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By using the free Draft Wizards’ mock draft tool, we can run different Fantasy Baseball experiments, like figuring out what happens if an owner decides to draft Clayton Kershaw with the first pick, instead of consensus No. 1 player, Mike Trout?

Fantasy Baseball Conventional Wisdom (2015 Edition) tells us that Mike Trout is the undisputed No. 1 overall pick in Fantasy drafts, and adds that there is a glut of quality starting pitchers out there. Burning an early draft pick on an SP is unnecessary, supposedly, since you can load up on mid-range talent once you have a strong stockpile of hitters on your roster.

While there’s plenty of validity in both of those statements, there’s a certain restless spirit within me that demands that such widely (often blindly) accepted notions be put to the test. What if I was to draft Clayton Kershaw with the first pick?

How would the draft shake out — once my league-mates had recovered from the shock, of course? The owner with the No. 2 pick would likely spend all but five seconds of his/her allotted time scouring the Internet to find reassurance that Trout was indeed healthy?

Would the space-time continuum suffer irreparable damage if I took a pitcher with the top pick? Perhaps worse, would my selection of available hitters in the later rounds be reminiscent of one of those all-night diners: not somewhere you go, but somewhere you end up.

Scary thoughts indeed, but they only heightened my motivation to unveil a strategy I have coined:

“The Kershaw Gambit” — When You Draft Clayton Kershaw with the First Pick

Basically, the “Gambit” consists of taking the Dodgers’ ace lefty with the first overall pick, following my normal strategy through the balance of the draft, and then analyzing my results against the rest of the league.

Fortunately, FantasyPros  has a nifty mock draft tool that allows you to draft “solo” against computer opponents that make their picks based on the Expert Consensus Rankings. For my first go at painting this picture, I selected the broadest brush available: a “default” league and team setup at one of the largest Fantasy Baseball providers — in this case,

In the basic “Free” CBS Rotisserie format, leagues consist of 10 teams, with the following roster requirements: 2-C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, 5-OF, 2-U, 9-P, 2-Reserves.

Now if I remember my eighth-grade science lab notes correctly, experiments need something called a “control”, in which you do the experiment without the variable you’re assessing being in place. With this scientific principle in mind, the first thing I did was to run through a mock draft without taking Kershaw; rather, I went with the universally-accepted option of selecting Trout with the No. 1 overall pick.

Here’s a pick-by-pick breakdown of the first two rounds and a brief synopsis of my first seven picks. (Note: these mock drafts were conducted just before it was announced that Kenley Jansen would be out for 8-12 weeks. While I didn’t take Jansen, his presence influenced the other teams’ selections.) Man, dig those boffo team names, would you?

When You Draft Mike Trout with the First Pick

In order to fit the table, we made it vertical, rather than the usual horizontal format.

TeamsRound 1Round 2
Buck's SCFE Team1.1 Mike Trout, OF, LAA2.10 Chris Sale, SP, CHW
Crazy For Yu1.2 Andre McCutchen, OF, PIT2.9 Max Scherzer, SP, WAS
Stubb Hub1.3 Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit2.8 Troy Tulowitzki, SS, COL
Streetcar Named Cuddyer1.4 Clayton Kershaw, SP, LAD2.7 Jose Altuve, 2B, HOU
A Guy Walks Into Aybar1.5 Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona2.6 Hanley Ramirez, SS, BOS
Grand Theft Votto1.6 Giancarlo Stanton, OF, MIA2.5 Michael Brantley, OF, CLE
Never Walk a Loney1.7 Carlos Gomez, OF, MIL2.4 Robinson Cano, 2B, SEA
Always Wright1.8 Jose Abreu, 1B, CHW2.3 Anthony Rizzo, 1B, CHC
Not Stanton For This1.9 Jose Bautista, OF, TOR2.2 Adam Jones, OF, BAL
Bourn Thugs 'n Parmelee1.10 Felix Hernandez, SP, SEA2.1 Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, TOR

Picks 20/21: Well hello there, Mr. Chris Sale; the Chisox’s lights-out lefty fell to me at pick 20, and I gladly took advantage of my cyber opponents’ ineptitude. Madison Bumgarner and Stephen Strasburg were also on the board here, giving me a host of options as to who my staff ace would be. Some of the available position players included Adrian Beltre, Yasiel Puig, and — Anthony Rendon?! Seriously? Man, they told me I would be drafting against computers, but I didn’t know they would be VIC-20s and TRS-80s; nice cassette drive there, cyber-dude. You analog SweatHogs keep on drafting while I head over to the trophy shop to place an order. Sale and Rendon form a dynamic duo to add as a complement to the best player in baseball, and I’m feeling very good as I start planning my next two picks.

