2013 LABR Mixed League Draft Recap

On Tuesday, February 12 I participated in the LABR Mixed League draft, hosted by Steve Gardner and USA Today.  Before I get into my draft reflections, I’d like to thank Steve and rtsports.com for organizing and hosting a great draft.

For me, this draft played out in a very unique way.  If you’re a closed-minded drafter then this article won’t be for you.  But if you’re willing to explore other ways to get draft-day value then you’ll enjoy this long explanation of the unexpected turns I took on Tuesday.

My usual draft plan is the same as most fantasy owners.  I pick hitters at least three of the first four rounds and then stay pretty balanced after that point.   Because the LABR league allows trading, and because the league drafts in the middle of February, I decided that my plan for Tuesday was to take the highest ranked player on my board with my first four picks and then formulate a strategy for the rest of the draft.  I held pick number 10 in the 15-team league.  My expectation was that I would end up with a premier first baseman or outfielder in round one and a top middle infielder in round two.  Suffice to say, it didn’t work out the way I planned.  What that said, here we go! (If you’re short on time, skip to round 14 and read my analysis).

Round 1 – Carlos Gonzalez – The start of my draft wasn’t surprising.  I assumed that I would take either Gonzalez, Votto or Fielder, with an outside chance of nabbing Pujols.  The Angels first baseman was scooped up at pick nine and with my other two options off the board, I grabbed CarGo.  I know the injury risk with Gonzalez, but if he can play 135-140 games I will be happy.  Anything more than that is gravy.  I’m expecting something in the range of 28 homers, 22 steals and a .300 batting average.

Round 2 – Justin Verlander – I expected that Verlander would be off the board at pick 21 and I would grab Reyes or Pedroia.  But this group was hesitant to take pitchers in the early rounds and the consensus top starter for 2013 fell into my hands.  Pitchers are usually considered to be riskier than hitters in the early rounds but all the research I have done on the topic suggests that is a myth.  Pitchers taken in the first five rounds meet expectations just as often as hitters.  I decided that Verlander was safer than my hitter options.  Reyes, Pedroia (and Bautista, who I also considered) have dealt with more injuries in recent seasons than Verlander.  The Tigers ace is a lock for 220 innings, 220 K’s and 17-20 wins.

Round 3 – Cliff Lee – This is when things started to get weird!  Remember, my rule was to stay true to my draft board in the first four rounds.  I certainly did that!  As the picks were flowing towards me in round three, I had a few hitter targets.  One by one, I watched players like Castro, Bruce and Adam Jones fall off the board.  I was left with the choice on taking my highest-ranked player (Lee) or reaching on a player that I don’t totally believe in (Zimmerman).  In the end, I decided to go with my gut and take a second ace.  I believe that Lee is going to have a terrific season and should combine with Verlander to keep me near the top of most pitching categories.

Round 4 – Craig Kimbrel – My fellow drafters were polite enough not to laugh when I took my third pitcher with my fourth pick, but I know the folks on Sirius XM radio were having plenty of fun at my expense!  I’ve never taken three pitchers in the first four rounds before.  But I completely believe in the players I selected on Tuesday.  I think Kimbrel is special.  I mean Eric-Gagne-on-the-juice special!  In most seasons, I would never consider a closer in round four. And for 2013, I don’t think any other closer belongs in the first six rounds.  But Kimbrel is going to once again post insane numbers.  Over 100 K’s, a sub-2.00 ERA and a 0.75ish WHIP.   No other closer will touch his numbers this season.  I said I would stick with my draft board for four picks and I did exactly that.  I didn’t plan on taking three pitchers though!  In hindsight, do I wish I took Bautista over Verlander in round two?  Heck no!  I believe in the guys I got.  At this point I made a plan to draft hitters for the next ten rounds.   I was sure that I could make up the hitting stats that I lost early on.  And I was sure that I could craft a pitching staff in the later rounds that would compliment my three stud arms.

Round 5 – Shin-Soo Choo – Time to get some hitters!  Truth be told, Choo was the highest-ranked hitter on my board in round four.   I was pretty confident he would still be around in the fifth frame, which freed me up to take the plunge on Kimbrel.  In his walk year, I’m expecting Choo to have a terrific season with the Reds.  A 20-20-.295 campaign will meet my expectations.

Round 6 – Matt Wieters – The bottom end of the catcher pool is ugly this season.  In a two-catcher league, it’s important to get at least one quality backstop and it’s also likely a good idea to secure a serviceable one early in the second half of the draft.  Waiting until the late rounds this season is really risky at this position.  Wieters is already a quality hitter at the catcher spot and most people would agree that we haven’t seen his best season yet.  I’m hoping for 25 homers and a .265 batting average.  If he can accomplish those numbers, he will drive in his share of runs.

