March 2013

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How to Win: Last Minute Draft Strategy

On today's Very Special Episode of How to Win, I'm not going to cover a particular stat or position. Instead, I'm going to take a step back and share what I've learned from this year's drafting season and try to pass on this newfound knowledge in time for the final weekend of drafting. If this comes too late to you...I'm sorry. Just remember that it came too late for my first several drafts too.

Maybe I haven't been in the most drafts this year, but I think I've been in more than most: Thursday was my third, and I was assistant to my wife on two more. (Yeah, I'm lucky that my wife is a fantasy baseball junkie too.) Drafts and mocks have basically been my job this month. Well, they are my job, actually. I've done Roto, H2H, standard 5x5, non-standard categories, shallow 23-rounders, deep 27-rounders with 15 teams, Yahoo!, ESPN, and later today I'll cap the season with a monster 30-round, 14-team, CBS H2H points league. So I'm gonna be needing my own advice.

Know Your Format
The first thing to keep in mind is that there are literally several different formats out there: know your format! How many DL slots do you have? Is it points or categories? Five-by-five or something more arcane? Weekly matchups or roto style? One catcher or two? Weekly changes or daily? Is there an innings cap or not? The possibilities could go on and on. For at least another sentence. The point is that these things--even the smaller seeming ones--can make a huge difference in how you draft. Take that DL slots one: I drafted for Blog Wars not too long ago, but at the end of the draft I couldn't remember how many DL slots we had. The clock was running out and my Internet was slow and I couldn't find the league settings fast enough. So I found out the hard way and Colby Lewis is my waiver claim, not on my bench.

Some players are differently valuable in different formats. For instance, Curtis Granderson, Hanley Ramirez, Chase Headley, Matt Garza, and any other injured player is a lot more useful in H2H leagues that utilize DL slots. Discount them if you're playing standard roto, where their April (or more) absences are just as important as their (presumed) presence down the stretch in September. Discount them even more if your league doesn't give you a DL.

A really important one for me is the difference between weekly and daily formats. In a weekly format you typically play two relievers and need to fill the rest of your spots with starters; three relievers is pretty much the max you can afford. So don't get more than that, and don't waste a pick on a non-closer. Daily is totally different. Non-closers who get strikeouts are useful, and you can pile on the closers to win big in saves without sacrificing your wins and K's. Similarly, don't bother with a platoon hitter in all but the deepest weekly formats. In daily though, even Raul Ibanez can come in handy.

Catcher Strategy

With five drafts in my pocket, I have yet to draft (or suggest to draft) a catcher early. With fewer at-bats than other players, they impact your team less in average, help less in counting stats, and generally aren't any good at all. Plus, quality catchers run pretty deep. Three years ago, wouldn't you have been thrilled to have Ryan Doumit's .270 average and 15 HR's at catcher? Yes. Now, he's the 14th catcher in my rankings and even lower in others. Whether it's a single or double catcher league, I've been following pretty much the same strategy: wait for a great deal on a catcher, or be the last one to get one. Is Buster Posey great? Yeah. Should you use a first-round pick to get him? No. Snatch him up if he falls to the third. On Thursday (in a single-catcher league), I waited until the 20th round before I took my catcher, Brian McCann. Two rounds later I took Doumit to fill in while he's injured. I could get nearly equal catching production to people who used much earlier picks for this position.

Starter Strategy

There is no one good strategy for starers, but the most important thing to do will be to stick to yours. I actually don't recommend going into the draft with a set strategy for starters; instead, I let my first couple picks determine my course. Sometimes I've gone with a single ace (usually Strasburg) and waited for a while. I've taken pairs of aces with back-to-back picks (maybe Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia), and I've grabbed three sub-aces-with-strikeouts a little later on (Max Scherzer, Yovani Gallardo, James Shields). Depending on how much risk I've already assumed, I might load up on high upside starters in the middle rounds, snag one or two seemingly dependable starters, or wait all the way until the late rounds to fill out my rotation with a mix of sleepers (Marco Estrada is a favorite) and boring vets (Ryan Dempster and Bronson Arroyo come to mind).

Reliever Strategy

Get three relievers. I just don't see that much downside. I had always been the guy that gets one reliever and then happily ignores them until the 15th round and beyond, snatching up several bottom-dwellers in after the 20th. Well, not only did that strategy torpedo me in saves in last year's Silver League (I can't believe Carlos Marmol, Grant Balfour, and Greg Holland were closers then, are closers now, and still sunk me in saves by losing their jobs) it isn't nearly as viable this year. With several teams in an unsettled limbo at closer, the saves pool is shallower than ever at a very risky position.

In some drafts I've reached for an early top gun (I just had to have Rivera on a team in his last season; there was no way my wife and I could pass on Kimbrel in the 5th round), but I've aimed for three closers in each draft. Nearly every time I've gotten at least two closers from a big tier that I consider to be solid values around the 10th-12th rounds: John Axford, Jason Grilli, Glen Perkins, Rafael Betancourt, Greg Holland and Tom Wilhelmsen. Actually, J.J. Putz, Rafael Soriano, and Sergio Romo are in that group for me too, but everyone else values them a bit higher I guess.

After these guys, most closers have serious question marks or less than a full hold on the job. Let someone else take the risks. As for playing the waiver wire for saves in season: do it! But starting with a solid relief corps means you'll win bigger and have goods to trade down the line. It also means you're safer in case you have a slower free agent trigger finger than other teams in your league.

On every team, I feel like I have a solid group of closers less likely than most to lose their jobs to ineffectiveness and the rest of my team still looks pretty strong. I haven't been able to afford a fourth closer...they're just all gone by the 15th round or so, even the likes of Bobby Parnell and Casey Janssen.

Speaking of Janssen, it looks like he can start moving up draft boards with his sudden return to health and Sergio Santos beginning to struggle.

Get three closers.

Speed Strategy

So you didn't get Mike Trout or Ryan Braun with your first pick, which means that you probably aren't getting 30 steals out of a heavy hitter. (Let's face it, Andrew McCutchen, and Carlos Gonzalez won't be doing that, and I bet Matt Kemp won't either.) Where do you get speed? Fortunately you've got choices, most of which belong in the outfield or at shortstop. You can use an early pick for an elite base-stealer like Jose Reyes, Jacoby Ellsbury, B.J. Upton, or Michael Bourn. You can wait until the end at both positions and take Elvis Andrus (who won't be there, but he should be), Alcides Escobar, or Everth Cabrera at short, or Brett Gardner, Coco Crisp, Ichiro Suzuki, Cameron Maybin, Drew Stubbs, or other "speed bums" in the outfield. I strongly suggest getting at least one of the latter group in any deep format.

Watch out for sneaky players in the early and middle rounds that steal bases on top of their regular value. Remember that speed is priced into their draft cost, but that players like Shin-Soo Choo, Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, and Yoenis Cespedes can help you a lot as a group, but none of them can crash the category all by himself.

Roll with the Punches, Go with the Flow, Blah, Blah, Blah

You've got to be flexible with your rankings and your draft strategy. If shortstops are flying off the board to the tune of Erick Aybar in the 7th round, then do what it takes to make sure you aren't left starting Alexei Ramirez or Zack Cozart, even if it means drafting Alcides Escobar, J.J. Hardy, or Everth Cabrera ten rounds ahead of where you planned. It won't kill your team: the fair market price for their services got more expensive; for some other position it will have necessarily become cheaper. If you can't adjust, you'll be left in the dust. Similar things can happen to catchers and relievers,and it's important to balance flexing with your league-mates, and striking your own path. Don't take Addison Reed in the third round just because seven closers just went off the board. But take him in the 10th if you need a second closer and he's the only good one left.

