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Thursday 23rd Nov 2017

Assorted Rants, Rumblings and Ruminations from the Mind of a “So-Called” Expert

Finally - five weekends, nine cities, seven hotels, five seminars, ten drafts, ten airports, three bus stations and an absolute bitch of a head cold and it's OVER!

It’s been a hectic stretch, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Well, maybe the head cold part but at least that had the courtesy of waiting until the very end. Though technically what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas. Obviously, germs didn’t get the message. Finally home to sleep in the comfort of my own bed and I can't breathe. Freaking germs.

But that has not stopped my mind from pondering.

One of the more interesting dynamics of doing what I do is balancing information provider with fantasy player. It’s been suggested by fellow analysts as well as candid competitors that I’m at a disadvantage when it comes to game play. I’ve been told not only does everyone know how I feel about every player but they also know my strategy.

Here’s my rebuttal: "My feelings about players are largely dictated by the numbers and I can’t recall a single player where I was the only one feeling a certain way." Sure, we all have our guys but we also share guys. Maybe I’m naïve but your knowing how I feel about a player doesn’t bother me. If you want to keep me from getting the player by overpaying, either in terms of auction dollars or draft rounds, more power to you. If my winning or losing solely revolves around getting my guy, either I need more guys or a different strategy.

Speaking of strategy, I get a kick out of those that claim they know my strategy because I’m never sure what it will end up being in any given draft or auction. Well, that is, other than wanting to amass as many potential stats as possible. If you think you know how I’m going to go about assembling my team before the draft or auction, you know more than me.

Maybe that’s a fault with my game play as I don’t have a specific strategy that I map out and execute, instead prefering to have a greater understanding of the landscape and hence go with the flow. But again, if you take a player because you feel it impedes my strategy, kudos. That’s what adjusting on the fly is all about.

I admit, while we all share feelings on players, there are different manners to interpret numbers and we all add our own seasoning. Ergo, while we may share opinions, each one of us has a unique assessment of the available inventory and each one of us believes ours to be best.

And while I may not have a specific strategy I plan to deploy, I most certainly have a defined objective with respect to my desired team construct both in terms of hitting and pitching. My perceived edge is within the greater understanding of the landscape mentioned above. That is, there are many ways to skin the proverbial cat just as there are many pathways to attain my preferred team composition.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this perceived edge and whether it’s real or imagined. I believe it to be real, but sometimes question if I am doing what I often accuse others of doing and that is unnecessarily trying to be the smartest person in the room. Be it in industry showcase leagues, the private sector or in the high-stakes arena, I see efforts that I categorize more as gimmick than I do strategy.

I’m sorry, but taking nine pitchers with your first nine picks or spending $9 for your entire pitching staff is more gimmick than strategy. Can it work? Sure, at the end of the day, it’s not why you pick but who you pick. I don’t know, I just think that a strategy should be based on cogent analysis and not a whim or even a perception.

In my view, a couple of common misconceptions about the present player pool pertain to the notion of scarcity and the depth of pitching. I won’t bore you with the details as these are both topics I have addressed ad nauseam the past couple of years. I believe scarcity is a myth and it’s not worth leaving stats on the table early in the name of securing a perceived scarce player. And while pitching may be better than previous seasons, everything is relative. It’s more difficult to acquire impact pitching later thus to make sure you roster impact pitching, you need to pay the price.

I will admit, this season I am seeing more of my industry brethren change their tune and not preach scarcity or to wait on pitching. In my not so humble opinion, they’re a couple of years behind.

The current fallacious stream of misinformation involves closers. Never pay for saves, right? I say wrong. I say not all saves are created equal. It’s not the actual saves that are my focus but that which comes along for the ride. Proponents of not waiting for saves because they are so easy to acquire in season are already claiming victory since there are five scenarios that are already different than anticipated. But think about it. While Jose Valverde, Matt Lindstrom, Francisco Rodriguez, Sergio Santos and either J.J. Hoover or Sam LeCure will rack up some saves, you ratios are in jeopardy. My contention is the edge you get from Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, Greg Holland, David Robertson, Koji Uehara, Ernesto Frieri, Trevor Rosenthal and a healthy Aroldis Chapman is worth the price.

