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Friday 1st Jul 2016

My first year of playing Fantasy Ball, in 1988, I learned a lot simply by going through the season-long process. 

The most important thing I got was baseball in your head is not baseball on the field, meaning Wade Boggs was just not as valuable on your roster as he was on the Red Sox.

Another thing I got was a team wins with great $1 values. Miguel Cabrera at $38 might give a stat base, but a $1 Mark Canha is what pushes the numbers over the top.

And, I also learned a slow start for a team, and some players with hot starts is not necessarily the best combination for those of us playing season long formats.

That first year, one of the cheap buys I dismissed was Tom Brookens, then with the Tigers. The third sacker started out that season red hot, hitting .346-1-10 with a steal and 11 runs over April, and all I could do was kick myself for thinking Jim Presley had any redeeming social value at all. 

In fact, Brookens' owner, Terry Shelley, had his team, "The Terry Cloth Jocks," in first place, a slot he held going into the All-Star break.

In the end, Brookens finished .243-5-38 with four steals and 62 runs, meaning the bulk of his production was done, and the Jocks slipped into the lower half of the standings, out of the moolah. Presley finished .230-14-62 with three swipes, by the way with both costing around $7, if memory serves.

Cut to 1994, when the Cubs' Tuffy Rhodes hit three Opening Day homers at a time when most drafts and auctions were still held the first weekend after the start of the season, jacking his auction salary to $17 in my local league. By season's end, Tuffy finished .234-8-19, and I cannot remember where his roto team placed, but I know I won that year and Rhodes was certainly not on my squad.

What about 2006, when Tiger Chris Shelton clobbered ten homers in April, completing the first month of play with a .326-10-20 mark, yet by the end of the season was .273-16-47?

How about last year when Nick Martinez was 4-0, 2.36 going into the final week of May over nine starts and 55 innings, but finished 7-7, 3.96, and in the pen?

Obviously, maintaining such a level of play over the grind of 162 games is beyond difficult, and certainly, numbers are numbers and it is as foolish to completely dismiss a hot streak a la Shelton as it is a cold streak a la Yonder Alonso. But, over the course of the season, things have a way of evening out and while a vigilant owner must keep eyes on the trees, similarly, the forest and relative environmental impacts must also be considered.

In fact, though it is tough to see one's team among those at the bottom of the pecking order, let me remind that this is the best time to be there, for this is exactly when players who are still in the free agent pool can be had with ideally a maximum of innings or at-bats ahead, at the lowest possible cost.

And, since your team might be floundering, you too will be looking to tweak your lineup and the big place to patch holes is within said free agent market, while a dominant team, like Terry Shelley's Brookens squad, tend to leave things along and let the players play and not fix what doesn't appear to be "broke."

The reality is if your team is in first, never sit back and take it for granted until the season is over, or by the time Brookens has chilled, it is too late, while if your squad is in last and you have a chance to plug a questionable hole with Nomar Mazara, well, now is the time.

Similarly, if you are a Miguel Sano owner, take a deep breath and give the investment a chance to do what you thought the Twin could do when you drafted him.

Cause it is indeed a long season.

I was in the press box, working the Giants/Marlins game on May 25, 2011, when Emilio Bonifacio hit a short fly to right in the top of the 12th inning with Scott Cousins on third of a tie game.

When the ball was hit, we could all see Cousins poised to head for the plate just as we could all see Giants backstop Buster Posey brace himself while strong-armed Nate Schierholtz set under the fly, ready to throw to the plate. As this transpired, those of us in the booth were on our feet for we all knew there was a play at the plate and there was going to be a collision.

Of course the fallout from that play is well documented: Buster busted his leg, Cousins scored, the Giants back was largely broken then for the game and the season, and three years later the new rules about sliding into home was enforced. The new rule, 7.13, states "a runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate)."

My truth is that I never ever want to see anyone get injured doing much of anything, and I get the Giants have a serious financial investment in Posey: one they want to protect at all costs to get the value out of said investment and fuel their team, ideally to a Series win.

And, I know I am kind of turning into a cranky old man (#iambecomingabesimpson) in a lot of ways, but similarly, I understand times change and baseball indeed must change with the times, not just to keep players as safe as permits, but to keep the baseball competitive and fan interest of this wonderful game growing and engaged.

Now, though, we have rule 6.01 which was invoked the other day, adjudicating that Jose Bautista went out of the baseline and attempted to disrupt second sacker Logan Forsythe, and as a result a game ending double play was called and that was that. This new law is known as "the Utley rule," after the Dodger second sacker's hard slide into Ruben Tejada last fall, for like Posey, that was it for the year for Tejada, although the remainder of the season was a lot less at the time.

As noted, change is inevitable, and safety is important, but at what point does the abandon with which the game is played becomes trumped by fear of infraction? I am thinking of Frank Robinson and Bill Buckner and David Eckstein and Brett Butler, all of whom played with dirty uniforms all the time, all of whom did not play to hurt the opposition, but to essentially win the play, and part of the game was that guys sometimes got hurt. That is what happened to Posey, and I believe to Tejada.

One of the problems with rules like 6.01 is the change really needs to be made from the bottom up, not the top down. In other words, t-ball and little leagues and then Pony and American Legion Leagues, and high schools, and then colleges all need to start teach the way to play is within the confines of the new rules, and as such they need to be strictly enforced all around.

I realize there are rules around such sliding in most little leagues, but suspect things get looser in high school and leagues like the American Legion, where the way the game was taught to be played was in trying to take out the guy receiving the ball if you could disrupt the play. Baseball has always been played as such, but even if little leagues ban the "take out" play, if colleges and other organized leagues and constructs don't, then there is no way for a player to consistently make "the correct" decision when coming into a base as part of a big play. 

