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Eric Samulski's Prospects Live Bestball 50 Draft Breakdown


This offseason, Prospects Live announced a new draft format that they were hoping would bring together the dynasty crowd with more redraft-heavy players. The format was simple and also completely complicated. Each league would be a five-year Best Ball Dynasty featuring 30 teams where each owner would draft a roster of 50 players, and the 10 highest-scoring hitters and nine highest-scoring pitchers would count towards our total score each week.

Having never done a points league or a Best Ball league before, I thought it might be a useful exercise to look through my picks for the first 10 rounds (11 actually because I'm near the turn) and analyze my thought process behind each one.

It should clearly be valuable for those in points leagues or Best Ball leagues, but going over your drafting approach and talking through a process can be helpful for approaching a draft in any format. You can see the metrics I use and whether you feel a similar tactic makes sense to you or you think I'm crazy and are now validated in your totally different approach.

Editor's Note: Get any full-season MLB Premium Pass for 50% off. Exclusive access to our Draft Kit, premium rankings, projections, player outlooks, top prospects, dynasty rankings, 15 in-season lineup tools, and over 200 days of expert DFS research. Sign Up Now!

 

Important League Information

First some quick info on the league type and how it dictated the draft.

Since it's a Best Ball format, no transactions will be made during the year, but there will be an "unowned players draft" each offseason where owners can draft players who weren't owned the season before in hopes of filling in the spots on their teams where players retired or under-performed. Best Ball formats also mean that positions didn't matter for the draft since your ten best hitters would count, regardless of whether they were all outfielders or first basemen, etc.

Going into the draft, nobody seemed to have a clear handle on what the best strategy was. As with most dynasty drafts, there were some who were focused on getting as many prospects as possible, hoping that those players will be in the Major Leagues by 2021 or 2022 and would be high-level performers for the final two or three years of the league. There were others who filled out their teams with older players first, trying to win soon and ensure a return on investment, trusting that they could fill in the spots on their roster with prospects who came out of nowhere over the next few years.

I wavered back and forth and ultimately decided to let the board dictate which direction I would go in. I simply knew that, in a points league, I wanted to ensure I got a few high-quality arms to try and lock in 500 point scorers before the rosters were filled with pitchers loaded with question marks.

Let's see how it fell out. Picks will be listed as: round number, overall pick number.

 

1.4 Gerrit Cole, SP New York Yankees

I went back and forth between him and Christian Yelich. Coming in, I had assumed I would go with Yelich if he was there given his age and offensive growth, but the more I thought about the format, the more I figured that elite starting pitching would dry up fast. Since it's a 30-team league and I wouldn't be picking again for over 50 picks, I wasn't willing to risk it, especially with no in-season transactions. The league gives three points for a win and three points for a quality start, so Cole should be able to rack up a fair few of those on the Yankees. Strikeouts also get a pitcher 1.5 points per, and Cole league the lead by 26 total strikeouts last year with 326. A repeat of that gives me 489 points right there. In the end, that tipped me towards the security of the best arm and elite points-league production upside. Plus, he’s only 29, so he should hold value all five years.

 

2.57 Matt Olson, 1B Oakland Athletics

This one felt like a bit of a reach to me at the time, but the more I reflect on it, the more comfortable I am with the selection. Home runs are worth three points in this format, and Olson has legit 40+ HR power. He'll be 26 years old during this season and had elite Statcast numbers, despite coming back from a hamate bone injury that everybody thought would sap his power. Last year he produced 94th percentile exit velocity, 98th percentile hard-hit%, 93rd percentile xwOBA, 95th percentile xSLG, and a 94th percentile barrel percentage. All of that suggests that his power is no fluke, and expecting five years of top tier contact plus a walk rate above 10% (league awards one point per walk) was enough for me in this format. I just love seeing all the red in this diagram.

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3.64 Clayton Kershaw, SP Los Angeles Dodgers

I had been holding out for Noah Syndergaard on this pick, but I got sniped the pick before. I was a little stuck on the idea of grabbing another top tier arm here because I felt like there would be very little on the board for my next pick. Everybody knows Kershaw has elite talent, but the injuries have become an issue; something of heightened concern in a five-year league with no transactions. However, Kershaw is only 31 and looked dominant for stretches last year, compiling a 2.95 ERA over the second half last year on just a .201 BAA and a .260 xwOBA.

