Four draft principles

With the major league baseball season starting next Thursday, there will be thousands of fantasy baseball drafts in the next several days. I’m going to share four draft strategy principles I apply to each draft. My draft strategy is based on knowledge I have acquired. If you steal an idea, that’s plagiarism. But if you steal a lot of ideas, that’s research.

I do believe that if you follow these basic principles in your draft, you will give yourself a real chance to win your league. However, the caveat is that you will also need some luck on the injury front to win. You can identify injury tendencies before you draft. But you can’t predict injuries like the one that ended Ronald Acuna Jr.’s season last June.

PRINCIPLE 1: BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY EARLY ON

There is a time to take risks in your fantasy draft, but it’s not in the first two rounds. That’s why I passed on Mike Trout in the first round in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational draft last month. Trout’s ADP then at NFBC was 13, and I had the 13th pick. But I took Rafael Devers instead. In a vacuum, I would take Trout over Devers, but we don’t live in a vacuum.

Trout has been the best player in baseball the past decade. He’s been consensus No. 1 pick in fantasy drafts during several of those years and was always a top-five pick until this year. He slid to late Round 1, or early Round 2 for a reason. The reason, of course, is injury risk. Trout hasn’t had a full allotment of at-bats since 2016, and he had only 117 last year.

Those who take the risk and draft him in the first round will point out that he hadn’t missed significant time until last year when he strained his calf in May. But no one expected that injury to end his season. Trout gives 100 percent when he’s on the field, but his gung-ho style of play has led to a series of nagging injuries that are taking a toll on this superstar. 

Another player I recommend fading is Jacob deGrom, who’s ADP is currently 14. Last year, he was the first pitcher taken in most drafts and was frequently a top-five pick. The 33-year-old deGrom was on pace for one of the best pitching seasons in MLB history before he was shut down in early June. No one doubts deGrom’s ability, only his durability.

Not surprisingly, deGrom’s ADP has improved from 24 a month ago to 14 after he took the mound and threw 30 pitches in a spring training game last Tuesday, striking out five batters over two innings. He gave up only one hit without walking a batter, and his fastball touched 99 mph. This was just what the fantasy baseball community wanted to see.

But 30 pitches in a spring training game doesn’t change my mind about deGrom. He was shut down for a reason a month before the All-Star break due in 2021. It was due to injury issues that included a lat strain and partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament. The bottom line is deGrom won’t help your fantasy team if he spends a significant amount of time on the IL.  

PRINCIPLE 2: CONSIDER POSITION SCARCITY

Position scarcity is a real issue. You can ignore it, but it’ll come back to bite you. Analysts agree third base is a thin position this year. What this means is that if you wait to fill that roster spot, you may wind up with regrets. This is one of the reasons why I took Devers. Walker Buehler and Max Scherzer were still on the board when I took my first pick.

Another thin position is catcher. In a 15-team mock draft, I waited on catcher and wound up with Joey Bart and Eric Haase. I like both of these guys but not as my only catchers in a two-catcher league. In TGFBI, I missed out on Salvador Perez, J.T. Realmuto and Will Smith but did manage to snag Tyler Stephenson in the 10th round. Stephenson is also eligible at first base.   

Some would suggest that closers are also a thin position in 2022, but this is misleading. First, closer is not a position – it’s a subset of relief pitcher. Second, there are just as many saves being earned across baseball. What has changed over the last few seasons is who gets them and when. Relief pitchers who can be counted on to earn 25 or more saves are scarce.

The scarcity of closers has resulted in the top six being drafted insanely early. Ryan Pressly was the fifth relief pitcher taken in my TGFBI draft, and I had to spend the 48th overall pick to acquire him. Josh Hader, the first closer off the board, was taken with the 25th overall pick. He went ahead of Starling Marte and Jacob deGrom. That’s totally insane.   

In discussing the subject of position scarcity, I want to differentiate between 12- and 15-team leagues. Most managers are playing in home league with 10 or 12 teamers, but many NFBC leagues (like TGFBI) are 15. In a shallow league, the waiver wire can bail you out. But in a deep league, it’s less likely. To make matters worse, there is no trading in TGFBI.

PRINCIPLE 3: RESPECT AVERAGE DRAFT POSITION

Average Draft Position (ADP) is a list of players ordered by their average position taken in fantasy drafts. The average value of their draft position is calculated over a range of many drafts. The Computer selections are filtered out, and only human selections are considered. A player’s ADP is a significant number, and I will explain it using a stock price analogy.

As a financial advisor, I subscribed to the Efficient Market theory on the pricing of stocks. This theory holds that market prices reflect all available, relevant information. If markets are efficient, then all information is already incorporated into prices, and so there is no way to “beat” the market because there are no undervalued or overvalued securities available.

I believe the Efficient Market Theory can be applied to the “pricing” of players in an ADP list. For example, Aaron Nola’s ADP is currently ranked 39 on the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) site. At first blush, this looks insane to me. Nola, 9-9, had a 4.63 ERA last year (his worst in five years). Why would anyone take him this early?

The best fantasy baseball players in the world are taking him at this ADP because they are looking at advanced metrics, with FIP, xFIP, xERA and SIERA all placing him between 3.26 and 3.39 ERA in 2021. He combined a career-best 5.2 BB% with a 29.8 K%, with his K-BB% ranking fifth among qualified starters. The metrics say he was unlucky.

I had a chance to take Nola with my third-round pick in TGFBI, and I came close to pushing the draft button on my phone. This was the 43rd pick overall, so that indicated I was even getting a slight value. But my I had a sick feeling in my stomach. I had to trust my gut, and I went instead with Sandy Alcantara (ADP 40). We’ll see if the experts are right about him.     

PRINCIPLE 4: DON’T DRAFT PROSPECTS EARLY

There are a lot of analysts who will disagree with me, but I wasn’t going to use an early-round pick on a player who has never delivered or seen a pitch in the majors. Let’s consider Bobby Witt Jr. This 21-year-old sensation from Colleyville, Texas, displayed an extraordinary combination of power and speed at Double-A and Triple-A (33 HR, 29 SB in 123 games).

Witt’s current NFBC ADP is 82, and he’s usually taken inside the top 100. The problem is that we don’t know when he will make his MLB debut. It’s doubtful that we will see him on opening day. And depending on what kind collective bargaining agreement is reached, we may see him in May, or June, or July. We waited last year until May 21st for Wander Franco.

It even took a while for Franco to find his footing in the big leagues. He finished the season with 53 runs scored, 7 home runs, 39 RBI and 2 stolen bases in 308 plate appearances. I let you decide if he was worth drafting and holding for almost two months. There were worse busts.  

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

The Tatis Conundrum

Fernando Tatis, Jr. entered fantasy baseball draft prep season as the No. 1 player on many draft boards despite injury concerns stemming from multiple IL trips in 2021 due to a shoulder injury. This time, it’s a fractured wrist that will keep Tatis out for approximately half of the 2022 season. That was bad news for anyone (like me) who drafted him before the injury was disclosed.  

Players competing in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship leagues have been drafting him at an average value of 54 since the injury announcement last Monday. But if you’re drafting right now, you probably wouldn’t take Tatis with one of the top 100 picks. His consensus ranking at Yahoo is currently 101 overall, FantasyPros is 103 and Razaball has him at 155.

I took a chance and took Tatis second overall in a pre-injury draft because I believe he’s the best player in fantasy on a per-game basis. If he returns healthy on June 15th, as projected, he’s going to be the best player in my lineup. But that’s if. He could have a setback and not be return until July, or August. Or, the Padres might shut him down if they are out of contention.

If you have an IL spot, I wouldn’t hesitate to take Tatis in the 10th round of a 12-team league draft. You can stash him until he returns. It’s not like you get a zero in your lineup when Tatis is out. Rotowire still projects him for 68 runs, 25 home runs, 63 RBI, 16 steals and a .284 average over 100 games. Why not use a late draft pick and take Gio Urshela as a replacement?