Don't Just Make Tiers, Use Them!

It's easy to just go down your player list, even if you've broken everything up into tiers. Don't do that. Your tiers (or ours--you can use them for free) are there for a reason. Do you need speed or power? Hopefully there's some of both in that fifth OF tier. Do you want to take a big risk with your fifth starter, or get someone steady to balance out risks you've already taken? There should be a sprinkling of both in the tier.

Forget Your Tiers and Rankings

You probably didn't get up this morning and make all your tiers and rankings fresh for today's draft. If you did...well, okay. Otherwise, you've had time to gather more information, read more analysis, gauge the relative wisdom of the crowds you've drafted with, and otherwise reevaluate every player in the game. I know I ranked Danny Espinosa near Jimmy Rollins, but I just can't bring myself to draft Espinosa where I've got him ranked: I was just too high on him in my personal tiers. If I want Carlos Gomez, I'll have to bump him way up--he's just too popular to land where I've tiered him, so if I need his power/speed combo, I have to decide whether or not to overpay. Roy Halladay is another example of this: he goes deeper and deeper into my rankings seemingly every time, as the news has yet to be positive about him. He's dropped from my initial expectation of the 5th round, to the 7th, and then the 10th, and lately the 12th. 

Trust yourself and the decisions you made about most players. Unless you have good reason not to.

Position Scarcity

Intimately related to the three sections above, your strategy for dealing with scarce positions (second base, shortstop) relative to deep ones (first base, outfield, pitcher, catcher) will be different in every league.

Take the standard Yahoo! format (of which I am not a fan, by the way): with eligibility down to basically three innings (actually 5 games started), basically everybody is eligible everywhere. (Get extra value in Kyle Seager at 2B, Mark Trumbo at 3B, and Martin Prado at SS and 2B.) On top of that, the standard format doesn't include MI or CI, but does give you two Util slots. What does that mean? You're now expected to have one 2B from an expanded pool, one SS from an expanded pool, and one 3B from an expanded pool...and you might as well take three 1B since you can play them all. In this format, 1B and OF are extra valuable and you can get pretty good production at the "premium positions" without using early picks. My wife took Joey Votto with her first pick, and there was no good reason not to grab Edwin Encarnacion with her third. Her production up the middle is just fine!

Contrast that with the style we use for the RotoAuthority and Silver Leagues, where we run five OF's, a MI, and a CI. It's like every position is scarce! Don't neglect your outfield in these formats (or, like me, you may have a team in which Coco Crisp is your number two OF), but make sure to fill at least one infield position in the first few rounds. Notice also, that the injuries to Ramirez and Headley, plus the questions about Pablo Sandoval have made 3B a noticeably shallower position than it was at the beginning of Spring Training.

Don't Drink and Draft (Unless You're in my Leagues)

I get that it's more fun. Of course it is. But fantasy baseball isn't about fun, it's about winning! Plus, you can have a good time without impairing your strategy to the point where Yahoo!'s autodraft mechanism is a safer bet than your judgement. In a related vein, I don't recommend drafting anywhere with an environment that isn't conducive to clear thinking. Sometimes this means draft in your home...sometimes it means get as far away from your home as possible.

A Few Final Words

I don't have any final words. If you haven't drafted yet, good luck!



Go Bold or Go Home: Blog Wars Draft Review

Surprisingly enough, there are several other fantasy baseball-themed blogs out there in the aethersphere. I know--what a surprise! Well, we decided to wage war and mutual self-promotion at the same time in the eXpertLeagues.com Blog Wars league. Fifteen teams, all owned by experts, and I'm representing RotoAuthority. We drafted on Monday, and it seemed like the perfect time to put my own advice to the test: go bold, or go home.

I went home. I really, really meant to go bold, I did. Promise. My plan going into the draft was to make as many of my decisions as possible based more on upside than balanced risk analysis. Why? Well, there's only one winner and we're playing for pride. What pride is there in a solid fifth-place finish? None. So I was going to go for broke.

Turns out, I wasn't the only one with that strategy. Consider, for instance, some of these first round picks: Justin Upton, Evan Longoria, Troy Tulowtizki, and Bryce Harper. (Do keep in mind that it's a 15-team league, but still!) People hated safe picks so much that Albert Pujols lasted until the 12th pick. Man, was I disappointed with my slot of 13th.

By the time it got around to my pick I had a choice of which road to go down: safety and Giancarlo Stanton, risk and Troy Tulowitzki. With the clock counting down (I might have spent a little too much mental energy getting excited about Pujols) I made the call that Tulo was more likely to last four more picks than Stanton, who I grabbed. Wrong! With that, the die was cast.

Sort of. I made Stephen Strasburg the first pitcher taken just a couple picks later, and some would probably see that as a pretty bold move. The way I see it, I was just making sure that mine wouldn't be among the large population of teams without an ace.

It was a long time until my next pick--if you aren't used to 15-team leagues, you're in for some long waits between selections. If you are, you'll understand why we stopped after less than two rounds to change the draft time from 90 seconds to a minute. Speaking of things that take a long time, check out this round-by-round of the rest of the draft.

Rounds 3-4

Unsurprisingly, position scarcity was becoming a big deal by the end of the third, when I next got to pick: Cano, Kinsler, and Pedroia were all gone at second; Tulo, Reyes, and Castro at short; Cabrera, Longoria, Beltre, and Wright at third. My only logical choice: Ben Zobrist, with Ryan Zimmerman on the backswing of Round 4. It was the right call, as the next couple rounds saw SS slip all the way down to Asdrubal Cabrera, while 2B saw its next three hitters go off the board. At this point, the good news was that I had a solid core. The bad news, was that I wasn't feeling terribly bold.

Rounds 5-6

Maybe that's why I made Anthony Rizzo my 5th round pick, or maybe it was just for the position scarcity. As starters slipped off the board, I grabbed Yovani Gallardo. Which is only bold because, between me and my wife, we've got him on seven or eight teams. Maybe just three. Either way. Infielders continued to disappear here, while I pretended not to worry that I still had just one of my five outfielders.

Rounds 7-8

Frustratingly, I wasn't able to sneak Jimmy Rollins or Elvis Andrus by anyone. In fact, SS went so fast that Erick Aybar was off the board in the seventh. Seriously, Erick Aybar! Really! My only choice was to take Alcides Escobar, which was a lot higher than I'd expected, even in a 15-team league. Fortunately, I managed to gain a foothold in steals while filling my SS hole. The only bad news, was that I had relegated Zobrist to 2B, something I never draft him expecting to do. Bold plays like Carlos Gomez, Eric Hosmer, Ryan Howard, and Hanley Ramirez all went off the board in the seventh, making me think that cautious might be the new bold after all.

In the whole draft, I caught criticism for just one selection: Wilin Rosario in the 8th round. Considering that Victor Martinez, Mike Napoli, and Salvador Perez had just been drafted, I'm not sure if the comment was sarcastic or what, but I was stoked to get my personal fourth-ranked catcher this late, in a league where 30 catchers must be drafted. Miguel and Jesus Montero would go in the next round, as would injured stars Chase Headley and Curtis Granderson, and one of my favorite sleeper/breakout candidates, Todd Frazier.

Rounds 9-10

Around this time, I was thinking of being seriously bold and taking the ailing Roy Halladay. My thinking was this: I've got two pitchers to mitigate some of that risk I thought I didn't care about, and if Doc comes back to his old self, having him and Strasburg on the same staff would be hard to beat. Instead, I took Jake Peavy, and I feel a lot more confident in my rotation. 

I could have gotten Doc with the next pick--it would have been so easy!-- but relievers were starting to go. Took John Axford instead.

