Mock Drafts


The Market Report: RotoAuthority Mock Draft Analysis

On Friday night five of the writers here took part in a mock draft with seven other random guys, two of whom earned the chance to compete against Tim Dierkes and myself in the RotoAuthority League. It's not often you get the opportunity to participate in a mock draft in which all of the owners try their hardest until the very end, so this was certainly a delightful experience for me. At any rate, full draft results can be found here, but I'd like to point out some interesting trends as well as a few picks that stood out to me.

Draft Trends

1. Elite catchers available at a discount

This may stem from the fact that default leagues in ESPN only use one catcher, so the pre-draft rankings value catchers accordingly. The fact remains, however, that the top catchers  all went a tad later than they should have gone in a two-catcher league. After my colleague Mark Polishuk took Buster Posey 33rd, he doubled-down with Joe Mauer at 57, a tremendous value to me. Along those lines, Carlos Santana (63), Wilin Rosario (66), Brian McCann (72), and Yadier Molina (76) all look like bargains to me. 

2. Everyone has a favorite #3 SP

Over the first 100 picks, just about every starting pitcher taken has a track record. Once  we all felt content with a pair of anchors, though, we really began to swing for the fences. Alex Cobb (105), Gerrit Cole (106), Danny Salazar (127), Andrew Cashner (132), Sonny Gray (133), Shelby Miller (134), and Michael Wacha (138) were all drafted around this time. I'd bet one of these guys makes the leap to elite territory by season's end, but it's anyone's guess as to which one.

3. Overreaction to spring training injuries

While others were drafting their pitching sleeper du jour, a couple of my fellow writers were capitalizing on overreaction to recent news. I'm on record that I think Matt Kemp is overvalued this spring, but that's certainly not the case if he falls nearly 100 picks from his ADP. Tim Dierkes wisely scooped up Kemp in Round 11; at that pricetag, the Dodgers outfielder could play 130 games and still turn a profit. Similarly, the news on Cole Hamels is certainly a tad worrisome. Even so, I think the rest of us made a mistake in letting my colleague Alex Steers McCrum grab him at pick 140.

4. There's always a closer run

I was actually very impressed with the patience displayed this by group of mock drafters. Fellow writer Luckey Helms took Craig Kimbrel 45th and then Aroldis Chapman 69th, a strategy I very much support. After that, however, no closer was selected until I couldn't pass on Kenley Jansen at pick 90. In the 13th round, though, the inevitable closer run ensued, as 16 closers were selected over a span of 50 picks. Like it or not, there's a certain level of comfort that a fantasy owner attains by walking away from a draft with three legitimate closers. Plan accordingly.

5. If you wait too long on an infield position, you might be screwed

I don't think the purpose of this writeup is to discuss my squad, but there was one takeaway for me that I will keep in my mind during my upcoming drafts. I crave value, and I made an effort to draft the best player on my board regardless of position as much as possible. The problem in doing so, however, is that most fantasy owners overvalue scarcity to a certain extent. Accordingly, if you don't get in on the infield positions, you may miss out on one of them entirely. Case in point, I certainly don't consider myself to be bullish on Xander Bogaerts, but I didn't have a third baseman in Round 16. While I still had several other players ahead of him on my board, I frankly had no choice but to select the Red Sox rookie. In today's Roto game, there's something to be said for building an offense inside-out, starting with your infield and then patiently waiting for value to emerge in the outfield.

Interesting Picks

The first pick to trigger some comments in the chat box during the draft was writer Mark Polishuk's selection of Ian Desmond at 16th overall, ahead of other shortstops like Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes. At the time, I felt it was a little crazy; the more I've thought about it, though, the more reasonable it looks to me. Let's face it: the elite shortstops are all risky. While Desmond may not possess the upside of Hanley or Tulo, he certainly has a higher floor.

The outset of Round 7 brought us two of the fantasy community's most discussed players this spring, Jose Abreu and Billy Hamilton, with consecutive picks. I'm mostly a believer in Abreu, but his ADP seems to rise as each day passes. There's a chance this is Miguel Cabrera-lite, but let's keep in mind there could be an adjustment period. Meanwhile, Billy Hamilton is the ultimate high-risk, high-reward pick. In fact, for as long as I've played fantasy baseball, I don't remember any player with such a wide gap between floor and ceiling. There's a chance he's a career pinch runner; then again, there's also a chance he's a perennial first round pick. I won't be drafting him in Round 7; if you're the type of fantasy player who sees no difference between finishing second and coming in last, though, then drafting Billy Hamilton is a must.


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Fantasy Stars: Bottom of the Third (Round)

It's the final edition of Fantasy Stars, which I know brings tears to my eyes and yours. Dry 'em off, though, because we at RotoAuthority are kicking off our Player Rankings in just two days! 

After a whole week of waiting, here are the last of our fantasy stars. Check out the top half of the third round here, and last week's bonus column here. As always on Fantasy Stars, the Average Draft Position (ADP) numbers come from MockDraftCentral and come from 154 qualifying drafts. The stats shown with the position players are the Big 5:  AVG/HR/R/RBI/SB and IP/SV/K/ERA/WHIP for relief pitchers. (No starters this round.)

Bottom of the Third (Round)

31. Craig Kimbrel, RP         ADP 33.23

32. Hanley Ramirez, SS     ADP 34.44

33. Jason Heyward, OF     ADP 36.45

34. Allen Craig, 1B              ADP 37.51

35. Starlin Catro, SS           ADP 37.52

36. Ian Kinsler, 2B             ADP 37.88

31. Craig Kimbrel, RP  62.2/42/116/1.01/0.65 (Saves, in bold, replace wins here.)
Kimbrel is the only elite relief pitcher and he's the only one that you can justify taking anywhere near this early. He isn't a tier ahead of all other relievers, he's several tiers ahead. Between his otherworldly excellence, and the paucity of other dependable closers with the track records to keep their jobs through rough patches, Kimbrel really stands out. Just look at those ratios, let alone the whiffs. He gives you half of a great starter's K's in under a third of the innings. If you play in a standard league, the kind with an innings cap, he's a great choice here.

If you're in a weekly league...I'd actually pass. The low innings that are a strength with a cap are a weakness without one, just as they are for all mortal relievers. Yes, he's the best, but in head to head, you don't necessarily want the best. At least not in the third round.

A final note of caution comes in just two words: Eric Gagne. Remember how good he was? Yes, Kimbrel strikes more guys out, yes his ERA and WHIP make it look like 1968...but great relievers flame out in a way that other players don't; they're subject to a lot more luck than other players, plus the usual injury cautions that come with pitchers. Even the best reliever in the game carries a lot of downside.

32. Hanley Ramirez, SS .257/24/79/92/21
Remember the days when Hanley used to arm-wrestle Albert Pujols for the number-one overall pick? I do, and maybe Hanley does too. After a horrific and injury-marred 2011, he bounced back pretty well in 2012. Not all the way back to the top--leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of all who drafted him with such hopes, I'm sure. Considering his numbers in line with those of other shortstops, not to mention the fact that a whole year in Los Angeles' lineup instead of Miami's, and I could see Ramirez inching up closer to his glory days. Not all the way there, but closer.

He won't be 30 until after the season and he made it up to the Majors nice and young, which gives him a better-than average shot of staying productive longer. I like him a lot as the number-two shortstop in the game, but if you draft him and he's better than he was last year, don't thank me--thank my wife, because it was she who first looked at Hanley's numbers with an objective eye and suggested a rebound to me. I was gonna take Starlin Castro....

    
33. Jason Heyward, OF .269/27/93/82/21
Heyward isn't 24 yet and he's already one of the best outfielders in baseball. He's got the track record and the prospect-pedrigree to get better, and he makes a very nice upside play here in the bottom of the third round. He's the third Braves outfielder being drafted, but he's got a great chance to be the best next year. If he inches the average up just a little, he becomes a 5-category player, since he added a bit of speed to his game last year. (I'm telling you, all the cool kids steal bases these days.) 

That same average represents his risk factor, but it isn't a huge risk. If he plays exactly as he did last year, this will be only a small overpay. How many already-good, former top-prospects don't get even better at age 23? Not enough to make me think twice about drafting Heyward here, or even higher.

    
34. Allen Craig, 1B/OF .307/22/76/92/2
Allen Craig is 28. He's not elderly, by baseball's standards or those of the real world, but he is too old to have been a prospect last year. He burst onto the scene like one, with 22 homers and a great average in just 514 PA. He'll go into next year as the Cardinals' first baseman, and he'll have some good hitters around him. But he's 28, and he turns 29 in the middle of the season.

