Last Monday night, I was invited to participate in what was advertised as a Public Expert Draft over at Mock Draft Central. Anyone familiar with my work over the years likely knows I am not a fan of the term “expert”. I prefer to consider Monday’s exercise as a Showcase Draft, or perhaps Industry Draft. The mock format was 12-team mixed, with the standard 14-hitters and 9-pitchers roster. It assumed standard 5x5 scoring. It is not going to be played out, which is important when you study some of these winter mocks, as some are played out regularly, with weekly transactions, acquisition, etc. and some are scored as draft and hold leagues, where the standings are calculated based on the stats accrued by your players with no transactions all season. For some, this alters the strategy. I treated the draft as if it would be played out, since I would be drafting to defend my Krause Publications Experts League championship later in the week, and the format is exactly the same. In fact, in the public mock, I had the first pick and in the Krause draft, I had the second pick so I can possibly use some of what happens early to help plot my strategy for the draft that counts.
I will post an entire rundown of my drafts (I actually have 5 of them this week) over the course of the week, but since I have the first and second pick on these pair of drafts, I thought it might be fun to share my initial mode of thinking with respect to the top overall player for 2009. In general, in order for a player to be at the top of my rankings, he needs to display two specific characteristics. First, he must have a long enough of a track record so that an extremely high baseline level of performance is reasonably expected. Second, he must have significant upside in at least one category. Keep in mind that it is extremely difficult for a top-tier player to have upside, over and above their anticipated stellar level of performance. As of now, I count 6 players that have a legitimate argument for the top spot. Let’s go through them, in no particular order.
PLUSES – Long track record of success. No major injury concerns. Even his “off years” are pretty danged good.
MINUSES – Is getting a bit older, so his upside in the steals category is not what it used to be. Also strikes out more than most people realize, so his batting average can fluctuate if he runs into some misfortune.
OUTLOOK – My favorite reason for arguing that A-Rod should be the top overall pick is that while he may not be the highest earner when all is said and done, he is the least likely player to be a total bust. Maybe the best way of stating it is that he is the safest top pick, but no longer has the upside to be the runaway value leader anymore.
PLUSES – Incredible power-speed combination with a history of maintaining an excellent batting average. Plays shortstop, and though positional scarcity is not nearly as significant of a factor as in past years, with equal statistics, I will take the middle infield qualifier over the cornerman or outfielder.
MINUSES – While he does have a multi-year history of success, it is not quite as long as some of his competition for the top spot. Though he should be fine with respect to health, he had shoulder surgery in the 2007 off-season and also ended the season with some soreness in his shoulder, so that is a slight concern. In addition, anyone so dependent on speed for his value comes with the built-in “if he hurts his legs he won’t run” risk.
OUTLOOK – There are a couple of yellow caution flags in Ramirez’ numbers. First, he has historically hit MUCH better at leadoff than in the 3-hole, where he is slated to begin the season with Cameron Maybin occupying the spot at the top of the Marlin order. There are a couple of ways to look at this, which in fact boils down to the classic numbers versus scouting argument. The sample of at bats hitting third is limited as compared to leadoff, so the sabrmetrician will call it noise. I have talked to some that insist Ramirez changes his approach when hitting down in the order, and this adjustment, at least so far, has been detrimental. As a numbers guy, my lean is to the former, especially since if there is anything to the latter, over time he will either re-adjust or be moved back to leadoff, especially since Maybin is far from a sure-thing to keep the role. Second, Hanley’s HR output increased last season as a result of a huge spike in HF/FB. In fact, this countered his hitting fewer fly balls in general. There is a better chance that his HR/FB regresses than his FB% increases, so a drop in power is likely.
PLUSES – Capable of pilfering over 70 bags though he only needs 50 or so to warrant the top spot. Has shown the ability to hit in the high teens homers, which is his upside category. Durable and at the top of a powerful Mets lineup, so he will enjoy well over 700 plate appearances, and has really improved his pitch selection from when he first came up.
MINUSES – Though he has some power upside, Reyes is the most one-dimensional player of the candidates as he is most reliant on his speed.
OUTLOOK – It is okay, you no longer have to hold your breath every time Reyes takes off, the possibility of popping a hamstring is no greater or worse than any other player, as he has played in 161, 153, 160 and 159 games the past 4 seasons. An area Reyes has some untapped upside is batting average, as he has a low BABIP for someone so fast.
PLUSES – When healthy, Pujols is one of only a small handful of players that is a legitimate threat to win the Triple Crown. His combination of plate discipline, contact rate and power is unmatched. And for a big guy, Pujols is a smart baserunner, capable of a few steals over the course of a season.
MINUSES – Even though he has the ability to swipe some bases, Pujols will never be confused with a burner so his SB upside is limited, so much so that the 16 he swiped in 2005 is probably going to be his career high. But more importantly, Pujols has a very public issue with his elbow, and even though he had off-season surgery to clean it up a bit, there is a risk he does some serious damage that may result in his requiring the dreaded Tommy John Surgery.
OUTLOOK – If it were not for the elbow issue, speed be damned, Pujols would be the clear-cut choice at #1. I will let you in on a little secret – I did not take Pujols in either of the two drafts. But I would take him somewhere in the top-6, as opposed to last season where I bypassed an opportunity to secure his services with the 15th and 16th picks in my Main Event NFBC draft.
PLUSES – Remarkably consistent with good plate discipline and maintains a very high BABIP.
MINUSES – His strength is his consistency as his upside is limited in all the categories except stolen bases. Two years ago, Wright stole 34 bags, probably instilling unreasonable expectations into the fantasy community. It is not that he is not capable of matching or even approaching that total, it is more that running is not his primary asset, and he is not assured of having so many opportunities to take off anytime soon.
OUTLOOK – Wright is similar to A-Rod in that his level of risk with respect to having a solid season is minimal, but he does not have the power ceiling Rodriguez does, though at this point, he has the chance to steal more bases. An argument can be made that if you are a risk averse player, having the #4 or #5 pick and selecting Wright is more your style than having the top pick and choosing one of the higher risk, higher reward types.
PLUSES – Still maturing, has upside across the board. His sole risky category is batting average, which can sometimes be elevated simply by good fortune. If only 5 warning track fly balls hit or go over the fence, that is another 10 points of batting average. If he decreases his strikeouts by 20 and puts the ball in play 20 more times, that’s another 10-15 points.
MINUSES – Strictly batting average related, as he fans too many times to be projected to maintain a .300 average.
OUTLOOK – Teaser: The Neuts LOVE Sizemore. What are the Neuts? You’ll find out soon enough, but suffice it to say Sizemore is a great bet to continue to grow in skills. If he hits .300, he has the potential to be the #1 overall player. If you do not mind risk, targeting Sizemore at #6 and getting a better pick in the second round may be a better option that taking someone else #1 and waiting until the last pick in the second round for your next one.
So, who did I take?
Check back later and I will tell you. In the meantime, please feel free to comment below.