Rounds 11-12

I was still intent on ol' Halladay (he's a great choice for your fourth pitcher in just about any format, let alone in the 11th Round), but he was snatched right out of my grasp by the same team that snagged Pujols from me in the first, so I switched tactics and took the last two good relievers left: Jason Grilli and Glen Perkins. Long story short, I feel great about my position in saves. Some more high-upside risks slipped away here, like Dan Uggla, Tim Lincecum, and Marco Estrada.

Rounds 13-14

At this point, I was really wanting to fill in my OF and get some speed, but I just couldn't let Will Middlebrooks pass by for my CI spot, especially with nearly all the playable 1B's off the board. Plus, I had him in the same tier as Frazier, who went five rounds earlier. For the next one, though, it was time to get on with the plan and take OF number two: Coco Crisp. Yeah, my outfield is going to be a problem. To make matters worse, I had targeted Nick Swisher and Josh Reddick for that slot, but both just barely slipped through my fingers. At least I got speed, right?

Rounds 15-16

Operation build-my-outfield continued in these rounds, where I got Cameron Maybin for speed and Ryan Ludwick for power. I have to admit, I was excited to have Ludwick as my fourth outfielder, so if you think about it, only my #2 and #3 OF's are a problem. And they steal bases....

Unfortunately, this section saw three pitchers I'd targeted get drafted: A.J. Burnett, Homer Bailey, and Alexi Ogando. Also, Jedd Gyorko seemed like the last upside and playing time option for MI and he went too. 

Rounds 17-18

With several gaping holes in my lineup filled, I turned my attention back to my rotation and grabbed Andy Pettitte and Ryan Dempster with my next two picks. Neither Boston nor New York is as sure a source of wins as they used to be, but they stand a decent chance of being above-average, and both of these pitchers should produce some strikeouts too. If they stay healthy.

Rounds 19-22

At this point, I felt like I was sitting on a decent rotation and a great (for 15 teams) bullpen, but I still had holes to fill at 2nd C, 5th OF, MI, and Util. So a lot of holes. With J.P. Arencibia barely off the board, I grabbed Jarrod Saltalamacchia. With upside/longshots Justin Ruggiano and Brandon Moss gone, I took a pair of injury prone power hitters for the last spot in the outfield and utility: Carlos Quentin and Cody Ross. Predictably, both are less than 100% certain for Opening Day. I also grabbed Daniel Murphy for that MI slot, which isn't very exciting, but at least he isn't known to be horrible.

Rounds 23-27

My starting lineup finally filled out, I went after starting pitchers to fill out nearly all the rest of my roster. In a league with lots of bench slots, I like to use most of them on pitchers. I took Wei-Yin Chen as the best starter available, Joe Blanton because of his ridiculous K/BB rate, Bronson Arroyo because he's dependable and the Reds should slug their way to lots of wins for him, and Johan Santana as my DL stash. For my last pick, I vacillated between taking Colby Lewis as a second such injured player and getting a bench hitter. I took the hitter, in the form of Chris Nelson, because he plays 2B and 3B, and hits in Colorado. 

So I learned that things get pretty ugly by the 27th round and the 403rd pick, but overall, I feel decent about this team. Check out the roster below the fold:

Continue reading "Go Bold or Go Home: Blog Wars Draft Review" »


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Draft Round Battles: Verlander Vs. Kershaw

There is definitely an argument to be made that Stephen Strasburg should be the first pitcher taken in your fantasy draft.  It's very possible that by October, Strasburg will have delivered a season that will make him the undisputed top starter for the 2014 drafts...but we're not there yet.

As Mock Draft Central's latest ADP report shows us, Strasburg is the consensus #3 pitcher taken while Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander are locked in a pitched (no pun intended) battle as the first starting pitcher selected.  Kershaw has the current edge with an 18.47 ADP and Verlander just behind at 22.85, making them the 17th- and 19th-drafted players overall.  So really, there's room for the pro-Strasburg camp within this draft battle --- even if some bold soul takes Strasburg as the first pitcher, you'll still be faced with the Kershaw vs. Verlander decision later on.

Neither ace is a wrong move.  Six of one, half a dozen of the other.  Some past draft battles have featured players who I felt were going to decline in 2013 or were at best risky, but in this case, you're getting a superstar no matter if you take the Claw or if you take JV.  In fact, I've taken both pitchers in a couple of different league drafts within the last week and I feel (knock on wood) I'm sitting pretty.  While I have a preference between the two aces, I never like to take the same guys in multiple leagues since that's just inviting bad karma in the form of a freak injury or drop in performance.  I had Matt Cain on all four of my fantasy teams last year and that worked out great, but what are the odds of that happening again?  Can't fight the universe, man.

So, Kershaw vs. Verlander.  Let's look at both men over the last four years, with a focus on the 5x5 stats.  WHIP is essentially equal and saves aren't an issue, unless the Tigers' closer situation gets so desperate that Jim Leyland just throws all caution to the wind and has Verlander in the bullpen during his rest days (it's either this or else Mike Ilitch funds a human cloning project to create a new Mike Henneman).  Anyway, let's stick to the other three universal pitcher stats...

Kershaw: 2.60 ERA, 147 ERA+, 874 strikeouts, 3.02 K/BB, 9.4 K/9, 56 wins, 1.09 WHIP

Verlander: 2.95 ERA, 144 ERA+, 977 strikeouts, 3.89 K/BB, 9.2 K/9, 78 wins, 1.076 WHIP

Strikeouts.  As noted, Leyland generally tends to pitch Verlander like he's a modern-day Old Hoss Radbourn, which is why Verlander has 117 more IP than Kershaw has over the last four seasons.  While they strike out batters at roughly the same rate, Verlander simply has more punchouts by sheer dint of the fact that he generally pitches deeper into games and thus has more opportunity to rack up the K's.  This is where the NL setting actually hurts Kershaw a bit since he is more apt to be lifted for a pinch-hitter in the late innings.       

ERA.  Verlander had a 3.45 ERA in 2009 and a 3.37 ERA in 2010, accounting for the 0.35 gap between he and Kershaw.  Of course, Verlander had some bad luck in those seasons --- he posted FIPs of 2.80 and 2.97, respectively, so his final ERA should've by all accounts been better.  As noted by the ERA+, both pitchers were virtually identical in this category all things being equal, and yet Kershaw gets the nod since your fantasy league doesn't track in could'ves and should'ves.  I also can't help but think Kershaw is helped by Dodger Stadium in keeping runs down in general, plus you wonder if the Tigers' horrid infield defense may catch up to Verlander this year.

Wins.  We sabermetric types can scoff at wins all we want, but they're still a big part of the fantasy game and Verlander's 78-56 edge in his category can't be ignored.  Part of that is luck, part is Detroit being a slightly better team than L.A. (by seven wins) over the last four seasons, part is due to Verlander pitching in the easier AL Central, and part could be due to the fact that the Tigers had Jose Valverde protecting those leads while the Dodgers shuffled through Jonathan Broxton, Javy Guerra, Kenley Jansen and even a little bit of Ramon Troncoso at the end of games.  Of course, the shoe is on the other foot going into 2013 now that the Dodgers will have Brandon League and Jansen waiting in the wings, while the Tigers are rolling the dice with Bruce Rondon.

Does that mean Kershaw is in for more wins?  Not necessarily, since frankly, I think the Dodgers are in real trouble as a team this year.  Forget the World Series talk --- I'd be impressed if the team even finishes above .500 given all the injuries and major holes they have up and down their roster.  Detroit, meanwhile, is the big favorite in the AL Central and has a good chance of another deep playoff run.  You could be a lot more optimistic about the Dodgers' chances (or maybe the chances of the White Sox, Indians or Royals) than I, but in terms of sheer results, I see the Tigers being the better team, which might well translate to Verlander having the edge in the win column.  It's such a random category to predict but judging by past history, I've got to give Verlander the duke here.