Round 7 – Rickie Weeks –  Weeks slumped badly in the first half of 2012 but bounced back nicely in the second half.  For all the concern about injury risk, the Brewers second baseman has smacked over 20 homers in each of the past three seasons.   Add in double-digit steals and 90 runs, and Weeks will be worth a seventh round pick.  Along with catcher, I’m also not crazy about the late-round options in the middle infield this season.  So, it was nice to get a second baseman early on.

Round 8 – Will Middlebrooks – Poor Will Middlebrooks!  He was the top name on the default draft list for about four rounds.  That led to him being accidentally selected twice when owners had computer mix-ups.  Those mix-ups were followed by screams of “not Middlebrooks!  I wanted someone else!”  As his self-esteem plunged lower and lower, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I had to use my eighth-round pick to put him out of his misery.  I’m a little concerned about his return from a wrist injury, but he’s young and otherwise healthy.  He looked great in his brief rookie season and I have my fingers crossed for 25 homers in 2013.

Round 9 – Michael Cuddyer – For some reason, I like Cuddyer more than everyone else in the world.  Well, probably not his immediate family, but I like him more than everyone else does.  For the past two seasons I have owned Cuddyer in almost all my leagues.  He was my highest-ranked player in round eight, but I put my Cuddyer theory into play.  I figured no one else would want him as much as I did and he would last another round.  Maybe I’m wrong on Cuddyer, but I love him with Coors Field staring him down for half of his at-bats.  I’m expecting 25 dingers and 10 steals.

Round 10 –David Ortiz – Had Ortiz finished the 2012 season, he would be going much higher in current drafts.  He would have easily topped 30-100-.300 and no one would be overly worried about his age.  But, his Achilles injury is definitely a factor in pushing down in draft position.  This is exactly the type of hitter you should target if you go with pitching in the early rounds.  I’m expecting 25 homers and 90 RBIs.   Hopefully I will be pleasantly surprised and get more than I’m hoping for!

Round 11 – Alexei Ramirez – I only had one middle infielder at this point and it was a second baseman, so the time felt right to grab a decent shortstop.  I’m not excited about owning Ramirez but he will be a respectable contributor in all five categories.

Round 12 – Brett Gardner – I was a little light on speed at this point in the draft, so it was time to add a burner.  As long as he’s healthy, Gardner is a safe bet to swipe 40 bags.  He should score more than 85 runs and won’t hurt my team’s batting average.

Round 13 – Alex Avila – Avila was a trendy pick last season but he struggled in 2012 and his current draft stock is much lower.  He recently revealed that knee troubles forced him to change his batting stance last season.  He claims to be feeling better now and I’m hoping for 15 homers and a .265 average.  Those aren’t sexy stats, but they are much better than what I would have received from a late-round catcher.

Round 14 – Lorenzo Cain – He was considered a first-rate prospect a couple years ago but the bloom has come off this rose.  I feel that fantasy owners have been a little too quick to dismiss Cain’s potential.   But forget Cain – let’s take a minute at this point to see how my alternative strategy worked out.  After 14 picks, I have 11 hitters and 3 pitchers.  All other teams have four pitchers and most have five.  At this point, I believe that I’ve made up the hitting stats I lost when I took the pitchers early on.  After the draft, I ran the projections for my team and I hit all the hitting targets I set for myself.  In fact, my team projects out better than the one I picked in the JBL draft, which took place last month.  In that draft, I started with a typical plan and picked Pujols, Pedroia and Heyward in the first three rounds.  I’ve always been a big fan of loading up with hitters in the first three rounds.  But in most seasons one of those hitters lets me down.  I’m starting to think that he fantasy baseball community has gone too far in the direction of hitters.  Elite starting pitchers are quite reliable.  I believe that we have become a product of over-analyzed mock drafts and ADP lists.  We’ve also become a product of cookie-cutter advice, where every expert deals out similar opinions on the way fantasy owners should draft.  If every owner is following the pack and starting their draft with three hitters, there is a great opportunity for a couple owners to buck the trend and build their team in reverse.  We will have to see how this all plays out, but I’m happy with the results right now. To see a detailed breakdown that compares the two draft strategies, click here to read the accompanying blog post.  Onto the rest of the draft….

Round 15 – Jonathan Broxton – I decided to let most of the steady stoppers go off the board during the middle rounds.   There are about 20 closers I’m willing to leave a draft with, and I strongly feel like I need to roster two of them.  Broxton and Casey Janssen were the only two closers left on my acceptable list, so I snapped up Broxton.  I’m not in love with his skills, but I think the Reds are.  They had him for two months in 2012 and they must have liked what they saw because they didn’t take long in the offseason to retain him and promote him to closer.  I’m expecting 35 saves and respectable ratios.

