I'm just gonna leave this right here ...
That's right: It turns out 2020 is my year. And all it took was me shunning the instincts that guided me for the past two decades.
I didn't enter into 2020 with the same gusto I did last year when I went on to finish sixth. Indeed, my attitude coming out of this year's draft was reserved by comparison. But I learned something from that 2019 failure, my lowest finish in my four years taking part in this 15-team Rotisserie league. I learned that there are some shortages you can't make up for after the draft. I learned that the landscape has changed so much, so fast, with power hitting so prevalent and pitcher development becoming so cautious and unpredictable, that high-end starting pitchers have become far and away the most irreplaceable asset — to the point they're maybe the only asset, apart from base-stealers.
I don't even think it's that much of an overstatement, and this winner I put together speaks precisely to it.
I knew I needed to go harder after starting pitching than ever before — to overload it, if possible, to account for the attrition that's inherent to the position (and had largely steered me clear of it in the past). My goal was to grab four of the top 35 starting pitchers in my rankings, regardless of what it meant for my offense, because I trusted that I'd have an easier time filling in those gaps on the fly. But I didn't necessarily aim to draft Gerrit Cole and Shane Bieber with my first two picks.
We discuss Bieber and a lot more of these players on our 2020 awards edition of the Fantasy Baseball Today podcast. Follow all of our podcasts and subscribe here.
Again, that's after two decades of more or less taking the opposite approach to starting pitching. You know how many drafts I began with two starting pitchers during that time? Pretty sure this Tout Wars team was my first. It of course wouldn't have happened if Cole hadn't lasted to the seventh overall pick — nothing heady about that, just knowing to accept the gift that lands in my lap — but the second pick was when I had to resist my basic instincts and commit to what I had resolved to do. It wasn't so much that I needed to go pitcher-pitcher, but I recognized that in a 15-team league, the quality of pitcher that made it back to me in Round 3 might not be worth taking at that point. Not wanting to risk falling behind in the one area where I was determined to come out ahead, I took Bieber, who ended up being the top-rated player in all of Fantasy Baseball.
No, really. Remember how I trusted myself to fill in whatever gaps emerged on the hitting end? I didn't expect those gaps to come from the first several I drafted. How do you like this miss rate for my first six hitters?
- Round 3: Ketel Marte (blah)
- Round 4: Jose Altuve (ew)
- Round 5: Charlie Blackmon (ehh)
- Round 7: Josh Bell (yuck)
- Round 9: Corey Seager (OK, there's one)
- Round 10: Mitch Garver (no)
Seager was no doubt a great pick — I was due for at least one, right? — and I'll give myself a half credit for Blackmon, who wasn't terrible but clearly underachieved. But to hit on only 1 1/2 of my first six hitters after already putting myself behind the eight ball by going without for two rounds ... that should be a death knell, right? It shouldn't be the mark of the champion.
And I'm not gonna lie: I didn't perform great in the hitting categories. Those misses clearly set me back, but they were manageable. The overabundance of quality hitters, made possible by the proliferation of power hitting, has a randomizing effect that makes it more difficult to predict how those quality hitters will rank at the end — or where they'll come from. I didn't think I'd need to lean on that randomizing effect quite so much, but it still contributed to my win in this league.
Later picks like Kyle Tucker in Round 12 and Gio Urshela in Round 14 helped keep me afloat. My Round 27 pick, Ryan Mountcastle, eventually came up and made an impact. I recognized where I might find some cheap power hitting, picking up Adam Duvall for just $8 of a $1,000 FAB budget and then having the wherewithal to start him for the second of his three-homer games (the one with nine RBI). I picked up rookies Bobby Dalbec and Ke'Bryan Hayes when they got the call, and they helped me make up ground in some of the hitting categories. I feel like if the season hadn't ended so early, I could have placed even higher in them by continuing to make those sorts of moves.
In the end, here's how many points I earned in each category:
Now imagine if the same thing happened with my pitcher picks and four or five of the top six were just abject failures? There would be no salvaging it. I'd have no hope of competing in any category except for saves because the same quality alternatives aren't emerging with the same frequency. It's too difficult of a standard to meet in an environment that's clearly tilted toward hitting and yet still offers some of the most accomplished bat-missers the game has ever seen. The only way to land on the right side of that gap is through the draft — and specifically, the early rounds.
