Nobody cares who finishes in second in an experts' league. (Sorry, Nate.)
That thinking was the reason I finished fourth last year. It also is the cornerstone of my strategy this season. I could have just stuck with my existing roster and cruised into second place in 2008, but I would have had no chance of winning. That's not my style, so I made a risky go-for-broke trade that didn't work, and the team slid to fourth.
I constructed my team in the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) this year with the idea of taking a few more risks, looking to get lucky and hitting on some potentially undervalued players and players whom others have downgraded a bit too much. I even incorporated a little of colleague Pierre Becquey's favorite strategy of de-emphasizing batting average. That strategy is designed to produce a potential big return, because again, it's about going for the win.
On the surface, my teams generally don't seem like much. They won't seem dominant or make you say, "Look at that team," but they tend to be effective. I've made a title run each year I've been in LABR because my teams pack some punch where it counts -- in the standings. I'm a big believer in the accumulation of at-bats and sometimes have beaten the other teams with quantity over quality. If you put starting players throughout your offense, their performances add up, even if you lack some of the superstars other teams have.
I'm known to select teams that are heavy on offense, but I also knew going in that a couple of other teams would be heavier on offense than usual this year. So I thought I would switch it up and add a bit more starting pitching this season while still trying to maintain a steady stream of at-bats across all positions. It was my inability to find a fair deal to add starting pitching that cost me a title last year, so I didn't necessarily want to leave it up to the whims of the trade market again.
ESPN's drafters at LABR
(Note: This was a standard 12-team AL-only league with a $260 auction budget. The draft took place on March 8.)
C Brandon Inge, $7: I'm a sucker for players with catcher eligibility who will play full time at another position. Sue me. The batting average will be in the tank, as usual, but he'll still swing for the fences.
C Taylor Teagarden, $4: Too much upside not to take a chance at this price.
1B Jason Giambi, $10: I'll take 25-plus homers for this price.
2B Howie Kendrick, $15: I believe. You knew he would wind up on my team.
SS Nick Punto, $8: He has the starting job as the Twins' shortstop and has stolen between 13-17 bases each of the past four seasons, so I'll get my money's worth. He also has second-base eligibility if I need it.
3B Adrian Beltre, $21: As consistent as they come, he put up his numbers last year despite thumb and shoulder injuries that required surgery after the season. I don't mind paying close to full value for the consistency.
MI Asdrubal Cabrera, $9: One of my sleepers this year, he has eligibility at both middle-infield spots and has 10-homer, 10-steal potential. There's good profit potential at this price.
CI Nick Swisher, $8: The batting average will bounce back a bit, and he'll play enough to earn this price in a good lineup. He's also another player eligible at multiple positions to help with setting the lineup during the season.
OF Alex Rios, $27: He's a true five-category player coming off a ridiculous second half last season. He should be a 20-20 player at least this year.
OF Kendry Morales, $11: At 25 years old, he finally has a starting job, and he's having a good spring. He can hit for average with somewhere between 10 and 20 home runs. He'll pick up first-base eligibility as well. In a league where you can't move players freely to and from your reserve list, that matters.
OF Adam Jones, $19: He's a potential breakout candidate this season, as he started to show some signs of it last season before getting hurt. Double-digit totals in both homers and steals are reasonable expectations. I paid a little on the come here, but I don't mind.
OF J.D. Drew, $13: Embrace the risk! Even with just 368 at-bats last year, he still hit 19 homers, and he still brings the batting average. If I get 400 at-bats out of him for this price, I'll be happy.
OF Franklin Gutierrez, $10: Just a modest investment in a player with some upside who will get a lot of at-bats. For $10, I could receive at least 10 homers and 10 steals.
UT Mike Lowell, $12: He looked as solid as usual in the first half last year before his hip injury, and the spring reports are good, as he has showed power in camp. It seemed like a good price to take a chance on him.
P Felix Hernandez, $20: All hail the King! We haven't seen his best season yet.
P Daisuke Matsuzaka, $16: Yes, his numbers will regress some, but this seemed like a small buying opportunity at this price.
P Justin Verlander, $14: I'm betting he'll figure out his mechanics and bounce back a bit. If he produces anything close to '06 or '07 numbers, I'll have taken a steal.
P Sean Gallagher, $3: Good repertoire, good park, good strikeout ability, good price.
P Clay Buchholz, $4: The Red Sox will need him to make some starts eventually. Plus, I think he has things figured out after a rough season last year.
P Rich Hill, $2: I was betting he would start the season on the DL or in the minors so I could stash him away on reserve to see whether he could figure things out. If not, I wasted only $2.
P Brian Bannister, $1: Another guy I was expecting to start in the minors whom I could stash away to see whether he could move a little closer to his 2007 form. In hindsight, I could have done better. I was expecting someone to say $2 and take him for the two bucks, but would have been OK with it if nobody did.
P Troy Percival, $8: Even if he squeaks out only 8-10 saves before losing the job, I'll have earned this price. He has the job on Opening Day, and back surgery appears to have corrected the problem that led to his second-half collapse last season.
P Bobby Jenks, $18: This is the first time I've owned Jenks in any league. Yes, the declining strikeout rate concerns me, but part of that drop was thanks to back problems last season, and he has one of the more secure closer jobs you'll find.
(The following picks were taken in a snake draft. It's worth noting that only your reserve picks may have free movement between the active and reserve list during the season, so finding pitchers and spare hitters to plug in when you need to is at a premium.)
2. Jarrod Washburn: Better outfield defense in Seattle should help him, and I may try to plug him in the lineup here and there with favorable matchups.
3. Bartolo Colon: He'll have a rotation job in Chicago and wasn't bad for the Red Sox last year. You could do worse in the reserve rounds.
4. David Dellucci: He may get some platoon at-bats in Cleveland and still has some pop in his bat.
5. Ryan Perry: The Tigers fireballer has been impressive in camp and could be the team's closer by the end of the season.
A number of team owners were tracking the whole draft and projected standings on their computers using various projection systems. Asking around, three owners who were tracking the draft using different sets of projections had my team in first, second and third, so I took that as a sign of a productive draft. Although this team has a lot of risk, that risk was not assumed blindly. Calculated risk can be effective, especially in a league in which every owner knows what he's doing such that it's hard to get an edge.
Jason Grey is a graduate of the Major League Scouting Bureau's Scout Development Program and has won two Tout Wars titles, one LABR title and numerous other national "experts" competitions.