This is a changeup from the usual baseball writing you see on this site, but if you’ve read my about section at all you’ll know that fantasy baseball is not the only genre of fantasy of which I have an interest.
I received this book from Gallery / Saga Press and Netgalley.com in exchange for fair and honest review.
The Kingdom of Liars is a debut novel by Nick Martell which he wrote in his last two years of college. The setting is a place called Hollow on an alternate world from our own that takes place around the time of the industrial revolution and the move towards gun powder but combined with magical elements.
Here’s the blurb from the publisher:
“In this brilliant debut fantasy, a story of secrets, rebellion, and murder are shattering the Hollows, where magic costs memory to use, and only the son of the kingdom’s despised traitor holds the truth.
Michael is branded a traitor as a child because of the murder of the king’s nine-year-old son, by his father David Kingman. Ten years later on Michael lives a hardscrabble life, with his sister Gwen, performing crimes with his friends against minor royals in a weak attempt at striking back at the world that rejects him and his family.
In a world where memory is the coin that pays for magic, Michael knows something is there in the hot white emptiness of his mind. So when the opportunity arrives to get folded back into court, via the most politically dangerous member of the kingdom’s royal council, Michael takes it, desperate to find a way back to his past. He discovers a royal family that is spiraling into a self-serving dictatorship as gun-wielding rebels clash against magically trained militia.
What the truth holds is a set of shocking revelations that will completely change the Hollows, if Michael and his friends and family can survive long enough to see it.”
The book places the reader right into the deep end, beginning at the end of the story and then making its way back to that point throughout the course of the novel. It is told in the first-person with who is not an entirely reliable narrator. There are no all at once data dumps about the magic system or history of the world, but details are revealed at the appropriate times and you will have to be patient and stick with it as your reward. There is no spoon-feeding going on here.
The main character, Michael Kingman, is likable, crafty, and reasonably intelligent, but really is not particularly special, but simply driven and stubborn. Since the book is in the first-person you don’t get a lot of character development from characters not named Michael, but on the other hand, none of them seem two-dimensional or lacking in depth.
While the book contains one or two moments that seem a bit on the “too convenient” side, they are outweighed by far by the moments I didn’t see coming and how the mysteries are neatly tied together to a satisfying conclusion that leaves me eagerly awaiting the next book.
Did I say next book? Yes this is the first of a brand-new trilogy entitled “The Legacy of the Mercenary Kings”
On a scale of one to five, I’m giving it a 4 and am eager to see if he can top it with the following novels. The book is available on Kindle and electronic formats on May 7th and in Hardcover this coming June.
And yes I’ll be back with more baseball content soon as we move to the start of whenever hte season begins. But keep an eye out for more book reviews as well and perhaps even some baseball-related books in addition to the fantasy/sci-fi content.
The second Merrifield was gone I locked in on as Tommy Pham as the well-rounded HR/SB threat my team needed most. I debated the pros and cons of perhaps jumping in on Luis Roberts given his potentially long-term better ceiling than Pham against his also potentially much lower floor if he’s unable to acclimate to MLB pitching. That debate was taken out of my hands since he was snagged the third earliest in any of the TGFBI leagues before I had to make my decision.
Pham is still a player with upside his game, particularly
due to his stolen base efficiency coupled with his on-base skills. Pham’s
groundball rates have been trending upwards, so he’ll remain right at the cusp
of the twenty-homerun plateau. While he made good improvements in his
contact-making game it stands out right now as something of an outlier and a
regression back to the 20% strikeout arena is more likely until we have more
data. Still, the overall package makes him a good fit for my roster.
For the Woodruff selection, I was focusing on three starters, Mike Soroka and Lance Lynn being the other two. I landed on Woodruff as a still-emerging upper end of the rotation starter who has the greatest potential of these three to be in the conversation at least a second-round pick in 2021. In fact, the only reason he may not have gone earlier was due to missing time with a non-arm related (oblique) injury that cost him about two months of action. He has a deep repertoire of plus pitches and made strides in improving his velocity last season. Health permitting, he has the potential to ascend to the next tier of pitchers in 2020.
