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February 17, 2014

Fantasy Freestyle

BP's Mixed LABR Draft

by Bret Sayre


Last Tuesday night, Mike Gianella and I participated in the first prominent experts league draft of the season, the LABR (League of Alternative Baseball Reality) mixed league. For background, this is a 15-team snake draft and a standard 5x5 rotisserie format with two catchers and the standard roster designations everywhere else. Mike and I had many conversations about this draft leading up to Tuesday night, and what made this both comforting and easy was that we were very much in sync with our strategy and a lot of our valuations—making for a stress-free (at least between each other) evening.

If you want to see the full draft board for all participants, that is available here. We had the seventh pick in the draft, which had its benefits and its issues. In the first round, we did not think it was optimal, as there was a pretty clear top four and the next 10 picks or so really came down to preference. However, my view is that it’s always beneficial to be in the middle of the round so you don’t have to wait so long between picks in case the draft shifts on you quickly. There were a couple of times at which we may have been out of luck if we were positioned on an end (especially in the early going with starting pitching and the middle rounds with closers), but we used the spot to our advantage.

And now, the official Flags Fly Forever mixed LABR team:

Round 1 (1.7) – Hanley Ramirez, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
This is a decision we had been talking about ever since the day we got the draft order. Seventh is a tough spot, as I mentioned earlier, and our discussions came down to three players: Ramirez, Bryce Harper, and Joey Votto. Eventually, Votto was removed from the conversation, leaving it as Ramirez vs. Harper. Hanley was amazing when healthy last season, and though his performance will likely regress a bit, he’s a clear first-round talent.

Round 2 (2.24) – Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami Marlins
The highest-ranked player on our board, Stanton may have dropped a bit from the first-round talent he was last year, but are the 2014 expectations really that much different from last year’s at draft day? He’s still a bit of an injury risk, but should hit around .260 with some of the best power in the game when healthy. The counting stats won’t be immense in that lineup, but they’ll be adequate.

Round 3 (3.37) – Albert Pujols, 1B, Los Angeles Angels
We pretty much knew this was going to be the pick here in round three, as Pujols was the 28th-ranked player on our board. We also figured it would be met with some strong dissenting opinions on the internet, which it was. It comes down to this—we think that the perception of Pujols’ skill decline has gone well beyond his actual skill decline and the injuries have played a part. And with the plantar fasciitis hopefully behind him (the tear has the same effect as the repairing surgery), he should see a nice bounce back in value for 2014.

Round 4 (4.54) – Jose Fernandez, SP, Miami Marlins
And in the fourth round, the first big run came. The first seven picks of the round were Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Adam Wainwright, Craig Kimbrel, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, and Madison Bumgarner. However, even with 11 pitchers off the board, we still had our sixth-ranked starting pitcher available—and with the drop off substantial after Fernandez, we took the plunge. He’s a special arm, and though this team is on the riskier side at this point, it’s filled with potential superstars.

Round 5 (5.67) – Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins
In this format, I had Mauer ranked as a clear top-50 player and kept inching him further and further up the board as the draft drew near. When we took Fernandez in Round 4, I had committed myself to the sad fact that we wouldn’t get him, but when he was available here, I actually fist pumped. Having a catcher who doesn’t play the position is the dream, and Mauer should be a fantastic anchor for batting average to even out Stanton and give us flexibility later.

Round 6 (6.84) – Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds
This pick surprised me. We had Hamilton ranked pretty prominently on our list, but because his speed is so delectable, we figured someone would reach for him in the 60s or 70s. When that did not come to pass, we couldn’t pass either. We know the risks involved, but he doesn’t need to be all that good in real life to be a huge difference maker for our team. He just needs to stay in the majors.

Round 7 (7.97) – Jayson Werth, OF, Washington Nationals
This was a pure value play. Werth had a career season last year, but that doesn’t preclude him from being really good this season. It turns out it was possible for him to keep some of that big contact rate gain from 2012, as his 2013 rate was 19 percent—the second lowest of his career. He should be able to hit .290 or so with 20 homers and some steals sprinkled in. If the value weren’t so great here, Gerrit Cole would have been the choice—I shed a tear when he didn’t make it back to us in Round Eight.

