Going Deep: Drafting Ahead for 2020
Ever since I first heard about the League of Leagues back in 2015 I’ve always dreamed of being in a similar three-sport league. For those who are unfamiliar with the format, all the participants get together and draft separate teams for MLB, NFL, and NBA all in the same draft. Any given round can contain picks from any sport, and there’s really no wrong way to go about it. Then you play out all three seasons as they come along throughout the year as you normally would.
It’s a fascinating exercise in strategy and creating value, so naturally, when Mat Smada (@smada_bb) of Friends with Fantasy Benefits and Minor Graphs fame asked me if I wanted to be in one with 14 folks in the industry (including our very own David Fenko!) I jumped at the chance.
The slow draft itself started at the end of July and wrapped itself up about a week ago or so. While football and basketball will obviously be up first I think taking a look at the draft order for the 2020 baseball season can give us some interesting insight into both how we view things next year and perhaps shed some light on how we feel about the league right now and what players we should be keeping an eye on down the stretch.
Today, we’ll cover the first two rounds. Overall, it’s an interesting mix of the old standbys and some new faces. I’ll try to provide a positional and statistical breakdown for both rounds and highlight a few interesting picks that stand out to me. It’s worth noting before we begin that the format for this league was 5×5 H2H categories with OBP instead of average.
Part One: The Big Picture
Let’s start with who went where in the first two rounds:
|1||4||Cody Bellinger||OF, 1B|
|2||15||Alex Bregman||3B, SS|
|2||24||Fernando Tatis Jr.||SS|
And the rounds broken down by position:
One of the things that stands out to me right away is that outfield, shortstop, and starting pitcher are heavily represented in the first two rounds as those three positions represent 71% of the picks. If you want to get a a top-10 outfielder, it’s starting to look like you’ll have to get one in the first two rounds. Starting pitchers and shortstops aren’t far behind as 60% of the top 10 at those positions are going in that same range, and they are shallower than outfield. I’m already starting to wonder if it is in your best interest (depending on where you pick) to plan to take care of two of these three positions in those first two rounds, especially shortstop and starting pitcher.
One thing I’ll be interested to see as we go through this draft review is when we see the run on first basemen, second basemen, and third basemen. Third base is probably the deepest position in the game, so I suspect the major reason we don’t see a ton of third basemen thus far in the draft is that they are all pretty similar, so it feels like a position where you can try to be the last person to take a third baseman in the middle rounds and end with the same caliber player.
First base and second base suffer from the opposite dilemma, namely a shortage of elite choices. It is also worth noting that few of the hitters taken here actually qualify at multiple positions next year, so that does lend some versatility to Cody Bellinger and Alex Bregman even if that’s not the reason you’re taking them.
What about the stats where they contribute most? Starting with the hitters, here’s the breakdown of their production so far this season and how much of the league totals their numbers make up.
|J.D. Martinez||Red Sox||568||0.317||34||89||93||1||158||30||61|
|Xander Bogaerts||Red Sox||598||0.312||31||102||103||4||164||48||67|
|Fernando Tatis Jr.||Padres||372||0.317||22||61||53||16||106||13||30|
|Rafael Devers||Red Sox||595||0.321||28||113||104||8||176||48||41|
|Mookie Betts||Red Sox||639||0.287||23||123||70||14||154||39||90|
|Ronald Acuna Jr.||Braves||633||0.284||36||109||92||33||158||19||64|
I included hits, doubles, and walks here because while this draft was a 5×5 OBP league, I feel like adding these categories gives us some insight into how these players might also contribute in points leagues as well.
The boxes highlighted in green represent what I consider elite production for the specific stat using these thresholds: 550 plate appearances, .290 batting average, 30 home runs, 90 runs, 90 RBI, 15 stolen bases, 150 hits, 30 doubles, and 60 walks. The percentage of the league totals here are truly astonishing. Twenty-eight picks in, and we’ve already accounted for almost 12% of all the home runs hit this year in the majors and just over 14% of all the league’s stolen bases. And that’s with several of these hitters not getting to play full seasons thanks to injuries or late call-ups.
We also have near double-digit output percentage-wise for runs, RBI, and walks as well as significant output in doubles and hits. Based on this draft, if you want to have a leg up in home runs or stolen bases, it’s going to be vital to address those stats here in the first two rounds, preferably with one player. The difficult part of that equation is for the five picks or so you are at the whims of the random number generator to determine whether you have a shot at Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, Ronald Acuna, Francisco Lindor, or Mookie Betts. It makes me want to focus on guys such as Trevor Story, Javier Baez, Fernando Tatis Jr., or Jose Ramirez. If I do end up with one of those elite outfielders, you best believe I’m hunting Baez or Ramirez at end of the second round.
