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How to Use LABR Mixed Draft to Your Benefit

The 15-team LABR Mixed Draft is the most exciting of the expert fantasy drafts each year. Amateur fantasy owners from all over the globe tune into the live spreadsheet broadcast and debate each one furiously on social media.

Most of these amateurs are looking for expert guidance to help them in their own draft. They see a player getting drafted well above their ADP and they often move the player up on their own personal big board.

I do not think this is the best way to approach and absorb the most information out of LABR. When one expert reaches on a pick, we have no idea if there is a consensus. It could have been just one expert making a stand on a player he himself feels strongly about, or there could have been several owners who felt the same way about that player. We just don’t know.

What we do know is that when certain players drop well below their public rankings, there is an agreement of pessimism. That is the information that could be significant for the rest us. Every owner in the league letting a player fall well below their ADP is the expert consensus we should be looking for.

Here’s a quick look at nine players who the experts are cool on.

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Fantasy: Three Undervalued Catchers

These three catchers are being woefully under-drafted in 2015 fantasy leagues:

Brian McCann

McCann was a trendy fantasy pick in 2014 as fantasy owners were feasting on his HR potential with the short right field porch of Yankee Stadium in play. He didn’t have a horrible season, finishing 7th among catchers in 5×5 fantasy leagues but he did underperform his draft position as many were expecting more from him.

As many players often do when switching leagues, McCann got off to a slow start, hitting just .239 with 10 HRs in 330 PAs. However, despite dealing with a foot injury that restricted him to 55 games in the second half of the season, McCann began to show off the power in his new venue. He reeled off 13 HRs in only 208 PAs the rest of the way.

Despite hitting for a lower average in the 2nd half, the underlying peripherals all look strong.

Split PAs SwStr% ISO HRs
1st Half 330 6.3% 0.138 10
2nd Half 208 5.1% 0.232 13

He’s being drafted as the 5th catcher off the board with an overall ADP of 108 in the highly competitive, high-stakes NFBC leagues. These are leagues that require two catchers so position scarcity is an important factor.

On the per-600-PA Steamer Projections, McCann is rated 2nd best catcher, and 69th best 5×5 hitter overall with a .251, 24 HR, 62 R, 70 RBI, 1 SB projection well ahead of the four catchers getting drafted in front of him Jonathan Lucroy (91st Steamer-600 5×5 hitter), Devin Mesoraco (112th), and Yan Gomes (117th).

The opportunity to use McCann as designated hitter – he got 13 starts at DH last year – helps ensure extra plate appearances over his NL counterparts. If he’s hitting, Girardi will keep his bat in the lineup anyway he can. He even managed to grab 11 starts at first base last year.

As the hype on McCann has cooled this year, it might be the right time to move in and take him.

Russell Martin

Martin has hit double digit home runs in 7 out of his 9 seasons in the big leagues and has also been a decent bet for a surprise half-dozen stolen bases. His move back to the American League also opens up some designated hitter opportunities.

His 2015 Steamer line of .242, 16 HR, 61 R, 59 RBI, 6 SB doesn’t quite stand to McCann’s projections, but based on where he’s getting drafted, Martin could end up providing more net value. The noise around him has been quiet as he’s the 11th catcher being taken, an absurd 171 ADP. Martin projects better 5×5 production than several guys being taken higher; Lucroy, Mesoraco, and Gomes just to name a few.

A key factor in his value this year will be a change in venue. Pittsburgh’s PNC Park is graded as the worst in the league for right-handed power. He will flip to the other end of the curve as Toronto’s Rogers Centre rates as the 4th best for right-handers to hit home runs in.

Fly ball distance has remained an impressive 292 feet for Martin over the last two seasons and at 31 he’s in the prime years for major league catchers. There is a lot to like here and Martin has a good chance at being a top-5 catcher this year.

Carlos Ruiz

Seeing a theme here? The old, boring catchers continue to slide down draft boards in favor of young upstarts who haven’t proven much yet.

Ruiz is being drafted as the 25th catcher, 341 ADP overall but he probably deserves consideration in the 15-20 range. In a two catcher league you could do a lot worse than adding this reliable veteran. Steamer expects him to out-produce Miguel Montero (15th C/207 Overall ADP), Derek Norris (17th/231), Dioner Navarro (19th/282), Tyler Flowers (20th/299), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (21st/302), John Jaso (22nd/309), and Kurt Suzuki (24th/328)

The key to Ruiz value is that he will churn out valuable batting average that few bottom-tier catchers can. Reliable plate appearances to accumulate the counting stats are also very important. At that point in the draft it’s often difficult to find catchers who can give you PA’s and a healthy batting average but Ruiz should do that this year. Over his 8 year career as a full-time catcher, Ruiz has average 411 PAs per season and showed no signs of slowing down last year with 445.

