by Brian Dorsey
One of the most exciting days for fantasy baseball is draft day. Oh, that sweet anticipation of discovering who is going to play for you this season (well, at least until you start to tinker and trade). You’ll sign up for your league in February and spend a month and a half from then until the draft just analyzing stats, organizing draft day strategies, making flowcharts, overanalyzing your opponents, and breaking plans with anyone who can’t stand to listen to you talk about baseball for at least two hours.
Draft day is very important.
Missing a draft and having your team auto-drafted is regrettable. You want to have your guys. You want to have a sense of ownership. But drafting your own team also means you need to have more knowledge of players. Just because you draft your own team doesn’t mean it will be perfect, in fact that’s the exact opposite of being true. An auto-draft will actually probably draft a better team than you will, because the computer won’t be name biased. There are players who I just flat-out won’t draft because they have either hurt me in the past or they don’t presently excite me (but that doesn’t mean I’m right).
One thing an auto-draft can’t do though, is figure out players who are overrated and underrated. Auto-draft is a slave to the rankings. And each year, whether you’re on ESPN or Yahoo! or whatever, the fantasy experts will rank certain guys too high or too low. Don’t get me wrong, they’re right most of the time, but just like you have favorite/hated players, so do they. Here are a few players who will be drafted too high/too low in 2011. For this article, I’ll be using Yahoo’s rankings. So here we go.
1 and 2. Victor Martinez (Y! pre-ranking: 43) / Brian McCann (Y!: 53)- I lumped these two together for obvious reasons (hint: they’re both catchers). In a standard 5×5 league where you only have to employ one catcher in your lineup, neither of these guys needs to be on your team. While the position is top-heavy, it isn’t devoid of talent. Martinez is a good player, but he ended last year as the 119th ranked player, meaning on draft day, are you willing to take a guy in the fourth round who isn’t going to outperform the Luke Scotts of the world? The same goes for McCann. I have him in a keeper league, but I wouldn’t touch him in a standard league. Once again, he’s a really good catcher, but in the 5th round I need more than 70-80 RBI. Alternative plan: Draft Adam Dunn or Kendry Morales in the 4th or 5th round and then nab Mike Napoli or Miguel Montero in the 15th.
3. Mark Reynolds (Y!: 89)- If you’re in a 5×5 league, you don’t have to worry about his insane strikeout numbers, but there are still some serious concerns here. Let’s look at some stats:
Player A: 70, 23, 104, 1, .285
Player B: 79, 32, 85, 7, .198
Player C: 93, 14, 81, 7, .271
Reynolds is Player B.
Player A is Casey McGehee (Y!: 106) and Player C is Michael Cuddyer (Y!: 206). Both McGehee and Cuddyer compare favorably if not better in every category except for homers. If long balls aren’t on the top of your shopping list, I would much rather have one of the other two. Alternative Plan: Take Dan Haren or Chris Carpenter in the 9th and then take McGehee the following round.
4. Elvis Andrus (Y!: 99)- Come pick 99, if I don’t already have a shortstop, I’m going to go ahead and keep waiting. Andrus falls into the Chone Figgins/Michael Bourn category for me. He’s a player who only fulfills one stat (steals), and he isn’t exactly prolific doing that, either. In 47 attempts in 2010, he was thrown out 15 times. That’s 31.9% of the time. Yikes. Plus he had, count em, zero home runs to go with 35 RBI. And his .260 average isn’t exactly noteworthy either. If you own Andrus in 2011, you better have some mashers to counteract his lack of production. Alternative Plan: Draft a pitcher here and then hold out for Starlin Castro or Mike Aviles.
5. Justin Upton (Y!: 33)- Maybe I’m just really, really tired of hearing “Upton” and “Potential” in the same sentence. Whether it’s Justin or Bossman Junior, I can’t seem to escape these two “gifted” brothers. Yeah, I get it, they’re both really talented and they possess all five tools and every time they swing their bats they cure some form of animal flu in some distant country. But look, in the third round, who am I more likely to take, Ian Kinsler or Upton? Heck, I’d probably go against my rule to not draft a catcher early and take Joe Mauer just so I didn’t have to own Upton. Alternative Plan: Let someone else worry about “Potential” all year.
1. Hunter Pence (Y!: 59)- I was at a bar the other night and I overheard a guy say this: “This place is very Hunter Pence.” When I asked the guy what he meant by that, he said, “You know, it’s very Hunter Pence. Consistently good. God, what rock have you been living under?” OK, so maybe this isn’t entirely true, but look at what Pence has done over his career. You can bank on 80 runs, 25 homers, 80-90 RBI, a bushel of steals, and a .280 average. That’s his floor, and while his ceiling isn’t too much higher, he’s a guy you can drop in as your number two outfielder and you could, heaven forbid, fall into a coma for the remainder of the season and your team would be just fine. Awesome Advice: Draft Pence over Andre Ethier and don’t look back.
2. Nick Swisher (Y!: 136)- Can I tell you that I’ve never really liked Swisher? OK, cool, thanks for letting me get that off my chest. But come on, 136? Numbers don’t lie and let me show you why.
Player A: 87, 27, 80, 1, .254
Player B: 63, 22, 60, 4, .256
Player A’s stats are Swisher’s over the past three years. Player B’s stats? Jay Bruce (Y!:63). You figure it out. Awesome Advice: Don’t stock up on outfielders too early, there are a lot of fine proven veterans in the mid-rounds.
2. Aubrey Huff (Y!: 129)- Nobody wants to believe in this guy, and I don’t really know why, but maybe it’s the fact that he has a “rally thong.” As you can see, he’s projected to go in the 13th round of a 10-team draft. If you can get him here, it’s an absolute steal. Check out his three year averages: 85, 24, 93, 3, .279. Here are three OF/1B who are ranked above him: Nick Markakis (101), Pablo Sandoval (108), and Carlos Pena (117). You really think their three year averages are better than Huff? No. They’re not. Awesome Advice: If you missed out on one of the top first basemen, Huff is a good guy to keep your eye on.
4. Adam LaRoche (Y!: 190)- Experts will say he strikes out too much and that his upside is lacking, but…and say it with me… “screw upside.” So what if LaRoche doesn’t get any better and what you see is what you get? Is that a bad thing? He’s hit 25 home runs in three straight seasons. In each of the past two years he’s had over 74 runs scored. Yes, he’s switched teams (D-Backs to Nationals), but you can’t tell me Jayson Werth and LaRoche aren’t going to do damage together. He’s another sneaky first basemen who you can get super late. Awesome Advice: I wouldn’t make him my first one-bagger, but keep in mind you might have to fill INF and UTL spots.
5. Paul Konerko (Y!: 97)- One of the rules of fantasy baseball is “Don’t pay for last year’s stats.” And you shouldn’t. Konerko put up top-15 numbers last year, and anyone who drafts him anywhere near there is crazy. There is no way his average will be over .300 again this year, and he probably won’t sniff 40 homers or 110 RBI. But if you’re in a 12-team league, I have no problem having him as my number one first baseman. Awesome Advice: If you draft him, cross your fingers, he could bring back big bucks for daddy again.
Youth and potential will certainly effect the way players are ranked, but don’t always buy into hype. Make sure you take a look under the hood and know what you’re buying. A proactive, curious manager is going to have a better team than someone who just memorizes names of who is supposed to be good.