You love a masterful start. Pawn to E4. Welcome to the Jungle. The pilot of The Sopranos. Friends, I don’t know if you’ll agree with me, but I had a masterful start in our RazzSlam best ball contest. Why does this matter? Because it’s basically the same philosophy and scoring system behind your favorite best ball moneymakers, whether it be on Underdog or NFBC, or OnlyFans. At least, OnlyFans told me they did “best balls.” Did I misunderstand? Possibly.
I know nobody cares about anybody else’s team. Why should you care about mine? Because I have consecutive top 20 finishes in RazzSlam (including 6th overall in points in 2021), have claimed champion status in an industry football best ball tournament, and hold — at last count — third place overall status in the RazzTriumvirate of competitions (Slam, Jam, Bowl…which I think sounds like a 20-something’s dream weekend). I’m not saying I’m the Lightning God of Best Ball, but my balls of lightning are better than most. I am, at the very least, Mayor of Lightning Town.
Let’s do that thing where I show you my team, and then I pretend I’m you, except that I’m you yelling at me. It works for Grey, so it should work for me, right?
Here’s the team, with round 1 starting on the left and then going down to 10, with Heim being 11th round, Winker 21st round, and Marquez being 31st round.
FIVE CATCHERS? IS THIS AN ESPN PUBLIC LEAGUE?
Forgive me Razzballies, for I have sinned. But, it’s a 2 catcher league, so don’t hate me too much. I planned to take 4 catchers, but then Coolwhip alerted me to Blake Sabol, a Rule 5 pick for the San Francisco Giants who must stay on the MLB roster. Sabol is a natural outfielder learning the trade of the backstop, and the Giants seem intent to use him as an OF now that Austin Slater and Mitch Haniger are injured. Since Covid, Sabol’s lowest wRC+ in the minors was 124…how did the Pirates not promote him? Never mind, I know the answer already: he didn’t have enough booty. That’s why they made him a catcher! Don’t believe me? Here’s what Itch wrote last week in his NL West Prospects for 2023 Outlook:
Blake Sabol is one of my favorite sleepers this year…Sabol could wind up the everyday catcher, first baseman or left fielder with the Giants, who have to send him back if they don’t keep him around.
And Sabol started out spring training with the Giants hitting a mere .500. So, upside is Daulton Varsho (C/OF who mashes), and downside is he’s as droppable as my Twizzler habit.
For all y’all, I recommend having a handful of lesser catchers in 2C best ball leagues. Use variance in your favor. However, make sure you have catchers that actually play. If you’re nose-diving into Endy Rodriguez territory — meaning you’re drafting guys who won’t appear until May — you’re getting zeros in your scorebox for a few months.
TAP DANCING BILLIES, YOU HAMMERED MID-ROUND PITCHING
It might seem weird to lead off a “pitching-focused” article with catchers. That’s just my exercise regime. First I build up the booty, and then it’s a month straight of arm days until I look like one of those bearded butter coffee bros. I’ve written endlessly about how Win-based pitchers are golden for best ball, including in last week’s 2023 Starting Pitcher Best Practices. I think I published my article a bit too early though because the Win-maven pitchers all went before my RazzSlam picks. See you next year, Adam Wainwright!
I don’t know why people are down on Shane Bieber — he’s 28 years old and has a 20-12 record over the past two years and an ERA / true skill stats all below 3.00. Do we hate that now? I mean, I love Spencer Strider, but the guy has as many IP in the majors and minors combined as Shane Bieber threw last year. Sure, Bieber wishes he was on the Braves to get that long-term contract he’s been seeking for years. But contracts aside, who do you take as your SP1 in 2023: a volume IP-based Marlins starter, a 35-year old injury prone fireballer on a new team, a 40-year-old who came off his lowest K/9 year since 2015, or Shane Bieber? Everything I said last week about the Guardians going into tank mode applies, of course, but when I’m able to stack up on big bats and still get Shane Bieber — the SP5 on my 2023 draft ranks — I’ll take that.
For SP2, I snagged Joe Musgrove at a big discount. Guy’s already throwing bullpens and somehow we’re drafting him like he’s a zombie. I’ve written about him the past three weeks.
Usually, in RazzSlam, I aim to draft zero closers. This year, Daniel Bard kept plummeting down the draft board like a Plinko chip. The guy is #7 on Grey’s Saves board. A “saves board” isn’t exactly scientific, but it’s more reliable than a ouija board. I drafted Bard after guys like Kenta Maeda and Justin Steele. Maeda hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors for nearly 2 years and we’re taking him before a guy who has 54 saves in the past two years? Are we trying to lose? Bonus for me. Same goes for Alex Lange — the guy was absolutely buried on the NFBC ADP chart. Grey has him as 14th best in saves for the year. I got Lange after guys like Brayan Bello. Bello had nearly a 1.80 WHIP last year. Am I drafting against ChatGPT?
