Auditing the 2019 Friends & Family Draft: Experts examine steals, reaches

New York Yankees starting pitcher Luis Severino walks off the field during the fourth inning of Game 3 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox, Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Wait a minute, how cheap was Luis Severino? (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

We’re set for Year 15 in the Yahoo Friends & Family League, and it’s time to break the tie. Seven titles have been won from the Yahoo umbrella, while seven guests have taken the parade route. This year, leverage is up for grabs.

Friends & Family newcomer Scott Jenstad, representing Rotowire, rolled to last year’s title. Razzball’s Rudy Gamble was second for the second straight year.

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Our draft went down last week, and most of the participants called in for debriefing. Everyone was asked for a paragraph-long takeaway on the draft, and then to identify a steal and reach (not from their own teams). These are their stories.

Welcome to our new owners (Frank Schwab, Michael Beller, Ted Bell), and a welcome back to an old friend, Patrick Daugherty. In all, 15 horses go to post.

Meet the Family

Dalton Del Don, Yahoo Sports

Podium Finishes: 1st in 2017, 2nd in 2010

I went with a hitter-heavy strategy I’ve been trying throughout all my drafts so far this year without addressing SP until the middle rounds. We’ll see how this goes in a format with relatively small benches and a moves cap, but in general I’m expecting chaos at the pitching position in 2019. And if I went overkill on the hitting early, then at least this is a league in which trading is allowed. Let the side bets begin.

Steal: I found there was a lot of value in round five, as I particularly liked where Jose Berrios, Yasiel Puig and Gleyber Torres were drafted. Especially Torres, who’s 22 years old, 2B/SS eligible, in a loaded lineup and terrific hitter’s park. He was a steal there for Brandon.

Reach: This was a tough room with few picks to criticize. I don’t like Alex Wood moving to that park, but he was just a 15th rounder, so nothing too egregious.

Michael Lazarus, Yahoo Product Manager

Second Year in F&F

Last year was my first in the Friends and Family draft and in a word I was awful — finishing 13 out of 15. So it was natural after taking a power-based approach in 2018 and leaving a black hole at catcher, I switched strategy and went with speed. I have six players projected with double-digit steals after my leader in 2018 had 10. I jumped on Realmuto in Round 4 to make sure I got something out of that spot. Pitching might be a little soft but I grabbed two top starters early — now i need to hope the Dodgers don't play their IL shenanigans too much with Walker Buehler.

Steal: Brandon Nimmo and Domingo Santana going back-to-back in Round 12 stand out to me as being really good value picks. Jorge Polanco is another good value at the end of round 16.

Reach: Good luck with James Paxton at the end of Round 3 — hasn't yet made 30 starts in a season.

Jason Klabacha and Mo Castillo, Yahoo Sports Editorial

Third Year in F&F

We aren’t completely happy with our team. Sure, our first two picks were as safe as it gets in Jose Altuve and Freddie Freeman, but after the draft I just couldn’t ignore how lacking our pitching is. We love us some Thor — if he stays healthy. But beyond that, our rotation is filled with question marks, and our relievers are lacking. We’re not swimming in multi-position eligible assets either, which would have been a plus.

Ohhh, and how we wanted Severino or Kershaw when they fell and debated taking both of them in Rounds 7 and 8 but didn't have the guts to pull the trigger. Oh well. But it’s not all bad — if Revers, Myers, Taillon, and Weaver put it all together this year, our team will be a lot easier to stomach.

Steal: Jenstad’s nab of Luis Severino at pick 128. Sure, he might miss April, but if he’s even a fraction of what he is when he’s healthy, you basically got an ace in the 9th round.

Reach: Grey’s selection of Joey Lucchesi at 164 in the 11th round. His Yahoo ADP is at 209.1, and I think Grey’s lack of quality starting pitching may have forced his hand. I love Lucchesi, but maybe not at that pick.

Frank Schwab, Yahoo Sports

First Year in F&F

If there's an award for drafting the most low-ceiling/high-floor veterans, I think I'd win it. This is not an exciting team, and looking back I wish I had taken a few more chances on potential breakouts. For example, unless George Springer runs again, he's just shooting for par in the fourth round. I feel like my team can hang round the top third of the league because there's not a glaring weakness, but it's hard to find a path to a championship with a lot of safe 30-year-old veterans. It's a lesson to keep in mind: Playing it too safe isn't going to win many titles, especially in a tough league.

