Fantasy Baseball Mock Draft (Punting Steals and Saves)

by Bobby Sylvester | @bobbyfantasypro | Featured Writer
Mar 10, 2018

Nelson Cruz helps make up lost ground on Bobby’s team

If you’ve ever played chess seriously, you know that each game is built on a foundation based on the chosen openings of each player. One may choose the Reti Opening, which means white moves the knight to F3 to open the game which could lead them into the powerful King’s Indian Attack later on in the game. Black may counter with the Grünfeld Defense, full well knowing white’s next five moves based on their opening and player tendencies. Or perhaps when you know an opponent prefers to use the Queen’s Gambit, you will practice games running the Lasker Trap so that you can stop his onslaught. The same is true for fantasy baseball. You need to be well versed in various openings and base the remainder of your draft strategy around it.

When I’m in a head-to-head league, I don’t worry about building a well-rounded machine. Rather, I am trying to dominate as many categories as possible. In order to do this, it means I will be forfeiting one or even two categories so I can focus entirely on the other eight or nine. The one or two I will punt is determined by how I open the draft. Typically, I’ll use one of three openings in chess and fantasy baseball. Since you won’t care about the chess, I’ll tell you about my fantasy baseball options.

If I have a late pick in a snake draft, I am nearly always looking to go aces back to back then punt stolen bases and batting average. This enables me to build a phenomenal pitching staff and allocate my limited offensive draft capital exclusively on power, which correlates with both high RBIs and runs. If I pick in the front of the first round, there are no starting pitchers worth reaching for and none I anticipate falling to me in the second round, so I’ll look to fill catcher and the middle infield positions as early as possible on my way to building a spectacular lineup. This requires, however, that I wait until the 9th or 10th round to draft my pitchers. Don’t worry though, that opening comes with a cheat code (see link below) so my league-mates likely won’t notice that I skimped on pitching. The third opening is reserved for when I’m stuck in no man’s land, which means 5th through 9th this year. When I’m in that position, I’ll do my best to execute the strategy that I’ll be telling you about today.

Other Draft Strategies

Double-Aces (Punting SB and BA)
Marmol Auction Strategy (Basically cheating)

As always, I used our draft simulation software to blitz through a draft. Today, I decided to use ESPN’s standard settings for a 12 team league and draft against their pre-draft rankings and ADP. I gave myself the dreaded 9th pick where I just miss out on Giancarlo Stanton, Charlie Blackmon and my favorite first round value, Trea Turner. It may look different if you are playing on Yahoo! Sports, CBS Sports, FanTrax or any other site, so make sure to practice with your exact league settings so that you are best prepared to carry out your plan in your draft.

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A Heap of Ratio Kings

2nd Round – Chris Sale (SP – BOS)
3rd Round – Noah Syndergaard (SP – NYM)
7th Round – James Paxton (SP – SEA)
10th Round – David Price (SP – BOS)
11th Round – Lance McCullers (SP – HOU)
12th Round – Zachary Godley (SP – ARI)
14th Round – Jeff Samardzija (SP – SF)
16th Round – Andrew Miller (RP – CLE)
18th Round – Charlie Morton (SP – HOU)

That is a hefty price to pay for a pitching staff, but as you’ll later, there is enough late round value offensively that I can still afford to build a 4-category monster for fairly cheap on offense. It helps that I’m skipping out on overspending for both saves and stolen bases. These two categories force fantasy owners to reach for players who usually hurt you in multiple other categories. If I can help it, I refuse to be a part of it. Kenley Jansen belongs nowhere near the 7th round, let alone the end of the 3rd. Think of it this way, if you eliminate saves and stolen bases, you are creating value out of thin air. Nelson Cruz and Yonder Alonso become substantially more valuable at helping you reach your goals, yet their ADPs stay the same.

Now, the theme with the pitchers I picked runs through my entire staff. None of them are a ratio liability. Syndergaard, Paxton, Price, McCullers, Godley and Morton may not be a lock to throw 160 innings, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they will be quality innings that won’t damage our endeavor to be near the top of the league ratio categories. None of these guys have to strike out 200 batters this season or win 15 games because I’ve got so many that they will combine to overcome my opponents in those categories by sheer force of innings.

