Lessons From a Botched Yahoo Draft

I had my first Yahoo draft of the season last Saturday and it turned out quite badly. Just about every player went for $10 above my projections. Thankfully, my keeper roster was unfair, so I didn’t need to accomplish much in the draft. My plan was to win Miguel Cabrera, a couple elite closers, and sit on my heels. But I missed Cabrera and then I missed plans B, C, and D. I even missed Jose Abreu, who I thought I could nab for under $20 (wrong). In the end, my “big ticket” expenditures were Craig Kimbrel (25), Kyle Seager (18), Brian McCann (17), and Elvis Andrus (16). I’m not pleased with any of those prices, but I had to spend the money on somebody.

I’ll share my roster in a moment, but I should probably point out the league quirks first. It’s a 12 team, 5×5 roto league, but we use OPS instead of AVG. That’s why I’m not so happy with a $16 Andrus.  Then again, I targeted Andrus because his 40 steals will give me a shot at a perfect 60 point offense.

Our auction budget  is $310 for a 29 man roster. This is the source of my consternation over player prices. We’re entering the fifth year of the league and in all previous drafts my rivals have clearly not adjusted for the non-standard budget. Surprisingly, it seems like everyone was ready this time around. I factored historical bidding tendencies into my price list, unfortunately I had no way of knowing things had changed until we were 30 to 50 picks in.

The league has a 1550 innings cap and 162 games played per position. We use standard deep rosters and added a NA slot this season for minor leaguers. Rather than discriminating between SP and RP, we use nine generic P slots. Below is my roster.

Position Player Cost Acquired?
C Brian McCann 17 draft
C Devin Mesoraco 1 draft
1B Chris Davis 21 keeper
2B Jason Kipnis 22 keeper
SS Elvis Andrus 16 draft
3B Kyle Seager 18 draft
CI Adam Lind 6 draft
MI Daniel Murphy 10 draft
OF Carlos Gomez 15 keeper
OF Giancarlo Stanton 29 keeper
OF Jose Bautista 29 keeper
OF Hunter Pence 16 keeper
OF Alex Rios 16 keeper
UTIL Jayson Werth 12 keeper
BN MI Jimmy Rollins 7 draft
BN MI Jurickson Profar 8 keeper
BN CI Chase Headley 4 draft
BN OF Marlon Byrd 2 draft
BN OF Josh Reddick 4 draft
BN OF Justin Ruggiano 1 draft
BN OF Gregory Polanco 3 draft
P Sonny Gray 8 keeper
P Greg Holland 11 keeper
P Craig Kimbrel 25 draft
P Yordano Ventura 3 draft
P Ervin Santana 1 draft
P Marco Estrada 2 draft
P Martin Perez 1 draft
P unused
P unused
NA Noah Syndergaard 2 draft

We naturally have six bench spots. By hiring on only seven starters (a temporary gambit), I have room for up to eight bench players. After moving Syndergaard to NA, I have to wait on FAAB before I can fill my roster. The player I’ve targeted will be the subject of a post in the near future.

There are a couple reasons why I drafted so many position players and left my rotation with a meager 650 to 1150 innings. First, this is the league where I honed my Daily Grind technique. I should have no problem cycling about 400 innings at better than league average. As a rule, I don’t hire pitchers who are fantasy average or worse unless they cost almost nothing. Even then, they should have a useful strikeout rate.

More importantly, this draft was VERY early for Yahoo. I know I can find or trade for starting pitchers later, but tolerable position players can be hard to acquire. Now I’ve all but ensured that I’ll get 162 games player per position (except catcher), even if my team suffers a ton of spring injuries. This approach complements my own strengths and weaknesses as a fantasy player, and it was an adaptation to the particular dynamics of our draft. In other words, use this approach with caution and don’t blame me if it backfires.

The players I took also represented the best values in the draft at the time. I maybe shouldn’t have spent $4 late in the draft on Headley when a couple pitchers were left on the board. After all, Seager, Lind, and Profar can fill the 3B/CI roles. However, I considered Headley too valuable a lottery ticket compared with the available pitchers. Headley has $20 upside, my pitching alternatives had $5 upside. Similarly, Reddick and Ruggiano were too ridiculously tasty at those prices. In retrospect, I would pass on Byrd, who I project to be my least useful outfielder, but I took him before the others. I do think $2 is a good price on a middle of the order hitter with decent power.

