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Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: Doubling Down On Aces

It’s that time of the year. Pitchers are going down left and right. As if pitching wasn’t at a premium already. Luis Severino is out for a year, Chris Sale and Mike Clevinger will start the season on the IL, and Blake Snell is getting treated for a sore elbow. And that’s just at the top. So what does that do to the rest of the pitching landscape? Is it more important to get your ace early? What about two of them?

The notion of quality over quantity is more real now than ever before. Perhaps drafting aces in the first two rounds is a viable strategy. I decided to give it a try with a mock draft using the FantasyPros Draft Simulator tool. Each pick is made by the software using expert consensus rankings and up-to-date ADP data. You can set the number of teams and which position to draft from. For the purpose of this exercise, I set up a 15-team draft picking from the 13th spot in the order.

At the conclusion, we’ll see what FantasyPros had to say about my draft. And using Steamer projections, we can see how my team would have stacked up against those that competed in the 2019 NFBC Online Championship. Let’s see how I did, shall we?

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Double Aces Draft Strategy

1.13 – Max Scherzer – SP, Washington Nationals

With Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, and Justin Verlander off the board, I take the last of the “Big Four” super-aces. Max Scherzer is being drafted as the last of the four due to neck issues he suffered in 2019. Otherwise, you can make an argument for him above anyone else. We’re looking at five consecutive seasons of a sub-three ERA and over 240 strikeouts. And he’s getting even better! Scherzer’s swinging-strike rate has actually increased over each of the last three seasons. He sets a great foundation here.

2.18 – Walker Buehler – SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

Walker Buehler is in a tier of his own here, and I’m likely to have him closer to the top four than the next group. He finished the season with 14 wins, a 3.26 ERA supported by a 3.01 FIP and 3.37 xFIP, a 1.04 WHIP, and 215 strikeouts in 182 innings. He’s the real deal, and probably the only pitcher I would reach for at the top of the second round. As we get closer to the turn, I would be just fine taking one of Shane Beiber, Stephen Strasburg, or Jack Flaherty.

3.43 – Ketel Marte – OF/SS, Arizona Diamondbacks

As my first hitter, Ketel Marte gives me a bit of everything. And that’s what I’m looking for. Since I passed on five-category production early on, every steal is worth gold. About as scares as stolen bases, batting average is a need as well. Marte establishes a solid foundation to build upon with a near .300 average, upwards of 30 home runs, and 10 or more steals. The Diamondbacks lineup got a boost with the addition of Starling Marte, so counting stats will be there.

This is the area where we would have seen Chris Sale or Blake Snell selected. But with them pushed down due to injury, the next tier of pitchers is pushed up. I’m not sure I would have been willing to take a Chris Paddack, Aaron Nola, or even an injured Mike Clevinger here. Passing on them would have meant waiting even longer for my pitching. So I’m feeling pretty good right now with my two aces.

4.48 – Keston Hiura – 2B, Milwaukee Brewers

Yeah, I took another second baseman. But lucky for me, Marte has outfield eligibility. I don’t typically fill my middle infield spot this early, so I moved Marte to the outfield. The selection here was more about the numbers Hiura can give me. He absolutely scorches the ball and has the perfect team context and ballpark. Hiura is pretty much Javier Baez at second base in that he’s going to hit 30 or more home runs, steal 10 or more bags, and hit right around .270. It’s another pick that’ll help me in every category.

5.73 – Nelson Cruz – DH, Minnesota Twins

I don’t care how I start my draft, I’m taking Nelson Cruz everywhere. But he’s especially helpful in this scenario. Cruz is, by far, one of the best values out there. When you start with pitching early, it’s crucial to capitalize on potential hitting value at every pick. Not only do I get a 40-home-run hitter here, but he’s batting in the middle of one of the best lineups in baseball. Counting stats galore with this Twins team.

6.78 – Victor Robles – OF, Washington Nationals

While Ketel Marte and Keston Hiura will contribute some steals, they won’t be enough for me to be competitive in the category. When you’re playing catchup, sometimes you’ve got to take a player that excels in one area, especially with steals being so scarce. Now I’ve got two aces and a balanced hitting roster.

7.103 – Jeff McNeil – 2B/3B/OF, New York Mets

Multi-positional eligibility is such an asset that you should absolutely take advantage of, especially in a 15-team league. There may be a player you like or one that falls to you later in the draft that you can’t take because you’ve got a particular position filled. This is why Jeff McNeil is so valuable, aside from his outstanding hit tool. There might be some power hitters later on that could help me make up some home runs, but hurt me in batting average, this is where McNeil comes in.

8.108 – Frankie Montas – SP, Oakland Athletics

I finally get back to the pitching side of things and take my third starting pitcher here with Frankie Montas. You might have heard by now, but he introduced a splitter to his arsenal that helped him reach a new level as a pitcher in 2019. Montas put up a 2.63 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 103 strikeouts in 96 innings. I’m buying into the changes and happy to take him as my third starter with ace upside.

9.133 – Franmil Reyes – OF, Cleveland Indians

I would have liked to take a closer by now, but Ken Giles had just been selected, and I figured I can wait on the next tier. So, I took Franmil Reyes instead. Reyes can lead the league in home runs this season and surprise no one. He’s right there among the league leaders in average exit velocity, crushing 37 home runs in only 548 plate appearances in 2019.

10.138 – Amed Rosario – SS, New York Mets

Amed Rosario is the perfect selection to fill your middle infield. He’s not going to hurt you anywhere. In fact, I can see a 20 home run and 20 steal season from Rosario real soon. He’s made improvements across the board since his debut in 2017. From his contact rate to plate discipline, and even hard-hit data, it’s all improved year over year. At only 24 years old, there’s still plenty of room for growth. The only issue I have with Rosario is his spot in the batting order. The further down he hits, the less likely he is to produce counting stats.