To emphasize just how much production exists in the first two rounds, I’ve counted how many total players throughout the league met each threshold and then compared that number with how many of those players were chosen in the first two rounds of this draft:
|First Two Round||14||16||11||12||12||7||10||11||11|
So 38% of the elite home run hitters were taken in the first two rounds while nearly 46% of hitters with an elite batting average, 48% of elite run scorers, and 52% of elite run producers all are included in this group of hitters. It seems more important than ever to take a hitter—if not two—in the initial rounds.
But what about the pitchers? I did stress earlier that 60% of the top 10 starters in the league go during these rounds. Let’s take a closer look at those six starting pitchers:
For the pitchers, I set my thresholds for elite production at 10 wins, 150 innings pitched, a 3.50 ERA with fewer than 140 hits, 60 earned runs, 50 walks, a 1.15 WHIP, and more than 150 strikeouts. See all that green? We’re talking the best of the best here, just like with the top six hitters. Where things get interesting with pitchers, though, is when we talk about the percentages.
So while the wins and innings pitched aren’t exactly taking the world by storm if you extrapolated it out to the same amount of player as the hitters, we’re talking closer to 12.87% of all wins and 10.12% of all innings pitched, so the production is on par with the hitters. The really interesting numbers though are hits, earned runs, and walks. Even stretched out over 22 players, that still would only add up to 7.84% of all hits, 6.27% of all ER and 5.68% of all walks. That’s incredible. Perhaps even more impressively those strikeout numbers would amount to 13.64% of strikeouts when spread out across 22 players. Using our criteria above how does that stack up against the other elite pitchers?
|First Two Rounds||4||5||6||5||5||6||6||6|
This floors me. Six pitchers account for nearly a quarter of all the pitchers with an ERA under 3.50. The same six pitchers make up 27% of the hurlers with a sub 1.15 WHIP. They also represent 20% of the pitchers with more than 150 strikeouts and less than 140 hits and 60 walks. That’s just nuts.
There are clearly a lot of useful pitchers out there for sure, but even after two rounds, the well is drying up fast. I feel like this is the great Catch-22 of the 2020 fantasy season. Like I mentioned above, my instinct is to take a hitter with my first two picks given this draft order, but seeing these numbers gives me pause. That’s a ton of game-changing production, and it’s going fast.
I honestly don’t know if there is a right or wrong way to go here this early in the draft, but I feel like this information certainly makes a compelling argument for going starting pitcher early on.
Part Two: The Players
We’ve talked about the big picture, but what about the individual choices themselves? Many of the picks were exactly who you expected them to be at the spots you expected them to go, especially in the first round.
With that being said, there were some really interesting and bold picks made. Some I agree with and some I don’t, but I think they’re all worth investigating.
What I would like to do though is rather than analyze each pick as if it occurs in a vacuum, for many of these players I’m going to compare them with the other players around them or perhaps a comparable player or a player who wasn’t picked in these two rounds. Let’s start with our first pick comparison:
Round 1, Pick 5: Francisco Lindor
Round 1, Pick 6: Mookie Betts
This is a tough choice any way you slice this. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with either of them, but I think it’s a choice worth a deeper look. First, some context to the pick as it occurred within the draft. If you recall, the league is a 14-team 5×5 H2H categories league with OBP instead of average. As we noted in the big picture section, shortstop dries up a lot sooner than outfield, so I don’t see anything wrong with taking a player who covers the shallower position, especially a player as talented as Lindor. Yet let’s take a look at their roto numbers and see how they measure up:
|Mookie Betts||Red Sox||0.287||0.387||23||123||70||14|
While they are both pretty much equals in almost every roto category, Lindor holds a slight edge in home runs and stolen bases, but Betts easily outpaces him in OBP. Betts has never had a single season with an OBP lower than .340, and while Lindor is no slouch either in terms of OBP, he’s never had an OBP over .360, a mark that Betts has bested in four of his six professional season, so he does have that advantage, which is good to keep in mind for your OBP and points leagues.
The other area you would be inclined to put in the win column for Betts is runs, but actually, Lindor has been scoring runs at a much quicker rate than Betts. In fact, Lindor has essentially scored a run roughly every 15 plate appearances while Betts scores a run about every 19 plate appearances. So why the discrepancy between Lindor’s and Betts’ run totals? Lindor missed the first 19 games of the season with a calf injury, otherwise he’d be right up there with Betts in terms of runs scored and would likely be outclassing him in RBI as well.
