How I’ll approach picking at the end of Round 1 in 2009

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Josh Hamilton may have a terrific story, but is he right for your fantasy team in 2009? (Icon/SMI)

It’s January and mock draft season is really starting to kick in. Football season is just about over, baseball season starts in less than two months, and it’s time to really start preparing for your fantasy draft.

Last offseason, I discussed why I like taking “safe” and “consistent” players in the first two or three rounds of a draft at the expense of player’s whose average projected profit is a bit higher. Instead of rehashing what I said then, I’ll just quote myself:

In nearly all of my drafts this year, I try to make it a point to get players with stable skill sets in the first two rounds, at the very least.

Using the probabilistic concept of value, risk is built into projections; all possibilities are accounted for and combined into one number. Over time, using these values will give you the greatest gain. If you use this concept, though, and choose players who have a wide array of possibilities, sometimes you will do very well, but other times you will bomb. In competitive leagues, it becomes nearly impossible to make up the necessary value if your first or second round pick does poorly.

In important leagues, it can be a good idea to sacrifice a tiny bit of “value” for reliability. When you take guys with solid skill sets, you know what you’re getting (in relative terms). The drop-off in value from a guy like Ryan Braun to Carlos Lee is quite small, but the benefits from Lee’s stable skill set more than makes up the gap in a league that is competitive and important to win.

In one recent expert draft, I managed to get David Wright, Carlos Lee and Mark Teixeira with my first three picks, all very consistent producers. Having a core like this lays a great foundation for a team and makes it easier to take some risks later on.

The league I mention in the last paragraph was the FOX Sports Expert League that I ended up winning. Regardless of whether or not I won, though, I would still believe that this is a sound strategy. In the long-run you would do slightly better simply taking the top player on the board, but if you’d like to be competitive in an important league, sacrificing that tiny bit of value is the way to go. You can’t win your draft with your first few picks, but you can sure lose it.

Pick from the available choices

The problem this year, however, lies in the available players at the end of the first round. So many of them are simply not consistent producers. The first five players off the board will likely be Hanley Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes, and David Wright. After that, we tend to see Miguel Cabrera, Grady Sizemore, and Jimmy Rollins go. But what if you’re picking in the nine, 10, 11, or 12 spots? Here are the players currently drafted there along with their average draft position (courtesy of Mock Draft Central):

09. Josh Hamilton
10. Ian Kinsler
11. Ryan Howard
12. Ryan Braun
13. Matt Holliday
14. Mark Teixeira
15. Lance Berkman
16. Johan Santana

For one reason or another, almost every player on this list is unappealing to me. Hamilton and Kinsler’s skills have been all over the place and both have injury issues, I am down on Howard this year for reasons I’ll discuss in the coming weeks, Holliday I think could be in for a fall-off, and I would never take a pitcher that high in a mixed league.

After all that, we’re left with Braun, Teixeira, and Berkman.

1) Ryan Braun has displayed pretty consistent skills for two years in a row. Not ideal, but not awful. I think his power could fall off into the 25-30 home run range (which would make him roughly the 13th or 14 most valuable player on my board), but he is still someone to consider.

2) I touted Mark Teixeira as a consistent guy last season, and I don’t see too much to change my mind this year. He might see a bit of a drop-off in batting average in Yankee Stadium, but he would still fall under the consistent umbrella.

3) Berkman’s contact skills have been very consistent, but his speed has been all over the place and his power numbers have fallen off for three consecutive years (and his tHR numbers have followed the same trend). He’ll also be 33 next year, which isn’t really ideal. Berkman could be considered, but he isn’t the surefire guy I like to take in this spot.

So we have a pretty solid “yes” in Tex, a maybe in Braun, and a kind-of-but-not-really in Berkman. So what do we do now? Is it too crazy to reach for a guy who we might otherwise be able to get at the end of the second or beginning of the third round if only we had a different pick? I don’t think it is that crazy.

Add to the list…

In addition to Teixeira and Braun, I would consider Alfonso Soriano (ADP: 22), Carlos Lee (ADP: 24), Chase Utley (ADP: 26), and Dustin Pedroia (ADP: 27).

