Back in 2002, fantasy baseball legend Ron Shandler decided to start the first industry experts keeper league. Called the XFL (Xperts Fantasy League), it was developed with many unique characteristics -a 12-team 5x5 mixed, rotisserie style league (replacing BA with OBP) that included both an auction phase with no notes, lists or computers (in November) for the initial 23-man roster and a supplemental snake portion (in March 2003) to fill the remainder of the team's 40-man roster. It also had some elements of a dynasty-type league with rookies having their annual salaries increasing at a lesser rate than veterans. While most of the franchises were manned by industry stalwarts (including some of the great writers on this site), it was determined that a couple of home-league players would also be invited. We were kindly referred to as "challengers", which was somewhat nicer than calling us what we were, "Amateur Hacks."
Preparing for that first draft was nerve-wracking for me. I had never played in a mixed-league before, hadn't ever considered OBP in valuations and was intimidated by the competition. That first year, the Dux (combination of Ducks & XFL) drafted poorly and struggled to an 8th place finish. The good news was that some groundwork was being established as I chose Mark Teixeira and Miguel Cabrera before they had a Major League AB.
2004 found the Dux much more competitive with Carl Crawford, Jake Peavy and Mariano Rivera being drafted and B.J. Upton added in the supplemental phase. A 6th place tie felt like a real accomplishment - a first-division team (almost).
In 2005, we expanded to 15 teams (included one additional "challenger"), increasing the overall player pool to 600!! Somehow, with the players already mentioned and the addition of Ian Kinsler, the Dux emerged victorious in only their 3rd year of competition. The self-deprecating joke at the time was that we needed a trophy called the Orville Moody Cup, in honor of the '69 U.S. Open golf winner who never won another PGA tour event. After all, I was thrilled just to be invited into a league composed of industry experts and winning once was beyond my expectations.
2006 was a re-building year, but top five finishes in '07 and '08 became the prelude to the Dux 2nd title in 2009. At that point, nothing that happened moving forward could diminish the accomplishment. Even when Ernie Els hits a shot into the lake on the 18th hole to lose a tournament, he's still a two-time U.S. Open Champion.
Then the impossible happened! After a competitive 5th place finish in 2010, the Dux won again in 2011 and set a league record with 136 points (out of a possible 150). At this point, the names being used to describe me had nothing to do with golf. At least the comparison could have been to three-time U.S. Open winner Hale Irwin. After all, he wears glasses and looks somewhat nerdy.
So, rather than detailing the players on my winning teams (your friends already bore you with that conversation), let's talk about strategies that helped Donald's Dux win:
-Joining my first mixed league, I decided early on that drafting AL pitchers would not be part of my agenda. The logic was that with the DH, AL numbers would always be higher and that a mid-rotation starter in the NL would always have a better statistical opportunity than his counterpart in the AL. In 2009, the AL ERA was 4.46, while the NL ERA was 4.20. Last season, the AL had improved to 4.08, but the NL was 3.82. That's a six (6) percent difference even before you start drafting. What about AL studs, you say? Yes, they are good to have, but in our league they go for such high prices that I won't be in the bidding.
-While it has been a successful strategy for some, punting a category has never made much sense to me. In fact, my approach has been just the opposite. I'm always aggressive about saves, despite our 5x5 format. With 15 teams and 30 MLB closers, every team should end up with two closers, in theory. There are always some teams, however, that diminish the value of saves and the Dux have usually ended up with three at reasonable prices. In the three championship seasons, my team had 15, 11 and 12 points in the category. You need to carefully monitor strikeouts, of course, as one-third of your staff is only pitching an inning at a time. But saves are important.
-My success over 25 years of playing auction-style Rotisserie Baseball has also been predicated on drafting a balanced team. In the XFL, due to a very high inflation factor, the major stars go for obscene prices. In '09, Albert Pujols went for $63 and he was kept at $68 in '10. $64 was his price in '11 and this year he was drafted for $66. This type of player is never on my radar, unless my team has so many undervalued keepers that one superstar can put the team over the top. In winning the title in '05, my highest salaried player was Corey Patterson at $30. Yes, that Corey Patterson! Of course, I was drafting off his '04 stats that included 24 HR and 32 SB. In 2009, the most the Dux paid at the draft table was the $19 spent on Troy Tulowitzki. Due to my strong (and somewhat expensive) keeper list in '11, the $12 spent on Jonathan Papelbon was the highest bid at the draft.
-The last piece of advice is very simple.- pay attention! Whatever your league format or rules, always take advantage of every opportunity. Don't blow off free agent pickups or waiver claims or minor trades. Any one of those can win you the championship. In the XFL, our supplemental draft in March fills out our 40-man roster. Can you still get players at that point that make a difference? Against industry professionals? Three of my picks in '09 were Michael Cuddyer, Joel Piniero and Marco Scutaro. The XFL also has a monthly free agent draft during the season. Can you really find value when 600 players (including minor leaguers) are already rostered? In May of '09, the Dux added Ben Zobrist and Marlon Byrd. This type of aggressive in-season management, along with timely trades, can put your team over the top. The Dux won in 2009 with 122 points while the 2nd place team had 121!
So, do the Dux have any chance of moving into the select company of 4-time Open champions like Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan or Jack Nicklaus? It is extremely doubtful, especially considering the competition. However, here's the squad that was compiled at last November's auction table (K= keeper, D= drafted):
|C - Chris Iannetta (D)|
|C - Ryan Hanigan (D)|
|1B - Miguel Cabrera (K)|
|3B - Mike Moustakas (K)|
|1/3 - Mark Trumbo (K)|
|2B - Ian Kinsler (K)|
|SS - Dee Gordon (K)|
|2/S - Ben Zobrist (K)|
|OF - B.J. Upton (K)|
|OF - Josh Hamilton (K)|
|OF - Andrew McCutcheon (K)|
|OF - Josh Willingham (D)|
|OF - Will Venable (D)|
|U - Anthony Rizzo (D)|
|P - Yovani Gallardo (K)|
|P - Chad Billingsley (D)|
|P - Jerome Walden (K)|
|P - Cliff Lee (K)|
|P - James McDonald (D)|
|P - Hiroki Kuroda (D)|
|P - Brad Peacock (D)|
|P - Joel Hanrahan (K)|
|P - Ryan Dempster (D)|
For our supplemental draft last week, the Dux has acquired a couple of picks in off-season trades and had #'s 11 and 12 in addition to #'s 15 and 16 at the end of round 1. The priorities were to replace Rizzo with the best available hitter and Peacock with the best available pitcher. It had been clear that Yoenis Cespedes would be the 1st pick, but the Dux did manage to get their choice when Brennan Boesch was still there at #11. The starting pitching wasn't too exciting, so Brett Myers was added at #12 to give the team a 3rd closer. At #15, making sure we had an option at 3B in case "Moose Tacos" doesn't cut it was the key, so Mat Gamel came on board. Having accomplished the three initial goals, we took a flyer on Jorge Soler and his long-term potential at #16.
After waiting for what seemed like an eternity (58 picks), the Dux dove back in and added bench strength in Chris Capuano, Jason Bartlett, Brayan Pena, David Hernandez, David DeJesus, Placido Polanco and Orlando Hudson. Our farm already had Shelby Miller and Zack Wheeler and the new additions include Jean Segura, Matt Harvey and Zach Lee.
The good news is that even if I four-putt, I'm still Hale Irwin. Follow the XFL through the link on our website. Thanks for reading.