I'm not ready to relegate him to the Quad-A status of a half-year wonder--he really does seem better than that--but he's being drafted closer to where the elite first basemen are than those with serious question marks, and he has those question marks. His position isn't as deep as it once was, and drafters are reaching for production there, but this is a reach too much. At this point in the draft, you're better off skipping by first base, taking from another position, and grabbing a similarly risky player a few rounds later. Or, you could just take the much safer and still excellent Billy Butler. Could Craig be better than Butler next year? Sure. But Craig could be terrible next year, and Butler almost certainly won't be. 

             
35. Starlin Catro, SS  .283/14/78/78/25
Right here you can read what I thought of Castro two weeks ago, in spot 30. My feelings haven't changed. He's a great player, an elite shortstop, and he isn't as good as Jose Reyes. He's a good enough choice here, but only if Reyes and Ramirez are off the board. 

      
36. Ian Kinsler, 2B .256/19/105/72/21
Our own Mark Polishuk discusses the relative merits of Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia here, but I'll just look at Kinsler for the moment. First of all, look at his stats from year to year: is he a power hitter or isn't he? Is he a speed guy, or isn't he? I guess he's both, but with all the time he misses it's hard to be sure.

He's now had two full seasons in a row, which is weird enough, but this time his performance slipped badly, especially in homers and steals. If he's a 20/20 guy with a lousy average and a ton of runs scored, there are a lot of better second basemen. If he's a 30/30 guy with a lousy average and a ton of runs there's only one better second baseman. So who is he? I honestly don't know, but at 31 the former looks more likely than it ever has before. There's a lot of risk here, and there are several second sackers who have lower risk factors and lower price tags. No, Pedroia, Ben Zobrist, Jason Kipnis, and Aaron Hill don't have the upside that Kinsler has, but they won't cost you as much either.

Here's a re-ranked third round, for tradition's sake: Strasburg, Longoria, Ramirez, Gonzalez, Wright, Heyward, Upton, Kimbrel, Bruce, Castro, Kinsler, Craig.

Finally, several players fell out of the Fantasy Stars rankings altogether: Yadier Molina, Cliff Lee, David Price, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jose Reyes. I would definitely take Reyes in the third round (right ahead of Wright), but all the others look a lot more sensible in their new landing spots.

These rankings will change and change again before draft day, so keep mocking, and keep checking the rankings. Remember, though, that ADP won't let you read the minds of the other owners in your league. If he's your guy, and you're getting value, grab him now, even if ADP says he should still be around by your next turn. You never know who's having the same thought as you.



Fantasy Stars: Top of the Third (Round)

Welcome to the penultimate edition of Fantasy Stars. This week we'll be looking at the first six players off the board in the third round. Last week, we discussed the latter half of the second round, ending on Josh Hamilton in pick number 24. He's been passed up by David Wright and Giancarlo Stanton and dropped a spot into pick 25. The picks are still close enough that their strategic value really isn't any different. For our purposes, we'll just pretend like Wright is still Mr. Number 25 and lead off the top of the third with him.

As always on Fantasy Stars, the Average Draft Position (ADP) numbers come from  MockDraftCentral and come from 111 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. 

25. David Wright, 3B              ADP 25.83
26. Cliff Lee, SP                         ADP 30.05
27. Yadier Molina, C             ADP 30.93
28. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF      ADP 31.07
29. Jose Reyes, SS                  ADP 31.38
30. Starlin Castro, SS            ADP 33.97 

In these picks, drafters seem to be paying a little more attention to position scarcity than in the first and second round, with two shortstops, a third baseman, and a catcher. Nothing wrong with that in my mind; the third round is a great time start caring about these sorts of things.

25. David Wright, 3B    .306/21/91/93/15
Wright is a pretty acceptable pick here. He bounced back from his injury-marred 2011 campaign and, while he hasn't recovered his mid-00's form, he's returned to near the top of a tough position. Cabrera is a clear number one, Beltre the clear number two, and Wright probably ought to be the number three guy at third base. (Though you could make a case for Evan Longoria too.)

It should be made clear that this is a position scarcity move, however. Wright isn't the player he was at his peak, and he hasn't shown signs of returning. The HR's have dropped to the low 20's; between that drop and the Mets' lineup I'd be pretty surprised if he matched last year's Run and RBI totals. With a SB% of just 60% last year, it would make sense to see him run less and less. His batting average is still good, though, thanks to a career's worth of great BABIP's, and I don't imagine that changing for 2013 unless injuries bite again. When you go after him, though, you have to remember that average is the only category in which he's an impact player. 

26. Cliff Lee, SP 211/6/207/3.16/1.11
Cliff Lee was so good in 2012. His 3.16 ERA matched his 3.13 FIP almost exactly. He posted the second best  K/9 rate of his career, 8.83. His K/BB of 7.39 led the Majors by almost two full points. Too bad he played for the Houston Astros and they couldn't muster up a win for him until the Fourth of July. Oh, what? He didn't play for the Astros? Then how did that happen? The Phillies weren't good last year, and a lot of their good points are tied up in Lee's left arm (not to mention the arms of Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay), but they aren't so bad that what happened last year should be considered the norm.

Mock drafters aren't nearly as worried as I would have liked, because I was selfishly hoping for some sneaky value here. I guess playing fantasy baseball against Buzzie Bavasi puts too much emphasis on fantasy. Regardless, I like using a third round pick on Lee, and I think he might be the best bet in pitching after Strasburg, Kershaw, and Verlander are gone. The one caveat is the one I mentioned about David Price in the last go around, and that's that there remain several high-quality starters that will still be available to someone using this pick on Lee.

27. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF .271/4/43/26/14
In the RotoAuthority Silver League, I made Ellsbury my proud first pick at the end of the first round. Coming off a 2011 in which he'd been one of the best players in baseball and added sudden power to his game of blazing speed and good batting average, I was pretty excited. Even if the power fell off, I'd be left with a game-changing base stealer. It was a no-lose situation.

As you may recall, I lost. Injuries have been a big part of Ellsbury's career, killing two of his last three seasons. I took the risk on my fellow Oregonian last year, and I'd do it again this year--for a discount. I don't expect much power in 2013--his ISO of .099 was less than half of the .230 he posted in his big 2011--but the upside is there. The downside remains a season lost to injury, but the median remains too: a good average hitter with enough speed to carry your team to the top of the category. Unless something drastic changes in his health, he'll be a risk every year, in fantasy and in real life, but for now he's a pretty good risk to take. 

I would rather have him in the fourth round than right here, but if you believe more fervently in his power potential, or can't bear to draft the likes of Coco Crisp or Alcides Escobar later on, I can understand. I probably wouldn't take him with OF's Curtis Granderson or B.J. Upton still on the board, and I definitely wouldn't take him over Jose Reyes, who we'll be looking at momentarily.

 28. Yadier Molina, C .315/22/65/76/12
When Yadier Molina first came up, he hit like...well...he hit like his brother Jose. Then he added batting average and he was a good average, nothing else catcher. Then in 2011 his power output more than doubled, from six to 14 homers. Then, in 2012 he clubbed 22 and slugged .501 with a .186 ISO. For kicks, he added 12 stolen bases, proving my thesis that everyone is stealing bases and their value is dropping accordingly. But that's another story, this one belongs to the new Best Molina Brother.

Yadier Molina is an easy choice for second catcher off the board, coming as he does without the health concerns of Joe Mauer, Mike Napoli, or Carlos Santana, and without a single weakness in his category game.

Not every projection system is bullish about Molina retaining all the power he found last year, but even a reversion to his 2011 numbers is like Miguel Montero but with stolen bases. His batting average is also one of the safest looking, since he managed it with just a slightly above-average .316 BABIP. Actually, it wouldn't take much good luck for his average to improve next season.

So, he's the catcher you want--do you want a catcher in the second round? Just because he's the best catcher left no longer means that he's the only good catcher left. (It sure used to.) Mauer, Napoli, Santana, Montero, Matt Wieters, Wilin Rosario, Salvador Perez, and Victor Martinez are all pretty good. You can even dream on Jesus Montero, hope for a Brian McCann comeback, or an A.J. Pierzynski repeat. There's a lot more depth at catcher than we're all used to, which means I'd rather take one of the shortstops coming up next, get the fourth or fifth best catcher and have two good players at weak positions. Remember also that a catcher's low playing time limits the goodness of his batting average.

29. Jose Reyes, SS .287/11/86/57/40
Reyes is a great choice here. Actually, I think he's a pretty good choice in the second round too. Shortstop is such a weak position and Reyes has stats that would be impact numbers even in the outfield. That combination makes him a great investment. 

I think it's reasonable to bet on Reyes to increase his homer total. Though Marlins Park in Miami and Rogers Centre in Toronto had almost identical overall park effects last year, their HR effects couldn't have been more different: 0.720 in Miami, 1.030 in Toronto. He's going from a park that depressed homers at a huge rate (making it the fifth-worst) to one that's more or less average. I don't think Reyes will break 20 homers this year, but he could certainly scrape it, which would be pretty good for a shortstop who didn't steal bases by the dozen.