By stockpiling outfielders, I’ve created some imbalances across the league. One owner has an empty OF slot and another is counting Dustin Ackley as a starter. Meanwhile, I have nine starting quality OF and one prospect. With the exception of Stanton, Bautista, and Byrd, my outfielders combine for massive five category production. Stanton and Bautista make up for their low stolen base total with plenty of mashing. Owners desperate for an outfield know to get in touch with me. I may be able to leverage my hoard to acquire an elite starting pitcher in early April.

Last but not least, I think you can see some of my sleepers. Let’s run through them.

Seager: Not so sleepy anymore, but he has 40 home run plus stolen base upside. All we’re waiting to learn is where he’ll hit in the lineup.

Headley: A fully healthy season could result in a rebound. He had a .359 wOBA in the second half, perhaps that’s indicative of things to come? A fast start to the season could make him an extremely valuable trade asset.

Rollins: He’s supposed to bat second for the Phillies this year. I fully expect 30 home runs plus stolen bases. If you can snap him up as a $2 backup MI, you’ll be really well positioned. I had to spend a few extra shekels. Same as Headley, he could become a useful trade asset.

Reddick: I’ve been over-targeting Reddick this draft season, but I love his combination of power and speed. His defense should ensure that he plays every day he’s healthy. His previous wrist injury is keeping his acquisition cost down – for now.

Ruggiano: He climbed onto the fantasy radar after a .401 BABIP buoyed his 2012 numbers. Last season, a .260 BABIP torpedoed them. Now fully liberated from Miami, Ruggiano should get plenty of playing time and could bat near the middle of the order. A 650 plate appearance could come with 50! home runs plus steals. Even if the other categories are less than desirable, that’s a leverageable profile.

Ventura: He features possibly the best stuff on a roster that includes a lot of very talented relievers – and he’s a starter. His fastball can touch triple digits and he can snap off some nice bendy pitches. His outing the other day elicited a lot of buzz, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he beat out Danny Duffy and Wade Davis for the fifth starter job. If he struggles as a starter, he has a ready role as an ultra elite reliever.

Polanco: You may notice that I’m a big fan of five category production, but that I focus most of my attention on home runs and stolen bases. The other categories tend to manage themselves just by maximizing plate appearances with a diverse mix of players. Polanco stole 38 bases across three levels last season and 40 the previous year. His scouting report includes good pop with 20 home run upside, although he’s not yet reached that ceiling. He could be a good batting average guy too. He’s expected to provide elite defense in an outfield corner, which could accelerate his promotion. He’s very unlikely to beat Jose Tabata and Travis Snider out of spring training, but he could get the call early.

Syndergaard: The Mets will probably treat him with kid gloves, including a shutdown date around the beginning of September. He’s shown good command and control to go with a high strikeout rate. He has very little left to prove in the minors, but we can be almost certain that the Mets will delay his service clock.

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Brad is a former collegiate player who writes for FanGraphs, MLB Trade Rumors, The Hardball Times, RotoWorld, and The Fake Baseball. He's also the lead MLB editor for RotoBaller. Follow him on Twitter @BaseballATeam or email him here.

32 Responses to “Lessons From a Botched Yahoo Draft”

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  1. JMo37 says:

    Good thing you had keepers…

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  2. Edgar from MIB says:

    50 dingers for Ruggiano? 30 for Rollins? Are these just personal projections?

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    • Sean says:

      Confused me at first a little bit…he means (HR+SB)=30 for Rollins and (HR+SB)=50 for Ruggiano.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        Yes, home runs plus stolen bases equals HR + SB. I’m supposed to spell them out per our Style Guide.

        The limiting factors for either player are playing time and health. I should have emphasized that those are very important to keep in mind. When Ruggiano inevitably gets 350 PA, he’ll be looking at around 25 HR+SB. He’s someone to target for your bench as opposed to an empty Peter Bourjos type.

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    • LHPSU says:

      That’s home runs plus steals. Still a stretch, but not impossible.

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    • B N says:

      I had that reaction too. I believe he is stating (HR + SB) > 30. Which is far more reasonable, though I’d still take the under for most of even those projections (though not by a ton).