1) I’m not sure if you’re the same as me, but personally, there’s still a negative connotation attached to Soriano. The fact is, though, he’s a great fantasy talent with a nice power/speed combo and has been very consistent for years. The turn-offs here are his age (33) and his hand injury from last year. Still, I’d be relatively comfortable putting Soriano down for .275/28 home runs/20 stolen bases/100 runs/80 RBIs. Nothing jumps out at you, but that’s the line of a top 20 player. The decision to draft him probably depends on where you’re picking. With the nine pick, I’d consider taking Soriano on the way back. With the 11 and 12 picks, probably not.

May I Have Your Autograph, Please?
The payoff of being polite.

2) Like Teixeira, Lee is a guy who was on my “consistent” list last year. The problem is that he was a second/third round guy then, and now he is a year older (32), suffered a finger injury at the end of last season, saw his speed numbers decrease, and is probably only a top 20 or so player. He’s in the same boat as Soriano for me.

3) Utley has been incredibly consistent for three years, will be 30 next year, and is arguably a top five talent when healthy. The only problem here is that he suffered a fractured hand in the second-half of 2007 and had hip surgery in November. If he misses a month or more of 2009, he would lose a lot of value and probably wouldn’t be worth a pick here. With 500 at-bats, he’d probably be ranked around No. 20.

The thing is, though, with so few other options available (as we’ve been discussing), Utley with your second pick might be a good selection, especially if you have a nice second base sleeper to start for your team in April.

4) For my feelings on Pedroia, click here. He’s only shown consistency for two years, but he’s been very consistent over those two years, accumulated over 1300 plate appearances, is at a good age (25), and doesn’t really have an injury history. Plus, a .320/20 HR/12 SB/110 R/75 RBI year would make him a top ten player, anyway. While I would prefer to pick third or fourth overall and then take Pedroia on the way back, if I’m stuck picking at the end of round one, he’s a serious consideration anyway.

So who am I taking?

So where does this leave us? Well, I have my first draft of the year coming up soon, and I have the 12 and 13 picks. As crazy as it might sound to some, I’m considering taking Teixeira and Pedroia with these picks (with Braun and Utley considerations as well). While they might seem like a stretch, they are two guys who I pretty much know what I’m getting from. They are less likely to underproduce or get injured than other players and are good enough where you aren’t sacrificing much value (if any).

How do you guys feel about this? Would you come to different conclusions than me?


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Mike Podhorzer
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Mike Podhorzer

Why do you think Braun’s power could fall off into the 25-30 HR range? Weak tHR trend?

Derek Carty
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Derek Carty
Yeah, as I said, Braun’s someone I’ll consider if he’s there at 12, which I don’t expect him to be.  I might have been a little pessimistic last night regarding Braun, though, as I try to be extra rigorous when evaluating guys for my first couple picks.  I think low 30s (30-32 HR) is probably a better estimate, everything considered. At 9 or 10, Braun would probably be my pick. I don’t see him, however, increasing his HR total unless he manages to improve his own raw power skills more than the average hitter moving from age 24 to 25… Read more »
Jeff
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Jeff
Not to nitpick here, but you talk about how you like consistancy, but then you prefer Pedroia? You can get high AVG. players even into the 6th round or so.  THe Boston offense is not what it was 2 years ago and I think you got a career year from Youk. That Boston offense is getting old. I Liked the article, but I think it’s CRAZY that people will draft this guy earlier than the 4th. I think Braun’s power can only go up. Let’s also remember, Fielder had a down year (compared to the year before) and Braun still… Read more »
Mays
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Mays

Like Jeff, I’m also surprised you would consider Pedroia if you are after consistency.  He’s had one good year and one excellent one, but that’s still not much to go on.

Is there a reason you aren’t considering Carlos Beltran?  He seems like a good, safe choice.

And personally, I’d have no problem grabbing a pitcher.  Going forward, I have more confidence in Johan Santana than in the options you have among hitters.