I snuck David Robertson in after the Edwin Diaz news (spoiler: he’s toast) and finished the draft with Aroldis “Trade Bait” Chapman. Round 41 is where kids’ stories and wishes come into play. There’s no way that the Royals try to do a full reclamation project with Chapman — he’s only there to stay warm until some other big-name team takes a chance on him. I’m not advocating for you to draft Chapman, but at pick 440, it’s a fine upside play.
HOW MANY DADS DO YOU HAVE?
Six. Five hitters and Joe Musgrove, which is the name of my upcoming buddy comedy.
You want to talk stacks in best ball? I like them, and you should too. In a big tournament, you need to assume that you’re going to lose. 250 entrants, 1 entry per person = 1/250 chance of winning off the bat (pun intended). I’m probably slightly better than the average drafter, so let’s give me a 1/200 chance of winning. Half a percent. Great, where’s my trophy?
So if I have half a percent chance of winning, what are the ways that I can maximize my return? Stacking is probably the easiest way to do that. A stack is defined as taking 3 or more correlated hitters on the same team. I have the front four/five of the Padres lineup — Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Jake Cronenworth, and Xander Bogaerts. Depending on where Tatis slots in upon his return, I’ll still have the front part of the one of the better lineups in MLB. Later in the draft, I added hotshot backup C Luis Campusano. This is a high-floor, high-ceiling combo of players that will be knocking each other around…wait…knocking each other up? No. Knocking each other in! Knock them in, Manny!
Power is prince in best ball. What’s king? Batting average and plate appearances! Those front four give me 2500+ projected PA, nearly 100 projected HR, about 30 SB, and a reasonable .260-.270 batting average floor.
I also have an Angels stack (Luis Rengifo, Jared Walsh, and David Fletcher) and some pairs (Albies and Rosario, Garcia and Heim, Simon and Garfunkel). These are more convenience plays than anything — if it comes down to choosing a player late in the draft, I’ll prefer to take the guy who has a cheap path to pairing/stacking with the rest of my team.
Stacks are generally worth +1 round of expected value on the team. There are risks of course — the Dads could all get hurt or suck. That’s fine. I have a 99.5% chance of losing. Call me gone already. But if I want a chance at that top spot — a couple stacks tend to help.
WHERE ARE THE HOT ROOKIES?
Zeros are zeros. If the player on your roster isn’t playing — whether because they’re injured or in the minors — that’s an automatic zero in that slot. Some of your favorite rookies from 2022 were easily available on the waiver wire even toward mid-season last year: Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, Spencer Strider, etc. This applies to other “uncool” players as well. I mean, Blake Snell was available in like 70% of leagues at the All-Star Break and he’s an 11th-round pick this year.
Part of the challenge of RazzSlam — and its NFBC core contest, the “Cutline Championship” — is that there is a cutline. In other words, at certain points of the year, a bunch of the lowest-scoring teams are eliminated from the competition. So, it’s not a competition about “who finishes strongest,” because you won’t get to the end if you can’t make it past the cutline. Rookies who are in the minors in April and May will get you zero points, and that much closer to the cutline.
A superior strategy — even in a limited FAAB contest like RazzSlam, where you have a $10 budget with $1 bid minimum — is to start with a ton of veterans who will get you points in April and May. Then when the FAAB deadlines come, you start grabbing rookie players while they’re just $1.
If you’re in a best ball draft with other providers that do a “draft and hold” — or, in other words, no FAAB or waiver wire — then you’ll need to adjust your strategy. I would still lean veterans in my drafts, although I’d be more bold about rookies like Grayson Rodriguez and Jared Shuster (who is the current spring training delight).
Speaking of spring training delights, Jared Shuster and Adam Oller are leading the MLB in Ks. Shuster had a nearly 6.00 FIP in AAA last year, and Oller had a 6.50 FIP while walking nearly as many batters as he struck out. I tell this story every year because it’s ingrained in my brain: remember Randy Dobnak in 2021. Dobnak was the spring training delight in 2021 after debuting a slider that whipped every batter into their place and earned him feature articles across national media. Here’s your favorite fantasy sites telling people that he’s a sleeper: here, here, and here. I’m not trying to vilify the notable authors here — just pointing out the hype train built beyond the statistical evidence. What has Randy Dobnak done since his heyday as a spring training delight? 50 IP of sub-5.0 K/9 MLB ball and a demotion to AAA in 2022.
So whether you’re looking for a hot rookie or a spring training highlight, keep in mind that many of these games aren’t indicative of future performance. Yes, they are meaningful. Knock off that WBC knee-jerk rhetoric. What the games aren’t, is indicative of who will be your all-star power hitter in the regular season (stares at Nicky Lopez’ 1.156 OPS).
Friends, I’m off to the glorious country of Japan until the end of March. I’ll continue my writing cadence, but I won’t be rapidly responding to comments. Grey is always happy to hear your thoughts in his articles, and I personally ask Coolwhip everything. And when I return, we’ll have actual baseball! Not that I’ll be able to watch any of it with my YouTube TV subscription. I remember getting YTTV to watch the WBC in the first place. Sigh. Ennui! Have a stellar home league draft season and I’ll see you soon!