Pencil in 35-40 saves for all these guys as well as for any full-time closer. That’s not the issue. I’ve done the math. The issue is one of the elite stopper being worth, on the average, anywhere between four and six more roto points in strikeouts, ERA and WHIP than an average closer and even more than a below average closer. Saves is saves is a misnomer. Some saves come with baggage.

When I claim I have a better feel for the big picture than others, this is an example. As discussed earlier, I have a desired goal with respect to my pitching staff in terms of whiffs and ratios with multiple means to get there at my fingertips. One which I have discussed is eschewing taking an elite starting pitcher and instead doubling up on elite closers and waiting for a couple of lower tier starters. When you add up the numbers of the two closers and two starters and compare that to the numbers of a couple of better starters and a pair of middle to lower tier closers, the end result is a wash.

In my mind, this is better stated a tactic than a strategy but in this case the difference is semantics. The point is there’s some analysis behind the ploy; it’s not an attempt to be cute or make a statement. It’s a designed effort to assemble the best team.

Did the person taking nine pitchers with their first nine picks really do the math and conclude they can accrue ample offense to contend?

Did the person buying nine $1 pitchers (as Larry Labadini famously did in LABR’s early years) really think he could identify sufficient gems in today’s landscape and compete in pitching, even with trades? Maybe they did, I don’t know.

If you can’t tell, I am having my own version of buyer’s remorse but it has nothing to do with the players I have put on my rosters over the past few months. I never question who; I question why. And I realize this contradicts an earlier statement that it’s not why but who you pick and choosing better players should supersede any strategy, no matter how well formulated and grounded in logic it may be.

It’s just the way I am.

Or maybe it’s the cold medicine talking.

Freaking germs.

From Twitter: To quote Larry Brown, Zola's team is "total, puke garbage."

To quote The Rock, "It doesn't matter what you think."

From the NL Tout Wars chat: "I’ve seen Zola hold back before… unsuccessfully, I might add. Don’t understand replaying failed strategies."

Too bad SiriusXM doesn't cover the NFBC NL-only auction championship, you know, the league I have won the last three times I have entered. #humblebrag

Also from the chat: "Zola’s team is a train wreck."

All aboard!


The 2014 National League Tout Wars auction was held last Saturday in New York City. As suggested by the lede, my team was not a favorite among the peanut gallery. But I'm fine with that. I accomplished what I set out to do, which was not pay more than what was dictated by my tiered rankings. I look at my bid values as dynamic, not a static go/stop number, so I'll exceed the number I have assigned to each, but I try not to exceed it such that the cost would push the player into the next tier. It goes without saying I really like paying the price assigned to the next tier down for players in the tier above, and I managed to do that for most of the team.

But here's the deal: When your most expensive player is a closer (somewhat controversial unto itself) and you only exceed $20 on one hitter, you're not going to own a team with any star power, so it's not going to attract the attention or be given the same early recognition as others.

And I'm fine with that. While I have yet to win Tout Wars, I have cracked the top-three on multiple occasions. It's not the strategy; it's the players. It's not why you pick them but who you pick.

Here's who I picked in the rough order in which I purchased them. Sorry, but I don't keep as meticulous notes as others.

Craig Kimbrel $25 - Closers contribute more than just saves and the difference between the top and bottom closers is larger than ever, so it follows the ancillary help is better than ever. While ultimately it depends on the distribution within the associated categories, on the average Kimbrel's normal ratios add 2 points in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts as compared to the average closer and an extra point when compared to a poor closer. This is very significant and in my mind worth paying for if you get it at a discount. My price for Kimbrel was $32. I entered the auction with the notion I would bid Kimbrel up to $25 and be thrilled if the bidding stopped there. Anything more and we're teetering on a price within his tier and I could likely wait and get a different closer at a nice price. Obviously, the room was not going to go above $25 for any closer, so Kimbrel is mine.

