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The Market Report: Less than Ideal First-Round Picks

Last night I presented the players I consider to be ideal first-round targets. Once again, I search for durable, consistent performers and prioritize floor over ceiling. After the obvious top two of Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera, the four other players I'm targeting in Round One are Andrew McCutchen, Clayton Kershaw, Adam Jones, and Robinson Cano.

While my top six all met the criteria I look for in a first round pick, each player in this next group falls short for one reason or another. Having said that, it's not as if a fantasy owner can simply pass on making a selection in Round One; you have to pick someone. While I'd rather not choose to build the foundation of my roster around one of these players, at some point the potential reward outweighs the inherent risk. Each of these hitters is certainly capable of outperforming their current ADP. Still, I'm a firm believer in the probabilistic concept of value, and there are many outcomes in which each player in this next tier falls well short of their current pricetags. Let's continue with the rankings...

Players Who Worry Me

7. Carlos Gonzalez

8. Paul Goldschmidt

9. Chris Davis

In many ways CarGo does everything you could ever ask of a fantasy player. He can run; he can hit; he can hit for power. No, seriously, I mean he can really hit a baseball. In fact, no player hit the ball farther on average last season. Moreover, only a few players hit the ball hard more frequently. Oh yeah, and he gets to play in the most favorable hitting environment in the game, helping to boost his counting statistics. In short, when he's on the field, CarGo is the closest thing we have in this game to Mike Trout. But therein lies the problem: CarGo just can't seem to stay on the field. He's averaged just 124 games over the past three years, although he managed to go 20 / 20 each season in spite of the missed time. More so than any other player then, CarGo is the ultimate wild card in the first round with his current ADP of 11. Aside from Trout and Cabrera, for my money no player is more likely to finish as the top fantasy performer in 2014; after all, let's not forget that it was CarGo who was the #1 player before he injured his finger last year. For some reason, though, the superstar outfielder opted against surgery this offseason. I know he felt good after swinging a bat, but it just seems to be one thing or another with CarGo. Once again, this may be picky on my part, but I'm just not comfortable drafting a player if I don't trust him to stay healthy. While the projections might say otherwise, I just can't pull the trigger on CarGo before the aforementioned safer options.

Just behind CarGo in average flyball distance last season was Paul Goldschmidt. Like CarGo, here's a player who packs the statline for a fantasy owner. I actually think Goldy is for real, but the problem is he's only performed at this elite level once. I'd like to yet again cite the great research over at BaseballHQ on the first round. Over the past ten years, only 14% of players who finished in the top 15 for the first time were able to repeat in the top 15 the following season. Nothing in Goldschmidt's breakout looks flukey from a statistical perspective, but we have to play the percentages in this game. If you think he's the exception to the rule, then more power to you. Just realize that you're betting against history. In my opinion, it's premature for Goldschmidt to already be the consensus choice at third overall. A top-five pick shouldn't be spent on someone who's only done it once. 

On that note, Chris Davis was clearly the fantasy MVP of the 2013 season. Even if the player rater you use didn't have him as the top player overall, nobody was more profitable when comparing production to investment. I'm on record in that I think he's mostly for real. The power is undeniable, and the projections agree this is your best bet to lead baseball in home runs in 2014. Still, I can't get over one potentially fatal flaw to his Rotisserie game. I've pointed out that it all starts with consistency and health when making a selection in Round One. Well, when it comes to hitters, there's one more skill I desire in my first round picks. To paraphrase fantasy god Ron Shandler, nothing happens until a hitter puts the ball in play. As good as he was last year, Davis still struck out at the the seventh highest rate in the game. As any scout can vouch, the power tool can only be useful if it comes with some competency in the hit tool. Make no mistake: Davis improved as a hitter last season, making significant strides in plate discipline. Still, when a player makes contact less frequently, the range of possible outcomes for his seasonal output widens, as the denominator of balls in play declines. I hope I'm wrong because I own him in a pair of keeper leagues, but Davis does worry me a tad entering 2014. 

