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February 14, 2017

Expert League Draft Recap

2017 LABR Mixed

by Bret Sayre

Bret Sayre participated in the Mixed LABR (League of Alternative Baseball) draft on Monday night. It’s a 15-team, standard 5x5 rotisserie league, and he won this league with Mike Gianella in 2015. This year is his first year flying solo.

There’s a funny type of introspection that happens at 12:30 in the morning right after you complete a grueling draft. You check the roster page and see how things came together, and where things didn’t quite go as planned. You take a look through the draft board and see the players you lost sight of—the players you would have at least had towards the top of your queue when they went, if not ones you would have actually taken yourself. The names are endless, but for the next seven weeks or so the possibilities are as well.

On Sunday night, 24 hours before this draft started, George Bissell and Mike Gianella asked me a bunch of questions about my thought process and what I expected to happen on Monday. My answers were admittedly boring, but so is my draft strategy. Best player available. Then more best player available. Then more best player available, until it just doesn’t make sense anymore and you need to actually start filling out a full roster. We’ll get to that full roster eventually.

One of those questions was when I thought I’d end up taking my pitchers. I genuinely had no idea. That said, the one thing I knew for sure was that I wasn’t going to deviate from my valuations during the first half of the draft—and whether that meant I’d end up with six or seven pitchers at that point, or possibly just one or two, just meant I’d have gone where the room took me. Would I get an ace? Would I get a closer? Would I take a string of pitchers in the middle? Would I need to take a string of pitchers at the end? Well, there did end up being a string of nine picks in a row where I didn’t select a single arm, and it came right in the middle of the active draft.

And that’s okay. There’s no tried-and-true strategy of when to take a pitcher. There were a few times in that stretch where a pitcher was second in my queue: Matt Harvey in the 12th, Carlos Rodon in the 14th. Maybe one of them turns into an SP1 this year and I bang my head against the wall for not pushing harder on them. Maybe neither of them ends up making an impact. In both cases, those outcomes went into the rankings and the rankings went into the selections. Overburdening your draft selections by double-counting the potential positive outcomes is a way to get yourself in deep trouble with Jeff Quinton.

So in the end, the draft led me to an interesting place. I’ve got what I think is a pretty dynamic offense with a lot of reward and certainly some risk attached. I’ve also got a really strong top end to the pitching staff, but in addition to some of those hitters reaching their potential, I’m going to need to get a few middling arms into mid-rotation shape. But here it is, my team laid bare:

Round 1 (Pick 13): Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers

This was the player I thought I would get. I can’t tell you why Cabrera is going outside of the first round this year, but he’s in my top 10 and is extremely safe and productive. Donaldson went the pick before me, and I would have taken him over Cabrera had he not.

Round 2 (Pick 17): Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers

This is the other player I thought I would get—though it wasn’t nearly as much of a sure thing. I’m a believer in the Dodger as a back-end first-rounder and a great bet to at least replicate his 2016 success. Even if there’s no additional step forward, a .300 average and 25 homers out of a middle infielder is still incredibly valuable.

Round 3 (Pick 43): Johnny Cueto, SP, San Francisco Giants

My eyes were wide on an NL Central outfield duo here, but both Ryan Braun (consistently great) and Andrew McCutchen (love the bounce-back year bet) were grabbed in the third round before I could pick by Steve Gardner and Howard Bender, respectively. Instead, I ended up with my ace. Cueto was the seventh pitcher on my board and the eighth taken in this draft. There’s not as much dispersal in value at the top as there generally is among arms this year, but the Giant still remains slightly underappreciated.

Round 4 (Pick 47): Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds

And here’s where things got fun. Steals are extremely valuable in this offensive environment, and Hamilton’s got them in spades. It’s no secret I’ve long been a Hamilton appreciator in fantasy circles, and last year he continued to hint at things to come. Here are his splits from last year:

First half: .236/.283/.350 with 22 steals, 15 walks and 54 strikeouts in 74 games

Second half: .293/.369/.333 with 36 steals, 21 walks and 39 strikeouts in 45 games

And no he didn’t beat up on September pitching, as he was hurt in September. Sure, there’s plenty of downside here, but the upside is still bananas in roto leagues.

Round 5 (Pick 73): Kyle Schwarber, OF, Chicago Cubs

Another non-surprise. Even with playing time a mild question and catcher eligibility a relic of the past, Schwarber can slug his way to 25-30 homers with a good batting average and really strong counting stats hitting in the middle of a good lineup. It’s a myth that Schwarber needs that C next to his name to be a high-end fantasy player.

Round 6 (Pick 77): Aroldis Chapman, RP, New York Yankees

I’ll be honest, I did not expect to get a closer early on because of where I ranked Jansen and Chapman, but the Dodgers closer went in the middle of the fifth and I kept thinking the Yankee fireballer would follow suit. The top of the closer circuit is a two-man tier, and this pick kicked off a bit of a closer run (two of the next three picks and six picks in the next two rounds), which is always a plus.

Round 7 (Pick 103): Cole Hamels, SP, Texas Rangers

Again, I did not set out to get another pitcher at this point, but Hamels was his usual great self last year and I still believe he’ll age pretty gracefully given his repertoire and ability to locate.