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  3. benagain123 says:

    you think Ruggi will get that many ABs? Isnt the idea to platoon him with Sweeney

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      I think he could get those ABs. Some of that will depend on Junior Lake. From the Cubs perspective, I would want to get Ruggiano a lot of playing time early to find out if I had a trade asset in him. For that reason, they have incentive to get him out there frequently. If the club isn’t competitive, then they have no reason to micromanage Sweeney in as much.

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  4. Justin says:

    Hi –

    I have a strange set of circumstances that, I think, may justify an all-closer pitching staff this year. Can I get a reality check? It’s a 12-team keeper auction league. Everyone gets four keepers. Due to some luck, two of my keepers are Trout and Harper for a total of $9. This year, we changed our pitching categories and now use W, K, SV, ERA, WHIP, and K/BB. There is a 10 inning minimum.

    So I am considering a draft day strategy of allocating $60 to closers and spending the rest on my offense. Because of my extra good keepers (the other two would be Adam Jones and Kipnis, each owned for $15 below their “value”), I think that I could put together a beastly offense and still afford 3 top closers and a mid-tier guy.

    That said, I usually think it is crazy to pay for saves and also crazy to abandon a category. In this case, I’d be abandoning two.

    What do you think?

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      I’ve tried this exact strategy before in an almost identical scenario. Only difference is that it was year 1 of our league, but the stats and minimums were the same. Theoretically, it should work, but in reality it’s extremely…hard. I came in dead last when I tried it, although that’s because I spent a ton of money on elite hitters who wound up on the DL.

      If you think about it, it makes sense. Teams that are facing you know that they only need to throw their very best SP to win W’s and K’s 100% of the time. Doing that also keeps them in ERA, WHIP, and K/BB. The idea behind your strategy is to auto sweep 4 categories, but you might end up winning only 66% of the three contested categories against good owners. You’re also extremely reliant on a few relievers staying healthy and viable. If you had gambled on Putz, League, and Rodney last season (a reasonable enough trio) as part of your strategy, you would have effectively punted 5 categories.

      You’re also helping some of your rivals who like to stream. If you don’t roster 7 SP, that’s a bigger pool to pull from day-to-day. If I see someone punting SP in a H2H league, I follow suit, knowing I can stream the first few weeks away until I dig up some treasures. Streaming also makes it easier to roster speculative picks like Syndergaard.

      I would stick with a more conventional strategy.

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      • Atreyu Jones says:

        I think you are overestimating the downside if his top closers flame out. Because he doesn’t have SP’s, he has the roster space to fit other closers and, more importantly, some top-shelf setup guys to hedge against his top closers being all terrible.

        There is also the benefit that it’s easier to put together a very good offense when you don’t have to spend any resources on SPs.

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    • The Rusty Gargoyle says:

      I tried a similar strategy in a head to head league last year to great effect. Of my 260 budget I spent about 60 exclusively on closers and the rest went to offense. My only recommendation is to account for possible injuries and to try and find one or two cheap closers as well because there’s a good chance they won’t ruin your whip or era too badly compared to your standard opposing SPs. If you do that you’ll stand a great chance of doing well. And another thing to consider in this strategy: you’re only punting one category because you should certainly win saves. Given the quality of pitching most closers provide and the payroll advantage you have on offense you can expect a ton of weeks posting records between 7-5 and 9-3 all season long.

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    • Joebreidey says:

      That strategy can be countered with one low Whip guy. It can work, but there are a couple of ways to address it. One, like I said, is to use one SP if you have an elite SP. I had Lee one year, and I’d make him my one start against the closer-only teams, depending on when he pitched and the matchups for the week.

      If I started him on a Tuesday, he’d have enough good stats to put a lot of pressure on my opponent. He’d usually lock up saves, but a good Lee performance would put me in great shape for Wins and K’s, and make me competitive on ERA, Whip, and K/W.

      Remember too that your opponents will have RPs as well. He can boot saves, while you boot wins and K’s, and compete well on the other categories using some high quality setup guys.

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  5. Peter says:

    Oh hey I’m in this league. It was pretty entertaining watching the author yell (via chat) “STOP BIDDING!” as the auction went along.