I suspect both Utley and Bautista were indeed trying to do just that, and that is something that again has been taught always, so, how a 30-year old, who has been playing a certain way for 25 of those years, is suddenly supposed to retrain his muscle memory in what is really a pressure situation is beyond me.

To me, the issue is one of consistency, for again, unless some variation of the Utley rule is not embraced by all factions and levels playing baseball, we are asking for more confusion and upset than we already have.

More so, I understand fans like offense, and though I prefer no DH--for part of the beauty of baseball is everyone is supposed to show they can play both offense and defense--I can accept it. But, I just wish both leagues would simply follow the same rules, just to invoke that same kind of consistency.

I am on record to being against the use of instant replay, because baseball is a game played by human beings, and judged by human beings (you know, those guys we call umpires) and I simply think in the long run the replay undermines the authority of those umps, who do make mistakes, but not that many when one considers the number of calls made. Furthermore, more than often, even with the camera and film and slow motion, it is still not possible to see exactly what happened. But, the real nail in that coffin is one of the other beauties of baseball is the good breaks and the bad ones tend to even out, meaning justice finds a way to show her strength, whether we like it or not.

I hate to think that Rule 6.01 is just another aspect of our increasingly sentimental culture, that insists everyone get a trophy and that we are all winners. Don't get me wrong, I am all for supporting our fellow humans and encouraging folks to be their best, but I also believe (self) acceptance and success are different things. And, they are neither inclusive, nor exclusive.

Because like it or not, Rule 6.01 changes a lot of the game at its core, further blurring those lines between good competitive play and limiting the ability of a player to fully utilize his skill set and play the game using all the athletic and mental resources at his disposal.

Because if that becomes the norm, it would indeed be another shame for our species at large, not just baseball.

 

It is indeed the big NFBC draft weekend, and over the next week most of you will indeed be in bars and rec rooms and living rooms buying and/or drafting your team for 2016. Maybe it is a throwback league and you are drafting from scratch, or perhaps you are in an Ultra league salivating at the chance that Braxton Davidson--currently on your reserve list--might be brought up sometime later this season.

Irrespective, draft day is pretty much like Christmas day when we were younger: much anticipated, exciting, but fraught with hopes that players will fall to you and that it is possible to walk away from the draft with something that resembles a competitive team.

As a result of this, and as a public service, let me give you all five things to remember while you are drafting that will ideally help make the day a little more relaxing and maybe even a success, to boot.

  • In general there are a lot of players to be rostered with a myriad of varied skills. If you have you heart set on Giancarlo Stanton, but he goes too soon, or simply cost more than you budgeted, don't panic. There are a million ways to skin your league mates and the possibilities of C.J. Cron and Yoenis Cespedes could fetch the same as Stanton and even produce more. Just stay open and flexible and always have a couple of players you are willing to nominate and two or three paths your team assembly can take
  • Forget about percentage breakdowns spent between hitting and pitching. Honestly, I don't know why anyone would care about this save for some anecdotal purpose during or just after the draft, and maybe to run some stats on comparing auctions and prices of a bunch of leagues just to see what that info points to. But, essentially, you are filling a roster with the players you think will win. Your conviction and belief in said players should be a lot more valuable than how you broke down your bucks spent. And, obviously, balance is critical, so think more in terms of drafting a balanced roster rather than whether to spend 28% or 32% of you budget on pitchers.
  • Never let a bargain by. So, you hate Billy Butler, who went for $2 at LABR at the beginning of the auction, and had I not already grabbed Evan Gattis, I surely would have bid $3 for an everyday hitter with .260-15-70 capabilities in a deep league for $3. Someone else should have, like Butler or not. All that really matters is the hitter or pitcher deliver numbers and turn a profit, something Butler will do at $2, whether you love him or hate him.
  • As I have been saying, don't be afraid to fail big, which means it is OK to take some chances. Just not too many, and balance the two or three crapshoots you wish to make with a remaining roster of steady productive players who can indeed push your team's numbers in the right direction. But, there is so much information out in the ether, and so many chances for us to second guess or fear a mistake that in the throes of the draft, it is easy to forget this and chicken out. Mind you, I am not saying draft Eduardo Escobar thinking he will hit 20 dingers, but Escobar can hit eight and if you have a feeling he could push the total to 13 or so this year, fine, don't be afraid to bet on it. Just try to be objective in said acquisitions so that, as noted, your roster has that solid base and some upside.
  • Have fun. I can never say this enough as it is so easy to take fantasy and our leagues so seriously, but, remember: Fantasy is a game based upon another game where we watch a guy try to hit a ball with a stick. Play to win, but not at the expense of much of anything else, right? Cos we do it for fun. Right?
  • A few names to remember late: Jonathan Villar, Leonys Martin, Travis Shaw, A.J. Reed, Colin Rea, Ben Paulsen, Marwin Gonzalez, and Tyler Naquin.

The Conundrum

I was talking with my Wednesday golf partner, Brent Harrah, while we were playing a month back. We were discussing the OJ Simpson docudrama that was airing on TV, and Brent and his wife were digging it, while my wife, Diane and I thought it was beyond boring.

But, what I discovered with Brent, and then talking to a few other folks his age (he is 31 to my 63) is that most of the next generation liked the show a lot because they sort of remember the Bronco chase and ensuing trial of the century, but never really knew the details. Obviously, this was a different experience than that of Diane and me, who watched the whole messy affair on television.

So, cut to my Scoresheet team, where my mate in the Murphy League and RotoWire brainchild Jeff Erickson found himself with a treasured surplus of shortstops. Erickson had Xander Bogaerts and Corey Seager on his roster, and since we were approaching freeze list Friday, he offered a shortstop around for something “significant.”

I made an offer, but in the end, Jeff was able to swap off Seager for Chris Sale, which struck me as lopsided, and whereas I am never one to protest a trade, I am more than vocal with my opinion.