In the early rounds, I have been taking the best veteran player available, in my estimate. Starting off my draft with a solid Pitcher-Batter combo has afforded me the opportunity to do so. But now it’s time to get down to business, as one-by-one, talented baseball players tick off the board. Playing against competition the likes of what we have in the TGFBI keeps one working hard. Every home league has that one owner, a guy who is the Comish’s uncle, the guy whose draft prep consisted solely of stopping at Walgreens on the way to the draft and picking up a couple of baseball magazines. TGFBI does not have that guy – there are 300 plus owners who know what they are doing. There’s no chance in this league that an owner takes Josh Donaldson in the second round because his own mother’s maiden name is Donaldson. I’m competing against the best of the best.
I took Ozuna in the fifth round, to pair with Blackmon on my roster. Having only one SP on my team so far, I did strongly consider adding Bauer at this point but thought he may fall to me at 6.78 (he was, unfortunately, picked right after I took Ozuna). I feel that his move to a more hitter-friendly ballpark can only help his power numbers. And having some of the game’s elite talent on base ahead of you can only help the RBI numbers. So far in the draft, I have taken three high BA hitters and Ozuna doesn’t hurt that trend at all. If everything clicks, Ozuna could give me a .290-30-100 type season. He’s playing for a contract once more and I’m a believer. Another solid veteran pick for me here.
Let me preface the next pick by saying I cannot even remember the last time I drafted a closer in the sixth round. I’m your typical wait until the second and third tier of closers is being picked to start worrying about saves. But a funny thing happened to me during my very first TGFBI season last year. I didn’t draft quality closers figuring I would grab some along the way via FAAB. That never happened (refer to my acknowledgment. My reward for that strategy was finishing at the bottom of the save category and, most, unfortunately, helping me finish right in the middle of the pack overall. If I had only grabbed some closers earlier and got another 7-8 points in the SV category… if, if, if. Once bitten twice shy, I guess. With Yates, I get an elite closer who has the chance to be the best in the league in 2020. His microscopic WHIP and ERA in 2019 along with a 14.98 K/9 ratio allowed him to register 41 saves. I cannot see, barring injury, where Yates will fail to provide similar numbers in 2020. I will spend the next 4 weeks telling myself I went too early on this pick but come mid-July, I will be happy I did.
We hope you enjoyed our first day of TGFBI coverage and analysis and that you’ll stay with us as we continue our trek into the thirty-round wilderness of this league! Kevin and I both appear to be in some of the slower leagues, but that means more time for us to take a close look at a few players as opposed to many at once every day!
Tales of my deviation towards risk and away from boring reliability were overblown. In fact, if I had not taken Altuve, I might have gone with another aging hurler in Zack Greinke. Yawn, boring, old. Get used to it, its how I draft.
Anyway, I’d been focusing upon the possibility that Blackmon
would slip to me about nine or so picks in advance. Blackmon no longer can be
counted upon to steal, but even without that aspect of his game (10 stolen
bases would be bonus value at this point) his other skills still make him
worthy of this pick. Like Arenado, Blackmon is a power hitter who does not have
to sell out in order to get it, continuing to be an above-average contact
hitter presenting continued .300+ batting average potential who has hit no
fewer than 29 homers the last four seasons and has not fallen below 648 plate
appearances since 2013. Again, building that foundation.
Clayton Kershaw and Manny Machado were the next two picks
leaving the player still at the top of my board, Joss Altuve, available. I
already own two Astros, so you can see I’m not letting the scandal color my
choices especially since the home/road splits didn’t appear to have a significant
impact on Altuve in 2019. That said, some homerun regression is to be expected,
possibly to the mid to lower-twenties. His speed scores indicate he still has a
motor and while he may not be a twenty-plus stolen-base threat anymore, he’s
still able to leg out plenty of groundballs. At this price point/draft pick,
I’m paying for about 10 or fewer steals, so again like Blackmon, any unexpected
return to form in the speed game will be a bonus.
