“Pitching backwards” works in fantasy, too
It’s now 9:20 AM on Monday, March 14. In a little under 12 hours, the 12-team THT Fantasy auction draft will begin, a draft that will surely be the most difficult in which I have ever participated. What follows is my preliminary plan of attack. My sincere hope is that, by outlining my thought process, I can help our readers improve their own pre-draft preparations.
Part two, which will cover the results of the draft, may provide an object lesson in how to alter your strategy mid-draft. Hopefully it will not be a “What not to do” type of affair. One thing to remember, for all my planning below, it is of paramount importance that you be willing to throw everything aside at a moment’s notice. Flexibility is crucial in executing an auction draft.
I have competed against “experts” before, but rarely more than a handful at a time and never from a group of guys that know so much about my approach to fantasy baseball. Jeff Gross will probably be the most difficult to draft against, since we have talked strategy on countless occasions, and he knows nearly all the guys on my “Gotta Have It” list.
Of course that runs two ways, as Jeff’s going to have a hell of a time snatching his favorite players with me hanging around. The best part about this challenge is that it gives me an opportunity to innovate.
First, let’s identify the idiosyncrasies of the league’s settings. The stat categories are standard roto, which makes player valuation a straightforward affair.
The first wrinkle to be noticed is the auction budget relative to the number of players kept. The standard auction draft on Yahoo! is 23 players deep with a $260 budget. Our league is 27 players deep with the same $260 budget. Owners who apply a heavy stars and scrubs approach are going to find themselves woefully understaffed. I will be searching for value in the middle of tiers rather than paying premiums for the guys at the top or bottom.
The second wrinkle worth discussing is the position player categories. We are to employ one catcher, the normal array of infielders along with a generic middle infielder and corner infielder, four outfielders, and two utility men. Often these sorts of deep roster leagues use two catchers, which can make acquiring a couple elite options very valuable. I love to stockpile scarce positions, but in this sort of league, catcher is much easier to ignore.
The double utility slot really gives us a wide variety of options. We can go heavy on top-of-the-order, high-average, stolen-base, and runs-scored threats, we can load heavy on middle-of-the-order first basemen (up to four first basemen can be started at once), or we can opt for a more balanced approach. My preliminary plan is to combine a speedy, high-average outfield with as many as four mashing first basemen.
The last non-standard setting is the 1550 innings pitched limit, which is higher than the typical 1400-1450 limit. This does help decide how the bench slots should be used. To compete in wins and strikeouts will require at least five-and-a-half starting pitchers, or about 1150 innings pitched. That number of starters also requires five-and-a-half relievers.
We have nine roster spots for pitching and five bench slots. It appears as though I will target five of each type of pitcher while cycling through the waiver wire options for the eleventh pitcher. That will leave three bench slots for position players.
Now is the point where I consider my opponents. I know they will employ a wide range of strategies and techniques, but I also suspect they will all be fairly orthodox. They will be focused on acquiring scarce positions and filling out their categories, especially batting average, power, and speed.
While my fellows are singularly focused on building a solid lineup, I will focus on elite pitching with the goal of acquiring two starting pitchers who will provide close to 480 innings of low ERA and WHIP with a high strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio.
Hopefully a mid-tier bounce-back candidate like Dan Haren will prove to be a bargain, and, if I’m lucky, I will have plenty of money left to add my favorite breakout targets, Jhoulys Chacin and Gio Gonzalez. They are both pretty popular these days, so I am fully prepared to miss out on both of them. I am expecting myself to spend about $80 on my five starting pitchers.
Elite starting pitching is not the end of this strategy. Elite relievers are required to complement this approach. My goal is to acquire three, preferably Heath Bell, Joakim Soria, and Andrew Bailey, although I am under no illusions that my league mates will allow that to happen.
Next I would target a more part-time closer who will save some games but is not likely to hurt my ratios like Brandon League or Jake McGee. My last reliever will be the best $1 Mike Adams type that comes my way. Final expected cost for relievers is around $45.
Typically, pitching takes about 30 percent of an owner’s budget. I am planning to use just shy of half of mine. For this plan to work, it is essential that I take down at least 55 of the 60 possible points in pitching categories. In a competitive league like this, 90 points has a good chance of winning the league, which means that I am still aiming at fielding a slightly-above-average offense with a fraction of the budget.
Offensively, my plan is to price enforce early. I tend to find that one or two high-level players wind up on my team via this method. My hope is to generally allow my opponents to bruise their budgets on the top tier of fielders and then swoop in for some mid-round bargains. With luck, that will lower the cost of elite pitching, too.
