Picking one player per round

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.

(dramatic pause)

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 12, PICK 141: Justin Upton. He’s 22 this year, still on the upswing of his career, and check out what this guy did when he was 22.

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 16, PICK 189: John Danks. I’d also accept arguments for Chien-Ming Wang.

ROUND 17, PICK 196: David Price. He may not fall this far due to the hype from last year. I’m happy to take a utility guy like Mark DeRosa here instead, or a steals guy like Ryan Theriot.

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.

With remaining picks, I’d look to fill out my bench with an April backup for Chase Utley and a few high-upside guys like Ben Sheets or John Smoltz.

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.

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  1. Nate said...

    I’m sorry, you’re going to have to turn in your Red Sox Nation ID.

    That’s a great team though considering your first 3 picks were all first rounders last year…

  2. Casey said...

    In your blurb for Russell Martin, you refer to articles which support taking catchers early. Where can I find those?

  3. Michael Lerra said...

    Luckily, after many games paying $27 for a seat in RF that’s wide enough to fit half of my left leg and faces center field, I figured the Red Sox had enough money and I never sprung for an official membership.  But should I ever apply for the opportunity to pay $20 for a plastic card that makes my support “official”, I may not pass the background check anymore.

    Casey, the link in the Martin paragraph goes to one of my previous pieces, and the comments actually contain a lot of the arguments against my preference for not picking a Catcher early.  I think, relative to most enlightened stat-focused fantasy managers, I am somewhat alone in my stance.  So given the wisdom of the crowds, it probably is a good move to take a top-shelf catcher early.  I just haven’t quite bought it yet.

  4. Julian said...

    I’ve been successful with a catcher- and second basemen-avoidance strategy in one league over the last couple years, so you’re not totally alone. The theory we (me and my co-managers) operate on is that most catchers and 2Bs suck, so just assume the worst and construct a team that can win in spite of the suckage.

  5. Adam said...

    Great article, and great offense!

    I second Casey’s request, can you point us to where your fellow THT writers have suggested taking an elite C?

  6. bpasinko said...

    I like Vazquez a lot this year, like most people do.  He however is ranked really low on ESPNs list when you draft, I assume it’s similar with Yahoo and others.  I see that as a good thing so people look over him during draft day, but how does one judge where to draft him?

    If there are 10 pitchers ranked ahead of him but he’s first on your board, do you take him?  Or do you wait and risk it because you can likely get him next round?

    I’d like Vazquez in all my leagues because he is being undervalued on his move to the NL, but I don’t want to draft him when nobody in the league will, and I also don’t want to risk it.  Any light you can shed on this?

  7. Fletcher said...

    Not a bad team; I do an exercise like this with my keeper league to get an idea of when positional scarcity is going to force my hand.

    One issue, though- Chone projects you to have 98 steals.  With 9-man rosters, ergo a shallow player pool, you won’t be at all competitive in the stat.  I feel like that invalidates a pick or two of yours?

  8. Michael Lerra said...

    Good question on Vazquez.  For cases like him, I’d probably go no more than one round before ESPN or Yahoo typically have him falling to.  If you pick him up when he should be picked up, according to your projections, you’re not really gaining anything.  I like to stay aggressive with guys like that (aggressive meaning, wait as long as possible).  If you wait too long and someone snags him earlier in the round you were going to take him anyways (say, the 10th), you can at least try to trade for him as though both you and that owner value him as a 10th rounder (knowing full well that your draft sheet has him as a 7th rounder or whatever).

    98 steals isn’t terrible, actually.  In my rotisserie league last year, which had the same lineup slots and 12 teams, that would have been good for 8th place.  Not great, but not terrible either.  I also feel that steals are easier to trade for mid-season than power stats (see rule 10 here http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/fantasy/article/draft-manifesto-part-2/ which most commenters seemed to agree with).  With a team like this, I’d use a late pick on a utility speed guy like a Ryan Freel or Ryan Theriot.  Someone I could sub in on Saturday if I had a healthy lead in power stats but was just short on steals.

    I should add, the projections for R, RBI, HR, and BA for this team would have been good for: 4th, 5th, 4th, and 4th in that same league.  That’s not too bad, although given the focus I have on picking up hitting talent with most of my early picks, I’d like to be in better shape than that.

