Loading scores...
Fantasy Roundtable

Staff Roundtable: TGFBI Draft Strategy

by NBC Sports EDGE Staff
Updated On: March 19, 2021, 10:50 am ET

In 2018, Justin Mason of FanGraphs and Friends with Fantasy Benefits began an incredible endeavor in organizing The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational (TGFBI). It was an industry league comprised of 195 writers and podcasters doing work in fantasy baseball. Participants are split into 15-team leagues and compete for first place not only in their respective leagues but in an overall standing as well. Now in its fourth year, TGFBI has grown to 29 leagues and 435 total participants. Among them were six of NBC Sports EDGE's writers. To get a bit of insight into what our analysts were thinking and their draft process, we asked them five questions regarding draft strategy. Here's what they had to say.

What is your preferred draft slot and what's your early round strategy through the first few rounds?

D.J. Short

My preferred pick would be toward the turn (No. 13 in a 15-team league, for example), as you can get an elite hitter for your first pick and a strong pitcher on the way back. Or maybe one of those elite starters slips a bit and you can snag them before grabbing a hitter on the way back. Either way, I like that spot this year.

However, in my TGFBI league, I was fortunate enough to select No. 2 overall. I'm a fantasy analyst by trade, but I'm still a fan first, which is why I had to take Fernando Tatis Jr. despite the excellent choices after Ronald Acuña Jr. came off the board. He's just so darn fun to watch and this might be my only chance to draft him this year. At that point, I knew I would take a pitcher on the way back and after seeing several of them start to fall off the board, I was happy that Clayton Kershaw was still around. I took pitchers with two of my first four picks (Sonny Gray was the other, who I consider a top-20 starter), which is a recommended strategy for me this year. I think there's going to be a select group of pitchers who you can really count to be there from beginning to end.

Brad Johnson

I like drafting out of the six spot - it ensures you get one of the elite outfielders or pitchers without needing to agonize too much over which specific one you select. At least in the very early rounds, the specific player generally doesn't matter. They're all some form of superb. What does matter is forming a plan around those selections so that you accrue the necessary production in every category. Related to that, this seems to be a draft where it's essential to take early shots on pitching. Around the 250 to 350 range, you'll find a mountain of high risk, high reward youngsters like Tejay Antone, Adbert Alzolay, and Tarik Skubal. I prefer to combine them with elite arms from the early rounds rather than loading up on mid-round talents of the Kevin Gausman variety. Along the same vein, the early-middle rounds include a number of hitters who could deliver top performances like Austin Meadows, Yoan Moncada, and Giancarlo Stanton so I want to be picking them and closers rather than starting pitchers. You could say the very opposite, but I find I'm more comfortable with Jacob deGrom, Clayton Kershaw, Meadows, and Stanton than something like Mike Trout, Manny Machado, Dinelson Lamet, and Julio Urias.

Matt Williams

I prefer to pick out of the 8-10 area as it guarantees a solid first-round stolen base option, likely Story/JRam, but leaves possibility of a Trea Turner falling. This usually allows for an ace to be picked up on the way back in most drafts. The main reason for a preference in the middle of a round is to avoid position runs.

In TGFBI I had the 1.12 which is a fine spot foe similar reasons, it just eliminates possibility of an elite player falling. My strategy was to lock up a top tier SS early and build a balanced offense the rest of the way, avoiding players with any zero category output. I ended up grabbing Trevor Story in the first and pairing him with Aaron Nola. Perfect start for my purposes. I went on to add George Springer, Starling Marte, Zach Plesac, and Aroldis Chapman to give me a solid base in all categories. I think it was important to grab an early closer with the uncertainty in the market this season who I then paired w/ a mid round Archie Bradley and late round flyer Nick Wittgren.

Ryan Boyer

I like picking in the mid- to-late portion of the first round this year, so the No. 7 spot I got in TGFBI (my first preference in KDS) suited me perfectly. In the unlikely event that one of the elite outfielders or Tatis Jr. slides, great, I will scoop him up. More likely, though, I will end up with one of the "big three" arms. I would've loved to have landed Jacob deGrom at 7, but he was nabbed right before me at 6. No worries, I'll just take the next-best-thing in Gerrit Cole. It's more difficult in a 14-teamer like TGFBI, but in a more standard 12-teamer guys like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado could be waiting for me in the second round. Pairing one of them with an elite hurler is an ideal start.