My final strategy is to accept defeat when it comes to my sleepers. Too many people in our league are in love with the Danny Espinosas and Ryan Raburns of the world. My plan is to nominate those guys early and often rather than sitting on them. With luck, a few bidding wars will price them out over $10. I will also be throwing out an assortment of elite, non-closer relievers, hoping to bloat one or more rosters in the process.
This is an extremely risky strategy, a real boom-or-bust plan of attack. We’ll see how things look later tonight.
The problem with a strong plan is that sometimes you become too attached to it. As much as I preach flexibility, I squandered a few prime opportunities by sticking to my original plan. I spent $131 on pitching and $129 on position players.
Ultimately, I am fairly pleased with the results, even if the roster is a little ugly. I was one of the kings of dollar days, which allowed me the veritable pick of the litter near the end. Still, some more interesting players left the draft board after my roster was full, like Michael Pineda.
You can find the results here in this google spreadsheet. My team, Tagg Bozied Spray, is listed first for convenience. A quick perusal through the league results will show that there was more than a little irrational exuberance at the top of the draft, leaving huge value in the middle and end rounds.
As you can see, I stuck closely to my draft plan, selecting Felix Hernandez and Jon Lester in the early stages, although I went a little over budget by paying $59 for the pair. Thankfully, I was able to add a $17 Zack Greinke to the mix along with two of my favorite cheap starting pitchers, Chacin and Erik Bedard.
Greinke was the first guy who went puzzlingly cheap, and for a moment I was worried that his rib injury had worsened when nobody overbid my $17 price enforcement. I will remain on the look out for a sixth starting pitcher via the waiver wire or trade. I only need about 100 innings pitched out of whomever I find.
I combined that potentially devastating rotation with seven relievers. I paid entirely too much for Heath Bell, but all things considered, I can accept the outlay for such a stable relief ace. Joakim Soria, Jonathan Broxton, Joel Hanrahan, Huston Street, Andrew Bailey, and Chris Sale round out my pen.
We can only actually play six relievers at a time, which makes Bailey’s impending trip to the DL acceptable. I did not have anything better to do with my dollars at the time, so if Bailey bounces back from his injury quickly, it will have been a great investment. I see it as a no-risk, high-reward situation.
Broxton and Hanrahan are risky given my stated desire to score at least 55 of 60 possible pitching points. That pair could really mess with my ratios even as they buff my strikeouts per nine. I am inclined to sit the pair while I evaluate them. With Broxton in particular, I should be able to learn a lot from just a few PITCHf/x charts.
I think my pitching unit has the potential to do exactly what I set out to do. Wins will be the hardest category to compete in given that I only feature five starting pitchers with only one guy expected to win 20 games. For now, I will have to hope that the Mariners offense can provide timely support for Hernandez and Bedard. Even with a rash of injuries, saves are in the bag, and I should have an early advantage in Ks, ERA, and WHIP. I think I could honestly win all four categories.
On the hitting side of the ledger, my unit is pretty boring. Price enforcement won me Kendrys Morales, Alexei Ramirez, Billy Butler, Colby Rasmus, Freddie Freeman and Geovany Soto. In retrospect, I would have preferred to spend the money I used for Ramirez, Rasmus, and Huff on Prince Fielder and a pair of cheaper guys.
The group is really lacking in stolen bases, such that the category is almost a straight punt right now. But I think batting average could prove to be a strength, and home runs, RBI, and runs have middle-of-the-pack upside. With a well-placed free agent addition or trade, I could probably scrape up the 35 points I expect will be needed to win the league.
I learned two lessons from this little endeavor. First, when I identify a peculiarity in the league’s settings that I can leverage, I must follow through. Specifically, I knew owners would run out of money early, leaving huge values behind. I should have left Bell and Hernandez behind and instead targeted some cheaper values later while pumping the excess into my position players. A third high-quality first baseman or a steals-oriented outfielder would have made wise targets.
The second lesson, which is related to the first, is to look past the position rushes. I should have been able to identify that Jered Weaver would be available for under $20, a more attractive option than Hernandez at $31. Doing so would have enabled me to overpay at one of the more scarce positions, where I should have noticed that similarly respectable alternatives would dry up much sooner.
By way of conclusion, I hope my journey from the planning stages through the end of the draft has been helpful. My goal is not to recommend an unconventional strategy or to tout my own team, but to share a glimpse into the kinds of processes a successful auction drafter should be following. Questions, comments, concerns, critiques, and more are all welcome.