Winning has its privileges, and in my corner of Tout Wars, one of those privileges is the right to pick where to pick.
That's where my troubles began in my bid to repeat as champion in the 15-team Rotisserie league, part of a small circuit of leagues that all go by the name "Tout Wars". It's a longstanding competition for some of the brightest minds in the Fantasy baseball world. And also me.
But whatever, I won it last year. I did it by beginning a draft pitcher-pitcher for the first time ever, claiming Gerrit Cole in the first round and Shane Bieber in the second, and then just murdering the pitcher categories. The final tally had me winning the league by seven. It was pretty neat.
If you've read or listened to anything I've put out the past two years, you know I'm all about the high-end starting pitchers. They're your only hope of competing in the pitcher categories given the way the middle class at the position has dried up, and they're such a select group that the only realistic way you can get them is to draft them or get dragged in a trade for them (because, hello, nobody has enough).
So yeah, I was comfortable going pitcher-pitcher again, and I knew this when selecting where I would select. My top-ranked starting pitcher, Bieber, tends to be the third off the board, behind Cole and Jacob deGrom, and in a Roto league, the five-category studs like Ronald Acuna, Mookie Betts and Fernando Tatis typically go before the starting pitchers anyway. I opted for the eighth pick. It was late enough that I could trust Cole and deGrom would already be gone, and if Bieber happened to go too, I could settle for Mike Trout and still grab an ace like Trevor Bauer, Yu Darvish or Aaron Nola on the way back. Not a bad plan.
But see, it started me down a dark path of forecasting how all my picks would go, and there's danger in that, particularly when it's a live draft with a real timer and a need to adapt on a second-by-second basis.
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My bold plan for picking eighth also counted on me devoting my third pick to Corey Seager, Alex Bregman or Anthony Rendon, three first round-caliber hitters who typically drop to Round 3, if not Round 4. But none of them did this time. Perhaps it was foreseeable given that this particular Roto league uses on-base percentage instead of batting average, but nonetheless, I didn't foresee it.
Having too rigid a game plan, though, was only one of the two factors that contributed to whatever struggles I had with this draft. The other was the frenetic pace. I've never seen anything like it. We all had a minute to pick, but it seemed like most picks were made in 10 seconds or less. It was like playing an AI in chess. You're sitting there intensely focused, taking care to give each move its due deliberation, and then your world comes crashing down in the blink of an eye.
I'm not saying I need more than a minute to make my pick -- not normally -- but I do count on having some time in between picks to examine every angle of what's still available. Little did I know everyone else in the room was a robot.
OK, so Bregman and Rendon have already gone, and four picks before I'm up in Round 3, Rudy Gamble of Razzball, my self-described nemesis in this league, takes Seager. I'm miffed, obviously, and move to fire off this tweet, presuming I have somewhere in the neighborhood of four minutes before I'm due to pick:
Rudy Gamble takes Corey Seager with the fourth pick in Round 3, and bolsters his nemesis status in the process.— Scott White (@CBSScottWhite) March 10, 2021
By the time I look up, I have 25 seconds left and no ... idea ... what to do.
Panic. I didn't plan for this scenario. In all my mocks, I've never encountered this scenario, and yet there's no time for thinking, only reflex. Thankfully, I have my tiers printed out. I've been crossing off names. Whit Merrifield stands out as the last of his tier, second base being a weak position and stolen bases being scarce, so OK, done.
Here's the thing: Adalberto Mondesi was still available. If I'm going to make the steals scarcity play, why not go whole hog for it with the guy who might double up everyone else in the category? As you can see, I wasn't exactly hurting for second basemen in the end ...
My team is shown below. You can find the full draft results here.
Startling lineup (round number in parentheses):
C - Gary Sanchez, NYY (13)
C - Dom Nunez, COL (29)
1B - Luke Voit, NYY (5)
2B - Whit Merrifield, KC (3)
3B - Ke'Bryan Hayes, PIT (11)
SS - Carlos Correa, HOU (8)
CI - Jared Walsh, LAA (17)
MI - Ketel Marte, ARI (7)
OF - Nick Castellanos, CIN (6)
OF - Dylan Moore, SEA (10)
OF - Alex Kirilloff, MIN (14)
OF - Hunter Dozier, KC (18)
OF - Hunter Renfroe, BOS (21)
U - Shohei Ohtani, LAA (16) (hitter only)
P - Shane Bieber, CLE (1)
P - Aaron Nola, PHI (2)
P - Kenta Maeda, MIN (4)
P - Dylan Bundy, LAA (9)
P - Corey Kluber, NYY (12)
P - Michael Pineda, MIN (15)
P - John Means, BAL (19)
P - Luis Severino, NYY (23)
P - Michael Kopech, CHW (24)
So by my count, that's four players -- Merrifield, Ketel Marte, Dylan Moore and Brendan Rodgers -- with second base eligibility to begin the season, with another, Jorge Polanco, projected to pick it up right away. So much for it being a weak position.