George Bissell

Every fantasy draft contains unique variables and the ability to adjust on the fly and grind through the middle and late rounds is paramount in a deeper mixed league like TGFBI. Based on research by Baseball Prospectus’ Mike Gianella, early-round starting pitchers are more likely to exceed their draft day acquisition cost than middle-round starters, who are exponentially more likely to completely bust and provide sub-replacement production due to performance or injury. Therefore, I elected to take the 14th pick, ensuring that I could grab a pair of starting pitchers -- Trevor Bauer and Walker Buehler -- before taking the best available starter and hitter -- Kenta Maeda and George Springer -- in the third and fourth rounds. To offset the early-round starting pitcher selections, my offense hinges on upper-echelon production from Springer, Austin Meadows, Luke Voit and Nelson Cruz, who have all produced at that level in recent years. 

Jorge Montanez

I ended up with the number five pick in TGFBI, and it turns out to be one of my favorite spots to draft from, especially in 15-team leagues such as this. It ensures that I will get either one of the top two pitchers in Gerrit Cole and Jacob deGrom, or an elite five-category hitter such as Ronald Acuna Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., or Trea Turner. I was faced with the decision of either Cole or Turner in TGFBI, and I elected to take Cole. There’s a stretch of about 13 starting pitchers going in the first two rounds that I’d feel good about as my ace, so landing one of the top guys is a good idea in my book. Ideally, I’d also like to take one of the top shortstops. We see a tier at the position end at about pick 40 with Tim Anderson. So, starting my draft with a foundational starter and five-category shortstop is always a priority.

Editor’s Note: Get an edge on draft day with our premium Draft Guide that is packed with rankings, projections, tiers, ADP reports, mock drafts, expert columns and much more. And don't forget to use promo code WELCOME10 to get 10% off. Click here to learn more!

What was your strategy for drafting saves? Is it viable to wait until after pick 200 this year to start drafting closers?

D.J. Short

I usually want two closers who I'm confident will go into the year as the unquestioned choice. It's just paranoia. I was able to do that with Raisel Iglesias and Greg Holland with my TGFBI squad, but this is definitely a year where it's not necessary. If last year taught us anything, the turnover is likely to be significant. You can do a bunch of dart throws late if you want, but your draft is far from the finish line as far as saves are concerned. Don't panic.

Brad Johnson 

As the guy who writes Saves and Steals, it's helpful for my work to eschew saves in at least some leagues. That said, when it really matters, I try to pop at least one minted closer. Even if it's just Craig Kimbrel. Two is even better! I found myself frequently with Liam Hendriks and a second like Kenley Jansen, Edwin Diaz, or James Karinchak in mock drafts this season, but the live leagues have proven bolder when reaching for saves. There are plenty of saves to be picked up off waivers, you'll just need to pay close attention, be patient, and above all else, win the race to the waiver wire. In FAAB leagues, try to anticipate closer changes rather than dropping a ton of money on them. I might suggest reading Saves and Steals every Wednesday too (wink wink, nudge nudge).

Ryan Boyer

Two likely closers and a speculative closer play is ideal in a 14-team league, but I don't think it's totally necessary to get two and this year in particular it's difficult to pull off. I wound up with Jordan Hicks and Will Smith as my first two relievers. Neither guy technically has the closer job wrapped up, but I think both are likely ninth-inning guys and have the potential to keep the job all year. I then supplemented them with Pete Fairbanks and Archie Bradley. It's not a bad strategy to just ignore closers for the first 20 rounds and focus late in the draft on a few relievers you like, regardless of their likelihood of getting save opportunities at the beginning of the season. It might cause some anxiety, sure, but I promise you, the majority of players in your league are going to have saves anxiety at some point, no matter how good they felt about the category immediately after the draft.

George Bissell

I can’t envision a more colossal waste of time than investing in closers given their insanely high turnover rates, and availability in-season on the waiver wire, as analytically-inclined organizations league-wide continue to shift towards closer-by-committee. Without the ability to trade in this format, a one-dimensional closer essentially becomes a sunk cost once they lose save opportunities. Plus, a mediocre closer is more likely to damage your ratios, which offsets any gains in another statistical category. I’m good. Pass.

Jorge Montanez

In a 15 team league, I actually like taking one of the top closers in the late-fourth to early-fifth round. In TGFBI, I selected Liam Hendriks near the end of the fourth. There’s value to me in knowing I have a guy that has elite skills and will hold the job all season long. The way I see it, you can take one pitcher to get you 30 saves, or you can clog up three or four roster spots for guys that might just get you a dozen saves and you might not know when they’ll come. I don’t mind taking someone like Will Smith as my second closer after pick 200, but if he’s your first one, you kind of have to back him up with Chris Martin. Same for Jordan Hicks and Giovanny Gallegos, or Joakim Soria and Stefan Crichton. It goes on and on. Even the ones with the job like Rafael Montero and Jose Leclerc are shaky at best. Do you really want to play the faab game for Kendal Graveman and Joely Rodriguez? The closer landscape is a mess, and if I want to complete in the overall standings among over 400 participants in TGFBI, I had to secure a top closer to set my foundation for saves. 

