Welcome to over-reaction season, friends! I’ll admit, I’ve drafted Jordan Walker in the 11th round already, and I have Adalberto Mondesi rostered as my [checks notes] starting Middle Infielder. The season is spicy!
There are no “right” or “wrong” ways to draft a team. However, there are more “statistically optimal” and “downright stupid” ways of drafting teams. When in doubt, always choose “balanced” roster composition. Unless you’re in a league with unique scoring settings. If you’re one of those weirdos, then draft whatever makes you wake up with such verve and enthusiasm that you lace your coffee with hot sauce.
Especially in roto and head-to-head formats — which is probably 75% of you readers — you don’t get extra points for clobbering your opponent with 35 surplus Wins or 70 surplus Home Runs. It’s useless to win one category by a 2x-3x margin if that means you lose 3-4 other categories. And if you’re in a tournament, you won’t claim the overall pool if you can’t compete in each category.
Think about your build, and what makes sense for that build. Your build is somewhat affected by chance — your draft order, and how the people in front of you draft — which means that it’s good to think about it like a chess opening.
In a classic game of chess, your optimal play is likely pawn to E4 — you control the center, you start attacking, and you force your opponent to respond in defense. But there are over 1,300 ways to open a chess game — some of them are more optimal, and some of them are suboptimal.
Generally, the optimal way to start a fantasy baseball draft is with a 5-tool hitter that plays every day, like Trea Turner. The second-best opening is a power hitter — Vlad or Yordong or Ohtani (and Ohtani is still the 1.01 in best ball leagues). From there, you’ll encounter a number of different strategies — some players want Gerrit Cole, and others want Bobby Witt Jr. By now, y’all should know that I will almost never take a pitcher in the first round, unless I’m purposefully trying a pocket aces build (i.e., starters in the first and second round) in order “to see what happens.”
In this year’s TGFBI draft — which is a 15-team roto tournament — I went with a “Hero SP” build. I took Aaron Nola at pick 25 (round 2), followed by my RP1 Ryan Pressley in Round 4. My next SP came in round 9, in the form of Joe Musgrove (discussed below), and then I took 4 more pitchers in the next 6 rounds: Kyle Wright, Brady Singer, Jon Gray, and Alex Lange (RP2).
My Hero SP build suits my playing style: I tend to do better on mid-and-late round SP, so I prioritize getting the hitters that help my build. I don’t like playing the waiver wire (thus my affinity for best ball), so I want to collect as many HR/SB/SP/RP as possible. Your opening should suit your playing style. As the great AI ShakespeareGPT once said, “Know thyself, and your fantasy teams will follow.”
Let me know how your early drafts are going, and let’s get some news and rankings below!
News and Notes
Joe Musgrove: I mean, I can’t lift a cheeseburger to my face before dropping it all over my plate. I kid, I have no time for plates. The burger glops all over my belly and splatters on my laptop like a cutaway from a slasher movie. You ever stop and think that a cow lives through a slasher movie plot before they become our $1.29 lunch from a gas station? Funsies! ENYWHEY. Joe Musgrove can probably lift more than us regular Joes and Janes, except for when he dropped a weight on his toe. Can we call him “Joe the Toe” yet? Musgrove is slated to miss [reads the digital fishwraps] at least 2 starts. When Rudy first heard of the injury, he subtracted 20 in-season games, or 3-4 starts. The Padres had planned to use a 6-arm rotation to start the season anyway. How progressive of the Padres to take inspiration from Vishnu! I picked up Musgrove at a stunning 5-round discount in TGFBI as my SP2. Sure, it’s a risk. There are running backs in football who break a toe, tape it up, and come back the next week. There are people who play through plantar fasciitis with minimal effect, and those who can barely stand. I mean, half the world is drafting Jacob deGrom in the second round despite his elbow being held together with congealed nacho cheese. The Athletic indicates there’s a non-zero chance Musgrove misses no MLB starts, and there’s another Athletic article saying he won’t touch a baseball until the end of spring training. See what you get for being owned by the New York Times? I don’t play conservatively, and I’m drafting Musgrove at a massive discount. If we hear something about his rehabilitation status, then we can change our later drafts. For now, Musgrove seems like he could be a massive SP2 discount for teams that fade pitching, or a no-brainer SP3 for 12-team leagues.
