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NFBC Draft Champions Primer + Sample Draft (2020 Fantasy Baseball)

by James Bisson | Featured Writer
Jan 31, 2020

Trevor Story is a beast regardless of the format.

There’s fantasy baseball – and then there’s the kind of games the National Fantasy Baseball Championship puts together every year.

The NFBC, is it’s widely known by the fantasy community, is home to one of the biggest collections of fantasy baseball power players in the world. Its signature contest – The Main Event – is the industry’s equivalent of the World Series of Poker, right down to the star-studded field and bankroll-bolstering first prize ($150,000, in case you were wondering.)

But even if the $1,700 Main Event entry fee is out of your comfort zone, you’ll find no shortage of high-stakes leagues to participate in – including the growing-in-popularity Draft Champions format, which offers contests with entry fees from $150 to $1,000. Here are a few things you need to know about this unique fantasy baseball format:

  • The Draft Champions competition consists of multiple 15-team leagues; there are cash prizes for finishing in the top-3 in your individual league, as well as an overall prize pool which pays out the top 36 spots. Top spot in each league pays out $1,000, while the No. 1 overall team will earn $30,000 (the NFBC awards $7,500 for second and $5,000 for third.)
  • Draft Champions runs the length of the season, and uses a 5×5 rotisserie scoring format (Batting average, home runs, RBIs, stolen bases and runs for hitters; wins, saves, ERA, strikeouts and WHIP for pitchers.) The player with the most rotisserie points from all 10 categories combined wins.
  • Draft order is determined using the Kentucky Derby System (KDS), which requires each player to rank the 15 draft slots in order of preference. Priority order is then randomized, with the first player given his first choice of draft slot; the second player is then given his preferred draft slot unless that slot is the same as the first player, in which he’ll be given his No. 2 pick. The randomization continues until all 15 players are included in the draft order.
  • The drafts are serpentine, with different draft timers depending on which league you sign up for (both live- and slow-draft options are available).

Now, here’s where things get interesting …

Draft Champions leagues are 50 rounds long. That’s five-zero. And the 50 players you select over the course of the draft are the only players you’ll have on your team all season. No waivers, no cuts, no pickups, no trades. In the words of fellow FantasyPros scribe Dan Harris, “Who you got is who you got.” (I have no proof he actually ever said that, but it sounds like something he would say.)

So you probably have plenty of questions. Here are answers to the first two:

  • Each team starts 23 players: two catchers, one first baseman, one second baseman, one shortstop, one third baseman, one corner infielder, one middle infielder, five outfielders, one utility player and nine pitchers. That leaves you with a 27-man bench, which is just as awesome as it sounds.
  • Roster edits take effect at two different points during the week. You can swap any players until they play their first game of the new week, and again before their Friday games. So if you want to play Andrew McCutchen the first part of the week but swap him out Friday for Nick Markakis, you can; McCutchen will be live Monday-Thursday, and Markakis from Friday-Sunday.

That’s the general gist of what you can expect from a Draft Champions league. And now that you know the rules, the scoring and the Ironman Triathlon-style draft format, here are some important things to keep in mind as you take your first dip into the Draft Champions pool:

Nail Your Early Picks

This probably goes without saying, but if you don’t get your early picks right, you’re probably going to have a long, terrible fantasy season. The lack of roster-bolstering tactics in DC leagues leaves fantasy owners having to rely heavily on their draft savvy (more on that later) – and that means making sure those first few picks are on the nose. It’s helpful to target five-category studs right from the get-go – but failing that, you should focus on players who have been consistent contributors, players who are guaranteed top-10-percent at-bats or innings, and/or players who have as few question marks (performance, health or otherwise) as possible.

This is all easier said than done, of course, but by placing the necessary amount of urgency on hitting your early-round picks, you’ll give yourself a much better chance of getting a positive return on those players – and subsequently, a greater amount of freedom to take risks in the later rounds knowing that your roster foundation is solid.