The key to Ruiz getting PAs is that the Phillies really have no youngsters to push him for playing time. As long as they are paying him, they are going to be playing him. The only interesting prospect you might want to handcuff him to is Tommy Joseph, who the Phillies acquired in the Hunter Pence trade a few years ago. However, Joseph is probably a late-season proposition at best.

A trade to another team is always a possibility, but Ruiz is still a good enough player that nobody is going to trade assets and pay his $8.5 million for him to sit on the bench.

Fantasy: Don’t Fear Jose Altuve Late in First Round

I got caught up in an interesting Twitter debate Friday afternoon regarding Astros 2B Jose Altuve with FantasyAlarm.Com’s Ray Flowers that prompted a detailed response from Flowers about our Altuve dispute where he doubled down on his assertion that Altuve’s ADP of 10th overall is huge mistake.

The main crux of his argument is that Altuve is not an across-the-board contributor. He claims Altuve’s lack of power in this current environment makes him a terrible choice at the end of the 1st round.  In this article I’m going to demonstrate why this shouldn’t be a major concern for you.

Hitting Your Marks

In 5×5 rotisserie leagues, the goal is to construct a lineup that gives you a chance to accumulate as many points as possible in the various categories. In NFBC 15-team leagues, I’ve come up with these target numbers for each category.

250 930 930 150 0.270

Hitting each of these five offensive targets should put you in the Top 3 of each category, accumulating at least 65 of the maximum possible 75 points. There are 14 hitting positions to fill, so you are looking for these averages per active roster spot:

17.9 66.4 66.4 10.7 0.270

Value Is Value

The key to winning fantasy baseball leagues is to constantly find the best value in each of your picks no matter what round you are in. Getting power-happy in the early portion of the draft has been a trendy tactic over the past couple years as power has declined in baseball. Let’s look at a couple of the players Flowers suggested he’d rather pick over Jose Altuve in the 1st round and their Steamer projections:

Anthony Rendon 648 18 85 71 11 0.278
Adam Jones 653 27 79 92 7 0.274
Jose Altuve 668 8 84 62 35 0.300

NFBC has a player rating system that compares a player’s statistics to league average and creates a score to show what their true 5×5 Roto value is. Based on the above 2015 Steamer projections, here is where each of these players would have finished last season:

Anthony Rendon 1.47 1.99 1.54 0.86 0.38 6.24
Adam Jones 2.62 1.77 2.31 0.48 0.24 7.42
Jose Altuve 0.20 1.96 1.21 3.92 1.22 8.51

Altuve is the more valuable player based on 2015 Steamer projections (and most likely more valuable based on any credible projection system).

And now we get to Flowers’ main point. He says that “Power is harder to find than ever before.”  He is absolutely right but that does not mean there isn’t an island of misfit power bats available in the middle rounds. You should not be worried about missing out on power in the early rounds because THERE IS home run pop that you can add later in the draft.

In a recent NFBC draft of my own – where I took Altuve 12th overall – I had the powerful but flawed Chris Carter land right in my lap in the 10th round, 139th overall. Let’s look at his projection:

Chris Carter 592 31 73 82 4 0.222

Carter, a source of tremendous power, has been scaring the daylights out of fantasy owners for the past couple of years. Nobody wants to take on his treacherous batting average as it will surely drag their team average into oblivion. Well because we took the proper value in the first round (Altuve), we are now in a position where Chris Carter is worth significantly more to us than to the guy who took Anthony Rendon or Adam Jones. We get extra value from Carter because we can absorb his batting average better than they can!

Here is what our first round pick, combined with Carter would look like as a composite player. Remember, we need 18 HRs, 66 Runs, 66 RBIs, 11 SBs, and .270 Avg to crack the Top 3 of those categories.