Add it all up and that's a 2-1 lead for Verlander, making him my pick over Kershaw.  As I said before, either man would look great atop your fantasy rotation so if you prefer Kershaw, go for it.  It's basically a no-lose draft battle here, and unless either man signs a contract extension, maybe they'll battle again in the 2014-15 free agent market



2013 Position Rankings: Value Changers

Each year things seem to happen in Spring Training. Good things, like injured players coming back quicker than expected, or sleepers clubbing their way into jobs. Bad things, like setbacks and new injuries. Other things, like trades, job changes, and the end of position battles. 

I hate all of these things, because they upset my neatly crafted rankings. Speaking of which, check out Starting Pitchers 1-4041-80RelieversShortstopsThird BasemenSecond BasemenFirst BasemenCatchers, and  Outfielders.

Below is a selection of players that we ranked that should now be shooting up, plummeting, or doing something rather less drastic.

Catchers

Down: Mike Napoli (Rounds 5-6, ranked 7th)
Poor Napoli seems to be feeling good and playing well, so why is he downgraded? It's just a strategic move, as he's going a lot later in many drafts. If you can pay less, you should. I'd wait till the 7th or 8th, but his position relative to others stays the same.

First Basemen

Down: David Ortiz (Rounds 7-8, ranked 11.5)
Ortiz isn't eligible at first in every league, but he will be starting the year on the DL in every league. The Red Sox don't have a timetable for his return, and I hate drafting anyone in that situation. I'd wait until the 15th round, at the earliest, making him number 26 or 27 among first basemen.

Up: Corey Hart (Round 21 and Beyond, ranked 33rd)
Hart we knew was injured, but the news out of the Brewers' camp has been more positive than not, with an early or mid-May return possible. Like any other injury-stash, he's more valuable in H2H leagues, and less in any league without DL slots. I wouldn't go as high as the 15th Round with him, but I'd snag him in the 17th or 18th, slotting him in right behind Ortiz.

Second Basemen

Up: Emilio Bonifacio (20th-22nd Rounds, 21.5)
If your league's eligibility requirement is 15 games or lower, Bonifacio's value could be going up, thanks to a bad spring from Maicer Izturis. If he's stealing bases in the Toronto lineup, he could be a great value. Consider bumping him up to the 18th-19th Rounds, and perhaps the 16th or 17th player at second base. I'm not so excited if he's just an outfielder.

Shortstops

Down: Hanley Ramirez (3rd Round, 2nd)
I was excited for Hanley to start the year, but a jammed thumb and torn ligament have him sidelined for eight weeks. He doesn't seem to be falling all that far, but really, he's going to be out until late May, with the ever-present possibility of setbacks for more. I'm staying away completely, but if you want to draft him, wait until the 7th round at the earliest, after Ian Desmond is gone. That would make him the 7th shortstop taken.

Down: Derek Jeter (12th-13th Rounds, 9th)
Jeter is another guy that I'd been more exited than most about, only to run into his injury issues. He's only "questionable" for Opening Day, but those questions seem worth letting him drop a couple rounds for, to the 14th or 15th. Upon further review, I'd probably want to take him after Alcides Escobar and Elvis Andrus, who are probably worth taking a little higher in light of Jeter's and Ramirez's injuries. That would make Jeter the 12th SS taken.

Third Basemen

Down: Chase Headley (5th Round, 7th)
Headley is expected to miss 4-6 weeks, which could easily push his return into early May. I really don't like having a stud player miss that much time, because it forces me to draft a bum for the position and play him for a month. Again, this isn't so bad in H2H, since September playoffs determine the whole season, but it really hurts in standard Roto. I honestly wouldn't take Headley until the 11th or 12th rounds, until Will Middlebrooks and Todd Frazier are off the board.

Down: Pablo Sandoval (7th-8th Rounds, 9th)
Sandoval's situation has more optimism than Headley's, as his manager hopes he'll be able to play on Opening Day. However, the Panda's sketchy health history has me a little skeptical. I'd let him drop into the 10th or 11th Round, but he actually becomes the  8th player at the position, thanks to Headley's lost value.

Down: Mike Olt (20th-22nd Rounds, 23rd)
I had expected Olt to start in the bigs, and see time at first, third, and DH, kind of like Michael Young did last year. Not so much, as he was sent down to the minors. I'd save him for waiver bait in most leagues.

Outfielders

Down: Curtis Granderson (3rd Round, 13th)
Granderson isn't scheduled to return until late May, and a wrist injury stands the chance of reducing his power going forward. In a H2H league, I'd be willing to snag him in the 10th round, making him the 33rd OF. In standard Roto or any other format without playoffs, I'd wait until the 12th or 13th, slotting him in after Andre Ethier at 43 or so.

Down: Adam Eaton (14th-16th Round, 52nd)
Eaton will be missing two months or so, by which time the Diamondbacks might just be happy with the production they get from Jason Kubel, Cody Ross, and Gerardo Parra. I'd leave Eaton for the waiver wire in most leagues, but I'd be willing to draft Kubel and Ross several slots higher.

Up: Carl Crawford (14th-16th Rounds, 55th)
A month ago, things weren't so optimistic for Crawford, with the talk being that he'd probably have to start on the DL. Between that prospect and his complete awfulness for the last two years, that had him buried on all my lists. Well, he was just as terrible in the past, but at least he looks like he might be starting the year healthy. With that to limit his downside, his upside becomes intriguing again. I'd grab him in the 12th-13th Rounds, around number 45 or so.

Up: Domonic Brown (unranked)
Brown had been a big disappointment for fantasy owners the last couple years, but he's been tearing up Spring Training. Like Steve Adams, I don't really care about most Spring stats, but his are so good that the Phillies don't have much choice but to give him another chance. If they're giving Brown a chance, I could too, among the guys in the 15th-16th Rounds, maybe around number 52. In fact, you could just trade him with Eaton in your rankings if you're feeling lazy.

Starting Pitchers

Down: Roy Halladay (Rounds 7-8, 23rd)
Another guy I was bullish on! Halladay's Spring hasn't had much of anything good happen to it, and I'm a lot more nervous to take him than I was. I'm not really comfortable with him as more than my number three starter now, which means I'd want to take him in the 8th or 9th Round, in most cases. I'll take the risk as the 30th or so pitcher taken. 

Up: Zack Greinke (Rounds 5-6, 17th)
Greinke was looking pretty rough a little while ago, but the most recent reports have been a lot better. For that reason, I still want him in the same timeframe, but perhaps as high as pitcher number 11. 

Up: Chad Billingsley (unranked)
Billingsley now appears to be healthy enough to start the season, so he makes a pretty good back of the rotation option for late rounds, perhaps around 19th-20, putting him 77th or so among starters. So, not super exciting.

Down: Chris Capuano (Rounds 17th-18th, 74th), Hyun-Jin Ryu (unranked)
With Billingsley and Greinke looking healthy, expect these guys to be edged out of the rotation. Unless something changes, don't draft them.

Up: Julio Teheran (unranked)
 Teheran has pitched well, and has always had good upside. It appears that he'll be getting starts for the Braves, so I'd be happy to snag him in the 18th-19th Rounds, maybe as the 70th pitcher taken

Down: Trevor Bauer (Rounds 17th-18th, 71st)
He was sent down, so leave him for the waiver wire. 

Down: Johan Santana (Rounds 17th-18th, 76th)
Santana isn't looking healthy, so I'm not so excited to take the risk on him anymore. It appears that he'll be unavailable to start the season. With better DL stash options out there, I'll be leaving him and my memories of 2004 on the waiver wire.