Chris
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Chris

If safety is your primary concern, Teixeira is the choice among those you mention at #12.  His overall production should continue to be very high in that stadium, with that lineup.  I’m more into upside than risk-aversion, so I would take Braun over him for the power numbers (I expect 38-42 HR from Braun). I probably would take Utley over Teix with pick 13.  Even if he misses a month, his production should far outdistance anyone else at 2B, Kinsler included.

Eric G
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Eric G
I think that you have to take Tex and Braun at these spots if both players are still around.  That gives you solid power numbers at both corner spots (for safety’s sake, let’s say both hit 30 HR next year, they’ll both be looking at 100 RBI, and probably solid R numbers for early rounders, too).  While I agree that Utley is a genuine talent and that if he were healthy you’d have to consider him here, the injury risk bumps him out of this conversation.  I can’t see anyone taking Pedroia at this spot: with Brian Roberts having an… Read more »
Save_the_Manatee
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Save_the_Manatee

Derek,

Could you briefly explain how tHR is calculated?  You mention it in your response to the Braun question, and I’ve seen it elsewhere recently on this site.  thanks!

Horatio
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Horatio

The toughest decisions always come with the 9 or 10 pick since a lot than can happen by the time you come up again 5 or 7 picks later. FWIW, Braun is not 3B eligible this year, nor is Berkman OF eligible. That being said, I may still lean toward Braun as well and hope an oddball or homer pick lets Tex or Lance fall to 16. I agree with Eric G that Roberts later might make more sense than reaching for Pedroia.

Nick
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Nick

Ugh.  I usually love picking in that spot, but not this year.

What are the specifics of the league? Standard 14 hitters and 9 pitchers?

Derek Carty
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Derek Carty
I thought this would spark some debate, so it’s nice to see a lot of people getting into it.  Let me try to address everything. Jeff and Mays, I’m not sure you can look at things like “you can get average into the 6th round.”  You can also get 40 HRs into the 6th round, it doesn’t mean you should forgo, say Braun if you’re big on him, in the first round.  I believe it’s about a player’s total package, and Pedroia is more than just average.  Given a .320/20 HR/12 SB/110 R/75 RBI line, he would be worth a… Read more »
Derek Carty
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Derek Carty
Eric, I couldn’t fault anyone for going with Braun and Tex and very well could end up doing that, although I still don’t think Pedroia there is as crazy as it seems.  Roberts makes a fine third round choice, but CHONE has him for this line (followed by my Pedroia line): .285/11 HR/31 SB/ 93 R/55 RBI .320/20 HR/12 SB/110 R/75 RBI Pedroia has him by a significant margin everywhere but steals.  Sure, they have comparable lines, but Pedroia is significantly better, in my view.  I agree that Braun makes a solid choice, though.  Braun/Pedroia would be a fine combo… Read more »
Nevin
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Nevin
I think taking Pedroia there is defensible.  There’s always the idea of taking Teixeira and Braun, if he’s there.  The argument against Braun seems to be he’s not going to have 3B eligibility this year, which a slight ding; but he’s still a solid avg, mid-30’s HR guy who can steal double digits and has upside to surpass all that.  But have a look at the 2B crop, fellas.  Its more a puddle than a pool, and a dirty one at that.  Utley’s great, but has health questions.  Then you’ve got Pedroia, and guys like Phillips (really a 20/20 guy,… Read more »
Nevin
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Nevin

Rats.  Forgot about Brian Roberts.  Clouds the issue.  But fact remains, Pedroia’s a solid pick at that spot, when most common players might think him a reach.

save_the_manatee
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save_the_manatee

Thanks, Derek!

erik forstell
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erik forstell

Is anyone else having trouble accessing hittrackeronline.com? Is there anywhere else i can get tHR data?

Derek Carty
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Derek Carty

Hey Erik,
Sorry about that.  I should have explained further.  True Home Runs is a stat that I created myself.  Because of this, it isn’t available publicly.  If you ever have any specific questions, though, feel free to shoot me an e-mail and I’d be happy to help you out.

Erik
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Erik

No problem, that makes sense. The True Home Runs model is very interesting and look forward to hearing more about it in future articles.

