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Breaking Down a Championship-Winning Baseball Draft

Phil Dussault won $324,000 in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. Here's the team he started with.

Reflection is a big part of winning in fantasy sports. Many different draft styles succeed. Each fantasy owner must decide which path best fits their strengths. The trick is finding the plan that works over time.

This season in the high-stakes National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC), Phil Dussault walked away with a boatload of cash ($324,000) and a lifelong permission slip from his girl to play fantasy sports.

I remember listening last March to the Dead Pull Hitter podcast between Dussault and Rob DiPietro. They were reviewing previous successes, and Dussault talked about streaming hitters while also knowing he built his teams with two front-end aces. My first thought was that theory made sense in 2020, over a Covid-shortened baseball season, but churning bats typically doesn’t end well in 15-team leagues over 162 games.

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Before I look into how Dussault managed his main event team, I wanted to reflect on his draft to see his wins and losses. Here’s his team, drafted from the third slot in a 15-team league:

jacob degrom (3)

Round 1 – SP Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

Over 15 starts, deGrom lived up to expectations, producing a 1.08 ERA and 0.55 WHIP over 92 innings with seven wins and 146 strikeouts. Despite missing half of the season, he still finished 20th by SIscore (+3.64).

Round 2 – 3B Manny Machado, San Diego Padres

On draft day, Machado appeared to be a value based on his explosive success with the Padres in 2020 (.304 with 44 runs, 16 home runs, 47 RBIs and six steals over 224 at-bats) over 60 games. He finished with a balanced season (.278/92/28/106/12), but 21 other players finished higher than him by SIscore (+3.94). In the end, his stats kept Dussault in the game.

Round 3 – SS Bo Bichette, Toronto Blue Jays

Many fantasy teams that won in 2021 had a piece of the Blue Jays’ offense. They led the majors in home runs (262), third in runs (857) and second in RBIs (816). Bichette finished as the second-most impactful hitter (+9.91) by SIscore. He hit .298 with 121 runs, 29 home runs, 102 RBI and 25 stolen bases over 640 at-bats.

Round 4 – CL Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels

With the elite pitching inventory having a dropoff late in the fourth round, Dussault focused on building the back end of his bullpen. Iglesias’ 34 saves ranked fifth in baseball. He added seven wins with a 2.57 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 103 strikeouts over 70 innings.

Round 5 – CL Trevor Rosenthal, Oakland A’s

Rosenthal didn’t pitch an inning in the majors in 2021 after developing a right shoulder injury just before the start of the year. A bust pick in the fifth round can be devastating to a fantasy team, but saves can be found in the free-agent pool, especially early in the season.

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Round 6 – OF Teoscar Hernandez, Toronto Blue Jays

Despite some concern with Hernandez’s free-swinging style at the plate, he proved his success over 60 games in 2020 was not a fluke. He finished with the best season of his career (.296 over 550 at-bats with 92 runs, 32 home runs, 116 RBIs and 12 steals), giving Dussault 305 runs, 89 home runs, 220 RBIs and 49 steals over his first three batters.

Round 7 – SP Charlie Morton, Atlanta Braves

Halfway through June, Morton had the feel of a wasted selection. He had a 4.50 ERA and 1.30 WHIP over 55 innings while allowing seven home runs. Over his final 22 games, he went 9-3 with a 2.71 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 141 strikeouts. Only 10 starting pitchers had a better season by SIscore (+5.23).

Round 8 – SP Kevin Gausman, San Francisco Giants

Both Morton and Gausman were hot names in the high-stakes market last spring. Gausman flashed in 2020 in his first year with the Giants. He didn’t lose a beat over his 33 starts, leading to his best season (14-6 with a 2.81 ERA, 1.042 WHIP and 227 strikeouts over 192 innings). His success placed him seventh by SIscore (+6.92) for starting pitchers.

Round 9 – 2B Jeff McNeil, New York Mets

McNeil ended up being a bust for Dussault, but he only used him for 79 at-bats (.215 with 17 runs, two home runs, seven RBIs and one steal). A mid-May hamstring injury was early enough to find a viable replacement in the free-agent pool. McNeil missed about five weeks with his issue.