Jordan Zimmermann $18 - I was willing to pay in the 20's for a real ace but the price of Clayton Kershaw, Adam Wainwright, Stephen Strasburg, Cliff Lee, Madison Bumgarner and the like were too rich for my blood, especially with Kimbrel in the bank. So I went to Plan B and looked for a couple of guys from the next tier with Zimmermann being my hopeful acquisition. He gets discounted since he doesn't whiff as many as the others, but Kimbrel helps mitigate that.

Sergio Romo $15 - There are many that feel an ace starter is wasted if you don't surround him with more quality arms. I feel the same way about saves. There are those that are content with one closer and rolling the dice, hoping they finish on top of the pack of teams with just one closer. I prefer to have two and challenge for the league lead, then deal saves as dictated by standings gaps and needs. My third place finish last season could have been better had I not pulled the trigger in an overreaction to some early injuries and waited on dealing Kenley Jansen until he had officially claimed the closer job. This season, I plan on being more judicious in the event I shop around saves.

Mark Trumbo $22 - It's no secret I feel Trumbo is in for a big season (I'll take him over Jay Bruce). Even in an OBP league, I'm willing to take the category hit for the power potential.

Aaron Hill and Chase Utley $19 - Good thing my friend Larry Schechter wasn't in the room or he would have scolded me. I won both guys with a jump bid to the nines. There's a psychological barrier to upping a bid ending in nine, thus jumping a bid to the nines could serve as a freeze bid and you often win a player at $19, $29 or $39. The idea is the faster it gets to that barrier, the less time you have to consider it and the less likely you are to top it. I'll only do it on players I have priced a little higher, and I had Hill and Utley both at 21, so I was happy to take them down at 19. I believe I took Hill from 16 to 19 and Utley from 17 to 19. Larry would have suggested I should have bid 17 and 18 and hoped the bidding ended there but it's my experience when the room is doing the slow +1 thing, the psychological influence of bidding to the nines is negated. That is, 16.....17......18......19.....is much more apt to see 20 than 16......17......19, etc.

Tony Cingrani $14 - Nothing special other than he came in under my number and I wasn't going to be picky here since this tier has been decimated by injuries (Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, Patrick Corbin, not to mention Cole Hamels' and Doug Fister's woes).

Yonder Alonso $15 - I don't love this, it was a purchase within a tier and not below it but in order to exhaust your budget, you need buys like this.

Alex Wood $9 - Wasn't planning on this but I had the budget and I had him priced in the low double-digits.

Dee Gordon $7 - At this point, it was very apparent my shortsop and third baseman would be weak, so I decided to roll the dice on Gordon while trying to get Alexander Guerrero later, put him at utility or swingman then get a replacement in reserve. I actually didn't expect to get Guerrero since someone would be willing to chase him, and I was right.

Will Venable $21, Angel Pagan $17, Nate Schierholtz $12, Justin Ruggiano $11 - As is often the case, when you middle an auction, you will make a string of buys, mosty often in the outfield, and this was no exception. I got very lucky as none of these purchases were at prices above the tier. The room could have squeezed another buck or two from me on a couple of these hitters.

Dillon Gee $4 - My standard late purchase while someone was trying to fill those last couple pitching spots.

Carlos Quentin $10 - This could be my key as I needed help in both power and OBP and a healthy Quentin would be huge for me. Here's another guy I would have gone higher based on his intrinsic value to my team construct at that time.

Marcell Ozuna $4 - Sometimes you misread the room and I thought Ozuna would go for more, which left me with some extra budget. I know he doesn't have the job and could be sent down, but he'll earn me $4 and maybe more.

Charlie Morton $5 - I'm not a fan of parsing data into arbitrary splits, but there was something about Morton's second half that intrigues me. Well, the fact he was throwing harder and with more accuracy post TJS is the allure.

