns ring hollow for me because 1) the Reds aren't competing anyway so they have no reason to move on from him in center, and 2) the rest of their centerfield depth chart reads like a horror show: Tyler Holt, Scott Schebler, and then soul-crushing emptiness.
For me though, Hanley was the bigger surprise. The fact that he was still there in the 10th round was mind-boggling. I had him as an eighth round pick in my ranks and though I was higher on him than Mike, we both saw him as a huge bargain at that point. Of course, it was made more fun because he was joke of the draft, coming in at 35th in the default RTSports rankings, meaning that the handful of times someone’s internet timed out, they drafted Hanley. We had to assure the room that at 144th overall, we actually meant it. And boy did we.
Mike: Hanley completed what was an impressive offensive draft for us to that point. Selecting seven players on offense with our first 10 picks was not that uncommon (seven other expert drafters did the same), but as Bret mentioned above, our focus on value put us in a position where we felt that our offense was going to be one of the strongest in the league regardless of what we did from this point forward.
However, the other half of Bret’s earlier point about value started coming into focus beginning in Round 11. As much as we liked our team, we needed a middle infield and a first baseman and had only two starting pitchers. This is the part of the draft where even fantasy experts may talk themselves into reaching for a player based on need as opposed to maintaining most of their focus on value. But for the most part, I think we managed to avoid that.
Bret: Exactly. Waiting on need to get more value is not for the faint of heart. When faced with our Round 11 pick, we had all three middle infield slots open and some names that we did like on the board, in Dustin Pedroia and Addison Russell. So naturally, we took James Shields. Wait, what? Well, we had Shields ranked 14 spots ahead of Russell and 24 spots ahead of Pedroia, so even though they were all good buys at that point, we held to our valuations and took the big-time bounce back candidate. We followed with two more arms for the same reason. Last year, we took three pitchers in a row from rounds 7-9 (Gerrit Cole, Jake Arrieta, and Jacob deGrom) and while there's just no way these picks can work out anywhere near that well, this trifecta of Shields, Hisashi Iwakuma and Carlos Rodon has substantial potential.
The middle infield did come, however, but not until Round 16. And considering that was where we took our first one, the threesome of Neil Walker, Marcus Semien, and Asdrubal Cabrera should serve us just fine here, with the potential to hit around .270 as a group with 45-plus homers and good counting stats. Those floors along with the upside of Jurickson Profar, who we grabbed in the reserve rounds, made for an eventual happy ending to our perceived MI strife.
Mike: You’re going to take Profar in the LABR draft until one of you expires.
That mix of valuation and being sensible about our roster drove many of our decisions the rest of the way. I suspect a number of other experts would have passed on Byron Buxton in the 14th round if they already had four other outfielders, but we weren’t worried about “having” to reach for a shortstop at that point. It paid off, as only four other shortstops were drafted and only two of those shortstops are locks to start. Getting Mark Teixeira as our first baseman in the 15th round happened in part because we did not reach much earlier for someone like Adrian Gonzalez or Freddie Freeman.
Our team isn’t perfect, but then no team coming out of a 15-team mixed league will be. We didn’t plan it this way, but our batting average projects out very badly. And in an ideal world, we’d have a second closer to pair with Davis. Yet, despite what some preach, leaving a draft with an imbalanced team isn’t a season-ender. Having no closers to start the season worked fine for us in 2015, and even the strategy of drafting one catcher and one flier at the very end of the draft worked out fine. Where our approach may cause a partial miss at a position or a category, it has allowed us to build a core that is extremely competitive.
(This is the part of the recap where I’m not allowed to mention Jose Fernandez or 2014 ever again).
Let's segue back to 2016 once again. Can't say that too much better, so I won't try. Let's talk about our reserve picks a bit. We really hit on some important guys last year with Noah Syndergaard, Anthony Gose, Anthony DeSclafani, and Andrew Heaney. Will we do the same this year? There may not be a Thor this time around, but our reserves this time around are a nice blend of upside and depth. Our reserve round really started in the 23rd since we knew we were saving our last pick for our last catcher. So here's the group:
Table 3: Baseball Prospectus LABR Mixed: Rounds 23-29
It's essentially two safer pitchers and one upside play, and the opposite with the hitters. My love of Profar is well known, so there's no need to dive in further there. Wheeler should not have been there this late, especially when you can stash him on the DL. Then the final pick is another Reds flier, just like last year, but Winker won't start the year in the majors. However, their outfield is atrocious even if they hang onto Jay Bruce (which they probably won't) and he's going to start the year in Triple-A.
Anyone else you think we should cover here, Mike? A-Rod? Bauer?
Mike: Given the age of A-Rod and the uncertainty surrounding Hanley and Buxton, I really dig getting a guy who hit 25 home runs in 2015 in the 25th round of the draft. Rasmus isn’t the kind of player who has upside, but as important as it is to push for that upside at the end, I do like the idea of getting one or two players who are likely to provide steady, backend roster value if you need to press them into service. Wilson and Dickey are likely to cycle in and out of our rotation all season long and if they don’t, the investment was minimal.
On the whole, I’m pretty pleased with our team. The season has to play out in your favor, obviously, but I believe we did at least as well as we did last year in putting our squad together. And—since this is the last time I can reference this without sounding like one of those guys who always talks about past successes—last year worked out pretty well for us.
Bret: It really did. I'm just going to breath it in again for the last time. Oh yea, that's the stuff.
Mike and Bret’s complete roster can be found below. The complete LABR results for all 15 expert teams can be found here.
Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @MikeGianella