Two years ago, I decided to try out an NFBC Draft Champions league. I've been hooked ever since. For those of you who are not familiar with the format, Draft Champions is a 15-team mixed league slow draft where every owner drafts a squad of 50 players (23 starters plus 27 bench players), the caveat being that in addition to no trading, which is a standard NFBC rule, pickups are not allowed. So, the 50 players you draft are the 50 players you will have at your disposal through the entire season. Injuries to key players can be crippling in these leagues, so building depth at every position is a must. And that's easier said than done, being that the available player pool during the latter stages of the draft becomes frightening. But even more important than the strategy element, the fact that these are slow drafts in addition to being ultra-deep drafts allows you to do ample research in between picks, becoming so familiar with the player pool that you will be well prepared for all of your other drafts, even if it's a deep non-mixed league.
As I write this, we are midway through the 10th round in Draft Champions, and just like the Mixed LABR draft that I discussed last week, a theme has already emerged. I've never been in a draft where starting pitchers have gone off the board as quickly as in this one. Personally, I like to wait on starting pitching, opting instead to load up on bats early and fill the majority of my staff with lower cost starters that I consider to be undervalued. Well, in this particular draft, my usually effective plan has blown up in my face. My carefully chosen group of "undervalued" starting pitchers aren't being undervalued, so forget about cheap aces (I had to draft Cole Hamels at 4.05, because there was no way he was making it back to me at 5.11). And we can even forget about many of the SP2-SP3 types.
On that note, since LABR is also a 15-teamer, I figured that comparing my NFBC draft to Mixed LABR could be telling. Here's a look at a handful of starting pitchers who were taken significantly earlier in the NFBC draft than in Mixed LABR. In parenthesis, you will see the LABR draft position followed by the NFBC draft position.
Yordano Ventura (13.05, 8.15) -What's not to like about Ventura following an outstanding first full season in the big leagues? The only thing to complain about is the walk rate (3.4 BB/9), but at 23 years of age, Ventura has plenty of time to work out those issues. Still, 120th overall seems a bit high. I'd be thrilled with Ventura as my SP3, but there's no way I'm drafting three starting pitchers with my first eight picks, so if that's his price in a non-keeper, I guess I won't be owning him.
Matt Harvey (7.04, 4.03) - What can we expect from Harvey this year? To be honest, I have no clue. Usually, pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery need some time to return to form, particularly in the control department, so I'd rather not invest heavily in him for 2015. The LABR draft price is reasonable since there's a realistic chance that he can outperform 7th round value. The NFBC price? No thanks. There's simply no profit to be made.
Tyson Ross (9.13, 6.15) - Pitching exclusively as a starter for the first time in his career, Ross delivered a career-best season last year. Like Ventura, his walk rate was on the high side (3.3 BB/9), but the 27-year-old righty remains an attractive draft day option thanks to an excellent strikeout rate, a favorable home ballpark (1.88 ERA at home last season) and a much improved supporting lineup. I'd be comfortable with Ross as my SP2 in a 15-team mixed league, so 9th round is fine. But 6th round? That's pushing it.
Jeff Samardzija (7.09, 5.01) - The fact that Samardzija is moving to a hitter-friendly park combined with the fact that he has yet to enjoy back-to-back elite level seasons would surely keep his draft day price in the mid-tier SP2 range. Or so I thought. Again, the LABR draft spot seems about right while the NFBC spot seems aggressive. What else is new?
Zack Wheeler (12.03, 9.10) - A popular breakout candidate for 2015, Wheeler certainly carries plenty of upside, but he will need to significantly improve his control (3.8 BB/9) to realize his full potential. I'd be willing to take a chance on him as my SP3 but you won't find me drafting three starting pitchers within the first nine rounds.
So, what's the lesson learned here? Sometimes, it makes a lot of sense to zig when everyone else zags. In the case of this NFBC draft, that would mean assembling an elite hitting core while my league mates grab starting pitcher after starting pitcher. But there comes a time when you have to start playing along to avoid being completely shut out from all of the pitchers on your target list, even if you're the type who prefers to wait on starting pitching.
My turn to pick again. Back to work.