Pitching is Critical

I know what you’re saying: “Okay, Boomer, Of COURSE I have to get the early rounds right. Isn’t that the case in literally every draft?”

Okay, maybe it is – but it’s more important when you can’t simply go out and shop for replacements. And on that note, you need to have a strong pitching staff from the outset. Need it. There’s no such thing as pilfering the waiver wire for streaming options in Draft Champions. Your bench IS your waiver wire, essentially. And with the rate of attrition a regular fantasy pitching staff faces over the run of a season, stocking up your arms arsenal is paramount.

That means adjusting your normal draft strategy to account for two truths: a) You need more pitchers in DC than you do in most other fantasy baseball formats, and b) so does everyone else. And remember: these are 15-team leagues, so you could be waiting a very long time between picks.

I highly recommend perusing the up-to-date NFBC ADP figures, which take into account every league drafted under the NFBC umbrella. There, you’ll get a sense of just how much higher pitchers are being taken; without spoiling too much, here are the average number of pitchers taken per round as of Jan. 30:

Round Pitchers
Round 1 3
Round 2 6
Round 3 2
Round 4 7
Round 5 6
Round 6 6
Round 7 5
Round 8 5

If you wait on pitching, you will need to be very, very good at mining late value – and even if you are, you’ll be up against at least a handful of other players doing the same thing in every round.

This is a No-Punt Zone

In standard rotisserie leagues, the practice of punting a category is widely accepted and embraced. And why not? You can always find undrafted sluggers, unheralded base stealers, rotation anchors and replacement closers on the waiver wire during the season. But as you’ve no doubt heard by now, you don’t have that luxury in Draft Champions – so you have to keep every single category in mind when building your team, especially if you have designed on challenging for the overall title.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to try and load up on established options in each category; for example, I won my first Draft Champions title last year despite snagging only one established closer in the draft (Kenley Jansen). I chose to load up on set-up men and other promising relievers in the latter stages of the draft in hopes of landing a couple of replacement closers – and lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened. Ian Kennedy and Taylor Rogers racked up 60 saves between them, giving me just enough of a boost in that category to prevail.

You should, however, prepare for the possibility that none of the players you draft after Round 35 will contribute in any meaningful way in 2020. And that means loading up on multi-category stars wherever possible, landing at least one established closer, and tracking the math after every pick so you know where your strengths – and more importantly, your deficiencies – lie.

Every Pick Matters

Another piece of advice that sounds obvious, but needs to be taken to heart here. Unlike regular fantasy baseball formats – where winning teams are built on a combination of good drafting, smart roster editing, savvy waiver wire and trade decisions and plenty of luck – Draft Champions titles are largely decided by how the draft goes. This is especially true given that few people have ever participated in a 50-round draft, and aren’t that familiar with how to prepare for one.

You won’t have that problem, my friend. And here’s why: You’re going into this thing knowing that each and every pick you make will have a significant impact on the outcome of the league. So no getting crazy with your selections, even when you’re in Round 46 and the guy in front of you just selected Tim Tebow.

Here are a few tips to ensure you get the most value out of all 50 picks:

  • Track everything. This goes beyond simply filling in a roster template by position. Keep track of where you stand in all 10 categories, and decide how you want to proceed based on this tracking strategy. This is of particular importance beyond Round 35, when you might think you’re set across the board but find upon further review that you could actually use one more potential stolen base threat, or another starter with a path to 160 innings (as hard as it gets to find such a player at that point.)
  • Track everyone. You don’t need detailed spreadsheets on every one of your 14 competitors, but as with any competitive fantasy baseball league, the more you know your opponents, the better equipped you’ll be. If you get a sense that there are a couple of players who are hurting for stolen bases, you might be inclined to reach a round or two earlier for that rookie burner as opposed to hoping he’ll be around later. Again, this takes on added importance when reliable contributors are at a premium.
  • Take your time. There’s a tendency for new Draft Champions competitors to rush their late picks; slow drafts can take three weeks or longer to complete, and some people are disinclined to spend a couple of hours deciding on their SS6. But it’s worth it to take that extra time: a late-round pick that hits can provide a significant benefit, since most of them register a zero.

