I’m a big fan of deep leagues, but one of the less attractive aspects of drafting a large player pool is finding players you can be enthused about in the later rounds. Usually, it’s not a problem we need to sweat. Even in deep formats, savvy owners can usually fill the gaps they left with bad late picks through trades or FAAB bidding.
So imagine being in a 15-team league with 50-player rosters that doesn’t allow trading or add/drops. That is a reality for me and the 14 owners who paid a $150 entry fee for the chance at a $1300 first-place prize and the bragging rights in a challenging format. The draft for the Beat Al Melchior League — a standard 5×5 Rotisserie league — began in late January and snaked its way back and forth until 750 players were chosen. Because this is a draft-and-hold league, the player pool is now fixed in stone.
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We do have the opportunity to set lineups on Mondays and Fridays, so one wrinkle that introduces is the ability to play matchups. That made it easier for me to draft pitchers like Dan Straily (Round 28), Matt Boyd (Round 43) and Yusmeiro Petit (Round 27), who will almost certainly have better results in spacious parks. One of my biggest regrets was not targeting more hitters with good splits that can be exploited in certain series. This is a great format for drafting a cheap Kendrys Morales (Round 22, .404 wOBA versus LHP in 2016-17), Austin Jackson (Round 40, .429 wOBA versus LHP in 2017) or Albert Almora (Round 25, .401 wOBA at home in 2017), all of whom can be streamed into the lineup when conditions are favorable for them.
Since owners just can’t go out and pull streamers off waivers, we had to draft them. The unique features of this league created other incentives for valuing certain types of players over others, and I will detail those just a little further below.
Yet for the quirkiness of this format, there were aspects of this draft that looked ordinary. Trea Turner getting drafted first overall was definitely not ordinary, but from that point on, the early rounds resembled those of a typical redraft league. (To see the full set of results, you can view the draft grid here.) Mike Trout was taken with the second pick, and the top tier of outfielders were all drafted within the first 16 picks. The elite first and third basemen went quickly, too, but owners largely passed on filling those positions in the fourth and fifth rounds due to big dropoffs in quality after the top tiers were emptied out. Owners waited even longer to pursue catchers and shortstops once the best options were spoken for.
In a typical Fantrax league, there is an 11-pick breather in taking starting pitchers between the Big Four of Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber and Chris Sale and the second tier of starting pitchers, but there was no such gap in this draft. Madison Bumgarner went a mere six picks after Kluber, and three more starters were taken over the next seven picks, with the steady pace carrying right through the beginning of the ninth round. Between Kershaw at Pick 9 and Ervin Santana at pick 122, a total of 33 starting pitchers were selected. That’s nearly in synch with Fantrax ADPs, in which 33rd-ranked starter David Price is being taken with the 120th pick on average. In the typical Fantrax league, the pace slows substantially at that point, with another nine starting pitchers being drafted in the following 45 picks. This league kept the exact same pace over that 45-pick span.
Even though we won’t be able to pick up players during the season, waiting on catchers and shortstops once the top options are gone makes sense. At each position, the best fallbacks are a handful of high upside players who carry a great deal of risk due to inconsistency. If you’re not willing to gamble on, for example, a Jonathan Lucroy comeback or a Jean Segura power resurgence, then there isn’t much that separates your remaining options at either position.
The same goes for starting pitching, where the reliable options are almost non-existent just beyond the top 30. That may seem like an argument for stockpiling as many pitchers who are as close to the top 30 as possible, but with the presence of many high-risk, high reward types like Garrett Richards, Chase Anderson, Dylan Bundy, Dinelson Lamet and Kevin Gausman beyond the first 12 rounds, there is little incentive to reach for the likes of Jeff Samardzija and Danny Salazar. With a dearth of reliable fallback options, it’s no wonder that owners wasted little time going after second-tier starting pitchers once the Big Four were drafted.
