I read a Fangraphs article about a 15-team, 30-player mock draft put together by legendary fantasy baseball expert Tim Mcleod. Coincidentally, we were privileged that Tim joined us live by Zoom from Canada for one of our 2022 pre-TGFBI mock drafts. Anyway, in the Fangraphs piece, the format had a huge twist in that you had to draft one player (and only one player) from each of the 30 MLB teams.
They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, so we nicked the idea.
The different approaches and strategies make this format absolutely fascinating.
I frequently overthink things, but on this occasion, I was convinced that my extensive pre-draft preparation would pay off. Obviously, I don’t have the analytical capacity of Russell Eassom or the player knowledge of Darius Austin, so I formulated my own simple but unique strategy.
(1) Go through all 30 teams and total up the number on each that I would be happy with on my team.
This gave a rough idea of the stronger and weaker rosters, which was not as obvious as I had imagined. World Series champs Atlanta Braves could only muster up 10 names, whereas the San Francisco Giants approached 20.
(2) Sort through each team to establish their strengths and weaknesses.
The aforementioned Giants only had one player in the top 100 but were stacked with later-round talent. The White Sox only had top-end players and absolutely nothing in the second half of the draft. This enabled me to create a provisional draft guide
- Take early: ARI, BAL, TEX
- Take when possible: CLE, DET, CHC
- Leave until late: CIN, KCR, MIA, MIN, SFG
The idea was that when it came to my pick, I could give preference to the early/when possible ones and avoid the “leave until late” teams.
(3) Make one brief, draft note for each team.
Along the lines of…
ARI: It’s grim after Ketel Marte, Zac Gallen, and Daulton Varsho. Maybe Luke Weaver or Madison Bumgarner at a push. Carson Kelly is a target if I miss out in the earlier rounds.
(4) Calculate the projected points for each player and sort them into colour-coded tiers.
Using my newly-acquired vlookup skill, I combined three projection systems into a single consensus. I realise now that this was overkill. All you need to do is use one projection system and make sure it is different to the draft room one.
(5) Finally, make a cheat sheet
30 columns (one for each team) and 8 rows (one for each position) with the colour-coded players to give an instant indication of which positions/teams were running out quickly.
(6) And finally, finally, create a draft strategy
Fill infield early, delay outfield & first base, grab a couple of elite starting pitchers before the tier runs out, and draft two high-end SPARPs (starting pitchers with RP eligibility), And make sure I have a replacement at every position.
And so to the draft. After literally hours of preparation, the draft arrived. I had the 12th pick, and the highest player according to my spreadsheet was Jacob deGrom. I was tempted to override the system and choose Trea Turner or Bo Bichette (who are normally off the board long before pick 12), but I decided to trust the process.
My next three picks were Manny Machado, Xander Bogaerts and Jose Altuve. My infield was complete except for the very deep first base. With outfielders going off the board faster than I expected, I buckled and grabbed Mitch Haniger – trust the process, Gav! – then Charlie Morton, Sean Manaea, and two SPARPS Ranger Suarez and Michael Kopech. And then, when Adley Rutschman followed, it meant I had taken my Oriole. It was a great start.
First base seemed so deep, yet I panicked and reached to take Nate Lowe (the last TEX that I wanted). My plan had worked supremely, especially when I was able to back up Lowe with Brandon Belt and Luke Voit, two players for whom I predicted big 2022s.
I only recall getting sniped once in the final third when Yadier Molina was taken with the pick before me, meaning I had to take Dakota Hudson as my Cardinal; probably my only disappointing pick.
The draft finished and I was already thinking about the engraved trophy.
Unbelievably, and I still can’t comprehend it as I type this, but I failed to win. In fact, I failed to finish in the top half (11th out of 16 to be precise). Woeful!
So, how did my fellow competitors approach this unusual format?
The ever-wise Mark Blakemore offered,
My first thought on strategy was just to pick the best players going each round and worry about filling in specific teams around Round 13 or so. That was generally true except for my first pick where I ranked Mike Trout a little below other options but I didn’t like many Angels after Shohei Ohtani so went with him there.
After that, I did take the next best player available and this worked ok but rounds 20 onwards were a struggle. First base proved oddly problematic as I left it late thinking it was a position of depth. It may be but not with the teams I had left it wasn’t! Interesting format – I’ll be intrigued to see how it plays out.
Mark (Tangerine 53) finished 12th, one place behind me. So it would appear that neither of our strategies worked.
Baseball Prospectus’ Darius Austin commented,
My goal was primarily to have a starting lineup that I was happy with, which I largely achieved. I had to punt on relievers, so I don’t love that situation but given the volatility of the position and the inability to make any pickups, it did not seem a good use of resources early in the draft. Considering the depth of the league, the best ball rules, and the cruelty of no multi-positional eligibility, I figured the team that does the best is probably going to get pretty lucky with injuries (not looking good for me early on that front!). The team itself was definitely a tiebreaker where I valued players closely, but I didn’t want to let it force me to take a player I valued less just because I was worried about who would be there when we got to the 25th round.