Jordan Pacheco $2, Hector Sanchez $1 - This was odd, as the room usually deflates the better receivers, but they all went for a premium, so I opted to go the end-game route. Pacheco should see some reserve games at catcher along with dabbling at the infield corners. Sanchez will pick up the slack when Buster Posey turns in his catcher's mitt for one of the first baseman's variety.

Juan Francisco - $1 - Chirp, chirp. It was chase Juan Uribe or just take the guy at $1 and put the extra elsewhere. With the release of Francisco, it looks like I was damned if I do or damned if I don't.

Taylor Jordan $2 - Tanner Roark went for a couple more bucks so I was a little worried, but at the time of the purchase, there was no mention of either winning the job yet, so I put my money on Jordan.

Sean Marshall $7 - Here I got the idea to buy a DL guy and if he isn't closing, I'd turn in his salary for 7 FAAB units.

Heading into reserve, I knew I needed to cover third and short and get two pitchers (one for Marshall and one for general matchup deployment). I was hoping for Maikel Franco with the third pick but he went second, so I threw a dart at Wilmer Flores. Flores is starting at Triple-A at shortstop and if he proves capable of handling the glove, he could be up sooner than later and can cover thrid or maybe shortstop if he sticks there.

I picked up Tom Koehler and David Hale since both have rotation spots. As a bonus, they both have the benefit of working in good home parks, which helps streaming.

Daniel Descalso wrapped things up with his trio of eligibility being the key as he can cover my weakness at third and shortstop.

There's nothing sexy about this squad, but other than having a pair of reserve catchers, everyone but Francisco is a starter and I could have a starter to cover third in Flores sooner than later. Deep leagues are all about not falling in a hole with pitching and getting counting stats from at-bats.

Or plate appearances. After all, it is an OBP league.

On Tuesday evening, the League of Alternative Baseball Reality, better known as LABR, held their 2014 Mixed League online draft. Fifteen teams gathered in the RTSports draft room and banged out 435 picks. I've been lucky enough to play in the league since its inception in 2012. Here are the participants with the draft order:

1. Todd Zola, Mastersball
2. Craig Glaser/Bradley Ankrom, Bloomberg Sports
3. Ray Murphy, Baseball HQ
4. Bobby Colton, Rotowire
5. Steve Gardner, USA TODAY Sports
6. Tim Heaney, KFFL
7. Bret Sayre/Mike Gianella, Baseball Prospectus
8. Rudy Gamble/Grey Albright, Razzball
9. Mike Podhorzer, Fangraphs
10. Doug Anderson, DFS Edge
11. James Quintong, ESPN
12. Fred Zinkie, MLB.com
13. Jake Ciely, RotoExperts
14. Jason Collette/Paul Sporer, Towers of Power podcast
15. Jeff Erickson, Rotowire

I was bestowed with the first pick as randomly selected by LABR head honcho and USA Today Senior Editor Steve Gardner who broke the news to me as he was enjoying some fresh lobster that was anonymously delivered to his door. Last month, my partner-in-crime Lawr and I also had the luck of the draft as we began the defense of our Fantasy Sports Association championship with the first pick, Then, as well as on Tuesday, the first pick was....

1.01 Mike Trout - maybe if Miguel Cabrera didn't get hurt at the end of last season there would be more of a debate, and I realize Trout is susceptible to injury with his all out style of play but the 5-category production is too good to pass up. I still don't think we have an accurate read on Trout's baseline, especially batting average. Lost in last season's numbers was an improved his contact rate. I still think there's going to be some give-back with respect to BABIP but we don't know where that will settle in tandem with his contact. The combo should still put him in the .300 neighborhood and that's an awful nice neighborhood to be in. Now I have to wait 28 picks until I draft...