Given the points system, he also fits with my strategy of looking at K%-BB% to identify pitchers who give me points for strikeouts without costing me many points with walks. Kershaw's 21 K%-BB% was 14th best in the majors last year. He might not make it all five years, but if I can get three years of what he did last year, paired with Cole, I feel good. I have a solid two-headed monster at the top of my pitching staff, and I can take fliers on prospects who might be difference makers in 2022 or 2023 when I would plan to be without Kershaw.

 

4.117 Kyle Schwarber, OF Chicago Cubs

I've never been incredibly high on Schwarber, but points league formats benefit guys with power who also have solid walk rates. While Schwarber only walked 11.5% of the time last year, he has a 13% career rate, and I believe his power growth is real. His .375 xwOBA was 30th in the league and his .553 xSLG 20th best. What's more, his xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA were all higher than his actual results, which suggests he may have more room for growth in his power numbers. That's a train of thought that's backed up by 97th percentile exit velo and 99th percentile hard-hit%. At only 26-years-old, he should hit consistently for 5 more years, giving me another good bet for 30+ home runs every season. It's not sexy but it's solid, and I'll take that in a 30-team league where every bit of consistency is key. As we can see, red is becoming my favorite color (as long as we don't focus on defensive metrics).

 

5.124 Lance Lynn, SP Texas Rangers

I knew I wanted a third arm here before starting pitching started to get too shallow and filled with question marks. This pick came down to a long decision between Lynn and Zach Greinke. At 32, Lynn is four years younger than Greinke, which helps his case in a five-year league, but I also liked the changes Lynn made over the past two years, which have coincided with a jump in K% from 19.7 in 2017 to 23 in 2018 and 28.1 last year. If you look at his pitch mix from 2017 to 2019, Lynn threw his fastball 10% less, nearly abandoned his change-up and started throwing his slider and curveball each about 5% more.

That's significant because his slide has a 5 pVAL, which makes it a quality secondary offering, but using it more has also helped set up Lynn's fastball, which has also jumped in velocity from 92.5 in 2017 to 94.8 last year. On top of those changes, the Rangers are also changing the stadium to use a retractable roof, which will mean that on humid summer days, Lynn can pitch in an enclosed, temperature-controlled environment that could prevent the ball from carrying as much as it usually does in the Texas heat. All of that, plus the solid bet for innings made me like Lynn at this value.

 

6.177 Aristides Aquino, OF Cincinnati Reds

This pick simply came down to wanting to have fun. In one of my main keeper leagues last year, I stared at Aquino's minor league numbers for weeks, debating whether or not I should stash him. Then somebody else did, Aquino got called up, and went on a tear. I simply wanted to have a share of The Punisher because I want guys I enjoy watching if this is going to be my team for five years. Fantasy is supposed to be fun after all, right?

However, in addition to the simple pleasure of watching Aquino hit, I think he has real value in this format. I already wrote about his 40-HR upside and 89th percentile sprint speed, which I think could lead to a pretty solid points-league floor. He's also only 26 and doesn't have a lot of competition for at-bats in Cincinnati, so I could see him pushing 500+ plate appearances if that strikeout rate doesn't get out of control. Since this format doesn't deduct points for hitter strikeouts, I'm OK taking that chance.

 

7.184 Khris Davis, OF/DH Oakland Athletics

People seem to think that Khris Davis is very old. He just turned 32. As a DH, 32 is basically a young buck. Shoot, we all know Nelson Cruz has continued crushing baseballs into his 40s. Before last season, Davis was on a similar path, hitting 42, 43, and 48 home runs over the previous three years. His production very publicly cratered last year, but there's no reason to think it was anything other than the hip injury he suffered on May 5th. He had 10 home runs and 23 RBIs in just 31 games across March and April, but after the injury, his slugging percentage dropped over .140 points and he hit only 13 home runs the entire rest of the season.

Fully healthy now, there's no reason he can't push 40 home runs again. Yes, his average is never going to rise above the .240 range, but hitting in the middle of a good lineup with 40+ home run and one per RBI is well worth it at this price, and I seriously think I'll get four years out of him, if not more. 