All of this is before we even mention that Lindor is already outclassing Betts in stolen bases! The one major counter argument you can make for Betts is that Lindor has never even sniffed a season like Mookie had last year, when he hit .346/.438/.893 with 32 home runs, 129 runs, 80 RBI, and 30 stolen bases. That being said, outside of 2018 Betts and Lindor have practically been twins, and to put it simply, Lindor’s been better this season. To put the decision fully to bed, let’s take a quick glance at their advanced stats and batted-ball data.
|Mookie Betts||Red Sox||14.1 %||15.0 %||0.22||11.4 %||44.9 %||0.372||129|
|Francisco Lindor||Indians||7.2 %||14.7 %||0.233||17.7 %||35.1 %||0.361||122|
While again Betts holds a slight edge in the overall numbers such as wOBA and wRC+ and large advantage in walk rate, it’s clear that Lindor is having the better year in terms of power, which is made clear by the fact that Lindor has already passed Betts in home runs and is rapidly catching up to him in doubles (32 to 39). Add in the advantage in stolen bases and positional scarcity, and it feels pretty clear that taking Lindor ahead of Betts is the right move, even if you honestly can’t go wrong with taking either hitter.
Round 1, Pick 9: Javier Baez
Round 1, Pick 13: Trevor Story
Anyone who followed my writings this season will know already that I am a huge Story disciple. You also likely remember that I was pretty skeptical of Baez coming into 2019. I’ll be the first to admit that I was kind of wrong. Sure, his average is down, but he’s still a positive contributor in the category. Because he’s already at 29 home runs, it’s highly likely he makes it to 2018’s total of 35. In fact almost everything is completely the same with two major glaring issues: his stolen bases and his ground-ball rate.
Last year, Baez stole 21 bases. So far in 2019, he only has 11. The thing is I don’t think his stolen base numbers are necessarily his fault. The Cubs simply don’t steal a lot of bases. This year, the Cubs AS A TEAM have only stolen 39 bases. Baez actually accounts for 28% of the Cubs’ stolen bases. 2018 was not all that different. Last year, the Cubs only stole 66 bases, which left Baez accounting for 32% of their stolen bases. That seems like Baez’s drop in stolen bases is more of a teamwide strategy than an issue of talent or ability. Rumors have started to swirl that Joe Maddon might be on the hot seat if the Cubs don’t make the playoffs, and if the team does make a change in management, perhaps we might see a different organizational edict regarding stolen bases. It’s hard to speculate on that this early in the season.
The other big concern for Baez is his rising ground-ball rate. When you hit the ball as hard as he does (91 mph average exit velocity) and barrel the ball as often as he does (12.7% barrel rate), you want to hit the ball in the air as much as possible, and while Baez has always hit a lot of ground balls, this year it has taken a big leap from 2018’s 45.6% to 50.3%. That is worrying. It will certainly be something Baez owners will want to keep an eye on next season.
Again, though, I don’t want to be totally negative about Baez as he’s been really valuable to fantasy owners and absolutely worthy of a pick in the first two rounds. The thing is, though, Story has been so much better. Let’s look at their roto numbers side by side:
Story dominates. It’s not even close. The thing is it’s been a lot closer than we realize for quite awhile. Here are their three-year totals in those same stats:
Story has a near-identical average while sitting neck and neck with Baez in runs and RBI. This is all while besting Baez in home runs, OBP, and stolen bases. This is not to imply that you shouldn’t draft Baez in the first two rounds; he’s a five-category contributor, and after several years of sustained success, I’m willing to make the assumption that he has the skills and abilities to overcome his free-swinging ways and terrible plate discipline. I simply mean to imply that I think that the draft order for the two players should simply be reversed. ESPN’s Player Rater has Story listed as the eighth-best player in roto this season while Baez falls in at No. 23. Story deserves to be a top-10 pick next year.
Round 2, Pick 15: Alex Bregman
Round 3, Pick 31: Anthony Rendon
This is the hard part with third base. Bregman is an incredible baseball player. So is Rendon. In fact, they’re practically identical. Check it out:
Outside of Rendon’s sizable advantage in average, it’s almost eerie how similar these two players are. And if I’m being honest, this is less about where we should be drafting Bregman and 100% about where we should be drafting Rendon. Bregman absolutely deserves to be drafted at the No. 15 spot. It’s just that so does Rendon, at a nearly 15-pick discount. In 12-team leagues, that starts to fall dangerously close to being a fourth-round pick, which is insane. I mean look at this production over the past three years for Rendon:
It’s just year after year of elite production, and yet we’ve never even thought of Rendon as a second-round pick.
