Going 9 Expert Draft

Last night I took part in the Going 9 Experts League draft. We started late (11:00 PM EDT), but the event was fast and fun. We drafted a total of 300 players in under 140 minutes, so it went much faster than my auctions do.
The league is a 5×5 12-team mixed league, drafting a total roster of 25 players per team, with 20 active players and a 5 person bench. I tracked the draft on my site, and the full configuration is here.
The draft order was determined randomly a half hour before the start. I hoped for one of the top 3 picks, as there was a big drop off after the top 3 players (Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, and Miguel Cabrera). After that, players were much more tightly bunched in my dollar values. I wound up with the 7th pick, right in the middle of each round. So no quick turnaround picks, but also no excruciating waits for the next pick. Trout and Cabrera were definitely out, and while I thought there was some chance Kershaw might slip (many fantasy experts are loathe to use a top pick on a pitcher, no matter how good), that was still unlikely.
I was mildly surprised to see Cabrera go ahead of Trout. While who is the better real player has been a hotly debated topic in baseball, in fantasy, Trout is an excellent performer in all five offensive categories, while Cabrera doesn’t steal. Trout’s steals and extra run scoring more than make up for Cabrera’s advantages in power and average in almost all formats. Still, both are great players, well above everyone else. And so which one will be better this year is still basically a guess.
The next two picks were Paul Goldschmidt and NL MVP Andrew McCutcheon, probably the next two best position players. But before I could get my hopes up, Kershaw went fifth overall, followed by 5-category star Carlos Gonzalez. I took Orioles CF Adam Jones next, valuing his consistent production more than the potential growth of Bryce Harper, who is still only 21. Harper clearly has more upside, as he has yet to play in 140 games in a season, but at 29, Jones likely has the better expected value. Ryan Braun went next, which is understandable; while I have lingering concerns over his value after his PED bust (presumably he’s no longer juicing), his prorated numbers last year were still outstanding. Owners might not want to count on him for too many SBs though: while his total of 4 was surely depressed due to injury and suspension, I’d be worried that he was actually caught 5 times. He needs to get his success rate at least to 67% to justify getting a lot of attempts.
Chris Davis went next, and he’s a very hard player to project, as his HR rose 28 in 2012, and another 20 last year. Using 2013 dollar values, Davis was the #2 player in this format, but you should clearly expect some regression this year. He should be a good source of HRs and RBIs, and score a lot, while having a mediocre batting average and few SBs. So he only really helps in 3 categories.
Another interesting case is Hanley Ramirez, who in percentage terms might have been having the best year of his career last year. But also he missed long stretches of the season early on, and even late often sat out, so he played in just 86 games. If he can play 150 games like last year, he’ll be a top-3 value, so he’s another high risk (but high potential) pick.
Rounding out the first round was Robinson Cano, who has been quite healthy: he’s played in at least 159 games each year since 2007. In my model (which doesn’t yet use park adjustments), he projected to be the 6th most valuable player, in this format, the same rank he has using 2013 stats. I gave some serious thought to taking him at #7, but adjusted him downward because I was concerned about the impact of Safeco and whether he might not be able to live up to the contract. But I’d have surely taken him at #12, if not sooner.
I didn’t have a particular draft strategy in mind other than looking for value early and filling lineup slots. I suspected my projections tended to overvalue top pitchers compared to where they went in a draft format, so I tended to wait on them.
My second round pick, # 18 overall, was Prince Fielder. I was on the fence between him and Edwin Encarnacion, who went next, but I took Fielder because I think the park change from Detroit to Arlington can give him an extra boost. My projections actually had Encarnacion worth $0.47 more (assuming a $260 salary cap), but they don’t include park effects.
Round 3 was the first time I just missed out on a guy I really wanted, as Felix Hernandez went just 2 picks before me. I settled for Jose Fernandez, who was still on the board, and he’s still only 21. This confirmed that it was time for the run on elite starters, and I perhaps reached a bit taking Fernandez here, as 4 top starters went in the next 7 picks (in order): Justin VerlanderCliff LeeMax Scherzer, and Madison Bumgarner.
In round 4, I stayed with starting pitching, taking Chris Sale and feeling rather good about things, but draft panic hit me in round 5. I was all set to be the first to grab a reliever and take Craig Kimbrel, until he went one pick before me. And I was flailing about for a backup plan. My projections actually had Kenley Jansen and Koji Uehara worth nearly as much as Kimbrell, but I thought they likely could fall. Ian Kinsler was the top guy on my value list at that point, but just as I marked Fielder up for a positive park change, I was wary of Kinsler in that spot. I thought about Adrian Gonzalez, but didn’t want to take a second 1B so early. I settled on Joe Mauer, who, ironically, is playing 1B this year, but still qualifies at C in this league (RotoValue tries to assign positions based on where a guy will play, so my site lists Mauer as C only; but you can add more eligibility either by counting games played this year or last, or just by a manual override). I’m hoping the move to 1B will boost his offense and his durability, but I still get to count that production at catcher.
And come round 6, Ian Kinsler was still available, and at that point I was happy to take him. After missing Kimbrell in round 5, I was hoping to get either Jansen or Uehara as a consolation prize. Jansen just 4 picks after Mauer, and was immediately followed by Aroldis Chapman, whom my model had already marked down a bit for missing time. I also now deem him a greater risk because we don’t yet know how well he’ll be able to come back from it. Uehara was still there in round 7, as I perhaps sparked a mini-run on closers. Trevor Rosenthal went with the next pick, with Greg Holland going just 2 slots after Rosenthal. And as the slightly shorter end of the snake turned, David Robertson went 2 spots before my pick.
