Off-season Best Ball – Introduction and First Draft
Just a couple of weeks from now, the Oakland Athletics will welcome their pitchers and catchers to Spring Training. That momentous occasion is the true groundhog, signaling the end of winter. About this time, fantasy baseball players start their research for the upcoming season, opting to test their preparation in mock drafts. Unfortunately, mock draft lobbies are fickle places and it is very likely that a mock will kick off and only go a few rounds before the auto-drafting begins.
What if I told you that there was a way you could get the same benefit from a mock draft with a real league that requires no in-season management?
Welcome to Best Ball, one of the most underrated formats in Fantasy Sports! The format has existed for football for several seasons, but hasn’t really gained much traction in baseball. However, just a few weeks ago, Fantrax made the format readily available as both public and private leagues. Within minutes of seeing the announcement, a call to arms was in order to find 11 other writers willing to start a league. By the next morning, we were set up and drafting.
Basic Rules of the Format
In brief, Best Ball is a set it and forget it style of fantasy baseball. Each drafter is responsible for drafting a team of 40 players and that is it. During each week of the season, the chosen fantasy sports app will choose from your roster the highest scoring lineup. At the conclusion of the season, the team with the most points wins.
The lineup is typically something along the lines of:
- 1 Catcher
- 1 First Baseman
- 1 Second Baseman
- 1 Third Baseman
- 1 Shortstop
- 5 Outfielders
- 3 Utility Spots
- 9 Pitchers
As the app only needs to select 22 players out of 40 rostered, you’ll see some variation to your weekly lineups over the course of the season.
Here at Pitcher List, we’re planning on having members of the staff doing Best Ball drafts all the way until the start of the season. Throughout the pre-season, the same cohorts of writers will do a few drafts together to highlight changes in strategy and the ever-shifting opinion on players and situations. With that being said, the first draft has been completed and here are the results!
How did the format affect your preparation?
In terms of what I do best as a fantasy baseball manager, I find that typically my skill set lies in managing throughout the season as opposed to simply nailing the draft and running with it so it was definitely an interesting curveball to realize that once I drafted this team that was it. I couldn’t simply forgo grabbing a 5th outfielder for that deep sleeper I really like knowing that I would be able to find one off the wire at some point in the season. So I definitely took draft prep approach that involved layer upon layer of plans and backup plans. Some worked pretty and well and others didn’t but there was definitely a different type of apprehension and risk assessment that came with knowing I had to nail the draft in one try.
Having played in a majority of points leagues for my fantasy career, this was my bread and butter format. I knew starting pitching and walks were HUGE, so for most of my picks I targeted patience (Bregman, Votto, Hoskins, etc.) and strikeouts (Severino, Verlander, Hill, Darvish, etc.) as they are quite valuable in this format. I also targeted guys we here at Pitcher List like to call Cherry Bombs, as they can’t hurt you in Best Ball and their upside for starts is massive.
What was your general strategy for the draft?
I knew I wanted to go heavy on starting pitching early, so I wasn’t scrabbling later to just try and compile pitchers and innings. Picking out of the 12 spot, I knew I’d either grab Chris Sale or Jacob deGrom along with an elite bat. I ultimately went with Sale and Christian Yelich. I realize the risk with Sale but know that his skills are off the charts and could finish as the number one SP in this format given 200 innings. I loved the value with the 2018 NL MVP even with some power regression. At picks 36 and 37, I nabbed Carlos Carrasco who was my 10th SP in this format and Xander Bogaerts who I liken to Alex Bregman without the elite plate discipline. Since I shored up my two aces, I needed to go heavy on hitters in rounds 5-9, because at this point in the draft, pitchers were flying off the board and hitters seemed to have much more value at this point. I jumped at two outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Tommy Pham. Both has nice floors and great walk rates with some power and speed.
I was blessed with the first pick, which means I got to start with Mike Trout. Unfortunately, that meant I was riding a bookend, which meant that I would end up willing to reach more than any other owner to get “my guys” and to do some outlandish things to try and ensure an advantage for myself. For example, catching is remarkably shallow this year, so coming into the 10/11 turn I saw an opportunity to set the 9 owners that hadn’t already selected a catcher on their back heels by selecting two. Coming out of the draft with Salvador Perez, Wilson Ramos, and Brian McCann as Mr. Irrelevant leaves my team very solidly set up at the shallowest position. Throughout the draft, I tried to sprinkle high-upside picks with steady picks at each turn, to see if I could catch lightning in a bottle. At just about every position, I have high-upside plays (rookies, players coming off of injuries, post-hype guys) to hopefully shore up later weeks.
Which pick of yours do you feel you got at the most value?
I feel like Cesar Hernandez in the 12th round in this format was a great value pick for me. He’s leading off for the Phillies and the lineup has improved. His OBP is fantastic and has 10+ HR/20+SB type of profile. Others I love include Travis Shaw (7th), Kenta Maeda, (17th) and a bounceback from Luke Weaver (20th).