Were there any picks you felt you reached for to make sure you got your player and who was it?

D.J. Short

Going by NFC ADP, I reached on Yoan Moncada somewhat (62nd overall), but I'm throwing out what happened with him last year due to his COVID-19 diagnosis. He has said that he felt weak for months and the numbers certainly backed that up. He completely fell off the map in terms of hard-hit percentage, average exit velocity, and barrel percentage and he didn't even attempt a stolen base. No, I'm not expecting a .400 BABIP again, but Moncada should be a lot better if he's feeling good and worthy of this draft position.

Brad Johnson

My co-manager wanted Nick Madrigal as our second baseman. I wanted Jake Cronenworth. So we compromised and selected both. The downside to that is it leaves a mighty big hole in the home run category. While we had a number of sluggers on hand, none (besides perhaps Bryce Harper) were in the Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, or Joey Gallo class of 40 home run threats. So that led us to reach on Adam Duvall, Justin Upton, and Hunter Renfroe as our 20th through 22nd picks. Duvall projects to supply over 40 HR per 650 plate appearances while Upton and Renfroe are 30+ HR pace guys. They were the last three to project for such output - the likes of C.J. Cron and Eddie Rosario were long gone at this point. While we'll likely quickly move on from one or more of these no-AVG, all-power outfielders, having a collection of choices to start the season will give us a better chance of catching some much-needed home runs. 

Ryan Boyer

If you go by the NFBC ADP numbers, my biggest reach among the top-200 picks was Jordan Hicks at 144. ADPs with closers have a tendency to fluctuate, though, both because runs during the draft can dictate when you take one and also because we can gain more clarity on roles. In Hicks' case, he's looking more and more like an Opening Day closer with positive reports coming out of Cardinals camp, so I suspect this won't look like a reach by late March. His ADP over the last week is 40 spots higher than it is overall.

George Bissell

Ke’Bryan Hayes -- 107th overall -- and Freddy Peralta -- 257th overall -- were the two players that I’ve been extremely bullish on from a projection standpoint and as a result was rather aggressive in pursuing to ensure that they ended up on this roster. It was an extremely small sample, but Hayes showcased an ability to be a five-category producer, hitting .376 with five round-trippers and one steal in 95 plate appearances as a rookie last season. He also compiled a 55 percent hard-hit rate, totaled 14 extra-base hits and struck out only 20 times during that span. Based on his sizzling start this spring, I’m convinced it wasn’t a total mirage. He isn’t a fantasy superstar, but if he’s a baseline .280 hitter with 15 homers and 10-plus steals, that’s basically a cheaper version of Jeff McNeil. If you’ve followed me on Twitter at all, my affinity for Peralta has been well documented over the last few years. He could be an absolute monster as a multi-inning reliever this season.

Jorge Montanez

Through the first eight rounds, I felt I got pretty good value on all of my picks, not having to reach and actually having some picks fall to me. So when my pick came in the ninth round at 125 overall, I had to get my guy, Ian Happ. His ADP was in the 160’s, but I didn’t want to take the chance of him not being there for my next pick at 146. Even this much ahead of his ADP, Happ is worth the pick. Many may not have noticed, but Happ’s breakout actually started in 2019. He hit .264 with 11 home runs and two steals in only 156 plate appearances while cutting his strikeout rate down to 25%. And he continued that into 2020, hitting .311 with 10 home runs and a steal in 146 plate appearances until he fouled a ball off of his eye. With strong on-base skills, power, and a little bit of speed, Happ is going to provide a ton of value hitting atop the Cubs lineup.

What was your favorite pick you felt you got the best value on?

D.J. Short

Michael Kopech (294) felt like a nice value for me when folks were pretty much in the dart-throw territory with pitchers in the later rounds. Kopech will begin the 2021 season out of the bullpen after not pitching the previous two years, but there’s still a chance he could have some value in that role while we wait for his eventual move to the rotation. There’s big-time potential here if he can keep his control in check. And if it doesn’t work out, I didn’t risk all that much with where I took him.