If you project 100 game for Tatis and combine that with 60 for Urshela, you get 89 runs, 31 home runs, 87 RBI 16 steals (I’m projecting zero for Urshela) and a .285 average. That’s a pretty good player. That’s assuming that Tatis does return on June 15th and is healthy. That’s a big if in my book and that’s why I spent most of last week shopping him (to no avail).

I made four trade offers to three different managers in the league where I had drafted Tatis. Initially, I asked for Kris Bryant who has a current ADP of 80 at NFBC. Declined. Then, I offered Tatis for Tyler O’Neill, who has an ADP of 45 at NFBC but was drafted 108 in this ESPN league. Declined. Tatis for Josh Bell, ADP 123, was also declined.

The fourth trade floated was a multi-player offer made to the Bryant team manager since because I really wanted Bryant. Our draft had occurred before the latter had signed his deal with the Rockies. The thin air in Colorado was alluring, and I was willing to even give up Ryan Pressly to get him. But my offer of Tatis and Pressly for Bryant and O’Neill was also turned down.   

I also turned down other lowball offers not mentioned, and they aren’t worth discussing. Suffice it to say, that I didn’t find a lot of interest in Tatis. Based on the offers that I made that were not accepted, I would conclude that Razzball’s ADP of 155 is closer to the right price for an elite player who will miss three months of the season. But I’m happy to hang on to Tatis.

It was also interesting to see where Tatis was being traded in another league. Yahoo tracks this and reported that on March 20, someone traded Tatis and Rafael Devers for Max Scherzer and Juan Soto. That former Tatis manager had to be happy with that deal. Another Tatis manager traded him and Freddie Freeman for Nolan Arenado and Matt Olson. That wasn’t so good.

On March 19, someone was willing to give up Bo Bichette for Tatis. That was really puzzling since Bichette is considered by many to be in the top 5 overall. Another Tatis manager traded him for Charlie Morton. On March 17th, someone traded Tatis for Michael Brantley, C.J. Cron, A.J. Pollock, Eduardo Escobar and Mark Melancon. On March 16th, someone traded Tatis for Julio Urias and Javier Baez. Someone else traded him for George Springer.

On March 15th, someone traded Tatis for Giancarlo Stanton and Brandon Crawford. Someone else traded Tatis for Wander Franco, Gary Sanchez and Eugenio Suarez. Tatis’ manager got Ian Anderson and Bobby Witt, Jr. There were numerous other multi-player deals made involving Tatis, but you get the idea. He can be moved if you find the right deal to make.

But where should you take Tatis in a draft today? As previously stated, you can take Tatis as early as the 10th round in a 12-team league and hope to still get value from him in a 162-game season. The caveat is that you need to have an IL spot. Without an IL spot, he becomes dead weight. And if someone takes him before the 10th round, don’t lose sleep over it.

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

TGFBI, part two

The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational drafts have wrapped up, with 465 fantasy baseball analysts in 31 leagues with 15 teams drafting 30 players each. At 66 years old, I’m no spring chicken, but I felt like a kid in TGFBI draft. I am pleased to report that my draft grade was A+ (97), according to the software at FantasyPros. I am projected to win my league and finish 98th overall. 

As I shared last week, TGFBI assigns the draft order based on the Kentucky Derby System (KDS). Managers select their draft preferences in any order, prioritizing where they want to pick from in the first round. The teams are then drawn randomly. I wound up with the 13th pick. The good news is that I didn’t wind up with the second pick and take Fernando Tatis, Jr.  

Everyone came into TGFBI with a different draft strategy, and mine was simple. I would let the draft come to me and let players that I liked fall to me. Many hours were spend reviewing NFBC ADP for each player in the top 500. I am a respecter of ADP and wanted to recognize and take advantage of value in the draft. I didn’t find much early, but there was some available late.

Last week, I detailed the first half of the draft. The biggest surprise was my ability to snag five starting pitchers that I liked in the first 15 rounds. Four of the five were taken in the first seven rounds – Max Scherzer (2nd), Sandy Alcantara (3rd), Jose Berrios (6th) and Charlie Morton (7th). Morton was the icing on the cake when he fell to me with the 103rd overall pick in the draft.

ANTHONY DESCLAFANI, SP, SAN FRANCISCO (16/228)

You didn’t really think I was done acquiring starting pitchers, did you? DeSclafani, 31, had the best year of his career with the Giants in 2021, posting a 3.17 ERA and 1.09 WHIP with 13 wins and 152 strikeouts in 167 2/3 innings across 31 starts. During the offseason, he inked a three-year deal with the Giants and also enjoys a favorable pitching park. What’s not to like about this guy?

LOU TRIVINO, RP, OAKLAND (17/253)

Trivino was my third relief pitcher drafted, and he wasn’t on my draft board. However, this value was too good to pass up. Trivino started 2021 sharing the closer role with Jake Diekman but took over later in the season as the ninth-inning pitcher on his way to 22 saves (a career high). He seems to have a strong grip on the closer job with Jake Diekman about to sign with the Red Sox.

RAIMEL TAPIA, OF, COLORADO (18/258)

At this point in the draft, I knew my team lacked speed. Tapia was a no-brainer since he had a track record for 20 plus steals. Lacking power, has lowered his strikeout percentage, scores runs and hits at the top of the Rockies lineup. He also hits for a relatively high average (.280 lifetime). Last season, he had just a .699 OPS, but half his games in Colorado, where everyone hits better.

ROWDY TELLEZ, 1B, MILWAUKEE (19/283)

There’s nothing quite like finding someone you can get excited about at the end of the 19th round. Tellez, found new life in Milwaukee after being traded from Torondo in early July. He hit .209/.272/.338 in 50 games with Toronto, but with Milwaukee he slashed .272/.333/.481 with seven home runs. He’s been in the 94th percentile in exit velocity in each of the past three years.

YADIER MOLINA, C, ST. LOUIS (20/288)

As a lifelong Cardinals fan, this pick smacks of hometown sentiment. But Molina, who will turn 40 years old in July, still gets in his time behind the dish. In 2021, he had 473 plate appearances. He’s not the same player that drove in 82 runs in 2017, but he still had 66 RBI. A plus defender, hitting in the middle of a solid Cardinals lineup, I believe he will return value as my second catcher.

MANUEL MARGOT, OF, TAMPA BAY (21/313)

Margot was another no-brainer for me with my 21st round pick. Not only is he an outfielder (there are five of them needed), but he has produced double-digit steals in each of the last five years. He had 20 bags in 2019. Margot is not known for his power, but he has flashed signs of it, including last year’s playoffs. I’m counting on him for double-digit home runs and steals.

TYLER NAQUIN, OF, CINCINNATI (22/318)

Speaking of outfielders, it did not escape my attention that Naquin had 19 home runs and 70 RBI last season for the Reds. That came in spite of getting only 454 PA. With Nick Castellanos likely to sign elsewhere, I’m hoping Naquin will get more playing time and be a cheap source of hitting in the heart of a good Reds lineup. 

J.P. CRAWFORD, SS, SEATTLE (23/343)

The Mariners have already announced that Crawford will be the team’s starting shortstop in 2022. He had a career-high 687 PA last year, demonstrating strong contact skills, with a strikeout rate below 20% on his way to a career-high 89 runs scored and .273 BA. Crawford is no power hitter, but if he can maintain the leadoff role, he should be a strong source of runs for my team.   

ADAM FRAZIER, 2B, SEATTLE (24/348)

How about two Mariners in a row? I felt like I was buying low on Frazier, selecting him in the 24th round. He has a career .281 batting average and has scored more than 80 runs in his last two full seasons (2019 and 2021). I’m also counting on him to swipe double-digit bases. Another player with limited power, he should get a lot of playing time in the infield alongside Crawford.  

