Playing for keeps (Part 2)

Last week, I began a series reviewing some players whose values have shifted substantially this year and may be on the keeper bubble, depending where that bubble is located, in strict draft leagues. You can view the first installment here.

For this edition, I’ve made a slight change to nomenclature. It was pointed out in a number of comments that a number of leagues go way deeper into the keeper pool than 60 players, so instead of qualifying the cutoffs subjectively as “shallow” and “deep,” I’m going to keep it objective and just label the cutoffs, “30-deep” and “60-deep.”

For those of you in much deeper pools, I’m considering doing a deeper version of this column sometime in the near future. In the meantime, feel free to suggest players and cut offs for discussion in the comment section.

And, away we go.

Chone Figgins
30-deep: NO
60-deep: NO

Chone Figgins does have a few things going for him. We know he can score a bunch of runs and steal a bunch of bases. His walk rate has also been trending upwards basically his whole career, which leads to more opportunities to steal bases and score runs. As of my writing this, only Albert Pujols has scored more runs and only four players in all of baseball have swiped more bases.

As for the bad news, Figgins has also been hurt two of the past three years and his skill set, especially his lack of power, leaves him victim to the whims of BABIP. Figgins traditionally brings an underrated attribute to fantasy teams in his versatility, but this year he has played third base almost exclusively, which means he will most likely lose his MI-eligibility next year. Granting health, he’s virtually guaranteed to be a stud in runs and stolen bases, and if luck is on his side he could be very helpful in average (especially because he’ll probably get 600 or more at-bats). However, he’s a total liability in the power categories, especially at a corner spot.

All things considered, he’s basically a poor man’s Ichiro with less attractive eligibility. As an MI, I could see keeping him in the 60-plus pool, but as a corner infielder, I couldn’t do it.

Dan Haren
60-deep: YES

I’m a believer. Is there anybody who shouldn’t be? I thought coming into this year, and even more so coming into 2008, Haren was a great value because he was quite probably in the Webb, Sabathia, Halladay class, but his price was a bit lower. Well, that won’t be the case anymore. The walk rate had always been great, but the past two years it’s been incredible. Like Halladay, Haren is keep-able in a shallow pool, though personally, I don’t think I’d keep any pitcher other than Lincecum or Santana in a 10- or 12-team, three-keeper league. If you have a similarly worthy hitter, I’d recommend keeping the bat, but Haren is reliable to be elite.

Matt Holliday
30-deep: YES
60-deep: YES

Matt Holliday looked like he may have been this year’s Manny Ramirez before getting cold over the past two weeks. Still, his acquisition basically locked down a division championship for the Cardinals. The deal also freed a fantasy stud from the purgatory that is Oakland. I was very pessimistic when he went to Oakland because of the ballpark, the line-up, and their organizational reluctance to run and decided to just flat-out avoid him in 2009 drafts.

Those concerns are all things of the past. He won’t be the Holliday of Coors, but at 29, there’s no reason to think he won’t be a top-30 player for a few years to come. Hitting behind some guy named Albert doesn’t hurt either.

Torii Hunter
30-deep: NO
60-deep: NO

Every player has a career year, or even two. Torii Hunter is a very high quality major league baseball player who can boast a fine career. If you owned him this year, congratulations. He can often slip and become a very nice, affordable 20/20 type. Next year somebody will overpay. That person should not be you.

Raul Ibanez
30-deep: NO
60-deep: NO

Sure, that’s a great ballpark to hit in and a great line-up to be a part of, but ditto Torii Hunter.

Adam Jones
30-deep: NO
60-deep: NO

In April and May, we saw a glimpse of what Jones might become. After that scorching start, he’s been a mix of brutal (June and August) and pedestrian (July). To quantify this a bit more, as of my writing this, April and May represent 36 percent of Jones’ total games, but 49, 58, and 51 percent of his runs, homers, and RBIs, respectively.

When considering keepers, I often consider the worst case scenario. In order for me to feel safe about recommending Jones, I’d have to be able to foresee ways for Jones to maintain his value if the power and average drop. He hasn’t stolen more than three bases in a month. Between the unremarkable steal total and the awful strikeout-to-walk ratio, I see more red lights than green.

Jones could really break out next year or settle more firmly into being a complimentary player. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jones re-enacts the disappointments of Alex Rios. I’d let somebody else find out who the real Adam Jones is.

Joe Mauer
30-deep: NO
60-deep: YES

Mauer is just a great young hitter. He has a great contact rate and good plate discipline. Perhaps this year’s power is a bit fluky, especially because his fly ball rate hasn’t changed drastically. Regardless, his relatively high doubles rate has previously indicated that the power potential is there. In his mid-20s, he’ll begin to show it. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect 30+ homer seasons from Mauer, but 20 seems like a sensible neighborhood. He should also continue to hit .320+ like clockwork.

Even with all that optimism, I’m still wary of keeping catchers in shallow leagues for strategic reasons. If the worst-case scenario is ending up with the 10th-best catcher, I wouldn’t take him in the top 30. The deeper the league, the better the justification for keeping an elite backstop.

Aramis Ramirez
30-deep: NO
60-deep: YES

When Aramis has been on the field, he’s consistently produced at a level worthy of consideration inside the top 30 and has been drafted accordingly. However, even excluding this season, which has been highly compromised by injuries, Ramirez has only averaged about 140 games per season over the previous five. With a keeper pool of 50 or 60, he’s too good to dismiss, especially because third base isn’t as deep as it once was. Most important, 140 games of Aramis Ramirez will produce fifth round value. There’s too much risk for the shallow end though. Aramis Ramirez is in Chipper Jones territory, you should draft him expecting 480–520 at-bats.