I asked Jeff about it—trading arguably the best pitcher in the American League for a guy with less than 150 at-bats—and he said this was commensurate with other offers he received, and even noted a few to me.

This struck the slowly turning into an old man (#iambecomingabesimpson) part of me, and over the LABR and then Tout Wars weekends, I found myself asking a number of my industry mates, both from my generation, and then Brent’s, what they thought about the swap.

The most cogent and interesting response was actually from my Mastersball mate, Brian Walton (of my generation), who noted “If they were both in an auction today, they would probably fetch just about the same price.” Brian also noted—at least before Seager’s spring injury—that both players would likely be gone by the start of Round 4. Both of which are probably true.

But, aside from that lovely theorem, I found an interesting generation gap in talking to my industry counterparts, and I think that points to changes in the way fantasy ball is played, in that younger players—say those of Brent’s generation—are much more willing to give up the potential safety of Sale in favor of the potential, despite the risk, of Seager.

The more I discussed with my mates, the more I wondered, and the more I wondered, thoughts about the evolution of fantasy baseball and more important, baseball on the field cropped up. As a result, I put together some numbers and questions to both understand and contextualize my colleague’s words and opinions, and see just how different the game is viewed at its core with respect to said risk management.

When I started playing rotisserie baseball, in 1988, there were no reserve lists with prospects or Ultra Leagues. In fact, in my home league, when we finished our auction in 1989, we allowed for a reserve list for a first time, and I made my top pick Ben McDonald, the then LSU #1 prospect whom it was speculated would be signed by the Orioles (it was an AL-only league, so I took the gamble).

That move initially rankled my league mates, who protested that we could not draft amateurs, although when I pointed out the rules said nothing about from where reserve picks could be drawn, they dropped the protest and started nabbing prospects themselves.

I lucked out that year, as McDonald was drafted by the Orioles, and got an August call-up even, but that was not the norm as even then most prospects still got two or three years in the minors before they even got a look at live major league hitters or pitchers.

And, with that, it took a while as players might make the roster, but another year or two and then a starting gig would come. The bottom line was in a game where at-bats and innings were everything—and success within that construct was critical—rookies in general made bad choices when building a fantasy roster and reserve list to compete in the current year (though as Ultra Leagues evolved, selecting younger crapshoot players has become beyond the norm).

That is because some confluence of age, experience, skill, and opportunity was a lot more fleeting in a world where aging Mike Gallego would get playing time every day over Kolten Wong.

That was the rule of thumb for a decade, and then Albert Pujols appeared in 2001 and showed us that sometimes a player is indeed so advanced at a young age, he can just do it all from the get go.

Pujols—who was not a first rounder when he came up, but did open the door to the possibilities—whet the appetites of fantasy players all over with the promise of guys like Josh Hamilton and Jeremy Hermida and Gordon Beckham and Sean Burroughs and other seemingly first round killer MLB June draft selections whom it was hoped could replicate Pujols’ success.

In thinking about this, about the fact that fantasy baseball is now a pretty well-established 25-years old, and that the generation who knew about OJ, but did not remember the details, it occurred to me that there is a gap that has appeared between those Boomers who started playing before the internet and smart phones, and the GenXer’s who have grown up with commissioner services, ADP, and the promise of another Mike Trout and Jose Fernandez. Note: A lot of those participating are too old to be GenX’ers, and not quite old enough to be Boomers. They are sort of Tweeners, but for the purposes of this piece, I lumped the generations together.

The Poll

At the suggestion of Larry Schechter, six-time Tout Wars champ and author of Winning Fantasy Baseball, I ran a poll of the Touts to get a little data and see if my notions of differences in generational strategy had any validity.  So, I sent a simple poll to the Touts (of which there are about 70 when we consider all five leagues) asking whether they would make the Seager/Sale swap. I got 32 responses to three questions:

1. Was the trade of Corey Seager for Chris Sale a good one?
2. Would you make the trade?
3. How old are you?

In support of the question, I noted that the Scoresheet League, in which the trade was made, allows for eight soft keepers plus one rookie we can protect in the 19th round. For the uninitiated, a soft eight—in the 24-team Murphy League—allows owners to freeze less than the limit of eight. Those teams who choose that path then draft out of the free agent pool and throw backs until all 24 teams have eight players, and then the draft proper begins. And, part of the value in swapping Seager was that the shortstop still qualified as a rookie, and as such could be carried as a 19th round pick. That means the team owning the rights to the young Dodger could freeze him as a ninth Major Leaguer, buried in Round 19.

Scoresheet is a head-to-head format, and is a keeper league, so obviously trading for this year as opposed to building for the future would always be a consideration. But for the purposes of my questions, I asked folks to think in that context of Brian Walton. Was the talent swap even in their opinion, and bearing that in mind, was it worth the risk?

Of the 32 respondents, 12 said it was a good trade, though only 10 said they would make the swap, while the age range ran from 28 to 65 years of age.

And, within those constructs, the average age of those who thought the deal was good and they would make it is 38.15 while the average age of those who would not make the trade is 56.33, meaning those of Brent’s “I just missed OJ” generation are much more willing than those of my “I am drinking more Maalox every day crowd” to take the plunge.

So, then the question(s) become(s) what had brought on this change in basic strategy from those of us who knew OJ Simpson first as a 2002-yard running back with the Bills, while the GenX’ers see him in an orange jump suit?

I think there are a couple of reasons for this change.

First, the number of rookies who are afforded an opportunity to play—and now start—at the Major League level has changed dramatically since my first year of rotoball in 1988. For, if we review the chart below--with numbers culled from Baseball-Reference--we can see how the number of rookies making an MLB debut has increased from my first year of play to last season.

While determining what years would be representative, I did indeed start with 1988 and then selected a few other seasons to compare and contrast. The seasons and thoughts are below.