Picks 40/41: Some close calls here, but I went with Zack Greinke and Hunter Pence; the former since I felt there was a drop-off coming in starting pitching later this round, and the latter because he does a little bit of everything well, and he has played in at least 154 games each of the past seven seasons. Durability goes a long way with me.

Picks 60/61: Evan Longoria and Craig Kimbrel were both very pleasant surprises here, but these kinds of things sometimes happen in shallow-league mocks. Third base is a bit of a Fantasy wasteland once the top players leave the board, so I’m happy to have Longo in the fold. Rendon can also swing over to the hot corner if Longoria lands on the shelf at some point this season. Kimbrel is one of baseball’s top closers, and I’m a big fan of grabbing a bullpen anchor as the draft enters its middle rounds.

My final roster looked like this:

C McCann Grandal
1B Morneau Cuddyer
2B Rendon
SS Al. Ramirez
3B Longoria
OF Trout Pence Gordon Yelich Choo
U Murphy Kendrick
SP Sale Greinke Ross Carrasco Stroman Pineda Salazar
RP Kimbrel Cishek Feliz
BN Cuddyer Salazar

I had a good feeling when I looked over this team immediately post-draft, and the Draft Wizard Evaluator agreed with me. Projected point totals are shown for the top-five teams only:

Pts. Overall
67 Buck’s SCFE Team
61 Not Stanton for This
60 Stubb Hub
60 Crazy for Yu
58 Street Car Named Cuddyer
Grand Theft Votto
Always Wright
Bourn Thugs-n-Parmelee
A Guy Walks Into Aybar
Never Walk A Loney
Pts. Hitting
36 A Guy Walks Into Aybar
36 Buck’s SCFE Team
35 Stubb Hub
34 Always Wright
28 Grand Theft Votto
Not Stanton for This
Never Walk A Loney
Crazy for Yu
Bourn Thugs-n-Parmelee
Street Car Named Cuddyer
Pts. Pitching
43 Street Car Named Cuddyer
33 Crazy for Yu
33 Bourn Thugs-n-Parmelee
32 Not Stanton for This
31 Buck’s SCFE Team
Grand Theft Votto
Stubb Hub
Never Walk A Loney
Always Wright
0 A Guy Walks Into Aybar

My team may be projected for fifth in pitching, but I’m only three points away from second place. If some of my high-upside hurlers fulfill their potential, I just might win this league in a route.

“Big deal,” you might say. “Whoop-de-doo and good for you; you managed to win the mock after drafting the best player in baseball. Pick up your commemorative keychain/LED light combination tool on your way out the door.” Wow, that’s harsh — but point taken. Are batteries included with that parting gift?

When You Draft Clayton Kershaw with the First Pick

Let’s reset the board, and have another go — but this time, I’m going with “The Kershaw Gambit.” I hope that the cyber-player drafting second doesn’t blow a fuse or something. Here’s how the first two rounds shook out — hey, more witty and whimsical team names!

TeamsRound 1Round 2
Buck's SCFE Team1.1 Clayton Kershaw, SP, LAD2.10 Max Scherzer, SP, WAS
Harts on Fiers1.2 Mike Trout, OF, LAA2.9 Troy Tulowitzki, SS, COL
Grand Theft Votto1.3 Andrew McCutchen, OF, PIT2.8 Anthony Rizzo, 1B, CHC
Gran Victorino1.4 Giancarlo Stanton, OF, MIA2.7 Adam Jones, OF, BAL
Too Lidge-it to Quit1.5 Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, ARI2.6 Jose Altuve, 2B, HOU
Pineiro Bread1.6 Miguel Cabrera, 1B, DET2.5 Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B, WAS
Dude Looks Like a Nady1.7 Carlos Gomez, OF, MIL2.4 Chris Sale, SP, CHW
McCutchen Sink1.8 Jose Abreu, 1B, CHW2.3 Robinson Cano, 2B, SEA
How the Greinke Stole Christmas1.9 Jose Bautista, OF, TOR2.2 Yasiel Puig, OF, LAD
Lemon Harang Pie1.10 Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, TOR2.1 Felix Hernandez, SP, SEA

Pick 20-21: Well, well, what have we here? Messrs. Scherzer and Bumgarner made it through the first two rounds, while Adrian Beltre, Hanley Ramirez and Ian Desmond are the best bats currently available. Hmmm… there’s no way I should take another starting pitcher here, right? Right? Aw, what the heck, we’re in full-scale rebellion mode here; it’s go big or go home — and I can’t find my keys, so we’re going big.

