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Fantasy Stars: Bottom of the Second (Round)

This week on Fantasy Stars, we finish off the second round of a standard fantasy draft. In case you missed it, last week we caught the top half of the second. Some time before that, we caught the top and bottom of the first. Check those out if you haven't yet. Before we begin, I might as well give you the old bad news/good news treatment. The bad: Fantasy Stars will be coming to a close in two weeks, after the third round is covered. Why? Well, they're not exactly stars after that point, are they? 

The good news: we'll be rolling out our first set of Player Rankings in their place! If I know fantasy junkies, you're as excited as I am for the rankings, and I just used bold, underline, and an exclamation point all at once.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves any more than we already have--here's the bottom half of the second fantasy round. As always on Fantasy Stars, the Average Draft Position (ADP) numbers come from MockDraftCentral and come from 104 qualifying drafts. The stats shown with the players are the Big 5:  AVG/HR/R/RBI/SB for position players and IP/W/K/ERA/WHIP for starting pitchers. 

19. Stephen Strasburg, SP       ADP 22.09
20. David Price, SP                   ADP 23.12
21. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B        ADP 23.24
22. Adam Jones, OF                 ADP 24.71
23. Josh Hamilton, OF           ADP 25.14
24. Giancarlo Stanton, OF     ADP 25.38 

19. Stephen Strasburg, SP 159.1/15/197/3.16/1.15
You should know by now that I'm all about Strasburg. I honestly believe that he's the best fantasy pitcher to draft this year, and that there is more day light between him and number two (Kershaw/Verlander), than there is between them and the next guy. I love Strasburg's strikeouts: he whiffed 30.2% of all the batters he faced last year, good for an 11.13 K/9. His K/BB was great too, even for an ace, at 4.10. So why is he available with this pick? My guess is irrational fear of the unknown and irrational safety in numbers.

Nobody in your league will laugh at you if you draft Kershaw or Verlander nice and early. Nobody will flame you in your mock draft--they have high ADP's, so everyone else is doing it. You could be cool and do it too and you'll be fine. Or, you could be even cooler, and get a distinct advantage in strikeouts while enjoying all the benefits of great pitching for good teams by nabbing Strasburg.

The main reason not to like Strasburg are both related to how much he will pitch, and not at all to how well. Everyone seems to agree that his talent is special. The arguments I've heard are these: he might get hurt, he might get an innings cap. First of all, yes, he might get hurt. So might any pitcher. Strasburg has an injury history, but it's with a nice, predictable, first Tommy John surgery. I don't see any objective evidence to think he's any more injury-risky than any other great young pitcher. I do see objective evidence that he's better than other great young pitchers.

As far as that IP cap goes, don't bet on it. Last year, Washington flamed out of the playoffs despite baseball's best record. This year, they're fighting for the hearts and minds of their citizens over the suddenly-fun-to-watch Orioles, and the ever-continuing drama of politics. Oh, and they're fighting to win the World Series for the first time since 1924! Until Davey Johnson or Mike Rizzo come out and say Strasburg is on a definite innings limit, I'm not gonna act like he is. In fact, I probably won't even if they do say it.

20. David Price, SP 211/20/205/2.56/1.10
Finally, I get to argue about a pitcher not ranked higher than Strasburg. Forget that drafting Price here makes him look like Strasburg's equal, that doesn't matter. The questions are, should you get a pitcher in the second round, and should Price be the one when the top three are off the board?

The first question is easy enough to answer: no, probably not. Why? Because there are a decent number of good pitchers out there, aces to build your staff around. They start going in the first round with Kershaw, but--depending on who you're willing to call an ace--they hang around until somewhere around the sixth round with CC Sabathia. I like to get two such pitchers, but in most leagues you won't need to use a second round pick to do it--a third and fifth will do just fine, for instance. After the top three are gone, the next eight or so are pretty similar, and all valuable.

But, assuming you should get a pitcher here (I mean, it is defensible), is Price the one you want? He did win 20 games last year with a 2.56 ERA, so yeah, he totally is. Then again, he won just 12 games with a 3.49 ERA in 2011, so no, you don't want him. To make matters worse, he did it with nearly identical K/9's (8.75 and 8.74) and K/BB's (2.53 and 2.52). His BABIP allowed, his WHIP, and his AVG against all stayed pretty much the same too. What changed? His HR/9 dropped from 0.88 in 2011 to 0.68 in 2012, and his LOB% jumped from 73.3% to 81.1%. Unfortunately, that last one isn't a very repeatable stat. 

His FIP also changed from 2011 to 2012, and for the better, going from 3.32 to 3.05. Of course, the bad news is that he went from a little unlucky, to better but very lucky. Everything here says to expect his ERA to jump up again next year, though Tropicana Field (park effect 0.874) will probably keep his ERA under his FIP. So he'll be good in ERA, very likely, but he probably won't be stellar either.