Brad Johnson

Totally a cop out answer - I got Shane Bieber with the 14th overall pick. It's only a bargain by some six or eight picks. However, starting a roster with Bieber instead of Bauer, Darvish, or Scherzer feels like a huge upgrade. By auction value, it's about a $5 bonus. Later on, I was ecstatic to get Tejay Antone 284th overall. You could probably call that a reach too. A reach and a bargain!

My Tout Wars roster, which follows a similar format, has more value picks. Some of my favorites are Ketel Marte (85th), Yoan Moncada (96th), Daulton Varsho (216), and Michael Kopech (445th). I also got Bieber (6th) and Antone (295th) in this league. This is a 15-team Draft and Hold format meaning our 50-round draft is the only way to roster players. Taking a long view with players like Kopech can be profitable so long as you don't do it with too many guys.

Ryan Boyer

Being able to snag Eduardo Rodriguez at 247 feels like a major steal to me. I wouldn't have been surprised to see him last that long a few months ago when we were less sure about his health situation, but, thankfully he's had no issues and looks like he'll be able to go full-bore at the start of the season. Sure, he's not going to throw 200 innings after sitting out 2020, but I suspect his workload isn't going to be curtailed much more than most hurlers. Rodriguez was one of the better starters in the American League in his last full season.

George Bissell

It seems strange considering that he ostensibly broke out last year, but I selected Dodgers’ righty Tony Gonsolin at 227th overall in the 16th round. Fantasy managers are terrified of the Dodgers’ strategic approach to handling their pitching staff, but there’s no reason to be scared with regards how they’ll utilize him this year. The 26-year-old righty was on the outside looking in at this time last year, but ended up finding a path to nearly 10 starts during the truncated 2020 campaign. Clayton Kershaw, David Price, Walker Buehler and Julio Urias haven’t exactly been injury-free over the course of their careers and manager Dave Robers has talked about being flexible and creative with how they approach their rotation this year. Simply put, I’d rather have 100 high-quality innings from Gonsolin than 150 mediocre frames from someone else at this stage of a fantasy draft.

Jorge Montanez

I was absolutely thrilled to land last season’s home run leader, Luke Voit, at 86 overall. Outside of his 2017 debut that consisted of 124 plate appearances and the second half of 2019 in which Voit was dealing with a core injury, all he’s done is hit. What separates Voit from other mashers at first base such as Pete Alonso and Matt Olson is his ability to hit for a decent average. His career line drive rate of 23% is outstanding. When you can spray line drives all over the field, you’re going to see a high BABIP. Combined with an improved 83.1% zone-contact rate and 23% strikeout rate, it’s easy for me to buy Voit’s career .274 batting average. And hitting in Yankee Stadium, in that lineup, in that division, oh yeah, he’s in for another big year.

Where do you see the biggest positional scarcity or drop-off and did you take that into consideration with any of your picks?

Ryan Boyer

Second base is probably the weakest infield position (not including catcher) and there is a clear drop-off after the top three of DJ LeMahieu, Ozzie Albies and Whit Merrifield. That's why popping Albies (the only one of the aforementioned three still on the board) at pick 37 seemed like a no-brainer to me. The next second baseman taken after that didn't go off the board until pick 70 (Keston Hiura).

Brad Johnson

I completely agree with Ryan about second base being the scarcest non-catcher position. Personally, I'm quite comfortable taking Ketel Marte (my second-best second baseman) and Mike Moustakas at huge discounts, but it can get ugly if you play it too coy and miss on both of them. I have firsthand proof too! My TGFBI roster has Jake Cronenworth and Nick Madrigal because I didn't take Marte when I had the chance.

Jorge Montanez

I’m going to go in a different direction with this one. While second base is definitely a weak position, there’s not all that much that separates them after the top-three. Would it surprise anyone if Nick Solak or Gavin Lux put up similar numbers to Jose Altuve but 70-100 picks later? Or if Kolten Wong and Andres Gimenes end up more valuable than Dylan Moore? Not all that much separates the glob of mid-to-late second baseman. For me, this goes back to my early-round strategy. I see big drop-off at a position thought to be one of the deepest, shortstop. It’s not that there aren’t good players after the top-tier, it’s that I like the skillsets of players at other positions going where the late shortstops are going. After Tim Anderson around pick 40, there isn’t another shortstop until Gleyber Torres and Javier Baez in the 60’s. The thing is, neither will steal you 20 bases. And when I’m trying to maximize my efficiency with every pick, I want to roster as many players capable of stealing bases as possible. So, instead of filling shortstop with Torres, I can target Trent Grisham or Randy Arozarena, two players capable of stealing 20 bases at a position other than shortstop, where ideally, I already have a five-category contributor.