JOSH LOWE, OF, TAMPA BAY (25/373)

Lowe’s MLB batting average was 1.000 last year, with two plate appearances, one hit and one walk. The 24-year-old minor league sensation also stole a base, so it’s fun to project what that would look like in a full season. He could easily go 20/20 with over 500 plate appearances. But the reason his ADP is outside the top 350 is the challenge of finding a clear path to playing time.

JORGE ALFARO, C/OF, SAN DIEGO (26/378)

I was surprised to find Alfaro still on the board this late in my draft because Alfaro should also see plenty of playing time with the Padres this season. Neither Austin Nola, nor Victor Caratina ran away with the backstop job last year in San Diego. Alfaro, who only appeared in 92 games in 2021 with Miami, is also eligible in the outfield which is why I drafted him as my third catcher.  

MICHAEL PINEDA, SP, FREE AGENT (27/403)

One of the mysteries heading into the season is why no one is interested in Pineda. I found nothing on the internet as to where the free agent might wind up. Pineda began the 2021 season as the Twins third starter, but three IL stints limited him to 21 starts. When he was on the mound, he earned nine wins and a 3.62 ERA. Injuries are an issue, but I’ll take a chance at this price.

ADRIAN HOUSER, SP, MILWAUKEE (28/408)

Speaking of cheap, I took Houser as my eighth starting pitcher in TGFBI. He may be the forgotten man in the Brewers rotation but I didn’t forget that he posted 10 wins and a 3.28 ERA in 2021. His 1.31 WHIP gave me pause, and his K-BB% declined for the second straight season (17.3% to 9.3% to 6.8%). But he had a career-high 142.1 IP and a groundball rate of 59.0 GB%.

BRYAN DE LA CRUZ, OF, MIAMI (29/433)

I don’t normally get excited about someone outside the top 400, but I like De La Cruz. He was called up by the Marlins last summer and made a strong first impression with his defensive abilities and contact skills. He started at each of the outfield spots, while hitting .296 in 219 PA. He’ll get off of my bench is if he is able to get off the Marlins bench in 2022 and get his at bats.  

CODI HEUER, RP, CHICAGO CUBS (30/438)

Hours after I completed the TGFBI draft, I found out that my final draft pick was undergoing Tommy John surgery after feeling discomfort in his throwing arm in January. So much for Heuer having a shot at becoming the Cubs closer in 2022. This is the risk of drafting early when MLB news is in a blackout period. I’m glad the first casualty of my 2022 team was a 30th round pick.

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

TGFBI, part one

Three weeks ago, I told you about my dream of competing and winning a major fantasy baseball tournament. I took my first step on Monday when I made my first-round pick in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational. I joined 465 other fantasy baseball analysts who also made their first selection that day. Picking from the 13th spot, I took third baseman Rafael Devers.

TGFBI assigns the draft order based on the Kentucky Derby System (KDS). Managers select their draft preferences in any order, prioritizing where they want to pick from in the first round. The teams are then drawn randomly by someone behind the curtain at TGFBI. We’ll call him (or her) the Wizard of Ahhhs  (as in Ahhh shucks, I didn’t get the draft position I wanted).

The first team selected in the league gets their highest priority in the draft order. The second team gets their highest priority (if it’s not the same as the first team). Again, this is the way that I understand it. I don’t know where I was selected in the KDS sweepstakes, but suffice it to say that I didn’t get the spot I had been hoping for. My priority had been for the No. 4 spot.

The bad news about picking from the No. 13 spot in a 15-team league is that a dozen other managers get to pick ahead of you. That means that a dozen elite major league baseball players will be taken before you get your crack. The good news, however, is that I would also have the 18th pick in the snake draft. This was important to me as I crafted my draft strategy. 

Everyone enters TGFBI with a different draft strategy, and I will describe my thought process with each pick in the first half of the draft. There are 30 rounds in TGFI drafts, so 450 players will be selected before this draft is over. This is the deepest draft I have done, and it will prove to be a comprehensive test of my knowledge of the player pool for the 2022 season.   

I’m not arrogant enough to claim that my draft strategy is the best. But it’s my strategy based on knowledge I have acquired the past few years. If you steal an idea, that’s plagiarism, but if you steal a lot of ideas, that’s research. So, I’m going to share my strategy with you as I take you through 15 rounds. Hopefully, this will be helpful when it’s time for your draft(s).  

One of the reasons why I was looking forward to TGFBI was because I knew I would be competing against the best fantasy baseball managers. Only analysts who work in the industry are on the guest list. The format is 5X5 roto. Therefore, I am not only competing against the other 14 managers in my league but also against the other 464 in the tournament. 

I’m eager to test my skills against this group, but I don’t want you to think that I had delusions of grandeur going into the tournament. I am a goal setter, so my goal is to win my league. If I could achieve that goal, I could only hope to finish in the top 50 in the overall. This would be a great outcome in my first try. But it all starts with the draft, so let’s jump into it.

ROUND 1 – RAFAEL DEVERS (13TH OVERALL)

I had the weekend to consider who I might take from this spot. Mike Trout’s ADP was 13 at the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) site, but I had already decided I wouldn’t take him because of the injury risk. Devers was on my short list of players, but I was surprised to see Corbin Burns still on the board after 11 picks. Oh, baby, one more pass…

Of course, Burnes was taken by the manager ahead of me, so that left me with a choice between Devers, Ozzie Albies, or a starting pitcher (either Walker Buehler, or Max Scherzer). Albies was appealing because he steals bases, but the 20 he stole last year was a career high. I desperately wanted an elite starting pitcher in the first two rounds. But I took Devers.

The Boston Red Sox third baseman had 38 bombs last season, along with 101 runs and 113 RBI.  Devers doesn’t run enough to be a five-category contributor,    but he checks all the other boxes. Those boxes are durability (he’s missed only 15 games in the past three seasons), playing in a great home park, batting in a solid lineup and being young enough to improve.

ROUND 2 – MAX SCHERZER (18th OVERALL)

As previously stated, I wanted one of the elite pitchers in the first two rounds. With Gerrit Cole and Burns off the board, my third choice was Scherzer. I had a slight preference for him over Buehler because of the track record. I seriously considered taking Mad Max with my first-round pick. So, imagine my sheer delight when he was still there for me in the 2nd round.

ROUND 3 – SANDY ALCANTARA (43RD OVERALL)

I had a long wait before I could make my third-round pick. In the TFGBI slow-draft format, it was late in the day on Monday when I took Sandy Alcantara. I missed out on a few of players that I wanted but was satisfied to get the Miami ace. He has at least three effective pitches, and I felt I could count on him for a low ERA and WHIP, along with a lot of innings).

ROUND 4 – RYAN PRESSLY (48TH OVERALL)

I’ve heard all of the arguments against taking a closer early in the draft, and the fourth round is insanely early. But my research indicates there are only six elite closers this year. Four of them were gone when it was my turn to draft. Edwin Diaz and Pressly were the last two, and I swallowed hard and took Pressly. I want to be competitive in this category.

ROUND 5 – JOSE ALTUVE (73RD OVERALL)

It was midway Tuesday before I was up again, and I took Jose Altuve in the fifth round. I might be accused of buying high on the Astros second baseman, but he benefits from hitting at the top of a great lineup and also playing half of his games at Minute Maid Park. He had a career-high 31 home runs last year, along with 117 runs and a solid .278 batting average.

ROUND 6 – JOSE BERRIOS (78TH OVERALL)

Expecting a huge run on starting pitchers, I was surprised to find Berrios still on the board when I made my sixth-round selection. Berrios seems to be getting better in his late 20’s. He had 12 wins, a 3.52 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP and 204 strikeouts, while amassing 192 innings, tied for sixth most in MLB last season. I am pleased to have him rostered as my SP3.  