He turns 30 this year, so it's probably too late to wish for a return of his 60-steal days, but another 40 if he can stay healthy wouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Expect a healthy Reyes to give three categories of excellence and throw in a few extras in homers. Don't get too excited about his RBI total, but who's quibbling at this point?

30. Starlin Castro, SS .283/14/78/78/25
Whenever I see two position scarce players in a row, I wonder if the whole of mock drafters are going on a collective position run. Well, a small one. Or, at least, one big groupthink knee-jerk reaction. It's not that I don't like Castro, it's just that he's not as good as Reyes and it seems odd that they should have such apparently equal value.

To be fair, the big difference is in steals, and that isn't so big that Castro couldn't conceivably close the gap as he improves. Right? Don't bet on it. Castro's SB% is almost exactly 66%--or right on the new break-even for success on the basepaths. If I were his manager, I'd keep him running exactly as much as he is right now. Reyes is succeeding more than 78% of the time, which is to say he might help the team by running even more. Maybe the Blue Jays will notice that and maybe they won't, but I bet they aren't going to be slowing him down any time soon.

Castro could improve in this or any other aspect of his game (he is just 23), he also might not. The third round isn't a terrible time to grab a player who is good now and has a decent chance of getting better but he's no sure thing, and he isn't the only shortstop who might see some improvement in the immediate future. 

Here's how I would reorder these players: Reyes, Wright, Lee, Castro, Ellsbury, Molina. In a departure from previous weeks, I think all six are sensible third round picks. While there are some whole positions I might shy away from, these are the players I'd take if I were going to draft a catcher or a starter. 

Tune in next week, for the exciting conclusion of the third round, not to mention the Fantasy Stars series. Don't spend too much time mourning the loss because the Player Rankings will be taking its place!



Fantasy Stars: Top of the Second (Round)

After covering the top and bottom of the first round of a standard fantasy draft, we're charging ahead into the second. In a standard draft, picks 13-18 represent the second choice of the last six teams to draft. Thanks to the quick turnaround here, the differences in the value of the picks starts out pretty low. Actually, it starts out at nil, since the twelfth team in draft order gets to take pick number 13 as well.

As always on Fantasy Stars, the Average Draft Position (ADP) numbers come from MockDraftCentral and come from 110 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. 

13. Jose Bautista OF             ADP 13.97
14. Justin Upton OF             ADP 14.65
15. Justin Verlander SP       ADP 15.27
16. Adrian Beltre 3B             ADP 15.99
17. Troy Tulowitzki SS        ADP 17.01
18. Bryce Harper OF            ADP 19.85

Technically speaking, Bautista is getting drafted 12th and Prince Fielder is going 13th, but since they'd both be going to the same team, there isn't a valuation change to analyze for Fielder. So, let's just call Bautista number 13.

13. Jose Bautista OF.241/27/64/65/5
So far, the news coming out about Bautista is that he's healing well and is performing baseball activities, and he looks to be ready for the start of the season, after last season's catastrophic wrist injury. Watch him and the news about him in Spring Training of course, but for the moment let's assume that everything knowable is fine. If that changes, so will this valuation.

Even a healthy Bautista isn't a perfect player. Not only is he not a five-category player, he's not even a four-category guy: last year's low batting average can be traced to an awful .215 BABIP, which should recover plenty. However, the best BABIP of his career was just .309 (in 2011), and that netted him just a .302 average. Something in the .270-ish range seems most likely for him, but I'd probably take the low on that.

But I'd still take Bautista with this pick. (I might not pair him with Prince, but that isn't the point.) The three categories in which he produces, he excels. He's got a ton of power, in a way that's more reminiscent of the late 90's and early 2000's than it is this age of pitchers and speedsters. He doesn't just have heavy power, but so few other players have even medium power these days that his homers are a lot more valuable than they once were. On top of that, Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, and maybe even Melky Cabrera and Brett Lowrie should give him plenty of runners to hit in, and give him plenty of pitches to hit. Expect to see him among the league's leaders in RBI's and Runs. Too bad he doesn't retain his 3B eligiblity.

14. Justin Upton OF .280/17/107/67/18
Pass. Upton's stock hasn't taken much of a hit after his dismal 2012, and I'm pretty surprised. All right, I know he was going in the second half of the first round in a lot of drafts last year, but let's face it, the second half of the first round is basically the same as the first half of the second. I don't know if it's denial, wishful thinking, or what, but it seems like if you're gonna draft someone who was this disappointing last year, you should only do so at a discount. What if he repeats and the power doesn't return? This is two seasons out of the last three in which he's hit fewer than 20 homers, so I don't think that possibility is all that shocking. Using an early second-round pick on a pick with as high a downside as Upton just isn't worth it.

It isn't just Upton's downside that makes me want to pass, though. It's that I'm not that thrilled with his upside. As a Mariner fan, I was downright grateful he turned down a trade to Seattle, actually. Upton possesses that mythical "power/speed" combo in theory, but he didn't exactly do either last year. In fact, his career high in steals is just 21. In the old days, that was big news. Not so much anymore. He's less like Mike Trout and more like Mike Cameron (but without jumping over outfield walls). He strikes out a ton (at least 121 every year since 2008) and it takes a BABIP miracle to give him a quality batting average. He hits homers (some years), but not as many as potentially comparable outfielders being drafted behind him like Josh Hamilton, Adam Jones, Giancarlo Stanton, and Curtis Granderson.

I suppose the argument to be made in his favor is his age: he's still just 25. Adam Jones took the Big Step this past year, and Upton himself seemed to do so in 2011. But what if he didn't? What if disappointing expectations runs in the family? That doesn't make him a useless fantasy player, but the risk of it is enough to make him a bad fantasy pick as long as their are lower-risk options with similar upside available. If he lights the world on fire next year, that will be exactly what his owners pay for. Anything less than greatness and this pick could have been better spent.

15. Justin Verlander SP 238.1/17/239/2.64/1.06
It isn't relevant, but is it weird to draft consecutive Justins? Either way, I don't like either pick. For different reasons, though. Verlander is among the least risky pitchers I can think of (but that's what I thought about Roy Halladay, so...) and he's very clearly at the top of his game. He's even consistent with the wins, which is hard for any great pitcher.

No, my disagreement with taking Verlander here is simply one of opportunity-cost. As long as Stephen Strasburg is out there, I think other starters are second-best. He just generates so many more whiffs than the next-greatest. On the flip side of things, I do agree that Verlander (with Clayton Kershaw) represents the clear next best ace pitchers. But the difference between him and other aces isn't so large that I want to get Verlander an entire round earlier than I can get, say, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, or David Price. The differences between Verlander and those types of pitchers are real, but small. Much smaller than the differences that still exist between position players at this point in the draft.

16. Adrian Beltre 3B .321/36/95/102/1
I admitted above to being a Mariners fan, and I honestly have had to overcome some anti-Beltre bias. But I'm over now, and I guess he can be as excellent as he wants with Texas and leave me to ponder just how much a player's home park can matter. Interestingly enough, he hit 16 of his 36 homers away from the Ballpark in Arlington and he batted just under .300 on the road, so you won't need to bench him during away games to enjoy his home greatness.

Beltre has become a beast, and there's little reason not to draft him like one. He's a four-category star, he hits in a dangerous lineup and he fields a thin position. He was significantly better than the next 3B getting drafted--David Wright--and significantly healthier than the one after that--Evan Longoria. Beltre is a safe choice in the second round, but a good one, a quality anchor at a position that will be a black hole on many fantasy teams.

17. Troy Tulowitzki SS .287/8/33/27/2
I always imagine myself as having this rule about never drafting anyone remotely fragile in the early rounds. The trouble is, that rule comes in direct conflict with my other rule about getting the best value I can. Since 2007, when Tulo powered the Rockies into the World Series, he's had one totally lost season (last year), one mostly lost season (2008, when his injuries presumptively hit his productivity and his playing time), and three All Star seasons (in two of which he still hit the DL). So he's all about risk and reward.

Few players even could be worth this kind of risk, but before the season I took him first overall in the RotoAuthority mock draft because he is so much more valuable in the power categories than any of his peers. He's basically a mashing first baseman with a slick glove for shortstop. For a player like that, this kind of discount is understandable. Assuming he looks healthy in Spring Training, I wouldn't have anything to say against someone who took Tulo here. It's a risk, even big one, but it has enormous upside. For what it's worth, I'd understand anyone who preferred to stay away.