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  1. Andrew said...

    At this point, Mauer has to be kept even in the shallowest of leagues.

    The difference between Mauer and every other C is akin to that between Pujols and every 1B. It’s huge. We’re talking roughly $10 to $15 in standard mixed leagues. You’re giving yourself a great advantage over your opponents by being able to slot Mauer in at the catcher slot.

    Taking into consideration replacement level theory, the top tier of catchers in 2-catcher leagues should be taken in the 3rd round, yet most fantasy players undervalue scarcity. I personally wouldn’t, but you can make a strong case for taking Mauer at the back end of the first round next year.

  2. Derek Ambrosino said...

    It depends on how many teams are in the league, Andrew.

    First of all, Joe Mauer will not hit .370 again next year. Well, I guess it’s possible, but one can’t draft him expecting much more than .325/20-22/90-100. (Drop 20 points off the average and Brain McCann can do that too.)

    If you’re in an AL only league, that might be first round worthy. If you’re in a two catcher league that’s top 20-25 caliber.

    But, if you are in a more shallow league with a modest keeper pool, you can absolutely throw Mauer back. Managers don’t draft multiple catchers, so if you’re in a 10 -12 team league, you can simple settle for the 9th or 10th best catcher, and you can get him in the very end of the draft. Of course there’s a substantial difference between that guy and Mauer. “That guy,” by the way, would have been Jorge Posada, according to Yahoo’s preseason ranks before this year.

    I wouldn’t liken drafting Mauer to gaining a Pujolsian divide of production vs. position. I’d argue it could be seen more like reaching for the Pittsburgh Steelers in a fantasy football league when there are still 1,000 yard receivers on the board. In a shallow league, I’m totally willing to just wait until the late rounds and take one of the last remaining legitimate catchers. I drafted Victor Martinez in my main league this year, but only because he slipped so far that I couldn’t pass anymore.

    If you’re in, say, a 12-14 team league with 5 OFs and 3 MIs, it might be harder to find 5 contributing OFs, or 3 solid MIs than to find one passable catcher. 

    Of course, any draft strategy can work. But, do have to think about not just replacement value at the position, but raw production as an opportunity cost every time you privilege positional scarcity.

    Say, you are at pick 25 and you have Mauer and Berkman on the board. If you pick Mauer, you wind up with (Mauer – Posada) – assuming he’s about the 10th C. If you pick Berkman, you wind up with (Berkman – your first baseman). Now, you may think that the marginal value is on your side there. But, here’s the key – I draft like 200+ picks deep into the draft while you’ll likely wind up drafting your 1B in the next few rounds anyway. So, maybe you wind up with something like:

    C – Mauer rd. 3
    1B – Votto rd 7 (or, if it was this year, you might been stuck w/ a dud like Huff, Davis, or Atkins)
    200-something overall pick (maybe 5th OF, 4th starter, specualtive closer, etc.)

    Meanwhile, in those same rounds I have:

    C – Posada 200+ picks in
    1B Berkman rd. 3
    7th round pick – some other top 100 player.

    Food for thought.

  3. Andrew said...

    OK, good point. I was really only referring to standard leagues (with 2 catchers). I view Mauer as unquestionably a top 30 player in 2-catcher leagues for next year. I certainly may prove to be wrong, but I consider his power spike this season to be legitimate to some extent.

  4. finite24 said...

    I’ll take Mauer, Votto, and Justin Upton/Adam Jones/Jason Kubel/Kendry Morales/etc. It’s relatively easy to find a top 100 OF after round 18. If the guy you draft at first doesn’t cut it, go out and add the next big thing as a FA. It’s much harder to find a catcher who will be a top 100 player after round 18.

  5. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Me too!

    But, you’re not getting any of those guys anywhere close to round 18. So, replace Upton/Jones/Morales with Garrett Anderson/Lyle Overbay/Scott Hairston and then we can have this debate for real.

    Those are top 100 players you are nominating.. The Uptons, Jones, and Moraleses, those are the extra guys I’m getting in my example, while you are getting the guys above. That’s the trade off for Mauer, I was talking about.

    And, I’m not saying I can find a top 100 player to be my catcher in round 18. I’m saying I can find a top 10 catcher there. Meanwhile, I’m gettign an extra top 20/25 outfielder or corner infielder, while you’re getting roster filler.

  6. finite24 said...

    You missed my point. I meant for this past season, all of those player were available that late in many mixed leagues. In fact, I DID get all of those players at or after round 13 in my leagues (which are extremely competitive ($100 leagues).

    You never find catchers who are that good, that late. I can’t remember the last time it has happened (Pablo Sandoval is the closest I can come, and he went in round 10 of my yahoo league).

  7. Derek said...

    Yes. Sometimes, you speculate correctly and get guys late who do, in fact, break out. More often than not, they bust.

    If you got that crop of guys that late in the draft, congrats to you. Your team is likely a juggernaut. Are you confident in your ability to do that every year?

    More importantly, the merits of my argument (or lack thereof) are not swayed or determined by anecdote. You could have just as easily wound up with three busts. Had that been the outcome, that would not have necessarily been prima facie evidence that my contention is gospel.

    Getting late round gems is a huge factor in winning leagues. That seems like largely a different, or at best tangential, point to the drafting a catcher in the top 30 debate.

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