For those of you who don’t know me, allow me to briefly introduce myself. My name is Mark Himmelstein, the THT Fantasy staff’s most recent addition. Throughout the season, I’ll be covering the Trader’s Corner column, the inaugural edition of which you can find here, along with various other analyses and discussions.
As the newest member of the crew, I was eager to get involved in a few leagues with my fellow writers and show what I can do. I was invited to join the Hardball Times Fantasy League, and of course, graciously accepted.
The league features 12 teams, all managed by THT writers, including a large portion of the fantasy staff. It’s in the rotisserie format with the standard 5×5 scoring categories. The draft was an online auction with starting budgets of $260.
Michael Stein, of the THT Fantasy feature The Verdict, already went over his team here. Now let’s take a look at mine.
C – Miguel Montero ($10)
1B – Paul Konerko ($17)
2B – Brandon Phillips ($15)
3B – Mark Reynolds ($11)
SS – Starlin Castro ($21)
CI – Mat Gamel ($3)
MI – Danny Espinosa ($1)
OF – Justin Upton ($46)
OF – Jason Heyward ($17)
OF – Michael Bourn ($14)
OF – Matt Joyce ($4)
Util – Alex Presley ($2)
Util – Alex Rios ($2)
SP – Stephen Strasburg ($22)
SP – Brandon Beachy ($10)
SP – Mat Latos ($9)
RP – Jason Motte ($9)
RP – Joel Hanrahan ($9)
P – Greg Holland ($3)
P – Jonathan Broxton ($4)
P – Matt Thornton ($2)
P – Frank Francisco ($2)
My approach to the auction was to exploit the extra knowledge I had on the other writers’ respective approaches. As the new guy and a long time reader of THT Fantasy, I know far more about their strategies and the players they like than they do about mine. That meant patience, and a willingness to exploit a market established by others rather than setting and dominating the market myself.
The result was that instead of a few true stars I have a large abundance of mid-range talent. This isn’t a traditional approach to auctions, and while it paid off in certain areas, it led to two mistakes. In hindsight, both should have been perfectly manageable, but neither was so damaging that they killed my game-plan.
The first mistake was how I handled my top target—Justin Upton. I should have taken the initiative and nominated him myself. Instead, I let other stars come off the board first, and Upton was one of the last elite bats put on the block. That meant inflation, and I paid more than I would have liked.
The second mistake was leaving money on the table—$6 to be exact. A few owners were playing a strong stars-and-scrubs strategy and I wanted to leave myself enough money down the stretch to take control of the endgame market. It worked for most of the guys I had in the cross-hairs, but then came Lucas Duda.
Corner Infield was the one position I was yet to fill. Lucas Duda makes a fine target for this position, but I hadn’t realized just how exhausted the the CI ranks had become after him. Only a few of us had flexible budgets left, so I nominated him, and Brad Johnson quickly engaged me in a small bidding war. I blinked first, and let him fall to Brad.
The choice essentially came to retaining enough of a budget to trump any subsequent nominations, but leaving some money on the table, or rostering Duda and waiting until everyone else exhausted their budgets as well to fill out the rest of my roster.
Brad later informed me he was willing to go further on Duda, so in hindsight, I probably would have lost him anyway. But it never feels good to leave money on the table.
With both mistakes the lesson is that I tried to be too fine, especially early, and it cost me some opportunity. If I had forced Upton onto the block sooner, I probably could have had him a bit cheaper. And if I had been more aggressive on high end talent, I wouldn’t have been left wanting at CI and could have avoided leaving money on the table without necessarily sacrificing depth elsewhere.
Despite these mistakes, I still feel my roster is plenty strong. While I lack a true second-tier talent, I don’t see any glaring weaknesses and should have plenty of room to compete in all 10 categories.
Here are some thoughts on a few of my particular selections and tactics.
Starlin Castro, Mark Reynolds, and Danny Espinosa
In terms of “actual” value, I overpaid for Castro. I knew it as I was doing it and I was willing to do it. Castro is a unique player who, in the auction format, I’ll consider paying a premium on. The reason is that he brings not only a nice balance of skills, but in particular stability in a very difficult category to find it in: batting average.