  • 1988: My first year playing roto ball.
  • 1992: Year before expansion, as a means of comparison.
  • 1993: Year of expansion, with a major jump in promotions.
  • 1998: Last year of an expansion.
  • 2001: The debut of Albert Pujols.
  • 2010: Ten years after.
  • 2015: Because I noticed so many rookies being promoted, which is what triggered all this mess.
Year Hitters Debuting Pitchers Debuting Total
1988 141 86 227
1992 162 77 239
1993 203 104 307
1998 208 105 313
2001 199 116 315
2010 203 117 320
2015 227 150 377
 

In looking at those numbers, the obvious point of interest is that 150 more players tossed their first pitch or swung the bat for the first time in 2015 as opposed to 1988. We do have to take into account the roster expansions of 1993 (adding the Rockies and Marlins) and again in 1998 (with the addition of the Diamondbacks and Rays) creating the present 30-team model.

Interestingly, the big jump did seem to occur with the 1993 expansion, which pushed the number of debuts over the 300 mark for the first time, while oddly just five years later, and with the addition of those final two squads, the gross number barely ticked up.

Over the past five years, however, the number of debuts has jumped by 20% of the total pool, a huge increase in players and opportunities.

Furthermore, when we think to last year and Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Kyle Schwarber, Aaron Nola, and of course Corey Seager, it is hard to remember one season that included so many potentially prominent and dominant first-year players.

So, certainly the player pool, and more important, the reserve lists like that of Jeff Erickson, present the opportunity that make that risky play of swapping a solid starter for some serious everyday counting statistics.

The Observations

So, what do we conclude from all this?

Before attempting to address this, I believe there is one more factor influencing the GenX’ers and their apparent willingness to part with a steady star for a potential one.

My parents were of the post-depression generation that told us to go to college, get a job, stay with the company for 40 years and retire with a watch and a nice pension. But, keep life safe and secure, always knowing what lies ahead.

That worked largely for Boomers, but for the next generation, who grew up as clever and ubiquitous terms like “down-sizing” and “re-engineering” were created to mask the fact that the company was really cutting staff, there was a shock in discovering the corporate world was not nearly as safe as our parents advised.

Though I would need Margaret Mead or Louis Leakey to analyze and validate the anecdotal aspects of my sociological observations, for now it seems that the Boomers, raised under the aegis of living life carefully and indeed mitigating as much risk as humanly possible, would covet the ownership of Sale.

Conversely, the GenExers who now play fantasy ball—and often grew up with it as a normalcy as opposed to an eccentric game—often graduate from college with huge debt and in what has sometimes been a volatile job market. Couple that with the increased influx of tempting rookies and presence of the daily format and taking a chance on Corey Seager is a gamble, but one to be grabbed at with hope and possibilities as opposed to the fear of making a bad mistake.

In that sense, the game has changed, and perhaps I need to change my game a little accordingly.

In fact, one of the questions I was asked a lot as I prepped for LABR and Tout was “How do you win in such a league?”

To me, the obvious answer is know the rules and know the player pool inside and out. It does help to have drafted with your league mates previously, as that will give a hint as to how your opponents might assess talent and draft.

But, when I think about my biggest successes in playing fantasy ball, they were all the result of taking one or two big risks, be they at the draft table or making a trade. Similarly, it can be easy to be caught flat-footed with your team, both during the season, and season-to-season by adopting a strategy and then sticking with it while never really adjusting to changes in baseball, real and fantasy, both of which are indeed fluid.

So, make sure you do pay attention to trends both short and long term while prepping for your drafts and auctions. And, don’t be afraid to fail big, for if you are willing to fail big, you then stand a better chance of winning big.

I welcome your feedback on the topic. You can comment below, or catch me @lawrmichaels.

Two weeks ago, on the eve of LABR, I published my wish list for the league. So now, on the eve of Tout Wars 2016, from the fantastic island we know as Manhattan, here is my list for the draft that will be hosted on Sirius/XM Fantasy Sports Channel 87. In fact, all four Tout auctions will be broadcast over the weekend. 

Of course, to keep things interesting, I am going to push for a slightly different team than I purchased for LABR. So, here goes. A post-mortem will follow on Monday.

Chris Archer ($26): Always have liked the guy, and think he will establish himself as a top-5 American League starter.

Sonny Gray ($21): I am thinking maybe two top starters and then play hitting largely up the middle.

Aaron Hicks ($8): Fourth Yankee outfielder could do 15/15 if he gets 400 at-bats. With Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran chasing flies, there is a good chance this happens.

Josh Reddick ($11): Four years removed from his 32-homer season, Reddick has improved his eye to the tune of a career-high OBP in 2015 with 49 walks to 65 strikeouts (in 2012, the right fielder whiffed 155 times). His .438-1-6 spring tells me those lessons over the zone are for real.

Kole Calhoun ($17): Sorry, manlove, but I do think his best lies ahead. 

Albert Pujols ($15): Think the Albert is being prematurely dismissed, and that his power numbers might drop a bit, but he can still do .285-30-90.

Billy Butler ($5): Butler went for $2 in LABR, which like it or not is a steal. An everyday player with the chance of hitting .280-10-60 is a deal I will take.

Jose Altuve ($29): If I can grab the Astro for under $30, and nail some steals and runs, I will indeed do it.

Ryan Madson ($4): Insurance against Sean Doolittle's arm falling off.

Don't forget you can follow me @lawrmichaels.

We are in the midst of the 2016 roto draft and tour season, but that does not stop the ever driving #mockdraftarmy. So, for one last mock stab as the tour heads for Manhattan and Tout Wars next week, I joined This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">Howard Bender  (@rotobuzzguy) for a couple of final trips through the process.