18. Bryce Harper OF .270/22/98/59/18
This is a pick that puzzles me a little. Harper was the best prospect in baseball before last year, and he had a great year for any rookie (except, of course, Mike Trout) at just 19 years old. He showed a little bit of everything, and there's all the reason in the world to think that he'll improve into a truly great player of any age. I think he's likely to be a great fantasy player for 2013.

But I don't think that's certain. His line wasn't overwhelmingly good and he is still just 20 years old. Picking him in the second round is, to me, basically assuming the best-case scenario--that he'll develop in a linear way and make big improvements. He might. You could say he probably will, but he also might not. Plenty of other great prospects have taken steps other than directly into greatness in their second season. Harper could improve just a little, he could slip a bit, he could stay basically the same player, and in all cases he'll be a good player next year. In none of those cases, though, would Harper be worth a second round pick. Like Upton, there are several players who carry lower risk than he does. Unlike Upton, however, his upside doesn't seem to be limited by much at all. I'd pick Harper, but I'd wait another round and I wouldn't worry if he wasn't still there.

Here's how I'd reorder these picks: Jose Bautista, Adrian Beltre, Troy Tulowitzki, Verlander, Harper, Upton. The only three that I'd consider taking in the top of the second round are Bautista, Beltre, and Tulo.

 

 



Fantasy Stars: Bottom of the First (Round)

Last week, on Fantasy Stars, we looked at the players who were getting the most love at MockDraftCentral by Average Draft Position (ADP): Mike Trout, Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera, Matt Kemp, Carlos Gonzalez, and Robinson Cano. Fast forward a little and CarGo is off that list (as he should be), replaced by Andrew McCutchen (ADP 5.93) in the 6th spot. We'll take a look at his case, and then the rest of the first round picks. (Even poor Carlos Gonzalez!)

As always, the stats by the name of each player are the Big 5: AVG/HR/R/RBI/SB

Andrew McCutchen OF .327/31/107/96/20

Based on hearsy, chatter, and a climbing ADP, McCutchen seems to be a trendy early pick in fantasy drafts. (I mean, where else would he be?) With power and some speed, he's got the rare combination that 5x5 leaguers love to death. He hit for a killer batting average, he's young (26), and his surface stats keep trending upwards. Can you say superstar?

 Maybe you shouldn't. Yeah, I said it. I'm down on Andrew McCutchen. I'm that guy. You should be too. (Or girl, as the case may be.) I'm not so down that I wouldn't draft him, but I wouldn't draft him in the first round, so I'm way down on him compared to most people. The first reason is this: while he's been trending upward as a player for the last three years--as we should expect from someone his age--the speed has been going the opposite way. This is pretty common--a player focuses more on power and less on speed, even as the body's natural aging curve slows him down. It's fine in real baseball, but you're gonna miss the steals on your fantasy squad. But wait, there's more! Not only is he stealing less, he's getting caught more. As a rookie (in just 433 AB) he was 22/27 in steals. Then he bumped his total to 33/43, but it dropped to just 23/33, and last year just 20/33. I labeled him a bust candidate in steals just a couple days ago, and that still holds. He's getting caught more and running less. He's probably slower, and his team isn't running him as much. I'd bet a lot that his steals go down in 2013, taking some of his value with them.

The steals aren't the only place where I'm skeptical that he'll retain all his gains. Last year he put up a BABIP of .375--way above (and inflating) his career mark of .326. Some of that could have been added by a real increase in talent, but I don't imagine it was much. Two years ago, with a very average .291 BABIP, he was a liability in batting average. I'm not saying don't draft McCutchen--for instance, I think the power increase is real--but sixth overall is a reach, for a guy of diminishing speed and an inflated BABIP.

Here are the next six first rounders:

Albert Pujols 1B                ADP 7.02
Joey Votto 1B                     ADP 8.94
Carlos Gonzalez OF           ADP 10.12
Buster Posey C                ADP 10.20
Clayton Kershaw SP    ADP 12.64 
Prince Fielder 1B          ADP 13.96

So, we've finally made it to some 1B, plus we get the unusual sights of a C and a SP in the first round. Weird!

 Albert Pujols 1B .285/30/85/105/8

How the mighty have fallen! From having to arm-wrestle Hanley Ramirez for first overall every year to just the second player drafted out of his own lineup. Poor Albert. There is good news: without Cabrera, Pujols is back to being the top 1B in baseball. The move to Angel Stadium and the AL in general seem to have hurt Pujols's overall numbers, but if the line above is your bad season, I'd say you're still pretty good. If I get Pujols in the middle of the first round, I'll be ecstatic. Maybe the down turn is due to nothing more than simple ageing, and therefore here to stay, more or less. I'll still take him. At 33 (today, oddly enough--happy birthday!), he seems in line for a pretty graceful ageing curve.

For 2013, I'd be willing to bet that last year's line is closer to the lower-case scenario than the midpoint. Take out his April doldrums and you've got a much better season. One thing you shouldn't get your hopes up about is a big rebound in batting average: the .282 BABIP he put up last year was his fourth consecutive number below .300. I'd say we're looking at the new normal.

Joey Votto 1B .337/14/59/56/5

If last year's injury is behind him, and his power is back to form, Votto will be a great pick in the middle of the first. Those are some big if's, though. Without delving into his precise health status (check him out in Spring Training), it's worth noting that last year's .230 ISO was actually better than the .222 he put up in 2011. And that's counting the total power outage of his few second half games. So, maybe the 37 bombs of 2010 are more like the outlier.

Speaking of outliers, that .404 BABIP certainly is one. The good news is that his career mark is .359, so there seems to be some kind of skill going on there. Expect the BA to go down, but not to go from great to bad, as some players above might be seeing. More like, from great to just really good.  

With all this bad news, why do I still like Votto? For one thing, his 2011 was still pretty darn good, and in these days of lighter offense, they'll do just fine. The remote possibility that a season more like 2010 could be in the cards adds a nice bit of upside to balance out the risk. Just make sure you pay attention to his Spring scouting reports.

Carlos Gonzalez .303/22/89/85/20

CarGo is the same as he was last week, except that he's now being picked ninth overall. Believe it or not, it's a pretty big difference. It's not enough to make me really want to get him in the first--his health keeps his counting stats below the elite level. Sure, he could stay healthy and be truly elite, but he hasn't done it yet. As it is, he's splitting the difference between a great power hitter and a great base stealer and I'd much rather take one of the all-power 1B or OF drafted near him, and then grab a speed demon like Coco Crisp later on. Drop him into the second round, though, and you've got a different story. All the way to the third and you know I'm snatching him right up.

 Buster Posey C .336/24/78/103/1

Is it as weird for you as it is to me to consider a catcher in the first round? Well, I'm not about to toss him out just for the sheer strangeness of it. Winning the MVP and all, he really was great last year. How about next year? Let's examine his BA. Admitting, for a moment, the inherent uncertainty in the category, Posey's BABIP was a great-but-still-reasonable .368. As in, it wouldn't be the most shocking thing in the world if he did something similar again. All the better, his career BABIP is .339, so his odds of helping in the BA department seem pretty high.

His homers look similar, in that he ought to have great power, for a catcher. One potential red flag, however, is that his HR/FB rate spiked pretty high last year--to18.8%. It's tough to know his true talent level, though, since he's played so few seasons and he's young enough that he could still be making improvements as he cruises through his prime.

Examining him next to his competition (Yadier Molina and Joe Mauerfor instance, let alone Miguel Montero, Matt Wieters, A.J. Pierzynski, Carlos Santana, Brian McCann, Mike Napoli, and everyone else) makes him look even better. No one touches his awesomeness. At least, not any catchers.

And that's where the problem lies. How badly do you want a catcher as your team's anchor? Posey is by far the best catcher available, but he's not nearly as productive as a tater mashing 1B or a power-speed OF. What makes Robinson Cano so great is that he does produce like a 1B. Posey doesn't, and, as a catcher, can't. Add the extra injury risk of the position and I have a hard time calling his name in the first round. Of course, if I do that, I'm all but guaranteed a sub-par player behind the plate.

 Clayton Kershaw SP (stats in IP/W/K/ERA/WHIP) 227.2/14/229/2.53/1.02

Kershaw is undoubtedly among the top starters, but as I've written before, I don't think he's far above some of the other elite pitchers--certainly not the way that Cabrera and Cano are above 3B or 2B, or even close to how much better Posey is than his fellow catchers. In fact, I'd call Kershaw the number two starter at best, behind Stephen Strasburg, so I definitely take issue with this pick. If you're taking a starter in the first, make it Strasburg.

That said, Kershaw is a boss. His K/9 ranks with the league leaders (except those named Strasburg, Darvish, and Scherzer) at 9.05--and his career numbers show he's capable of even more. He's been an innings horse since the kid gloves came off (three years in a row of 200+ IP, two in a row over 220 IP). His team should be a winner next year, so he's not at a disadvantage in wins like some aces (cough, cough Felix Hernandez). His K/BB rate is a great (if not elite) 3.63. His fastball even hits 93 mph on the radar gun.

