Thursday, March 20, 2008

Who to Draft?

So, 24 hours before draft day you find out you have the second overall pick in your 5x5 mixed league draft. Who do you take?

The first overall pick will assuredly be Alex Rodriguez. If you are so lucky that ARod falls to #2, draft him and immediately run to the local grocery store to buy a lottery ticket.

More realistically, the choice is between the following stars: Chase Utley, Matt Holliday, Albert Pujols, David Wright, Miguel Cabrera, and the trio of shorstops, Jimmy Rollins, Hanley Ramirez, and Jose Reyes.

It is a daunting task to choose between such amazing fantasy players. But lets analyze each to come up with an answer. First, let's start with the premise that your first round pick should anchor your team. He should be reliable, consistent, and put up huge numbers. Second, all other things being equal, it is preferable to draft a player at a weak position. Third, are there any causes of concern (e.g. injury risk, less playing time, weaker lineup protection, etc.) for the upcoming season. We review each in turn.

Chase Utley: Over the past three seasons Utley has averaged .310-27-103-109-13. Pretty impressive, especially for a second basemen. Utley has to be a consideration because he plays in a hitter's ballpark, and at age 29 he is entering the prime of his career. With a tantalizing ability to help your team in all five categories, Utley is a definite first round pick.

Matt Holliday: Holliday has morphed from a platoon player to a genuine fantasy baseball stud. He has improved in every year of his big-league career, and is still in his prime at age 29. Last season, Holliday hit .339-36-137-120-11. Moreover, there is every reason to think Holliday can replicate, or dare I say, exceed his '07 performance. Compared to Utley, Holliday is a better overall player, but Utley has the advantage of playing at a weak position.

Albert Pujols: Perhaps the most talented player on this list, Pujols only hit .327 with 32 homers and 103 rbi's. Bothered by an elbow problem all season, Pujols opted to rest it rather than undergo surgery. Early reports from this spring suggest that the elbow could break down at any minute. Reports like this make Pujols a risky gambit in the first round. Even if his elbow holds up, manager Tony LaRussa is sure to rest him more often, which should impact his statistics. If healthy, however, Pujols is a leading contender for second overall pick, and could put up numbers like he did in 2006, when he hit .330-49-137-119-7.

David Wright: Too often the New York media over-hypes players on the Mets and Yankees. But for Wright the hype is justified. After all, how many third basemen are capable of swiping 30 bags? Wright is still young -- only 25 -- and has room to grow. Last season, Wright had his best year yet, hitting .325-30-107-113-34. We expect Wright to put up similar numbers in '08.

Miguel Cabrera: Unheralded while playing for the Marlins, Cabrera is one of the best hitters in the game today. Over the past three seasons Cabrera has averaged: .328-31-103-116-4. The amazing thing about those stats is that he had virtually no lineup protection in Florida. Having moved to Detroit, a ballpark whose configurations should positively affect his stats, he now has players like Magglio Ordonez and Gary Sheffield to protect him. Cabrera will be turning 25 in mid-April and could have a monster offensive season in '08. The hot corner is not a particularly strong position, so Cabrera warrants consideration as a top draft pick. But he's probably not as valuable as some of the other players on this list, so perhaps a mid to late first round pick for him would be better.

Jimmy Rollins: Rollins seems to have pulled a Willie Mays Hayes the past few seasons. Originally a slap hitter with a ton of speed, Rollins has developed into a legitimate power threat. Last season was the best of his career; he hit .296-30-94-139-41. Playing in a hitter's ballpark, and only 29 years old, there is every reason to believe Rollins can repeat his '07 performance in '08. Although lacking batting average compared to other players on this list, the runs and stolen bases he gets more than make up for it. Rollins plays shortstop, a traditionally weak position, that is deeper than usual this season. His ability to contribute in all five categories makes Rollins a strong consideration for second overall. Also note that if you are in a points league that counts triples, Rollins is an outstanding pick in that format too.

Hanley Ramirez: Admired by many fantasy baseball "experts" for his dominant 2007 season, Hanley has been picked second overall in many roto leagues this winter/spring. Building off an impressive debut season in 2006, Ramirez astounded many with his 2008 performance of: .332-29-81-125-51. Clearly, if Ramirez replicates that performance in '08 he is an outstanding second overall pick. But unlike many experts, we do not believe Ramirez warrants a high first round pick. There are too many question marks for our liking. First, he had off season shoulder surgery which could impact his performance. Second, he no longer has Miguel Cabrera in the lineup offering protection. Pitchers will not be surprised by his capability and will be more likely to pitch around him in '08. Third, as good as he is, Ramirez has only one season of dominance under his belt. Who is to know whether Ramirez's '07 performance will be the norm, or if he will revert back to his '06 season, which was good, but certainly not worthy of the second overall pick? Our bet is for somewhere in between.

Jose Reyes: The best overall speedster in baseball, Reyes has averaged .284-13-65-113-67 over the past three seasons. The benefit of having Reyes on your team is that you do not need to worry about steals for the rest of the draft. Reyes also has the ability to hit for power, as illustrated by the 19 homers he hit in '06. At only 24 years of age, most scouts believe Reyes has yet to reach his peak. If Reyes continues to steal 70+ bases and increases his power numbers, he could eventually be the number one player drafted overall. But he's not there yet. 2008 is an atypical year in that there are many players capable of stealing 20 bases or more. Thus, speed is not at a premium that it usually is, and as a consequence, Reyes is not as valuable as other players on this list.

So, who should you take? Just about any of the players listed above will be good bets and be a boon to your team. But for our team, we prefer Wright or Rollins.


Jeff said...
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Anonymous said...

Was a great draft. Thanks for the invite and best of luck all season long. I fairly sure we'll be checking each other's blogs all season for advice on how to one-up each other!

Oh, so are you satisfied with your pick of Reyes?