TGFBI 2020 – Day One

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.

Live Public Draft Board Links – League 16 (Rob) and League 26 (Kevin). (Links to the other twenty-four leagues can be found here @ http://tgfbi.com/tgfbi-leagues-and-draft-boards/

Rob’s Day One Picks

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.

Parting Thoughts

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.

Six Degrees of Fantasy Baseball Victory

*Note this article first appeared in The Fantasy Baseball Guide Professional Edition 2020 available on a newsstand near you now and online at https://www.thefantasyguide.com/

My victory this year in AL Tout Wars, like any fantasy baseball win, was the product of draft day strategy, free agency and trade savvy, and a fair share of luck.

Mitigating Risk
For years I’ve been a proponent of “boring is best” or risk mitigation. To that end, I went with a budget of 180 to 190 on hitters, rostering stalwarts in the power/OBP categories like Edwin Encarnacion, Carlos Santana, and Nelson Cruz all while without going over $25 and budgeting between $180-$190 hitting. In the same vain I targeted an established ace and went with Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Corey Kluber being my other primary targets. The reason was those three, plus Kluber, were the only amongst a bunch of pitchers being purchased at ace-level prices, had the baseline of throwing the amount and quality of innings at a high level for the last three or more years. As we can see, anchoring your staff especially at the above normal prices of 2019 is a risky move, but some options, at least theoretically speaking, were safer options than others based on track record.

Draft Day Bargains
I was certain Mike Minor ($7), D.J. LeMahieu ($9), and Mark Canha (RES) were all going to earn profits for me, but more of the $15 to $20 combined range. I didn’t predict LeMahieu improving on his Coors Field experience or for Minor to throw over 200 innings and perform at that high a level. Minor was grabbed after pitching budgets had emptied out while LeMahieu and Canha’s uncertain playing time muted the room’s enthusiasm to acquire them.

Knowing Your League Rules
Tout Wars has a fifteen-game minimum rule as opposed to the normal twenty and often in the heat of the auction, it can fall by the wayside and lead to opportunities which I found for Carlos Santana at 3B and Jonathan Schoop to fit nicely at shortstop. At the very least, targeting the secondary position of players for later in the auction or draft for when their primary positions have been filled on other league mate’s roster is a good way to bargain hunt.

Lemons into Lemonade
While I aimed to snag an ace of the three I mentioned above, I also wanted to similarly focus on anchoring my pen with a closer with a fair track record and failed miserably to say “$20” on Aroldis Chapman and ended up with Cody Allen at $14. Allen at the time had the saves track record, but every other bit of his skills and talents were trending downwards and he may now be out of baseball, let alone no longer a closer. Having a failed closer early in the season though helps focus one’s efforts on his likely successor and everything pointed to the Angel’s favoring Hansel Robles over second-year player Ty Buttrey and I pounced with a risky $300+ bid. Robles is known for his strikeouts and the home runs he’s let up, particularly with my hometown Mets, so a few of those early on could have sunk them, but a closer role and non-high leverage situation suited him. Liam Hendriks meanwhile had similarly established himself as the number two guy while Blake Treinen was struggling and managed to pick him up before he was potentially prohibitively expensive. I originally projected myself to finish in the lower to the middle of the pack in saves with Allen, but the duo along with the occasional save from Adam Ottavino, whose value in innings and strikeouts cannot be understated in the environment of the post-200 inning starter era, landed me third place in saves. The addition of a second closer in single-league only formats remains one of the easiest and best ways to vault up the standings if you can acquire them via trade or FAAB.

Minor League Monitoring
Another of Tout Wars’ somewhat unique rules is the ability to pick up players still in the minors and add them to your roster provided you’re willing to earn 0 points in that roster slot for the upcoming week. When you’re replacing an injured or unproductive player, that’s an easy call. Yordan Alvarez was mauling Triple-A pitching and Houston was playing with a platoon outfield, an injury to Springer, and a revolving door at DH made him a very targeted grab in late April at $9. The luck/lesson here is being lucky enough where no one else was ready to pull the trigger yet and to be thinking several weeks in advance. There were several other good examples of this year with Orlando Mercado and Cavan Biggio being other examples of good grabs in that regard. It helps though to focus on contending teams not afraid of service time. The White Sox have had Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert destroy the minors two years in a row, tantalizing fantasy owners as potential call-ups. I had drafted and then re-FAABed Oakland catcher Sean Murphy just shy of September call-ups knowing he’d get a chance to play and though used part-time, played well.

Trades
Down the stretch especially I targeted the categories I could make ground in and categories I could try to block others. With several late injuries on the hitting side, my best bets were to focus on steals, wins, and strikeouts. For the first part, I moved Aaron Hicks for Mallex Smith. Neither player was particularly good, but all I wanted were steals and the 19 I received were ideal. Though out of contention for Greinke on FAAB day, I used my depth on offense to acquire him the day after the MLB trade deadline who acc9ounted for 7 wins, a 3.02 ERA, and 50 strikeouts.

The Final Week
The standings were tight with me a nervous mess from August on. The last two weeks were all about filling in gaps with callups (Murphy and Ryan McBroom) and maximizing opportunities to obtain wins and strikeouts given enough breathing room in ERA/WHIP categories to throw Dillon Peters, Trent Thornton, and Gio Gonzalez into action. It didn’t hurt that Justin Verlander was chasing 3,000 career K’s and 300 season strikeouts as milestones that week either.