Reach: I can't get behind Adalberto Mondesi at 40th overall. And yes, I talked about taking some chances in the draft and realize Mondesi's upside is very good. But he's a young, high-strikeout hitter who barely takes a walk. If a late power surge from last season doesn't hold, he could end up being a drag in a few categories. That's too risky for me in the third round.

Steal: I waited one round too long on Michael Conforto. Once I saw resident Mets fan Salfino picked before me in the seventh round, I knew I had no shot at him. If you ask me which player drafted outside of the top 90 has the best shot of doing a real star turn and having a top-15 finish, I'd probably pick Conforto. He had a huge second half last year when he got healthy, and that could be a sign of things to come. The skills have always been there, he just needs health to cooperate.

Scott Pianowski, Yahoo Sports

Podium Finishes: 1st in 2014, 2010, 2008; 2nd in 2013, 2009, 2007, 2005; 3rd in 2017

I choose the No. 2 pick over the No. 1 pick because I’d rather spend six months tied to the Boston offense opposed to that mess in Anaheim. I obviously won’t fault anyone who takes the first pick so they can have Trout. The league won’t be won and lost there, anyway.

Because Kris Bryant was a must-have, I let Aaron Nola go at 29. Maybe I should have taken Nola first and hope Jeff Erickson followed with two pitchers (I now know this was likely), letting me take Bryant at 32. But I was pleased to get Zack Greinke and Jose Berrios in the 59-62 pocket, when I picked again. Because only two teams made the 1400-inning cap in this league last season, I decided pitching volume could be an under-appreciated commodity this season. I didn’t want to pay through the nose for it, but I was far more proactive staff-building than I usually am in this room.

I didn’t plan to ignore saves, but when my guy Kirby Yates went fairly early (sixth round), that signaled Damone pricing was in play. So I did a semi-punt, and it was relaxing in the draft room. Maybe I can fix the bullpen in-season, through trades or pickups, or maybe I just won’t get saves. To be fair, in most competitive leagues, throwing away a category is a mistake. Give yourself a chance to get lucky. Maybe Drew Steckenrider and Blake Parker will do something for me.

I should contend. But no one cares if you come in fourth.

Steal: Mike Moustakas (Pick 129), Cole Hamels (Pick 144), and Garrett Hampson (Pick 171) look juicy to me. And while I don’t even like Maikel Franco, Pick 255 is mighty fine business. No one ever seems to lose money on Nick Castellanos (Pick 78), though Detroit could be a wasteland.

Reach: Victor Robles was priced as a sure thing (Pick 90). Maybe he’ll click, but I generally don’t play that way. I was surprised Roberto Osuna went before Edwin Diaz. The injury history with Daniel Murphy worries me at Pick 51, but he could also beat me in Coors Field, and the dual positions are nice. I don’t have the stomach for Colorado pitchers when they’re pricy, and some were.

PORT ST. LUCIE, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 21:  Zack Wheeler #45 of the New York Mets poses for a photo on Photo Day at First Data Field on February 21, 2019 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Not everybody liked the price on Zack Wheeler (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Meet the Friends

Scott Jenstad, Rotowire

Podium Finish: 1st in 2018

At No. 8 overall, I was hoping to get Scherzer as an ace as this league has an innings limit, so I pushed up the top pitchers more as strikeouts really become K/9. I was a bit surprised he got there, but the key to my draft probably lies in how Luis Severino comes back from his injury. He was not on my radar as I do not like to start with guys who are already hurt, but in the 9th round, I just couldn't pass him again. If he is healthy by even May 1st, my starting pitching is going to be electric.

I was super impressed by how decisively everyone drafted as it was easily the quickest draft I have been in. Everyone seemed to know who they wanted right away all draft long.

Steal of the Draft: Amed Rosario, Round 11

Reach of the Draft: Roberto Osuna as first closer off the board.