I do have to note that some nasty bug was floating around in Phoenix, and I know my mates Jeff Mans and Ray Flowers got sick, and so did I. So, I went into these drafts with a pair of guidelines. First, I did not have a strategy at all. Second, I decided to build a roster around some players I like, but might not have ordinarily taken were these anything but mocks.

For instance, with the fifth pick of  #MockDraft29 I grabbed George Springer in the first round, ahead of even Mike Trout. Mind you, I was not trying to be stupid with this selection, but a lot predict a season commensurate to what Trout can do, and my thought was if I take Springer, what will I assemble around him?

In contrast, for #MockDraft30, where I picked #1, I went more traditional. Still, I tried in both to push a little high with younger players I like, but again, I was making choices and picking a path pretty much on the spot.

Round  MockDraft29 (Pick #5)  MockDraft30   (Pick #1) 
1 George Springer  Paul Goldschmidt 
2 Jose Altuve Chris Sale
3 Yoenis Cespedes  Jacob deGrom
4 Jacob deGrom Yoenis Cespedes
5 Xander Bogaerts Corey Seager
6 Addison Russell Randal Grichuk
7 Jung Ho Kang Addison Russell
8 Carlos Martinez Jung Ho Kang
9 Byung Ho Park Carlos Martinez
10 Stephen Piscotty Stephen Piscotty
11 Kole Calhoun Jonathan Lucroy
12 Kyle Hendricks Jeff Samardzija
13 Jose Quintana Drew Smyly
14 Yasmani Grandal Russell Martin
15 Jeff Samardzija Ender Inciarte
16 Roberto Osuna Santiago Casilla
17 Kevin Kiermaier Arodys Vizcaino
18 Jonathan Schoop Steven Souza
19 Marco Estrada Nick Castellanos
20 Evan Gattis Kyle Hendricks
21 Danny Valencia Brett Lawrie
22 Jimmy Nelson Jorge Soler
23 Wade Miley Trevor Bauer

Everything changes. Nothing changes.

Such is life, and such it is for me, going back to the LABR American League after a three-year hiatus to the National League. Truth is, I don't really care much about the parameters of any league in which I play as long as I do indeed understand them.

So, this Saturday--as covered live on Sirius/XM, channel 87--I will acquire my team during the 12-team auction with a $260 salary cap, in the League of Alternative Baseball Reality, hosted by USA Today's Steve Gardner.

Thus, in plain sight, in front of mine enemies (ok, well, my league mates, like Glenn Colton and Rick Wolf, whom I love), here are some of the players I have an eye on, and their price zone.

Now, I realize you might think it is silly to reveal one's cards too soon, but I have found we all have egos, so if I told you every detail of my foolproof plan to take over the world, you would look, and say "that is good, but what if you did this?" Additionally, we all have players we like and don't and price enforcement can be a tricky thing. Should I get into a battle over the rights to Chris Sale (who undoubtedly will have some serious bidding), I just have to figure if the extra dollar is worth it, or I can adjust elsewhere. 

So here are indeed some players who seem interesting to me. Note there are a couple of higher priced players, but it is finding the productive everyday bargains that win leagues like this. That, and trying to figure out a way to unlock a title your mates have not seen. Sometimes that means failing big, but sometimes it means winning big.

Yonder Alonso ($7): Ah, the beauty of disappointment can shine when a prospect loses some gloss. But, much like Danny Valencia, Alonso is now the perfect fit for Billy Beane's team of exiles from the island of lost players. Alonso produced a modest .282-5-31 line over 364 at-bats last year but had a stellar .381 OBP with 42 walks to 44 strikeouts. I suspect he is considered a corner guy by most, but I also think he will play first base full-time and jump his totals to .280-15-75.

Eduardo Escobar ($6): I had him on my list last year for a buck, and got him. The guy plays all over, does a lot of good stuff, and is made for an AL-only middle infield spot.

George Springer ($26): Still a level two star, but not for long. If Springer stays healthy, he becomes a first rounder in 2017, cranking out a .275-28-85-25 line (remember, I am very conservative with my projections).

Ryan Madson ($2): Another Beane bargain, I have to think Madson will take over if and when Sean Doolittle's elbow falls off. That means somewhere between 10-25 saves, I think. And, some whiffs, too.

Jason Castro ($4): So shiny after hitting .276-15-56 in 2012. So dull and broken, since. But, again, the Astros are now a solid veteran team with post-season experience. Castro will raise his game with this team and return to those numbers of three years ago, or maybe even best them.

Brad Boxberger ($14): In the end, he gets the ball and the saves, but I am hoping role uncertainty will cloud his price. I call this process "the lessons of Fernando Rodney."

Trevor Bauer ($3): Good team, good rotation, less pressure, Trevor steps it up. For $3, he can toss 175 innings, win ten, have an ERA around 4.00, a WHIP of 1.30 and 165 whiffs. But, I think Bauer will do even better because of changes in the environment.

Kevin Kiermaier ($6): There are a lot of really good young outfielders in the Majors, so it is hard to isolate the ones who will excel. I am thinking Kiermaier is ready to take a step based upon the pretty good .352 OBP he managed in the Minors. .270-12-70-20 is doable.

Check out the Hotpage on Monday for the assessment of my spoils, and remember you can follow me @lawrmichaels.

Over the past weeks, I have been a party to a bunch of the #MockDraftArmy soirees, coordinated by the inimitable This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Since the start of the Mock Season, I have done a bunch of various formats, but the last couple of weeks Howard and I have been playing with switching between picking 1st and 15th, and seeing how the variations might form.

So, this week, let's look at three #MockDraftArmy efforts, in which I drafted 7th, 15th, and then 1st.

