When I was a kid, a unique combination of dread and excitement overtook my house each year in early March, culminating in a strange and wonderful night: my dad’s fantasy baseball draft. The lead up involved my dad spending weekend hours on the phone strategizing with his younger brother (and co-manager), which I’m sure annoyed my mom in and of itself. But it was that fateful weeknight she hated the most, the night of the draft, which, in a pre-internet age meant a strange collection of dudes congregating in our basement, yelling at one another.
I was fascinated by the event, if in large part because I thought I could squeeze a later bedtime out of the chaos. When it was all over with, I had two teams to root for: the Mets, and my Dad and uncle’s team, the Gas-House Gorillas. At the time, the Mets were so bad it was nice to have the distraction.
As I got older I didn’t think much about playing fantasy baseball myself, until last year, when I found my partner’s abandoned team before me on the coffee table. He had been in a league with friends from college, but had forgotten about it and had been served up an auto-draft of former greats, the power-hitters that were, a roster centered around Jose Bautista and his fateful bruised toe.
“What are you DOING with this team?” I said, now shamelessly scrolling through his laptop. My partner, a sports-lover and normally very competitive, just shrugged.
“Fantasy baseball’s too much work. You can have it if you want.”
And so I came to manage my first very own fake baseball team. I overhauled the roster, dropping the old guys, and picking through league leftovers for anyone useable. But all the while I felt my loyalty to the Mets at odds with an objective standard for the team. I could feel myself favoring Mets players, and I struggled to play pitchers against the Mets, even when I knew they were probably going to crush them (the single benefit of the auto-draft had been Madison Bumgarner). Baseball had always been blissfully uncomplex for me—that was part of its charm—Mets or nothing. The fantasy league opened up a whole new realm of possibilities; sometimes, it kind of felt like cheating.
Happily, if you too are a Mets loyalist with a lot of feelings, there are some particularly good Queens-based fantasy options this year.
The first being the obvious: Noah Syndergaard. ESPN has Thor as their No. 25 overall pick, while Baseball Prospectus projects a performance similar to last year’s with 218 strikeouts and 12 wins (holding steady with his 2016 performance of 218 strikeouts and 14 wins). Several fantasy pundits have him even higher in the ranks: Bobby Sylvester of FantasyPros at No. 12, John Halpin of Fox Sports at No. 15, and Andy Behrens of Yahoo! Sports at No. 16. Our own BPer Greg Wellemeyer has Syndergaard in the number three slot for starting pitchers across a three-year projection; keeper leagues, take note. It’ll be tough to get your hands on Syndergaard—his value is evident to any baseball enthusiast—but it looks like he’ll be worth it this season and beyond.
Yoenis Cespedes’s strikeout rate of 19.9 percent in 2016 might give him a fluctuating value depending on league rules; however, his power is undeniable, and as such he continues to rank well on fantasy lists. ESPN puts him in slot 46 overall, and Wellemeyer ranks him No. 14 for outfielders. BP 2017 projections suggest Cespedes will get slightly more playing time this year and average around .261. Since he can be streaky, fantasy owners will want to keep a close eye on Cespedes’ day-to-day. Then again, what better reason to have him on your team as a Mets fan—you’ll be watching him anyway.
Jacob deGrom and Jeurys Familia also make appearances on ESPN’s list, at Nos. 62 and 112, respectively. Surgery on deGrom’s ulnar nerve is certainly a concern, so he’s one to watch closely in spring training. But Wellemeyer puts him at No. 20 amongst starting pitchers, suggesting that his outlook over the next few years is bright. BP projections put him at 12-10 with a 3.50 ERA for a slightly weaker performance than last season. For me Familia is one to avoid, given questions of whether he’ll be suspended as a result of domestic violence charges, and also how much he loves blowing a lead. (Sounds like setting yourself up for double heartbreak if you ask me.) That said, if he does get suspended at the start of the season, he might be available to pick-up amongst a pool of lesser players.
Now here’s where ESPN, for me, goes off the board—Matt Harvey at No. 125. I had Matt Harvey on my team last year, and it was dually unpleasant to watch him self-destruct in the fourth inning. Now, the man has had his rib removed. I also want Matt Harvey to be good again. But I am certainly not about to run out and pick him up in fantasyland. If you want to take a risk on a formerly injured starter, I’d go with Steven Matz or Zack Wheeler. Matz is reportedly “feeling great” in Port St. Lucie; Wheeler is throwing off the mound, and both of them have all their bones in their body! For the Mets’ sake, here’s hoping the Dark Knight proves me wrong.
Finally, there’s Michael Conforto. The man has power. Unfortunately, picking up Conforto is less about whether he can hit and more about whether Terry Collins will let him. The 24-year-old spent most of 2016 on a plane, but managed a respectable .220/.310/.414 when he was in Queens, and slashed .422/.483/.727 in Las Vegas. Wellemeyer has Conforto at No. 42 for outfielders, and BP projects a 2017 average of .260, but I can’t help but get a little starry-eyed when I see that .727. If Collins actually plays Conforto, and plays him right (e.g. stops putting him up against lefties), I think he could be a real fantasy asset, or at least a bit of a real-world antidote to the existence of Jay Bruce.
No doubt many of you are seasoned fantasy managers who’ve learned to remove the personal from the business of drafting. And I’m a sentimentalist, certainly. This is without a doubt how I ended up with Bartolo Colon on my fantasy team last year. But I do think there can be advantage to choosing players you watch most closely, the team dynamics with which you’re most familiar. As it turned out, Colon was a remarkably stable workhorse of a pitcher where very talented and younger men floundered. If only I had gotten the points for his home run …
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