 

8.237 Miles Mikolas, SP St. Louis Cardinals

This is probably the pick I'm least happy with so far. I was angling for Chris Archer, Anthony DeSclafani, Adrian Houser, or Brusdar Graterol and they all went in the six picks before mine. My plan had been to create a stable rotation of MLB arms with at least three years of value left and then take a scattershot approach with prospect pitchers, hoping to find a few that would be solid producers for the final two years of the league. Plus, there are always young pitchers who come out of nowhere and I could hope to grab a couple each year in our postseason draft of unowned players.

With that idea, I perhaps stubbornly locked onto Mikolas, who I believe has a solid floor. He's going to get consistent innings on a solid team, which will give him a chance to rack up points for IP, QS, and Ws. He also has a low BB%, which will give him a solid floor since he won't lose me too many points there. Where I cross my fingers and hope is on his slider. In 2018, that was his go-to pitch with a 23.7 pVAL, but last year, with the new baseball, it slipped to a -1.3 pVAL. That's insane regression. I'm hoping that a change of baseballs or even him finding his release or grip again will help that come back to normal a bit and give him back some of his 2018 value.

 

9.244 Rougned Odor, 2B Texas Rangers

Every year Odor frustrates his fantasy owners, so every year we seem to write him off as being no good or on the verge of losing his job. However, that narrative covers up the fact that, while he certainly strikes out too much, he also contributes in ways other players don't. In fact, Odor was one of only eight players in all of baseball last year with 30+ home runs and 10+ stolen bases. In a league that offers three points for each, I want as much as I can get. What's more, Odor is still only 25 years old and has made gradual improvements in both his O-Swing% and BB% over the past four years. These still aren't great numbers, but a young player showing growth is never something to take for granted. Perhaps there's more there.

 

10.297 Kenley Jansen, RP Los Angeles Dodgers

With none of the starting pitching options exciting me at this point, I decided to take a shot on a reliever. I hadn't been planning on adding too many relievers in this format because they're really only valuable if they're getting saves or pushing 100 innings pitched. They can be fine for late-round picks, hoping to luck into a two or three-year closer, but the volatility of the position was scaring me. However, Kenley Jansen might be one of the rare closers who is locked into his job, at least for the two more years he's under contract with the Dodgers. Yes, he's been on the decline the last two years and his fastball dropped from 94.2 in 2016 to 92.1 last year. However, his underlying metrics are still elite.

He had a rough month of August last year but rebounded in September and October to limit batters to a .218 wOBA, while striking out 12 in 11 innings and securing, so I don't believe he is "done." Last year was his first full year pitching after his heart surgery, so it's possibly a case of simply learning to manage his workload and how his body responds to a full season. Even if I never get elite Kenley, I think I can get a closer who will save 35-40 games (at six points each) while racking up over 10 K/9 and possibly even stealing some wins on a good team. I'll take that on my staff over a lower-tier starter like Zach Eflin or Tanner Roark, who could lose his job or get lit up in any start.

 

11.304 Grayson Rodriguez, SP Baltimore Orioles

My first prospect. Finally. Even here I was hesitant to pull the trigger since I know Grayson won't really contribute before 2022. However, with a staff that features Clayton Kershaw and Lance Lynn, I need a starting pitcher who could potentially take their place for the final years of this league. Rodriguez has that upside. He has a mid-90s fastball that he can run up to about 97 and shows the potential for both a plus slider and curveball. The slider has the looks of potentially becoming a dominant out pitch. More impressively, he has great polish for a former high school arm, pounding the zone to a 129/36 K/BB ratio A-ball as a 20-year-old.

I believe he'll be in AA for a fair portion of this year and, depending on how he progresses, could even see a taste of the big leagues at the end of 2021. In my opinion, he was the best pitching prospect left on the board by a relatively large margin, so I wanted to lock him in since there was next to no chance he'd have been around by my next pick.

 

Plan For The Next Few Rounds

I still see a few bats out there that won't be sexy picks, but seem locked into consistent playing time and will be able to get more a solid floor of points throughout the year. If a player is locked into playing time then you're also liable to get one or two hot streaks during the year in which those floor players who are rarely in your top-10 bats can overperform and push up your team point total. I'll continue to take a scattershot approach to pitching, mixing in prospects who likely won't be up for another year or so with fringe arms starting now in the hopes that I hit on a few of them while the others rot on the bench, not costing me any points.

After round 20, I'll be back with an update of how the roster is shaping up, but you can follow many of the guys playing on Twitter by searching for #PLiveBestball. Even if you don't care about their teams, there is some good discussion of stats and potential value that could be useful as you prep for your drafts.

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