Ideal Second-Round Picks

10. Edwin Encarnacion

11. Adrian Beltre

12. Joey Votto

As I mentioned last week, there are three players currently going in the top 12 whom I don't view as worthy of the first round, so it follows that there must also be three players going outside the top 12 whom I'd take in Round One. Let me preface this by saying that I'd much prefer to draft each of these hitters in the second round. If push came to shove, though, I'd be willing to draft any of them at the back end of the first round, assuming all players I've ranked ahead of them were already taken.

Let's start with perhaps my greatest Man Crush entering the 2014 season, Edwin Encarnacion. Based on other rankings I've seen for 2014, placing Edwin 10th overall may be rather aggressive. I make an effort to be agnostic in playing this game and focus solely on the numbers. When I remove the names of players and judge them stritly by their statistical profiles, though, I'm left wondering why Edwin isn't already considered a fantasy superstar. Over the past two years, only two hitters have more HR than Encarnacion: Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis. That's it. Now what if I told you that during the same timespan, it's actually Edwin who's posted the highest walk rate and lowest strikeout rate of that trio. Granted, I'm not here to tell you that Edwin is Miggy's equal when it comes to hitting a baseball. As an extreme flyball hitter, Encarnacion will never post a higher AVG than Cabrera. However, when it comes to making hard contact, this duo is in the same stratosphere. In addition, there's evidence to suggest that Encarnacion is capable of hitting .300; after all, when comparing his .247 BABIP to his .296 xBABIP, few players were subjected to as much misfortune by the Luck Dragons last year. It's worth pointing out that he does come with some risk, as he underwent wrist surgery in September. Fortunately for fantasy owners, that risk is somewhat mitigated by the fact that he won't cost a first round pick, as his current ADP lies toward the back end of the second round. He's particularly a prime target in Yahoo leagues, where he'll even be eligible at 3B, adding positional flexibility. OK, I'll stop salavating at Edwin's prospects for 2014...

Next in my rankings comes another player whose name seldom comes up in any discussion of candidates for the first round, Adrian Beltre. Since leaving Seattle, Beltre has been nothing short of a fantasy star. In fact, he's averaged 32 HR and 100 RBI while hitting .314. In today's offensive environment that makes the stud third baseman incredibly valuable, even if he fails to contribute any SB. He ranked seventh in hard contact this past season, so he can still really hit despite entering his age-35 season. The only players with a higher average finish on the ESPN Player Rater over the past two years are the same players I've ranked as my top five overall. Perhaps Beltre isn't considered worthy of the first round because he's so consistent it's almost boring. Well, that's precisely the type of player I target in the early rounds. Once again, the good thing is he should be available in the middle of the second round based on his current ADP. The thought of starting a team with Cano and Beltre seems just about perfect to me.

Closing out my top 12 is a player whose fantasy value seems to have declined through no fault of his own, Joey Votto. From a real baseball perspective, few would argue against the notion that Votto is one of the top hitters in all of baseball. While fantasy worth doesn't necessarily go hand-in-hand with the value of a player in real baseball, Votto has also been viewed as a fantasy stud for several years now. In fact, he's been a first round pick for each of the previous three seasons. In 2013 the skilled batsman put together yet another .400+ OBP with plus contributions in AVG, HR, and R. Even so, the fantasy community seems to value him around 20th overall. The culprit seems to be the low total of 73 RBI, as Votto often hit behind sub-.300 OBP hitters like Zack Cozart in the two-hole. While he probably won't be able to post 100 RBI, I think the fact that he had only 73 RBI was mostly an aberration. Hitters of this caliber simply shouldn't last until the back end of the second round. If I draft Joey Votto, I'm paying for the consistently high AVG with good power to boot. Competing in the counting categories is at least in part a result of simply accruing at-bats, and I'm of the mindset that I can make up those 20 RBI by simply outworking most of my opponents.

So there you have it, my top 12 for 2014. With the first round out of the way, we'll begin to search for values at each position, starting next week with catchers.




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