Round 10 – SP Pablo Lopez, Miami Marlins

Over his 19 appearances, Lopez posted a 3.03 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 111 strikeouts over 101 innings. He finished with five wins despite recording only one victory over his first 12 starts. Lopez pitched in only one game after the All-Star break due to a right shoulder injury. Dussault used him for 90.1 innings (four wins, 3.10 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 95 strikeouts). Lopez finished the year as the 107th-ranked pitcher by SIscore (-2.88) due to a lack of wins and depth to his season.

Evaluating Dussault’s top 10 picks

After 10 draft picks, he has four starting pitchers, two closers and four batters. His pitchers combined for 40 wins and 34 saves with a 2.77 ERA, 0.978 WHIP and 696 strikeouts over 548.1 innings. His four bats hit .288 with 312 runs, 91 home runs, 327 RBI and 50 steals over 1,813 at-bats.

His team has two whiffs (Trevor Rosenthal and Jeff McNeil) among the top 10 picks. We’ll see how he addressed those issues at a later date.

Round 11 – OF Nick Solak, Texas Rangers

Forty-four games into Solak’s season, he looked like a winning selection after hitting .269 over 167 at-bats, with 31 runs, eight home runs, 21 RBI and two steals. Unfortunately for Dussault, Solak hit himself out of the majors over his next 34 games (.185 with nine runs, one home run, 12 RBIs and one steal over 124 at-bats). Dussault rode Solak for 258 at-bats (.240/39/8/27/2) before looking for an upgrade on the waiver wire.

Round 12 – 1B Ryan Mountcastle, Baltimore Orioles

Cheating batters over the first third of his draft led to Dussault adding Mountcastle (178th player drafted) as the 16th-ranked first baseman by NFBC ADP over the final two weeks in March. He came to the majors with a 25/80 skill set while expecting his batting average to be an advantage. In the end, Mountcastle exceeded expectations in power (33) while offering steady production in runs (77) and RBIs. He also chipped in with four steals while underperforming in batting average (.255). His final stats ranked him 61st by SIscore (+0.09) for batters.

Round 13 – SP Dinelson Lamet, San Diego Padres

Temptation probably got the best of Dussault with the addition of Lamet in the 13th round. He posted an electric 12 starts in 2020 (3-1 with a 2.09 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 93 strikeouts over 69 innings), but his ADP was free-falling in late March (from 88 on Oct. 1 to 158 on April 1) due to concerns with the health of his right elbow. In the end, Lamet pitched only 11.1 innings for Dussault’s team (47 innings for the season).

kyle schwarber

Round 14 – OF Kyle Schwarber, Washington Nationals

Schwarber offered plenty of power (105 home runs and 236 RBI over 1,570 at-bats) from 2017 and 2020, but he had a platoon feel while adding a drag in batting average (.229). After missing the first six games, Schwarber didn’t offer much help (.190 over 84 at-bats with nine runs, two home runs and seven RBI) to a fantasy team over the next month. He turned into an absolute home run beast over his next 173 at-bats (.283 with 31 runs, 23 home runs 46 RBIs one steal), helping Dussault’s team (.263/64/25/51/1) vault up the standing nightly over the latter half of June. A hamstring injury cost Schwarber two-and-a-half months of the year.

Round 15 – 3B Ryan McMahon, Colorado Rockies

Over the first two-and-a-half months of the season, McMahon hit .257 over 253 at-bats with 44 runs, 16 home runs, 44 RBI and three steals. He lost his power stroke over his final 80 games (.251 with 36 runs, seven home runs, 42 RBIs and three steals over 275 at-bats), making McMahon a challenging manage over the second half of the season. Dussault either caught the best part of his season (.277/61/19/65/3 over 343 at-bats) or was micro-managing his at-bats at home (.278/54/12/46/2) or against right-handed pitching (.264/67/19/65/6).

Round 16 – SP Drew Smyly, Atlanta Braves

Smyly is a fourth pitcher drafted by Dussault that showed growth and possible promise over a shortened schedule in 2020. He pitched well for the Giants over 26.1 innings (2.01 ERA, 1.101 WHIP and 42 strikeouts) while underachieving for most of his major league career due to injuries. After two poor starts (5.73 ERA and 11 strikeouts over 11 innings), Dussault dumped him back into the free-agent pool after Smyly landed on the injured list with a left forearm issue.