The trouble with Kershaw in the first round is that, while everything in the paragraph above is true, it's true of several pitchers. If you get Kershaw in the first round and a position player in the second, while someone else takes Strasburg or Justin Verlander in the second, who got a better position player to anchor their lineup? How about someone picking in the third that takes Cole Hamels, Jared Weaver, Zack Greinke, CC Sabathia, King Felix, Cliff Lee, R.A. Dickey or...you get my point. 

 Prince Fielder 1B .313/30/83/108/1

Prince's stock is up this year, even after his production went down last year. Why? Ask Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Teixeira. First base is suddenly shallower than it has been in a long time. Given Fielder's age (still just 29), it isn't unreasonable to think that he could get more comfortable with his league and park and increase on last year's numbers. Even if he just holds the line, he's still clearly in the top tier at 1B, with only Pujols and Votto for company. If you can nab him the bottom of the first round of your draft, do it. The next chances to shore up your 1B slot aren't going to be very pretty.

Of course, it's not really position scarcity that makes Fielder a great pick, it's his own excellence. Last year's mild BABIP spike will probably even back out, leaving him with an average closer to his .287 career number than last year's mark, but that won't hurt. Especially if it comes with even a small bump in his homers. More in Fielder's favor is his health: he's played 157 games in every full season of his career--since 2006. Freak injuries can hit everyone, but Prince has a track record that embarrasses players like Votto, Kemp, and Gonzalez. Fielder is the sort of solidly excellent, low-risk player that I usually prefer in the first round. He'll anchor your offense in four categories and leave you free to take a risk in the second.

I'd reorder the whole group of players like this: Trout, Cabrera, Braun, Pujols, Cano, Fielder, Votto, Posey, Gonzalez, McCutchen, Kemp, Kershaw. Depending on their Spring Trainings, Kemp could move way up or Votto way down. In the fog of uncertainty, though, this is how I'd draft. A couple players that I think should be in the first are: Strasburg, Jose Bautista, maybe Adrian Beltre, and possibly even Curtis Granderson. Tune in next week for the Top of the Second (Round).



Fantasy Stars: Top of the First (Round)

Each week in Fantasy Stars we'll be looking at a different segment of the fantasy baseball population. Instead of giving you our analysis of who you should draft with the week's range of picks--don't worry, we'll be talking about that all over the place--we'll look at who is being drafted there. Know your competition, I say, and the competition is all those people so excited for fantasy baseball that they've already drafted at MockDraftCentral.com.

I was a little surprised to see that a pretty robust 61 mock drafts have already happened since the calendar turned to 2013, so the sample size isn't as small as I had worried about. It's still small, though, and where players are being drafted at the end of Spring Training will have shifted plenty. That's why we're starting at the top, even at the risk of talking way too much about Mike Trout.

Top Players 1-6 by ADP

Miguel Cabrera 3B             ADP 1.36
Ryan Braun OF                  ADP 2.90
Mike Trout OF                       ADP 3.87
Carlos Gonzalez OF        ADP 4.69
Robinson Cano 2B           ADP 5.11
Matt Kemp OF                   ADP 5.92 

It's pretty clear that these players are the first six picks in the majority of drafts, as the seventh player on the list is Albert Pujols, with an 8.08 ADP. We'll have to wait till next time to look at his tier, though, as he isn't a risk to unseat any of these players...yet.

For me, two things spring right to mind when looking at these players: first, two of them spent a significant portion of 2012 on the DL (Kemp and Gonzalez), and only two play in the infield. As a bonus, somehow none of them are 1B-eligible, something that hasn't happened in recent memory, though you can thank the fact that the Tigers don't care about defense any more than your fantasy team does for Cabrera's presence at 3B.

It looks like the mock drafters are making two main choices when they draft, and you'll be doing the same on draft day if you get one of the top six picks: play it safe or take a risk, get an elite OF or take the best player  by far at a scarce position.

Safe choices:                        Risks:
Miguel Cabrera                   Mike Trout
Ryan Braun                         Carlos Gonzalez 
Robinson Cano                  Matt Kemp

Whether or not the risks are truly risky is tough to be sure of (for instance, I don't think the negative risk of taking Trout is all that high...but that's another article), since last year people were worried about Ryan Braun's potential suspension and nobody was worried that Matt Kemp would get hurt and miss a third of the season. Every pick is a risk, but we never know by exactly how much.

Still, three of fantasy baseball's safest names are definitely Cabrera, Braun, and Cano. At the very least, they are the most traditional choices. But are they the right ones? Are the risks smart ones to make? Let's look at each player individually. (Stats presented: BA/HR/R/RBI/SB)

Miguel Cabrera .330/44/109/139/4

So, Miggy's clearly a four-category beast and a near-zero in steals. We already knew that and the lack of steals is really the only mark against taking him first. I might argue elsewhere that (spoiler alert) Trout is a better pick, but if you're confident in getting steals later on, maybe Cabrera is for you. If you do get him, I suggest tempering your homer expectations, as last year's 44 were a career best by seven.

As great as his power is maybe the best thing about Cabrera is the batting average: he's been incredibly consistent in what's usually a very unpredictable category, with .320 averages or better in seven of his nine full seasons in the Majors. His career BABIP is .331, so that seems to clearly count as a skill. Indeed, his worst averages have still been in the .290's. 

All this would make Cabrera an easy top pick even if he played OF or 1B, but the pool isn't so deep at 3B. (Though it's not as shallow as it could be, with David Wright, Adrian Beltre, and Evan Longoria in the next three spots on the list.) 

Ryan Braun .319/41/108/112/30

Braun is a fantasy machine, with MVP numbers in four categories and All-Star numbers in steals. His average, while not in Cabrera's territory, sits at .313 for his career, so he's much more likely than not to provide a good return again there. The runs and RBI's shouldn't be going anywhere either, though a dip in homers is likely: again like Cabrera, he set a career high and he's usually closer to 30 bombs than 40. Fortunately, that's still good enough to make him one of fantasy and real baseball's best players.

The steals are more interesting, as the 29-year-old seems to have added them to his repertoire just for fun two years ago. After hanging around the 15 mark for most of his career, he jumped up to 33 in 2011 and stayed near that last year. Since he isn't being counted on to steal bases for his team, they could theoretically dry up at any time. The good news is that he's adding runs to the Brewers with an 83% success rate for the past two years, so they don't have any reason to tell him to slow down. My only caution is that things that come quickly seem to go quickly too.

Mike Trout .326/30/129/83/49

If Braun's steals came quickly, Trout's home run power came like lightning. Plenty of people are going to be wondering two things: was Trout's rookie season too good to be true, and is his power for real?

To the first question: he's too good not to be true. Plenty of rookies take the Majors by storm their first year and peter out into nothingness sometime thereafter. None of those rookies were position players as good as Trout. He could regress in a meaningful way and still be one of the top five players in baseball. If he stays exactly the same, he'll still be the best in fantasy, thanks to his power/speed combo.

What about that power? Well, think about it this way: ESPN's Hit Tracker counted just eight of Trouts homers as "just enoughs." If you want, take all those homers away, but give him another three weeks of playing time. Now instead of a 30HR/49 SB player, you're looking at about a 25/60 player. That's probably worth the risk.

Carlos Gonzalez .303/22/89/85/20

Maybe it's just that I can't get the 1990's out of my head, but I'm not too impressed by CarGo. He's good, don't get me wrong. I mean, he's great. But top of the first round? I'm not buying it, for a couple of reasons. The biggest reason is his health. Clearly, he's a great ballplayer and a power/speed cornerstone for a fantasy team. But what about all those days when he's sitting on the DL, or when he's playing at less than full strength? In his three years as a superstar, Gonzalez has yet to play more than 145 games. Last year he made it into 135, in 2011 it was 127. Whatever the reason, Gonzalez misses time, and you have to temper his stats with whoever you get to replace him off the waiver wire, even it's only for a couple weeks. What's more, someone who frequently misses a little time, might be expected to miss larger periods of time.

Health alone isn't the only issue: he's just significantly less good than some of the players around him: he's broken the 30-HR barrier just once and he holds a .298 career average. He's not an elite stealer either, with a career high of 26. He's not bad at all; he's even great. But he doesn't belong at the top of the draft either. I'm guessing other people will notice and we'll see him settling in nearer to the end of the first round or the beginning of the second. If he doesn't, you won't see him on any of my teams.