Round 8 (8.114) – Chase Utley, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies
Maybe it’s a geographic thing, but Mike and I both had Utley within our individual top 100s. Or maybe it’s that with some semblance of a replacement level available in a 15-team league, it was worth it despite not reasonably thinking he’ll play in more than 125 games. He was good enough in 2013 that it didn’t matter and I think that will be the case again in 2014.

After taking hitters in seven of the first eight rounds, we didn’t set out to take three pitchers in a row, but the value was too strong not to. Cobb and Miller were the two best pitchers left on our board at the beginning of Round 9, so to get both of them was a boon. I still have no idea why Cobb doesn’t get more love. He’s an elite ground-ball pitcher with a 23.2 percent strikeout rate and 3.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio. There’s a little concern with Miller after he was used sparingly down the stretch and in the playoffs with shoulder fatigue, but all signs point to him being healthy with no structural issues. He’s a better option in 2014 than his teammate Michael Wacha. And while Matt Moore certainly gets overrated in some circles, this draft wasn’t one of them. A pitcher with his upside should be going within the top 150 players.

Round 12 (12.174) – Jim Henderson, RP, Milwaukee Brewers
And we finally have a closer! There’s nothing wrong with Henderson—he struck out 75 in 60 innings last year and he shouldn’t have any competition for the role. He’s as safe a closer as there is at this point in the draft.

Round 13 (13.187) – Will Venable, OF, San Diego Padres
Mike has been all aboard the Will Venable Express since we started 2014 draft prep and he’s taken me with him. Even if his counting stats will never quite be up to snuff, getting a player with legitimate 20/20 potential in the 13th round is crazy. And potential is relative, as he actually did it in 2013.

Round 14 (15.204) – Jed Lowrie, SS, Oakland Athletics
At this point in the draft, there was exactly one player left on the board from our pre-draft top 150. Lowrie also happened to be a perfect fit because he gives us both second base and shortstop eligibility at middle infield to give us extra protection against an Utley or Hanley injury. Though it’s not like Lowrie has such a great track record of health either.

Round 15 (15.217) – Nate Jones, RP, Chicago White Sox
And we have a second closer! Jones has the fastball and the vote of confidence from the coaching staff to run with this job. He struck out more than 28 percent of the batters he faced last year and had a ground-ball rate of more than 50 percent. Those will both help him plenty at U.S. Cellular.

Round 16 (16.234) – Justin Morneau, 1B, Colorado Rockies
This pick may have been the very best value we got all night long. Morneau is an easy top-20 first baseman with the move to Coors. He played 152 games last season and he played in two parks that are not fun for left-handed hitters. If he stays healthy, he could eclipse 20 homers and 90 RBI relatively easily (and that’s not to mention the Coors batting average jump).

Round 17 (17.247) – Jesse Crain, RP, Houston Astros
And we have a third closer who may or may not stay healthy! Yay!

Round 18 (18.264) – Josh Johnson, SP, San Diego Padres
I was absolutely shocked that Johnson lasted as long as he did. There’s been a lot of talk about him as a sleeper this offseason and I’ve been continually saying that I love him in San Diego, but his “sleeper status” was going to raise his draft price to the point where it didn’t provide value. I was wrong. This was value.

Round 19 (19.277) – Welington Castillo, C, Chicago Cubs
And we have our second catcher! I’m a big believer in Castillo having a solid season—he’s not a star by any means, but a .280 average and 12-15 homers is a reasonable outcome. That would be a boon at this draft spot.

Round 20 (20.294) – Trevor Plouffe, 3B, Minnesota Twins
At this point you’ve probably noticed that we hadn’t drafted anyone who qualified at third base. There’s a tactical reason for this. We had our eye on some third basemen early, but they didn’t fall our way due to our valuations. However, once those are off the table, the position is a free-for-all. We almost took Todd Frazier at one point, but passed. We had the choice of Plouffe, Moustakas, and Castellanos here and went with the safest option. Plus, he’s in the best shape of his life!

