ROTISSERIE: Playing it safe on draft day

(An earlier version of this article appreared on March 7; a few errors in that version have been updated here.)

Risk management is a draft-day factor that is given its due here at It is important enough that we factor in a three-letter Reliability designation (e.g., ABC) to monitor players' health, playing time, and consistency. In other words, how much time a player has spent on the DL to date in his career, how much guaranteed playing time he will receive, and how consistent his performance has been are three important aspects of a player to consider when drafting. In fact, in our 2017 Baseball Forecaster, we recommend considering risk assessment as part of everyone's draft-day strategy. However, we rightly caution not to "go overboard bidding up a AAA-rated player simply due ot his Reliability grades" (p. 15).

Today, though, we throw caution to the wind. What kind of team would be assembled if all we did was take Reliability into account? What if you have little time to manage a team in-season or if you are so risk averse that you'd prefer to mitigate roster turnover as much as possible before the season begins?

In this exercise, we took Ron Shandler's advice from the Forecaster to choose at the wheel to get the number 15/16 overall picks. We then used the current NFBC ADP values to approximate the players who might be available at these positions (a big assumption but necessary for this kind of study). Then within three picks on either side of the slot (save the first round where we did not reach higher), we chose the player with the best overall Reliability, which is scored using an A–F scale. I scored A=5, B=4, C=3, etc. to provide a sum that functioned as my overall Reliability score.

In order to break ties in Reliability scores (e.g., BAC vs. ACB) we ranked health as the most important factor (players cannot produce if they are not on the field), then playing time, and finally consistency as the least important factor. In cases where the Reliability score was exactly the same, we went with the highest Mayberry Score of the two players. For sake of brevity, we chose to fill only the 23 spots allotted for the starting lineup. The results are below:

Round (Pick) Name (Position, Team) Reliability Grade
1 (15) Madison Bumgarner (SP, SF) AAA
2 (16) Carlos Correa (SS, HOU) ACB
3 (45) Aroldis Chapman (RP, NYY) BAB
4 (46) Ryan Braun (OF, MIL) AAC
5 (75) Todd Frazier (3B, CHW) AAA
6 (76) Ian Kinsler (2B, DET)  AAB
7 (105) Evan Gattis (C, HOU) BBB
8 (106) Jose Quintana (SP, CHW) AAA
9 (135) Francisco Rodriguez (RP, DET) AAB
10 (136) Tanner Roark (SP, WAS) AAA
11 (165) Adrian Gonzalez (1B, LAD) AAA
12 (166) Russell Martin (C, TOR) ABB
13 (195) Ender Inciarte (OF, ATL) BBB
14 (196) Jay Bruce (OF, NYM) AAB
15 (225) Matt Shoemaker (SP, LAA) CBA
16 (226) Hunter Renfroe (OF, SD) ACB
17 (255) Didi Gregorius (SS, NYY) ABB
18 (256) Domingo Santana (OF, MIL) CCB
19 (285) Yangervis Solarte (3B, SD) BBB
20 (286) Brett Gardner (OF, NYY) BAA
21 (315) Trevor Bauer (SP, CLE) AAA
22 (316) Francisco Liriano (SP, TOR) CAB
23 (345) Matt Andriese (SP, TB) ADA

It felt strange to select Madison Bumgarner (RHP, SF, round 1) with our first round pick, but no one can deny that the guy can go out and throw 200+ strong innings every season. That said, to pass on a bat for the reliable choice was unnerving. Surprising, there were many "reliable" pitchers available throughout the draft.

In the second round it came down to two equally talented shortstops. Carlos Correa (SS, HOU, ACB) and Corey Seager (SS, LAD, ACB) have the same reliability score, but Correa's Mayberry Score (4355) broke the tie. We would not begrudge an owner for going the other way, however.

We passed on David Price (SP, BOS) and his BAA Reliability score in the 4th round in order to secure an OF1 option with Ryan Braun (OF, MIL). Given the news from March 4 that Price is experiencing elbow soreness, it just seemed like the right move. The goal of the exercise is not merely to build a risk-averse lineup, but also one that can compete.

Taking a catcher in the 7th and 10th rounds seems counter-intuitive relative to the value that can be had in the middle rounds. However, given the paucity of reliable options behind the dish, the picks fell where they fell and our team was able to secure two of the most reliable backstops in the league. 

We shuddered after selecting Tanner Roark (SP, WAS, AAA), as somehow his 2015 (-6 RAR, -$3) still merited an "A" for consistency. It felt like a bad pick, and the next best option was Albert Pujols (1B, LAA). Initially, we had penciled in Pujols until we realized the next round we'd be able to secure the ever-reliable (albeit unexciting) Adrian Gonzalez (1B, LA).

We strayed from the methodology a bit in the 13th round as well, selecting Ender Inciarte (OF, ATL) over Jeff Samardzija (SP, SF). The Baseball Forecaster speculates that Inciarte could steal upwards of 35 bases this season. The team felt light in the speed department at this point in the draft, and we were able to secure some cheaper, reliable pitching options with my last three picks in the draft.

There seem to be a plethora of reliable pitchers to choose from throughout the draft, as much as one can say a pitcher is reliable given the rash of elbow and shoulder injuries in baseball these days. Catchers and second basemen, however, are on the other side of the coin, being the scarcest position in terms of reliability. Shortstop may be undergoing a renaissance in fantasy, but in terms of reliability it is a veritable wasteland. Many of the most reliable options are not great fantasy producers. Managers would be wise to draft a backup in the reserve rounds. That said, this is (almost) the most reliable team one could assemble.

But is this team viable in a real NFBC 5x5 roto league? Utilizing the RotoLab software (check it out here) along with projections (as of March 9), we inputed the team in order to find out. The RotoLab goals for each roto category are listed along with the sum of projected stats that the players.

RotoLab Goals 900 250 950 150 .283
Team Reliability 1002 281 999 125 .267


RotoLab Goals 85 70 950 3.65 1.27
Team Reliability 86 81 1265 3.55 1.21

We were surprised by the results. Though the team falls a bit short in speed and batting average, it's not unsalvageable. Overall, the results came out better than expected. This is certainly an unconventional draft exercise, as there is little chance all the players I was able to choose from would have been there at the appropriate picks. However, there may be some merit in looking more closely at reliability, especially as injuries mount up throughout the course of the season.

So the question is, will you play it safe this year?

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.