Robinson Cano .313/33/105/94/3

Cano seems to me to be moving his way up fantasy depth charts by default, as more and more players around him see their games slip. Maybe that's so, or maybe not, either way Cano is a clear cut above anyone else at his position, with Ian Kinsler his only real competition. As one of my "safe" choices, Cano has proved consistency, and that's what lands him in the top of the first, and why he should be drafted far ahead of anyone else at 2B. Ahead of plenty of OF's too.

Like Cabrera, he's a four-category stud who does nothing in steals. Oh well. Since 2009 he's hit at least 25 homers, batted at least .302, and scored at least 100 runs, each year. In the Yankee lineup (even if it isn't quite what it used to be), and in Yankee Stadium, there's plenty of reason to think the runs and RBI's will keep coming. Unlike Trout (and perhaps Gonzalez) he doesn't carry much upside, but he doesn't need to. Even at 30 years old, he's still in his prime and should be treated like an elite 1B. At 2B.

Matt Kemp .303/23/74/69/9

Kemp is another player that I'd rather leave to someone else. Taking a little risk for a lot of reward in the first few picks of a fantasy draft is one thing. Drafting a player who missed a full third of last season, and whose injuries may remain (he had surgery in October that should be fully healed by Opening Day) is not good risk/reward strategy. The reward (a season like his 2011) is immense, but the risk (more of 2012, including the decrease in stolen bases) is too great. Like Gonzalez, the upside here is truly impressive, worth taking. But not worth taking in the first few picks, when the opportunity cost is so high.

At his best, Kemp is one of fantasy baseball's power/speed heroes, but how sure can we be that we'll be getting Kemp's best in 2013? Thanks to what happened last year, less sure than we can for most players. I believe in taking bold risks throughout a fantasy draft, but some risks are better to leave in the hands of your opponents. 

A caveat to all this pessimism is that we still get to watch Spring Training. How will Kemp perform in Florida? If he's all running on all cylinders in the Spring, then maybe this worry is for nothing and you'll be taking advantage of owners who want to play it safe by nabbing him. Great! But if he isn't stealing, taking extra bases, or generally looking fast and athletic, I'd place my money elsewhere.

For the top six picks, I really like four of them. I'd reorder them all like this: Trout, Cabrera, Braun, Cano...Gonzalez and Kemp somewhat farther behind, but probably still in the first round.

Editor's Note: ADP may have changed somewhat since this article's first draft. Not to worry, the analysis still applies and any players who might have skipped ahead won't be missed next time around....



Mock Draft Analysis: Can My Team Win?

Congratulations! After hours weeks of preparation, plus a couple hours of your precious time spent drafting, you've assembled your fantasy roster for 2012.

All the agonizing about who will boom and who will bust is set aside till next year. You shelve yet another dogeared copy of Ron Shandler's Forecaster. During web-browser spring cleaning, you delete your bookmark to Fangraphs' ZiPs or Marcel pages, or whichever absurdly titled projection system you use. And, yes, you finally stop trolling mock draft forums.

Wasting no time, you rush over to your team's page at the conclusion of your draft. Maybe you tweak your squad's name and avatar to honor someone you've just drafted (e.g. Bourn Mediocrity). With or without that step, the reason you're there is to plug the players into their corresponding positions. To see the lineup slots fill up till everyone is in his right place ... it's fantasy magic.

But, for most of us, there's more to it than just the aesthetics of seeing a rounded-out roster. We want to know: Is my team any good? Sure, if you've drafted competently, your team will probably pass the eyeball test. But truthfully, most teams look decent enough on paper before Opening Day, so how can you really tell?

Thankfully, we have a pretty good idea of what it will take to win fantasy leagues in 2012, courtesy of some number-crunching by Tim Dierkes. Using Tim's what-it-takes-to-win estimates, as well as his 2012 projections, I'm now going to see how closely the team I drafted in RotoAuthority's mock will finish to 90 roto points. The league is classic 5x5 roto, with two starting catchers, five outfielders, nine pitchers (1,500 innings cap), and three bench slots.

Here's my roster:

And here are the results:

Offense

  • Target average: .270
  • Projected average: .278
  • Target homers: 271
  • Projected homers: 272
  • Target RBI: 1,071
  • Projected RBI: 1,046
  • Target runs: 1,092
  • Projected runs: 1,044
  • Target steals: 187
  • Projected steals: 121

Pitching

  • Target ERA: 3.54
  • Projected ERA: 3.67
  • Target WHIP: 1.21
  • Projected WHIP: 1.24
  • Target strikeouts: 1328
  • Projected strikeouts: 1376
  • Target wins: 99
  • Projected wins: 97
  • Target saves: 101
  • Projected saves: 52

 

Analysis

This roster should net nine or more roto points in four of 10 categories as of now. That's a decent start, and although I do think this team is better than that would typically suggest based on some easy-to-correct roster glitches, there is obviously work to be done. Here are some thoughts:

  • Saves and steals are the categories I most want to address as areas of need. Fortunately, they can both be dealt with post-draft to varying degrees, but that's not necessarily ideal, so I'll take a hack at a realistic and minimal draft reconstruction. 
  • A botched 14th-round pick on the underwhelming Alonso looks to be an obvious culprit. The projection systems just don't like this guy very much -- obviously not for speed, since that's not his game, but not for power, either, and perhaps not even to get a full season's worth of ABs. Had I passed on him in favor of a closer (there were still plenty of good ones available at that point), I could have then rounded out my outfield several rounds later with a much-needed steals contributor like Angel Pagan, who would have cost me my late-round flier on Bedard. I like Bedard as a sleeper this year, but a closer like Joakim Soria or Rafael Betancourt and Pagan would help my team much more than Alonso and Bedard, so it's pretty much a no-brainer.
  • ERA and WHIP don't look great, although those stats are fairly inflated by Billingsley and Liriano. It's especially unlikely that I'd take two guys like that, let alone one. But assuming Liriano shows nothing out of the gate, I'd probably drop him pretty quickly for a top setup man like Greg Holland, who can contribute (albeit minimally) in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts. Pitchers like Holland can always be dropped without pause if and when the time comes that you need to stream starters to meet the innings cap. Billingsley, too, would be on a very short leash.
  • Street is my only sure-thing closer, although I'm not especially worried about that. For one, I do think Jansen will eventually (hopefully sooner than later) wrestle closing duties away from Javy Guerra, which would give me two closers. But aside from that, I'm pretty confident in my ability to nab spec closers off the wire when a change occurs. Whether you're willing to follow this or prefer the security of completing a draft with three closers in the big is really a matter of knowing how shrewd and quick you are to the draw.
  • Obviously, Howard's injury setback (announced after this mock took place) changes the look of my team pretty significantly. Again, I don't want to completely overhaul my draft with hypotheticals, but Gaby Sanchez (15th round) could have been a decent target as an alternative.
  • Position flexibility is not a strength of this team, so it's something I should be cognizant of. In fact, I've actually taken a liberty just by slotting Montero in at catcher, although it appears he will gain eligibility there before too long. Anyway, there aren't any utility types in my lineup, and those guys can be very useful to account for injuries and off-days of others.


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Mock Draft Analysis: ADP Comparisons

It has been a boring mildly slow week in transactions, so I'm posting something a little different today. Before the RotoAuthority Mock Draft fades too far in the rearview mirror, I'll be taking a look at some of the biggest (and most noteworthy) differences between the choices of our mock drafters and the collective wisdom of the MockDraftCentral.com community. It turns out, there were plenty of surprise picks, and a few interesting trends along the way. View a spreadsheet of our draft results here.

Each time I mention when a player was taken, I'll include the difference with his ADP. For clarity's sake, negative numbers mean they were taken earlier than their ADP. I know I've been confused on this point before ...

The draft started with a reach, when someone took Troy Tulowitzki (-4.8) over the vague consensus of Matt Kemp/Miguel Cabrera. OK, it was me. I'm still not sure if that was the right call, but it's tough to go too far wrong in the first round. Carlos Gonzalez (-5.24) was taken a bit above his ADP, but late first- and early second-rounders tend to blur together for me.

One early trend was that we waited on pitchers. Justin Verlander (14.36), Roy Halladay (6.7), and Clayton Kershaw (9.77) all went later than their ADPs. Verlander was -- appropriately -- the second pitcher off the board and taken more than a round later than the mock drafters are grabbing him. This makes sense to me, as I don't see a huge difference between Verlander and a lot of the guys around him -- Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez, etc. It's good to have one of those guys on your team, but it's better to get the last one and hope it's his turn for the big year. 

Through the first six rounds there were only three position players that we let slip far past their ADPs: Hunter Pence (12.74), Carl Crawford (19.91), and Elvis Andrus (20.75). Other than showing just how much we liked the hitters over the pitchers, this seems like three separate instances more than a trend. Andrus is overvalued--steals and little else isn't that great, even from a SS--Crawford presents more risk than seems necessary that early, and Pence ...well, maybe we just forgot about him. Credit Tom Warman for grabbing him in the fifth round.