[Positional Rankings: Top 300 Overall | C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | P ]

Jeff Erickson, Rotowire

Podium Finish: 1st in 2011

When you draft first or second, you have the obvious big advantage of starting off with Mike Trout or Mookie Betts, but there's a secondary advantage. You get an opportunity to plan ahead for the next few rounds without having to worry as much about who is going to be available for your next couple of picks. Sure, there's some devil in the details, but I pretty much knew I was going to snag two aces at the 2-3 turn — it was just a matter of which two I were going to get, absent an unexpected run. In this case, I was able to get two of my favorites in the tier in Aaron Nola and Blake Snell.

The downside to being on one of the ends is that you're subject to more runs, so I tried to get out ahead on closers in particular, given how much currency that they have in this league. Even with that intent I'm still a little light, with only two full-time closers.

Steal: Salfino could end up being very happy with Brad Peacock (246) if he wins a rotation slot.

Reach: Zack Wheeler at 50th overall by Funston strikes me as a little early, as a reaction to getting shut out by the aces in the first three rounds.

D.J. Short, Rotoworld

Podium Finishes: 1st in 2015, 1st in 2013

I didn’t have a plan coming into this draft, but some of my choices legitimately surprised me. Granted, some of this was about being sniped more often than usual. This caused me to pivot in some interesting directions. For example, I didn’t think I would have Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. on any of my teams this year, mostly because he’s been going earlier than I’m comfortable paying. However, I took a shot on him here. I guess I could say the same for Joey Gallo, who brings a ton of power, but is a serious batting average drag. In the end, I think I ended up with a decently-balanced team who should be fun to follow.

Steal: There were quite a few picks that I liked, but I’m going to go with Beller’s pick of Craig Kimbrel at 132 overall. I know, he doesn’t have a team at the moment, but he almost certainly will before long and odds are he’s going to be a top closer once again, perhaps in the top-five assuming he lands in a good situation. He was drafted after the likes of Wade Davis and Ken Giles here, which I think is going to prove to be a steal this year. As for someone who is with a team right now, I found it a little curious that Mitch Haniger hung around until pick No. 101 with Funston. Great value there.

Reach: Not sure about egregious reaches in this draft. This was a very smart room, so most of the picks made sense. I think 50th overall is a little aggressive for Zack Wheeler, even as much as I like him. This selection not only comes with the expectation that he’ll duplicate what he did to finish out last year, but also build off that. I think he’s going to be valuable this year if healthy — I see him more as a top-25 pitcher as opposed to say, top-15 — but it’s a lot to ask for someone with his injury history. I'm rooting for him, though.

Michael Salfino, The Athletic

Podium Finish: 2nd in 2012

I wanted lower-cost pitchers who are being devalued because of whether they will be in the rotation or last in the rotation. Basically, good pitchers who have low-inning projections. First of all, we’re in a low-inning environment with 57 guys qualifying for the ERA title down from 88 in 2014. So you don’t even need more than 180 out of a slot to compete and I really want the averages and the K/9. So this basically worked where I got McHugh, Whitley and Peacock. Think I’m guaranteed one top starter out of that and maybe two. Plus, Whitley of course can be N/A’ed. I wish I had James but other people get to draft, too.

I only have one Dodger, the other team I like to do this with — Maeda. But those guys are more tightly grouped and more expensive so it’s harder. Offensively, I wanted enough speed without falling behind on power and Mission Accomplished, I think.

Steal: Hunter Renfroe (Schwab) is a lot of projectable power at Pick 202.

Reach: While I like Zack Wheeler the pitcher, it’s always about the price to me. I get that his second-half stats were downright pornographic. But 50th overall (Funston) for a guy who has struggled with health and who has one great half is way too rich for this Mets fan. I can’t take Wheeler over Greinke.

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Grey Albright, Razzball

Podium Finishes: 3rd in 2018, 3rd in 2010

The Friends and the Family. The one league I can’t ever seem to win. The white whale. A distant, out-of-focus fruit that is just inches out of my reach. Secretively following Johnny Depp for weeks only getting close enough to realize it’s Skeet Ulrich. The elusive, unattainable …C’mon, help me out here, thesaurus, the ephemeral. Wait, this is starting to sound like a personal hygiene product commercial.