Our last three picks went with a similar theme: safety. Alonso and Nava project to be in good run production in their respective lineups (Alonso should hit fifth in the Padres’ lineup and Nava should hit second for the Red Sox). In San Diego, Alonso has reduced his strikeout rate from 21.4 percent in 2011 to 16.3 percent in 2012 to 12.5 percent in 2013. That batting average has the chance to take a big step forward if he can hold those 2013 gains. Nava scored 77 runs last year despite only seeing 128 at bats in the second spot in the order. He could approach 100 if he stays healthy and in that spot all year. And finally, we couldn’t get through the entire draft without taking a Met and Gee ended up being the guy. He’s not a superstar, but after Memorial Day he went 10-5 with a 2.71 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 22 starts. He won’t be that good, but he won’t have to be in the 23rd round.

Reserves:

We had two positional spots we wanted to fill in the reserve round: a second option at third base behind Plouffe and a high-floor middle infielder to put behind our three guys with injury risk. Mission accomplished in Mark Reynolds—who could turn things back around in a return trip to a hitters’ park in the National League—and Yunel Escobar. Escobar will play and will probably make poor life decisions, but I double-checked the league bylaws and poor life decisions are not a category this year.

Then there are the arms. I like our trio of reserve arms better than Mike does, but if one of them turns out to be a solid no. 4/5 fantasy starter then all of the picks will have been worth it. Matt Harrison gets overlooked because he doesn’t strikeout too many batters and missed almost all of 2013, but between 2011 and 2012, he averaged nearly 200 innings and a 3.33 ERA per season. If he can do that again, he’s a steal. If you had asked me if Brett Anderson would be the 384th player off the board in a year that he is going into spring training healthy, I’d have called you crazy, but here we are. Anderson is a ground-ball machine and he’s a fastball/slider guy—the most successful of arsenals for Coors Field. He deserved a big drop in draft day price, but he was a steal as a reserve. And if you know me, you knew I would draft Edwin Jackson. There are fewer certain things in life.

Which brings us to our final pick. I had my eyes on Javier Baez for a last round grab, but clearly Doug Anderson anticipated this, snagging him in the second to last. Instead, we rolled with someone who has a chance to make a more immediate impact. 2013 was a terrible year for Singleton both on and off the field, but with improved conditioning and #want, he should see first base in Houston in relatively short order—especially in light of Brett Wallace being outrighted to Triple-A.

In the end, the roster looks like this:

Position Players

  • C – Joe Mauer
  • C – Welington Castillo
  • 1B – Albert Pujols
  • 2B – Chase Utley
  • SS – Hanley Ramirez
  • 3B – Trevor Plouffe
  • CI – Justin Morneau
  • MI – Jed Lowrie
  • OF – Giancarlo Stanton
  • OF – Billy Hamilton
  • OF – Jayson Werth
  • OF – Will Venable
  • OF – Daniel Nava
  • UT – Yonder Alonso

Pitchers

  • SP – Jose Fernandez
  • SP – Alex Cobb
  • SP – Shelby Miller
  • SP – Matt Moore
  • SP – Josh Johnson
  • SP – Dillon Gee
  • RP – Jim Henderson
  • RP – Nate Jones
  • RP – Jesse Crain

Reserves

  • BN – Mark Reynolds
  • BN – Yunel Escobar
  • BN – Jonathan Singleton
  • BN – Matt Harrison
  • BN – Brett Anderson
  • BN – Edwin Jackson

So let us know what you think of our team. We’ll be discussing the draft very heavily on the next episode of Flags Fly Forever, which we are recording tonight (Monday). If you have specific questions about the draft, either leave them in the comments here or send them to flagsflyforever@baseballprospectus.com.

Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bret's other articles. You can contact Bret by clicking here

6 comments have been left for this article.

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