It doesn't mean it's always going to turn out as well as it did for me, but I think it's your only chance (apart from plain, dumb luck) of competing in the pitching categories. And hey, it's not always going to turn out as poorly as it did for me on the hitting end. I know from experience. This isn't the only league where I applied this new approach, after all, and I didn't come away with Bieber in all of them. It all still worked out.
So with Cole, Bieber, Gray and Lynn, it makes sense that I'd dominate four of the pitching categories, but what about saves? That's my favorite part. I invested next to nothing in them. My three "saves sources" coming out of the draft were Brandon Kintzler, Wade Davis and Hunter Harvey, and you don't need me to tell you only one of them went on to contribute in saves.
Kintzler gave me 12 of my 34, but the rest came from me cycling in closer-of-the-week types off the waiver wire, not having to worry so much about whatever failures might come thanks to the cushion my starting pitchers gave me in ERA and WHIP. The big score was Trevor Rosenthal for $57, but Cole Sulser ($57), Daniel Bard ($0), Greg Holland ($216, then $0) and Stefan Crichton ($6) all made contributions to the category. In the end, I finished with five more saves than any other team.
So again, my draft really just came down to four starting pitchers: Cole, Bieber, Gray and Lynn. Seager, Tucker, Mountcastle and Kintzler also contributed to the cause, but it wasn't the sort of something I couldn't have gotten somewhere else, whether through better use of those early-round hitter picks or the waiver wire.
A little starting pitching goes a long, long way in today's environment, and in this league, it carried me all the way to the end. While there were few scares along the way, such as Tim McLeod briefly claiming the top spot heading into the final week, I led virtually the entire season and wound up winning the league by six. As The Mandalorian would say, this is the way.
Here's how my roster started:
Starting lineup (round number in parentheses):
C - Mitch Garver, MIN (10)
C - Pedro Severino, BAL (29)
1B - Josh Bell, PIT (7)
2B - Ketel Marte, ARI (3)
3B - Gio Urshela, NYY (14)
SS - Corey Seager, LAD (9)
CI - Evan White, SEA (23)
MI - Jose Altuve, HOU (4)
OF - Charlie Blackmon, COL (5)
OF - Kyle Tucker, HOU (12)
OF - Mark Canha, OAK (13)
OF - Mallex Smith, SEA (15)
OF - Jo Adell, LAA (16)
U - Nick Solak, TEX (17)
P - Gerrit Cole, NYY (1)
P - Shane Bieber, CLE (2)
P - Sonny Gray, CIN (6)
P - Lance Lynn, TEX (8)
P - Matthew Boyd, DET (11)
P - Brandon Kintzler, MIA (19)
P - Alex Wood, LAD (20)
P - Wade Davis, COL (22)
P - Hunter Harvey, BAL (24)
And here's how it looked the final week:
C - Pedro Severino, BAL (draft)
C - Joey Bart, SF (free agent)
1B - Josh Bell, PIT (draft)
2B - Ketel Marte, ARI (draft)
3B - Gio Urshela, NYY (draft)
SS - Corey Seager, LAD (draft)
CI - Ke'Bryan Hayes, PIT (free agent)
MI - Nick Solak, TEX (draft)
OF - Charlie Blackmon, COL (draft)
OF - Kyle Tucker, HOU (draft)
OF - Ryan Mountcastle, BAL (draft)
OF - Adam Duvall, ATL (free agent)
OF - Kole Calhoun, ARI (free agent)
U - Bobby Dalbec, BOS (free agent)
P - Gerrit Cole, NYY (draft)
P - Shane Bieber, CLE (draft)
P - Lance Lynn, TEX (draft)
P - Kris Bubic, KC (free agent)
P - Brandon Kintzler, MIA (draft)
P - Trevor Rosenthal, SD (free agent)
P - Greg Holland, KC (free agent)
P - Stefan Crichton, ARI (free agent)
P - Devin Williams, MIL (free agent)
OF - Mark Canha, OAK (draft)
3B - Brad Miller, STL (free agent)
OF - Willie Calhoun, TEX (free agent)
C - Mitch Garver, MIN (draft)
OF - Tyler O'Neill, STL (draft)
P - Sonny Gray, CIN (draft)
P - Matthew Boyd, DET (draft)