Round 17 – SP Robbie Ray, Toronto Blue Jays

Ray had a phenomenal breakthrough season (13-7 with a 2.84 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 248 strikeouts over 193.1 innings). He flashed in 2017 (2.89 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 218 strikeouts over 162.0 innings), but his lack of command led to three straight years of regression from 2018-20 (4.53 ERA and 1.43 WHIP). From October 1 to April 1, Ray had an overall ADP of 336 (22nd-round pick in 15-team leagues). He moved to pick 260 in March. When looking at these types of breakout players, I always want to know if a fantasy owner targeted this player (drafted ahead of ADP) or the player slid to him at market value or below. Dussault added him with the 243rd selection, so he clearly respected him late in March. Ray finished as the seventh-highest pitcher by SIscore (+7.12).

Round 18 – OF Bryan Reynolds, Pittsburgh Pirates

Reynolds was a target of mine as well in drafts in the NFBC, but I looked for him in the 19th round in most drafts. He hit .302 with 93 runs, 24 home runs, 90 RBIs and five steals, which fell in line with my outlook last February. Reynolds finished as the 33rd-ranked player by SIscore (+2.34). Dussault used him for 477 at-bats (.291/78/21/77/4).

Round 19 – OF Chris Taylor, Los Angeles Dodgers

The threat of Gavin Lux possibly emerging in 2021 led to Taylor almost having a utility role heading into the start of the year. Over the Dodgers’ first six games, he made only two starts. By the end of the first three months, Taylor saw action in 75 games, leading to a .262 batting average with 55 runs, 10 home runs, 39 RBIs and seven steals. He finished the year with a career-high in runs (92) and RBIs (73) while chipping in with 20 home runs and 13 stolen bases. Dussault never targeted any pure speed players after Bo Bichette, so Taylor’s speed helped him improve his standings in that category. His batting average (.254) had regression from 2019 (.262) and 2020 (.270).

Round 20 – SS Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Texas Rangers

Texas gave Kiner-Falefa 635 at-bats, leading to his success in runs (74) and stolen bases (20). He finished the year with a .271 batting average with short outputs in home runs (8) and RBIs (53). His edge in speed led to Kiner-Falefa finishing 71st in SIscore (-0.82). Dussault needed his stolen bases, leading to him being in his starting lineup for 538 at-bats (.264/64/7/42/15).

Yuli Gurriel Tips His Hat to Yu Darvish During Game 7 of World Series - iMAGE

Round 21 – 1B Yuli Gurriel, Houston Astros

Gurriel led the American League in batting average (.319). He offered steady production in runs (83) and RBIs (81) while only adding 15 home runs, leading to the 59th ranking in SIscore (+0.11). His ADP was 294 over the final two weeks of March in the NFBC. Dussault added Gurriel with the 303rd selection in the draft. However, he only had him in his lineup for 393 at-bats (.326/65/12/64/1).

Round 22 – SP Logan Webb, San Francisco Giants

Over his first seven games, Webb allowed 19 runs and 50 baserunners over 32 innings. Late in May, he landed on the injured list with a right shoulder issue, leading to 40 missed days in the majors. He went 7-0 over his final 17 starts with a 2.63 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 104 strikeouts over 99.1 innings. Dussault had him in his starting lineup for 10 of his 11 wins with a 2.54 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 129 strikeouts over 120.2 innings. Webb ended the year as the 39th-most valuable pitcher by SIscore (+1.62).

Round 23 – OF Randal Grichuk, Toronto Blue Jays

Grichuk was the third Blue Jays hitter drafted by Dussault. His theme looked to take advantage of Toronto’s Covid-19 ballparks (Tampa and Buffalo). He hit over 20 home runs for the fifth season, while his other stats (runs – 59, RBIs – 81 and batting average – .241) finished with an overall negative rating. Dussault caught most of Grichuk’s best days (.244 with 51 runs, 20 home runs 72 RBI over 401 at-bats).

Round 24 – C Elias Diaz, Colorado Rockies

The lifeline of Diaz on this roster lasted only 19 at-bats (.105 with two runs). He is owed $192.75 of Dussault’s winning ($157,000) for his effort.

Round 25 – SP Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox

If Dussault were in Las Vegas playing blackjack, he would have been kicked out of the casino after scoring a 21 in eight of his first 11 pitcher selections. Rodon came in 2021 with a 4.28 ERA and 1.36 WHIP over his previous 397.1 innings while battling injuries over the past four years. He went 13-5 with a 2.37 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 185 strikeouts over 132.2 innings. Rodon finished 13th in SIscore (+4.98).