I think I rallied OK from my early spazz-out. I do. There's more I like about this team than dislike, but the Merrifield pick set into motion a sequence of picks that took me away from my core strategy of building a foolproof starting pitcher corps.
What do you mean, Scott? Your starting rotation is the best in the league!
Yes, on paper, but it's not foolproof. I lose one of those top three to injury, and no longer are my starting pitchers the best in the league. And even if everyone stays healthy, I'm probably not in a position to trade from excess. In theory, I should dominate the pitching categories like last year -- uh, well four of the five, anyway -- but seeing as the draft is the only reliable way to secure competent starting pitching, I want to leave no doubt. Ultimately, I'd like another high-end arm to slot in between Maeda and Bundy.
But when I go back through the draft results, I don't see where the opportunity presented itself -- not once I made Whit Merrifield my first hitter after going pitcher-pitcher, putting me in an even deeper hole power-wise. That pick necessitated the Luke Voit pick in Round 5, with the hope Carlos Carrasco would make it back to me in Round 6. He did not, which prompted the Nick Castellanos pick, again to make up ground in the power categories and again trusting that one of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kyle Hendricks, Zach Plesac and Zack Greinke would make it back to me in Round 7. They did not. So then I'm looking at a buy-low opportunity for Ketel Marte and a likelihood of Zack Wheeler making it back to me in Round 8. Wrong again.
When I go back through each pick, my judgment no longer clouded by the frenetic pace, I find myself making the same decisions all over again. The one exception is Merrifield in Round 3, but certainly that's not when I should have taken an additional starting pitcher. The one I ranked highest at that point, Maeda, was precisely the one I took in Round 4. You could argue I should have taken Eloy Jimenez instead of Merrifield so that I didn't have to chase power with my next few picks, but he loses value in leagues that use on-base percentage instead of batting average. And besides, I would have had to play catch-up in steals the rest of the draft.
No, in retrospect, Mondesi would have been the right move. If I take him in Round 3, hoping he's 50 percent better than Merrifield in the category, then I don't feel like I need to take Dylan Moore in Round 10, and then I can take ... well, wait a second. The best pitchers available at that point were Sixto Sanchez and Lance McCullers. They're nice and all, but we're still talking a step behind Bundy rather than in front of him. Shoot, maybe there was no path for me getting an additional high-end arm.
Unless, of course, I chose a different starting spot than eighth overall. Turns out neither Cole nor deGrom were taken by that point, so I ended up paying up for Bieber unnecessarily. Since all my game planning was for naught and ultimately led me astray anyway, maybe just assign me a pick next time, mkay?
Here's what I like about my team:
- The starting pitcher corps is the strongest on paper.
- No lineup spot is wasted on a pure steals specialist.
- Every position is backed up (except catcher, but whatever).
- Even my worst hitter spots aren't occupied by total scrubs.
- Look, I got Ke'Bryan Hayes about 30 spots lower than I rank him!
- The bench is devoted to upside, giving me more chances for impact players.
Here's what I don't like about my team:
- I still want one more high-end starting pitcher, just to be safe.
- I don't have a single closer.
Ah yes, I should address the elephant in the room. Presently, my team is projected for zero saves because I didn't draft a single relief pitcher, much less a closer. It was sort of by design. I would have loved to grab three cheapies -- Will Smith, Amir Garrett, Greg Holland, Joakim Soria and Daniel Bard are the ones I normally have my eye on -- just so I'm accumulating saves from the get-go, but I wasn't going to put myself out for it.
See, it's my steadfast belief that I can compete in and even win the saves category without having to invest any draft capital in it. I know because it's what I did last year in this very league. With Brandon Kintzler being my only draft pick to make a worthwhile saves contribution, I nonetheless won the category with free agent pickups like Trevor Rosenthal, Greg Holland, Stefan Crichton and others along the way.
So much turnover happens in the closer role every year that you're sure to secure some if you just keep up the pursuit, careful not to blow your FAB budget on any one guy. Maybe I'm feeling cocky and am taking the approach to a dangerous extreme this year, but if I was able to gather up enough save sources over the course of two months last year, then six months should be a piece of cake.
Before the first lineup lock, I'll move Luis Severino and Framber Valdez to the IL and pick up a couple setup men to slot into my lineup. And we'll just take it from there.
So which Fantasy baseball sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued first baseman can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy baseball rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Will Smith's huge breakout last season, and find out.