As a group, we were very enthusiastic with third basemen. David Wright (-11.72) went in the second round, Ryan Zimmerman (-15.22) in the third, and Brett Lawrie (-18.75), Alex Rodriguez (-18.35), and Pablo Sandoval (-23.56) in the fourth. After Kevin Youkilis (-20.56) went in the sixth round, I made the first major reach of the draft and got Mark Reynolds (-42.77). It's tough to say whether we intentionally targeted third basemen aggressively, or if it was more of a chain reaction sort of situation. Either way, it makes sense to pay a premium for an early third baseman, as there is a big dropoff and they start to look a lot like shortstops after a while.

Another trend is that we were very patient with closers. Craig Kimbrel (19.23) was the first reliever off the board in the seventh round; the next one taken was Mariano Rivera (11.32) in the tenth. We waited on John Axford (27.28) and Drew Storen (42.39), two pitchers who are going earlier than they should in a lot of drafts. While you won't always be able to wait as long as we did for saves, the variance and interchangeability of relief pitchers makes me try to draft them as late as possible. One reliever who might be good value is Ryan Madson (-27.58), whom Tim Dierkes drafted in the tenth after most other elite closers were gone.

As the rounds got later, the differences--positive and negative--in our picks and ADPs grew larger, which is only natural, and individual choices started to stand out more than larger trends. Our biggest reach of the night somehow didn't go to me; instead Shuckleball took Yunel Escobar (-90.78) seven rounds before his ADP. I don't mean to criticize the move -- you have to balance getting the player you believe in with trying to get the best value you can. Could Shuckleball have gotten Escobar several rounds later? Probably, unless someone else had the same idea. I thought I could get Yu Darvish (-29.3) in the ninth round. Instead, Tim Dierkes took him in the eighth.

Reaching for "your guys" can have its negative consequences, too: I made Max Scherzer (-52.85) my ninth-round pick and lost out on James Shields (32.07) two picks later to Shuckleball because I wasn't looking past my plans for value.

As far as pitchers we let go past their ADPs, I think there were a few collective misses that resulted in bargains for the teams that drafted them: Tim Hudson (83.21) had the biggest positive difference between our draft slot and his ADP, but Neftali Feliz (63.05), Justin Masterson (42.39), Wandy Rodriguez (78.06), Ryan Vogelsong (40.61), Michael Pineda (44.27), and Jeremy Hellickson (64.86) were just a few of the pitchers we took forty or more places after their ADP. All come with real concerns, but in the late stages of the draft, who doesn't?

Finally, there were a few hitters taken well below their ADPs, and with good reason. Stephen Drew (30.4) and his injury concerns didn't impress; neither did Austin Jackson (48.65), Carlos Quentin (35.34), or Michael Brantley (81.53). We may like taking risks, but none of us were enthusiastic to bet on Adam Dunn (38.97), and I think we're all just plain tired of Vernon Wells (78.48).

Every draft has its own idiosyncrasies, and ours was no exception, but it was a balanced draft between experienced players. Our collective advise seems to be: be aggressive with third base, patient with starters, very patient with relief and ... don't take Vernon Wells. Hopefully this helps you in your own drafts. Finally, don't be afraid to go right after the players you target, but don't forget to take value when it drops to you.


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RotoAuthority Mock Draft Analysis

Last week, the RotoAuthority writers and a handful of readers partook in the time-honored tradition known as a "mock draft" over at MockDraftCentral.com. Picks were immediately regretted made, "lol"s were shared in the chat forum, and hopefully skills were honed so that the dress rehearsal will lead to a strong opening night.  The picks can be viewed and voted on here with an MDC account, or you can view/download a spreadsheet we've created here.

Now that a few days have elapsed and provided some necessary hindsight, let's get into some analysis. Up top, I've bulleted several different topics of interest. Further down, reader Alex Kantecki has provided a best and worst pick for each roster. As always, draft responsibly.

  • Based on positional scarcity, I came away from this mock convinced that when my real drafts roll around, I want a first baseman, third baseman and shortstop in the bag after three rounds (not necessarily in that order). These cornerstone positions get shallow in a hurry, as I learned the hard way, because it's advisable to take your ace no later than the fourth. Ideally, I envision this strategy yielding a trio like Joey Votto-Hanley Ramirez-Ryan Zimmerman. I got two-thirds of the way there in this mock (Votto and Jose Reyes), but abstained on a third baseman til the sixth, when I picked Aramis Ramirez..
  • Ryan Braun is back and will almost certainly be drafted in the first round, but not by me. I love what Braun has to offer (what's not to love?) but won't be spending my first pick on an outfielder for the reasons listed above. If you follow suit, know that Braun's overturned suspension means he could go in the top half of the first round, as he did here.
  • Pitching is hella deep. I came away with a small army of high-upside arms late in the draft -- well more than I needed, frankly, while I was light on bats. When the late-round doldrums set in (more on that in a later bullet), don't do what I did; even if you're on autopilot, at least focus on sifting through the scrap heap for bats.
  • Meanwhile, I was short on outfielders aside from Matt Holliday. This was a result of poor planning, mostly. Like an infield shift for a pull-happy hitter, there will be gaps if your strategy focuses your attention to particular players/positions. Know where you might be leaving yourself exposed, and target some guys who could address that for the later rounds.
  • Borrowing from Hannibal Lecter's dining preferences and my eighth-grade social studies teacher's unit exams, I played classical during the mock. I'm not sure that it was anything more than psychosomatic, but it seemed to help keep me relaxed and focused during what can be a frenzied experience. It didn't help that the missus was out, either.
  • Drafts are long. Depending on your league's settings, you're probably looking at two plus-hours of continuous monitor monitoring. Be prepared for that grind, and pace yourself emotionally.
  • To that end, there's a palpable oh-shyte moment when the no-brainer picks are off the board and you're on your own. I liken it to that exhilirating but queasy moment the first time I was on a bike without training wheels or the guiding hand of my dad (this was like, two years ago). In our mock, this was around the sixth or seventh round. Again, enjoy and focus on the early rounds, but there's a long way to go after the top 60 or so players are selected.
  • On with Alex's best and worst picks:

 

Alex Steers McCrum

  • Best pick: Troy Tulowitzki, 1.1 You can argue that a rejuvenated Matt Kemp, a suddenly clean Ryan Braun, and a soon-to-be (fingers crossed), third-base eligible Miguel Cabrera are all shoo-ins for the No. 1 pick, but I fully endorse taking Tulowitzki first. At the weakest position in fantasy, you’ll lose no sleep slotting in Tulowitzki at shortstop every day while your opponents pray for career years from Erick Aybar and perennial-sleeper and oft-injured Stephen Drew.
  • Worst pick: Nelson Cruz, 5.1 Cruz is a solid No. 2 outfield option, but pairing him with real life teammate Josh Hamilton, who was selected two rounds earlier, is a risky fantasy investment. A combined 60-plus homers is a possibilty, but so is the chance of two lengthy DL stints. 

Tim Dierkes

  • Best pick: Clayton Kershaw, 3.2 After taking Justin Verlander in Round 2, why not double down with baseball’s other Cy Young Award winner? The pick looks even better when you consider Dierkes was still able to land his starting first baseman, Eric Hosmer, and third basemen, Pablo Sandoval, with his next two picks, solidifying his corner infield and starting rotation by Round 5. Oh, and he got Matt Kemp in Round 1. That’s a nice start. 
  • Worst pick:  Chris Iannetta, 16.11 There isn’t much supporting evidence for an Iannetta explosion with the Angels, so this pick was a head scratcher. Iannetta has never hit 20 home runs and has a lousy average to boot. I’d much rather have Russell Martin, Ryan Doumit, or Salvador Perez, who were all selected in the 20th round or later. Dierkes did go on to draft Kurt Suzuki and A.J. Pierzynski as fallbacks.