Jonny
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Jonny
I say take Braun, and it’s not really even close for me. Maybe his average won’t be exceptional, but he’s an immensely talented hitter with the potential to put up some huge power numbers. In fact, power is his strength. He’s a free swinger, but he doesn’t strike out as much as a Howard or Dunn, and he has similar power potential (in my opinion). Plus, this will only be his third season in the majors. I have to wonder sometimes why people are so down on him. He’s done nothing but hit ever since he came up, and it’s… Read more »
Rotodog
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Rotodog

All these questions about who to take used to make me nuts a few years ago. I also liked to turn the corner with back to back picks if I couldn’t get a top 3 pick in the past. The solution I found that works best is………… Play auction leagues only.

I gave up on draft leagues 4 years ago and have been happy since.  Sorry if you didn’t get the answer you were looking for…

Derek Carty
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Derek Carty

Oh, one thing I left out about Beltran is that Citi Field is supposedly going to be a major pitcher’s park.  Check out Greg Rybarczyk’s article in the THT Annual for more info, and there was also a follow-up interview with him here (http://www.amazinavenue.com/2009/1/7/711009/citi-field-where-homeruns) just recently.

Tim
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Tim
Derek, all of the things I am reading about the tHR are making me wonder if the stat is not naturally lower than a player’s actual home run production.  I am probably making an oversight in how exactly you are calculating it, but I would love to see some charts for players who saw significant increases in their totals.  For instance, the article that you linked to above that you wrote last July mentions that Delgado’s drop in power in 2007 should not have been a surprise.  The tHR data for 2007 doesn’t seem to support his jumping back up… Read more »
Horatio
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Horatio

Derek, say you end up taking Braun and Pedroia drafting 12-13. From there you are probably looking at 1B the likes of Adrian Gonzalez and Youkilis as best available. Without divulging too many trade secrets, are you okay with the dropoff between Tex/Berkman and them vs. the dropoff between Pedroia and Roberts? Do you skip 1B altogether here and address other positions, then rely on late round values?

Derek Carty
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Derek Carty
Tim, It may seem that way, but there are indeed plenty of guys who tHR projects to improve.  Pedroia was one last year, and guys like Loney, Cano, Johjima and a bunch of others are this year.  It has seemed that I’ve covered mostly guys who are projected to decrease, and I’ll be sure to try and even it out in the coming weeks.  Ludwick I covered a few weeks ago (http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/fantasy/article/smoke-and-mirrors-ryan-ludwick/).  Sizemore’s tHR has been right around his actual HR for the past few years, sometimes slightly higher other time slightly lower. Gonzalez’s tHR and actual HR were right… Read more »
Derek Carty
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Derek Carty
Kevin, What I like to do in the first couple rounds is to get consistent players without sacrificing too much value.  I think drafting either of those guys in round one or two would be sacrificing far too much value.  I also like to avoid injury risks because the ultimate goal is stability, to know what you’re getting.  Injuries kind of nullify that. ess, Sorry, I should have clarified.  I’m using SGPs combined with replacement level theory. Horatio, For me, I don’t necessarily look at things in those terms.  As I replied to ess, I have a rankings sheet based… Read more »
Chase035
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Chase035
I am a HUGE believer in taking certainty early in drafts and taking some risks later. There’s a book called the Black Swan which basically reminds us that we should be preparing for the unpredictable in our drafts. SP and OF are positions in which there will be unpredictable leaps in performance available on the wire. Therefore, I find it important to balance my tendency to avoid filling these positions too early with my desire/need for certainty. I’d definitely take Braun but Pedroia doesn’t fit my mold for a certain outcome. .290/15/75/110/15 wouldn’t warrant that late first round pick and… Read more »
Jonny
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Jonny
Chase, I find it somewhat ironic that you reference a book on uncertainty to advocate drafting “certainty.” The problem with “certainty,” of course, is that there is no such thing when talking about an uncertain and unpredictable future. If anything about the future were certain, well, there would be no need to play any games. Unpredictable and unforeseeable outcomes can occur in both directions. The other problem is that certainty may appear entirely calculable and therefore manageable, but in actuality we may not know every factor that contributes to the underlying uncertainty, giving us a false sense of security. This… Read more »
Andrew
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Andrew

Who are your favorites among the top 5, Derek?

