Prospects Live Five Year Best Ball Draft
Updated: Jan 31
Prepare to wrap your head around a 1500 player draft. That’s right.. 30 teams, 50 rounds, open universe on players. It gets even crazier… Ready? The league is over a five year period, with yearly league winners, and an overall five year winner. Not wild enough? Okay, fine… We’re rolling best ball style, which means no in season transitions, and no setting of the holy lineup. There’s even a twist to that, too, as there are no positions. Your top 10 hitters and top 9 pitchers for each week are the only points added to your total.
Enough twists, let’s get to some introduction information, and then into my first five picks of the draft. This draft is put on by the peeps at Prospects Live (check them out if you haven’t already). This league is going to be nuts, and I’m here for it. Here is what the scoring looks like, which is standard Fantrax best ball:
The scoring seems to favor elite pitching (K=1.5, H+BB= -0.5, ER= -1.5) and power hitting OBP hitters (HR=3, RBI=1, R=1, BB=1). The top pitchers that can go deep into games can really stack up points with the 1.5 points per IP, 3 for a QS, and 3 for a win. 6 points for a save is a solid chunk as well.
There’s an argument for power/speed combos to be a nice target, but the score definitely favors power over speed, so I’d want to make sure if I were buying a speed guy that he still had around 20 HR pop. If I were to be able to pick from one of the elite power/speed players, I’d likely need a top 20 draft pick.
War Room Discussions
As I alluded to in the open, this is a complex league and there was absolutely zero prior draft data, articles (except I did see one later one), or podcasts guiding the way. I figured with little to no data, most teams’ decisions would be driven by age. And as you’ll see below, it definitely played a factor in some of my decisions.
I think the key is finding the correct balance. Obviously the evaluation would be different if this were a one-year league, but how much should you favor the younger players that may not be slam dunk producers? Can you win the overall if you dominate only 2 out of the 5 years? No one really knows.
To me to draft mostly all prospects and hope to spike enough of them by year 3 to win the last 3 years strategy seems like more of a pipe-dream than a logical approach. But that isn’t to say it can’t be done. I just don’t love the probability. I also like my ability to identify less heralded prospects so I shouldn’t have any issues in the 30-50 rounds grabbing some future specs. Always play to your strengths if you can.
Another huge factor is drafting with 30 teams. 30 teams really spread out the talent so these teams are definitely not as sexy as your typical 10, 12 or even 15 team leagues. Speaking of talent, I wanted to be conscious of how quick the pitching, and good pitching at that, would thin out, so that was a major point of emphasis for me.
I can see the strategy of going with hitters early as they are theoretically safer, but there is also some data out there that would suggest it’s not so clear cut.
There’s an argument that pitchers are one pitch away from being out for 1.5 to 2 years, which would certainly be a blow if you spent your 1st round pick on a TJ victim. But the point scoring does pose a tough question for teams. Do you spend your most valuable draft asset on a player you could lose for nearly 2 years at any moment?
Since I drew the 24th pick overall, I decided to see how the draft broke before finalizing my draft plan. I really did want to go with a SP in the first round, given I love pitching anyway, and for the reasons I already mentioned, but the injury risk factor was in the back of my mind. I figured Cole and Buehler would be gone, and I was unsure if I wanted to spend my first-round pick on Clevinger, Flaherty, or Bieber.
So working with the hand I was dealt at 24, I set out to acquire as many five year contributors, with a focus on quality pitching, and power producers.
1.24 Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves 1B (UT1)
While I do think Freeman’s sturdy profile plays up in this risk-laden format, I will admit I was hoping a few others would fall to me at 24. Sitting at pick 19, Aaron Judge, Jose Ramirez, Pete Alonso, and Nolan Arenado were all still available. Initially, I didn’t expect any of them to fall, but when they got to 5 picks before mine, I did start to wonder if one would slip. Unfortunately, those four went in the subsequent picks. I did consider going with Clevinger, but I wanted that steady force for five years, and so I pivoted to Freeman.
Freeman is a pure hitter, and an OBP monster (.370-.400 last 7 seasons). He’s turned in four consecutive seasons of .295+ BA, and when healthy has produced solid RBI/R totals from the middle of that Braves lineup. Donaldson signing elsewhere was a bit of a bummer, but the Ozuna addition should help fill the protection void that Donaldson occupied in 2019.
He also had a procedure on his elbow, which was reported as hindering him in September. Some outlets are saying this adds injury risk, but I think it will be a positive for him as he should now have full range of motion in his elbow.
The only question for me is if we see the high 30 HR totals again, or if he settles back in the high 20s range. His xStats (xwOBA, xSLG, xBA all 92nd percentile or better) definitely back up his year, but we can’t predict other factors, such as if the ball will be fly similarly.
Either way, I’m happy to land .385+ OBP, 25-30+ HR, 200+ R/RBI, and a handful of steals at pick 24 as I figured he’d go in the teens. After all, who wouldn’t bet on a player who had a stadium built for him.
