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Draft Round Battles: Swisher Vs. Sandoval

All of our Draft Round Battles thus far have focused on two players who play the same position, with the thought being that if you reached a point in your draft when you're specifically looking for that position, you have an either-or proposition.  This week, however, we're going to branch out a bit and compare first baseman/outfielder/arbiter of marital toothbrush etiquette Nick Swisher with third baseman/Bay Area headwear craze catalyst Pablo Sandoval.

Why compare these two?  Both are currently closely linked* on Mock Draft Central's latest average draft position rankings; Swisher is being taken 111th overall (115.18 ADP) while Sandoval is close behind at 116th (119.98 ADP).  Both come around that tenth round position in the draft, when you've already taken the elite bats you hope will be your lineup cornerstones and are now shopping for some solid, second-tier options.

* = Victor Martinez is the only other position player between the two but since he's a big injury red flag for me, I'm ignoring him completely.  Sorry, V-Mart shoppers!

Another reason for this comparison is to revisit one of my cardinal rules of fantasy drafting --- don't be swayed by October results.  Sandoval, of course, is coming off a monster postseason in 2012.  The Panda hit .364/.386/.712 in 70 postseason PA, capped off by his three-homer performance in Game 1 of the World Series.  Sandoval joined such immortals as Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols as the only authors of a three-homer performance in the Fall Classic, and while nobody is suddenly putting Sandoval on the level of those guys, just being in that company tends to raise one's profile.  As the ADP chart indicates, Sandoval has been taken as high as 66th overall in some drafts, which could be a case of an overzealous Giants fan, or maybe a sign that more than a few fantasy managers are now putting Sandoval in the top tier of third basemen.

That said, Sandoval has also been drafted as low as 179th overall in some drafts, which is comically low but also indicative of managers being attentive to his faults.  Sandoval has been an inconsistent player over his five-year career, posting a .943 OPS in his first full season in 2009, slumping to a .732 OPS in 2010, bouncing back up to a .909 OPS in 2011 but only playing in 117 games due to a broken right hamate bone, and then posting a .789 OPS while only playing in 108 games due to breaking his LEFT hamate bone.  

Granted, the net result is still a third baseman with a career .844 OPS at AT&T Park, so it's not like Sandoval is completely falling off the map in his "bad" years.  Even his injuries, while wrist-related, aren't terribly serious since both hamate bones have been outright removed so there's no threat of a recurrence.  Health-wise, Sandoval's weight again looks like an issue, but as Prince Fielder and David Ortiz have shown us, big guys can still produce big numbers without breaking down.*  At age 26, Sandoval is just entering his prime so while I'm being a nitpicker here, there's also plenty of evidence to suggest that Sandoval could be on the verge of his best season yet.

* = also, I'm eating a giant meatball sub as I write this, so I'm the last person to be criticizing someone else's weight issues.

But is he a better draft option than Swisher?  That's the rub.  For a guy who has played four seasons with the Yankees, makes sitcom guest appearances and is married to a well-known actress, Swisher's actual abilities on the field almost seem underrated.  Swisher was a model of consistency for the Yankees, with an average seasonal performance of .268/.367/.483 with 26 homers, 86 RBI and 83 runs in 625 PA from 2009-12.  There's no reason to believe that leaving the Bronx for Cleveland will impact these numbers, as Swisher actually had a higher OPS on the road than he did at Yankee Stadium in three of his four years in New York.

Sandoval has both the higher ceiling and lower floor, while Swisher is steady Eddie year in and year out.  While it's very possible Sandoval has a better season than Swisher in 2013, however, I'd actually still advise taking Swisher in a draft for two strategic reasons.

* Positional versatility.  One of the underrated joys of the fantasy season is when a player is installed at a new position and you happily count down the games until he gains eligibility at that new spot on the field.  I look forward to telling my grandkids one day about the Great Ben Zobrist Shortstop Push Of 2012.  This might be a personal preference of mine, but I love having multi-position players since it allows for so much flexibility when drafting or managing lineups throughout the season.  Even when it's two theoretically deep positions like OF and 1B, the fact that Swisher plays both allows you to mix and match things on draft day.  Now, you might argue that Swisher's .850 OPS (from his Yankee years) is a bit low for a fantasy first baseman, but that brings us to...

* Positional depth.  If you filter the ADP list to look at just the third basemen, there aren't any weak names ahead of Sandoval on that list.  Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre, David Wright, Evan Longoria, Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Zimmerman, Chase Headley (two former Draft Round Battle opponents) and Brett Lawrie all project as solid-at-worst for 2013.  Even behind Sandoval, it wouldn't surprise me to see David Freese break out, Mike Moustakas or Pedro Alvarez stay consistently productive over a full year or young stars like Will Middlebrooks, Manny Machado or Todd Frazier come up big in full seasons.

Call me crazy, but I like the depth at third base more than I like the depth at first or even in the outfield.  Many of the top names at 1B (Pujols, Votto, Encarnacion, Goldschmidt) are kind of questionable due to age or decline, injury, or being unproven either because they're just young or because they could be one-year wonders.  There may be even fewer sure things once you get into the outfield.  I feel like you can get away with passing on Sandoval in a hypothetical tenth round and still find a very good third baseman later, whereas if you pass on Swisher, you may find yourself rolling the dice on more than one outfielder.  You're likely not going to use Swisher every day at first anyway, but the ideal scenario would be that you draft a big-hitting 1B early and then snatch Swisher later to bulk up your outfield.

It's an unconventional move to pass up a powerful third baseman, but I just think Swisher can fill more holes in a lineup and is a safer choice.  Even if Sandoval ends up with better overall numbers than Swisher, hopefully you've made up those numbers at your hot corner by taking another good third baseman. 

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