Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: Advice on Ryan Braun, Bryce Harper, Closer Strategy, Sleepers, and More

Is it possible that March Madness has snuffed out the rite of March that was the anticipation of fantasy baseball season and either drafting or compiling a team via auction?

Actually I have been caught up in too many other things – enjoying some unprecedented early spring weather (but remember global warming is a myth) along with my other assignments for Midwest Sports Fans, following the Peyton Manning/Tim Tebow saga, and wasting other countless hours of time on social media.

But I did get to draft my first fantasy baseball team this weekend; 10-teams, 28 rounds. There was also another auction draft amongst MSF writers that I was supposed to be part of, but the proposed league fell apart because….well, Jerod chose not to participate because he was too wrapped up in the IU Hoosiers, and we wound up not having enough teams.

[Editor’s note: I suck. The Hoosiers, however, do not…finally!]

But going through a live draft for the first time with little research I found out some interesting trends – most notably the very first round…

Is Ryan Braun’s Stock Dropping?

I was drafting fourth – and was figuring the first four picks to be Pujols, Matt Kemp, Ryan Bruan, Miguel Cabrera. I was figuring on Cabrera would drop to #4 over concerns about the grounder he took off his eye socket earlier in the week. Official word out of Tigers camp is that Miggy will likely be available Opening Day, but there are no guarantees until an exam Tuesday of this week.

Ryan Braun 2008-1
Ryan Braun (Photo by Steve Paluch on Flickr via Wikimedia Commons)
Of course I get online as scheduled 15 minutes before the on-line draft, but my wonderful Adobe hiccups just as the countdown clock hit 0:01. So the first round starts without me. The first pick is Pujols, then Kemp, but the third pick wound up as Adrian Gonzalez – making my ‘default’ pick Cabrera.

I felt like placing a 9-1-1 call at this point. I want Ryan Braun, I don’t want Cabrera. I was feeling a bit like the Yahoo who called for the police because Mickey D’s took her money, then told her they didn’t have Chicken Nuggets but they could get her two McDouble’s instead.

I don’t want a McDouble, and I, for a while, didn’t want a Cabrera who I have a dark worry that by Tuesday could be diagnosed with Juan Encarncion-like damage.

But then a weird thing happened: Braun ended up slipping all the way to the #10/#11 end picks. Maybe I was missing something. Can Bruan possibly be that much on the outs???

Well, here is the evidence going against RB8, some merely circumstantial.

Slow Spring

Most notably, Braun has had a slow spring, only going 2 for his first 19. That itself may not be cause for alarm, especially given the small sample size, but is was also revealed in the past few days that Braun has been dealing with groin tightness this spring. He has been brought along slowly as of late. That could be a potential red flag.


Needless to say, Braun has to be somewhat affected by the off-season distractions whether anyone admits it or not. All the added attention in opposing parks, the added scrutiny, and probably even more visits from MLB’s piss man is what Ryan has to look forward to as the year goes on. He will be scrutinized like Lance Armstrong for the foreseeable future.

Lineup Changes

Prince Fielder will no longer be offering protection in the batting order. Batting around Braun to get to Prince was often not an option (except for left-hander/late innings). Batting around Braun to get to Matt Gamel or Aramis Ramirez will be.

Something Else…

Or some will surmise the theory (it’s coming) that Braun did push the envelope and mixed something in his corn flakes during last season that ultimately helped him ring the bell. Knowing he now has to knock that out of his diet, the end result could be a reduction in his stat-lines going forward as opposed to 2011. Obviously that is pure speculation without proof, as few details of what ultimately got Braun off the hook will ever be revealed, but that rap remains – just ask several ‘unidentifed’ members of the 50+ who were participating in New York Mets camp.

It’s the groin and the distraction and the absence of Prince that I am worried about, and not the last bullet point.

Let’s just say if you’re in a draft and you are sitting at #5/#6/#7 and Braun is still out there, I’d go for it. If you are drafting #7 or #8 you could even pull off getting Braun and Prince Fielder. The team in my draft that was #10/#11 could have gone that route. Getting Miggy at #4, then getting Prince at say #17, is not likely though, as Prince is going #11/#12 in most rotisserie formats. He’s not the type that will be undervalued. I personally wound up with Evan Longoria at #17 with pitchers Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw flying off the shelves.

As far as Cabrera is concerned, it’s a non-displaced fracture near the eye that reportedly is not affecting his vision. I would have liked to have seen 100 percent clarity on this, but it doesn’t sound like Miggy will miss much if any of the opening of the season. I’m more concerned that a week’s down time having him frequenting Florida bars that may had been recommended to him by Bobby Jenks.  As a future DirecTV ad would say, ‘Do not frequent bars recommended by Bobby Jenks…’

Without going through my entire draft, I do want to call attention to some points in later rounds where you might be able to make hay.

Closer Strategy

In past years, I have been done in by a lack of closers. In a ten-team league, you need three closers to be middle of the pack (3 X 10 = 30). In a 12-team league, you’re ahead of the game with three. You can also chase closers who step in through injury/demotion, but that’s a tricky strategy, and if you’re in a FAAB format it may cost you most of you’re budget.  I went John Axford Round 6, Andrew Bailey Round 12, Kenley Jansen Round 15, then handcuffed him with Javy Guerra Round 16, then finally K-Rod Rodriguez (to handcuff Axford) in the late rounds.

I usually do not subscribe to handcuffs for closers, as is done in fantasy football drafts. If you draft a #2 in case a primary closer gets hurt – it often turns out that an unforeseen third option emerges. But Kenley Jansen has paranormal peripherals (95 K’s in 53+ innings last year) and I actually drafted him first, and was fortunate enough to get Guerra (slated as LA’s current closer) the following round.