Down: Phil Hughes (Rounds 13th-14th, 50th)
Hughes might not be ready for Opening Day either, so I'd drop him down to the 17th-18th Rounds, around number 67-68. Of course, he may end up being healthy, so don't let him slip too far.

Relief Pitchers

Up: Aroldis Chapman (Rounds 7th-8th, 26th SP)
With his move to closer official, Chapman loses upside, but he also loses a huge portion of his risk. I'd make him the second closer taken, probably in the 6th or 7th Round. 

Down: Jonathan Broxton (15th-16th Round, 18th)
Broxton moves up...in holds leagues. So much for his value in standard formats, as many other non-closers will post better strikeout numbers.

Down: Jason Motte (8th-9th Round, 5th)
News just came in that Motte has injured his elbow, and will almost certainly start the season on the DL. How much more he might miss is up in the air. I like to avoid pitchers in this situation, so, to be safe, let him drop a long ways in your draft. Hopefully he won't be out too long, and hopefully there will be a more solid timetable before you draft. For now, Mitchell Boggs will be getting first crack at saves in St. Louis. 

Chances are, things will change again in the last week of the season, but the good news is that your draft will happen and you won't have to worry about overpaying for an injured has-been, or missing out on a star prospect who hasn't quite won a job. No, instead, you'll have a whole team full of commitments to players whose value could still change on a bad hop or a tough slide. 


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How to Win: On-Base Percentage

I know what you're thinking: OBP isn't a category in traditional 5x5 leagues! I have noticed that (and lamented, being a member of the Moneyball generation), but that doesn't mean On-Base doesn't matter. You know that too, of course, deep down. A hitter with a high OBP will have more opportunities to score runs and steal bases. Also, these hitters can take pitches, which I can imagine leads to more homers and RBI's, and higher batting averages. Or maybe those things drive On-Base up. Either way, they go together. Since OBP doesn't show up among the sortable stats on your fantasy website (unless they're a category in your league), finding players with high numbers here can be a great way to sneakily get slightly-better hitters for your overall team. Finally, hitters who can get on base are much more likely to stay in the lineup, or on top of the lineup. So basically, OBP is great.

Of course, you might play in a league that isn't precisely 5x5--if that's the case then you already love high-OBP hitters, because you directly benefit from them, via walks, OPS, or OBP as a straight-up replacement for batting average. There are many choices.

2012's Top 24 
(Min. 350 PA)

1. Joey Votto, .474
2. Joe Mauer, .416
3. David Ortiz, .415
4. Prince Fielder, .412
5. Buster Posey, .408
6. Andrew McCutchen, .400
7. Mike Trout, .399
8. John Jaso, .394
9. Carlos Ruiz, .394
10. Miguel Cabrera, .393
11. Ryan Braun, .391
12. David Wright, .391
13. Miguel Montero, .391
14. Melky Cabrera, .390
15. Dexter Fowler, .389
16. Edwin Encarnacion, .384
17. David Murphy, .380
18. Matt Holliday, .379
19. Robinson Cano, .379
20. Austin Jackson, .377
21. Ben Zobrist, .377
22. Chase Headley, .376
23. Jon Jay, .373
24. Yadier Molina, .373 

The first thing I notice here is just how much higher Votto is than everyone else. If your league does OBP instead of AVG, he might belong among the top couple draft picks. A couple other guys on this list aren't high at all on most draft boards: John Jaso, Dexter Fowler, David Murphy, and Jon Jay. In anything but a standard league, all these guys could be starters at their positions. In 5x5, their OBP still adds value, but they remain second-stringers. If Ruiz wasn't suspended for PED's, I'd heartily recommend him. As it is, I don't see a lot of reason to stash a catcher you can't use and can't put on the DL.

OBP-AVG

Some players get a big value boost from batting average, which is fine, especially in a standard league. Other players lose value from low averages, but you can find extra-useful players of both types by simply finding the players who get the most of their OBP from walks. Also, these players are the ones most likely to put up high On-Base Percentages next year, even if BABIP treats them poorly. They'll also benefit from extra steals and extra runs, relative to other hitters with a similar batting average.

1. Joey Votto, .137
2. Carlos Pena, .133
3. Adam Dunn, .129
4. Dan Uggla, .128
5. John Jaso, .118
6. Travis Hafner, .118
7. Jose Bautista, .117
8. Mike Napoli, .116
9. Jonny Gomes, .115
10. Mark Reynolds, .114
11. Carlos Santana, .113
12. Carlos Quentin, .113
13. Chase Utley, .109
14. Alex Avila, .109
15. Ben Zobrist, 107
16. Josh Willingham, .106
17. Miguel Montero, .105
18. John Buck, .105
19. Edwin Encarnacion, .105
20. A.J. Ellis, .103
21. Kevin Youkilis, .101
22. Matt Joyce, .100
23. Russell Martin, .100
24. Prince Fielder, .099
25. Rickie Weeks, 0.98 

This list is certainly headlined by two types of player: high power, low average guys, and some of the best hitters in baseball. Notice also, players who had down years last year (Youk, Weeks) and, for some reason, quite a few catchers. Catching runs really deep this year, but there's all the more reason to wait till the end to take your backstop if you play in a league that rewards walks or OBP. Alternatively, you would be more justified in paying the premium price for Mauer, Santana, or Napoli.

OBP + Speed

In fantasy baseball, we love power/speed combos. We really like speedy guys with good batting averages too. Maybe more important than either, however, is the OBP of our speedsters. The more they get on the more they steal. When we draft  someone for steals, especially towards the middle and late rounds, each steal they might add is more important than a homer or two, or a handful of points of batting average.

So here are some high OBP (.340 or above) speedsters (20 steals or more): Mike Trout, Michael Bourn, Jose Reyes, Juan Pierre, Jose Altuve, Ryan Braun, Norichika Aoki, Alejandro De Aza, Jason Heyward,* Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Andrew McCutchen, Dustin Pedroia, Carlos Gonzalez

*Heyward's OBP was only .335, but he's got a history of high On-Base years, and he's a great bet to top that number next year.

Speed Without OBP

Here are some guys to watch out for: the opposite of the players listed above. They stole plenty of bases (20 or more), but their low OBP's (under .320) kept them from nabbing more. This also limited their chances to bat at the top of the order and score runs, always a nice bonus from a speedster. Here they are: Rajai Davis, Carlos Gomez, Desmond Jennings, B.J. Upton, Jimmy Rollins, Drew Stubbs, Ichiro Suzuki, Jordan Schafer, Cameron Maybin, Michael Saunders, Danny Espinosa, Alexei Ramirez

Some of these guys are great players, and great for fantasy...but remember to discount them for their walk avoidance, and remember that some of them could find themselves sitting next to Davis, their headliner: on the bench.

A Few Final Words

Whether or not your league directly counts OBP, checking this stat is similar to looking at a pitcher's peripheral stats: it tells you a lot about what kind of hitter he is, and what kind of opportunities he'll have to help you in whichever categories your league does score. High OBP hitters are key to maximizing your potential in steals and runs scored. In fact, my Runs Scored article has two sections devoted to the high OBP hitters you might want. If you didn't read it already, check it out. For me, OBP can make a great tiebreaker between two players of otherwise similar value. When comparing similar guys, whether at the top or bottom of a draft, the one who gets on more often is almost always the better choice.