I don’t like Sean Newcomb much for 2019, but I’m not the only one. He fell to 236 overall—below his 192 NFBC ADP—in a format that suits him perfectly. The erratic southpaw allowed one or no runs in 14 of his 30 starts, so I’ll take his peaks without fretting the inevitable lapses in control. I liked getting the all-or-nothing Jon Gray (pick 164) and Cherry Bomb extraordinaire Freddy Peralta (317) for the same reason.
Which pick of yours do you feel like you reached the most on?
I panicked a little in drafting my SP2 and drafted Stephen Strasburg in the fifth round (52 overall). Zach Wheeler and Jose Berrios were drafted two rounds later so I could have waited on my SP2 and limited my injury exposure.
I wanted high upside plays, but Nick Senzel at the top of the 17th was still a bit too early. Playing time is going to be a concern for Senzel all season, thanks to the glut of options that the Reds have in the infield and outfield. Senzel’s multi-position eligibility should have him in the bigs this season, probably with 400 or so at-bats, but I likely could have waited for a few more rounds.
Which pick of the draft had the highest value?
For best value, I’d say Jose Altuve at 19. Simply put that may have been highway robbery from Mr. Bristow. In hindsight I’m a little mad at myself for taking Gerritt Cole two picks prior.
Andrew Gould getting Trea Turner with his second pick at 20th(!) overall looks like an absolute steal, pun intended. Turner is the type of multi-category contributor that, along with only a select few, you can easily see being the number one player in fantasy come the end of 2019. His ADP on Fantrax was around seventh overall and even on NFBC he was going around tenth. Anyway you slice it, pairing him with the elite power of JD Martinez in the first round gave Andrew has an excellent start to his draft.
What was the biggest reach of the draft?
I don’t want to single out anyone for getting their guy in a draft full of sharks. Yet there were a bunch of SP fliers who went way earlier than I anticipated.
Eloy Jimenez 7th round. I’ll preface this by saying that this answer might be the best example of how risk-averse the format made me. I like Jimenez a lot. I think he’s going to be very good once he gets called up. My problem is I don’t know when. I wouldn’t be shocked if we don’t see him until the Super 2 deadline and I just can’t justify that when there were a ton of sure bet outfielders we went directly after him. Nelson Cruz, Eddie Rosario, Justin Upton, and Yasiel Puig were all taken with the four picks immediately after Jimenez. I can’t imagine Jimenez reaches the output or playing time of any of these players.
Jameson Taillon this year is being drafted too high! There I said it. I love me some Jameson Taillon, and think his slider can help mold him into a very good pitcher. But even with the newfound weapon he only produced a 11.8% swinging strike percentage after June 1st, which would have tied him 21st if he held it up the whole year (with underrated Andrew Heaney). Strikeouts are king in points formats and Taillon could be just slightly above average in this category. Taillon is good, but not great, and I would not feel great with having him as my 1st pitcher.
Were you notably sniped during the draft? If so, what happened?
(Shakes fists angrily at the clouds) I’ve mentioned a few already as Cesar Hernandez and Carlos Santana were stolen (stolen I say!) right out from underneath me so I won’t rehash those heartbreaking moments. Some notable snipe jobs include Joey Votto going two picks before me in the fifth, Andrew Heaney in the 13th, and Josh James in the 14th (literally the pick before me). I can say I learned two things throughout this draft, the first being that in this format you have to alter your strategy based on your draft order. I had the 11th pick out of 12, so while I got to make two picks pretty much right next to each other I then had to wait nearly 20 picks before I’d pick again. A couple times I’d try to get cute with a pick by hoping a player I really wanted would fall all the way back to me and they almost always got taken before I could. You can’t afford to get cute. This led to lesson number two, in this format, where planning is essential, do what you have to execute your plan. If you have to reach, then you reach, but that moment your fantasy spidey sense goes off that it’s time to take a player, take him because there’s no waiver wire to figure something else out later.
It felt like every single round I was losing multiple guys off the top of my queue leading up to my next pick. Most notably, in the ninth round I had Daniel Murphy all ready to be added to my roster and slide right into my second base slot. I felt pretty good about getting him considering he was ranked somewhere down in the 140’s and I thought maaaaaaybe guys weren’t going to notice him all the way down there. Now playing half of his games in Coors Field, the time was now to strike and scoop him up. Unfortunately, Jamie Sayer had the same idea and took him RIGHT before me with pick number 105 overall. I ended up with Scooter Gennett right after that, but Murphy was the first (and most painful) of many times I was sniped during this draft.
While we drafted (which ended up taking just over a week while running a slow draft with a 4 hour timer), I took the opportunity to get a pull of Fantrax ADP data each day so that I can see how it would compare to our end result. One important note is that the ADP data is not Best Ball specific, which means that there is an appreciable difference between the objectives of this specific league format and the overall ADP information available. Based on what we can see with the comparison is that relievers came at a very distinct discount when considered against their ADP (looking at you Mychal Givens and Jeremy Jeffress). Another interesting insight, at least this early in draft season, is that the first 5 rounds are relatively stable across drafts.