ROUND 7 – CHARLIE MORTON (103RD OVERALL)

If I was surprised to find Berrios available in the sixth round, I was flabbergasted to see Charlie Morton still on the board late in the 7th round. He won 13 games, had a 3.34 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP and 216 strikeouts over 185.2 IP last year. The delayed start to the 2022 season gives him more time to heal from the unfortunate broken leg suffered in the World Series.

ROUND 8 – DANSBY SWANSON (108TH OVERALL)

While I’m looking for value in a draft, I did reach a bit for shortstop Dansby Swanson. Like Altuve, he benefits from hitting in a solid lineup (probably further up in the lineup in 2022). Also, like Altuve, he had a career-high number of home runs in 2021 (27). Swanson is projected for double-digit steals, although his batting average could be a bit of a drag.   

ROUND 9 – JARED WALSH (133RD OVERALL)

My key infield positions were almost full, and I was looking for a first baseman at the end of the 9th round. Again, I had a pleasant surprise as I found Jared Walsh undrafted. His NFBC ADP is currently 120. The Angels first baseman, who had nine homers in 32 games in 2020, had 29 last season, along with 98 RBI and a very respectable batting average of .277.

ROUND 10 – TYLER STEPHENSON (138TH OVERALL)

My original plan was to draft one of the top six catchers, but they had eluded me as I loaded up on starting pitchers and infielders in the first nine rounds. Stephenson hit .286, with 10 homers, 45 RBI and 56 runs in 402 plate appearances in 2021. With Tucker Barnhart gone, he is expected to be a full-time starter with the Reds. He’s also eligible to play first base.

ROUND 11 – EDDIE ROSARIO (163RD OVERALL)

I was keenly aware that I had drafted no outfielders through the first 10 rounds. I took Eddie Rosario at the end of the 11th round. Rosario caught fire after being traded to the Braves at the trade deadline. He had a .274/.333/.579 line. Rosario took it to another level in the playoffs, slashing .383/.456 /.617 in 16 games. He also tied his career high with 11 steals in 2021.

ROUND 12 – BLAKE TREINEN (168TH OVERALL)

With all of the elite closers long gone, it was time to throw a dart at a relief pitcher with upside. Consider Blake Treinen. He led the majors last year with 32 holds, while posting his best line since 2018. Treinen went 6-5 as the Dodgers setup man, with a 1.99 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and seven saves. With Kenley Jansen unsigned, I’m hoping Treinen becomes their closer.

ROUND 13 – MARCELL OZUNA (193RD OVERALL)

This is the point in the draft where I’m taking risks, and I’m swinging for the fences with Marcell Ozuna. We all know that Ozuna was suspended last fall after a domestic violence charge was filed. He’s served his time, and I expect Ozuna will be back in Atlanta in 2022. If I’m right – especially with the coming of the universal DH, Ozuna could return real value.

ROUND 14 – ONEIL CRUZ (198TH OVERALL)

Speaking of swinging for the fences, I drafted Oneil Cruz at the end of the 14th round. If you want to know more about the rookie Pittsburgh shortstop, read my column, Minting the Late Round Gold, posted on February 14th. Suffice it to say that Cruz has massive upside. There aren’t many players who can give you 20 home runs and 15 steals this late in the draft.

ROUND 15 – HYUN JIN RYU (223RD OVERALL)

There are plenty of Hyun Jin Ryu detractors heading into 2022, and that’s why his value has slipped. In spite of that, I didn’t expect him to still be on the board at the end of the 15th round. Ryu’s had an ERA of 2.32 over the previous three seasons before imploding last year. His ERA slipped to 4.37, but he still won 14 games for the Blue Jays. I expect him to rebound.

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

Elephant in the room

I should have spent the weekend getting updates Major League Baseball training sites as I prepare for my draft next week in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational. Instead, the players remained locked out in Major League Baseball and we now get reports on fifteen-minute meeting between the Player’s Association and the owners.

So, instead of writing a column this week about outfielders with an ADP above 200, I am going to shift gears from fantasy to reality. I’m going to write about the elephant in the room. Let’s pull our heads out of our a—-, I mean sand, and face reality. Unless things change quickly and dramatically, the 2022 MLB regular season will be delayed.

As labor negotiations resume this week between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), both parties know they have a deadline. A new collective bargaining agreement must be ratified by February 28th for the regular season to start on time. I  hope it happens, but you can color me skeptical.

As everyone who cares about professional baseball knows, the collective bargaining agreement between the Major League Baseball Players Association and the MLB expired twelve weeks ago. It is the sport’s first work stoppage since the infamous players’ strike that began on August 12, 1994 and resulted in the remainder of that seasoned being cancelled.

As I read my Twitter feed each day, looking for nuggets of information relevant to fantasy baseball, I read snippets of commentary from analysts and pundits about the lockout, and it seems as though there is widespread support for the players against these rich owners who run sweatshops exploiting their overworked, underpaid employees.

Without taking sides, let me offers the contrarian view which you probably haven’t heard. The average salary of an MLB player today is $4.7 million. The minimum salary being proposed by the owners is $630,000 for the 2022 season, and clubs would be allowed to give raises until players become eligible for salary arbitration. Let that sink in.

In the United States of America, one of the wealthiest nations in the world, a family must earn $597,815 to be in the top 1% of earners, according to a study by Smart Asset published last month in USA Today. That means every single major league baseball player is in the top 1% of earners. Mike Trout, #37.12 million is in the top 1% of that 1%.

Let’s put this MLB labor dispute in perspective. People have lost their jobs, their businesses and the lives of loved ones in the ongoing COVID pandemic, while receiving updates on a disagreement between millionaires and billionaires. Contrary to what Gordon Gekko says, greed is not good. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the seven deadly sins. 

The players feel that they are not getting enough money. Yes, a group of ballplayers who average over $4 million a year are underpaid. But the minimum MLB salary in 1995, when the last work stoppage was resolved, was $109,000. If you factor in inflation, that’s $212,000. In other words, the minimum salary has almost tripled in the last 27 years.

Now let’s consider the words of Blake Snell. Back in 2020, when Americans were locked in their homes by decree as COVID spread across the land, Snell, who was in the middle of a five-year, $50 million contract, balked at the idea of accepting a prorated reduction of his $7 million salary.  “For me to take a pay cut is not happening,” Snell said to a reporter.

“I gotta get my money. I’m not playing unless I get mine, Okay? And that’s just the way it is for me. Like, I’m sorry you guys think differently, but the risk is way the hell higher, and the amount of money I’m making is way lower, why would I think about doing that? Like you know, I’m just, I’m sorry, but a pay cut is not happening. No way.”

When I read this quote, I thought about a similar response from Mary Antoinette. “Let them eat cake,” was the famous quote attributed to the queen of France back in 1789 when she was told that her starving peasant subjects were protesting because they had no bread. A few days later, the revolutionaries stormed the Bastille, and Proud Mary lost her head.

Once the most popular sport in the country, America’s pastime is dying. In a high-speed era where immediate gratification is expected, fewer and fewer people are willing to invest three hours to watch a baseball game. My wife loves me, but she will not sit down and watch more than an inning of a baseball game with me. It’s a crying shame.

As TV ratings continue to decline and less people fill the stands, fewer youngsters are playing little league. When I was a kid, no one played soccer but everyone played baseball. Now, there’s more youth soccer participants than baseball players. And the current generation of greedy players is only helping the sport die faster with their attitudes.

But what about those greedy owners? Those fat-cat billionaires that rake in all this money, and they simply don’t want to share the wealth with the players? I’ve heard this repeatedly, and frankly it’s a broken record.  Commissioner Rob Manfred reported an operational loss of between $2.8 billion and $3 billion in the shortened 2020 season.

And, yes, that figure included the reduced salaries that players were paid. Keep in mind that neither the players nor owners went hungry that year, but the reality is that people in business can’t stay in business if they are bleeding red ink. Too many people forget that it was our economic system called capitalism that made this country what it is.