For an ace, Price is good but not at the top with strikeouts (205) and K/BB (3.47), while pitching a high level of innings (211) for a good team. He should help nicely in all four starter categories without being the best at any. He's a defensible pick, seeing how lousy the Phillies have become, hurting their aces wins in the process. I can see taking Price here, but ultimately, I don't really want to be the one taking the first player in a tier of similar ones, and that's who Price is: the most balanced of a group that includes R.A. Dickey, Gio Gonzalez, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez, Matt Cain, and maybe Jered Weaver.

21. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B .286/20/82/82/18
You know it's a bad sign for offense in baseball when the number-four first baseman in baseball couldn't slug .500 in Arizona. Let's face it, this is a bad pick. Goldschmidt has a lot of consonants in his name and he stole bases as a first baseman. He's also sort of young at 25 and could therefore improve. Cool. Don't pick him in the second round.

I believe in taking calculated risks in fantasy baseball, not trendy ones, and that's what Goldschmidt has become. In a down year for first basemen in general, he rebounded from an early slump and put up a pretty nice total season, earning him the love of fantasy owners everywhere. He was good, and he'd be a good option at first base. But the second round is not where you draft someone with one good-but-not-amazing season under his belt. Not when there are All-Stars still available in the outfield, and not when he didn't really out hit Adam LaRoche--who can be drafted over 100 picks later. By taking Goldschmidt you're paying for upside he might or might not realize and those 18 steals--which are nice, but steals are the new candy--you can find them all over the place. If you really want a little bit of power and a little bit of speed in the second round, take Jimmy Rollins. Otherwise, grab a proven power hitter or a risk with a bigger upside.

22. Adam Jones .287/32/103/82/16
Speaking of proven power hitters and risks with bigger upside, Adam Jones is basically both of those at once. At 27, he's in the middle of his prime and he's made what is in retrospect, pretty steady progress throughout his career. With consistently good-but-not-awesome average, he'll do no harm there, while helping a lot in three categories and throwing in a few steals for fun. This is the sort of player who's worth a second round pick. What he did last year was good enough to feel pretty safe about his floor. The way he got there was consistent enough to feel like more improvement is distinctly possible. If it happens, great, you got a bargain. If it doesn't, well, you overpaid a little but really enjoyed what you got, so it's okay.

The argument against him is just this: there are probably better outfielders left on the board. That's the board's fault, though, not Jones's. If Stanton and Granderson are available when you take Jones, I think that's a mistake. But they really, really shouldn't be available, so Jones is a perfectly acceptable pick here.

23. Josh Hamilton, OF .285/43/103/128/7
Hamilton is a totally unique case in all of baseball given the intersection of his personal history and his professional health. There isn't much to be sure about, except that he's missed significant time to injury in three of his six "full" Major League seasons--including almost half of 2009. Actually, we can also be sure that he's hit like a beast in those seasons and struck out even more.

Our own Mark Polishuk gives good reasons not to draft Hamilton and the most compelling are the strikeouts. His whiff total ballooned from 95 in 2011 to 162 in 2012, meaning he struck out in just over a quarter of his total at bats. That's basically like facing Justin Verlander every time you bat. Age, injury worries, and the move to a rough park add on reasons to worry, each ratcheting up the risk of using a draft pick on Hamilton, or lowering his upside. At his best, Hamilton is easily a top-tier fantasy outfielder, but it's always a question whether or not you'll get his best. I like him better than Mark does for 2013, but not by enough to draft him in the second round. Maybe in the third....

24. Giancarlo Stanton, OF .290/37/75/86/6
Stanton's 37 homers ranked 7th in all baseball, and he did it in without playing enough to qualify for the batting title. That playing time was lost to a knee injury that I'm not at all worried about, given that 18 of those homers came in August or later, after his return. His .608 SLG ranked second only to David Ortiz among players with 300 PA or more. There is no reason whatsoever for Stanton to be ranked this low in the second round. Homers are seriously the new scarcity, and Stanton is well worth paying whatever price it takes to get him.

If you still aren't convinced, check out his ISO last year: .318! Well above Ortiz, Hamilton, or Jose Bautista, and .041 points ahead of anybody else. This guy has power, consistently putting over a quarter of his fly balls into the seats--including a 28.9% mark last year. And he's just 23. He could get better. Not like, maybe this year is the year he puts it all together, not like, it's an odd-numbered year so he should produce, not like, he's in his prime and might still get better before he starts to decline, no Giancarlo Stanton is a real, live young player who has not yet entered the range of ages normally considered peak years. Why is he not the third outfielder off the board? 

The knocks on Stanton are that he's got no speed and the Miami Marlins are gonna be execrable next year. Just putrid. Oh well. With homers like those, he'll be in line for plenty of Runs and RBI's no matter where he plays. Right now, he's easily the best bargain in the first two rounds.

Given just the players currently being drafted in the second round, here's how I'd reorder them: Strasburg, Stanton, Bautista, Adrian Beltre, Troy Tulowitzki, Verlander, Jones, Hamilton, Price, Harper, Upton, Goldschmidt.

Everyone from Strasburg to Beltre I'd consider grabbing in the first round, while everyone from Hamilton onward is best left for later in the draft. Some players getting drafted later that I'd consider slotting into the second round include: Granderson, Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, and maybe Adrian Gonzalez and Evan Longoria. But we'll have to check them out next time....


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