Round 26 – SP Steven Matz, Toronto Blue Jays

The edge in the home ballpark for pitching wasn’t a consideration for Robbie Ray or Matz. Pitching in the AL East in small parks tends to invite disastrous showings. Matz finished the year with a 3.82 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 144 strikeouts over 150.2 innings. The best part of his game was wins (13). Dussault hit on so many arms before him, so Matz only pitched 53.2 innings for him (six wins with a 3.86 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 60 strikeouts). I’m guessing he used him primarily for double starts.

Round 27 – 2B Luiz Arraez, Minnesota Twins

The drawing card for Arraez comes from batting average, but he is just about a zero in speed and power. As a result, he stuck around the roster for only 86 at-bats (.279/9/1/9).

Round 28 – SP Matt Shoemaker, Minnesota Twins

The luster with Shoemaker lasted for one start (one run over six innings with five strikeouts). The Twins gave him nine more starts (6.50 ERA and 1.56 WHIP) before removing him from the starting rotation. Dussault cut bait after four games (5.49 ERA and 1.32 WHIP over 19.2 innings).

Round 29 – C Jose Trevino, Texas Rangers

Trevino had a hit in 10 of his first 11 games, but he only had four runs with no home runs or RBI. His lack of production (.297 over 74 at-bats with eight runs, one home run and two RBIs) led to Dussault surfing the catching waiver wire for most of the season.

Round 30 – RP Brett Suter, Milwaukee Brewers

His only game pitched for the winning roster came on April 3 (one run over 1.2 innings with three hits and one strikeout), earning him $98.38 for his appearance in the starting lineup. However, Sutter ended the year with 12 wins with a 3.07 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 69 strikeouts over 73.1 innings, despite making one opener start.

Draft download

Before I take a look at his in-season pickup and team management, here are some quick outtakes from Dussault’s draft:

His theory on cheating catchers led to him using 12 options for the year. They combined to hit .225 with 83 runs, 29 home runs, 88 RBIs and five steals over 724 at-bats. Daulton Varsho led the way with a .268 batting average over 228 at-bats with 33 runs, 11 home runs, 36 RBIs and five steals after being picked up over the second half of the season.

Only four of his batters had over 500 at-bats (Bo Bichette – 640, Manny Machado – 549, Teoscar Hernandez – 545 and Isiah Kinder-Falefa – 538). Dussault finished with 7,738 at-bats (ninth-highest total out of 645 teams).

Seven of his drafted players hit over 20 home runs. Joey Votto was his best hitting pickup (.298 over 282 at-bats with 55 runs, 28 home runs and 76 RBIs – insane production for half a season).

Other than catcher, Dussault added 18 batters. They hit .264 over 1,568 at-bats with 241 runs, 70 home runs, 216 RBIs and 26 steals.

After two closers over his first five selections, only his 30th-round player had a relief pitcher designation (Brett Suter -- whom he hoped would get a chance in the Brewers’ starting rotation).

He covered the injury to Trevor Rosenthal and his shortfall in saves with 12 relievers in the free-agent pool. They combined for 11 wins, 45 saves, a 1.93 ERA and 123 strikeouts over 120.1 innings. Ranger Suarez also worked as a swingman for him (four wins, three saves, 1.36 ERA and 67 strikeouts over 59.2 innings).

The only help needed in the starting rotation came from four other arms – Alex Wood, Tylor Megill, Caleb Thielbar and Vince Velasquez. They combined for seven wins, a 4.93 ERA and 104 strikeouts over 104 innings.

Ten of his 12 starting drafted hitters (excluding catchers) finished with over 500 at-bats. In 2021, 86 batters reached that 500 at-bats. In essence, he had 11.6 percent of the top-tier players in playing time, plus his waiver add of Cesar Hernandez finished with 570 at-bats. Joey Votto also saw everyday playing time once Dussault added him. The other 14 teams in his league had to fight for the other 75 hitters with over 500 at-bats (5.4 per roster).

At the draft, he won the starting pitching side of the equation thanks to two-thirds of his starting pitchers ranking in the top 20 by SIscore.

The foundation of his hitting needed two fixes (Jeff McNeil and Kyle Schwarber after his injury in late June). Then, over the second half of the year, Dussault needed to massage some speed to hold off Emmett Ruland.