11.163 – Nick Anderson – RP, Tampa Bay Rays

So I maybe waited a little too long for saves. But in Anderson, I get a presumed closer that will help my ratios no matter what his role is. Anderson was someone I was targeting before the team traded Emilio Pagan, and Anderson was going past pick 200. It’s hard for me to believe that he won’t pick up a few more saves than he would have with Pagan in the mix. Saves aside, perhaps only Josh Hader strikes out more batters this season among closers.

12.168 – Edwin Encarnacion – 1B, Chicago White Sox

It was about time I take my starting first baseman. Edwin Encarnacion is precisely the sort of player you prepare for when you draft Jeff McNeil. Encarnacion won’t be helping anyone’s batting average, but he’s still capable of mid-30’s home runs and plenty of RBI.

13.193 – Jose Leclerc – RP, Texas Rangers

Leclerc was a big disappointment last season as he had issues with his control all year. While he struck out 33.4% of batters, he also walked 13%. Leclerc finished the season with a 4.33 ERA and 14 total saves. The strikeout stuff you like to see from a closer is there, and he’s going into the season with the opportunity to bounce-back, which I think he will. The Rangers have made an effort to improve this season, and Leclerc should have plenty of save opportunities to redeem himself.

14.198 – Joe Musgrove – SP, Pittsburgh Pirates

I’ve been all-in on Joe Musgrove this year. While he didn’t have the season most hoped for, he displayed excellent tools to build upon. All of his secondary pitches had above-average swinging-strike rates. He also had a 44.5% ground-ball rate and was actually a bit unlucky with a 63.2% strand rate. The Pirates have a new pitching coach this season, and Musgrove has stated he will be implementing more of his off-speed pitches in games. As my fourth starting pitcher, I’m happy to see if his new approach pays off.

15.223 – Carson Kelly – C, Arizona Diamondbacks

As with all NFBC formats, this is a two-catcher league. So I guess I have to take one, right? Carson Kelly is actually one of my favorite targets at the position. He smacked 18 home runs in only 365 plate appearances and no longer has Alex Avila to split time with. At this point, it feels appropriate to go ahead and take my first catcher.

16.228 C.J. Cron – 1B, Detroit Tigers

C.J. Cron is another player I don’t mind taking ahead of his ADP. I fill my corner infield spot here with someone with a ton of potential that finally gets his chance at 600 plate appearances. A .260 batting average with 30 home runs could be coming for Cron.

17.253 – Trent Grisham – OF, San Diego Padres

While there may be some questions surrounding the playing time in the San Diego outfield, Trent Grisham may be the best they’ve got. Grisham hit 32 home runs and stole 13 total bases across three professional levels last season. If he reaches 600 plate appearances, he could hit 20 home runs and steal 10 bases with upside for more.

18.258 – Willy Adames – SS, Tampa Bay Rays

I’m filling my middle infield here with a shortstop that made some improvements last season. Adames raised his contact percentage while lowering his swinging-strike rate. As one of the only players that should play every day for the Rays, he’ll be in line for 600 plate appearances in which he could hit 20 home runs and chip in a few steals.

19.283 – Dylan Cease – SP, Chicago White Sox

I’m taking a flier on Dylan Cease anywhere I can. And so far, he’s looking great this spring with some adjustments he’s made to improve his fastball. The addition of Yasmani Grandal is sure to help the young starting pitcher. With the solid pitching foundation I had set in the beginning, I can afford to take a shot on a player like Cease as my fifth starter.

20.288 – Sean Murphy – Oakland Athletics

I pair Carson Kelly with Sean Murphy, forming a high-upside duo at catcher.

21.313 – Austin Hays – OF Baltimore Orioles

Filling out my outfield is Austin Hays, one of my post-hype sleepers. Hays came up late last season and hit .309 with four home runs and two steals in 75 plate appearances. He’s a candidate to lead off for the Orioles. Should he do so, he could be another player that contributes in multiple categories with 25 home run and 10 steal potential.

22.318 – Diego Castillo – RP, Tampa Bay Rays

At this point, I’ve already fallen behind in saves. So, I go ahead and take Diego Castillo, who will hopefully get most of the saves Nick Anderson isn’t in line for.

23.343 – Kevin Gausman – SP, San Francisco Giants

Another late-round starting pitcher I like taking is Kevin Gausman. He made big-time strides last season in his time with Cincinnati. The hope is that he can carry that over to the starter role he’ll be playing in San Francisco. He’s in the perfect pitcher’s park, and while he may not come across many wins, he could help with quality ratios and plenty of strikeouts.

Results and Conclusion

Well, as soon as the draft was complete, I was content with the team I was able to assemble after starting with two aces. Right away, I know I’d have to chase some saves throughout the season with this team, but otherwise, I’m in a good position.

One of the cool things about the FantasyPros Draft Simulator is that it analyzes the results and gives out projected standings. It gave me a score of 97 out of 100 with the third-best pitching and fifth-best hitting for a final rank of first overall!

Taking a look at how I would have done in last year’s NFBC Online Championship, the average first-place finish netted 121 total points. Using steamer projections, this team, as currently assembled, would net me 95 total points for a fifth-place finish. So, I’d have some work to do to compete there.

All in all, I think that starting with two solidified aces is a viable strategy. It all comes down to team construction in the subsequent rounds and taking advantage of value. Doing things like drafting multi-position eligible players can go a long way as well. If you’re like me and don’t want to have to worry about chasing the next great starting pitcher, go ahead and give this strategy a try. Mock drafts are your friend. Take advantage of the tools available and find the team building method that works for you.

Are you willing to pay up for two aces in your drafts? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2020 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!

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