Also, don’t listen to manager-speak.

My draft last year occurred just as Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez announced that he was planning on having Johnny Venters/Craig Kimbrel share the closers role. I drafted Venters in the mid-rounds (he was pitching better last spring), and Craig Kimbrel was quickly snatched before my next pick. And we all know how that played out: Venters got the eighth inning while Kimbrel became the best closer in MLB. The clue here was Venters is a lefty. Lefties get the set-up roles while the righties usually get the ninth.

Should You Draft Bryce Harper?

Or as they say out east, HAW-PAH!!!!

I did so in Round 21. I decided that I’m not going to let someone else have him, even though Bryce will open the year at AAA. Fantasy Baseball Index did a nice feature this year suggesting that this would be a good year to grab Ryan Braun, even with the 50-game suspension. The article suggested that two/third’s of a season of Braun’s stats + roughing it with a replacement for the first 50 games would still result in the equivalent value of a third-round pick.

9TH Bryce Harper
Bryce Harper (Photo by By MissChatter on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop) via Wikimedia Commons)
But obviously Braun was not suspended, if only because Bud Selig still has a piece of the action of the Milwaukee franchise and let him beat the rap (if you don’t believe me, ask Mike Lupica, he knows everything).

But Bryce Harper is, in effect, in the same scenario that Ryan Bruan would have been. Bryce has been ‘suspended’ from the Nationals Major League Roster so his arbitration clock will not start on Opening Day, this also delays his inevitable free agent signing with the Boston Red Sox for an additional year. Fantasy baseballers should know the drill by now: Bryce will tear up AAA for a month and a half, then get the call. The exact same thing happened with Braun as a rookie five years ago, and his last four months were worth the wait.

Bryce is worth the pick, and don’t dare drop him for some short-term gratification on the waiver-wire.

Who Is Being Overvalued?

Do you like Stephen Strasburg? Everyone does, but he went #36 in my draft despite supposedly having (subject to change) a 160-innings cap for this season. Mock Draft Central has him going as early as #34 overall in some mocks. Meanwhile I got Felix Hernandez at #37, who already has a Cy Young on his resume.

The hype on Brett Lawrie is also off-the-charts. He went #48 (of course, to a Jays fan in my draft), and Mock Draft Central draft had him at #23.  Also the relievers run started with Kimbrel at #52. Yu Darvish lasted until #98, where he would actually be worth the risk, but Mock Draft Central has him as high as #50, and Yu has had some hiccups in Rangers camp.

Who Is Being Undervalued?

Remember when everyone was falling all over themselves for Jason Heyward last year? Well I got him at #84 this year. I was as hard on Heyward as anyone last year, calling him the most over-hyped player this side of Ryan Howard. The difference was that Heyward was trying to play through a bad shoulder and the stats suffered horribly. He should be worth it this year post-hype.

I also got Tommy Hanson in Round 13. He did have some red flags arm-wise during 2011 and got concussed in a car accident early this spring. I still say this is a good time to buy low, because if things break right he’ll be a Cy Young candidate. I was deciding between Hanson and Michael Pineda that round. Pineda went just before me. As per usual, the teams drafting just before me on both ends were reading my mind – so much for ‘Pin-Sanity’.

Also, Josh Hamilton is going late 20’s/early 30’s. Yes there is baggage, injuries, and red flags, but he was around top-15 last year.

Off-the-Wall Pick

I always get killed on stolen bases and I wound up reaching for Toronto’s Rajai Davis based on watching the final three innings of the Blue Jays game versus the Red Sox on Sunday.

Rajai had two plate appearances late that game. In the eighth inning he singled, stole second, stole third, then was thrown out at home breaking on a safety squeeze. NESN commentator Jerry Remy blasted Rajai’s decision while they showed the replay eight times, but it’s a spring training game. Rajai then bunted for a hit in his next AB and scored the winning run. He’s got a lot of competition and this may go down as a wasted pick, but watching a few innings of Spring Training action can give you an outside-the-box idea for a late-round pick.

Deep Sleepers

I got Brandon Belt in Round 23. He bombed after making the Giants Opening Day roster last year, but he’s tearing it up this spring. I say he’s here to stay this time.

I then got John Mayberry in Round 24. He will get a lot of playing time towards the bottom of the Phils’ potent lineup.

In Round 27, the next to last round, I got Jhoulys Chacin, I was kicking myself for not getting him in the middle rounds last year. And with the final pick Aroldis Chapman was still on the board. His role remains undefined, but you take the talent with the last pick.

Also going late: Mark Trumbo (Round 23), Torii Hunter (Round 23), Adam Lind (Round 22), Mike Moustakas (Round 24), and Ubaldo Jiminez (Round 21).

Don’t Be ‘That Guy’

Don’t make the mistake of taking damaged goods like I did with Brook Lopez in one of my basketball drafts.

Two projected closers have gone down in the past few days. Both Ryan Madson (Reds) and Joakim Soria (Royals) are both out for all of 2012 with pending Tommy John surgery. Sean Marshall is now projected as the Reds closer (with possibly Aroldis Chapman looming,  although the team spent the spring converting him into a starter) while Kansas City will make do with….well, actually, I do not endorse Jonathan Broxton.

I just bought into one more draft for next Sunday night, hopefully I got enough practice this time around and Adobe will not crash.

About the Author

Kurt Allen

Have written/blogged about sports since 2000, along with starting my popular Twitter feed in 2009. I also closely follow fantasy sports developments, along with events such as the NFL Draft.