2.15 Dustin Pedroia - not my typical selection this early as I prefer to focus more on counting stats and let batting average fall where it may but Jason Kipnis, who I have slotted (along with Robinson Cano) together on my draft board was selected four picks earlier by the esteemed Mr. Gardner. Pedroia hurt his hand on Opening Day last season which likely influenced his paucity of power so I'm hoping for a little better production than last season to add to the batting average buffer. Owning Pedroia will allow me to absorb some low batting average players later. It's funny, I'm not at all a scarcity drafter but if you don't know me, you may assume I am after picking....

3.01 Jose Reyes - with my next choice. It just happened this pair of middle infielders was atop my draft board. The fact that they fill what is perceived to be scarce positions is secondary. I caught some flack for Reyes from those who prefer a more risk averse selection so early, but it has been my experience that the third round is wrought with risk and if I'm going to take a swing, it's going to be for the fences. I felt the same way last season - if Reyes can stay healthy, he's going to be a monster in Toronto. Big if, I know, but sometimes the upside reward is worth the downside risk. The only issue I have is I am low on power which I addressed with....

4.15 Mark Trumbo - you can take your ADP and stick it up your...OK, family web site.... While I understand that on occasion an ADP can help you time your picks to maximize potential, what is most integral is selecting players that add intrinsic value to your team relative to what is expected from that pick number. Along those lines, what if I picked Jay Bruce here? Considering he went to Rotowire's Bobby Colton way back in the second round, some would say I got a steal here. Now what if I told you I think Trumbo is going to have a better year than Bruce? If you promise to finish reading this before clicking, here's why I say that. Now that my power and speed is in better balance, it's time to address starting pitching which is why I then chose....

5.01 Aroldis Chapman - huh? Don't worry, I know he's not starting. Here's the deal. What I do is determine a target ERA and WHIP for my first seven pitchers figuring I use the last two spots to play the match-up game. I map out a few different pathways to achieve that goal. Prior to my 5.01 pick, there was a huge run on starting pitching, stripping me of couple of the avenues leading to the desired ratios. I have a Plan B and Plan C that both involve using the top tier closers since those at the top end can influence ERA and WHIP. Pairing a top closer with a third tier starting pitcher yields the same stats as a second tier starting pitcher and second tier closer. This is the tact I chose, figuring to wait until the next turn and pair him with someone like....

6.15 David Robertson - huh redux? Now I'm playing a game of chicken. I looked at the board and the composition of my competitors and decided that there will be some viable starting pitchers for me at the next turn and if I'm lucky, I may even push the panic button of my industry brethren and instigate a bit of a closer run, which in turn helps push starting pitching down to me. Plus, one of the pitfalls of being at the wheel is being caught at the wrong end of a run like I was with second tier pitching. This way I don't have to worry about missing the inevitable closer runs that occur in every draft. For what it's worth, I don't subscribe to the ploy of not paying for saves. I went back and reviewed the rosters of the previous Mixed LABR champions as well as the winners of Mixed Tout Wars and the victors all secured saves during the draft or auction. If it's good enough for the champions, it's good enough for me. Since I was waiting further on starting pitching, it enabled me to pick up....

7.01 Carlos Beltran - Again, ADP, Shmee Dee Pee. I'm the elder statesman of this league, pretty sure I'm the only member on the plus side of 50. While all the young kids are riding around town in their brand new Myers, Hamiltons and Harpers, I'll get where I need to go with my old and reliable Beltran. Sure, it may break down on occasion but when running, it purrs like a kitten. The kids probably think I overpaid, but I don't think they know just how well my Beltran has run the past few years and I'm perfectly happy since I know I'm getting more than I paid for. Now I just have to cross my fingers and hope...

8.15 Kris Medlen - is still available. Yahtzee! The gambit worked perfectly. I have Medlen on top of my SP3 tier so along with Chapman, I have the equivalent of a solid SP2 plus a good closer. Not only that, I am able to pair Robertson with...