Continuing my early theme of
predictable and consistent, I went with Blackmon with my third-round pick. Heading into the pick, I had narrowed my
choices down to Blackman, Meadows, Springer or Villar. With Altuve, Villar, and
Merrifield still possibly available to give me some speed at my next pick just
5 picks away, I decided to grab my first outfielder here. I love what the kid
Meadows can bring across the board and Springer’s power explosion had my
attention if he can stay on the field. But in the end, Blackmon was my
selection. Yes, his speed is gone but that simply makes him a four-category
contributor instead – a proven veteran one at that. His expected .310+ batting
average goes well alongside my second-round pick Freeman. Blackmon’s 3-year
average of 33 HR, 87 RBI, and 123 run numbers check a lot of fantasy boxes this
early in the draft. If Blackmon were to get moved to another team, this pick
will most likely be devalued some, but I am thinking he will remain at Coors
all season, where he batted an insane .379-22-51 with 66 runs last season. Just
like my pick of Freeman, Blackmon is a “set it and forget it” type player
within my roster foundation build. I just need to convince GM Jeff Bridich to
keep both Blackmon and Arenado at home in the Rockies for the entire 2020
Ever have one of those fantasy moments where you have everything lined up perfectly and then, in the blink of an eye, your draft queue is blank? I had that moment times four when my fourth-round pick rolled around. As stated within my Blackmon writeup, I was targeting one of Villar, Altuve or Merrifield for my fourth-round pick. If Meadows or Springer fell to me, I would consider them as well. I had those five names on my queue for my pick five picks away – cruise control autodraft if you will. By the time my next pick rolled around, four of the five players in my queue were gone, leaving Merrifield as the lone member of my queue. A tip of the cap to the two owners after me with two great picks each at the turn. Ah, fantasy baseball… I love and hate you all at once. I used my pick on Merrifield, which is not a consolation prize to me at all. In keeping with the high BA theme of my draft, Merrifield hopefully brings yet another potential .300+ BA to my team. And if he were to approach the level of steals from two years ago, he’s a steal at this point (Dad joke type pun intended and no I am not drinking). But realistically, If Merrifield can give me .290-20-60-25 numbers, I’m good. I’ve never been a fan of the SB category, but it is what it is, and Merrifield is my first stab of slowly accumulating SBs, while also helping across the board as well. Good solid pick and my second base slot are now filled.
Parting Thoughts Kevin and I were playing in the same league last time around in the TGFBI and it is now coming back to me that Kevin was distinctly calling me out (and vice versa) for liking the same guys and that continues to be the case . We’re both pretty pleased to have Blackmon in the late third round and believe it to potentially be a slightly discounted value.
The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational League Draft (or
TGFBI) has begun. It consists of about 380 participants in 26 15-team,
NFBC-style, mixed leagues. This is my third season of participation and after
doing reasonably well my first go around, it’s time to bounce back from my
disappointing 2019 TGFBI finish.
Given the popularity of this style of the league, we will be providing daily updates on the progress of this draft and analysis of our picks. And I do mean “we” and “ours” in more than the “royal we” way as Kevin Daly will be joining me. Kevin’s been writing fantasy baseball for over twenty years for a variety of sites in a freelance capacity and was part of my team in the late nineteen nineties/early 2000s before there was such a thing as apps, the NFBC, and smartphones.
I am participating in TGFBI League 16 and Kevin is in League 26 as seen below with our draft slots.
The two of us have very similar picks at the 14:2 slot and 13:3 slots respectively so it will be interesting to see contrast and compare how we handle our draft positions.
My league went pretty much as expected until pick eleven where I was not expecting any of those first ten players to fall to the fourteenth pick. After many pre-draft mocks, I envisioned scenarios where Nolan Arenado, Alex Bregman, Justin Verlander, and Jose Ramirez would all be available. After drafting Ramirez in the first round last year, even though I strongly believe all the skills and talent are there for a strong rebound, it would have been difficult for me to pass on him. That decision was taken out of my hands as Arenado, who had valued a tad higher regardless fell and made my choice simple.
Pick 1:14 – 3B Nolan
Arenado– COL Despite the rumors, Arenado is remaining in Colorado at least for now and
is signed through 2026 with an out-clause after next season. This and my second
pick were based on laying a solid foundation for my team. So no shock, no
surprises. Arenado has received close to 700 plate appearances four-seasons
running with a homerun production track-record in the high-thirties ot
low-forties over that time. The righty is a highly-disciplined hitter with a
quick bat and line-drive/fly-ball skills that remain consistent. A dip in
fly-ball percentage in 2018 gave a minor scare, but now stands out as an
outlier in the context of his career. If a deal does happen this year, there
are some career home/road splits that creep up, but only do so in the batting
average department though not in his righty/lefty split.