You may point out Samardzija and Miller as exceptions to the rule, but let me explain: Underlying statistics tell us that Samardzija may have been the single most unlucky pitcher in baseball last year. He carried a 4.42 ERA with just 9 wins, but his xFIP was better than Carlos Martinez, Yu Darvish and many other names being drafted ahead of him. You can count on a significant bounce-back in 2018 from him. Miller, as you noticed, is the only reliever on the staff, which works just fine with ESPN’s standard league settings. He isn’t going to help with wins, but he is a serious ratio booster and should provide 100 strikeouts. Chris Devinski has pitched almost completely out of the bullpen the past two years, but because he has been starting pitcher eligible, he has finished in the top 25 both seasons among fantasy starting pitchers. Miller is a significantly better version of Devinski, and is going quite a bit later than SP #25.

Old Boring Bashers

1st Round – Kris Bryant (3B – CHC)
4th Round – Nelson Cruz (OF – SEA) 
5th Round – Daniel Murphy (2B – WAS) 
6th Round – Khris Davis (OF – OAK)
8th Round – Miguel Cabrera (1B – DET)
9th Round – Adrian Beltre (CI – TEX)

Without having to worry about stolen bases at all, I was able to focus exclusively on some four-category monsters to begin building my lineup. Power is easy to come by later on in drafts, but it comes with a price, as you’ll have to give up on batting average. Seeing that I’ve already chosen to punt saves and steals, I can’t afford to miss on batting average too, so I had to get my power early then I can fluff the RBI and runs categories later by adding a plethora of durable high-average bench bats.

Murphy is recovering from microfracture surgery in his knee so you are able to grab him at a discount even though he should be back in a few weeks. He is practically Jose Altuve without the stolen bases, but you get him 50 picks later. Cruz and Davis may be boring picks, but they are second and third in homers over the past two seasons with 85 and 82 with over 100 RBIs each in both seasons. While they won’t help you in batting average, the duo combined to hit .268 which won’t hurt any fantasy lineup.

Cabrera saw his batting average drop nearly 70 points while having his homers more than cut in half, but he hit more line drives than the previous season, a higher percentage of hard-hit balls and still had on of the top average exit velocities in the league. He will surely bounce back from that lousy luck. Unlike Cabrera, Beltre’s unimpressive counting stats had little to do with luck. The matter of the fact is that he was more efficient last season than any year since 2012 when he finished 3rd in the AL MVP voting. All it comes down to is health, and seeing that last year was the first time in 18 years that he failed to reach 400 at-bats, I’d say we can bank on him returning to 25 HR and 100 RBIs with a healthy batting average.

Reliable Stat Stuffers

13th Round – J.T. Realmuto (C – MIA)
15th Round – Paul DeJong (SS – STL)
17th Round – Odubel Herrera (OF – PHI)
19th Round – Scooter Gennett (MI – CIN)
20th Round – Shin-Soo Choo (OF – TEX)
21st Round – Jackie Bradley (OF – BOS)
22nd Round – Maikel Franco (BN – PHI)
23rd Round – David Peralta (OF – ARI)
24th Round – Willie Calhoun (BN – TEX)
25th Round – Yonder Alonso (BN – CLE)

Ok, maybe this group should have also included “boring” in the title. There is nothing sexy about these players except perhaps Calhoun who despite his size, carries a ridiculous bat. Every single player in this group fits the model I was looking for to round out my roster. Each one is above replacement level in all four categories at their positions. In fact, I made sure this would happen by downloading our Zeile Consensus Projections, creating a filter, then phasing out every player who did not match the criteria: .260 BA or higher, 120 RBI+R or higher and 15 HR or higher. Then I ran a vlookup to pair the players on that list with ESPN’s ADP and formed a plan of two options I could take each round who would boost my team in the right areas without hurting me anywhere. It worked like a charm and I was even fortunate enough to get both Gennett and Franco two rounds later than I planned for.

The Results

As you can see, I was able to execute my plan almost flawlessly. I’ve been playing in 5×5 roto leagues since I was 6 years old (thanks, Dad!) and the biggest lesson I’ve learned is quite simple: If you go into drafts with a realistic plan, it becomes easy to carry out. In fact, the results are nearly always better than you could have hoped for. This team should be the favorite to win at least 6 categories each week in a head-to-head league, and often times 7 or 8 categories. If you start with this specific opening to your draft, try to carry out the strategy by skipping out on the inflated prices for saves and steals. Those extra roster spots where the relievers would have been will help you win five categories by volume, while the ratios are bought with early-round draft capital. Before you just dive right in on draft night, though, make sure to get some practice in using our free Draft Simulation Software. While you are at it, make sure to prepare for each scenario so you can knock it out of the park by going down whichever path the first two rounds point you towards.

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Bobby Sylvester is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Bobby, check out his archive and follow him @BobbyFantasyPro

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