CarGo is the MVP

While the race for Most Valuable Player in the National League will go down to the wire with Carlos Gonzalez, Joey Votto and Albert Pujols, when it comes to fanatsy baseball, Carlos is in a league of his own.

Pujols entered the year as the consensus top player in fantasy ball, Votto could lay claim to it best young superstar, but Gonzalez was more of a wild card, a player with power and speed but also poor plate discipline, a short track record of major league success and not even an iron-clad hold on a starting job. That he’s matched them in triple crown stats while stealing bases at a harder-to-fill position has made him far more valuable—in fact he’s far more valuable this season than any other player in baseball

My draft team, the NorthExposures, was among the beneficiaries in our 14-owner mixed league, one of the countless public leagues at Yahoo. The chart below shows the list of 50 players who appear most often on Yahoo’s top 500 Public League teams (rotisserie scoring):

Player %500 Fantasy Team Draft position
Carlos González 51.6 NorthExposures 110
Buster Posey 32.6 Honkers –
Mat Latos 31.8 NorthExposures 222
Adam Wainwright 31.6 The_Superhoo 49
Billy Wagner 30.2 Snipas 91
Francisco Liriano 27.8 The Little Ninjas 234
Juan Pierre 26.6 Honkers 236
John Axford 25.6 fHoogazi –
Álex Ríos 24.2 Vegas Breasts 158
Josh Hamilton 23.4 MR Hoos 93
Rafael Soriano 21.4 NorthExposures 143
David Price 21.4 The Little Ninjas 182
Carl Crawford 20.8 fHoogazi 17
Jon Lester 20.8 The Little Ninjas 47
Josh Johnson 20.4 fHoogazi 73
Martín Prado 20.4 Bealestreet Bluesmen 142
Hanley Ramírez 20.2 Bealestreet Bluesmen 2
Tim Hudson 20.2 Bealestreet Bluesmen 167
Chris Pérez 19.8 NorthExposures 274w
Robinson Canó 19.6 Uni Va Cavs 41
Matt Capps 18.8 Snipas 218
Vladimir Guerrero 18.4 NorthExposures 194
Omar Infante 18.2 The_Superhoo 288
Jason Heyward 17.8 Snipas 106
José Bautista 17.8 fHoogazi –
Miguel Cabrera 17.6 Gus Burgher 14
José Reyes 17.2 NorthExposures 56
Ryan Franklin 17.0 WahooWasp 173
Max Scherzer 16.4 Vegas Breasts 213
Clay Buchholz 16.2 fHoogazi 292
Hong-Chih Kuo 16.2 Tiki –
Hunter Pence 16.0 Tiki 112
Joakim Soria 15.8 The_Superhoo 105
Joey Votto 15.8 Bealestreet Bluesmen 27
Brian Wilson 15.6 Bealestreet Bluesmen 139
Roy Halladay 15.6 The_Superhoo 21
Brandon Lyon 15.4 fHoogazi –
Ryan Zimmerman 15.4 MR Hoos 20
Heath Bell 15.2 Snipas 119
Andrés Torres 15.2 NorthExposures –
Ryan Raburn 15.0 Vegas Breasts –
Clayton Kershaw 14.6 NorthExposures 82
Tommy Hanson 14.6 The Little Ninjas 66
Brad Lidge 14.6 WahooWasp 224
Albert Pujols 14.4 Tiki 1
Brett Gardner 14.2 Uni Va Cavs –
Kevin Gregg 14.0 Honkers –
Trevor Cahill 14.0 Honkers –
Justin Verlander 13.8 WahooWasp 61
Nelson Cruz 13.8 NorthExposures 59

My thoughts and observations:

(1) This reinforces my belief that while leagues can be lost in the early rounds, they are won in the middle and late rounds. You have to go down to the 17th most valuable player to find a first-round pick in Hanley Ramirez and only two other first-rounders cracked the top 50.
(2) It sucked this year if you had the third pick of the first round, as I did. Pujols and Ramirez were vastly superior to anyone else heading into the season and proved why.
(3) Miguel Cabrera is the type of player to take in the first couple of rounds: Safe, consistent, not prone to injury and young enough that he shouldn’t regress.
(4) Sixteen of the top 50 were selected after round 10 and 10 weren’t selected at all. It really pays to research deeply enough to make strong picks later in the draft.
(5) Toss out the pre-draft rankings and don’t be afraid to over-draft a player you think is underrated. That’s how I got Cargo, Cruz. Of course it’s also how I ended up with Julio Borbon, so there is risk involved.
(6) Here’s an attempt to group the players, noting that some players fit in to several:

– Budding stars: Gonzales, Cano, Zimmerman, Kershaw, Hanson,
– top prospects: Posey, Latos, Axford, Heyward
– Prospects a year or two later: Price, Perez, Scherzer, Buchholz, Rayburn, Gardner, Cahill
– best of the best: Wainwright, Crawford, Lester, Johnson, Ramirez, Cabrera, Soria, Votto, Wilson, Halladay, Bell, Pujols, Verlander
– injury risks: Wagner, Reyes, Hudson, Cruz
– comeback kids: Liriano, Rios, Hamilton, Guerrero
– one-dimensional wonders: Pierre, Franklin
– underrated: Prado, Pence
– change of scenery helped: Soriano
– luck at a shallow position: Infante
– out of left field: Bautista, Torres
– Emerging closers: Kuo, Lyon, Lidge, Gregg

(7) There is a deeper pool of prospects a year or two past their buzz than there are of current prospects.
(8) Most of the “best of the best” are on the right side of 30.
(9) Picking injury risks can be a viable strategy, but don’t go overboard.
(10) It surprised me Bautista was so low in the top-50, but perhaps our league was slow to pick him up as a waiver claim and missed out on some of his production. Or maybe there is a weaker correlation between good free agent acquisitions and a good overall finish than there is between good drafts and finishes since arguably the draft is more a product of skill where as free agent signing can simply be a matter of who is quickest.
(11) I was able to build what looks to be the league winner with strong picks in the middle and late rounds. My NorthExposures ended up with two of the top three, three of the top 11, four of the top 19, five of the top 22, six of the top 27, seven of the top 40 and nine of the top 50, including one I picked up as a free agent (Torres). In the lower rounds, especially, go for players with high ceilings who are ranked low because they haven’t fulfilled their potential, are injury risks or who struggled the previous year.

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  1. Jason B said...

    Fantastic article Jonathan. Just one minor quibble – “You have to go down to the 17th most valuable player to find a first-round pick in Hanley Ramirez.”

    Just to be clear – your top-fifty list should *not* be construed as equating to any sort of “most valuable” ranking, even though the above sentence might lead one to believe otherwise.  Votto is 34th and Pujols is 45th on the list of players most frequently owned by top teams, but certainly are far more valuable (under any conceivable ‘player valuation’ methodology) than some of the lesser lights ranked above them like Jose Reyes, Ryan Franklin, Max Scherzer, etc etc. 

    The depth of excellent-to-very good options at 1B, and their relatively high ADP (Pujols, Cabrera, Fielder, Howard, Teixeira, Votto, and A. Gonzalez probably had a ADP in the 1-3 rounds) means that not every savvy owner can grab a Pujols even if they wanted him – you basically didn’t have him unless you picked first or second, or traded for him – but in a non-keeper league EVERY owner had a shot at CarGo in the middle rounds, or Axford on the waiver wire, etc.  That factor alone (lack of opprtunity to draft) is going to automatically lower the frequency of Pujols, Hanley, and other first round picks.

    “17th most frequently owned player”, while a bit wordy, should cover it. =)

  2. Bill said...

    I think it isn’t that surprising that you have to go that deep.  You’re paying full freight on your first round guys, so it is very hard to get a huge return on your investment, where a guy like CarGo puts up first round numbers for a much later pick.  What did catch my eye though was that the guys on that list were consensus top 5 guys, not from the back end of the first round.  Maybe there is some advantage to picking early in the first.

  3. Jonathan Sher said...

    Jason B -

    You make a good point about my word choice—I should have been precise about what I meant (and by implication what I did not mean) in describing Pujols as the 17th most valuable player.

    Perhaps this is better: Fantasy picks most correlated with success (in Yahoo roto leagues) were mostly mid and low round picks. Even a player such as Pujols, the consensus best player over the last number of years and among the elite five again this year, trailed 16 others in measuring how their presence correlated with success, and indeed he was the only first rounder that high.

    So by most valuable I mean correlation to success, which is one possible measure. Best stats would be another. The debate between the two has sometimes been a major issue in selecting real life MVPs too.

    Bill –

    I agree it’s not surprising which is why it merely reinforced my belief that leagues can be lost in the early rounds but are generally won in the middle and later rounds.

    One other phenomenon may be at play too. It doesn’t take anyone of great baseball intelligence to pick Pujols first—the proverbial monkey would do it. But it arguably takes knowledge and skill to get players in mid and later rounds (it also takes some luck, admittedly). So it’s not surprising that owners who selected CarGo in the mid rounds, on average, were more astute than those who selected Pujols first, which is entirely a product of luck (what slot did you get in the draft) and should be league average owners as a group. The more astute CarGo drafter would have a tendency to draft better with their other picks too. I suspect that’s a minor factor—the major factor being CarGo so out-performing his average draft position)—but a factor nonetheless.

  4. Jason B said...


    No worries.  I basically could sense what you were getting at; ‘most valuable’ is just a loaded term in most people’s minds, because it makes us think of the MVP award, which is so subjective and always provokes an outcry on behalf of various grieved parties.

    No harm no foul. I choose an imprecise word about 5,000 times a day; most of mine just aren’t in print so I can employ the ‘plausible denial’ tactic!

  5. Pat said...

    Bautista so low in the top 50 makes a ton of sense. The “more skillfull” fanatsy players would not pick him up because every web site said that he was a fluke, 29 yeras old, and there was not too much reason for him to keep this up. Or if they had him they would try to sell high on him.
    On the other hand, “less skillfull players” would see the great stats and pick him up.

  6. Jonathan Sher said...

    Pat -

    I like your logic. That makes a lot of sense, especially when you see how quickly many Yahoo owners add or drop players because of a hot or cold streak. That may have served as a counterweight to the more obvious effect of teams benefiting from picking up Bautista — the latter was more dominant, so he made the top 50, but not as high as one would expect strictly on the gap between expected and actual performance.

  7. Paul said...

    Nice article, though Jason B makes a good point about the frequency of top players appearing on these lists.

    Players ‘appearing most often’ in top 500 teams does hamper the top 20 players, as they are assigned to teams pretty much at random (as a result of the draft pick lottery) – there is as much chance of a savvy owner picking CarGo in round 10 whether he picked Pujols at No.1 or Howard at say No. 12.

    The owner with the no.1/2 picks generally took Pujols or Han-Ram, regardless of their acumen when making later picks.

    So it would be expected that top picks correlate less well with winning than late picks

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