I also knew that there would be some significant departures from ADP because of people taking extremely different approaches based on the team factor, so I didn’t want to make any assumptions about who would or wouldn’t be there later in the draft. Generally speaking, we are very bad at knowing who is likely to return value past about pick-200, so I focused on general value early. I only started strongly factoring in what team players were on once we got into the later rounds of the draft, and I could see how each team was thinning out and who I could afford to wait on.
I love the analysis by Darius “Generally speaking, we are very bad at knowing who is likely to return value past about pick-200, so I focused on general value early.” This was shrewd and insightful, so I decided that I would implement this in my 2023 draft prep… until I saw that Darius finished 14th out of 16 (three spots behind me).
One of the two participants from the USA, David Greenman had continual problems with the Fantrax queue system. To be honest, the format wasn’t conducive to setting long queues. Usually, you might have a queue of 10 players that you want or a couple of positions that you need to fill. The “only one player per MLB team” rule made queue setting very tricky.
David’s feedback was,
Wasting my fourth round to an accidental autopick gave me a second outfielder much early than I wanted it, took the Yankees off my list, and, frankly, I’m not into Gallo this season, [EDITOR’S NOTE: prescient]. That accident derailed my strategy a bit. Otherwise, I just paid attention to position tiers and took the best players available for the first half of the draft. I think my team is solid, but if I was to draft again, I would identify some targets on more shallow teams and try to pick them off, starting in Round eight or so. Being stuck with only batter or RP options on the D’backs and Pirates was rough in the endgame.
Despite his moans, David’s team performed admirably to finish fourth.
If I thought that I had done a lot of preparation, then I was sorely put to shame by Russell Eassom. I frequently refer to Russ as the guy with the biggest brain I know, but even I was surprised to receive his six-page draft plan.
I generally don’t like to play in multiple fantasy leagues with the same rules so when Gav offered up a Best Ball league where you can only pick from each team once I was intrigued. I was busy with work so initially turned down the offer but with a poke on the day before the slow draft, Gav convinced me to join. This is how I prepared.
Making a draft list
Luckily, I was given pick 15 in a 16-team league in a slow draft, so was given time to put together a spreadsheet for the league. There were a few other kinks, as all free agents were ineligible (for instance, the unsigned Freddie Freeman), and players only had one position (no multi-position players).
We were to draft 30-man teams with the following active position counting for the weekly best ball (C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, 3xOF, UT, 5xSP, 2 x RP).
I got some projections for 2022 and applied the points for the league to give me a point value for each player. Then I removed all of the ineligible players – which made a significant change to some rankings. The top players projected by points were the following:
As in many points leagues, Soto jumps to the top of the rankings as his lack of steals is much less impactful to his overall value in these leagues compared to standard 5×5 roto leagues. The next step in any league for me is to determine a replacement level for each position; this lets me determine how much additional value each player has.
You do this because the depth of each position is naturally different, but also, the amount you have to draft for each position is different. This is simplistically done by determining the last player which would be drafted in each position before managers started on their bench players. So, for example, in this 16-team league, I would be looking at the points from the 16th catcher and 80th starting pitcher (5×16).
That gave me the following values:
This tells me that there are a lot of good 1B and 3B out there as the replacement value is high and that these players are worth a bit less than the other positions. Visa versa with catchers and relief pitchers who are worth more.
I then created my initial draft order by ordering players in their point-above-replacement, and this creates a slightly different list than we had before, with a lot of SPs moving up the rankings because the depth of the position is higher in the format.
Creating a strategy
At this point, I had a draft list, and I needed to devise my strategy for picking players based on the one-player-per-team rule. I did this by creating two main resources to help me make decisions: a depth chart for the teams and a sleeper list.
The depth chart was to give me some indication of which teams have good depth, which means you don’t have to target them early or if you do, you know you are locking yourself out of ok players later in the mid-part of the draft.
This is where I love Excel and conditional formatting, as it allows me to clearly see which teams have good depth, having lots of players with positive value. It also allowed me to see where teams had cliffs in performance; if the colour change is more significant and not smooth, it helps identify a potential big drop-off in points available from that team.
The sleeper list was created by looking at the normal 5×5 roto ADP for players and looking for any player that I valued more than 100 places higher than their ADP. And especially ones which I believed had above-replacement-value.
The 100 places were decided because this was my plan for who to target later in the draft for my bench players; not really looking for sleepers who would be in the first few picks here. I found 18 players who had significant value against traditional ADP. Three were higher-end players who were going to get drafted by many anyway. The other 15 were my late-round targets.
Because these were my late-round targets, I looked to see if there were teams that had multiple players on my list because then I could choose to avoid these teams in the early rounds, knowing I have a couple of sleeper options later. There was Seattle, Texas, Kansas City and Washington.
I then looked at the sleepers who were below-replacement-level, but only by a small amount for my late-round picks. There were a further 21 that fitted my criteria. This gave me a further six teams which had multiple players in the 39-man sleeper list, Pittsburgh, Houston, Arizona, Colorado, Tampa Bay, and Minnesota.