Round 16 – Wade Miley – I hoped to land Marco Estrada in this round but I narrowly missed out on him. Miley will be a decent third starter, who should help keep my ERA and WHIP down.  With Verlander and Lee on board, I don’t need to take a chance on high-strikeout arms.

Round 17 – Phil Hughes – Another solid starter to fill in behind my aces.  Hughes is maturing into a reliable starter and I believe there is still room for growth.   A productive Yankees offense should help him win about 14-15 games this season.

Round 18 – Garrett Jones – I still needed to fill in my corner infield spot and that was a good place to add a power hitter, since I had picked up plenty of steals in the middle rounds.  Jones is what he is.  He can’t hit southpaws but he can rip over 20 homers off right-handers.  Good enough.

Round 19 – Jon Jay – He will slide into my utility spot for week one.  Jay doesn’t offer a lot of power, but he can hit for average, swipe 20 bases and score plenty of runs.  He’s an underrated asset for 2013.

Round 20 – Jhonny Peralta – I don’t love this pick, but there wasn’t much left to finish off my middle infield.  Peralta was a fantasy dud in 2012 but he was very productive in 2011 and he’s surrounded by quality hitters in Motown.  I’m hoping for 15 homers and a respectable batting average.  This is my last projected starting hitter.  I usually like to stay away from finding hitters after round 20.  I would rather use those picks on pitchers.  Late-round pitchers are only part-time players, since they will be rotated based on matchups.  But hitters like Peralta need to be used every week, so I would rather get them first.

Round 21 – A.J. Griffin – I believe in Billy Beane.  And after last season, all fantasy owners should consider any young starter that Beane’s A’s add to the rotation.  Griffin has a good chance to make the rotation out of Spring Training.  He looked great in a short trial last season and I love his upside at this point in the draft.

Round 22 – Mitch Moreland – I often like to use an earlier pick on a bench hitter who can fill in for many of my starters.  Moreland fits the bill.  He covers me in case any of my 1B, CI, OF or U get injured in Spring Training.  The Rangers roster is thinner this season and Moreland could quietly earn more playing time than ever before.  I’m hoping for 20 homers.

Round 23 – Paul Maholm – Similar to the A’s, I believe in the Braves when it comes to pitching.  Maholm pitched very well for the Braves in the second half.  While I don’t expect the left-hander to repeat those stats in 2013, I think he can be a nice matchup play at the back end of my rotation.  Atlanta is poised to win plenty of games this season and Maholm is capable of winning 13-14 of them, while posting a respectable ERA and WHIP.

Round 24 – Dan Straily – I was very happy about this pick, as it will work well with the Griffin selection.  Either Griffin or Straily will make the A’s rotation.  And if something goes wrong with another starter (I’m looking at you, Bartolo Colon) then I might get two starters from one of the AL’s best rotations.

Round 25 – Jeff Niemann – If Niemann could stay healthy he would be picked before round 20.  But, the gentle giant struggles to stay on the mound all season.  In Round 25, I’m not thinking about what a pitcher can do in August.  I’ll take the guy who can help me in April and figure the rest out later.  If he stays healthy all season, Niemann will be my best late-round pick.

Round 26 – Gavin Floyd – I commented during the draft that I don’t know if picks get any more boring than Floyd.  He’s going to post a 4.00 ERA, with a decent strikeout rate and win total.  He belongs on a mixed-league roster but I don’t expect to use him too often.

Round 27 – David Hernandez – More than any other pick, this was a late-round lottery ticket.  I’m not a big fan of drafting setup men in mixed leagues.  Very few closers pitch poorly enough in Spring Training to lose their job.  I chose Hernandez because he sets up for an injury-prone closer – J.J. Putz.  If anything goes wrong with Putz over the next seven weeks, I’ve got a terrific closer in April.  And if Putz survives Spring Training in good shape, I will likely send Hernandez to waivers.

Round 28 – Zach McAllister – I’ve always been a fan of his skills and the revamped Indians roster is capable of winning over 80 games.  I think he will win a rotation spot and I’m happy to let him sit on my bench in April while I figure out what I have here.

Round 29 – Darwin Barney – I likely won’t own Barney on April 15.  But I wanted one more hitter in case my team suffers a rash of injuries during Spring Training.  Barney can fill in for any of my middle infielders, while my earlier pick of Moreland covers the other hitters.  I wouldn’t want to have an empty hitting spot early in the season while I wait for the first transaction period.  In all likelihood, I will drop Barney the first time I get a chance.

Well, there you have it!  An unusual draft but one that I believe can lead me to a championship.  Despite the absence of elite bats, I’m as confident in this team as any that I’ve drafted in recent seasons.

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