So, I haven’t won this league, but this is the year! I drafted all my boos — are they now baes? — David Dahl, Trevor Story, German Marquez—and even mixed in a few non-Rockies players. According to our Razzball projections, I’m doing well in this league, but preseason projections are like opinions … actually, they are just opinions.

Steal: Honestly, there were a ton. Single one out, I love Adalberto Mondesi mid-3rd

Reach: Tommy Pham in the mid-4th.

Ted Bell, Free Lance Writer

First Year in F&F

As a young fantasy grommet, I remember pouring over the Friends & Family Draft Results blog on Roto Arcade. I would study the picks and strategies of luminaries such as Andrew Behrens and Christopher Liss. Of course, they've long since been put out to pasture and a more modern, more athletic crop of managers like myself now compete in the F&F. But if there is even a faint WiFi connection available at whatever assisted care facility they now reside at, I hope they get a chance to read this and finally see what a flawless draft looks like. My draft is like a radio signal sent by an advanced fantasy species from another planet ... Hope you listened!

Steal: Byron Buxton. Getting him in any round after the 1st is great. Getting him in the 13th is grand larceny.

Reach: Max Scherzer. Pitchers are the worst. They are a plague upon our beloved game and the first one taken is always the biggest reach.

Patrick Daugherty, Rotoworld

Second Year in F&F

This was my least favorite draft in some time. I never got into a rhythm. It has been a while since I felt this aimless. I was most thrown by the pitching. I did not mind Bauer into Bumgarner — I know Bumgarner has almost every red flag known to man, but I love betting on his talent — but then I think I sort of went off the rails a bit. With this league’s innings cap, you can go after pitchers who might not throw the most innings but have amazing peripherals. That’s why I gambled on Urias, Josh James and C-Mart, but … three felt like too many, and I am already really regretting the James pick. I was telling Scott, I am just not comfortable with the pitching environment overall this year. So few guys are a good bet for even 180 innings, let alone 210. The landscape has changed so quickly. I let it get to me. I was probably most happy with getting Corey Seager at 57, but Rotoworld’s Seth Trachtman has me completely indoctrinated there.

Steal: Even if he is officially Joe Mauer 2.0 at this stage of his career, getting Buster Posey in the 13th round is not too shabby.

Reach: As someone with personal experience of the devastation that was Cody Bellinger’s 2018, I will go with Cody, even though I really want the lad to bounce back.

Michael Beller, Sports Illustrated

First Year in F&F

I’ve been waiting for years to get an F&F invite in baseball or football, so I jumped at the chance when it finally arrived. I was pretty sure I’d end up going hitter/hitter with my first two picks, and that I’d likely want to get a pitcher with one of my next two. That came to fruition and worked out well, setting a nice foundation for the rest of my draft.

A few rounds later, though, I made the one choice I really regret, passing on Matt Chapman for Stephen Strasburg. I’ve been telling anyone who will listen all winter that I see a lot of 2015 Nolan Arenado in 2019 Chapman, yet I opted for Strasburg here thinking I could roll the dice and get Chapman in the next round. That didn’t happen and kicked off a pattern of me being sniped at third base, which ultimately left me with Ian Happ at the hot corner. This team is going to strike dudes out, hit bombs and get on base a lot, but I’m concerned about speed and possible holes at third and catcher.

Steal: It’s not that Collin McHugh went oddly late in this draft that made him a steal. It’s that he’s going oddly late in every draft. Talk about cheap source of strikeouts and, with Houston’s offense at his back, wins. I want McHugh in every league I’m in this year. Nice work, Salfino.

Reach: I couldn’t possibly be less interested in J.T. Realmuto this year. Why would I go to the secondary market for him and pay for an upcharge and all those fees when I can go straight to the box office and get Wilson Ramos at face value? Plus, Realmuto’s price forces you to pass on big-time bankable assets in every draft. In this one, those assets came in the form of Corey Seager, Eugenio Suarez, Joey Votto and Jose Berrios, just to name four. And for what? Value derived from positional scarcity? That’s always blown way out of proportion.

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