  9. Fletcher said...

    I hadn’t thought about trading for steals, but just in terms of drafting I think Reyes would be too good to pass up.  In terms of the right side of your infield Wright and Cap’n Jetes sum to 199 R, 177 RBI, 41 HR, 32 SB and a .303 Average.  Reyes and Atkins, who you could two rounds later than the Cap’n, sum to 199 R, 165 RBI, 36 HR, 69 SB, and a ~.293 AVG.

    You lose 5 HR, 12 RBI, and 10 points of average, and gain THIRTY-SEVEN STEALS!  Not to mention a couple other team improvements in draft position, and you don’t have to root for Jeter…

  10. Michael Lerra said...

    So, excellent point.  I definitely think Atkins is underrated this year, and Reyes might be too.  On the other hand, this is sort of a case of us using different projection systems too.  Marcels have it being a 21 steal gap.

    I think the ultimate fantasy prep would involve the use of a program that would figure out things like this beforehand.  I.E. given an assumption about who will be available at each of my picks, how can I construct the best possible team?  A program would be able to figure out that Reyes/Atkins may be better than Wright/Jeter by testing that combination, and all other possible combinations.  So at each round, it would suggest to me the pick which leads the best possible average team projections afterwards.  Even for a few hundred players though, I feel like such a program would take a ton of processor power to brute-force (and coding skill that is well beyond what I have).

  11. Michael Lerra said...

    One other thing… the problem with such a program is that you’d also have to incorporate some knowledge into it that simply loading up on one stat is bad.  If a program thought that 150 steals would earn 12 points in a rotisserie league, it would just load up on steals – Reyes, Crawford, Roberts, etc.  You’d also have to teach it that if you picked Reyes and Crawford as your first two picks, Brian Roberts is probably not a good 4th round pick due to the diminishing returns that come with having more than the average amount of something.

  12. Fletcher said...

    Indeed, making those sorts of bold statements off of one set of projections isn’t really reasonable.

    Even so, this year I’m considering using a heavily-macroed excel spreadsheet that will sum the projections of the players I’ve taken, and then re-sort my rankings based on remaining stat needs vs. my established league benchmarks.  I think it will be awesome, but when all is said and done I just prefer drafting by feel.

  13. Fresh Hops said...

    @ bpasinko

    No one ever wants to draft a guy much higher than he has to, but my view is that once a guy has fallen two or more rounds where you think his talent level should place him, you’re getting a deal and holding out may have more cost than benefit.

    Perhaps more than actual round in which the player gets drafted, ADP is good for telling you in what order players are going to draft. So, another thing to look during your draft at is where guys ahead of the player you’re holding out for are going. Suppose that felix hernandez is 45, Scott Kazmir is 65 and Vazquez is 85 in ADP. As long a both Kaz and Felix are still on the board, you can keep holding out for Vazquez. Once the only guys on the board are guys drafting around the same point a Vazquez, make your move.

    Jeter is always overpriced in fantasy.

  14. Michael Lerra said...

    Fletcher, that sounds awesome.  I tried to do that a couple years ago but gave up – it wasn’t very macro-centric, I think it was just based on a bunch of conditional calculations.

    I like the idea above of looking at how many players are remaining above him that “should” go before him.  Of course, in a draft, there’s often a domino effect that causes a run on some player type (usually closers, but sometimes SP too).  So even if there’s 7 SP who should be ahead of him that are still on the board, they may be gone by the next time you get to pick again.

  15. bpasinko said...

    I agree Fresh Hops, thanks for answering as well as Michael.

    I understand wanting to wait out as long as possible on a guy like Vazquez but at some point he’s worth a slight reach to assure I get him.  Your only one burst of SPs from not getting the guy you want.

  16. Jake said...

    Great article.  I’m leery of Holliday.  Not only the effects you talked about but he’ll be facing better pitching (arguably….1-3 spots in the rotation) in the rivals of the AL West compared to the NL West.  And he’ll be seeing those teams/pitchers more than he’d see in the NL West.

  17. John said...

    Good article.  Seems like you are tanking saves since Ziegler is not guaranteed the job.  1 1/2 closers in a 12-team league seems short.  Of course, you can always add the a closer or 2 that end up getting the job during the season, but that can be risky.

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