So let’s get a look at what a typical Draft Champions roster might look like. I participated in my first $150 NFBC DC league last month, and opted for a strategy that was largely similar to the one I employed in 2019: Load up on multi-category hitting studs, anchor my pitching staff with decent mid-range starters and largely speculate on saves. The result: you tell me!

Round Pick Name (Team) Pos.
1 11 Trevor Story (COL) SS
2 20 Anthony Rendon (LAA) 3B
3 41 Jonathan Villar (MIA) 2B/SS
4 50 Charlie Blackmon (COL) OF
5 71 DJ LeMahieu (NYY) 1B/2B/3B

If this isn’t the best lineup of hitters in the league through five rounds, it’s up there. Securing top-end batting average guys at the front end of the draft mitigates the damage caused by those .220, 30-homer options you find later in drafts, while Story and Villar provide a terrific stolen base … base. No pitchers yet, but that’s by design: I landed just one pitcher early in my 2019 draft, and that guy (Chris Sale) came in under value. So I’m waiting even longer this year, and hoping to build a solid staff despite the lack of an ace.

Round Pick Name (Team) Pos.
6 80 James Paxton (NYY) SP
7 101 Andrew Benintendi (BOS) OF
8 110 Shohei Ohtani (LAA) OF/P
9 131 Lance Lynn (TEX) SP
10 140 Danny Santana (TEX) 1B/OF

Ohtani is a fascinating cat in this format, since he essentially represents two players in one (NFBC allows you to roster him as both a UT and P.) What makes him especially useful here – and a bargain at 110th overall – is that, if you know on which day he’s going to start, you can play him as a hitter in one half of the week and then switch him over to a P spot for the other. And if he’s as good at both as he has shown to be in the past, he could be a legitimate difference maker. Don’t be surprise to see his ADP soar in Draft Champions leagues.

Round Pick Name (Team) Pos.
11 161 Sean Manaea (OAK) SP
12 170 Jake Odorizzi (MIN) SP
13 191 Kevin Newman (PIT) 2B/SS
14 200 David Price (BOS) SP
15 221 Rougned Odor (TEX) 2B

This gives you a great idea of the kind of pitching talent you can expect once the double-digit rounds come along. I’m perfectly content to roll with Paxton-Lynn-Manaea-Odorizzi-Price as my top five starters (with Ohtani ideally good for 20-or-so starts himself, if all goes well.) And remember what I said earlier about needing to land an established closer? Welp … it looks like I’ll be sifting through the bargain for every last one of my saves. But with this hitting lineup, I have no qualms.

Round Pick Name (Team) Pos.
16 230 Ryan Braun (MIL) OF
17 251 Kevin Pillar (FA) OF
18 260 Randal Grichuk (TOR) OF
19 281 Seth Lugo (NYM) RP
20 290 Robinson Chirinos (TEX) C

By this point, it gets much harder to find stable contributors across several categories – but that doesn’t mean you can’t. Braun and Pillar aren’t going to knock your socks off, but they also won’t kill you; with health, they’re terrific fourth and fifth outfielders in a format like this. On the flip side, Lugo represents what happens if you wait on a closer; he’s my first reliever, and is not the Mets’ ninth-inning guy. He could be, at some point. But he isn’t. That said, I like his K/9 and rate stat potential.

Round Pick Name (Team) Pos.
21 311 Mychal Givens (BAL) RP
22 320 Jurickson Profar (SD) 2B
23 341 Chris Bassitt (OAK) SP
24 350 Merrill Kelly (ARI) SP
25 371 Jordan Lyles (TEX) SP

Best-case scenario: The Orioles grind their way to 70 wins, the overwhelming majority of which are decided by one or two runs. Givens isn’t traded, and turns in a sublime 35-save season that makes me look like a genius. And yes, that’s asking a whole lot and probably won’t happen. But there’s plenty of good in this round, as well – specifically, three starting pitchers who could turn out to be decent matchup-dependent options and an everyday second baseman who could be primed for a bounce-back season in a suddenly stout San Diego lineup.