The logic of waiting on mid-tier pitchers does not apply to the drafting of relievers. A majority of opening day closers typically wind up losing their role for some portion of the season. In draft-and-hold leagues, this creates an incentive to go aggressively after the best and most consistent closers, but also an incentive to collect as many projected opening day closers as possible, despite their high attrition rate. This league’s owners stayed a little bit ahead of the ADP curve with elite closers, claiming the top five within the first 75 picks, whereas in the average Fantrax league, it is taking 88 picks to reach the same point. Typically, only 14 relievers are being drafted within the first 150 picks, but in this league, 18 were taken during the same span.
By the time the draft approaches Round 30, reliable regulars, potential impact rookies, closers-in-waiting and even most deep sleepers are off the board. As mentioned above, this is a good time to target platoon players with a set of favorable splits, but it’s also the portion of the draft where you can break out your list of extra-deep hibernators, including skilled players buried on their team’s depth chart, comeback candidates and post-hype prospects. If you are playing in this format, you will definitely need a list like this, because there are still 20 rounds to go once the cupboard starts to look bare.
Here are a few of my favorite picks from the final two-fifths of the draft.
Colin Moran, 1B/3B, Pirates, Round 31: He hopped on the flyball bandwagon last season while with Triple-A Fresno and with good results, batting .308 with 18 home runs in 79 games. In moving from the Astros to the Pirates, Moran is unblocked, and he figures to get the meatier portion of a third base platoon.
Brandon Drury, 2B/3B, Yankees, Round 33: Drury’s production with the Diamondbacks was propped up by the homer-friendly environment of Chase Field, so he figured to be heavily penalized by the new humidor. Instead, Drury got a reprieve by getting traded to the Yankees. He is in line to start the season as the everyday third baseman, but even if he reverts to a utility role, Drury figures to get enough playing time to help with power and run production.
Brandon McCarthy, SP, Braves, Round 33: McCarthy has had trouble staying healthy since returning from his 2015 Tommy John surgery two seasons ago, but he showed great comeback potential in his 92.2 innings last year with the Dodgers. In limiting flyballs to an average distance of just 295 feet, McCarthy held opponents to a miniscule .103 Isolated Power (ISO). If he can show that skill once again, the 34-year-old could compensate for a pedestrian strikeout rate with an ERA in the low 3.00s.
Steven Duggar, OF, Giants, Round 44: Duggar could be the Giants’ center fielder against right-handed pitchers at some point this season, possibly as soon as opening day. With close-to-regular play, he could help owners in OBP and points leagues while chipping in with 10-to-15 steals. That’s not a bad return for someone who may be available after the 40th round.
Ryne Stanek, RP, Rays, Round 45: We’ve been hearing the Alex Colome trade rumors for quite a while, and if the Rays part with him, Stanek has the profile of someone who could slide into the closer’s role. The hard-throwing righty compiled a 30.5 percent strikeout rate and picked up four holds in just 21 appearances last season.
Nestor Cortes, SP, Orioles, Round 48: The Orioles are giving the Rule 5 pick a shot at the fifth starter’s job, and being a lefty may give him an edge in cracking an all-righty rotation. Though he doesn’t throw hard, Cortes had no problem dispensing with opponents during his 48.1 innings with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season, posting a 1.49 ERA and a 29.2 percent strikeout rate.
Bubba Starling, OF, Royals, Round 49: After a miserable beginning to his second season at Triple-A Omaha, Starling broke out for a .297/.344/.456 slash line over his final 54 games last year. He is competing for the Royals’ center field job this spring, and Paulo Orlando, Alex Gordon and Terrance Gore aren’t the toughest of roadblocks.
Marco Gonzales, SP, Mariners, Round 50: Gonzales’ first season back from Tommy John surgery wasn’t a resounding success, as he registered a 6.08 ERA with the Mariners and Cardinals last year. Nonetheless, the lefty is getting a chance to be in the Mariners’ opening day rotation, and he is bringing his cutter back into his arsenal. With a year of recovery behind him, perhaps Gonzales can recapture the strong control and ability to coax whiffs he showed during his rise through the Cardinals’ system. It’s a worthwhile risk to take with one of the final picks of a 50-round draft.