Nine rounds, nine pitchers. Taking players only from the AL East. Getting hitters, hitters, hitters before even thinking about pitching.
When I asked AJ Mass, Eric Karabell and James Quintong to try a strategy for our March 12 AL-only mock draft and follow through with it, analysis and all, they didn't go namby-pamby with it. They went all out, taking strategies that are commonplace in mono-league drafts but taking them to the extreme.
In AJ's case, I actually tried to talk him out of it. Taking all pitchers when the best hitters would be flying off the shelves? No way. But his arguments were compelling, and it did make me realize there's not a lot of good starting pitching to be had from the AL, but there is a decent amount of middle-tier hitting. Hmm. We compromised: He would take a hitter if the flow of the draft or his general love for a hitter warranted it, or at least earlier than the 10th round for his first one. That's just what he did, taking pitchers in the first five rounds before turning his attention to hitters.
As for Eric, his general idea was to focus on players from certain teams. That's a very observant concept because I know many owners play that way, especially "homers" and/or casual fans who don't know much about the ballplayers who play, say, on the opposite coast. For instance, a Yankees fan would see a lot of games involving AL East teams, and thus those are the players he would come to like. We settled at him focusing on the AL teams he felt were the best ones: the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees. And that makes perfect sense. His team could build off itself while scoring runs and collecting wins. He wouldn't lock himself to those teams, but he certainly would focus on them.
And in James' case, he would act like one of those owners -- we all know one -- who loves his hitters but can't seem to trust a single pitcher. James pulled it off well enough, taking only hitters in the first nine rounds, and still finishing with a respectable team, that I wonder if maybe he is one of those people. Hmm. Anyway, this strategy is a bit more common, and tends to be more contrived.
So how they'd do? See below.
To view the full AL-only mock draft results, click here. (Note: Due to technical issues with the draft, Jason Grey's picks of Blake Davis and Erubiel Durazo are placeholders for Alexi Casilla and Alberto Callaspo.)
AJ Mass (First pick overall, of 12 owners)
AL-Only Mock Draft Result: AJ Mass (2009 projection shown)
My strategy: I call it "Total Command Pitching."
How it works: The object is to build a dominant pitching staff -- consisting primarily of pitchers with a solid command rate (K/BB) -- that would maximize strikeouts and give you a huge head start in WHIP and ERA so you don't have to grasp at straws later in the draft. Also, grabbing a reliable closer early in a 12-owner AL-only league is essential for success, and grabbing two of the elite stoppers would be ideal, especially if playing in a head-to-head (H2H) league.
Why I thought it would work in an AL-only draft: Because of the lack of top-tier hitters compared to the NL. In theory, the difference between starting to build your lineup in Round 7, as opposed to Round 4, shouldn't affect you all that much because once you pass on the cream of the crop, the drop-off in talent has already occurred. Claiming a few extra solid arms before grabbing middle-of-the-pack bats should help you more than waiting a few extra rounds to continue grabbing the best pitchers available, widening the gap between you and your opponents.
How I put it into action: I had a list of 15-20 pitchers that I was definitely targeting in the first 6-8 rounds. Unfortunately, when I entered the draft room, I was appalled to learn I had (randomly) been given the first overall pick. Immediately I knew that this strategy might not work, as waiting 22 picks between selections was surely too long. But I stuck to the strategy, selecting CC Sabathia. By the time it got close to getting back to me, Roy Halladay was the only other pitcher who had been taken off the board, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Then it all fell apart when …
The pick that put a dent in my plans: … Eric Karabell selected Jonathan Papelbon right in front of me in Round 2. Papelbon, and his 6.7 K/BB ratio, was essential to my strategy, and now it had been scuttled. I was already behind the eight-ball in Round 2, but I didn't want to completely abandon the strategy just yet. Knowing I was looking hard at several Yankees and Twins starters, I opted to pass on Mariano Rivera and Joe Nathan, and took Joakim Soria as my closer here, but I never truly recovered from this hit. If I had been selecting at any other slot in the draft, I think I would have been far more successful.
The player I was surprised I got: J.D. Drew in Round 11. I understand the injury risk, and it's not like I thought he'd have been taken too far ahead of where I did, but Drew marked the first time I still had a name left on my next five picks when the snake came back my way, so I was stunned.
The pick I'd like to take back: I was probably too stubborn in attempting to continue my strategy once Papelbon didn't fall to me, and I definitely shouldn't have grabbed both Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey when I did. Instead, I should have gone with one of them and added either Jhonny Peralta or Jose Lopez because the pickings at middle infield got really, really slim after they both went.
