Image credit: USA Today Sports

As the regular season came to a close, bittersweet feelings swelled up within me. I won’t lie and say I wish many of RotoWire’s Clay Link’s congratulations were instead mine. He had just captured the overall in the inaugural season of The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational, a league comprising 195 participants from around the fantasy industry. Sharing some NFBC similarities, there were 13 leagues with 15 managers each. Each league had a winner, but only one accrued the most points.

For much of the season, I was in first place overall. It wasn’t until September that Link’s well-rounded team surpassed mine with my WHIP deficiency, and in the final week, I slipped one more spot, behind Brian Rudd of Baseball HQ. Again, it was bittersweet. This was my first year playing with industry analysts and while I won my league (shoutout to League 7 competitors) and performed very well, I expected to take home the whole thing.

So well, in fact, that I had to stop and wonder “what the hell did I do right?” Let’s figure it out and see if I can retain this information when I’m drafting next year.

How To Nail a Draft

My first two picks were Mookie Betts (11th) and Francisco Lindor (20th). Of the 13 leagues, I took Mookie the latest. Those two set up an extremely strong foundation of average, speed and power.

One thing I wanted to specifically focus on was taking players early on that helped or didn’t hinder my average. It’s not usually one of the categories you can find in weekly FAAB bids, so I ensured I shored it up in the draft. That’s what Adrian Beltre, Ian Desmond and Nelson Cruz aimed to do based on preseason projections.

In a league of this size and format, I went in with the assumption that trading would not get me out of jams. Indeed, only three trades happened all year, one of which I’ll get to later. As such, I couldn’t rely on trading for an ace like I normally do in my other leagues. I drafted Carlos Martinez and Aaron Nola in the first five rounds. While Nola had a TGFBI ADP of 56, he fell to me at #71 overall, a massive steal.

And finally, I knew I needed a strong closer. I did not want to misread the room with savvy managers I never drafted with and miss out on closers. I took Aroldis Chapman in the sixth round, the third closer taken in the draft after Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel.

“Draft the bargains” is an obvious statement, but oftentimes in slow drafts you have your next 3-4 picks lined up and all of a sudden a player you weren’t expecting to be there, well, is there. Don’t be afraid to change your strategy. I expected to draft Giancarlo Stanton or Bryce Harper before Betts fell onto my lap.

In 2019, I aim to repeat a similar formula: Build a well-rounded base with my first two bat picks, snag a closer in the first seven rounds and take two workhorse starters early that have little to no injury history in the last calendar year.

Get Really Lucky

You don’t get to be in contention for an overall without being really, really lucky. I’ll rattle off some players who I felt I hit the jackpot with in the draft alone:

Mookie Betts and Francisco Lindor were MVP candidates

Aaron Nola was a Cy Young candidate

Javier Baez yet another MVP candidate

Matt Carpenter turned around a horrific season and finished with 36 home runs

Tim Anderson had a 20/25 season

Matt Chapman broke out

But I had my duds, so don’t think I just rode my draft laurels:

Carlos Martinez was my third-round pick.

Jeff Samardzija, Drew Pomeranz and Ervin Santana were my 3rd, 5th and 7th pitcher drafted.

•I did not hit on a single player after the 20th round (28 total rounds).

You can’t predict luck. You can make informed decisions on players you think will perform well, though. Aaron Nola’s 2017 portended to a strong follow-up campaign. Betts’ batted ball profile pointed to a return to a strong average and the counting stats were always there. But Baez’s season or Carpenter’s were simply good fortune. As best you can, find the bats that will be an impact in their real-life lineups.

FAAB Like a King

Do not be afraid to use your FAAB money early. And absolutely do not horde it because you want to bully other managers in August. There will not be as many impact players in August. All the breakouts are happening early on. By April 15, I had used up 30 percent of my budget ($1000). I was fortunate enough to hit on nearly every pickup by that date.

•March 18: $10 for Eduardo Escobar after the Jorge Polanco news broke. We go back to that luck thing on how Escobar finished with 23 HR and 84 RBI.

•March 25: $1 for Tyler Mahle. This was a bad pickup but didn’t harm me for the price.

•March 25: $2 for Kyle Gibson. After how he finished 2017, he was worth a gamble. He finished 2018 with nearly league-leading whiff rates on his slider and curveball as well as an ERA of 3.75 or lower in five of the six months of the season.

•April 8: $10 for Denard Span. Petered out in the second half when I dropped him but had eight homers and six steals and didn’t hurt in the slash line in the first half.

•April 15: $30 for Francisco Cervelli. Jorge Alfaro wasn’t cutting it. Cervelli had a strong first two months before slumping hard. With his OBP, he created chances to net me runs.

•April 15: $250 for Bud Norris. Look, if there was one thing Mike Matheny could be counted on, it was playing the hot hand. I’m not sure why many believed Greg Holland would get the job back despite blowing every opportunity he had. Norris had the strikeouts, walk rate, and the performance and I was confident enough to spend 25 percent of my season’s budget on him knowing he’d close games. Through August, he had a sub-3.00 ERA, 28 saves and a 23.6 K-BB%.

The other thing to keep in mind with FAAB is that you shouldn’t spend just because you want a player performing well. In weekly leagues like this, survey the standings on your FAAB day and see where you can make up the most ground. When Juan Soto came up in late-May, I bid a mere $25 on him. Obviously, I wasn’t going to land him (and ultimately he went for more than $400) but that was OK because by then I had a big lead in runs and homers and was second in RBI.

Play to the Roto Standings

I made one trade in late-July where I shipped Francisco Lindor for Jacob deGrom. I needed help in ERA and WHIP and had massive leads in offense. DeGrom pitched extremely well from that point on, but it still wasn’t enough. Still, it’s a trade you must make to compete in an overall.

I don’t need to belabor this point. Just know that if you’re dramatically leading a category, start making midseason plans to trade from your riches to help your deficiencies. It’s Roto 101.

Lessons Learned

The hardest part about critiquing myself in my TGFBI performance is that I didn’t do much wrong. So many things went right. Again, I was 3rd of 195 managers and had League 7 locked up by May! That’s an exceptional season. But if I had to be ultra critical:

•Utilize non-closers earlier in the season. I turned to this strategy way too late when WHIP was my one big deficiency and there weren’t many great options in the pool. Especially with Carlos Martinez’s roller coaster of a season, the opening was there for me.

•Don’t remove closers because of double-starts. There were times when a two-start week was better served on the bench swapped with a closer instead. There were times when I benched Will Smith, Bud Norris or Robert Gsellman because a non-ace had a good and mediocre start. I was counting on Wins and Strikeouts too much and not realizing that ratios were slowly being pummeled.

•That said, I finished five wins back from first in the category and 51 strikeouts back from first. So…maybe my reasoning was justified?

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe