Bats now, pitching later: Pianow's 2018 LABR draft

Roto Arcade
Two Boston bashers were early picks in a recent expert draft (AP)
Two Boston bashers were early picks in a recent expert draft (AP)

I’ve been playing fantasy baseball since the late 1980s, and while I don’t mass-market my strategies or try to make them into cute branding acronyms, I’ve always had two primary maxims I bring to any draft or auction table:

— Get hitting first, figure out the pitching later

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— Draft or auction day is about acquiring value; worry about balance later

I drafted this week in the 15-team LABR mixed draft (5×5 scoring, two catchers), and my results weren’t overly popular with some of the pundits and peanut galleries. That’s not a concern to me; I’m not trying to make picks that will gain me favor with others or attract attention. I wasn’t going to force early picks on pitching and I probably made a mistake not taking at least one horse at the front of my rotation, but it’s a long season. I have time to move the pieces around.

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A light-pitching strategy has been my regular companion in the Yahoo Friends & Family League over the years, with regular success. I did something similar in Tout Mixed last year and it was a mess, though that’s as much because my offense tanked as much as my pitching did. This strategy isn’t as executable in LABR mixed because FAAB is capped at $100 and there are no zero bids, and I don’t know the trading windows as well as I do in my Yahoo turf. But anytime Fred Zinkie is in the room, you know trades will be made (granted, Zinkie trades usually wind up winning for Zinkie; caveat emptor).

Here’s an explanation of who I picked and why I picked them. If you want the full draft board, it’s viewable here.

Mookie Betts, OF, Red Sox (1.09, 9th overall): Just had the worst season he’ll probably ever have in his 20s and was still a four-category stud. Batting average littered with flukiness; he’s a career .292 hitter. Strong lineup, favorable park. With an outfielder in tow, I will now lean infielders, at least as a tiebreak, for a few rounds.

• Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs (2.07, 22nd overall): The steals could dry up at any time and he might be closer to batting-average neutral, but like Betts this is a player in a favorable offense, around peak age. I would have strongly considered Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor in this spot, they were both gone. And with five starting pitchers off the board, I wasn’t going to take an arm here.

Anthony Rendon, 3B, Nationals (3.09, 39th overall): I didn’t pay attention to ADP prior to this draft — I don’t think we’re deep enough into draft season that it means much — but I probably took him a round early. Rendon is similar to my first two picks — a player in a strong lineup, in his prime years, who has a wide range of skills. Rendon is often mentioned as an injury risk, but he’s played 147 games or more in three of four seasons. (In retrospect, Jacob deGrom would have been a fine pick in this spot.)

Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Orioles (4.07, 52nd overall): His 2017 breakout becomes a little less interesting when you consider the shape of baseball last year, but if Schoop winds up closer to the player he was in 2016, I still feel validated using an early pick on him. And like my first three picks, this is a player in his mid-20s, the sweet spot. (I came close to picking Justin Verlander here, but the “age 34” sign kept flashing and I backed off. Knowing what I know how, I take Verlander, secure an anchor.)

[2018 Fantasy Baseball rankings: Overall | H | P | C | 1B | 2B | 3B |SS | OF | SP | RP]

Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox (5.09, 69th overall): Playing hurt in the second half, his stats collapsed. But he’s just year removed from .294-115-21-89-13, and he’s buoyed by the same park and lineup that Betts is. Another player in his mid-20s. (Flying pitching continued to fly off the board and I didn’t consider Jose Quintana or Aaron Nola worthy of fifth-round picks, though I do like both of them. How do you make a profit that way?)

Matt Carpenter, 1B, Cardinals (6.07, 82nd overall): I’ll admit I have a Carpenter problem, and I’m willing to write off last year’s mediocre season to injuries. But maybe he’s more injury prone than I care to accept. I think of the top four in the St. Louis lineup — Fowler, Pham, Carpenter, Ozuna — and I want a piece of it. Carpenter’s lovely position eligibility from last year doesn’t qualify now — you need 20 games in LABR, or five in-season — but maybe it will show up again. (Starting pitchers I passed up: Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel — thought he might slip a little later — and Jake Arrieta, who’s moving in the wrong direction.)

• Adam Jones, OF, Orioles (7.09, 99th overall): After a couple of players coming off injury-dinged seasons, I balance out with a boring-but-durable veteran. No one is going to give you hipster cred when you pick this type of player, but many +EV fantasy moves are mundane in nature. (The only starting pitcher I missed in the 7-8 pocket is Michael Fulmer, who struck me as a major overdraft.)

• J.T. Realmuto, C, Marlins (8.07, 112th overall): He’s not insulated by a good lineup, though he could easily be traded at any point in the season. Two-catcher leagues are a pain in the neck when the league runs 15 teams, which is why I want some volume there. Another player parked into his prime, entering his age-27 season. I’d love it if he could steal 10-plus bases, but it’s hard to rely on that from a catcher.

Mike Moustakas, 3B, Unsigned (9.09, 129th overall): It’s fun to dream of him in a favorable park, though the unexciting Royals loom as a logical return spot. I felt a strong gravitational pull to a pitcher, but look at who went after the Moose pick — Kyle Hendricks, Luke Weaver, David Price, not a sure thing in that mix. Moustakas is a rare power hitter who doesn’t strike out, and his pedigree long hinted that 2017’s breakout was possible. I’m focusing on best-bat-available here, not concerned with position overlap. I do need to address stolen bases at some point, though.

Didi Gregorius, SS, Yankees (10.7, 142nd overall): Is it possible to be underrated and on a high-profile team like the Yankees? Gregorius makes a strong case. Another power-hitter who doesn’t strike out, and perhaps underrated in a room of SABR-leaning players because Gregorius doesn’t walk much. Entering his age-28 season — it’s not that young players can’t get hurt, but I love how young this roster is.

• Jay Bruce, OF, Mets (11.09, 159th overall pick): Much like the Jones pick, a boring veteran who is fairly easy to project. You can’t have enough power in today’s game. I am digging a hole in steals, though.

Andrew Miller, RP, Indians (12.07, 172nd overall pick): I finally take a pitcher and it’s not a starter or a closer? Well, the sure-closer bets were dried up, and none of the starters were that enticing, and Miller at least gives me a first piece of building quality ratios. My likely starting staff is going to challenge those ratios, but maybe I can pair Miller with another ace reliever and treat that as a de-facto ace. Miller’s wins and saves were fairly light last year given that the Indians love to use him in high-leverage spots; I expect a modest bounce-back in that area, as unreliable as those stats can be.

• Michael Taylor, OF, Nationals (13.00, 189th overall pick): It’s hard to trust last year’s average given his free swinging, but he’s a power-speed option, his glove keeps him in the lineup, and this is another player tied to a strong supporting cast, even as he might slot near the bottom of the lineup. Entering his age-27 season.

• Julio Teheran, SP, Braves (14.07, 202nd overall pick): Maybe the new park spooked him, but he was excellent in 2014 and 2016 and useful in 2015. Still just 27. I know, he should be a middle-staff guy, not someone’s default No. 1. But the goal of a draft is to acquire value and not worry about balance. I have seven months to try to make this puzzle work.

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• Kevin Gausman, SP, Orioles (15.09, 219th overall pick): At this point, I’m just looking for plausible upside with my starting-pitcher dart throws. Maybe Gausman figured something out in the second half, when he had a 3.41 ERA and better than a strikeout per inning. Entering age-27 season.

• Avisail Garcia, OF, White Sox (16.07, 232nd overall pick): One of my favorite selections on the evening, a play that will commonly work in a room of smart people. Because very few SABR-leaning pundits will take Garcia’s 2017 breakout at face value, there’s a strong pull to make sure you’re not “the sucker” who pays for those stats. As a result, the fade often gets unreasonably strong, allowing someone to scoop up a tremendous bargain. Regression should never finish the conversation, it’s merely the start of the conversation. Garcia can give back a lot of last year and still make a profit for me. Entering age-27 season.

