Who is 2013’s top dog?

It may not be the subject ripe for the most in-depth discussion of strategy, but debating who should be the first overall pick in the upcoming season’s fantasy draft sure is fun. This year’s debate is probably livelier than many years past. Working under the assumption that Ryan Braun will not miss any time, the participants in this rumble are Braun, Miguel Cabrera, and Mike Trout. Fittingly, these three options reflect a bit of a continuum of risk reward. While I don’t plan on reinventing the wheel here, let’s look at bit at the case for each of these players at the cream of the crop.

Miguel Cabrera

Miggy is probably the safest choice of the three candidates. What you are getting in him is the most reliably elite and durable four-category production on the market, with third-base eligibility. It is worth noting that Cabrera’s HR and RBI totals from 2012 were six and 12 above his previous career highs, respectively. Cabrera will be 30 years of age when the season starts and is still in his prime. He’s also hit nearly .330 over the past four seasons and has averaged 158 games played since becoming a full time major leaguer. There’s really not much to discuss here.

Ryan Braun

Like Cabrera, Braun is a proven commodity, but his make-up is a bit different. If Cabrera is the most reliably elite four-category producer in the game, Braun holds the title in the five-category class. While you sacrifice a bit of the RBI ceiling Cabrera offers, you retain similar run, home run, and batting average projections while gaining a huge edge in steals. In his six seasons in the show, Braun has averaged 56 combined homers and stolen bases, turning seasons of 66 and 71 over the past two years. Of course, Braun fills an outfield position.

Mike Trout

Here stands the man with the highest ceiling of all. In 139 games last season, Michael Nelson Trout took the sport of baseball by storm. While I didn’t spend much time deep-diving into the numbers for the well-established entities that are Braun and Cabrera, I will offer some quick analysis on Trout.

The biggest question mark about Trout is his power. He surprised everybody by blasting 30 dingers is his inaugural campaign but had only hit 23 long balls 286 minor league games. What are we to make of that? It’s tough to draw conclusions, especially considering that he will play through most of the 2013 season before turning 22. Skills, especially power, have not fully blossomed at such a young age, so it’s not surprising to see jumps in those numbers early in a player’s career, though it does raise your eyebrows when it happens at the major league level.

Putting those questions aside and delving into the data a bit, we find that Trout posted what seems to be a bit of a high HR/FB ratio, especially in light of the average distance of his fly balls in play. So, a regression is certainly possible, if not expected. But his power numbers last year were not an aberration in the general sense. I see the profile of a player who should sock 20-25 homers more than one who should hit 30-plus. However, it wouldn’t be particularly shocking to see him repeat with similar power numbers, especially if skills development is still happening—as we have to believe it is. Another factor in Trout’s favor is that he’s a leadoff hitter and speedster, meaning the perceived cost of walking him is arguably the highest in the league, so he sees lots of strikes.

At the end of the day, when considering Trout, I just wanted to see enough to feel reasonably protected from a 12-homer sophomore slump. If he does everything else as expected, he could still emerge as the top overall player with 20-home run season.

We know Trout is the best bet in baseball to lead the sport in runs scored and is likely the front-runner to lead in steals, as well.

Team Trout

Personally, I feel bold enough to go with Trout with the first overall pick. But perhaps what I’d most prefer would be to get the third pick in my league, as you can’t go wrong there, and you gain a smidge of draft position in the even-numbered rounds.

Team Braun and Team Cabrera, please weigh in below. Further, if anybody wants to make a case for Matt Kemp, Carlos Gonzalez or anybody else, please feel free to do so in the comments section.

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Comments

  1. headcase said...

    Giancarlo!

    My case:
    Elite power is hard to find and easy to build around. Anyone more elite than him? No. And we still don’t know what his ceiling is.

  2. Mike Erickson said...

    My initial inclination was to select Mike Trout. There’s many reasons to take this guy, especially the stolen base category. However, I have a personal bias in taking Miguel Cabrera. I’ve had him on my team in other years, dating back to his Florida days when he was the league’s best kept secret, and the consistency he has year in and year out is amazing. It’s true Trout is exciting and is the flavor of the month, so to speak. But watching that natural stroke Miggy has is a marvel to watch as well. Tough choice, but I’ll take Cabrera.

    Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind ….

  3. Scott said...

    Team Miggy

    Call me old fashioned but I just don’t invest heavily in last year’s breakouts, steals, or OF in round 1 if I can help it.

    Miggy is in another world compared to just about all 3B in R/HR/RBI and AVG and a down year would be what? 100/30/100/.300?

    Braun is amazing but I think Kemp is the OF to invest in this year. Given the price/round you’d have to take each at I like Kemp’s potential return on investment better.

    Trout if he regresses to something like .290/20/40 w 110 R and 70 RBI just isn’t as special vs. his OF peers IMO

  4. TNT said...

    Cabrera, and even Braun, are clearly the safer picks. And generally I adhere to the philosohpy of going safe w/ #1 overall. I fully expect Trouts HRs to settle a bit (but there’s not much downside), but given the strikes he’ll see in an even stronger Angel lineup, his doubles & triples should more than make up for it. It’s all about two things for Trout: 1) avoiding a prolonged slump (as the great ones typically do), and 2) avoiding injury. I usually hate when people mention injury, but the way Trout goes after ‘em and into walls concerns me…after all, it’s the #1 pick, not a 2nd or 3rd rounder. For me the risk/fear factor is outweighed by having the most exciting player in baseball to follow & root for. The projection probably has Cabrera #1, for obvious reasons. But my prediction is that Trout breaks the record for runs scored, and threatens the triples record, while going .290/28/90 and swiping nearly 75 bags. If he can be just a bit more selective at the plate, considering his defense & the ways he affects a game (oppositions approach), by the end of the year we’ll all be talking about where he’ll fit in the ‘greatest ever’ discussion when all is said & done. Watch closely, Bryce.

  5. Derek Ambrosino said...

    TNT,

    Breaking the runs record would be insane. In a best case scenario, I could see him challenging the peak marks of the fantasy era. Bagwell did 152 I think and biggio 146 as best marks since the 90s. …at least I think. I’m on mobile and going off memory. 125 would more than suffice though

    Headcase,

    I think you are aptly named… Giancarlo is a late first rounder. If you want him and have a pick in the first half of a draft, I’d suggest trading down for the better flip pick.

    Scott,

    I haven’t run the numbers but if miggy’s floor is 300-30-100-100-0 and Trout is something like 290-20-75-110-40 that might be an argument for Trout. That’s still first round value. And if we agree that Trout has the higher ceiling, wouldn’t you consider a player with the highest ceiling in the game and a top 12 floor as quite possibly the most attractive proposition on the board?

  6. Brad Johnson said...

    Trout’s weight is up, as I’m sure everyone on Twitter has told you. That almost certainly means fewer steals, but it could possibly come with more HR.

    My own analysis suggests that leagues with 3 OF and 1 UTIL should prefer Cabrera. Leagues with 5 OF and 1 UTIL or 4 OF and 2 UTIL should prefer Trout or Braun.

    Ultimately, there’s no wrong choice here.

  7. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Scott,

    Thanks for the further input. Clearly, any of the three are defensible, so it doesn’t make sense for me to push too hard in a matter that is highly influenced by personal preference and “gut.”

    I certainly wouldn’t criticize anybody who selected Cabrera first. And, your points about slightly different league dynamics tilting the equation should be well-considered by all.

    As has been discussed here before, projections should be understood as a range of probabilities for various performances. It would be interesting to throw out a few hypothetical benchmarks for the two players’ totals and see what Trout would have to produce to match a typical year from Miggy or Braun. Perhaps, that’s something I can look into going forward.

