The Z Files: Saving the Best for First

The Z Files: Saving the Best for First

This article is part of our The Z Files series.

Humblebrag alert. This piece is about a league championship. Half of one, anyway. OK, maybe a little less than half.

The Premature Edraftulation League has often made it into this space. Each year, the draft begins during the final series of the previous season. It's an National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) Satellite, with 15 teams and weekly FAAB. Derek VanRiper has been my co-manager for the last several seasons. 

DVR and I finally won the league, outlasting league founder and accomplished NFBC veteran Dan Kenyon plus NFBC Hall of Famer Lindy Hinkleman. The Athletic and Non Athletic spent most of the summer jostling between fifth and second before having "one of those weeks" and vaulting into first. Lindy faded a little, but Dan kept the heat on during the final month, keeping the championship in jeopardy until the final day. Derek and I were simultaneously sweating the WHIP category while discussing our first few picks for the 2023 draft. That brings me to my first talking point of the piece.

To be honest, I sense many are coming around and no longer roll their eyes when I insist there is just as much, if not more, last-minute category movement in ratios than counting stats. It's not about the number of at-bats or innings pitched; it's about where you are within BA, ERA and WHIP.

The NFBC had a FAAB run Sunday October 2 and allowed roster moves before roster lock on Monday. Heading into the final three days of the

Humblebrag alert. This piece is about a league championship. Half of one, anyway. OK, maybe a little less than half.

The Premature Edraftulation League has often made it into this space. Each year, the draft begins during the final series of the previous season. It's an National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) Satellite, with 15 teams and weekly FAAB. Derek VanRiper has been my co-manager for the last several seasons. 

DVR and I finally won the league, outlasting league founder and accomplished NFBC veteran Dan Kenyon plus NFBC Hall of Famer Lindy Hinkleman. The Athletic and Non Athletic spent most of the summer jostling between fifth and second before having "one of those weeks" and vaulting into first. Lindy faded a little, but Dan kept the heat on during the final month, keeping the championship in jeopardy until the final day. Derek and I were simultaneously sweating the WHIP category while discussing our first few picks for the 2023 draft. That brings me to my first talking point of the piece.

To be honest, I sense many are coming around and no longer roll their eyes when I insist there is just as much, if not more, last-minute category movement in ratios than counting stats. It's not about the number of at-bats or innings pitched; it's about where you are within BA, ERA and WHIP.

The NFBC had a FAAB run Sunday October 2 and allowed roster moves before roster lock on Monday. Heading into the final three days of the season, Derek and I had what may seem like a comfortable 8.5 point lead. However, ample points were in play for Dan to leapfrog us.

STOLEN BASES

Richie Incognito is Lindy, who was looking to steal a point from us. Further down the standings, Dan was tied and could gain 0.5 points over the last three days. 

WHIP

We could lose three points while Dan could gain a pair.

ERA

We were cemented into second, but Dan had just dropped two points, meaning he was within range to recapture them and reclaim the top spot.

Working against us was we were likely capped at 124 points, with only a slim chance of getting another point in wins.

WINS

However, DOUGHBOYS was looking at gaining half a point, perhaps even 1.5 points.

Derek and I were cemented in our spot in strikeouts and saves.

STRIKEOUTS

Further down, Dan was again tied, so there was another half a point within his grasp.

SAVES

Yeah, sorry, I sorta buried one of the ledes; we took this baby down with only one point in saves. It was not by design. There was almost always a closer in our draft queue, but he was drafted before our turn. We took a few speculative shots in the reserve rounds and FAAB, but no one panned out. We didn't completely abandon the category until July and even then used relievers like Jhoan Duran to protect ratios.

Dan also had a batting average point within reach. A tally shows he could gain 7.5 while we could lose four, three of which were in WHIP, with a shot at earning a point in wins.

The main objective was protecting WHIP, so Derek and I had a decision to make: stand pat and make them catch us, or be aggressive. We chose the latter.

Standing pat would have entailed purposely using pitchers finished for the season. Clearly, we'd relinquish the chance to grab the point in wins, but our WHIP would not move, requiring the three teams below us to improve their mark, while they also chased other pitching categories. 

