It’s an exercise I run through at least a dozen times every year. Look at the projected rankings or average draft positions of players on your fantasy site, and try to figure out how to construct a team from each of the possible draft slots. I’m going to use ESPN’s rankings as a guide, and go under the yes-I-know-it’s-ridiculous assumption that everyone else drafts precisely according to the given rankings.
What draft slot should I assume I start in? I’ll use a random number generator, assuming a 12-person league.
Looks like its a four. All right, one last assumption: to keep things simple, we’ll use a small roster: one of each of C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, OF, OF, OF, Util, seven pitchers, plus a bench of five.
ROUND 1, PICK 4: David Wright. This is perhaps the best pick to get in a snake draft. While I like Pujols a lot this year, Wright is arguably the best-projected player for 2009. Third base is looking a little weaker than in years past due to guys like Scott Rolen, Troy Glaus, and Garrett Atkins slowing down, and Chipper Jones due for a major regression (and/or season-ending surgery), and newcomers like Evan Longoria having enough playing time last year to be seeded appropriately for his age and skill level.
ROUND 2, PICK 21: Chase Utley. I swear I didn’t plan this. I used a random number generator available at Random.org, and it appears I’ve given myself the best possible situation. There are some injury concerns here, and Utley may miss a chunk of time at the beginning of the season. But without these concerns, he’s easily a first-rounder when you consider the lack of talent at 2B. Ian Kinsler has not made a believer out of me yet, and I’m not certain Dustin Pedroia has as much home run power as he displayed last year. I’ll take the risk on Utley because hip injuries, in my never-took-an-anatomy-class expert opinion, are nowhere near as debilitating or recurring as a wrist or back injury, or that weird thing that Rocco Baldelli has.
ROUND 3, PICK 28: Matt Holliday. While ESPN has Holliday ranked as the 32nd most expensive player, I think this is a little low. Certainly, his power and average will tail off as he no longer hits in Coors against NL pitching. But, the humidor has been used for quite some time now, and there is believed to be a Coors “hangover” effect such that Coors hitters actually perform worse on the road than you’d otherwise expect. So simply taking Holliday’s road stats and projecting that as his line for 2009 is pretty unwise. If Holliday is around in the late 20s, or certainly the early 30s, he’s worth picking up. My hunch, however, is that he’ll go in the late teens. as fantasy managers are unwilling to believe the degree to which Coors still impacts players’ line drive and home run rates, as well as a pitcher’s ability to put movement on a ball.
ROUND 4, PICK 45: Vladimir Guerrero. It looks like I’m simply picking names that were good a few years ago, but that’s not the case. ESPN has Kevin Youkilis, Felix Hernandez, Aramis Ramirez, and Vlad all clustered around the 45th slot. I already have a 3B, so Youkilis isn’t worth it here, nor is Aramis; I am a huge proponent of keeping one’s Util slot open for as long as possible. Felix seems incredibly overrated this high, but some folks just see through rose-colored glasses and miss the fact that his peripherals haven’t changed at all in three years and he may have topped out talent-wise. Vlad is declining, but he can still get you a few steals, a .300 BA, and solid R and RBI numbers due to his prime position in the lineup.
ROUND 5, PICK 52: Russell Martin. I hate to take a catcher here, it goes against my rules for drafting to pick a catcher at this point, but I’ve begun to be swayed by the arguments of other fantasy writers on this site. Martin projects very well, and I don’t want to take an OF here (ESPN’s numbers have Alex Rios still available) and fill the position.
ROUND 6, PICK 69: Derek Jeter. The karmic gods are angry, as a Boston resident just took Jeter over the also-available David Ortiz (ESPN rank: 70). Let me be clear: I think Ortiz is very underrated at pick 70. However, I have a few reasons for picking Jeter here. For one thing, the only SS left I’d be happy with is Rafael Furcal. For another, wrist injuries always scare me (*ahem*), so I’m not too confident in Ortiz’ ability to bounce back this year. And finally, I’ll go back to what I said above: I am a huge proponent of leaving the Util spot open for as long as possible. I’ve watched players fall as much as 50 spots below their rank, all because a few drafters didn’t have a Util spot open, and maybe those who did got wrapped up in a run on closers. I’m always upset that I’m not That Guy who ends up with someone 50 spots later than he should have gone; this year, I want to be That Guy.