• Josh Harrison, 2B/3B, Pirates (17.09, 249th overall pick): Qualifies at two infield spots and maybe he’ll scoop up another in-season. A career .281 hitter with some pop and speed. The Pirates have become a somewhat-pedestrian roster as they move big names, which could screen some of their leftover values.

• Josh Hader, RP, Brewers (18.09, 262nd overall pick): It is often a mistake to go after last year’s non-closing heroes — the goal is often to find the next Hader or Chad Green or Chris Devenski, not chase last year’s emergence. But you see Hader’s 12.8 K/9 and electric stuff and it’s easy to fall in love. I am not sold on Corey Knebel as a closer, either, and the Brewers fancy themselves contenders — they probably won’t give Knebel an extended leash. But even if Hader never gets close to the ninth, I expect him to massage the ratios.

• Brad Ziegler, RP, Marlins (19.07, 279th overall pick): I can’t defend him as a ratios pick, but Ziggy might play the ninth in Miami — he’s the current favorite — and that has some value.

• Chris Iannetta, C, Rockies (20.07, 292nd overall pick): His contract suggests Colorado brought him back to be the primary starter. It often takes catchers a while to mature as offensive players; Iannetta climbed a level last year.

• Tanner Roark, SP, Nationals (21.09, 309th overall pick): As fluky as wins seem to be, I’ll take my chances on the teams expected to win 90-plus ballgames. And the NL East could be easy pickings, especially with Miami bottoming out. Like Teheran, Roark was excellent in 2014 and 2016. The floor is not sturdy here, but there’s enough upside to take a stab.

• Jake Odorizzi, SP, Rays (22.07, 322nd overall pick): Hasn’t been the most durable guy, but a career 3.83/1.22 pitcher this late makes sense. Obviously I want him to stick in the womb of Tampa Bay, all those cushy home starts, and maybe I’ll steer him from some of the jagged road assignments.

• Joakim Soria, RP, White Sox (23.09, 339th overall pick): One of the main contenders for the ninth inning in Chicago.

• Carl Edwards, RP, Cubs (24.07, 352nd overall pick): I’m not going to assume Brandon Morrow has a smooth takeoff as the Chicago closer. Edwards has the strikeout stuff to close; if he can improve the control, this could be a special pitcher. And if he winds up being a non-closing reliever, at least he’s on a winning team, leading to more potential collateral benefits.

• Raul Mondesi, 2B, Royals (25.09, 369th pick): He hasn’t hit in Kansas City, though it’s been a tiny sample. It’s too early (and convenient; heck, lazy) to conclude we know who he’ll be. Slashed .305/.340/.539 in Triple-A, with 13 homers and 21 steals over 85 games. This late, all you want is some plausible upside.

• Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox (26.07, 382nd pick): Category juice might be out the window, but always hits for a plus average. Obviously ticketed for the DL to start, which might be a feature, not a bug, this late in the draft — one free dip into the replacement pool.

[Salfino and Pianowski review the Mixed LABR draft on the Breakfast Table Podcast]

• Matt Shoemaker, SP, Angels (27.09, 399th pick): Health obviously a problem through his career, but when the splitter is right, the strikeout upside is appealing. A lottery ticket.

• Steve Cishek, RP, Cubs (28.09, 412nd pick): Another bet against Brandon Morrow in Chicago. Quietly got back on track in Tampa Bay last year (2.14/0.81), for whatever 24.2 innings means to you.

• Cameron Maybin, OF, Free Agent (29.7, 429th overall pick): Maybe he’ll sign with a club that needs to play him. Has some steals upside. Will be easy to cut in March or April if it doesn’t come together.

— Team Strengths: All the non-steal offensive categories, offensive depth, age, no weak field positions.

— Team Weaknesses: Everything related to pitching (Steve Gardner, unfortunately, won’t allow this to be a 5×0 league).

— What I need to do: Explore the pitcher market, and try to be early and proactive to possible breakouts. And not listen to the noise, especially from those not in the arena.

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