Composite Player HR R RBI SB AVG
Rendon + Carter 24.5 79 76.5 7.5 0.251
Jones + Carter 29 76 87 5.5 0.249
Altuve + Carter 19.5 78.5 72 19.5 0.263

If we were to have chosen Rendon or Jones in the first round, Carter would be a terrible fit for us in the 10th round. We’d be in solid shape in three categories, but face crippling deficits in stolen bases and batting average. But because we chose Altuve (the most valuable of the 3 players), it allowed us to spend some of our excess batting average and stolen bases to acquire a middle-round power bat that nobody else wants to touch. With Altuve+Carter, we exceed our minimum requirements in FOUR categories and are not very far behind in a 5th.

A NFBC Draft Champions league that I won in 2013 stands out in my memory. The early rounds of the draft provided me a surplus of batting average and stolen bases, and I continued to take the best player available each round after that. The brutish Adam Dunn, who was coming off a terrible .159, 11 HR season, was getting drafted around 185th overall that year as people feared the damage his average would do. Because of the excess wealth I accumulated in other categories, Dunn was worth more to me than everybody else. I determined that if Dunn were to bounce back to the .220 range, I could absorb his average and bet that his home run power would return. After all, he did average 40 HRs a year for seven straight years prior to his 2012 abomination. I ended up being able to reach above his ADP and take him in the 11th round, 165th overall. He provided me with 41 HRs, 96 RBIs, and 87 runs in 2014 and was a key cog in winning the league.

Finding Speed

I suppose the counter argument to this approach would be, “Well we don’t need batting average lagging Chris Carter or Adam Dunn in the 10th round. Since we accumulated the extra power with Rendon or Jones, we can go after a speed merchant in these rounds. Perfectly reasonable case to state. You should be trying to balance your roster out. But does it work better than Altuve+Carter? Let’s look at the speedy Ben Revere, who went late in the 8th round of my draft, 118th overall. Under this scenario, since we took more power early, let’s grab this high average/stolen base machine from the Phillies and make up the ground we lost, right?

Ben Revere 622 3 64 42 37 0.285

And our new composite player:

Composite Player HR R RBI SB AVG
Rendon + Revere 10.5 74.5 56.5 24 0.282
Jones + Revere 15 71.5 67 22 0.280

Revere is a light hitting lead off man with virtually zero pop. You have now elevated your composite player into the upper echelon in stolen bases and batting average at the expense of HRs, runs, and RBIs. Despite Revere getting drafted a round or two earlier than Carter, the combinations with Rendon or Jones are worse in those three categories compared to Altuve+Carter.

There’s a myth going around that cheap steals are always available late in the draft. While it’s true you can occasionally hit the jackpot on a Dee Gordon from time to time, it is a very risky play to ignoring steals early in hopes of finding one of these guys late. These players are also dangerous to the health of your power categories as you can see from the Revere example. It just seems like an unnecessary strategic risk to plan on these guys delivering for you. Other owners plot this same strategy and often they reach above ADP to grab one of the speedsters you were also planning on supplementing your power with. Roster construction? Out the window.

Also, Chris Carter is not your only option to complement your team in these middle rounds. There are several very good targets to keep an eye for if you’re lucky enough for Altuve to land in your lap at the end of the 1st round. Lucas Duda (.234, 24 HR) and Marcell Ozuna (.255, 22 HR) were both available in the 9th round. I personally drafted Brandon Moss (.248, 28 HR) in the 12th round. Pedro Alvarez (.242, 26 HR), I got in the 14th round. Again, I could absorb these averages because I repeatedly took the best player available earlier in the draft, often players with overlooked batting averages. I constantly kept an eye on my roster construction to ensure I could absorb these lower batting averages and lack of stolen bases.

In 2014, there were 56 hitters drafted between selections 201-to-300. 16 of these hitters would hit at least 18 home runs. Meanwhile, 15 of the 56 managed 11 steals.

Back to my particular draft this year, after choosing Altuve 12th, I took Jacoby Ellsbury with my 2nd round pick, 19th overall. Between these two players, Steamer projects only 24 home runs between them. Even though I happened to not grab any huge raw power bats in the first two rounds, I still managed to construct a 14-man lineup that is projected to hit the magical 250 HR mark without falling behind in the other categories.

Altuve and .300

A repeated argument was also made that Jose Altuve “is not lock to hit .300 this year”. I believe this is a very pessimistic position to take and I haven’t heard a sensible reason for it. This is a player who hit .286 over his first 1300 PAs as a 22-23 year old youngster. Despite increasing his Swing% rate to over 50% last year, he made more contact than ever (4.4% SwStr) with an uptick of power on his way to a ridiculous .343 average.  This is an elite hit tool.