The entire boards for these drafts can be seen below:

MockDraftArmy #4

MockDraftArmy #16

MockDraftArmy #21

First, let's look at the first round picks for each, in order:

Draft Spot   MDA #4   MDA #16 MDA #21
1 Mike Trout  Mike Trout   Clayton Kershaw 
2 Paul Goldschmidt  Paul Goldschmidt  Paul Goldschmidt 
3 Bryce Harper Bryce Harper Mike Trout
4 Clayton Kershaw Clayton Kershaw Bryce Harper
5 Carlos Correa Manny Machado Josh Donaldson
6 Giancarlo Stanton Josh Donaldson Miguel Cabrera
7 A.J. Pollock Nolan Arenado Manny Machado
8 Anthony Rizzo Giancarlo Stanton Antony Rizzo
9 Manny Machado Carlos Correa  Carlos Correa
10 Josh Donaldson Andrew McCutchen  Andrew McCutchen
11 Miguel Cabrera Anthony Rizzo Giancarlo Stanton
12 Andrew McCutchen  Miguel Cabrera Jose Altuve
13 Nolan Arenado Kris Bryant Kris Bryant
14 Jose Altuve Jose Altuve Nolan Arenado
15 Kris Bryant Mookie Betts A.J. Pollock
Whether you follow ADP or not, the top 15 are the top 15. Mookie pushed Pollock in MDA #16, but Betts was my selection, and my #2 pick was indeed Pollock. So, for all intents and purposes, those selections were interchangable. For the archivists, Betts was 2.5 in MDA #21 and 2.3 in MDA #4.
Here are my top five picks in each draft, to see just how differently I trekked and who was still there:
Round   MDA #4  MDA #16  MDA #21 
1 A.J. Pollock  Mookie Betts  Clayton Kershaw 
2 Madison Bumgarner  A.J. Pollock Joey Votto
3 Lorenzo Cain Xander Bogaerts  Lorenzo Cain
4 Yoenis Cespedes Adrian Gonzalez Xander Bogaerts
5 Adrian Gonzalez Kenley Jansen Kyle Seager

But, just for grins today, how about my bottom five selections as a point of contrast/filling need:

Round   MDA #4  MDA #16  MDA #21 
19 Jesse Hahn Danny Valencia Robinson Chirinos
20 Odubel Herrera  Trea Turner Brock Holt
21 Oswaldo Arcia Brock Holt  Ben Paulsen
22 Jose Iglesias Nick Markakis  :Leonys Martin
23 Brock Holt Oswaldo Arcia  Hunter Strickland

The end might indeed be where a win would come from. I will continue to try to break down the mocks as the season gets closer. Remember, your comments are always welcome, and you can hit me up @lawrmichaels.

Last Friday, my mates Howard Bender (@Rotobuzzguy) and Ray Flowers (@baseballguys) were good enough to toddle into Hayward, where my band, The Biletones, were playing a gig.

It was a fun evening, and we had a good trio of sets, the second completing with the wonderful Sonny Curtis tune, "I Fought the Law (and the Law Won)." 

During the existence of Howard's #MockDraftArmy, Howard and I have often discussed the best draft slots, and we generally come back to 1 and 15 (or last, depending upon how many teams) in a snake. So, when Howard heard us cover "I Fought the Law", during the break he came up to me and said, "Thursday, during the 15-team mock, I am calling it 'I Fought the Lawr,' with one of us drafting first, and one drafting 15th.

I have actually used that moniker as a fantasy team name before, but this was just fine with me. I like picking at the wheel for it allows me to plot the pairing of picks, which not only can flesh out a team, but also pair players to ideally jack with the plans of my opponents.

Here are the results of Mock#16, and I must say the players in this mock were particularly strong as you can see by looking at all the assembled teams, so selecting at the wheel was not the "pick-nic" I had hoped for. You be the judge. (Again, mocking is the best way to prep for a straight draft in my view. Should you be interested, contact Fantasy Alarm's Howard at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for details.)

BTW, check out Howard's assessment of the Mock right here.

1.15 Mookie Betts: I wanted to go young, and pair up picks. I was hoping maybe Anthony Rizzo and Josh Donaldson would slip with players pushing for Carlos Correa and Kris Bryant. Wrong. So, I went with Betts, looking at power/speed/upside.

2.1 A.J. Pollock: And then took Pollock to complement Betts. Collectively, they should be good for 45 homers, 190 each of runs and RBI, solid average, and 60-plus swipes. 

3.15 Xander Bogaerts: I confess, man-crush, but this gives me a shortstop I like who can produce and who would not be there by my next round of picks.

4.1 Adrian Gonzalez: Wanted a little more power, and A-Gon is just so consistent it is hard to ignore. So, I paired him with Bogaerts while starting to flesh my infield.

5.15 Kenley Jansen: 15 teams does mean grabbing closers at the right time. This might have been a tad early, but I was hoping to initiate scarcity fear in my league mates and while they were picking closers, take advantage of other players available.

6.1 Craig Kimbrel: Part II of the Jansen argument, plus this gave me a solid saves foundation.

7.15 Marcus Stroman: This will give you an idea of how quickly the starting pitcher elite were wiped off the face of everything. No Sonny Gray. No Gerrit Cole. Tough draft if this is my #1, but fantastic upside.

8.1 Jose Quintana: Much the same as Stroman, and I had to start somewhere, so it was power pitchers for me.

9.15 Jeff Samardzija: Looking at the Shark to get it together at ATT, and help my pitching numbers.

10.1 Stephen Piscotty: Outfielder #3, whom again I knew would never last. This kid can rake.

11.15 Travis d'Arnaud: Second tier catchers were there, so I went with Travis.

12.1 J.T. Realmuto: And then complemented the Mets backstop with the Fish one. Again, trying to slim the pool and force early decisions on the others.

13.15 Wade Miley: Struggling to put a staff together, I was hoping the park and the whiffs fall my way.

14.1 Mike Fiers: Actually love Fiers at this point, and as a #5 I guess I could do worse.

15.15 Joe Panik: I let my infield go, knowing there were a lot of comparable picks towards the lower portion. Panik, who has a great line drive swing, is just fine for me right here. .290-10-65 with 80 runs, perhaps, is totally doable.