Tyler Glasnow: Speaking of random injuries that linger, Glasnow is dealing with an oblique strain. This can be nightmarish for pitchers (see Jack Flaherty’s Odyssey). Remember Elieser Hernandez? Lat strain, but same concept — a core muscle pull can lead to massive deficiencies in pitchers. I remember as a kid, I had the Nolan Ryan Pitcher’s Bible. It instructed would-be-pitchers to do hundreds of sit-ups per day. How many IP did Ryan end up throwing? More than Glasnow will this year. TySnow (or is it GlasLer?) is officially a glass cannon. I’m not sure why so many people consider him a “must-have” starter (myself included) — he hasn’t topped 150IP since 2017 (minors included). We all love the stuff, but from my armchair analysis position — wouldn’t it make the most sense to turn Glasnow into a high-leverage reliever? John Smoltz this thing and let’s enjoy Glasnow closing out a run of Rays World Series wins rather than having the monthly “he’s injured again” update. ENYWHEY. Glasnow is slated to miss all of April and at least half of May, which makes him a last-round draft pick in 12-teamers, and an avoid in industry tournaments.
Grayson Rodriguez: We love a good rookie hype story out of spring training, don’t we? Remember when Randy Dobnak introduced a new slider and whiffed everybody on the planet in 2021? He went on to have a sub-5 K/9 2021 and hasn’t seen the Majors in nearly 2 years. Of course, GrayRod is on a different planet than Randy Dobnak, but the principle still applies: Spring Training is not actual MLB. When GrayRod’s teammate and uber-prospect DL Hall debuted last year, Hall’s first start resulted in 5ER in 3.2 IP, and he maintained a cumulative 10+ ERA through his first four appearances. Woof. But the Orioles brought GrayRod along on many of those trips while he recovered from injury, ostensibly to learn the MLB ways. In my TGFBI league, GrayRod was drafted before Brady Singer, Tony Gonsolin, Jon Gray, and Kodai Senga. At this point, we don’t know if GrayRod even breaks camp with the Orioles. From a rookie contract standpoint, it would make sense for the Orioles to keep him in the minors: he’s just 23, was injured for half of 2022, and they don’t need to start his service time clock for any pressing reason. Are the Orioles going to win the AL East in 2023? Again, just spitballing here because we don’t know for sure, but it seems pretty bold to expect early-season success from GrayRod. Rudy has him down for 120ish IP, which screams “Service Time Manipulation” and “Add him on the waiver wire in May.” I’d avoid in 12-team drafts except as speculative SP6. For tournament drafts, I’d minimize exposure — the AL East is a tough division, and there’s not a lot of upside for a rookie pitcher om that environment.
Kenta Maeda: PitchCon so loud, your mom could hear it in the stands. Still, Maeda sang. Our favorite sleeper from 2021 that isn’t named Ketel Marte seems like he’s ready for MLB work again after his recovery from Tommy John surgery. There are those pitchers that are just kinda fragile, and Maeda’s always been in that category. Rumors swirled that the Dodgers knew something was up with Maeda’s elbow, which is why they relegated him to the bullpen at the end of his tenure in LA. Now 34 and on the Twins, we can expect some shine off of Maeda’s ratios and temper the IP more toward “16-team starter” than “12-team starter.” Maeda will likely slot at the end of the Twins’ rotation, and he’s probably not appearing on your 12-team roster. Let’s put it this way: his ADP is up near 360, which is 40-round draft territory. If you’re looking for a RazzSlam arm, Maeda is a fine dart throw — if we regress his career ratios by a notch, he’s still a 9 K/9 guy with a sub-4.00 ERA and FIP. Problem is, Maeda will probably throw something like 120 IP. Twins being the Twins, there’s a non-zero chance that Maeda gets traded at the deadline and ends up as a Roleless Rob on a playoff team — the same spot where he finished his tenure with the Dodgers. Woof. Personally I love Maeda and will watch him every minute of a non-blacked out game, but there’s a fair amount of risk and not a ton of upside to drafting him in 2023.
Time for the juicy bits! The usual spiel: my system demonstrates confidence in a pitcher on a per IP basis. These aren’t necessarily ranks, although they do filter nicely into a hierarchical order. I take my personal confidence score and then multiply it by Rudy’s industry-leading IP projections, which helps elevate lesser-known players and demote players who are popular by virtue of social engineering. If you have your own IP projections, feel free to take my column on the right and multiply it by your projections. There’s no significant difference between players who are within, say, 10 points of each other. Use that similarity to search for value by ADP. ADP is from March 5, 2023. I fixed Luis Castillo and Luis Garcia in this edition. Chris Sale is kind of the arbitrary cutoff — if I paste the whole table here, it makes for a ridiculous amount of scrolling. Let me know how you’re doing, and I’ll see you in the comments!