9.01 James Shields - and sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. I mentioned the target ERA and WHIP. One of the cautions of not getting a top starting pitcher is being devoid of that 200-K base from which to build. This is partially mitigated via the high whiff total of both Chapman and Robertson, but adding Shields completely absolves me of the concern and could even put me ahead of the game with respect to strikeouts. By means of comparison, the starting pitchers I could have selected in lieu of the closers were Zack Greinke, Mat Latos, Mike Minor, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman. These are all fine arms and can help any fantasy staff but are they that different than Medlen and Shields? I think not. Of course, one can contend that I didn't need to invest such high draft picks on the closers and I would still have this pair to anchor my staff, but there's no way of telling what may have transpired if I went in another direction. It's all revisionist history. Plus, the second part of the story is whether I am able to take advantage of the closer runs by picking a guy that slides, like...

10.15 Wilson Ramos - There are eleven catchers I consider worthy of my first catcher spot (lest I eschew catching all together). Since I picked Shields, twelve pitchers (including five closers) came off the board which helped insure there was still a receiver I favored on the board. I almost got real lucky as Matt Wieters was sliding but he was snagged by Ray Murphy of Baseball HQ two picks before my turn. I had the average to buffer Wieters and would have liked the 20-something dingers but Ramos is a fine consolation prize. As was pointed out by the Hall-of-Fame duo of Glenn Colton and Rick Wolf while chatting with them during the draft on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports radio, my team was pretty balanced in terms of positions and stats so I was free to stay the course and "choose, don't chase" which is my credo in drafts. As such, my next pick was....

11.01 Doug Fister - At this point, my pitching stats were exactly as they would be had I embarked on my usual tact of a couple of SP2 and CL2 so in essence I am back on track to build the rest of my staff as usual. Fister is my ideal SP3. Steady, stable and although he doesn't possess a stellar K/9, he makes up for it with a ton of innings so the raw strikeouts are there. I suddenly don't mind having a staff devoid of Chris Sale or Felix Hernandez. The thing is, though, I'm falling behind in hitting, but it is a trading league which is why I took...

12.15 Drew Smyly - When you don't believe in ADP, there's no such thing as too early, so long as the player provides what is expected from the draft spot and I believe Smyly will prove worthy of this lofty slotting. Plus, if you don't know I have a thing for Smyly, you're not paying attention. I passed on several players that I favor earlier because even though I like them and knew I wouldn't get them next time around, the potential return on investment relative to other players still on the board wasn't worth it. But not with Smyly. We're at the point of the draft where the variance associated with projecting player performance renders about 30 players equal. For me, Smyly was in that group of 30 so the potential return on investment was commensurate with other available players. So much to the consternation of the Twitterverse, and despite already being pitcher heavy, I pulled the trigger. But this was nothing compared to when I chose...

13.01 Tony Cingrani - Simply put, in a vacuum, I felt Cingrani offered the best potential return on investment of any player on the board. If this was a no-trade league I would not have gone this route but I am confident that I'll be able to flip some pitching for help elsewhere if necessary. But suffice it to say I had pretty much given back any plaudits received by the on-line followers after sticking to my guns earlier and snagging Medlen and Shields. This pair of picks was rightfully questioned, but I feel big picture they will help me to win the league. You see, I'm not interested in winning the draft; my goal is higher. But drafting two more arms put me in a serious hole at the hot corner which I attempted to address via....

14.15 Kelly Johnson - It will take a few games, but Johnson will attain third base eligibility and should be good for 20-plus homers as ARod's replacement. I have the batting average buffer so that's covered. And if I can find another third baseman, Johnson can play middle which is why I went with...

15.01 Will Middlebrooks - This was my most uncomfortable pick of the evening, perhaps even more so because I live just outside of Boston and still don't have a feel for Middlebrooks, either in terms of his baseline production or role with the team. But it is the 15th round so chasing upside is fine. Plus, he has a smoking hot girlfriend which segues perfectly into a crush of mine that I can actually get, you know, in a platonic fantasy baseball bromance sort of way....