Armed with these, I devised my base plan for the draft,
- Best hitter left at slot 15 for my first pick
- Take multiple SPs early, as they will be undervalued
- Don’t draft early from the teams identified above
- Pick the best players by my rankings from other teams for the first 8-10 rounds
- Fill the active roster, then the bench, taking bench position players first and finish with pitching
The Slow Draft
Rounds 1-10 – Went to plan
These first few rounds went exactly as I hoped, with a good core bunch of hitters and some top SPs by my metrics. I had deliberately left the 3B and the 1B slots because I had Ideas for players in the next few rounds.
Rounds 11-20 – Mixed fortunes in the middle
This continued to be strong, but then in the 12th/13th round, I realised I had made a mistake. The available 3B in that territory were all on teams I had already picked, which meant I had to either grab a lower-value 3B a bit early to make sure I had an acceptable hitter at the hot corner or draft better players elsewhere and wait to see which third basemen fell to me.
I did the latter, and that cost me. Multiple times the 3B I was lining up got picked before the value that I had for them, and eventually, I had to stretch and grab Joey Wendle to have someone who was going to at least get some playing time.
I was really happy to pick up Rasmussen and Javier with their RP eligibility. I suspect they will start a fair amount or do bulk innings behind openers.
Rounds 21-30 – Lateral thinking required with a good finish
There is a name on the list that you might not recognise, and you have every right not to. With my plan to pick up a load of SP from my sleeper list to finish the draft, I got into a position where I effectively had to draft a 1B from Atlanta if I were to get the rest of the sleepers I wanted. The slight issue was basically there wasn’t a first baseman on my list from Atlanta.
Given this was before the Olson trade and pre-Freeman not returning, everyone had assumed that Freddie was coming back so there wasn’t any playing time projected for any 1B-eligible player at Atlanta. Step up, Rule 5 Minor League draftee John Nogowski.
After that blip and search for an eligible player, I finished the draft the way I wanted with some reliable SPs and some gambles.
Verdict – This team should easily score the most pitching points in the league but its overall performance will live and die by the amount of time Sano, Wendle and Longoria spend on the IL.
I told you Russell has the biggest brain of anyone I know. His preparation and execution worked almost to perfection, with Russell’s team finishing second out of 16.
It was, however, the most incredibly lopsided scoring split, with Russ more than 1,000 points ahead of second place in pitching, yet his hitters were mired 14th out of 16.
But who could possibly have had a better plan than Russ?
Enter Adam Nicholson. As previously mentioned in the January Best Ball article, Adam is an unassuming, underrated fantasy baseball stud. A peek behind his curtain revealed the following:
My prep for the draft started by building a spreadsheet with the players ranked, and then on top of the rankings, I had a table showing the number of both drafted and undrafted players by pro team, split into Top 50, 100, 200, 300, 400 and 500.
This allowed me to identify the pro teams that didn’t have 16 players ranked within the Top 500, and during the draft to identify tiers of players within a specific team. Whilst I knew the number of players drafted per team, with hindsight, I’d have an extra table that showed me which rosters had drafted a player from which pro teams.
I started the draft with pocket aces in Gerrit Cole and Robbie Ray (picks 6 & 27), as part of my strategy to build a strong SP foundation before concentrating on hitters, based upon the premise that it would be easier to find end-game pitchers than hitters.
My first hitter was Marcus Semien in the third round (38), and this turned out to be one of the few picks I’d have gone elsewhere with hindsight, likely Xander Bogaerts. Over the next 10 rounds, my strategy continued with eight hitters, one SP and one RP, balancing roster and pro team requirements, but without deviating too far from a normal team that I would draft. The “one-player-per-pro-team” started to become more of a consideration in the early part of the second half of the draft, and I picked Luis Arraez a round or two early because he was the last 3B-eligible player open to me who I considered likely to get solid playing time.
The final 10 rounds of the draft were split into three hitters and seven pitchers, leaving my team as planned with two players at each infield position, six OFs, nine SPs and five RPs. Looking back, I left the White Sox and the Padres a little longer than I ought to have done, but Leury Garcia should be, at worst, a utility player, and Pierce Johnson looks like he might be in the mix for saves in San Diego.
Overall, this was a huge amount of fun, and I am happy with the construct of my team and looking forward to seeing the league play out.
Adam’s team came fourth in hitting and second in pitching to win the championship by 245 points.
2022 CHAMPION: ADAM NICHOLSON
OUTLOOK FOR 2023
The next edition of this league will be as fascinating as the first, with participants changing their strategies.
If you use 300 points as the Mendoza Line (the 200th player scored 300 points), then none of my six outfielders scored above 300 points. And although my strategy of grabbing SPARPS worked, I failed to pay enough attention to my starters. When Sean Manaea and Kyle Freeland are your second and third-best starters, then you know you have a problem.
Unfortunately, the Fantrax system was unable to enforce the one-player-per-MLB-team rule so this had to be done manually… which resulted in a few too many commissioner interventions when duplicate teams were picked. I will have to see how I can address this for 2023.