The overall best pick in the draft: I really like Ryan Freel going in Round 18 to Kevin Rounce. Not only will he be a nice cheap source for steals, but there's a good chance he'll end up with middle infielder eligibility this season, and as I've said before, that's very thin in the AL.
Final analysis: How my strategy worked, suggestions, etc. As it ended up, I think I have one of the three best overall pitching staffs, along with Tristan Cockcroft and Stephania Bell, but it's not the slam-dunk runaway I was hoping for. If I had been in the middle of the draft order, I think I would have been far more successful, but I can't see this strategy working if you have to watch 20-plus players fly off the board in between your selections. In the No. 1 spot, I would consistently have 5-10 hitters queued up and ready to pick, and they'd all be gone by my next turn, whereas if I had to wait for only 12 players to be selected, I'd have been able to grab more of my targeted hitters over the course of the draft. How much better would this team have looked with the same pitching staff, but with the likes of Carlos Pena, Aubrey Huff, Ty Wigginton and Nelson Cruz in my lineup, as opposed to Nick Swisher, Joe Crede, Russell Branyan and Coco Crisp? Picking from Nos. 5-8 would probably have yielded me that outcome, and I certainly wouldn't be calling the strategy a disaster if that had been the case. As it was, I was so disenchanted with my team that I finished up the draft making several deep reaches in the hopes that at least one would pan out.
Eric Karabell (Second pick overall)
AL-Only Mock Draft Result: Eric Karabell (2009 projection shown)
My strategy: I aimed -- foolishly, it seems -- to draft only players from (I believe) the top three teams in baseball, the AL East "big three."
How it works: Well, the theory would be that the best fantasy players are on the best teams, and the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees (in order from 2008 standings) certainly have very good fantasy players. In an AL-only draft, with so many players from these teams near the top of fantasy positions, you could build quite the team of stars, and not have to worry about poor teams such as the Royals or Mariners.
Why I thought it would work in an AL draft: In retrospect, I think this would have worked if only everyone else drafting had cooperated. I tried to stick with the plan best I could but realized early on, like in Round 2, that everyone else wanted Rays, Red Sox and Yankees, too! These teams are deeper than most in the AL, though, so I figured there would be enough to go around. There wasn't.
How I put into action: It was pretty simple for about one pick. I can make the case for Dustin Pedroia's being the top AL hitter in fantasy, so I grabbed him second overall (over Mark Teixeira). Of course, I never did get a good corner option. I really needed Kevin Youkilis in Round 2, but ol' reliable Matthew Berry couldn't let him get to me. That left me with few power choices to take to keep my strategy going, so I took two players I would never take so early in Jonathan Papelbon and David Ortiz. I never take a closer early, but I didn't think I'd get Mariano Rivera if I waited. I never fill my utility spot that early, but I needed power, and fast. I don't think I was able to get enough power, but I stuck to the plan anyway. In terms of pitching, I'm probably fine, but again, those darned leaguemates of mine kept choosing my players. Yes, they were my players. My fellow owners must have missed the memo.
The pick that put a dent in my plans: Eight of the final nine picks in Round 2 were Rays, Red Sox or Yankees, and I got just one of them, so I'd say that whole round put a severe dent in my plans. Apparently nobody wanted any player from the Twins or White Sox there, or they really wanted to mess up my strategy. Losing out on Youkilis as my second pick was a harbinger of doom. I also just missed on Derek Jeter in Round 4 and J.D. Drew in Round 11. You know when you think you "missed out" on J.D. Drew that you're in trouble. Overall, all my pitchers were on those big three teams, but five of my hitters were not, though I did stay in the division for all but one pick. Since I got future Hall of Famer Matt Wieters in Round 7 -- a steal, I tell ya! -- I did fine. Wait, I did say it was an AL East team, right?
The player I was surprised I got: I think Wieters was my best bargain. Pat Burrell and his 30 homers were a nice pick where I got him, and I know Troy Percival can't stay healthy, but he can still get 20 saves. In an AL-only league, that's a big deal, having one and a half closers. I also think Julio Lugo wins the Boston shortstop job and steals 25 bases, making him a wise choice, and if Matt Joyce gets 400 at-bats from his 191st draft spot, that'd be a big boost.