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Sleepers & Busts: Rapid Fire

It's getting late into draft season, and there are still so, so many ADP situations that confound me. As we're nearing the end of draft season, I'm shortening my "analysis" (known to most as uninformed rambling) and spouting off some brief and hopefully impossibly compelling rationales for why I love or hate some players based on their draft slots:

Ike Davis, 1B, NYM -- ADP 87 (Y! rank also 87)

Davis may well hit 30 home runs in 2013, but he'll do so with an average in the Adam Dunn range... which begs the question: Why exactly is he being drafted 80 spots ahead of Dunn, who also has 1B eligibility? Davis hit .174/.225/.335 against lefties last year and has had about as much success in his career against southpaws as Charlie Brown has in kicking footballs. Taking him over Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson, Brett Lawrie, or Chris Sale is just plain silly. Skip Davis and wait for Dunn if you're looking for power and a woeful batting average. Or if you're looking for a corner/utility guy, take Pedro Alvarez sixty picks later and enjoy the same output.

Chris Davis, 1B/3B/OF, BAL -- ADP 95 (Y! rank 122)

Quick! Name everyone who had a higher homer-to-flyball percentage than Chris Davis! If you said Adam Dunn and Josh Hamilton, you're correct. If you said anyone else, you're not. Davis somehow managed a ludicrous 25.2 percent HR/FB last season and paired it with a monstrous 23.2 percent line-drive rate. With numbers like that he should've hit higher than .270, but he also whiffed in more than 30 percent of his plate appearances. Davis also swung and missed more than any non-Hamilton player in baseball last season. The line-drive rate is repeatable, but I'm expecting some healthy HR/FB regression and possibly even more strikeouts given his whiff rate and the fact that he swung at 55 percent of pitches thrown to him last year. Hey, I still like him better than Ike.

A.J. Burnett, SP, PIT -- ADP 174 (Y! rank 207)

Can someone explain to me why a pitcher who fired 202.1 innings with an 8.0 K/9, 3.51 ERA and 1.24 WHIP is buried this far in the draft? Burnett's 2.9 K/BB ratio was his best since 2006 -- his first year with the Blue Jays -- and his FIP (3.52), xFIP (3.40) and SIERA (3.41) all back last season's success. I'd be fine taking Burnett a full two or three rounds ahead of this slot. I'm definitely buying him over Ryan Vogelsong, Homer Bailey and C.J. Wilson, to name a few.

Mike Morse, OF, SEA -- ADP 173 (Y! rank 175)

Morse doesn't come with a particularly lengthy track record, and he's injury prone to boot. However over his past two and a half seasons with the Nats, Morse batted .296/.345/.516 and went deep at a 30-homer pace (per 162 games). He's moving to the dreaded Safeco Field, and while the ball isn't going to carry as well up in the Pacific Northwest, the Mariners are drastically altering their dimensions. The power alley in left-center field is coming in by as much as seventeen feet! And, a lot of Morse's power is to the opposite field anyhow, which isn't as problematic at Safeco for righties. His lack of walks in 2012 is troubling, but can be partially attributed to becoming more aggressive in the zone and improving his contact rate on strikes within the zone. He actually chased fewer out of one pitches than in 2011, and his whiff rate was nearly the same.

Neil Walker, 2B, PIT -- ADP 189 (Y! rank 139)

Walker should be going a lot closer to that Yahoo ranking than to where he's being selected on Mock Draft Central. Walker's HR/FB took a positive jump forward to a perfectly repeatable 11.2 percent last year in his age-26 season. That led to a career-best 14 homers in just 530 plate appearances. Walker also improved his walk rate for the second consecutive season. Those are nice trends for a player entering his age-27 season. Walker was on pace for 17-18 homers if he'd stayed healthy last season, so his first 20-homer campaign isn't a stretch, and he should throw in double-digit steals too.

Brandon Moss, OF/1B, OAK -- ADP 190 (Y! rank 538)

I hate to keep agreeing with Yahoo's rankings here (because some of them really are nuts), but is anyone buying Moss' sudden 25.9 percent HR/FB, 21.5 percent line-drive rate and 46 percent fly-ball rate? His .359 BABIP isn't going to happen again, but the 30.4 percent K-rate very well could, given that 16.5 percent of swings made a "whoosh" sound that was closely followed by the ball hitting the catcher's mitt. No thanks.

Domonic Brown, OF, PHI -- ADP 224 (Y! rank 272)

Brown is the classic post-hype sleeper -- a former top prospect who's fallen off just about everyone's radar. The signing of Delmon Young put Brown's starting role into question, but it looks like Brown is forcing himself into playing time with a monster Spring Training. He's hitting .397/.465/.714 with six homers. I don't put a lot of stock into Spring Training numbers, but I do in the sense that those should ensure him ample playing time early on. Brown recently topped Keith Law's list of players who are in line for breakout seasons, as Law noted that new hitting coach Wally Joyner has repositioned Brown's hands and it seems to be for the better.

Julio Teheran, SP, ATL -- ADP 237 (Y! rank 658)

I'm on board the Teheran train to open this season, as his dominant Spring has all but ensured him the fifth spot in Atlanta's rotation (manager Fredi Gonzalez said as much recently). I'll use the Spring Training preface again as I point out Teheran's 25-to-6 K:BB ratio. He's allowed just three runs on seven hits and six walks in 20 innings this spring. This time last year, Teheran's name was consistently found in Top 10 prospects list across the country. He's going after guys like Wandy Rodriguez, Chris Capuano (who may not have a rotation spot), Kyle Lohse (doesn't have a team!), Scott Baker (doesn't have an elbow!) and many, many more starters that don't carry his upside. By the time you're in the 19th or 20th round -- this is the type of upside pick that helps people win leagues.


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RotoAuthority Reader Leagues

Looking for a competitive fantasy league?  Use this post to set up leagues with fellow RotoAuthority readers.


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Go Bold or Go Home: Ben Zobrist Is a Top-30 Fantasy Pick

You may have read about the ongoing campaign to have a Robocop statue built in downtown Detroit, a project I fully support, by the way.  More cities totally need to build tributes to their pop culture icons; there is no good reason why we couldn't have a bronze Heisenberg erected in downtown Albuquerque by the end of the year.  Besides, a Robocop statue would be a nice companion piece to the Zobocop statue that fantasy owners built in 2012 in honor of Ben Zobrist's three-position eligibility.

Ah, Zobrist as a shortstop.  Just remembering that wonderful day last summer when the Rays experimented with moving the Rock Zobster back to short brings a smile to my face.  Zobrist began his career as a shortstop, of course, and took to the position again with little issue, making Joe Maddon a hero to fantasy owners everywhere. 

Now, I may be praising this situation because it specifically helped me out of a fix in a league last year, but I couldn't have been the only one.  I'd drafted Troy Tulowitzki as my starting shortstop and watched in horror as his season was halted at the end of May.  That left me with a big hole at SS and given that Yunel Escobar (my backup) was also struggling and the middle infield waiver wire was as barren as ever, I was in a tight spot...until Zobrist began getting starts at short.  Zobrist owners the world over joyously counted down the days until he officially gained eligibility and then, my shortstop problem was solved; I just slid Sheriff Zobo from outfield to short and boom, I was set. 

There's nothing that fantasy owners appreciate more than options.  We all love to embrace our inner Joe Maddon and mix and match our lineups whenever possible since (let's be honest) it's kind of an ego boost.  This is why, with apologies to Jose Oquendo, Zobrist became the Secret Weapon of the 2012 fantasy baseball season.  His dual eligibility as both an outfielder and a second baseman was already valuable, and adding shortstop to the mix just shot his usefulness through the roof.

It's for this reason that I would jump on Zobrist as quickly as possible in your upcoming draft.  It blows my mind that the Mask of Zobo only has a 72.23 ADP in Mock Draft Central's most recent average draft position report and is, on average, the 68th player taken.  That means in your standard 12-team league, Zobrist is still available by the sixth round, making him an incredible bargain at that stage of the game. 