But even in the days before the pandemic, most MLB owners didn’t make money on their clubs.
“Most baseball owners don’t take money out of their team. They raise all the revenue they can from tickets and media rights, take out expenses and give all the money that’s left to their GM to spend,” Chicago Cubs owner told ESPN two years ago.

So, as the deadline looms, the lockout continues. Spring Training is already definitely delayed.

A week from now, if no deal is in place (and we should not expect one), MLB will almost certainly be looking at missed regular season games. Opening Day is scheduled for March 31st. The optimist in me wants to believe that there will be a solution found this week.

“Come now and let us reason together,” says the Lord to his backsliding people a few thousand years ago. “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” After quoting the Bible, let me add this: For the love of God (and baseball), let’s end this and have a regular season. We all need it. 

 Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

Minting fantasy gold

Some fantasy baseball managers spend all their time and energy preparing their draft board for the first 15 rounds of the draft and then just throw darts in the last several rounds. “I’ve heard of this guy, I’ll draft him. This guy plays outfield. I still need an outfielder…” If this describes you, my admonition is to stop being lazy. Late-round picks can help you win a league championship.

Consider the case of Oneil Cruz, the 23-year-old shortstop who crept onto the major league baseball stage late last season. You might have missed it. He played only two games in the bigs, homered once, drove in three runs, and scored two more. He was playing for those Pittsburgh Pirates, who had been eliminated from playoff contention about six months earlier in 2021.

As I write this column, Cruz had an NFBC ADP of 219, which means you could get him in the 18th round in a 12-team league. And he could change your season. Cruz started out with a strong run at Double-A last season, hitting .292/.346/.536 with 12 home runs, 18 steals, a 23.4 K% and 7.3 BB% in 62 games. If that carried over into the majors, this could be a 20/20 player.

After raising eyebrows in Double-A, Cruz was rewarded with a six-game run at Triple-A followed by two games in the majors. He hit .466 with six home runs, nine strikeouts and eight walks in those eight games and suddenly appeared on the radar screen of fantasy analyst. Cruz has been climbing up draft boards since the end of last year, but he’s still outside the top 200.

Cruz, tall and lanky, can run. But his most bankable fantasy-relevant tool is his power, and he utilizes it to all fields. Cruz’s 6-foot-7 frame enables him to leverage the ball in a manner matched by few sluggers. His long levers lead to strikeouts, but he has the flexibility to golf out balls below his knees for home runs. He did just that in his only MLB homer late last season.

Pittsburgh figures to give him the keys at shortstop early this season and while his plus-plus raw power and plus speed give him a very high power/speed ceiling, his batting average as a rookie could be anywhere from the .181 Jarred Kelenic logged to something above .250. But my question is why wouldn’t you swing for the fences with Cruz in a late round of your draft?

Keep in mind that Cruz is just one of several players that will be available to draft after the 200th pick has been made in your fantasy draft. Here are 10 other players to consider with an ADP between 200 and 300. Note that their ADP comes from the most recent ADP at NFBC. They may go earlier or later in your draft.

JOSH DONALDSON, 3B, MINNESOTA, ADP 209

Donaldson still displayed elite power with a 94.1 mph exit velocity and 48.4 hard-hit percentage in 2021, which both ranked in the top 5% of hitters. He was also a steady glove at third base though his metrics were not elite. He drew walks at a good clip and even reduced his strikeouts. He still profiles as a top power option at third base, but at age 36 his injury risk is considerable.

MARCELL OZUNA, OF, ATLANTA, ADP 210

MLB suspended Ozuna in November related to a domestic violence charge, retroactive to Sept. 10, meaning he’s already served the ban while he was on administrative leave. The Braves have hinted that Ozuna will be back playing baseball in Atlanta in 2022. If Ozuna meets projections of .264, with 26 home runs, 67 runs and 85 RBI, he would be a steal at his current ADP of 210.

AUSTIN HAYS, OF, BALTIMORE, ADP 213

On June 22, Hays was slashing .219/.286/.394. His season had been interrupted by two IL stints costing him a month. From that point, Hays slashed .274/.319/.494. His plate skills and batted ball profile were similar the whole time, but his BABIP went from .250 to .303. Collecting at bats in the middle of an improving lineup, with half his games at Camden Yards, is alluring.

ENRIQUE HERNANDEZ, 2B/OF, ADP 214

Batting leadoff in 118 of 134 starts in Boston enabled Hernandez to post a career high with 84 runs. His defensive skills should keep him in the lineup daily. Hernandez’s 14 defensive runs saved was the third highest total for a centerfielder while his eight assists tied for second most.
Eligible in multiple positions, he should again compile bountiful counting stats, especially runs.

SEIYA SUZUKI, OF, FREE AGENT, ADP 217

Is it worth taking a chance with a late-round pick on a Japanese outfielder who CBS Sports ranked as the 15th best free agent of 2022? Suzuki, 27, is a career .309/.402/.541 hitter who has launched 189 home runs and has swiped 102 bases in his career. Japanese players have not made it in the MLB lately, Many analysts think Suzuki’s swing and overall game are likely to translate.

JESUS SANCHEZ, OF, MIAMI, ADP 232

Sanchez saw his strikeout rate shoot up from 18.7% at Triple-A to 31.1% in the majors, but he was able to make his connections count with a 12.7 Barrel% and .465 xwOBA on contact. Sanchez has good speed for 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, though he has not used it much on the bases. The swing-and-miss, lack of stolen-base speed and uncertainty of playing time are red flags.

JO ADELL, OF, LOS ANGELES ANGELS, ADP 236

A highly-regarded prospect and still highly regarded, Adell was rushed up to the majors and flopped badly in 2020. He was better in 2021. He hit .289/.342/.592 in Triple-A, then came up and hit .246/.295/.408 in the major leagues. This was in 441 total ABs (130 in the majors). His final 17 games in the majors: 3/1 and .302/.343/.524 when he hit in 14 of the final 17 games.

CHARLIE BLACKMON, OF, COLORADO, ADP 237

A steep decline in the last few years has caused him to fall far in the rankings at 35. He’s had only stolen seven combined bases over the past three season and just hit 13 homers last season, mainly because his groundball rate jumped to a career-high 47.2%. He did improve in the second half with his OPS jumping from .722 to .809, with most of the change being power driven.

LANE THOMAS, OF, WASHINGTON, ADP 256

There were signs of life for Thomas at the end of last season. Over 41 contests since being acquired from the Cardinals in late July, Thomas slashed .281/.376/.512 with seven home runs, four stolen bases, 31 runs and 25 RBI. If he can keep that momentum going into the 2022 season, the 26-year-old will be a name to keep in mind if he’s available in the 22nd round in the draft.

JOEY BART, C, SAN FRANCISCO, ADP 271

With Buster Posey retiring, Bart’s path to big-league at-bats has never been clearer. However, he has a 31.6 K% and 6.1 BB% in 396 plate appearances between Triple-A and the majors. Bart projects as a batting average drain in the short term. He has plus raw power and hit 10 home runs in 67 games at Triple-A last year. Take a flyer on Bart with your final pick in your draft.

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

TGFBI and the dream

When I started writing for CreativeSports a mere two years ago, my dream was to be recognized as the best fantasy sports analyst in the business. Note that I said that was my dream – not my goal. Joseph in the Bible had a dream. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. “I have a dream that… the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” 

That was MLK’s dream, but my dream is much less lofty. Still just as impossible because there are hundreds of fantasy analysts that are better than me. Maybe, thousands. That would be just as impossible as some kid from The Plains, Ohio, winning the Heisman Trophy and playing in the Super Bowl a few years after he graduated high school. Wait, that’s happening.

Okay, back to my dream. The first step for me on the road to my dream had to be competing and winning a major fantasy baseball tournament. When I asked Todd Zola two years ago if I could compete in such a tournament, he said: “Just wait, kid.” Wait? Did Todd know that I was already in my 60’s? It’s not like I have a real long runway left to land this plane, Todd. But I waited.