    Brad, had I been in your position, I probably would’ve pursued a Kershaw or a Lee once Miguel Cabrera didn’t pan out, if only for my mental health. I know you like to grind, but I can only handle so many “I’m starting Jason Vargas and Ryan Vogelsong today” days before losing my mind.

    If you can turn the likes of Werth or Rios or Pence into an ace, I will be immensely impressed, but you’re probably gonna have to give up Stanton or Bautista instead. One of the pitfalls of stockpiling undervalued players is that it makes it hard to trade for properly valued ones.

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  6. MLB Rainmaker says:

    Just a general comment, but if the rules of your league are such that it won’t hurt you to not draft two pitchers spots at all, you probably need to fix your scoring system.

    I mean your allocation of payroll dollars alone should be an indication that something is broken. Part of the draw of fantasy baseball vs. other fantasy sports is the balance between pitching and hitting categories — the 5×5 format suits that balance.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      I’ve used an extreme strategy, partly because I enjoy the challenge of pulling off weird strategies and partly because my keeper roster and the draft outcomes made it advantageous. The league has spent between 60-70 of it’s budget on hitting all seasons, which is the typical balance.

      If multiple teams tried this strategy, it would not work. As it is, there are a lot of teams with very good pitching and a few with mediocre pitching. Some of those teams spent half their money on pitching.

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  7. Kinanik says:

    It’s interesting to think about what should happen in keeper auction leagues, especially when you vary the budgets.

    It’s like the standard monetary equation with velocity equal to one.
    So: Money supply = Price level * Productivity.
    With keepers, you reduce the money supply, but you reduce productivity by more than you reduce the money supply (unless you are playing in a league with idiots). Thus, the Price Level must adjust upwards to keep the equation equal. The amount you should adjust the price level should vary with the surplus value of the keepers. If people spend 10% of their budget to lock up 30% of the value, the price level should increase to 9/7ths its previous level.

    If you increase the roster size without changing the budget, you have two effects: the replacement level drops, increasing the productivity of previously buyable players, and you have to buy more players. Since there is more productivity, but the money supply is different, the price level should drop; but the changing productivity makes the price change on a particular player indeterminate. If the new replacement level for the position is similar to the previous replacement level, you should lower the price for premium players at that position; if the new replacement level is significantly lower than the previous replacement level, you should bid more for the premium players *even though you have to spread the money around more.* There are also minor effects, such as making the $1 minimum more painful with expanded rosters.

    If you increase the roster size and the money supply by the same amount, you should see inflation in the previously draftable players. Say you increase the roster sizes by 25% and increase the budgets by 25%. The total productivity of the ‘newly draftable’ players, i.e., the 25% worst drafted players, will be less than 25% of the total productivity (unless there are very weird talent distributions). This means that you increase productivity less than you increase the money supply, so the price level will adjust upwards.

    So, yeah. Your league seemed to rationally adapt to the diminished productivity in the draft due to keepers, and the increased money supply. It’s hard to keep a finger on those things, as a commissioner.

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  8. jpg says:

    I play in a league with some quirky rules (it’s the 17th season of our league and back in those days it was hard to get reference points so we kinda just winged it when coming up with the rules) and could use some guidance. It’s a standard 5×5 league with 10 teams and we use a snake style draft. We use a $330 cap with a 22 man roster. All players accumulate stats with no bench spots. We use set rosters with 5 SP, 3 RP, 5 OF, 1 of each IF, 1 middle infielder, 1 corner infielder, 1 UT, and one guy who has to qualify at DH. Where it gets wonky is that we use a price book that assigns each player a salary based on last season’s actual earned income value, with all rookies being $0. So to give you an idea of the prices, Trout is $50, Ellsbury is $39, Verlander is $11…

    Based on historical drafting tendencies, a guy like Verlander at that price will go in the first round, whereas a guy like Ellsbury will probably go in the middle rounds. A typical first round will have the major studs like Cabrera, Trout, Kershaw types to go, along with established stars coming off down years like Verlander, Stanton and Bautista going early because of the potential ROI. Needless to say, our draft is very unpredictable. This year I have the last pick so I have back to back picks every other round. I’ve taken the “get the best value” and the “best guy regardless of price/worry about cost later” approaches in the past with equal success and failure with both.