Welcome to the team, Max. I’ll pair him with Cleveland’s Michael Brantley, who I firmly believe will be a star again in 2015. I can almost hear my cyber-opponents’ resistors frying after those two picks. C’mon, Poindexters, I can hear the clock ticking … or is that your hard drive bidding us a fond farewell?

Picks 40-41: Well, that early run on bats allowed Justin Upton to slide to the end of Round 4, and I’m here to make sure he doesn’t fall any farther. I’ll pair him with Jose Reyes, who should help give me a leg up in the stolen bases category.

Picks 60-61: Longoria was on the board again, so I grabbed him and Matt Kemp to add some more pop to my lineup. I was hoping that Greg Holland would fall to me next round, so I passed on Kimbrel this time.

Picks 80-81: No dice on Holland, so I added Jason Heyward and Alex Cobb. At this point in the draft, I have arguably the league’s best starting pitchers, four dynamic outfielders and a slugging third baseman. I like where this is going, although I still need to find a closer before too much longer. Koji Uehara, Cody Allen and Huston Street are my “fallback” options as a No. 1 bullpen guy this season.

I liked the team I ended up with. My potent starting pitching allowed me to grab some undervalued bats in the late rounds and since this is such a shallow league, there should be plenty of sticks available on the waiver wire throughout the season. My final roster looked like this:

C Perez Ramos
1B Duda
2B Pedroia
SS Reyes
3B Longoria
OF Brantley J. Upton Kemp Heyward Moss
U Hosmer Ar. Ramirez
SP Kershaw Scherzer Cobb Carrasco Richards Wacha
RP Allen Uehara Papelbon
BN Beltran Pineda

I’m not a huge Carlos Beltran fan, but he’ll be an obvious first cut if he starts slowly or suffers an injury. When healthy, he still has enough pop to be relevant in most leagues. In hindsight, I probably should have focused more on speed in the latter rounds.

Here’s how the Draft Analyzer saw it (point totals shown for the top five teams):

Pts. Overall
72 Buck’s SCFE Team
63 Lemon Harang Pie
61 Harts on Fiers
58 Grand Theft Votto
56 Too Lidge-it to Quit
6 McCutchen Sink
7 Pineiro Bread
8 How the Greinke Stole Christmas
9 Gran Victorino
10 Dude looks like a Nady
Pts. Hitting
37 Lemon Harang Pie
37 McCutchen Sink
36 Harts on Fiers
33 Grand Theft Votto
30 Pineiro Bread
30 Buck’s SCFE Team
7 Gran Victorino
8 How the Greinke Stole Christmas
9 Dude looks like a Nady
10 Too Lidge-it to Quit
Pts. Pitching
 41 Buck’s SCFE Team
40 Too Lidge-it to Quit
30 Dude looks like a Nady
30 How the Greinke Stole Christmas
27 Gran Victorino
6 Lemon Harang Pie
7 Harts on Fiers
8 Pineiro Bread
9 Grand Theft Votto
10 McCutchen Sink

No surprise that my pitching carried my team’s overall score, and I am confident that a little waiver-wire wizardly will allow me to move up in some of the hitting categories.

The point here is that if I draft Kershaw with the first pick, it ends up being a perfectly viable strategy in a shallow-league format, such as CBS’ default setup. At no point in this draft did I feel like I was scrambling for talent, and there are several solid hitters that were not drafted.

From a purely subjective standpoint, I did feel I was drawn more toward hitters as a result of tabbing Kershaw with the No. 1 pick, but it’s important that you continue to shop for value. Again, in this shallow format, the waiver wire will play a prominent role in determining the final standings, so a few misplaced late-round fliers do not spell disaster.

I hope this exercise has also illustrated that just because you take Kershaw in Round 1, you don’t have to shy away from capitalizing on a bargain should it fall your way at the 2/3 turn — even if that bargain involves a second starting pitcher.

Now, there are variables aplenty in this little exercise, and one can only glean so much real data from drafting against computers, but I believe that both of the teams I drafted would be competitive in the default CBS format. I much prefer the “Trout” roster over the “Kershaw” iteration, but I would gladly carry either team into competition.

Granted, this format has a deep talent pool, and it’s fairly easy to pull this off in a 10-team league, but how well would this strategy work with an NFBC 15-team league format, where the margin for error is much smaller? Good question — and there’s only a way you can find out — do your own mock draft for free! What’s cool about this tool is that it allows you to “revert” a pick if you decide you don’t like the results.

Please check back in a few days and see how The Kershaw Gambit II played out, as I look at what happens if you draft Clayton Kershaw with the first pick in a 15-team draft!

Clayton Kershaw Photo Credit: Dirk Hansen

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