One other really important thing I want to mention about Rendon: He’s one of only five hitters in all of baseball to break 100-plus runs and 10-plus RBI (Bregman, for the record, is a mere five away from achieving this, so again, no shade intended). ESPN’s Player Rater has Rendon down as the sixth-most valuable player in all of roto . That’s absolutely insane value.
For the record, this was not my pick (curse you Fenko!), and it keeps me up at night. You can’t let Rendon slip through your fingers that far into your drafts next season. There’s really not much else to argue here, honestly; all I can say is I’m here like the old guy standing just on the outskirts of every town in a Scooby-Doo episode telling you to heed my warnings. GEEEEETTTTT ANTHOOOOOONY REEEEEENDDDDDONNNN.
Round 2, Pick 16: Peter Alonso
Round 2, Pick 18: Aaron Judge
Pete Alonso is going to be a player I change my opinion on about 50 times between now and draft season 2020. It’s important to understand that I really like The Polar Bear and think he is going to be very good for a very long time. We’ve also been bitten by second-year sluggers so many times the past few years (Rhys Hoskins, Matt Olson, Gary Sanchez) that I find myself a bit gun-shy. Now, Alonso already has a much longer track record than any of those players heading into his second year, so while I’m concerned, I’m not terribly concerned especially because he’s put up a double-digit walk rate and has a perfectly reasonable slugger’s strikeout rate.
The actual issue I have with Alonso is the Shiny New Toy Syndrome. Look at Alonso’s numbers from this year so far:
For the record, these numbers are fantastic. To have a shot at 50 home runs as a rookie is incredible. What I wonder is given his prodigious home run power and the current juiced ball environment, can’t I get that production elsewhere?
Now, Jorge Soler and Eugenio Suarez don’t have anywhere near the power ceiling right? Or do they have more in common?
|2019||Peter Alonso||Mets||40.4 %||30.3 %||0.323||0.591||0.512||0.260||90.6||14.2||15.5|
|2019||Jorge Soler||Royals||40.4 %||27.3 %||0.287||0.542||0.549||0.260||92.5||15.2||16.2|
|2019||Eugenio Suarez||Reds||41.4 %||28.2 %||0.285||0.546||0.463||0.237||89.2||17.6||12.5|
The profiles are a heck of a lot closer than we realize. The thing is Suarez went with pick 84 and Soler went at pick 148. Alonso went with pick 16. I will admit that Alonso has a much higher power ceiling than those players given that he is just a rookie and still developing, but if we’re talking about players who only contribute in one to two categories, I’d much rather have these other players at their prices even if it means getting 85% of Alonso’s potential production.
This brings me to the player I selected just two picks later: Aaron Judge. The issue with Judge certainly isn’t talent, it’s health. 2017 was the only season in which he has managed to have a fully healthy season. In 2016, he missed nearly a month because of an oblique strain. Then in 2018, he lost nearly two months because of a fractured wrist thanks to being hit by a pitch. Then this year, a second oblique strain robbed him of another two months. When Judge is healthy, though, he’s the deadliest hitter in baseball. Why compare him with Alonso though? Because when both are healthy, they’re incredibly similar with three very distinct differences:
- Judge has the potential to be a four-category producer in a way that we don’t know if Alonso can be. An average around .275 represents Judge’s floor in the category, so it’s not a stretch that he could hit .280 plus and become a positive contributor there. He also typically bats second in the deep Yankees lineup, so he produces in both runs and RBI at an elite rate. In that healthy 2017 season, he managed 100-plus runs and 100-plus RBI out of the 2-hole in the Yankees lineup, and that lineup has only gotten better since then.
- While Alonso’s OBP allows him to be an asset in OBP and points leagues, Judge’s turns him into a top-10 tour de force. His 2019 walk rate of 14.1% actually represents a career low if you don’t count his 95-plate appearance cup of coffee back in 2016. Ditto for his .384 OBP. The man just gets on base.
- He’s a Statcast god. Check out his Statcast numbers from this year:
Take a second to soak in those numbers. Look at that exit velocity! He’s currently barreling the ball once in every five times he makes contact. Nearly 60% of his hits fall into the hard hit category. This all before we realize that it appears he’s actually gotten a bit unlucky this year as xSLG and xBA both say he should be doing even better this year. I feel like if I’m going to chase a player’s ceiling, I’d rather grab Judge, who has a much better chance at being more than a single-category contributor and then add a player such as Suarez or Soler later in the draft.
So those are my impressions from the initial two rounds of my first 2020 MLB fantasy draft. Let me know in the comments if you see any other intriguing picks or players you want to discuss and we can dive into those as well in the comments. I’ll be back soon as we’ll move on to round out the top 50 players taken in the draft!
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@FreshMeatComm on Twitter)