16.15 Corey Kluber - If you aren't playing attention regarding my favor for Smyly, you're living under a rock if you don't know to keep your dirty, filthy hands off my Kluber. Just look at the peripherals and the second half and you'll know why. But yeah, more pitching which means I need to take some fliers on the likes of....

17.01 Avisail Garcia - Full time job in a hitter's haven, I'll take it this late. Plus I need outfielders and they are thinning out a bit. Dang it, I can't think of a clever segue to....

18.15 Carlos Ruiz  - There were two bounce-back backstops I was eyeing, Ruiz and Alex Avila. I feel Ruiz has a higher floor (based on better contact) so less can go wrong. That is, worst case Ruiz doesn't hurt my batting average. I'm hoping for some of his pop to come back but I can live without it. Avila has a higher ceiling, but he can also be a power bust while sinking average. But now I'm down a little more power so I'll look for....

19.01 Adam LaRoche - to find his home run swing again. We're in the fungible portion so if LaRoche struggles, there will be someone on waivers so I'll roll the dice on 20-plus homers and turn to the outfield for....

20.15 Nick Markakis - Granted, Markakis is showing a slide in skills but he's not that old and should have a rebound in him. That said, he's never been a power source, but he does hit near the top of a decent lineup so I'll take that and look for pop from...

21.01 Matt Joyce - Most of what's left are low batting average regulars or lefty swinging platoon players that may not get as many plate appearances but their prowess against right-handed pitching makes up for it. Joyce should again see all the at bats against righties and sneak in some against southpaws. Sort of like...

22.15 Nate Schierholtz - Similar to Joyce, between the two I hope to get 40 dingers and I should have the average to buffer any collateral damage. So now all I have left to fill my roster is a starting pitcher and I like to go upside at this point so we'll throw a dart at...

23.01 Hector Santiago - nice peripherals but trouble staying healthy. Take Santiago out of the unforgiving Cell and put him in the kinder and gentler Angels Stadium and at worst I have a streaming option.

Mixed LABR uses a six-man reserve, allowing once-a-week activations from reserve. Perhaps more importantly, we have a separate DL. In leagues that combine the two, as the season progresses you're no doubt forced to tie up multiple reserve spots with injured players. However this isn't the case here. As such, I opted to be speculative, hoping get the proverbial lightning in a bottle, knowing I can still get the likes of Marco Scutaro and Chris Denorfia off waivers. Not needing to use a reserve spot for a hurt player means I can afford to sit on a prospect a little longer. Well, not physically sit on them. That would be weird.

Of all the picks, I was most uncomfortable with the Johnson/Middlebrooks turn so I decided to address that in reserve, loading up on middle infielders and third baseman, hoping to upgrade one or both spots. Remember, Johnson should qualify at both sooner than later. The first pick to pull this off was...

24.15 Brian Roberts - Hey, who knows? He's the starting second baseman for the Yankees and still has something in the tank. The concern is more the number of games than how well he plays so I'll take the chance he's good to go early and squeeze what I can out of him and hedge my bet with....

25.01 Chris Owings - The D-Backs have declared shortstop to be an open competition between Owings and Didi Gregorius. If Gregorius wins, I'll drop Owings, no big whoop. Now that I have that covered, I'll switch gears and look for a high upside arm in....

26.15 Burch Smith - knowing he's on other's radar as well. I've been on Smith since my first projections run in November when I sorted by K/9 and screeched, "WTF?!?!?!". I toned it down a bit but the kid misses bats. Factor in Petco and I'm more than happy to sit on...errr....stash Smith for a bit. You know, I'm still not 100 percent happy with the MI/3B situation, plus I can move Johnson to OF so why not further speculate with...

27.01 Nick Franklin - Seattle has to trade him, right? And if they don't I can hope....

28.15 Tommy La Stella - wins the 2B job in Atlanta. How confident can the Braves be in Dan Uggla? After all, they left him off their playoff roster in lieu of Elliot Johnson. And if La Stella doesn't win the job, maybe....

29.01 Maikel Franco - will. Franco is the long-term answer at the hot corner in Philadelphia; Cody Asche is just keeping it warm.