Kevin
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Kevin

Any consideration to Aramis Ramirez or Chipper Jones?  Yeah they get hurt, but even so, at the end of the year their numbers are pretty consistantly high.

ess
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ess

on Pedroia “320/20 HR/12 SB/110 R/75 RBI year would make him a top ten player”

Do we know this to be a fact?  What player rater are you using?  I think those numbers are a decent gamble imo.

Derek Carty
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Derek Carty

Hey Andrew,
That was a topic I was going to leave until a little closer to the season, but let’s tentatively go with:

A-Rod
Reyes
Pujols
Wright
Hanley

My only concern with Reyes is Citi Field, otherwise he might be #1.  I might even drop him further as the biggest differences between Shea and Citi are right about where he hits his homers.

Peter
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Peter

I had this dilemma in a brand new keeper league this season, 12 teams point based.  I took Holliday and Hamilton because of their power potential and the fact that they will steal a few bases as well.  I could have grabbed Braun, and probably should have in hindsight.  But I was also able to get Markakis in round 4, so my OF looks great going into the season.

Eric
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Eric

Given we can’t predict the future, balancing the likelihood of continuing performance with upside potential is what I do at each pick.  For the 1.12/2.1 picks, teixeira/braun would be my choice with the hope that utely was healthy at the time of my draft.  Then i’d go utley/braun and settle for Agonz,hopefully, on the way back.

Frank
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Frank
I am a little skeptical about Tex being a safe bet to be as consistent as he has every year before this.  If he were staying with the Angels or going to Boston, I would say yes.  He definitely is the prototypical guy who will hit .300 30hr 100+ rbis; however, now he is playing for the Yankees.  I have seen some great players go to the Yankees and struggle their first year (i.e. ARod, Randy Johnson) You want to believe that the spotlight being on him and the media down his throat every night won’t affect him, but to… Read more »
Derek Carty
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Derek Carty

That’s certainly a possibility, Frank, but in my mind, it is a small concern in comparison to all we have to worry about with guys like Hamilton and Kinsler and the others who will be taken in that area.  While it could happen, I have to ignore it since we really have no proof that this kind of thing will affect Teixeira.  After all, he did pretty well in LA, another big market.

Andrew
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Andrew

I have to say I’m pretty surprised to see that you have A-Rod ahead of Pujols, Derek. Given that you use the probabilistic concept of value – and Mr. Pujols is the definition of consistency – I’d think your valuation system would have Pujols ranked higher, although perhaps A-Rod is only higher after you’ve adjusted for positional scarcity. Do you use THT projections or come up with your own?

chris
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chris
i dont understand selecting tex in the first round. i think its foolish to waist a number one pic on a guy who a. has a career ba of 256 in april b. is a notorious second half player. your talking about consistency and hes mister inconsistent when it comes to first half and second half production. also if your expecting a drop in batting avg and considering he puts up a ryan howard like avg in the beginning of the season wouldnt it be smarter to take someone like braun or even a hamilton if they were around at… Read more »
Derek Carty
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Derek Carty
Andrew, That’s not coming from any projection system.  That was simply my rough estimate as to where I expect I’ll be taking them in March.  Position scarcity was taken into account, though I couldn’t begrudge anyone for taking Pujols #1. Chris, I see what you’re saying, but it’s not sound to make generalizations like Teixeira’s April and 2nd Half trends you pointed out.  This is something I should probably address in a full article, but these kinds of things are mostly nonsense and hold no weight. When you mention these numbers, you’re looking at *aggregate* numbers.  One extremely good April… Read more »
brickstone
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brickstone
agree with you on pedoria. Pedora is a freakin throwback, a guy who’s so into baseball, his tools are almost irrelevant. Pedroa will produce. The downside production is a Polanco (not worth it), but the indicator’s are he so likely to outproduce expectations, and so into instinctively taken advangtage of whatever’s out there to take advantage, he’ll use that wall to play ping pong off of and steal bases cuz people know he’s alug. Won’t get his pinkie busted on dp’s, good for up to 700 abs, bounce 20+ homers off the wall and just take the 20+ bases given… Read more »
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