    What would you guys say is the best way to attack my draft? Based on probing, the locks to go (it would seem) in front of me Trout, Miggy, Braun ($10), Kershaw, and Verlander. I’m seriously considering going with Tanaka and/or Billy Hamilton if they fall to me, which for reasons stated above, is hardly a guaruntee. How much stock should I put in those guys? Sorry for the lengthy post and thanks for any suggestions.

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  9. CH Smoot says:

    “Last but not least, I think you can see some of my sleepers.”

    “Sleeper” = a movie, book, play, etc., that achieves sudden unexpected success after initially attracting little attention, typically one that proves popular without much promotion or expenditure.

    Kyle Seager, Jimmy Rollins, etc. are not sleepers. “Likely to produce at a level that makes their salary look like a bargain” is fine, but that’s not a “sleeper.” In a 12-team mixed league, there probably are no sleepers.

    A true sleeper would be a 2009 Everth Cabrera, or a 2012 Matt Carpenter, i.e., a player who: (1) would likely still be around in the $1 scrap-heap stage at the very end of an NL-only or AL-only draft, and (2) ends up producing much more than $1 worth of value.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      Haven’t we had this conversation before? I don’t agree with your definition and it’s not how other writers view sleepers. The unofficial consensus is that anyone who is “likely to produce at a level that makes their salary look like a bargain” is a “sleeper.”

      And I’m already wordier than I’d like to be as a writer. Can I use one word instead of 13 – especially when you know exactly what I’m talking about.

      I’d argue that were talking about the difference between a sleeper and a deep sleeper.

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      • CH Smoot says:

        Oops, sorry for the repetition, I didn’t realize it was your post where I raised the “sleeper” issue before.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        No worries :)

        I get your point, but I think laziness/parsimony changed the definition of sleeper to my usage awhile ago. That’s how I generally see it used on every site including other authors here.

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      • CH Smoot says:

        I guess I’m guilty of being a word-definition park ranger. I’m one of those annoying people who gets annoyed when people use “literally” to accentuate a phrase they use figuratively.

        Anyway, I’d prefer “bargain” for Seager and Rollins, and save “sleeper” for the 2012 Matt Carpenters of the world (whoever they may be today – Jaff Decker? Derek Dietrich? Some other guy who will be there for $1 at the end of your draft?), but if you want to make the distinction “sleeper” versus “deep sleeper” then I guess I can go along with that. It may take some professional counseling, etc., but they say the first step in the road to recovery is admitting you have a problem, so maybe there’s hope for me.

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  10. Joebreidey says:

    You got Syndergaard in a keeper league for $2?

    Even in a non-keeper, Syndergaard is worth more than $2. ZIPs has him as a 3.62 with 117 IPs. And Ervin Santana went for $1?

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      I didn’t mention our keeper mechanism. It’s auction price + $7. So Syndergaard has to be worth $9+ to keep next year, which is far from a sure thing. And I generally don’t keep players with less than a $5 projected surplus in this league, although I’ll need to rethink that strategy after this draft.

      If Syndergaard retains his rookie eligibility and finishes the season in my NA spot, then I can keep him for $2. I don’t foresee that being an option.

      I don’t know what happened with Santana. I nominated him very late and I assume that most teams just didn’t want another pitcher at that point. Most teams prioritized pitching earlier in the draft.

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      • Joebreidey says:

        I really enjoy the Santana part. It’s the beauty of live drafts and auctions. I’ve been in enough drafts where a given position was filled quickly, except for me. When 9 teams have a catcher, and you don’t, you can wait a long time before drafting one. You’ll get the 10th best catcher, but you won’t waste a high pick or a lot of money on him.

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  11. Swfcdan says:

    Your list of keepers is absurd, utterly absurd. How did you get so many studs to keep? Is there no inflation occuring to them each year?

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      $7 per year actually. It wipes out a lot of players.

      Jeff Gross was nice enough to trade me Davis, Bautista, Rios, and Holland for $22 Harper, $37 JUpton, and $10 Oscar Taveras right before the draft. He’s been trying to pry Harper away from me for 2 years.

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  12. garett68 says:

    Quick Side note, Looking to fill out the rest of a new Otto League (This is Fantasy Baseball). Auction Draft, Fangraphs Points, group arbitration $99, draft on 3/28. Email me at garettmarcum@gmail.com

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