We trusted our pitchers' chances of maintaining a low WHIP and didn't want to forfeit the chance to vulture that point in wins. That said, with only one series per team, some of our rostered pitchers were done for the season. We were already rolling with Corbin Burnes, Triston McKenzie, Hayden Wesneski, Logan Gilbert, Braxton Garrett and Duran, leaving three open spots. We didn't like the starting pitchers on the wire, so DVR and I opted to stack Seattle relievers. They were still playing games that mattered and had an extra tilt with a Tuesday doubleheader. Welcome aboard Erik Swanson, Penn Murfee and Diego Castillo

It wound up being moot, but watching Mariners skipper Scott Servais use catcher Luis Torrens on the mound in the opener of the Tuesday twin bill, setting him up for an extra-inning win, was a special kind of tilt.

Jumping to the end, Dan in fact claimed another point in batting average, wins, ERA and WHIP. He lost half a point in steals, but balanced that with gaining the same in strikeouts. His net gain was four points. Meanwhile, Derek and I tied Lindy in steals, dropping half a point. Dan ended up shaving 4.5 points into our lead, resulting in the four-point win.

Here is how the WHIP category finished.

Had we not done a thing, DVR and I would have lost two points in WHIP, but still won.

In case you're wondering, we would have needed to yield 15 more hits plus walks to have our WHIP drop to fifth, giving Dan the title. Another nine baserunners would have pushed our WHIP to fourth place, forcing a tie for first place.

Should we have played it safe and accrued no innings over the final period? Maybe. When the decision was made, it felt like the point in wins could have been crucial. Fortunately, it worked out.

Not to beat a dead horse, but in the final three days, DOUGHBOYS gained a point in batting average, ERA and WHIP while The Athletic and Non Athletic had to sweat a couple points in WHIP.

Don't ever dismiss the ability to gain or lose points in ratios.

Before calling it a day, I'd like to discuss teaming up with a co-manager. Some swear by having a partner while others cringe at the thought. For years, I wouldn't even entertain the notion. Sure, I partnered with the late Lawr Michaels and won an FSTA league along with having a co-manager for an NFBC Ultimate Auction Champion, but in both cases I was the de facto manager. 

The arrangement with DVR is more 50/50, at least with respect to the major decisions. We talked through every draft pick and FAAB bid. Admittedly, Derek handled more of the in-season management, hence the "OK, maybe a little less than half" in the opening sentence.

I'm of the mind there are very few black and white decisions, at least when it comes to players. That is, there is no single correct player when you're on the clock. Any one of a handful of players can be "right". The caveat is each selection influences the ensuing picks in a different manner.

As such, there are many instances where I would have chosen a different player than what we picked, but that doesn't mean the pick was wrong; it was just a different right pick. Not only does this force me to evaluate players I otherwise would have ignored, it stimulates contemplating a team build with which I am not familiar.

Let's be honest, we all have our favorite approaches and comfort areas, even though being fluid and willing to adjust on the fly is critical. Drafting and managing with DVR (purposely) takes me out of my snug confines and thrusts me into uncharted waters.

(That's snug, not smug, though smug also works.)

Maybe don't do this if you play in only one Main Event league, but teaming up with someone you respect and trust -- not to mention who you enjoy communicating with -- is fantastic draft prep. Choose a $50 or $150 Draft Championship team, as that avails 50 opportunities to discuss players and you don't have to worry about also hooking up for a FAAB skull session every Sunday when you may be putting out a Tout Wars report or running an XFL supplemental draft. Yeah, there were a few reasons Derek assumed the lead in those areas.

I'll leave you with the team Derek and I have entrusted to defend our championship. As you'll see, we went into speculative mode very early. I'll talk more about the player pool over the course of the offseason, but no one stood out for either of us before we even finished building our active roster. As such, we threw some darts, knowing there is an early FAAB period before the season starts.

Spoiler alert: We drafted closers early, not wanting to sweat out another win with a last-place finish in saves.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Todd Zola
Todd has been writing about fantasy baseball since 1997. He won NL Tout Wars and Mixed LABR in 2016 as well as a multi-time league winner in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. Todd is now setting his sights even higher: The Rotowire Staff League. Lord Zola, as he's known in the industry, won the 2013 FSWA Fantasy Baseball Article of the Year award and was named the 2017 FSWA Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year. Todd is a five-time FSWA awards finalist.
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