2.37 Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds SP (P1)
With Freeman in tow, it was high time to land the anchor of the staff. I did decide to go upside over the five year period rather than a certified ace in Verlander or Scherzer, who will likely perform at a high level for only 2-3 more years.
I was very happy Castillo made it to 37 as I believe he has the ingredients to take the final few steps to Acedom. He has elite fastball velocity, a disgusting changeup (28.9 pVAL, 48%!! Whiff%), an ability to get strikeouts (29% K%) and ground balls (55.2%), and a durable frame that can eat innings with a low to mid effort delivery, ideally preventing injury.
At age 27, I like his chances to stay at a high level for those five years (please no injury!), and with the Reds seemingly improving, that wins total should increase. I would like to see his fastball command get a bit better as that would allow him to climb the ladder more, which would likely aid the effectiveness of his slider.
3.84 Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers RP (P2)
I’m loving this pick more by the day. With the scoring, I wanted to double up on pitchers, and while there were some interesting arms out there (Montas, Sonny Gray, Boyd), the value Hader brings was too much to pass up. The six points for a save, and Hader’s ability to not only limit runs but also baserunners (negative points for both) were some reasons why I felt comfortable moving away from a possible 180+ IP option.
And I think it’s fair to say the statcast data backs up the results. Gaudy numbers with being in the 100th percentile in K% and xBA, 99th in xwOBA, and 94th in xSLG.
Coming into his age 26 season he joins my first two picks as someone I think can perform at a high level for the duration of the league. Knebel will come back into the picture this season, but regardless of role I think Hader has proved he is a stud, and can provide value as long as he is healthy. I do wonder if he threw a few more sliders if that may take some pressure off the hard hit% produced in 2019. And keep that injury bug away from him!
The other player I was strongly considering went the pick before him, and is his teammate, Brandon Woodruff, so I’ll be watching a lot of Brewers games this year to see which one performs better. Fingers crossed for Hader!
4.97 Max Fried, Atlanta Braves SP (P3)
Did you see the scoring points for this league? Go get top pitching. Did you see how many teams are in this league? Yeah, 30 is a lot. Simple math tells me there are only so many “good” pitchers to go around. I wasn’t going to reach too far if all the SPs I liked around this spot dried up, but when Fried was available at pick 97 I was tickled.
Rolling with the theme of five year contributors, Fried should be at least a solid producer (>9 K/9, sub 4 ERA) over that duration. He displays a lot of the ingredients I talked about with Castillo, which is why he’s on a lot of breakout lists for 2020 (and on mine). The curveball is nasty (37.9% Whiff%), and he’s worked in a slider as well to go with plus velocity giving him an arsenal that can miss barrels (4.4%, 6.3% is league average), and miss bats. On a top tier team, and seemingly durable to throw 170-200 IP, I can see some big seasons from Maximus on the horizon. I’m a sucker for strikeouts and ground balls what can I say.
Bonus note: Look to see how Cole Hamels impacts the young lefty. Hamels is a savvy vet that can help in more ways than one, and if Fried learns that changeup I’m not sure what I’ll do.
5.144 Franmil Reyes, Cleveland Indians DH (UT2)
As much as I wanted to really dive into the pitching end, and take my fourth pitcher in a row, I’ve like the Franimal for awhile. Turning 25 in July, and now preparing for a full season at his natural position, DH, I think there’s plenty of production in his bat over the next five years. Taking a look at his statcast snapshot, the power is definitely real:
I would like to see his OBP come up back around his 2018 .340 mark, rather than the .304 he showed in 194 PA in Cleveland. However, there is reason to believe there was an adjustment period he likely went through as he got his first taste of full time at DH.
If the OBP doesn’t come up, I still think a safe bet is a season of 30+ HRs with middle of the order production if he can stay healthy for 600+ PA. That’s a boat load of points. He also has the ability to hit HRs in bunches, which will play well in this weekly best ball format.
There were some older bats I was strongly considering in Nicholas Castellanos, and Tommy Pham, but decided to grab what I hope will be Reyes’ prime. Griffin Canning would have been the pitcher I went with if I talked myself off Reyes.
It feels like the draft has just started when you look and see yourself only five picks in. However, being 150 picks in the decisions are already becoming more difficult. Add in the fact you have to consider a five year window and you just multiplied the complexity by ten.
With that being said I like the start of things. It feels like a solid foundation with still plenty of upside for spiked seasons. With a goal being to acquire as many five year contributors until the well runs dry, we’re off to a good start. We’ll look at another set of picks in the next edition.
If you have interest in signing up for a league format like this, Prospects Live has $25 dollar leagues open for sign up. Check them out on Twitter (@ProspectsLive) or their website for more information.
Statistical credits: FanGraphs, Baseball Savant, Baseball Reference.
Photo Credit (pre-edit): Scott Cunningham/Getty Images