16.1 Nick Castellanos: Filling third with another guy with upside, on a good hitting team. As a veteran, I expect the Tigers' third sacker to step it up and hit .260-19-75 (or better).

17.15 Andrew Cashner: Finally healthy, he made 31 starts last year, so I am hoping he can build on that. Considering the skill set, Cashner could be a steal down here.

18.1 Brandon Finnegan: More manlove here. I have picked Finnegan wherever I can. Looking at the sweet upside, with ideally very little pressure on a rebuilding team.

19.15 Danny Valencia: Filling the corner with the Oakland third sacker, whom I have liked since the minors, and who now looks like he will be a solid everyday guy at third. After all, the last reclamation project Oakland had at third was Josh Donaldson.

20.1 Trea Turner: Rookie crapshoot. Don't ask me why. I think I am attracted to shiny objects. If he succeeds, though, boy will I be a fan.

21.15 Brock Holt: Fourth outfield slot, and it is Holt? I told you this was a tough mock.

22.1 Nick Markakis: Fleshing out my outfield with back-to-back outfielder picks. The down side is this pair hit a collective five homers last year. The upside is both should help my average, and Holt gives me some position flexibility. But, the main thing is that they put up 900 or so at-bats between them. That would be a contribution.

23.15 Oswaldo Arcia: My utility slot, and another crap shoot among many. I am hoping Arcia joins his fellow Twins youngsters and kicks it. But, most of the guys I would have taken for this (think Domingo Santana) were way gone.  

Like I said, a very tough draft, and my hats off to all the participants for both making great picks and making it tough all around.

Last week during the #MockDraftArmy review, I wrote about taking two pitchers with my first two selections, then two more with my next four picks, and with my seven and eight picks, a pair of relievers, meaning six of my first eight selections were hurlers.

During that draft, I selected in the #15 spot, or last with two picks at the wheel. This past Thursday, I again selected at the end, albeit of a 12-team Mock, and went a completely different route.

I do need to note ahead that the difference between 12 and 15 teams is indeed huge--it means a difference of 69 more players drafted in the larger framework--but fashioning a strategy and assembling a team under varying circumstances is part of what makes the mock exercise revealing and contextual.

So, today, let's look at the picks, round-by-round, nabbed at the end of one round/beginning of the next just to see the difference. 

Note that I do realize I am spending a lot of time reviewing mock results here, but again, mocking is the best prep there is for both understanding the player pool, draft tendencies, and getting a grasp for navigating through all this.

If you want to be a part of the #MockDraftArmy, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. of Fantasy Alarm and he can get you on the list. It is a lot of fun and Howard always assembles a good group of experts, strong players, and good guys for his weekly fetes.

For links, here are the results of Mock Draft 8 (15 teams) and Mock Draft 11 (12 teams). Note that the first pick noted is for #8, the second for #11.

1) Max Scherzer/Kris Bryant: Trying to force the selection of pitchers versus grabbing the fun next big new thing.

2) Chris Sale/Carlos Correa: More of round 1 logic at the wheel in both instances. I was surprised that both Correa and Bryant lasted to me, not that I am suggesting either is really a first rounder just yet. And, well, grabbing two is sort of jumping off a cliff with my eyes closed.

3) Carlos Carrasco/Yoenis Cespedes: Exploiting pitching still, versus drafting who I think has the best confluence of tools to bang 50 homers.

4) Jacob deGrom/Chris Sale: Again, stacking pitching, as noted, and then grabbed a #1 starter who went around 40 picks earlier in the deeper format.

5) Francisco Lindor/Jason Kipnis: In the deeper league, I could not get Correa, but Lindor is interesting at this juncture and just about as much fun. As for Kipnis, I expect a slight bump from last year, but last year is just fine as a bottom line.

6) Kolten Wong/Carlos Carrasco: Deeper league means thinner impact second sackers. Kipnis was gone but Wong has some great upside. As for Carrasco, again, like Sale in the shallower environ, he was right there for the grabbing three rounds later.

7) Trevor Rosenthal/Randal Grichuk: I took back-to-back closers in the deeper format, and went for some potential pop in the shallow one.

8) Mark Melancon/Jonathan Lucroy: Locked up saves in one league, bagged one of the three best hitting catchers in the other.

9) Kole Calhoun/Byung Ho Park: Solid Calhoun actually slipped in my view. Park is another youngster gamble, but there appears to be some power and all the front line first sackers were gone.

10) Randal Grichuk/Lance McCullers: My Grichuk attraction is well known. As for McCullers, good team, resume, and whiffs lie ahead, I hope.

11) Carlos Santana/Stephen Piscotty: I took Santana because the first base ranks were thin (Park was gone) as opposed to Piscotty, who has major upside on a team that knows how to groom prospects.

12) Stephen Piscotty/Taijuan Walker: Piscotty redux, but Walker is much like McCullers in potential upside.

13) Blake Swihart/Jeff Samardzija: In the deep league, I doubled up on backstops here, while adding K's with the hopes that the Shark settles down in pitcher friendly ATT.

14) Derek Norris/Ender Inciarte: Norris and Swihart make a nice combo in the deep league, while Inciarte is a well known objet de art in my view.

15) Nick Castellanos/J.T. Realmuto: Third base getting lean in the deep format, and I like Castellanos' production potential while Realmuto is a nice #2 to Lucroy.

16) Domingo Santana/Marco Estrada: I am big on Santana's power potential just like I am big on Estrada keeping it together for a second year.

17) Kevin Kiermaier/Ketel Marte: In the deep league, Inciarte was gone, so Kiermaier is the alternative. In shallow city, the exciting potential of Marte at middle infield is great.