Round 8 (Pick 107): Miguel Sano, 3B/OF, Minnesota Twins

Round 9 (Pick 133): Yasmani Grandal, C, Los Angeles Dodgers

Round 10 (Pick 137): Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins

And this group is potentially where my fate will be decided, but when you’re going to bet, bet on talent. Sano has 40-homer pop and could do it as soon as this year—plus, the batting average isn’t as bad as you think it might be. Grandal can’t seem to put things together for a full season, but the power jumped out last year and even if he does his only-one-good-half thing again, he’s still a solid value at this point. He also could hit .260 with 30 homers. Buxton is the ultimate wild card. The power from the stretch run in September isn’t likely to be sustainable, but he should give me a solid second speed source with the potential to be useful everywhere.

Round 11 (Pick 163): Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Boston Red Sox

Round 12 (Pick 167): Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Toronto Blue Jays

Round 13 (Pick 193): Victor Martinez, DH, Detroit Tigers

This is certainly not the most exciting group, unless you’re playing in a 2010 sim league, but all three of these veterans should produce for as long as they can stay on the field. Pedroia gives me another batting average anchor and in the 11th round, it doesn’t matter if he only combines for 25 homers and steals. It’s crazy think that Tulowitzki has fallen from a first rounder to a non top-150 pick this quickly, but he hasn’t been himself while he’s stayed healthy, which really ruins the whole rep he’s spent years cultivating. That said, I still like his chances to hit 25 homers with reasonable health in Toronto and I’m not convinced the batting average has completely cratered. Martinez can hit as long as he’s upright, and hopefully he’ll stay upright most of the season.

Round 14 (Pick 197): Yulieski Gurriel, 3B, Houston Astros

Getting Gurriel was probably the most predictable move of this draft. I really like his chances to get close to .300 while knocking 15-20 homers in that park.

Round 15 (Pick 223): Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers

Castellanos has no business falling this far in the draft, and even with two third basemen, a first baseman, and a designated hitter, I couldn’t not take him. It helps that Sano can shift to the outfield though.

Round 16 (Pick 227): Travis d’Arnaud, C, New York Mets

Round 17 (Pick 253): Addison Reed, RP, New York Mets

Round 18 (Pick 257): Francisco Liriano, SP, Toronto Blue Jays

Round 19 (Pick 283): Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Texas Rangers

Round 20 (Pick 287): Zach Davies, SP, Milwaukee Brewers

Round 21 (Pick 313): Tyler Glasnow, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates

Round 22 (Pick 317): Ian Kennedy, SP, Kansas City Royals

Round 23 (Pick 343): Jordan Zimmermann, Detroit Tigers

And here’s how the rest of my active squad got filled out. There’s a very good chance that d’Arnaud disappoints me and only plays in like 40-50 games, but in a two-catcher league this is where you should be taking your shot on him. That said, you’re going to want to back him with a reliable replacement, which we’ll get to later. Reed should serve as the Mets’ closer for the first month-plus of the season, which will give me a little time to either find a more permanent closer on the waiver wire or make a deal for one. He’ll be plenty startable even after that. Liriano was excellent after getting to Toronto last year and was pretty excellent in 2015 as well. Choo’s 2016 season really never could get started, but his underlying stats were still solid and even if I just get 100 games out of him in my last OF spot, that’s a win. Davies is tagged as a regression candidate, but our latest pitching research pegs him as a skillful archer who can not only repeat but build off his 2016 success. Glasnow could be a strikeout machine if he’s not a walk machine, and Kennedy is just a very solid last starter in a 15-team mixed format like this. He’ll hold his own in strikeouts and WHIP, while hopefully not doing too much damage to my ERA.

Round 24 (Pick 347): Andrew Susac, C, Milwaukee Brewers

Round 25 (Pick 373): Clay Buchholz, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

Round 26 (Pick 377): Lucas Giolito, SP, Chicago White Sox

Round 27 (Pick 403): Dan Vogelbach, 1B, Seattle Mariners

Round 28 (Pick 407): Carter Capps, RP, San Diego Padres

Round 29 (Pick 433): Ryan Zimmerman, 1B, Washington Nationals

The mistake that people tend to make in the reserve round is that they try to cover all of their bases in case of injury or ineffectiveness of their starters. And while yes, you don’t want to have six pitchers or six hitters on your bench, there are very few rules to building a good reserve squad other than finding players who you think can push their way either into your active lineup or someone else’s via trade. Susac was my catcher to target back in January and I was surprised he was still available in the reserves. Buchholz finds himself in the National League and is a nice little upside gamble. Giolito is a far bigger gamble with a far lower floor, but he almost immediately becomes my third-best starter if he can turn things around with the White Sox and get back to the majors. Vogelbach and Zimmerman are both players I believe can be quality starters in this format, and if that holds true for at least one of them, I can make one of my starting corner guys expendable. Finally, I can stash Capps on the DL until he’s been back for three weeks (given the rules around DL activations) and he might get saves and a bunch of strikeouts. If not, he’s at least a conduit for me to make another pickup before the first game of the season.

The full link to the draft grid is available to check out and see whether you liked my team more than the projection system the site used:

Not sure about you, but I think it’s pretty nice.

Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bret's other articles. You can contact Bret by clicking here

Related Content:  LABR,  Fantasy

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