I wanted to beef up batting average early, allowing me to target some undervalued, low-average bargains late. I managed to snag both Reynolds and Espinosa at prices I consider more than fair to complete this strategy.
For reference, Oliver projects Castro to be worth only $17 in this format, but Reynolds $19 (with just a .226 batting average) and Espinosa $11. So while I paid a $4 premium on Castro’s projection, in total I paid $29 for $47 in projected value between the three, with the returns spread across all five categories. Other projections aren’t quite as bullish on my projected profit from this trio, but still agree I should earn more than I paid in aggregate.
This not a tactic I would recommend in a snake draft format, where it’s more difficult to target individual players at specific costs. The reason this works in auction is because you can get involved on any player at any time, whereas in a snake you’re inherently cut off from a large percentage of the talent pool.
If I had selected Castro in the third round of a snake draft, I would have viewed the overpay as either a waste or a handcuff in terms of how I selected with subsequent picks. I might have passed on a nice value because they didn’t offer enough power to complement Castro’s batting average and speed. If I wanted to target Reynolds and Espinosa in particular, I likely would have had to pay much more than the equivalent of $12, killing a significant portion of the total value of the package.
While in the abstract I’m not thrilled with a pitching staff fronted by Strasburg, I view this as a tremendous bargain.
Oliver sees Strasburg producing a line of 12-2.96-1.05-191 in 165 innings. On its own, that’s a decent price for that line, but then you also have to consider I’ll have 40-60 extra innings to fill. A lot of other experts view this as a negative. I view their caution as an opportunity.
Those innings will come at the end of the year; the time of September call-ups and last place teams ready to fold up. It will be clear who the weak offenses are, and I can stream into strong match-ups and target some of the quality young arms getting their first taste of major league action.
I’m confident I can produce better-than-replacement-level results for free from Strasburg’s vacated roster spot, and ultimately wind up with a line not too different from Justin Verlander‘s projected 17-3.09-1.09-241 in 235 innings—a full $30 value at 70 cents on the dollar.
It’s a risky tactic, to be sure, but there’s a lot of potential payoff.
Paul Konerko and Brandon Phillips
I view both first base and second base as having deep talent pools and high replacement levels this year, so in many leagues I wait as long as I can to fill them. But in this league I suspected a lot of the other owners would be thinking similarly and that a lot of the low-end value would disappear.
This turned out to be true to an extent—Ike Davis ($14), Jason Kipnis ($13), Paul Goldschmidt ($10), and Dustin Ackley ($10) all cost more than I wanted to pay. At first base we’d also already had Mark Teixeira go for $30 and Eric Hosmer for $22, two guys I consider similar to Konerko, so I think there’s a decent chance I hit the sweet spot here.
There was more value at second base, including my later selection of Espinosa for $1, but I’m still okay with Phillips for $15. He’s not a roster-maker at that price, but also not a roster-breaker.
Bourn, like Castro and Reynolds, is not someone I typically target—especially in snake drafts. I don’t like investing a lot in players with such limited categorical depth. Fortunately, the one owner who I knew would be willing to bid Bourn past this point had depleted his budget, and since I wanted a bit of outfield stability with the more volatile Jason Heyward already on my roster, I went for Bourn.
Going out of my comfort zone was something I was prepared to do in this draft, and I’m perfectly content getting Bourn for $14—cheaper than fellow speedsters Desmond Jennings ($18) and Dee Gordon ($15), and not much more than the inferior Brett Gardner ($10).
Matt Wieters is my top catcher target this year, but after getting into a bidding war over him with Josh Shepardson, I let him go for $18. I’m not in love with Montero, but I like him plenty at $10.
This is the only team I’m running this year where I don’t own Wieters.
Mat Latos, Tommy Hanson, and Anibal Sanchez
The room got very frugal at the point at which these three were nominated, and I was perfectly keen to take advantage. I would have easily spent the six bucks I left on the table to win the bidding on these guys.