When I revisited the subject a few weeks ago, Todd sent me a link to The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational. Last Tuesday was a good day for me because my TGFBI invitation came in the mail. Email, that is. I’m joining an exclusive group, with an opportunity to test my skills against 465 fantasy baseball analysts who will be managing teams this season in the TGFBI (if there is a season).

There will be 31 leagues, but please note that all of the team managers will be competing for the honor of being overall champion. That takes us back to The Dream. Wouldn’t it be amazing if a kid from Morgantown, West Virginia, won the TGFBI in his first try? Okay, that’s beyond absurd. That’s insane. I can hear Andy Williams singing The Impossible Dream in my head right now.    

Frankly, it would be truly amazing if I could win my 15-team league. My friend, Mike Richards, formerly of CreativeSports, didn’t win his league, but he did finish in the second quartile in his first attempt in the TGFBI last year. If I could even accomplish that feat, I’d be pleased. The truth be known, I’m just glad to be in field. I’m going to learn a lot and probably eat a large slice of humble pie.

In the last week, I have been attempting to develop a strategy as prepare. Rest assured that I will have a plan when the tournament starts three weeks from now. Everyone has a plan.  When Mike Tyson was asked by a reporter whether he was worried about his opponent’s plan in his upcoming boxing match, he answered: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

I expect to be punched in the mouth. Repeatedly. Someone on Twitter suggested anyone new to the TGFBI read Mike Carter’s article: “Playing Fantasy Baseball at the Big Kid Table.” Carter said it was very important to fully understand your league rules before you start. What a concept. Now, I know why I couldn’t put a baby crib together when I was a new father. I didn’t read the instructions.

This is what I’ve learned so far. The TGFBI is a 15-team mixed format, 5×5 Roto. No trading. It’s a 23-man rosters, 7 bench spots and no IL. Weekly FAAB. Lineups are set Monday for pitchers and hitters and Friday for hitters only. This is a brave new world. I’ve never played in a league that had more than a dozen teams. I’m sure that when the draft is over, I’m going to look at my team and puke.

I have to admit that I was bummed to learn there was no trading. I love to trade players, and I’ve traded in every fantasy league I’ve ever played in. My understanding is that the trading prohibition is in place to avoid the possibility of collusion between managers. That makes sense, but I’ll miss trading. “Hey, Todd, I’ll trade you Jose Ramirez for Whit Merrifield and Ryan Pressley.” Oh, well.

No IL was noteworthy because I used the IL a lot in the Yahoo and ESPN leagues I competed in recently. Sometimes, I would even add an injured player I liked and stash him in the IL spot until he was activated. No IL means that injured players are going to take up the seven bench spots unless I drop them. No IL means that players like Mike Trout and Jacob deGrom are too risky to draft early.

But it’s not just the early-round picks that can come back to bite you. For instance, I love Josh Donaldson, who has elite power, ranking in the top 5 percent of all hitters in exit velocity and hard-hit rate.  At his current NFBC ADP of 208, he looks like a great value. All he has to do is stay healthy, but that’s the problem. Donaldson has had a hard time staying on the field in recent years.

Maybe, Donaldson will exceed projections of less than 500 plate appearances in 2022. He did in two of the last three years. But at age 36, only the true optimist will expect him to play in 155 games like he did in 2019.  Frankly, I’m not sure he can match the 135 games and 543 plate appearances from 2022.  As a 13-round pick in a 30-round draft, I need production from him that might not be there.

The other problem with older, injury-prone players is that they get a lot of days off. If I draft Donaldson, I’m going to want him in my starting lineup. But what if I lock him in on Monday and then he misses three, or four games before I can bench him on Friday. The counting stats are zero that week. One week of that in a season won’t kill you, but a number of weeks will cripple your team.

There’s one difference in the TGFBI rules that will be challenging for me. I’ve played in leagues with FAAB before, but waivers run multiple times each week in those leagues. In the TGFBI, waivers run once a week on Sunday night. Therefore, the FAAB bids are a big deal. I can only imagine what the FAAB bids will look like in my league when the first big undrafted prospect is promoted.  

There’s another difference in the TGFBI rules that I love. The draft, which is scheduled to begin on February 28th, is a slow draft. Each manager has four hours to make a pick. I don’t think I’ve ever had more than 90 seconds to make a pick in any of my fast drafts. This will give me time to study the draft board and be deliberate in making picks – especially in those crucial early rounds.

Okay, it’s time for me to go now. I’ve got to get back to my draft prep. I’ve got to study twenty more player profiles before this day ends. Andy Williams is no longer playing in my head. It’s Lose Yourself. I hear Eminem as clear as a bell. “Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you wanted in one moment, would you capture it, or just let it slip…”   

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

Five-category players

It may be sacrilegious to write about baseball before the Super Bowl is even played, but the fantasy football season is over. So, why not? Fantasy baseball drafts are already happening. Granted, these drafts are comprised of mostly analysts competing against each other at this point, but it’s really not too early to start thinking about your own draft(s).

Drafting a fantasy baseball team can be a daunting task. On draft day, you must fill 23-30 roster  spots, depending on league rules, from a pool of more than a thousand Major League Baseball players. Fantasy managers often prepare for their drafts by looking at player rankings and ADP. Others look at projections and track records on players they like.

Both of the above-mentioned player screening methods are helpful, but I want to recommend another method that I have found helpful. Identify the position players who can be considered legitimate five-category players and target them in the early rounds of your draft. Of course, you won’t get all of them, but attempt to draft as many as possible.

Five-category players are a rare breed in fantasy baseball. No pitcher is going to qualify as a five-category contributor because starting pitchers generally don’t earn saves. At best, they will be four-category players. Only hitters who can hit for a good average, score runs, drive in runs, hit home runs and steal bases can be considered five-category players.  

In my opinion, a player who excels in the five primary hitting categories in rotisserie leagues are the most important players to any fantasy team. There are a number of hitters who can hit home runs and can contribute in three categories (runs, home runs and RBI). A smaller number can add a high batting average. But many of them don’t steal bases.

But what is that threshold for a player to be considered a five-category contributor? I would define a five-category player as someone who is above average in all five categories. This is not a perfect science, but I am looking for a player who will bat .269, score 70 runs, hit 22 home runs, drive in 68 runs and steal 10 bases.   

I will call the dozen players on my list “The Dynamic Dozen.” Conspicuously absent from this list are Ronald Acuna, Vladimir Guerrero, Shohei Ohtani, Mookie Betts, Mike Trout and Freddie Freeman. Each of these six players falls short in at least one category. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t draft any of them. It just means they didn’t make my list.  

The 12 players listed below are the only players I believe capable of being five-category contributors in 2022. This is not an endorsement to draft all of them because some are better values than others. But many of them are on my draft target list. Their ADP is based a recent National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) list.

TREA TURNER, 2B, SS, ADP 1

Turner is the top-ranked player at NFBC and is being drafted first or second in every draft. He has been a five-category player in multiple years throughout his career. In 2021, his batting average was a stellar .328. He scored 107 runs, hit 28 home runs, stole 32 bases and drove in 77 runs. The RBI total was limited by being the leadoff hitter in 72 games. 

FERNANDO TATIS, SS, OF, ADP 2

If managers aren’t drafting Turner, they’re drafting Tatis No. 1 overall in early drafts. Limited to 130 games last year because of a shoulder injury, he still managed to hit 42 home runs, score 99 runs, drive in 97 runs and steal 25 bases. His batting average was .282. He has the highest ceiling of any player in the game, but the injury risk must be considered.    

JUAN SOTO, OF, ADP 3

Soto, 23, heads into his fifth major-league season as a superstar. In 2021, he scored 111 runs, hit 29 home runs and drove in 95 runs. He also posted a .313/.465/.534 slash line in a less-than-stellar Nationals’ lineup. Soto isn’t known for his speed, nabbing only nine steals in 16 attempts. However, I am counting on him having double-digit steals in 2022.