18) Marco Estrada/Domingo Santana: Have both on both teams, selected the exact opposite in round 16. Hmmmmm?

19) Avisail Garcia/Brandon Finnegan: Garcia a nice power gamble this late while Finnegan has a lot of promise (I am thinking he can produce a la McCullers last year).

20) Brandon Finnegan/Brett Lawrie: Finnegan becomes a nice flier in the deeper format while Lawrie is pretty solid up the middle in the 12-teamer.

21) Nathan Eovaldi/Luke Gregerson: Eovaldi and his whiffs should be a nice crapshoot this late, while in the shallow format I blew off closers till the end. Why you ask? Well, 12 teams generally means 24 closers and that ideally means six will not even be chosen. You can indeed be flexible with closers in the shallower format.

22) Martin Prado/Andrew Miller: Would I rather have Lawrie than Prado? Yes, but so be it. As for Miller, again, grabbing potential sources of saves late in the shallow format makes things a lot different.

23) Jose Iglesias/Denard Span: Iglesias was the best there was to offer at the time in the deep format, while Span went in the 16th round of the deeper format, making him a steal for me.

Don't forget you can follow me @lawrmichaels.

As I noted last week in this space, we are indeed in the throes of the mock draft season, and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. #MockDraftArmy, and since I did just write about mocks, I had a couple of other thoughts for fodder this week.

But, Thursday evening, Howard's mate Dave Kerr hosted (Howard was tied with Super Bowl 50 work, which is in our back yard) as the Army went at it for a 15-team mixed format.

I logged in a little before the draft start and found myself drafting in the 15-slot, at the wheel, so I decided then and there to try something and see which way the players fell.

I do love drafting at the end of the snake, for it affords chances to try things not necessarilly afforded at other slots within the serpent. Drafting first affords some of the same chances, the difference being you make a pick and nada for the next 30 players, while drafting 15 means two prime picks right in the middle of the first rounds.

Since we all know just how deep pitching is this season, it has been interesting to see how long drafters wait to fill out their rotations and pens. In general, I have found despite the depth at the position, players are snatching up the top pitchers early, forcing all of us to have to actually work the hill spot sooner than might seem reasonable.

So, I decided to try and exploit that even more, drafting pitchers with my first four selections, and then with my seventh and eighth selections as well. That meant I built a deadly rotation--and pen--with the first third of the draft, but that also meant a scramble for at-bats, power, on-base, and speed as I took only position players from rounds 9-18.

The full draft can be viewed here. Below is my roster, in draft order, with my thought of why at the time.

1.15 Max Scherzer: Clayton Kershaw actually dropped to 11th, and I had hopes of a Kershaw/Scherzer rotation, but alas, Max was there when it was my turn to pick.

2.1 Chris Sale: It was between Sale and Madison Bumgarner, but I went Sale after first a discussion with Lord Z, and second, thinking about strikeouts.

3.15 Jacob deGrom: Best strikeout guy on the board at the time.

4.1 Carlos Carrasco: Whiffs, yes, and just hoping he has arrived.

5.15 Francisco Lindor: I wanted to make sure that I had some potential production at middle infield, and with the likes of Correa and Seager and Tulo gone, well, this is where I went.

6.1 Kolten Wong: Grabbed to pair with Lindor. I was hoping Jason Kipnis would fall to me, but just missed.

7.15 Trevor Rosenthal: Best closer available at the time.

8.1 Mark Melancon: With Rosenthal atop the stopper list, Melancon was next. Selecting a closer in a 15-team set-up is a lot different than with 12 or 13 teams, so I took two here to make my opponents suddenly have to deal with a potential dearth of both top starters and closers.

9.15 Kole Calhoun: No question how much I like Calhoun, and well, he was the best bet on the board for 25-plus homers.

10.1 Randal Grichuk: The fun of this draft was gambling on the likes of Lindor and Grichuk (and more).

11.15 Carlos Santana: The top tier first sackers were likewise gone, but Santana offers on-base numbers and pop, and I still think (hope) his best numbers lie ahead.

12.1 Stephen Piscotty: Another guy I really like, Piscotty makes great contact, can really hit, and I hope he just gets a shot at playing full time. If he does, I am thinking .290-17-85 is reasonable.

13.15 Derek Norris: Catchers were getting thin like closers a few rounds before, so I tried to buy more time by grabbing Norris, who is another guy whose best work I think lies ahead.

14.1 Blake Swihart: So, I doubled up at backstop, grabbing another shiny prospect I hope will deliver.

15.15 Nick Castellanos: No question Castellanos has double-digit power, and again, another guy who is due to be as good as we hoped when drafted five years back.

16.1 Domingo Santana: High on my list, Santana should have a regular shot to be the starting centerfielder in Milwaukee, and if he can play should give 20 or so homers along with some nice support numbers.

17.15 Kevin Kiermaier: My last outfield slot went to another up-and-comer with a track record of some power and some speed. Ideally, in his third year, things will fall in place.

18.1 Marco Estrada: If he keeps the WHIP down, and gets his strikeouts, I am happy to have Estrada as a #5 starter.

19.15 Avisail Garcia: Garcia goes to my Utility spot, giving a chance for some upside. He is still just 25, you know?

20.1 Brandon Finnegan: Personal favorite, and I think he will flourish as a starter this year.

21.1 Nathan Eovaldi: A little surprised Eovaldi was still out there, but happy to take his whiffs. Another player who is due to break through in my opinion.

22.1 Martin Prado: By now, the pool was thin, but I do like Prado, who can hit and has a little power. He is the kind of guy who might not give much, but neither will he take much.

23.15 Jose Iglesias: Took a Mr. Irrelevant gamble on the Tigers shortstop, who hit .300, stole 11, and makes good contact with 25 walks to 44 whiffs last year.

There you have it. Don't forget you can follow me @lawrmichaels.

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