Latos is someone I didn’t necessarily expect to target going into draft season, and not someone I feel the need to overpay for, but somehow I own him on almost all of my teams. I’m not sure if he’s simply getting overlooked, people are more concerned about the ballpark shift than they should be, or if Dusty Baker just scares the bejeezus out of people. Whatever it is, I see both a quality offensive and defensive team in the Reds and a neutral enough batted ball profile from Latos that I’m not terribly worried about the shift from Petco to Great American Ballpark.
It’s also worth mentioning that Latos has a higher career home run per fly ball rate at Petco (8.3 percent) than on the road (7.8 percent). I’m not sure that point is particularly meaningful, but I’d rather the split be structured this way than vice versa, since it might suggest he alters his approach in more hitter friendly confines to reduce the longball.
Hanson’s shoulder and revamped mechanics scare me, but I spent $6 for a guy with $20-25 upside. No problems here.
Sanchez is a popular sleeper this year, and I was quite surprised to get him at this price. Although the projections aren’t as crazy about him as one might think based on the hype, at $6 I have no problem banking on his improving strikeout rate, strong looking Miami offense, and big looking new ballpark.
Mat Gamel and Carlos Lee
This was the result of the drop-off behind Lucas Duda at the CI position. After losing the staring contest with Brad, I knew I was going to be weak here, so I went after the veteran Lee for some stability and a prayer for resurgence, pairing him with the youngster Gamel in the hopes that he can reach his breakout potential.
Gamel’s been putting up gaudy numbers in the Pacific Coast League for years (.301/.374/.512 career line over 1247 plate appearances). While we’re all trained to take PCL numbers with a grain of salt, the American divisions aren’t nearly as hitter friendly as their Pacific counterparts. Greer Stadium (home of the Nashville Sound, the Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate) has actually played almost perfectly neutral over the last few years. Hopefully, the 26-year-old slugger can quickly assuage my concerns now that he finally has a bit of job security in Milwaukee.
Getting Aviles was another consequence of letting Duda pass. He was still on the board after Brad won Duda, and I was able to instantly lock him onto my roster with a $3 opening nomination, since no one else had the budget room to beat me.
Being that Aviles was someone that I was turned onto largely by other writers at THT, I was pleasantly surprised he lasted long enough for this to happen. He’s another player I’m winding up with on a lot of teams. He has eligibility all over the infield, decent power and speed, and a career .350 wOBA against left-handed pitchers. Add that up, and he looks to me like an ideal reserve hitter. He’ll be in my lineup virtually every time the Red Sox face a lefty. Plus, he makes a fine backup in case there’s an injury to any of my middle infielders and can even provide some support at CI.
Stocking up on closers was a last second decision, not a planned strategy. I bought Motte early for $9. Then I snuck in nominations on both Holland and Broxton, figuring I could get a cheap closer between them and that the other might wind up being a playable non-closing reliever anyway. Finally, I paid $9 for Hanrahan, since I had the budget space and wanted the security.
Then the incident over Duda happened. Knowing there wasn’t going to be another opportunity to spend big money, and that aside from CI my roster was pretty complete, I decided cornering the stopper market might be my best bet. The quality scrubs were all gone and my pitching and offense both felt as strong as they were going to get. So I grabbed up a few more closers, figuring I could leverage the scarcity of saves into small, necessary upgrades later in the year, when it becomes more clear what my needs are.
I picked up Francisco for job security and Thornton for potential value regardless of saves. I’ll either build up a nice buffer in the category early, or I’ll be able to dangle some of these guys for minor roster adjustments on an as-needed basis, removing the guesswork and useless $1 bids from the end of the auction.
Mistakes aside, I’m happy with this team. I could have been more aggressive early, and in future seasons in this league I certainly will be, if only by virtue of the fact that the other writers will know more of what to expect from me and any advantage of playing the role of the “wild card” will be wiped away.
I don’t see any reason I can’t make a strong run with this roster. I have a lots of power, plenty of speed, no obvious problem in batting average, and I put together a low cost pitching staff that figures to generate quality results. Add a dash of luck, and you have the recipe for a successful fantasy season.
Feel free to share your own opinions in the comments below.