JOSE RAMIREZ, 3B, ADP 4

If Soto is a borderline steals contributor, Ramirez is marginal on batting average. His .266 BA in 2021 was the second-lowest of his career, but he made up for it with counting stats.  He also scored 111 runs, hit 36 home runs, stole 27 bases and drove in 103 runs. With a career batting average of .278, I predict Ramirez will hit above the .269 threshold.

BO BICHETTE, SS, ADP 5

Bichette, who turns 24 in just a few weeks, tied for the MLB lead with 121 runs scored in 2021. He also batted .298, hit 29 home runs, stole 25 bases and drove in 102 runs. Hitting in the heart of what has become one of the most prolific lineups in baseball, Bichette could be expected to improve his performance if he is able to lower his chase rate.   

BRYCE HARPER, OF, ADP 9

Harper failed to bat above .270 in three consecutive seasons and was in danger of falling below that threshold in 2021 before he turned things around. He slashed .328/.450/.691 over his final 94 games last year to finish with 101 runs, 35 home runs and 84 RBI. He managed 13 steals, which was good enough to make him a five-category contributor.   

KYLE TUCKER, OF, ADP 11

In 2021, Tucker’s first season as a starter for the Astros, he got off to such a bad start that someone dropped him in one of my leagues. I picked him up with a huge FAAB bid, and Tucker went on to score 83 runs, hit 30 home runs, drive in 92 runs and add 14 steals. He also posted a career-best BA of .294. I will say that an ADP of 11 may be too high.    

OZZIE ALBIES, 2B, ADP 21

Albies is the only major league player to hit at least 20 home runs, score at least 100 runs and swipe at least 10 bases, in each of the last three full seasons. With that said, the price tag is high for a player lacking huge upside in either power of speed. Albies gives you a safe floor but lacks the high ceiling of other players being drafted in the first two rounds.

MANNY MACHADO, 3B, ADP 23

Machado, who will turn 30 this season, offers power and some speed, although he might not reach the double-digit threshold in steals. Meanwhile, the Padres lineup gets weaker every year which could precipitate a decline in Machado’s overall production. Like Albies, Machado gives you a solid floor without a high ceiling for a second-round pick.  

TEOSCAR HERNANDEZ, OF, ADP 31

A late bloomer, Hernandez, 29, started his breakout in the shortened 2020 season and then took his game to the next level last year, with 32 home runs, 116 RBI, 92 runs and 12 steals. His batting average was a career high .296. Previously held back by a strikeout rate above 30 percent, he lowered the whiff rate to 24.9 percent in 2021.

TREVOR STORY, SS, ADP 39

Like every fantasy manager, I like to “buy low” on a good player, and Story fits the bill. In 2021, he had his worse season since 2017 before becoming a free agent. The possibility of playing somewhere other than Coors field has depressed his ADP enough that I’m now an eager buyer. In Roto, where steals are crucial, Story is a player I want on my team.

TYLER O’NEILL, OF, ADP 45

The long-awaited breakout finally happened for O’Neill last year. He clubbed 42 home runs, scored 89 runs, drove in 80 more and added 15 steals. His batting average of .286 was easily the best of his career. Hitting in the middle of a suddenly potent Cardinal lineup, there is little reason for me to doubt the breakout. I’m willing to “buy high” on O’Neill.

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

Fantasy lessons learned

It’s time to wrap things up for the 2021 fantasy football season. If you won your league championship, congratulations! One of my three teams advanced to the championship round this year, but it was not my beloved home league team. In that league, my sister-in-law, Candace Ridinger, made a statement for women playing fantasy football across the country, defeating my son, Nathan Seltzer, in the finals.  

It was Nathan who got me started playing fantasy football just four years ago. He was able to invite me in his work league since he was the commissioner. The league later became our home league. In that first season, I lost my first four matchups and then won eight in a row. I had a first-round bye even though I lost my final matchup against Nathan. I won in the semifinals and finals to complete the unlikely season.

Since that time, I have managed multiple teams and have never missed the playoffs until this year when I missed the playoffs in one of my public leagues. I have won a total of six titles. While fantasy football is fun, it can also be frustrating. The past two years have been the most challenging with the cloud of COVID hanging over us.  Entering Week 16 of the NFL season, there were 241 players on the COVID-19/Reserve list.

In the past few weeks, I have shared some specific strategies I’ve employed in managing my fantasy football team. Now, I’m going to broaden the subject to include some of the lessons I’ve learned this season. No matter how long you’ve been playing this game, you should always be learning. I’m going to focus on six players who were on my home league team. Hopefully, you can apply some of these lessons to your team next season.  

NAJEE HARRIS, RUNNING BACK

I drafted the Steelers rookie in the second round with the 17th overall pick. In the first game, he carried the ball 16 times for 45 yards and caught one of three targets for four yards. Granted, Pittsburgh’s opponent was Buffalo, but I had a case of buyer’s remorse. The following week, he carried the ball only 10 times for 38 yards and caught five of five targets for 43 yards. One of those receptions was for a touchdown, which helped him get 19.8 FP.

After the second game, I was ready to move him. At that time, I feared he was going to be a bust.  Candy offered me Chris Carson, and it took a New York minute for me to hit the accept button on that trade. The Seattle running back was RB17 in 2020 in only 12 games. The previous year, he had been RB9 and had rushed for 1230 yards and had been targeted 47 times. In 2018, he also surpassed 1000 yards and had been targeted 46 times.

That trade turned out to be one of the worst ones I’ve ever made. Harris is currently RB7, while Carson is on injured reserve and hasn’t played since week 4. Injuries are difficult to predict, and no one knows how Carson would have finished the season if he had been healthy. But the point is that I was wrong about Harris. The fact that he didn’t gain many yards between the tackles had nothing to do with his ability to be a fantasy asset.

MYLES GASKIN, RUNNING BACK

Heading into the season, I loved Myles Gaskin and was thrilled to draft in the sixth round. The 24-year-old had come out of nowhere to be the lead running back for the Dolphins the previous year before he was injured. He had also targeted 47 times in only 10 games. Heading into the regular season, there was already concerns about him being mired in a committee in Miami. But I wasn’t worried because cream rises to the top.

My fears of the committee were well-founded. After four games, he had carried the ball only 29 times. In week 4, he had two carries for three yards and wasn’t targeted. That was worth 0.3 FP, and I dropped him. Ironically, he garnered 31.9 FP the following week, catching 10 passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns against Tampa Bay. I spent one-third of my FAAB dollars to claim him off waivers the following week.      

This was just the beginning of my strange love/hate relationship with Gaskin, who seemed to be good every other week. At one point, I traded him to Nathan for Matthew Stafford. Later, Nathan traded him to Candy and then I traded to get him back several weeks ago. Needless to say, his stock has dropped dramatically in the last three weeks. Miami is one of the most unpredictable backfields in the NFL, and I will avoid it in the future. 

JULIO JONES, WIDE RECEIVER

I drafted Julio Jones in the seventh round in my home league. Frankly, I couldn’t believe he was still on the board when I made the 64th pick. Granted, he was WR44 in 2020, but he had also played only nine games. Following his rookie season in 2011, he’d been no worse than WR7 in every year except 2013 when he played in only five games. Playing for a new team (Tennessee), I knew he was going to be a starter for me – if he could stay healthy.

In week 1, he drew six targets but only put up 5.9 FP. The next week, I started him against Seattle, and he had 6 receptions on 8 targets for 128 yards. That was 18.8 FP without scoring a touchdown. I was a genius. But since that time, he hasn’t put up double-digit points in any of the seven games he’s played in. And he missed five other games because of a hamstring issue.  I finally dropped him heading into his bye week four weeks ago.  