The pick I'd like to take back: I still can't believe I chose a closer at pick 23. I usually wait until after pick 100! But I felt I had to take Papelbon since I was choosing from a pool of only three teams, and I didn't want to punt a category. I should have abandoned ship and taken the top two hitters left in Rounds 2 and 3, all-around stars I like, such as Bobby Abreu and Curtis Granderson. But hey, I will do well in saves.
The overall best pick in the draft: Other than Alex Rodriguez getting stolen at pick 19? (Oh yeah, I would have taken him in a second at pick 23). I liked the Carlos Quentin pick in Round 4, and later picks of Alex Gordon, Mark DeRosa and Adam Lind.
Final analysis: How my strategy worked, suggestions, etc. I think I can build a very nice team of Rays, Red Sox and Yankees, but those teams are just so bountiful with fantasy goodness that everyone kind of goes with a bit of that strategy, even if they don't set out to do it. I don't have the best team in this league, but I also don't have the worst, and maybe I had never realized just how deep those teams were. I wouldn't use the strategy so literally again, deviating on occasion if someone I really liked was available. The key is to take players on the best teams, which as a general strategy can't be wrong. Maybe I should see what I can do in an NL-only draft with Phillies, Mets and Braves!
James Quintong (Ninth pick overall)
AL-Only Mock Draft Result: James Quintong (2009 projection shown)
My strategy: Focus only on hitting early in the draft before even thinking about pitching.
How it works: Simply put, you take offense early and often (in my case, the first nine picks) in the draft before taking a pitcher. By doing so, you try to cover as many offensive positions and fortify as many offensive categories as possible before worrying about pitching. You should end up with solid offensive production across the board while hoping to get lucky with pitching by taking fliers on underachieving starters from the year before, decent setup men and the somewhat shaky closers.
Why I thought it would work in an AL draft: In one of my long-running NL-only auction leagues, I've made it a point to spend as much money as I could on offense, and then build my pitching on the cheap. It has worked at times there, so why not try it in an AL-only auction?
How I put into action: While I was looking to get as much offense as possible, I didn't intend to get four outfielders with my first four picks. But I got players who covered all the major categories with those four, so I was able to focus on filling the infield and catcher positions after that. It just seemed that there were some really good outfielders I wanted early and that the pool was thinning out quickly. Meanwhile, I felt better trying to get other positions in later rounds without feeling that I reached too much. When it came time to draft pitchers, I tried to snag a couple of decent starters (at least as decent as can be, given what's left), a closer with some sort of a hold on a job, then rolled the dice with closers-in-waiting and high-strikeout middle men. Some of these relievers will fall into closer jobs, others provide enough K's to be reasonably competitive in that category.
The pick that put a dent in my plans: Both Matt Wieters and Victor Martinez really fit into my plans for being strong at catcher, and I didn't get either of them. Martinez went just before me in the fifth round when I was going to make him my first non-outfielder, and I probably should've reached for Wieters in the sixth, given that he wouldn't have made it back in the seventh. I don't mind Jorge Posada, but there's obviously a lot of risk there.
The player I was surprised I got: Aubrey Huff isn't anything sexy, but he's a solid pick in the sixth round in this draft with the only other third baseman in my sights being Alex Gordon, who went a few rounds later. With my strategy of piling up hitters early, Huff is not a bad guy to get where I got him.
The pick I'd like to take back: Carlos Quentin is a great No. 4 outfielder for an AL-only team and didn't really come at the expense of other positions. He has proven upside, and I really needed power. But there are still some doubts about him, and I could've gotten similar power and filled an infield position, too. I probably should've gone for Carlos Pena in that round, and then come back with Vernon Wells or Jermaine Dye later on.
The overall best pick in the draft: I think Justin Verlander will bounce back this year, and he might be a steal in Round 7. If I had opted to deviate from my "no pitchers until Round 10" strategy, he would have been the type of guy I would've targeted around Round 7 or 8.
Final analysis: How my strategy worked, suggestions, etc. I'm not sure I'm as happy with my team as I usually am when I load up on hitters early on. I did pile up a bunch of speed and decent batting-average guys, but my power is still lacking, which is odd given how much I tried to invest in hitters. And since I overloaded on hitters, my pitching obviously is lacking as well, Although I do have a handful of good set-up men, it would've been nice to have a solid starter and closer as well. While I do usually go for a lot of hitters early on, I probably should've gone for a pitcher a couple of rounds earlier, especially given the lack of depth in the American League. When I do a similar strategy in my NL-only auction, I often take advantage of injuries/closer changes/etc. to churn through my pitching staff. I might have to do the same thing here with my pitchers while still hoping Duchscherer actually stays healthy.
Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy.