|Josh Hamilton may have a terrific story, but is he right for your fantasy team in 2009? (Icon/SMI)|
It’s January and mock draft season is really starting to kick in. Football season is just about over, baseball season starts in less than two months, and it’s time to really start preparing for your fantasy draft.
Last offseason, I discussed why I like taking “safe” and “consistent” players in the first two or three rounds of a draft at the expense of player’s whose average projected profit is a bit higher. Instead of rehashing what I said then, I’ll just quote myself:
In nearly all of my drafts this year, I try to make it a point to get players with stable skill sets in the first two rounds, at the very least.
Using the probabilistic concept of value, risk is built into projections; all possibilities are accounted for and combined into one number. Over time, using these values will give you the greatest gain. If you use this concept, though, and choose players who have a wide array of possibilities, sometimes you will do very well, but other times you will bomb. In competitive leagues, it becomes nearly impossible to make up the necessary value if your first or second round pick does poorly.
In important leagues, it can be a good idea to sacrifice a tiny bit of “value” for reliability. When you take guys with solid skill sets, you know what you’re getting (in relative terms). The drop-off in value from a guy like Ryan Braun to Carlos Lee is quite small, but the benefits from Lee’s stable skill set more than makes up the gap in a league that is competitive and important to win.
In one recent expert draft, I managed to get David Wright, Carlos Lee and Mark Teixeira with my first three picks, all very consistent producers. Having a core like this lays a great foundation for a team and makes it easier to take some risks later on.
The league I mention in the last paragraph was the FOX Sports Expert League that I ended up winning. Regardless of whether or not I won, though, I would still believe that this is a sound strategy. In the long-run you would do slightly better simply taking the top player on the board, but if you’d like to be competitive in an important league, sacrificing that tiny bit of value is the way to go. You can’t win your draft with your first few picks, but you can sure lose it.
Pick from the available choices
The problem this year, however, lies in the available players at the end of the first round. So many of them are simply not consistent producers. The first five players off the board will likely be Hanley Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes, and David Wright. After that, we tend to see Miguel Cabrera, Grady Sizemore, and Jimmy Rollins go. But what if you’re picking in the nine, 10, 11, or 12 spots? Here are the players currently drafted there along with their average draft position (courtesy of Mock Draft Central):
09. Josh Hamilton 10. Ian Kinsler 11. Ryan Howard 12. Ryan Braun 13. Matt Holliday 14. Mark Teixeira 15. Lance Berkman 16. Johan Santana
For one reason or another, almost every player on this list is unappealing to me. Hamilton and Kinsler’s skills have been all over the place and both have injury issues, I am down on Howard this year for reasons I’ll discuss in the coming weeks, Holliday I think could be in for a fall-off, and I would never take a pitcher that high in a mixed league.
After all that, we’re left with Braun, Teixeira, and Berkman.
1) Ryan Braun has displayed pretty consistent skills for two years in a row. Not ideal, but not awful. I think his power could fall off into the 25-30 home run range (which would make him roughly the 13th or 14 most valuable player on my board), but he is still someone to consider.
2) I touted Mark Teixeira as a consistent guy last season, and I don’t see too much to change my mind this year. He might see a bit of a drop-off in batting average in Yankee Stadium, but he would still fall under the consistent umbrella.
3) Berkman’s contact skills have been very consistent, but his speed has been all over the place and his power numbers have fallen off for three consecutive years (and his tHR numbers have followed the same trend). He’ll also be 33 next year, which isn’t really ideal. Berkman could be considered, but he isn’t the surefire guy I like to take in this spot.
So we have a pretty solid “yes” in Tex, a maybe in Braun, and a kind-of-but-not-really in Berkman. So what do we do now? Is it too crazy to reach for a guy who we might otherwise be able to get at the end of the second or beginning of the third round if only we had a different pick? I don’t think it is that crazy.
Add to the list…
1) I’m not sure if you’re the same as me, but personally, there’s still a negative connotation attached to Soriano. The fact is, though, he’s a great fantasy talent with a nice power/speed combo and has been very consistent for years. The turn-offs here are his age (33) and his hand injury from last year. Still, I’d be relatively comfortable putting Soriano down for .275/28 home runs/20 stolen bases/100 runs/80 RBIs. Nothing jumps out at you, but that’s the line of a top 20 player. The decision to draft him probably depends on where you’re picking. With the nine pick, I’d consider taking Soriano on the way back. With the 11 and 12 picks, probably not.
2) Like Teixeira, Lee is a guy who was on my “consistent” list last year. The problem is that he was a second/third round guy then, and now he is a year older (32), suffered a finger injury at the end of last season, saw his speed numbers decrease, and is probably only a top 20 or so player. He’s in the same boat as Soriano for me.
3) Utley has been incredibly consistent for three years, will be 30 next year, and is arguably a top five talent when healthy. The only problem here is that he suffered a fractured hand in the second-half of 2007 and had hip surgery in November. If he misses a month or more of 2009, he would lose a lot of value and probably wouldn’t be worth a pick here. With 500 at-bats, he’d probably be ranked around No. 20.
The thing is, though, with so few other options available (as we’ve been discussing), Utley with your second pick might be a good selection, especially if you have a nice second base sleeper to start for your team in April.
4) For my feelings on Pedroia, click here. He’s only shown consistency for two years, but he’s been very consistent over those two years, accumulated over 1300 plate appearances, is at a good age (25), and doesn’t really have an injury history. Plus, a .320/20 HR/12 SB/110 R/75 RBI year would make him a top ten player, anyway. While I would prefer to pick third or fourth overall and then take Pedroia on the way back, if I’m stuck picking at the end of round one, he’s a serious consideration anyway.
So who am I taking?
So where does this leave us? Well, I have my first draft of the year coming up soon, and I have the 12 and 13 picks. As crazy as it might sound to some, I’m considering taking Teixeira and Pedroia with these picks (with Braun and Utley considerations as well). While they might seem like a stretch, they are two guys who I pretty much know what I’m getting from. They are less likely to underproduce or get injured than other players and are good enough where you aren’t sacrificing much value (if any).
How do you guys feel about this? Would you come to different conclusions than me?