If you're in a league with no bench spots on your roster, I'd argue that Zobrist could be a second-round pick given that his versatility will allow you some precious flexibility in a roster setup that specifically limits flexibility.  Even in a standard 5x5 league with bench spots, however, I'd say that Zobrist should go no lower than the third round based on sheer production alone.

While everyone was fixated on the "SS" designation next to his name last season, let's not overlook the fact that Zobrist hit .270/.377/.471 with 20 homers, 74 RBI, 88 runs and 14 steals.  That's a good season no matter where you play on the field, but it's particularly valuable at the middle infield spots.  Zobrist's .848 OPS was topped by only two second basemen (Robinson Cano and Aaron Hill) and exactly ZERO shortstops; Ian Desmond came closest at .845.  Even at the deeper outfield position, only thirteen outfielders posted higher OPS marks than Zobrist in 2012.

The warning signs on Zobrist are his age (he turns 32 in May) and the fact that he has been having greater difficulty hitting at Tropicana Field in recent years, as evidenced by his large home/road splits (.916 OPS away/.773 home in 2012, .897 away/.738 home in 2011).  That said, I'll worry about a decline when I start to actually see signs, and to me, Leelee Zobieski seems like a pretty safe bet to at least replicate his 2012 numbers in 2013. 

That alone would make him arguably the top fantasy shortstop given how many question marks surround the other top-rated SS candidates, though I suspect the continually-improving Desmond and a healthy Tulowitzki will be at the top of the heap come season's end.  Amongst the top second basemen, I'd put Zobrist behind only Cano and Hill, as I agree with Alex Steers McCrum's evaluation of Hill and I've already outlined some of the concerns facing other highly-drafted second basemen.

Taking Zobrist early means you can essentially cover two of the traditionally-shallowest positions right off the bat and then focus on middle infield help later if one of your sleepers is still around in the ninth or tenth round.  Like real-life general managers, your draft strategy can become "picking the best player available" without worrying too much about position since you've already got the Swiss Army Zobrist on your roster.  Given the volatility of those middle infield spots, Zobrist can also be shifted partway through the season if that sleeper you liked in your draft never actually wakes up during the season.

It's just simple fantasy logic that a player who can play three positions is more valuable than a player who can play only one, if everything else is equal.  Dustin Pedroia may hit as well as Zobrist in 2013 or even better but I'll still take Zobrist first since Zobo The Greek has more innate value within the actual game of fantasy baseball.  His versatility can help you as much as it helps the Rays in real life, so don't hesitate to jump on Zobrist early in your draft.  If my advice pays off, you can build a statue in my honor.



2013 Position Rankings: Starting Pitchers 1-40

You've waited a long time for these (two whole days!), so I'll keep the intro short. Starting pitching is deep again this year, so expect more from your staff. Don't go accepting WHIP's of 1.30, or K/9 rates of 6.8% if you don't have to. Whether you believe in piling on starters early, or waiting for the sake of your offense, there's plenty of good pitching to fill in mixed league staffs. It's getting great pitching that's the trick. The very best will give you all four categories in spades, all for a low level of risk. Yeah, not so many guys fit that bill.

Monday featured the pitchers ranked 41-80, not to mention a hoard of deep-league fill-ins. Before that, we ranked the Relievers and all the hitters ShortstopsThird BasemenSecond BasemenFirst BasemenCatchers, and  Outfielders. Today's rankings come from a team discussion, featuring Tim Dierkes and the entire RotoAuthority staff. As always, they're divided into groups of similar value, and tiered by where they deserve to be drafted in a standard league. If you're bidding in an auction, consider players in the same tier to be of similar price.

Different leagues will take starters at different paces, and slight variations in scoring systems can completely change the value of pitchers relative to position players. Because of this, the round labels on these tiers are a looser guideline than for other positions.

1st Round

1. Stephen Strasburg, WAS

I've said before that Strasburg is the top pitcher, and the only one to belong in the first round--I'm certainly not going back on it now. He gives you Wins, ERA, and WHIP to equal anyone else in baseball, and piles on the strikeouts. If I'm choosing between him and a broken down OF, I know who to take.

2nd Round

2. Justin Verlander, DET
3. Clayton Kershaw, LAD

Just as Strasburg is alone in the first, no one belongs with this pair in the second. Verlander's longer track record gives him the slightest of edges in my book. If you disagree, that's fine, because either is a great choice.

3rd-4th Rounds

4. Cole Hamels, PHI
5. Felix Hernandez, SEA
6. Cliff Lee, PHI
7. R.A. Dickey, TOR
8. David Price, TBR
9. CC Sabathia, NYY
10. Adam Wainwright, STL

Hamels does everything, just like the top three...but he does just a little less. Also, the Phillies don't have the offense they used to. With a better lineup, you could take Hernandez with Verlander and Kershaw, easily. Lee's age worries some, but I'm all about that 7.39 K/BB rate. Knuckleballers scare people, and so does anything they didn't see coming, so this ranking for Dickey is bold. I figure he can regress a lot and still be a top-flight pitcher, enjoying the run support in Toronto. Price is a great pitcher and a rising star, but he did overperform his FIP by almost half a run (0.49, actually); it's not that I'm down on him, just that my expectations are a little tempered. So far, Sabathia has been on schedule, which means he'll just keep dominating for a New York team that will find some way to get him run support. Keep an eye on his health, though. Speaking of health, Wainwright seems to have it back, which means he's one of baseball's best again.

Rounds 5-6

11. Gio Gonzalez, WAS
12. Madison Bumgarner, SFG
13. Max Scherzer, DET
14. Yu Darvish, TEX
15. Matt Cain, SFG
16. Mat Latos, CIN
17. Zack Greinke, LAD
18. Yovani Gallardo, MIL
19. James Shields

Gonzalez has a PED investigation hanging over his head, but the walks are a bigger cloud for me. Bumgarner fizzled a little at the end of the year, but his overall trend is still sky-high. Scherzer and Darvish are like Strasburg with the strikeouts, but like Monday's pitchers for WHIP. We all believe that Cain's actual performance beats his advanced metrics...but he still doesn't get enough strikeouts to be fully elite. Latos improved considerably after an abysmal start, and he gets to pitch in front of a great lineup. Health issues loom over Greinke's status, but his talent should flourish in his NL return and a pitcher's park. Gallardo more than makes up for his walks with all those strikeouts. Shields will miss the run and park support he had in Tampa Bay.

7th-8th Rounds

20. Chris Sale, CHW
21. Johnny Cueto, CIN
22. Jered Weaver, LAA
23. Roy Halladay, PHI
24. Kris Medlen, ATL
25. Ian Kennedy, ARI
26. Aroldis Chapman, CIN
27. Jordan Zimmermann, WAS
28. Jake Peavy, CHW
29. Jeff Samardzija, CHC
30. Matt Moore, TBR 

Sale slowed down over the course of the season, and will be expected to pitch even more innings next year--there is considerable downside here to go with his great potential. Cueto doesn't miss enough bats to be an ace, but he's a very good pitcher on a very good team. Though he has the reputation of being more, so is Weaver. That sub 7.00 K/9 doesn't hold up very well unless you win 20 games and outperform your FIP by nearly a run. I would have put Halladay up a lot higher, but his springtime troubles make me worry about lingering injury or imminent decline. Medlen's amazing third of a season has people excited for good reason. A little too excited, but still, he's very worth owning. Kennedy's ERA was higher than I'd like last year, but his peripherals still looked good; I anticipate a rebound. Chapman might be returning to the bullpen, but this is where I'd take the chance if he does start. Zimmermann is a quietly high-quality starter. Peavy proved his critics wrong (and had me kicking myself for not taking him when I had the chance) last year, but his fragility still hurts his value. Samardzija proved to be a strikeout wizard. Another season like that and he'll join the near-elite. Moore could make a big jump, and that potential is part of his price tag. Fortunately, he's already quite good.