So that's it. Not a team I would take into a no-trade league like the National Fantasy Baseball Championship, but a team I am very comfortable taking into a league that features defending champion and my former FantasyBaseball.com colleague and present mlb.com blogger Fred Zinkie. The Champ has set the over/under for players staying on his team all season at nine.

I'm taking the under.

The full draft board is available HERE.

As always, please feel free to post questions, comments, criticisms below or better yet, on the forum where it is easier to get some dialogue going.

The NFBC Draft Championship format has exploded. This is a 15-team league with rosters that go 50-deep. The catch is there is no in-season FAAB though standard bi-weekly hitting and weekly pitching moves are allowed.

We've put together an NFBC Primer that talks about a lot of the different strategies for DC leagues. It's available as a stand alone for $10 (more pieces will be added to cover all the March contests) or for an additional $5 when you purchase Mastersball Platinum (normally $34.95, but only $39.95 with primer).

Tonight, Mastersball is going to be sponsoring the live tracking of a Draft Champion Express League. The usual format allows 8 hours between picks (the average time is about an hour). However, the Express has a 45-second clock. It'll be tight but I'll be live-tracking the draft on a Google-Doc and the link will be publicly available. We'll post it here later. The festivities start at 8 PM.

We'll also have a forum dedicated to commenting in real time.

So if you don't have anything to do for 4-5 hours o Sunday night, you can join everyone on the forum where you can dissect my squad.

Actually, maybe we can make up a couple of drinking games. Let's play "Who will Todd pick?" in the chat room. Whoever gets it right doesn't have to do a shot. If you get it wrong, drink up!

Or maybe have a couple of prop bets:

In what round will Todd draft Alex Cobb?

In what round will Todd draft Drew Smyly?

In what round will Todd draft Corey Kluber?

So be sure to drop by and heckle me and my team.


Hey there, long time, no see. Yeah, I popped by last Sunday but that was as a last-second pinch-hitter. It’s been awhile since I’ve been a main page contributor. In fact, it’s been too long.

But, for a change, the reason I’ve been MIA is on the good side of the good news/bad news axiom. In fact, there really is no bad news.

Here’s the deal. As many of you know, last spring I made the long overdue decision to make my hobby my vocation and I let it be known that I’m looking for freelance writing opportunities. I had already been doing contract work for ESPN and I soon added Baseball HQ, The Fantasy Alarm and DFSEdge to the ledger. The coup de gras was courtesy of my pal Mike Siano at MLB.com who hooked me up with MLB Advanced Media where I now serve as Social Media QA.

After receiving confirmation all of my gigs will be continuing for the 2014 season and adding Shandler Park to the roster, the transition was complete. I’m officially making my living as a writer/analyst/editor.

In fact, things are promising enough that I recently moved into my own place. Long-time readers are familiar with my plight, which resulted in taking up residence in my sister and brother-in-law’s basement for the past 24 months. Words can’t express how grateful I am for supporting family. Not to mention how helpful they were assisting with – make that doing most of the move.

So while I don’t have my bachelor’s dream pad of two washers and two dryers so I don’t need a bureau or a hamper, I have a great little place equipped with an office and exercise room.

OK, amid all this good news may be a bit of bad news. Conspicuously absent from my writing was this site you may have heard of called Mastersball. Yeah, I produced the Tout Wars and LABR FAAB reports and did the Roundtable for KFFL, but my presence here was lacking, save for the in-season content of the Platinum package.

On one hand, I was doing what I had to do. On the other, it bugged me that I was in essence ignoring the site I had poured so much blood, sweat and tears into the past 15 years.

Well, call it a resolution if you wish, but I vow to keep a regular presence on our main page, writing every Thursday. I won’t promise it will always be about baseball but you can expect something from me each and every Thursday.

Thanks for the indulgence. On behalf of the Mastersball staff, Happy New Year! May 2014 be filled good health and Yoo-Hoo showers!

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