  8. Roy said...

    Fully get the Trout love, but I just wish there was one media/blog/writeup somewhere that would take the unpopular position and conclude Trout’s gonna flop based on that he had one impossible 3-month run following an awful 2011 and then came back down to earth. Yes, even if Trout just maintains what he ended on, that’s still great, but Marco Scutaro had a better October, I’m surprised he’s not declared “the highest ceiling of them all”. I’ve watched sports for too long and seen many too good to be true things to know they don’t last. Trout obviously sold his soul for last season’s impossible run; consequently, he will start slow, get injured, and miss most of next season in order to balance the universe. Or maybe I’m getting real life confused with the lifecycle of Roy Hobbs. The moral to the story? I think that Bryce indeed becomes baseball’s LeBron, while Trout becomes baseball’s Jeremy Lin.

  9. Derek Ambrosino said...

    B,

    I think you are right. Personally, I prefer 5-category very good over 3 or 4 category elite. …I want to avoid having to roster the Rajai Davises of the world because I didn’t get enough speed from my core and now must dedicate a roster spot to a one-trick pony.

    But another thing to consider is who your favorite sleepers are – if you think you have a lot of value picks and sleepers in the power department, then you may want to tilt toward prioritizing speed in the early rounds, and vice versa if the opposite.

    Roy,

    The Marco Scutaro tangent is irrelevant. First off, Marco Scutaro wasn’t considered the best prospect in baseball before stepping on a major league diamond. Marco Scutaro was never considered as having the tools to be a once in a generation talent.

    Second, you drastically overstate the extent to which Trout was carried by 1 hot month.

    Trout’s OPS by month, discounting April since he only played 3 games.

    May .941
    June .950
    July 1.259
    Aug .866
    Sept/Oct .900

    Miggy:

    April .940
    May .839
    June .990
    July 1.086
    Aug 1.092
    Sept/Oct 1.071

    Even discounting July – and all players are entitled to their hot streak – Trout would still have posted an OPS in the low 9s. If he repeats just that, he should have little trouble outproducing a typical Cabrera season – remember, last season were career highs for Cabrera in HR and RBI.

  10. Scott said...

    Derek: I won’t quibble with your logic aside from saying i feel that .290/110/20/70/40 line is his most Likely 2013 line to me…not his floor. My argument for Cabrera comes from a personal sensitivity to positional scarcity and roster building preference. if I played in a 4 or 5 OF league w/o a CI and 1 or 0 Util spots the balance could tip toward going with Trout or Braun pretty easily and if the league has CF as a separate spot (you should!) then Trout jumps to #1 easy.

  11. B said...

    I’m far from being a fantasy baseball expert, but I feel that there is no wrong choice who to choose as it mainly depends on your draft strategy and how you want your roster to look.

    Do you prefer a more scare position first?
    Do you prefer power over runs/steals early?
    Do you prefer to target those who cover all the categories at each pick?
    Are you risk averse?

    There are all sorts of strategies that can be undertaken as the draft progresses to ensure you get the most balanced roster required. As long as you stick to a plan, and adjust along the way.

    My preference – Cabrera. I’ll take the elite stud at 3B who is arguably less likely to have a lower ceiling. I want to see Trout do it again before I consider him a #1 pick.

  12. vilhelm said...

    I’d go with either braun or trout. 5 beats 4. Whichever figured for more homers. Trout hit 30 missing a month and is now as a big as Pujols … so maybe he gets to braun’s level. Besides, Cabrera’s history is more of a 30 35 homer guy anyway.

  13. Tim said...

    @Headcase

    Stanton won’t have many home runs this year when he’s just going to get intentionally walked every AB.

    If you want elite power at #1, pick Adam Dunn.

  14. Rotobanter said...

    Agree completely on all of the above, Derek – especially as it relates to Trout’s HR/FB ratio as posted here:
    http://rotobanter.com/MikeTrout/HRBout

    Let’s just say he won’t change his name to Giancarlo.

    I have Miggy first overall:
    .325-35hr-2sb-110r-127rbi
    Braun:
    .316-34hr-24sb-107r-111rbi
    Trout:
    .296-25hr-42sb-120r-85rbi

    5×5 stats have them ranked with the following points respectively:
    73.2; 76.1; 70.7

    Slight position scarcity and we have:
    74.6; 72.32; 67.2

    Miggy’s consistency and potential for more runs (addition of V-mart) and as many rbi (addition of Hunter)makes him even more fun to think about.

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