Veteran Pitchers

With all the controversy that is currently going on in baseball, players are trying to put things behind them as they prepare for the upcoming season. Two such players have been notable in this effort this past week and are former rotation-mates who have moved on from the Houston Astros two different organizations. I’m talking of course about Mike Fiers and Dallas Keuchel.

Dallas Keuchel after struggling to find employment for much of the first half of 2019, Keuchel landed in Atlanta and pitched well enough to secure a three-year contract with the White Sox. The 32-year has a good history of performing to his skills, in other words, there has not been a high degree of variance between his ERA and that which was expected, his xFIP in this case. That said, it says nothing of his skills or their recent trends, it just says in world full of pitchers with a wide variance of predictability, he has been one of the safer bets to get what you expected from him.

First and foremost, Keuchel remains a groundball machine, keeping an impressive 60% of his balls in play in 2019. This was to his benefit last year, pitching in front of one of the better team-defenses in baseball and should lead to some skepticism for 2020 as he moves to Chicago where the White Sox featured one of baseball’s poorest. Then keep in mind that this is a pitcher who has had a HR/FB rate in excess of 20% in his past two of three seasons and no less than 11% since 2014 and factor in, well park factors, Keuchel is now moving from a pitcher neutral/friendly park to one of the more homerun friendly parks may also not be in his favor. An ERA slide to the mid-4’s range is likely and a bid under $10 and closer to $5 is probably in your best interest.

For two successive seasons, Mike Fiers has defied the regression gods, posting sub 4.00 ERAs despite a steep decline in his ability to get generate strikeouts, continued high home rates, suppressed batting average on balls in play, and high left-on-base percentages. Pitching in Oakland has FIP his saving grace, showing improved ability in keeping the ball in the park there, but still producing FIP and xFIPs that are in the high 4’s to low 5’s. Fiers has managed to earn $10 or more dollars three years running but is always one step away from that flipping on its head and earning in the negative. As a result, he’ll cost less (and should!) than the amount he has earned and really should be considered more of an endgame, sub $5 play with the hope he has another season like this left in him. Even then, bench him weeks he is away if you can.

Gearing Up Again

Time to get back into writing gear, though I do have some under my belt already for the 2020 season. The Fantasy Baseball Guide 2020, now on newsstands near you, featured a few articles by yours truly.

We changed things up for the prospect section focusing not only on impact prospects for 2020 but rankings for keeper/dynasty leagues too! I pieced together the article, wrote a few of the profiles, and all the long-term prognosis. I also wrote the Prospect Retrospective piece and an article recapping my 2019 AL Tout Wars victory “Six Degrees of Fantasy Baseball Victory”. You’ll be able to buy it online in PDF or physical edition soon at thefantasyguide.com soon!

Enough advertising, time to take a glance at the Cardinals and Rays deal.

The Cardinals moved Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena to the Rays for Matt Liberatore, Edgardo Rodriguez and swapped competitive balance picks with the 38th overall pick going to the Rays and the 66th coming back to the Cardinals.

Cardinals outfield for 2020 is now up in the air with one less veteran to take up playing time. Dexter Fowler, Harrison Bader, Tommy Edman, Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, and Justin Williams are all in the playing time mix with Dylan Carlson poised to possibly take spring training by storm and maneuver his way into the starting lineup as a 22-year old with fewer than 100 plate appearances of experience in Triple-A.

Liberatore is a well-regarded left-handed pitcher and former 2018 first-round pick of the Rays, drafted 16th overall and is instantaneously one of the Cardinals top five prospects or better. He more than held his own as a 19-year old at A-ball showing a four-pitch arsenal with an already plus fastball, but his calling card will be his plus to plus-plus curve. The changeup and slider are both still works in progress, but that’s to be expected for a 6’6” pitcher who just turned 20 this past November. He is at least two to three seasons from the Majors and at this moment time looks like a middle of the rotation starter. The feel-good here has childhood friends Liberatore and third base prospect Nolan Gorman reuniting and cheering them on to both reach the Majors together as starters are something to embrace.

Edgardo Rodriguez is currently listed as a catcher, but it remains to be seen whether he will be able to stay there defensively. That said, despite missing most of 2019 due to injuries, his hit tool remains well regarded as a disciplined contact hitter with some power potential. He’ll likely move up to full-season A-ball this year but could also see more time in rookie ball given his minimal experience and age. While he is unlikely to ever be regarded as highly as Liberatore as a prospect, there is a chance he ends up having a more productive career. That is not an endorsement, just a brutal consideration given the youth of these two players and the variability of what may befall them between now and the time in which they shot at the majors.

On the Rays side, their decidedly left-handed hitting outfield needed another right-handed compliment. Neither Kevin Kiermaier nor Austin Meadows has extreme righty/lefty platoon splits. It is more that Martinez has an extreme bat against righties including a career .331/.405/.570 line when contrasted against his new teammates’ more modest abilities. Arozarena should also be a factor at the MLB level this coming season and is something of a dark horse candidate as an impact prospect. A later bloomer, the 24-year old is a good defender who can handle all three outfield positions, above-average foot speed, and a quick bat, but high single to low-double-digit homerun power. His upside is likely that of a fourth outfielder but has enough skills and tools to potentially be a right-handed centerfield compliment to Kiermaier.