Pick 2:17 SP Justin Verlander – HOU I was rather tempted here to go with a two-hitter starting to my draft, particularly Starling Marte for his broad base of power/speed/batting average. Other considerations were Freddy Freeman and J.D. Martinez. However, after not locking down an ace early on last season and seeing Verlander slip out of the first round and was the highest value player on my board at the time, I decided to set my pitching foundation. The biggest concern here is age as Verlander will be playing at age 37, albeit a year removed from a three-hundred strikeout performance and it has now been five seasons since Verlander’s 2014 season when we thought the end was at hand. Verlander has now raised his game to not just have above average, but elite control with sub 2.0 BB/9 the past two seasons. While I am not expecting another .218 his 2019 16% HR/FB was also an outlier to a skill set that does not point to his imminent decline. I’m banking on at least one more year in the sun.
Kevin’s Day One Picks
Pick 1.13 – SP Max Scherzer – WAS Trout, Acuna, Yelich, Bellinger, Betts, Lindor, Cole
One by one, the usual suspects went off our TGFBI draft
board in the first round as though we as a league had practiced such. The top 5
position players all in a row to start us off, followed by arguably the best
pitcher in Cole. Like clockwork, leaving me waiting patiently for my pick
number 13 overall.
Then selections of deGrom, Turner, Story, Soto, Verlander.
Our first round was rather textbook, which was expected given the talented
TGFBI owners in the draft room. No stunners, no reaches, no drama.
With my two picks (1.13 and 2.18) upcoming in the next six
slots, I had a few different routes on where I could go with them. I had been
waiting on Verlander to drop to me at pick 13 but he got selected one pick
before me. Scherzer and Buehler were on the board still, as were Bregman,
Arenado, Freeman and Tatis Jr. Realizing I would have a better bet to get one
of the hitters in the second round, I went with Scherzer. Glad I did, as
Buehler and Flaherty both got picked before the draft circled back to me.
Pitchers were going early.
With Scherzer, I know what I am getting, albeit with some
injury risk with him being 36 years old. He missed some starts due to injury in
2019 leading to his lowest IP total (172.1) since 2010 but did have a
career-high 12.1 K/9 and his usual top tier ERA and WHIP.
I am a firm believer in having an ace on my staff and I now
have one of the most consistent. Even with the dip in some of his numbers last
season, I’m confident Mad max builds for me a solid foundation on which to
build out my pitching staff. On to round two.
Pick 2.18 – 1B
Freddie Freeman ATL When I got to my second pick, there were some great hitters still
available. Bregman and Arenado went in the picks before mine, thus eliminating
my hopes for an early draft steal at 2.18. But there was still plenty of value
to pluck from.
With Scherzer in my pocket, drafting another pitcher here at
2.18 was never once considered. Grabbing a bat here would mean that I would be
heading towards the third and fourth rounds with several options on which way
to go. Having a solid pitcher-hitter start to the draft was important to me,
given the league competition.
I had narrowed it down to J.D. Martinez or Freeman. Tatis Jr
was on the board but I was looking for a proven veteran bat. That may make me
look foolish at the end of the season but adding a young guy on top of an old
guy just didn’t calculate for me. Jose Ramirez was also still available but,
again, I wanted minimum risk here.
With J.D. Martinez hitting behind Benny, Devers, and
Bogaerts this season, he has the opportunity to move back towards his numbers
from the World Series run in 2018. I couldn’t go wrong taking Martinez here.
But I went with Freeman because I love his consistency (not
that J.D. isn’t consistent). Drop him in the lineup and watch him go. Since
2016, Freeman has averaged .303-31-95, rock-solid numbers in fantasy. Also,
last season, he had a career-high 38 home runs and 121 RBI. Although I do
expect the HRs to come back to reality some, his solid numbers provide me with
a great hitter to start my journey with. He also is a top performer at a scarce
position, whereas JD qualifies in the outfield. The ability for me to find some
power elsewhere in the outfield in the later rounds sealed the decision for me.
Accuse me of playing it safe so far – I’m guilty as charged.
I’ve come a long way from trying to be the owner who drafts the “next big
thing” simply for bragging rights and bypassing solid veterans while doing so.
When I get to my next pick (3.43), I will simply look at who’s left and go from
there. I may be showing my age but nothing fancy. Safe and steady.
Kevin and I both played it rather safe on day one selecting established veteran ace pitchers and consistent hitters still in their respective primes. We’ll see if day two brings more risk-taking and daring-do. As we know, establishing a foundation gets you 2/3 of the way towards a winning team, but it is the players who breakout that take you the rest of the way home. Look for our day two analysis tomorrow morning.