My 8th round pick was Joe Nathan, who, like teammate Kinsler, is moving from Texas to Detroit. But here I project this to help Nathan: not only is the park better, but my projections have Detroit as the best team in the AL, which should give him plenty of save opportunities. That finished the mini closer run, as no more relievers went until Jason Grilli early in round 10.
In round 9 I took Starlin Castro to fill my SS slot, hoping for his average to rebound and to provide more speed to my team, which at that point was sorely lacking in steals. Brandon Phillips was still on the board in round 10, and my projections had him worth a little more than Castro, so I was quite happy to get him in round 10.
This league starts just 8 pitchers, and only 3 relievers. I became the first owner to fill out the bullpen by taking Sergio Romo in round 11. In round 12 I was preparing to take Curtis Granderson, but he went 2 spots before my pick, so I scrambled and took the aging Alfonso Soriano, who showed signs of renewal after being traded back to the Yankees last summer.
In round 13 I was happy to get Aramis Ramirez. He was dogged by knee problems last year, but seems healthy so far this spring, and I took Victor Martinez next to fill one of my utility slots. He has 1B eligibility in this league, but also might become eligible at C, while serving mainly as the Tigers’ DH.
After taking Jose Fernandez and Chris Sale in rounds 3 and 4, I (benignly, I hope!) neglected my rotation until now. This 12-team mixed league needs just 60 total starters active, and I felt that was the one place where I could most afford to wait. And in round 15, I had a choice between two older Yankees. I went with CC Sabathia instead of Hiroki Kuroda, as Sabathia has lost weight after a disastrous (for him) 4.78 ERA last year. Kuroda was amazing for most of last year, but fell off sharply late in the year. He’s also 5 years older, and has had a mediocre spring so far, compared to Sabathia’s strong one (0.800 WHIP, 2.70 ERA in 10 IP). Since I’m a Yankees fan, I’d hoped Kuroda might make it back around to me, but he went with the 2nd pick of the next round.
I took Jimmy Rollins in round 16, filling out my middle infield with some speed and power, albeit at the cost of a low average. I was aware my team was lacking speed, and I still had some starting OF slots to fill, so I was targeting Dexter Fowler next. Alas, he went 2 spots before me, so I took Torii Hunter as a consolation prize. Yep, the team is skewing old, a trait I reinforced with my next pick, Jake Peavy. I have a soft spot for once great pitchers, and hope they can regain some of their past dominance. And while his 4.07 ERA last year wasn’t much, Peavy’s 1.147 WHIP is quite nice indeed, especially in round 18.
I filled my last starting batter slot with Mariners’ SS Brad Miller, avoiding the added age (and homerism) of Derek Jeter, who went right after Miller, and in round 20 I finished my starting rotation with C.J. Wilson, who actually set his career high in wins last year with 17. At 34 years old he fits right in with the back end of my rotation.
I view bench spots largely like lottery tickets, a chance to grab someone who might turn out to be very good, but whom you don’t mind cutting if they don’t pan out. In looking at my standings projections, the Mariners stood out, and one Mariner who especially stood out as a likely outlier was James Paxton. I tweaked my model, adding more regression to pitchers, to try to rein in his early projection. Since I don’t currently have minor league numbers, all I had on Paxton was his stellar call-up last fall: 3 wins in 4 starts, with a 1.50 ERA, 0.917 WHIP, and 21 Ks in 24 IP. I’m now regressing those numbers a lot more, but my model still projects him to post a 3.43 ERA and 1.169 WHIP. Oh, and since somebody has to pitch in the back of Seattle’s rotation, it (probably too aggressively) bumped his innings up to 190. On the chance that those September numbers indicate something (and taking into account the friendly park), I made Paxton my first bench pick.
My second bench pick was Paxton’s teammate Corey Hart, who missed all of 2012, and now will be hurt by his park. He isn’t playing well this spring, but he is at least playing (.143 in 35 AB), and he for now is atop the Mariners’ depth chart in RF. He averaged 29 HRs in his last 3 full seasons in Milwaukee, so there’s power potential there.
Another player with power potential, but moving to a better situation, is Justin Morneau, now playing 1B in the thin air of Colorado. The humidor has taken much of Coors Field’s impact away, but it’s still a fine offensive park, while Minnesota has been a pitchers’ park. Morneau might well be a good catch.
Dan Uggla can hardly have a lower average than last year, and if he manages to hit .230, he can help more in power than he hurts in average.
Finally, I closed out my team by taking a flier on Dan Straily. That gives me two young bench starters, both in good pitchers’ parks. That, I hope, can help balance the age risk of the back end of my rotation.
Overall it was a fun draft, and I like my team. Not surprisingly, since I was using my projections when making picks, if I add up each team’s totals of my projections, I have the strongest team. I project to be top 3 in every category except SB, where I’m 11th of 12 teams.  My team has  a lot of balance on offense, with all starters projecting for at least 10 HR, but none projecting for 30. Yes, I *really* wanted Dexter Fowler! Of course these projections should be taken with quite  a few grains of salt. But I’m heartened that even using 2013 stats, my team ranks 2nd overall. So I hope to have a competitive year here.
Thanks to the other guys who took part, and good luck to them and any readers in their fantasy season!