Rounds 9-10

31. Josh Johnson, TOR
32. Jon Niese, NYM
33. Homer Bailey, CIN
34. A.J. Burnett, PIT
35. Tim Lincecum, SFG
36. Anibal Sanchez, DET
37. Marco Estrada, MIL
38. Doug Fister, DET
39. Brandon Morrow, TOR
40. Lance Lynn, STL

To me, there's a pretty big jump between the pitchers in Rounds 7-8, and those in 9-10. Johnson had an uncharacteristic 2012: he was healthy and non-elite. If he stays healthy, and returns to form, than he's a top ten pitcher in Toronto. If he stays healthy and stays the same, he's still a very good pitcher to have. If he stays healthy. Niese has gone two years in a row striking out over three times as many batters as he walks. Maybe it's time for him to go from "quietly good" to regular good. Bailey has been around forever, but he only just put together his first full season. It was really good though. Speaking of really good, Burnett was too, making him the Pirates' highest-ranked fantasy pitcher in...maybe ever. His K/9 was back where it belongs, and his K/BB was his highest since 2008. Lincecum was not good, but you can't write his whole career off. Even a partial return to form would mean big value here. Sanchez didn't adjust to the AL immediately, but a whole season pitching in front of the Detroit offense should agree with him. Estrada has become a trendy pick for good reason, but I have to remind myself that he doesn't exactly have much track record. Fister's strikeouts (or lack thereof) always made me wary of him, but he kept 'em up in Detroit. He'll have to with that infield. I'm not nearly as intrigued by Morrow's suddenly-great ERA as I am worried about his fallen strikeout rate. I had thought that Lynn was just a flash-in-the-pan, and his lousy August pretty much confirmed that...but then he was good again in September. I don't know exactly what he is, other than a guy who struck out more than a batter per inning last year.

You already know the end of this story, and you know how and when to draft pitchers in various types of leagues, so I'll finish off this series with a simple reminder: there are a lot of good pitchers out there. There aren't very many great ones. 


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Draft Round Battles: Cespedes Vs. Ellsbury

Admit it, Yoenis Cespedes kind of seemed like a modern Sidd Finch hoax, didn't he?  It was hard to watch Cespedes' legendary workout video with a straight face; sure, he's an impressive athlete but really, who uses "Sailing" as their background music without being ironic?

As luck would have it for the A's, however, Cespedes wasn't a viral marketing creation but an actual legitimate talent.  The Cuban outfielder hit .292/.356/.505 with 23 homers to help lead Oakland to the AL West title and Cespedes would've been a slam dunk Rookie of the Year in any normal, non-Mike Trout season.  To very weirdly paraphrase Teri Hatcher here, Cespedes was real and he was spectacular.

While Cespedes emerged from a fog of uncertainty and rose to Major League stardom, the question now is whether or not he can sustain his performance.  This was a question the Red Sox faced on a lower level about a year ago, when Jacoby Ellsbury was about to follow up his monster 2011 campaign.  Ellsbury had already been a good average/OBP and especially steals kind of player before exploding with a monster 32-homer, 39-steal, .321/.376/.552 season in 2011 that earned him a second-place finish in the AL MVP vote.  The power came completely out of nowhere for Ellsbury so the question was whether 2011 was an outlier or whether he could be counted on as a legit 30-30 threat for the future.

The Red Sox are still asking that question.  Ellsbury missed more than half of the 2012 season with a shoulder injury, finishing with a .271/.313/.370 line and four homers over 323 PA.  Given that he missed virtually all of the 2010 season, Ellsbury presents a real conundrum for both the Sox and his fantasy owners --- how much should you rely on a guy who has sandwiched an elite season in between two total washout campaigns?

Every team (both real and fantasy) obviously loves the five-tool player, but such a player perhaps has even more value in fantasy baseball.  Stolen bases are a unique category in that being able to swipe bags doesn't have any bearing on the rest of your hitting stats; as such, fantasy managers often have to grin and bear it by keeping a terrible hitter in their lineup simply because they can provide some much-needed steals.  When you can find a player that can slug and steal with equal aplomb, it's like striking gold, which is why Trout was unquestionably the player who swung the most fantasy leagues in 2012 and Ellsbury's surprise breakout in 2011 probably decided almost as many fantasy championships.

Of the 48 players who stole 20 or more bases in 2012, only eight (Carlos Gonzalez, Andrew McCutchen, Jason Heyward, Ian Desmond, Shin-Soo Choo, Alex Rios, Ryan Braun and Trout) had an OPS of .800 or better.  Cespedes chipped in 16 steals to go with his .861 OPS last season, and of players with an .861 OPS or better, only five (Braun, Trout, McCutchen, Gonzalez and Chase Headley) topped the 16-steal mark.  While 16 steals won't decide the SB category, if you can get that kind of production from a big bat, you're laughing.

I would argue that Cespedes isn't likely to suffer much of a dropoff in his sophomore season.  Though he's still something of an unknown quantity, the fact that he improved his numbers as the season went on and the fact that Cespedes hit so well in the pitcher-friendly Coliseum (he actually had a .937 OPS in home games, as opposed to a .791 OPS on the road) both stand out as positives.  Also, don't forget that he had his own injury problems early in the year and only played in 128 games, so had Cespedes been healthy all the way, he might've given Trout a run for his money.

So if Cespedes will be roughly the same player in 2013 that he was in 2012, can Ellsbury top that impressive plateau?  My guess is no.  Presuming he's healthy the whole year, Ellsbury will hit around .300, score 95-105 runs, and steal at least 40 bases (manager John Farrell loved to give runners the green light in Toronto so 40 steals for Ellsbury may be a conservative estimate).  Those are valuable fantasy numbers in themselves but where Ellsbury will suffer is in the power department.  I don't see him getting anywhere near his 105 RBIs from 2011 given that he'll be hitting leadoff and that Boston's lineup isn't as deep as it was two years ago. 

As for the homers, I'm tempted to suggest that Ellsbury's 32-HR outburst in 2011 was indeed an anomaly.  Consider that his .552 SLG in 2011 dwarfed his previous career totals and even the .426 SLG he posted in his minor league career (1223 PA).  My favorite "Ellsbury pulled this season out of thing air" stat is that he had 32 homers in 2011 and only 35 homers over the rest of his pro career, including the minors.  There's nothing in the advanced metrics that explains why Ellsbury suddenly dug the long ball that year --- the closest hint of evidence could be a career-best 22.9% line drive rate but Ellsbury had posted other line-drive rates close to that (20.3% both last year and in 2008) without showing nearly the same rise in power numbers.

Ellsbury currently holds the edge over Cespedes on Mock Draft Central's latest average draft position report, as Ellsbury's 46.00 ADP makes him the 15th outfielder taken and the 45th player taken overall, on average.  Cespedes is right behind as the 16th OF, the 50th player overall and he owns a 50.15 ADP. 

Other fantasy owners may think Ellsbury's speed and power potential merits a higher selection but if I'm looking for outfield help come the end of the fourth/start of the fifth round, I'm going with Cespedes.  He's going to help in all five categories, whereas Ellsbury is likely only going to help in three.  Put it this way --- 16 steals may be the bare minimum of what Cespedes can do on the basepaths, whereas based on all the evidence I've seen in Ellsbury's career, I'd be pleasantly surprised if he manages even 16 homers this year.  Drafting Cespedes over Ellsbury will better help you, ahem, "sail" your way to fantasy success.





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