By Jonah Keri
thing to dig into the numbers and make a bunch of predictions for the
upcoming fantasy season. It’s quite another to put your fantasy draft
where your mouth is. That’s just what I did last week in the Brian Kenny Show Fantasy Baseball League.
Run by ESPN anchor and radio host Brian Kenny, the league
includes some heavy hitters at the Worldwide Leader, along with a special guest from the pigskin world. Mike Greenberg (of the Mike and Mike Show), Linda
Cohn, Jay Harris, Ryen Russillo, Amy Lawrence, Buster Olney, Rob Neyer
and NFL wide receiver T.J. Houshmanzadeh (I was as surprised as you, but the man’s got a good team) joined me in the league, along
with Kenny, his producer Mike Urrunaga, and three listeners.
The format is a little different than your typical fantasy league.
Instead of the standard 5×5 format, or the original 4×4, this is 6×6.
The offensive categories are: HR, RBI, R, SB, along with OBP and SLG
(no Batting Average). The pitching categories are: W, K, ERA, WHIP,
along with Quality Starts and Saves+Holds (instead of Saves only).
The strategy here was simple: Load up on offense early and grab
quality starting pitching periodically. Then take advantage of the
league’s unique categories in two ways: 1) Punt saves, so that while
others are fixated on lousy closers, I can swoop and take elite set-up
men who’ll produce almost as many holds, with much better ratios. 2)
Target hitters late in the draft who are better in real life than in
fantasy, since they typically put up low batting averages but also
strong on-base percentages and slugging averages.
Picking 10th in the draft, I grabbed Rays third baseman Evan Longoria
with my 1st-round pick. I wanted big power numbers right away, since
cheap steals figured to be abundant. Third base is also a thin position
this year, Alex Rodriguez was gone, and I trusted Longoria’s improving game and stacked Rays lineup over David Wright, the 10 home runs he hit last year, and his abysmal Mets teammates.
I was hoping to address position scarcity again and grab Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki with my 2nd-round pick, but he went four slots ahead of my #19 selection. Come on down Roy Halladay! The Phillies’ new ace is the most dependable starting pitcher in the game, ranked #2 behind only Tim Lincecum
this season and #14 in B-Rank (Bloomberg Sports’ proprietary ranking of
all MLB players). The initial goal might have been to target offense
early, but you don’t say no to Halladay at this point of the draft.
That Quality Starts were an additional category in this league only
made Halladay (and other top SP) more valuable.
The next four rounds were an offensive blitz. Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez
is already an elite hitter in standard leagues; add OBP and SLG to the
mix, though, and he’s arguably a top-10 hitter. So heck yes, I’ll take
him at #38. With Longoria and Gonzalez now anchoring the infield and
the power categories, it was time to look for speed, which is copious
this year in the outfield. Kenny was hosting his radio show as the
draft was going on, and had no qualms about calling out players he
wanted. In Round 4, he was jonesing for Rays outfielder B.J. Upton.
At #47, I was already planning to take Upton if he fell to me; huge
source of steals, and now that he’s reportedly over the shoulder injury
that plagued him in 2009, I expect big bouncebacks in OBP, SLG and
counting stats. Taking Upton three spots ahead of Kenny, and eliciting
a horrified on-air reaction, only made the pick sweeter.
For my fifth-round pick, I turned to the first of several Bloomberg
Sports Blog-profiled players I would nab in this draft: newly-minted
Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson. Here again I wanted a power-speed guy and agreed with the take of colleague Tommy Rancel, who profiled Granderson as a
30-home run player coming to Yankee Stadium, a place that greatly
favors slashing left-handed hitters. Much later in the draft (16th
round), I would grab Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera, adding more speed to the roster, and a second Bloomberg Sports Blog-touted option for 2010.
With the five-outfielder format of this league, I wanted another power-speed OF early, so Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz (33 HR, 20 SB, .524 SLG in his first full season last year) made it three such picks in a row, at #75.
Then, the pitching onslaught began. In recent weeks, we’ve discussed the huge upside of Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco and Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez (as well as his slightly less talented but still solid teammate Jorge de la Rosa).
I landed all three of those pitchers, in the 7th, 8th, and 15th rounds
respectively. All three project to put up big strikeout numbers, with
Nolasco and Jimenez also targets to produce stellar ratios and even
darkhorse Cy Young seasons.
In the later rounds, I drafted a
boatload of players who figure to benefit from the league’s OBP/SLG
yes, AVG no format, including Yankees outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher, Nationals outfielder Josh Willingham and Angels catcher Mike Napoli. Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks
is a definite injury risk, but his power/speed/OBP potential made him
too good to pass up in Round 11 (and I hedged by grabbing Twins second
baseman Orlando Hudson in post-draft free agency as a backup).
Rounding out the draft, I landed no fewer than four top set-up men
who figure to combine for 100+ holds plus occasional saves, all four
with strong strikeout and ratio numbers. Good to have you, Matt Thornton, Daniel Bard, George Sherrill and Mark Lowe. You’ll be a lot easier to carry all season than shaky Opening Day closers like Matt Capps and (shudder) Matt Lindstrom.
I’ve pasted the roster for the Bloomberg Sports Squad below. We like our chances. (Round selected in parentheses)
You can follow the league, all season long, here.
C Mike Napoli (13th)
1B Adrian Gonzalez (3rd)
2B Rickie Weeks (11th)
3B Evan Longoria (1st)
SS Everth Cabrera (16th)
MI Marco Scutaro (18th)
CI Nick Swisher (14th)
OF B. J. Upton (4th)
OF Curtis Granderson (5th)
OF Nelson Cruz (6th)
OF Denard Span (10th)
OF Josh Willingham (20th)
UT Paul Konerko (17th)
SP Roy Halladay (2nd)
SP Ricky Nolasco (7th)
SP Ubaldo Jimenez (8th)
SP Brett Anderson (9th)
SP Max Scherzer (12th)
SP Jorge de la Rosa (15th)
SP Ervin Santana (22nd)
RP Matt Thornton (19th)
RP Daniel Bard (21st)
RP George Sherrill
RP Mark Lowe
2B Orlando Hudson
1B Russell Branyan (DL)