The lesson I learned with Jones is one worth noting. The NFL is a brutal place to make a living, and injuries take their toll. In 2017, my inaugural season playing this wonderful game, Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell were the top two running backs in fantasy football. Neither one of them is 30 yet, and both of them are washed up. Jones is 32, and he’s lost a step. If he was still getting separation, Ryan Tannehill would have been targeting him more. 

JAYLEN WADDLE, WIDE RECEIVER

I drafted Waddle in the 13th round, but I didn’t fully appreciate the ability of this rookie, the sixth overall draft pick in the 2021 draft. When the Miami rookie posted his third single-digit game in his first five outings, I dropped him. He’s had only one single-digit game since then. He’s WR22 on the season and is averaging 16.0 FP per game. He’s proficient at gaining separation from defenders and has chemistry with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.  

My decision to drop Waddle was based on a faulty assumption. The assumption was that he wouldn’t be successful because there were too many mouths to feed in Miami. After all, there was Devante Parker and Will Fuller V now on the roster. Parker exceeded 100 targets the two previous years, and Fuller had just arrived in town after a career year. If I had known Fuller was only going to make cameo appearances in two games, I would have help Waddle.

There was another faulty assumption that I based my decision on when I dropped Waddle in early October. If you read my wide receiver preview columns back in August, you might recall that I predicted the wide receiver position to be “extremely deep” in 2021. At that time, I believed there would also be an abundance of good fantasy options on the waiver wire. I was wrong about that, and I was wrong about Waddle.

BUY LOW, SINK LOWER

If you play fantasy football, you’ve heard it a thousand times – buy low, sell high. In reality, this is easier said than done. If you buy low, your player may never rebound. I learned this on two different occasions with trades I made on my home league team. The first one was buying low on Allen Robinson. I won’t spend a lot of time on him because I wrote a column on him back on October 28th, and you can look it up in the archives.

The second buy-low player I traded for was Terry McLaurin. I mentioned that I had traded Candy for Gaskin several weeks ago, but I didn’t mention that McLaurin was in that trade. Candy had been trying to get me to trade Keenan Allen all season, and I finally offer Allen in exchange for McLaurin and Gaskin. At the time, I thought this was a good trade because Allen’s target share had been dropping and McLaurin had a high ceiling.

Once again, I was wrong. If I had held on to Allen, I would have had a very solid WR2 to start each week next to Stefon Diggs, who I had traded for around that same timeframe. Instead, I wound up with a wideout who has posted five straight single-digit games through week 16. Rest assured that I started him in every one of those games, which mean that I had Amon-Ra St. Brown on my bench in pivotal week 15 when I lost my quarterfinals matchup.

As we close the book on the 2021 fantasy football season, I hope you will take to heart these lessons and my advice to learn from your own mistakes. As long as you’re playing fantasy football, you will make mistakes. It’s just like life. My belief is that mistakes are unavoidable. The difference between a successful person and an unsuccessful person is that the former learns from his mistakes and the latter continues to repeat them.

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

Dealing with uncertainty

Last week, I told you that this has been the most stressful, frustrating and anxiety-driven fantasy football season I’ve ever experienced. And it’s only getting worse. The excitement of the fantasy football playoffs lasted but a fleeting moment as everyone’s attention has been dragged toward tracking the vast number of COVID-19 cases that have been reported throughout the NFL.

Suffice it to say, fantasy managers are scrambling. To understand how bad it is, consider that the 40 touchdowns scored in Sunday’s games were the fewest in a 10-game slate since November 27, 1994. Only nine of the 20 teams playing on Sunday scored even 20 points. Three offensive powerhouses, the Buccaneers, Bengals and Cardinals, combined for 27 points between them.

To make matters worse, many key players who were active in week 15 suffered injuries. The team hit hardest was Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers’ struggles against the Saints are well documented, but what happened to them on Sunday night is unbelievable. Tom Brady was shut out for the first time since 2006, as he lost his three best offensive skill-position players in the same game.

The loss of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin (who will miss the rest of the season), or Leonard Fournette would have been tough enough. But to lose them all in the same game, while also still missing Antonio Brown, was a tidal wave of bad luck they couldn’t overcome. Fortunately for the Super Bowl Champions, Evans and Fournette, who suffered hamstring injuries, should return this season.

But the news isn’t as good for their fantasy managers. While Godwin suffered a season-ending torn ACL, Mike Evans is the only one who has a chance to play next week. Meanwhile, Fournette is in danger of missing the rest of the fantasy season. Hamstring injuries are tricky, and there’s no guarantee when he’ll be back. Ronald Jones was a hot waiver wire pickup heading into this week’s action.    

While every skill position has been hit hard in 2021, no position has been hit harder than running back. Christian McCaffrey, the No. 1 overall draft pick, played in seven games before being shut down for the season after week 12. Derrick Henry, drafted in the top five, was the best back in fantasy until he was injured in week 8. He should return sometime, but not in time to help fantasy managers.  

On Monday, it was announced that the No. 2 running back in fantasy was in danger of missing the rest of the fantasy season after being placed on the reserve/COVID-10 list. That would be none other than Austin Ekeler. Justin Jackson will surely be a popular roster add this week, after he carried the ball 13 times for 86 yards and caught his lone target for 13 yards for the Chargers Thursday night. 

What this means to you is that if you’re in the semifinals of your league playoffs, the waiver wire is thin. Whether fellow fantasy managers are being proactive and building up their bench depth or your league is both deep and competitive, there are few helpful names out there. But keep in mind that all managers are in the same boat (with some luckier than others with injuries and COVID cases).

With so much riding on fantasy playoffs matchups, managers should maximize roster spots. That doesn’t mean simply filling every spot with an active player, but rather, in the current COVID-19 environment, making sure every spot is utilized in a way that maximizes your ability to make lineup decisions at every game-block lock time. I can’t stress enough how important this is to your success.

Let me give you an example. Terry McLaurin is a starter on my home league team, regardless of who the Washington Football Team is playing, or what cornerback is assigned to cover him that week. If I am going to lose my quarterfinals matchup, I’m going down with Scary Terry in my starting lineup. Then the news broke Friday that The Football Team’s game had been moved to Tuesday.

This posed a problem because all of the other NFL games will have been played by then with the exception of the Seattle Seahawks/Los Angeles Rams game. McLaurin, who was still in concussion protocol then, was listed as questionable. If he was ruled out in a game-time position, I might not have a decent alternative on the waiver wire. So, I added Van Jefferson, Jr. to my roster.

In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have considered Jefferson for a roster spot. It’s not that he’s been bad. He’s averaged 16.4 fantasy points in the last three games. But he’s no better than the third receiving option for Matthew Stafford against a Seahawks defense that’s given up no receiving touchdowns and the fourth-fewest fantasy points to opposing wideouts over the last five weeks.    

The decision to add Jefferson was a supply-and-demand problem. If I had waited until Tuesday, it was likely that Jefferson would have been gone.  As it turned out, I was able wait up until the 6 p.m. CST kickoff on Tuesday to lock that lineup spot. I finally decided to start McLaurin, but I had a choice.   

Even without the COVID madness, it’s a good idea to have options for a player with a questionable designation that has a late start that week. But in these present times, with the virus and where each matchup is “win or go home,” it’s critical. You must be prepared for anything, so take action right now. Prepare for week 16 but also look ahead to week 17 and add players that might help you.

Step one is to cut a player now that is unlikely to start for you this week, or next. At this point in the season, there is no reason to hang on to those players. Step two is to add someone at the same position at the same start time (or later). Please note that league rules vary. In Yahoo leagues, you can drop a bench player even if his game has already been played. However, this is not true in ESPN leagues.  

I recommend that you always move your questionable player with a late start time to the flex position. This is what I did with McLaurin. In this way, I could start a wide receiver, running back, or tight end in place of him. Always avail yourself of the opportunity to put your last-playing player of the week in your flex spot, maximizing your ability to move in replacements as late news breaks.

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.