ROUND 7, PICK 76: Scott Kazmir. At this point, ESPN has a run of SPs, along with Torii Hunter and Johnny Damon. I’ll pick Kazmir because he’s consistent and because I just realized he turned 25 a month ago. It feels like he’s been around forever, but he’s actually still on the upswing of his career arc.
ROUND 8, PICK 93: Javier Vazquez. There’s a ton of underrated talent here, including Garrett Atkins and Raul Ibanez (from Seattle’s ballpark to Philly’s? Yes, please). Kerry Wood may be a reasonable pick, as might Hunter Pence. But I’ll take Vazquez’s steady peripherals translated to the NL.
ROUND 9, PICK 100: Joey Votto. I like the projected power numbers, and I’m getting a little nervous that I won’t have a solid 1B if I keep waiting. I don’t want to end up with Todd Helton, unless someone puts him in touch with Alex Rodriguez‘s cousin.
ROUND 10, PICK 117: Aaron Harang. I’m not happy with my choices here at all; I’ve filled all of my position slots except one OF slot and my Util. At this point, my best bet is to choose a solid pitcher who’s absolutely no-questions-asked better than a replacement SP. I could pick Edinson Volquez, but I don’t like his walk rate and I think people have seen his stuff enough by this time; he won’t be surprising anyone. I’ll go with Harang, who’s due for a regression back to where he used to be, and in my eyes a safer bet than Volquez.
ROUND 11, PICK 124: Trevor Hoffman. I’m hurting for a closer at this point, and I believe Hoffman will have a long leash with Milwaukee; the fact that they let Eric Gagne pitch past April last year is proof of that. Hoffman’s strikeout rate is hurting, but he still keeps the walks down and should rack up the saves.
ROUND 13, PICK 148: Brad Ziegler. No, he’s not as good as his scoreless innings streak, but he’ll get the majority of the A’s saves without letting the ball out of the park too much.
ROUND 14, PICK 165: Carlos Delgado. This is what I want out of my Util. I’ve got a ton of good BA guys, and despite his age, Delgado is a good pick here. We’re at the point at which guaranteed saves are no longer available, so I’ll finish off my hitters while I can.
ROUND 15, PICK 172: Clayton Kershaw. Rolling the dice here; he’s young, and he may put it together. If not, I’ve got no qualms about dropping a 15th round pick in favor of a free agent replacement player who’s getting more playing time than folks thought he would get at draft time.
ROUND 18, PICK 213: Grant Balfour. Will he be the closer for the Rays this year? He’s got a ton of competition, but I’ll take a chance on him in the 200s. His strikeout rate, ERA and WHIP may also be good enough as a setup man to be worth the pick here.
Here’s what the team of starters looks like:
C: Russell Martin
1B: Joey Votto
2B: Chase Utley
SS: Derek Jeter
3B: David Wright
OF: Matt Holliday
OF: Vladimir Guerrero
OF: Justin Upton
Util: Carlos Delgado
P: Scott Kazmir
P: Javier Vazquez
P: Aaron Harang
P: Trevor Hoffman
P: Brad Ziegler
P: Clayton Kershaw
P: John Danks
Very, very solid. I think in a 12-person draft, the fourth slot might be the best place to draft from. There’s a bit of a drop-off after the fifth slot, and I’d be happy to have the choice between David Wright and Jose Reyes. Some picks are of course unpredictable; I’d be far less happy with this draft if another manager broke the script and nabbed Votto or Jeter in front of me and forced me to wait longer to fill 1B and SS. Keeping my Util options open allowed a nice late pickup of Delgado.
I’m also a proponent of the power of free-agent pitching. Pitcher ERAs vary wildly at the beginning of the season, and there are always a few managers who succumb to small sample size and drop guys they shouldn’t. A strong-hitting team can fortify its weakness in pitching during the season by picking up the players with good peripherals who were dropped too soon. Even getting to the point at which you have average pitching, combined with the lineup of hitters above, would make for a great chance at a bye week during the playoffs.