Mark Polishuk

  • Best pick: Jemile Weeks, 12.10 I’m not the biggest Jemile Weeks fan, but the speedster represents fantastic value for the MI slot. I must admit, teaming Jemile with big brother Rickie, who Shukleball took in Round 5, has me feeling all tingly inside, and given Rickie’s propensity for the DL, Jemile could prove plenty useful.
  • Worst pick: Yadier Molina, 13.3 By the time Molina was taken in the 13th round, Shukleball had already selected Miguel Montero and Alex Avila. Instead of taking a third catcher, Shukleball could have looked to improve on an outfield that consisted of Adam Jones and Nick Markakis, or even strengthened a staff that already featured Roy Halladay, Matt Cain, and James Shields

Towliesox

  • Best pick: Adam Wainwright, 8.9 It’s completely possible that Wainwright would have been available for Toweliesox seven spots later, but if you have a gut feeling on someone, go for it. Yu Darvish and Josh Johnson were selected two and three picks later, respectively, and all represent similar value with question marks. A friendly reminder: Wainwright posted a 2.42 ERA with 213 strikeouts in 2010. 
  • Worst pick: David Wright, 2.9 I like David Wright, but I’m not willing to risk such a high pick on a guy who is trending in the wrong direction. This selection screamed for Halladay, Verlander, or Kershaw as the first pitcher drafted, and all three were gone by the time Toweliesox’s next pick rolled around. 

dmojr

  • Best pick: Jeff Francouer, 17.5 Even if another 20/20 season is out of the question, and it’s not, Francouer is a solid fourth or fifth outfield option who gives you a little bit of everything. It’s hard enough to find players who contribute across the board, let alone this late in the draft.
  • Worst pick: Craig Kimbrel, 7.5 My only criticism of this pick is that, in a two-catcher league, it’s important to land one of the big guns when you have the chance. Whether or not you believe Kimbrel is leaps and bounds better than the next closer, Matt Wieters, Joe Mauer, and Alex Avila were all available at this point. Instead, dmojr settled for a gruesome twosome of Geovany Soto and Nick Hundley.

bombers

  • Best pick: Emilio Bonifacio, 12.7 I tried not to like this pick, but if the multi-position eligible Bonifacio fills in here and there at either of the MI or CI spots or in the outfield, I won’t complain. Bonifacio is a good bet for 30-plus steals with regular playing time, and the middle rounds are a smart place to select a player with his skill set. 
  • Worst pick: Michael Bourn, 6.7 If Bourn is going to go this early in drafts, count me out. Sure, he gives you elite speed, but you can’t count on him batting near .300 again. Aside from his early price tag, Bourn was bombers’ first outfielder selected, followed closely by Drew Stubbs in Round 7. I understand the strategy, but this one could fittingly blow up in bombers’ face, you know, like a bomb. 

Dan Mennella

  • Best pick: Jesus Montero, 12.6 Even though he’s only DH eligible, grabbing Montero in the 12th round is a solid buy. If, and when, he gains catcher eligibility, Mennella has a potential catching duo of Matt Wieters, who was taken in Round 7, and Montero. Even as a rookie, he represents a relatively safe grab, and fits nicely at UTIL for the time being. 
  • Worst pick:  Jose Tabata, 15.7 What happens when you select Tabata in Round 15, you ask? A chat room full of drafters screaming, “Reach!” I have no problem taking him as a fifth outfielder, but Angel Pagan was taken five rounds later and represents better value, and he has a track record of production. Tabata could have been had much later. 

Tom Warman

  • Best pick: Chris Young, 10.5 This selection stood out to me as one of value versus positional need. Warman could have gone in a different direction, but he decided to build on an already potent outfield of Justin Upton, Jay Bruce, and Hunter Pence instead, which looks like the best outfield of the bunch by far.
  • Worst pick: Brian Wilson, 11.8 For the same reason I like the Chris Young pick, I dislike taking Brian Wilson here. With four closers going in Round 10, it’s likely that Warman wanted to secure an elite closer. However, a more pressing need for first base existed, and, with only first-base eligible Michael Young on his roster to this point, he passed up on Adam Lind and Ike Davis – not exactly sure-things, but guys with 25-homer potential.

Van Buren Boys

  • Best pick: Ryan Roberts, 16.4 It’s hard to like a selection of any .248 hitter, and that’s exactly what Roberts was in 2011, but he was also one home run and two stolen bases away from a 20/20 season. Given his dual eligibility at second and third, I couldn’t pass up on the Tat Man in Round 16 for the MI slot. 
  • Worst pick: Andrew Bailey, 15.9 I immediately regretted this pick. I didn’t trust Bailey in Oakland, and I don’t particularly trust him on a bigger stage in Boston, either. I would have rather drafted Jason Motte, who was taken just two picks later and is settled in with the Cardinals, or went with another starting pitcher, like Jeremy Hellickson, who fell to Round 17. 

RelliM

  • Best pick: Ian Kennedy, 8.3 Pegged as a major candidate for regression or not, a 21-game winner in the eighth round is nothing to sneeze at. A run of pitchers similar in value to Kennedy, including C.J. Wilson, Adam Wainwright, Yu Darvish, Josh Johnson, Max Scherzer, James Shields, and Dan Hudson, went right after this pick, and it’s possible RelliM would have missed out on all of them had he not chosen Kennedy first. 
  • Worst pick: David Freese, 12.3 With all the big boys at third already off the board, it’s easy to see why RelliM opted to go with Freese in Round 12, but the next third baseman wasn’t taken until Round 16, and RelliM later took Mike Moustakas, who could easily prove more valuable, in Round 18.

Steve Adams

  • Best pick: Jimmy Rollins, 8.2 I was initially critical of this selection, but after looking at the draft board, I’m more than okay with it. Adams already picked Starlin Castro in Round 3, and, to this point, his only outfielder was Shane Victorino. It would have been easy to go outfield here, but the next three outfielders taken, Jason Heyward, Brett Gardner, and Jason Werth, all have their own flaws.
  • Worst pick: Devin Mesoraco, 17.11 Banking on a rookie on a Dusty Baker led squad is hard to support, but what makes this pick look bad is that there’s seemingly no backup plan. The other Reds catcher, Ryan Hanigan, was scooped up by Mennella in Round 23, and Adams’ second catcher is equally questionable Jarrod Saltalamacchia. In a two-catcher league, I’m not sure Adams has one. 

Edwin Van Bibber-Orr

  • Best pick: Jhonny Peralta, 17.12 If things fall into place for Jhonny Peralta in 2012, this is the steal of the draft. It’s hard to see how a 20-home run shortstop gets drafted after Stephen Drew, who, ironically, Bibber-Orr picked two rounds earlier. In a powerful Tigers lineup, Peralta is sitting pretty. 
  • Worst pick: Stephen Drew, 15.12 I’ve already voiced my concern for an injury-plagued Stephen Drew, and this pick would have been better served on an outfielder with some upside, like Colby Rasmus, who was picked one round later. This would also give Bibber-Orr more depth in the outfield, who is relying on Yoenis Cespedes as his fifth outfielder.


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The First Round

Mock Draft Central has baseball drafts up and running, which means we can get an early read on what the general fantasy player is thinking.  I'm not sure if we can consider this information meaningful in mid-January, but it should get us in the ballpark.  Here's how the average first round plays out:

  1. Albert Pujols
  2. Hanley Ramirez
  3. Miguel Cabrera
  4. Troy Tulowitzki
  5. Evan Longoria
  6. Carlos Gonzalez
  7. Joey Votto
  8. Adrian Gonzalez
  9. David Wright
  10. Robinson Cano
  11. Josh Hamilton
  12. Ryan Braun

Comparing to last year:

CarGo, Votto, Adrian, and Cano are truly new to the first round, having never come near it in past drafts.  As we saw last year with guys like Kemp, Joe Mauer, and Mark Reynolds, one huge season does not necessarily mean the player has arrived as an annual fantasy first or second-rounder.

Maybe CarGo doesn't hit .336 again, but in a half-season in '09 he did show that he mostly just needed playing time to be able to flirt with 30/30.  That's why so many forecasters were touting him and he was often drafted inside the first ten rounds last year.  The concerns with him for 2011: he could theoretically become complacent with a long-term contract in place, he wasn't first-round material away from Coors, he's battled injuries before, and he doesn't draw walks.  Back in October I guessed CarGo would be drafted third overall, but it appears you could get him sixth or even a few spots later.  It's hard not to like him, but the risk is higher than with other first-rounders.

Aside from stolen bases, Votto had an elite fantasy season in 2009.  The 16 steals and added power in '10 were bonuses, but many were comfortable taking him in the second round last March.  He's a 27-year-old monster who could bump it up to 40 home runs this year.  Take him early with confidence.  I know it's not statistically proven but from a fantasy standpoint I'd prefer to see him not locked up to an extension, with the carrot of a monstrous second-year arbitration reward in his sights.

Adrian is coming off shoulder surgery but moves to a better ballpark and lineup with the Red Sox.  He will also be facing tougher pitching.  He draws tons of walks but unlike Votto isn't a huge average guy and has no speed.  If Votto is off the board you could wait until the second round for Fielder as your primary first baseman.  Contract year for the big man.

Cano has it all except speed, plus he plays second base.  He spent most of the year batting fifth or fourth and added a bunch of RBIs over his previous season.  He's been very durable over the last four years.  You can justify this pick, but he wasn't much different when he was going in the fourth round last year.  Give some thought to instead buying low on Utley, Dustin Pedroia, or Ian Kinsler.


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