Round Pick Name (Team) Pos.
26 380 Jackie Bradley Jr. (BOS) OF
27 401 Miguel Cabrera (DET) 1B
28 410 Dexter Fowler (STL) OF
29 431 Chase Anderson (TOR) SP
30 440 Reese McGuire (TOR) C

Yes, the top three players in this section are past their prime (and in Miggy’s case, that prime feels like it was a century ago.) But at this point in the draft, you really have to switch your focus to collecting playing time. At-bats, innings, whatever. Trust me: this exercise becomes a whole lot more daunting down the line, and you need to have players you can count on to act as capable injury or performance substitutions rather than all-upside lottery tickets who might end up with 600 ABs – or 60.

Round Pick Name (Team) Pos.
31 461 Colin Moran (PIT) 3B
32 470 Brian Goodwin (LAA) OF
33 491 Matt Barnes (BOS) RP
34 500 Jake Lamb (ARI) 1B/3B
35 521 Ty Buttrey (LAA) RP

And so begins a six-round run during which I nab five relief pitchers. At this point, I love my hitting lineup and feel like I was able to mine decent value from the starting pitcher pool – but if you want the overall title, you need saves. And given the yearly success rate (or rather, fail rate) of incumbent closers, there’s a good chance at least one of the players I nab between Rounds 33-38 will get a crack at the ninth-inning role. You’re going out on a limb, sure, but you just can’t fill every roster hole as quickly as you’d like.

Round Pick Name (Team) Pos.
36 530 Luke Jackson (ATL) RP
37 551 Chad Green (NYY) RP
38 560 Yusmeiro Petit (OAK) RP
39 581 Tyler Chatwood (CHC) SP
40 590 Austin Hedges (SD) C

A note about catchers, since we have one picked here … it’s probably good to have at least four on your roster. One tactic I employed last year: securing the C1 and C2 from two teams (the Angels and the Reds) so that I was almost certainly going to have two healthy catchers playing the majority of the time. And sure enough, I never had a week where I had to scramble to fill those at-bats. I’m not repeating that tactic in this draft, but it’s certainly one way to go about building your roster (and a low-risk one at that.)

Round Pick Name (Team) Pos.
41 611 Addison Russell (FA) 2B
42 620 Michael Feliz (PIT) RP
43 641 Jose Osuna (PIT) 1B/OF
44 650 John Brebbia (STL) RP
45 671 Buck Farmer (DET) RP

Picks with purpose: A free-agent middle infielder who could find some at-bats once he signs, three more potential closer options, and a utilityman who can sub in at four different spots (1B, CI, OF, UT). You’ll note that I’m not really a lotto-ticket kind of drafter in this format (you won’t find Mackenzie Gores or Jo Adell on any of my DC rosters), but that doesn’t mean reaching for some potential young studs is a bad plan. And perhaps I would have been better served to take those swings at this point. But it’s REALLY hard to identify future talent when you’re 600+ picks in.

Round Pick Name (Team) Pos.
46 680 Harold Castro (DET) 2B
47 701 Steven Brault (PIT) SP
48 710 Tony Kemp (LAA) 2B/OF
49 731 Tyler Naquin (CLE) OF
50 740 Sandy Leon (CLE) C

I would be stunned if any of these players find their way into my lineup this season – but you never know.

So there you have it! Thanks for sticking around for all 50 rounds. Here’s what FantasyPros’ League Analyzer thinks of my draft:

The hitters grade seems legit, though I’m skeptical of the pitchers grade given how long I waited to address the position. At any rate, NFBC’s Draft Champions leagues are terrific for those of you looking for a high-stakes experience where your draft know-how goes a very, very long way toward deciding a champion. I highly recommend trying one out – but please don’t join any of my leagues. After all, you already know my strategy.