Not even the most bullish Altuve supporter would think he’s going to hit .343 again. That would be a very unfair expectation. However, not a single person who is bearish on Altuve has made a compelling argument why this 24-year-old can’t hit .300 again. Of course Altuve is “not a lock to hit .300”. By that argument there is no player who is a lock to hit any of their projections, including Mike Trout.

Yes, HR power has declined over the years. But so has batting average. Over the last six years the league average has fallen from .264 to .251. You are not going to find too many players past the 10th round who are going to give you 600+ PAs of near .300 average to complement your sluggers, and if they do hit those numbers they are tremendously weak in other categories.

To wrap this up, I’m telling you not to buy into the hysterics that there is no power available after the early rounds. Do not buy into the major regression talk. You should have no fear in drafting Jose Altuve with your first selection if he’s the best value on the board.

Jon Niese Is Changing It Up

Mets southpaw Jon Niese has something interesting going on and if the trend continues, he might not be so average in 2015.

One thing I enjoy doing is comparing 1st and 2nd half splits to spot anomalies and possible mid-season skill growth of players.  Niese’s 2014 splits stood out remarkably on two of my favorite metrics:  First pitch strike % (F-Strike) and Swinging Strike % (SwStr).

Niese has a career 61.4% F-Strike and 7.8 SwStr.  Last year’s first half he was struggling along with a 59.2% F-Strike and 5.8% SwStr.  Then something changed.  In the 2nd half his F-Strike soared to an elite level 67.8%.  SwStr rebounded to 8.6%.  What happened?

A solid changeup happened.

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2015 Fantasy: More Starting Pitching Busts

Starting pitching is half of the fantasy baseball equation and when you take them in the early rounds you cannot afford to strike out.  Here are three starting pitchers you should be letting others draft along with seven other names you should consider as alternatives.

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2015 Fantasy Bust: Johnny Cueto

I was planning on covering several overvalued starting pitchers in this next article but after analyzing Reds ace Johnny Cueto, I realized I might have enough material to fill an encyclopedia. Read the rest of this entry »

2015 Fantasy Sleepers: Starting Pitching

The key to winning at fantasy baseball is finding players who will outperform their draft position.  This will be the first of a series of articles addressing undervalued and overvalued players that you should be targeting in your draft.

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Under the Radar: John Mayberry

Amidst the expensive December fireworks being set off by Andrew Friedman and Theo Epstein, the cash-strapped New York Mets quietly took another step towards correcting a major 2014 deficiency with the addition of John Mayberry for $1.45 million.

Removing the historically bad hitting performance of their pitching staff (they started the season with a major league record 0-for-64), the often maligned Mets lineup actually generated a respectable 104 wRC+ against right-handed pitching in 2014, good enough for 5th best in the National League.

Their offense vs. left-handed pitching was another story however as an 89 wRC+ (14th NL) and 22 HR (MLB worst) left the Mets scrapping to find runs in the late innings of games against deep lefty-heavy bullpens.  Leading the struggles vs lefties were Eric Young Jr (84 PA, 60 wRC+), Lucas Duda (125 PA, 54 wRC+), and Chris Young (83 PA, 51 wRC+).

I prepared for this first FanGraphs Community article of mine by studying Mayberry a little closer.  As a fan who has witnessed plenty of NL East action over the years, I was well aware of Mayberry’s established platoon splits.  What I wasn’t aware of was the massive amount of growth he had in 2014.

John Mayberry Splits vs LH Pitching

2011 – 6.7 BB%, 15.0 K%, 0.44 BB/K, .288 ISO, .306 BABIP, 157 wRC+
2012 – 5.6 BB%, 17.8 K%, 0.32 BB/K, .223 ISO, .289 BABIP, 116 wRC+
2013 – 7.4 BB%, 15.7 K%, 0.47 BB/K, .220 ISO, .244 BABIP, 106 wRC+
2014 – 13.4 BB%, 12.2 K%, 1.10 BB/K, .329 ISO, .214 BABIP, 151 wRC+

After 3 seasons with respectable peripherals, Mayberry took his platoon game to another level in 2014 with career-best numbers across the board except for an inexplicable .214 BABIP.  Over 534 career plate appearances against LHP, Mayberry carries a .269/.324/.533, 30 HR, 130 wRC+.

In addition to Mayberry is the aggressively acquired Michael Cuddyer (career 132 wRC+ vs LHP), and the Mets are now in position to be significantly strengthened vs. left-handed pitching without making headlines or gutting their very deep farm system.