Sometimes the biggest fantasy baseball mistake you can make is drafting the wrong guy. Spend an early pick on Trevor Rosenthal and a late one on J.J. Hoover in a deep league, and figure you were in decent shape for saves? Oops! But just about every fantasy roster, even those that ultimately win their leagues, features a smattering of these types of errors, not to mention a devastating injury or two. In an NL-only league, there’s no point worrying about why you spent a high pick on A.J. Pollock, Kyle Schwarber, Dee Gordon, or Matt Harvey… every year, stuff happens that is completely out of our control as fantasy owners. (Now if you drafted David Wright or even Ryan Zimmerman expecting 155 games out of them, I'm gonna have to say that's mostly on you…)
What I’m more interested in now, however, is whom I DIDN’T draft and, in the case of my most competitive, crazy-deep, NL-only keeper league, whom I didn’t keep. So my two biggest mistakes of 2016 are a couple of fellows by the names of Adam Duvall and Jake Lamb. They have combined to hit 43 home runs and 122 RBIs at this point, just over halfway into the season... it still looks like a typo to me when I see those numbers. Last year, I had both on said fantasy team. I bought Lamb at our auction in 2015 and kept him on my roster, in my lineup, for the entire season. Duvall I picked up towards the end of the year after the Giants traded him to the Reds in the Mike Leake deal.
Without going too deeply into the details of our league’s parameters, I basically could have kept each of these players for around $10 of my $260 budget, which covers an active roster of 23 players. Looking back, keeping either of these guys would have given me enough production in the first half of this season alone that I’d be comfortably in first place right now, rather than flip-flopping between third and fourth. Every hit either of these guys gets is like a small but painful kick in my gut about the two utterly horrible mistakes I made back in April.
While writing this article, I was ready to beat myself up over how obvious it was that I should have kept both Lamb and Duvall. But after looking at the numbers, I actually feel better. Was there any way to see either of these insane breakouts coming? As it turns out, I don’t really think so. Duvall started the season on the short side of a platoon, and it seemed like all I ever heard about Lamb was how atrocious he was against lefties. Steamer projected Duvall to hit .244 with 15 homeruns, and Lamb .260 with 12. ZIPS was even more pessimistic on Lamb, thinking he would hit .247 with 9 HR. Because I’d watched Lamb put up a .263 average with just 6 home runs for my team over the course of 2015 (107 games), these numbers sounded about right. With Duvall, I knew he was likely to hit for power if he got any decent playing time, but was terrified of a horrible batting average (and this could still be a major concern as the season progresses; he’s batting .249 but that number could get really ugly if he goes into a prolonged slump). Hitting anything close to how they were projected to, I don’t think either of them would have been worth ten bucks. I do wonder if spending more time looking at their minor league numbers would have helped me make the right decision – Duvall actually hit in the .280s and .290s in AAA during 2014 and 2015, which I could have paid more attention to, and I also overlooked some of Lamb’s impressive power numbers in the minors. But no amount of number-crunching could have predicted what has happened so far this year, and I will have to remember that if Duvall and Lamb are able to continue their 2016 anywhere close to the pace they have been on at this point in the season.
I think what’s driving me crazy is not just that I didn’t draft them -- targeting them and getting outbid by another owner would be painful enough. What’s really haunting me is that I had them and let them go. I certainly wouldn’t have predicted numbers close to what they’ve put up, but if I was confident enough to put them on my team in 2015 with an eye towards 2016 in the first place, why on earth didn’t I at least give them both a chance this year? I don’t really have a valid answer to this question, but I can think of at least one thing that probably played into my decision: fear.
I was fearful of being burned by players the way I had been in the past, and I was fearful of looking foolish. No one wants to be the owner who spends even a small chunk of his valuable budget in a deep league on a guy who crashes and burns soon into the season, or who spends even ten bucks to keep a player that he could have bought at auction for three. I play in two different NL keeper leagues that use an auction rather than a straight draft, and each season, in each league, there are a few high-price keeps, and several high-price purchases, that raise eyebrows. This year, I remember lots of snarky chatter about both Randall Grichuk and Daniel Murphy going for prices that seemed absolutely exorbitant on draft day… so far, the eyebrow-raisers were right in one situation, wrong in the other. No one is going to be correct with every player he reaches for -- but in leagues this deep, committing to and being right about even one guy who ends up having a year like Murphy's been having can be a huge difference-maker.
So one thing that I am going to remember from my experience this year is to keep the guys I feel strongly about, even if I fear I might be giving up a little equity in what they’d go for at auction. Fantasy baseball auctions can be wildly unpredictable in terms of projecting a player’s price, even with a group of owners you’ve been playing with for years. I have to remember that I’d rather put up with a few snide comments about my choices than make roster decisions based on what others think is wise, or even sane. I feel that this same philosophy can apply to a snake draft, including drafts in much shallower leagues. If you decide a player is a must-have for your team, it may be worth grabbing him a few rounds earlier than he you suspect he’ll get drafted – any mocking you’ll have to put up with for your "reach" are nothing compared to the feeling of disappointment you’ll have when you end up without the players you coveted going into the draft. I will continue to be afraid of players burning me, and inevitably they will continue to burn me – that’s life, and that’s definitely fantasy baseball. But I don’t want this fear to affect my decisions when I really want a player on my team; if I’m wrong about a player I’ll accept it, and I think in the long run I think putting up with disappointing seasons from guys I thought were going to be studs will be less painful than watching guys I wanted to draft but didn't pull the trigger on succeed on someone else’s team.
Sadly, I feel like I could write several more articles covering other mis-steps I made this year. But that is just part of fantasy baseball, and giving up on a player only to watch him lead another fantasy team to a championship is something I suspect many people can relate to. It is just another reminder that no matter how much research we put into our teams, crazy and unexpected things will continue to happen to foil our plans, year after year. I will try to make better roster decisions next year, but I feel like all I can really do is hope that the guys I decide to part ways with after this season aren’t quite as kind and generous to their 2017 owners as Duvall and Lamb have been to theirs so far in 2016.