Talking Baseball

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Posted by Dave on Monday, March 29, 2004

He's Making a List and Checking It Twice

On the eve of Opening Day (well, sort of, it's an ocean away and it's one game), I made my Wish List. It didn't concern my aspirations for the Red Sox or my dreams of demise for the Bronx Bombers. No, it was a 200-player long compilation of my overall rankings for each player in our fantasy baseball league. You see, last night was our fantasy baseball draft - one of my favorite nights of the year. One might even say it compares to the jubilation of Christmas (no, I'm not kidding). To think I could land a significant portion of Wish List wasn't the object - I knew players like Pujols and ARod would be gone early, and I knew that a vast majority of the players I wanted would be selected by other teams - I wanted to draft well at each position. To maximize the quality of each pick you have is the name of the game. I was reading a recent article over at Futility Infielder (check out those blogs if you haven't already, they're all fantastic), and he said he has been told by many that "no one cares about your fantasy team." Well, at the risk of boring you all, I'm going to launch into a discussion of our fantasy draft this year.

Our fantasy league is a little abnormal when compared to most. This year it was 6X6, utilizing the following categories:
Hitters: Runs, HRs, RBIs, AVG, OBP, SLG
Pitchers: Wins, K's, Holds, Saves, ERA, WHIP

Though you all should recognize most of those categories (11/12, to be precise), "holds" may elude you. Holds are a statistic for middle relievers. Generally, a reliever receives a hold if he enters the game in a save situation and leaves it with the save situation still intact. This always leads to problems, however. Players can earn holds for pitching to one batter and issuing a walk, for example. While this happens occasionally, it is far more common for good holders to bridge the gap between the starting pitcher and the closer. Examples of good holders last year were Octavio Dotel, Brad Lidge, Brandon Donnelly, and Paul Quantrill. What follows is the draft results for our fantasy league, followed by a round-table with the Talking Baseball writers. I am "The Metz Militia", Jon is "Huxtability," Mike is "Balco-holics," Ben is “Wild Fandangos.” An aside – one of the best parts about fantasy baseball is the diversity of hilarious team names. With respect to the draft list, keep in mind that the order “snaked.” That means that the last pick of the 1st round is the first pick of the 2nd round, etc.

For a view of our draft, click here. The image opens in a new window, and I do plan on referring to the results in this post.

Note that, prior to the draft, I Heart Boobs and I Heart Muff exchanged their first two picks. Now, it’s not so strange to see one team draft two closers in the first three rounds.

1. Did you guys have a particular draft strategy? Did you want to take specific positions earlier/later than most of your peers?

Dave: I never really have a draft strategy, I take the highest-rated player I have that's on the board. That excludes doubling up a position, usually, but I'll take two people at third if players are falling. I don't like taking relief early.
Mike: This year I decided to focus on power hitters and power pitchers in the early rounds and fill in the holes with the later rounds. Like last year, I did not draft any closers and will be pitching only holders with my relief spots. Hopefully I'll split the holds/saves points. The advantage is that I won’t be looking for closers in the middle rounds and can focus on hoarding other, more valuable players.
Jon: My strategy was kind of simple. I'm not sure whether it worked, but my focus from the top was my starting lineup for hitters. Basically, take the best player until my positions are filled, with one exception: I wanted an ace early to anchor my rotation. As a rule, I stayed away from relief pitching and non-elite starters for a while. This is because relievers are volatile, and there often is a run on starters who are taken before they should be. Decent relievers with good K rates were my priority for bullpen help, but I knew they'd be around in the later rounds. Or, I hoped...I waited until the 9th round for my first closer. I'm not looking to dominate in Saves. Most people are.
Jon: Additionally, my main offensive focus was OBP. Without a decent OBP, you wouldn’t be on my team. Dunn's OBP, you mention? It will skyrocket!
Ben: It's much more useful to pick up well-rounded hitters and score well in 5 offensive categories than it is to draft closers early who will only give you save points, and not much else.
Jon: Exactly, Ben. Although some pitchers will help with multiple categories.
Mike: Exactly, I tried to stay away from one-stat wonders. These are the guys who might hit 35 HRs but with a 240 AVG.

2. Who was the worst pick?

Ben: Dave, in your post, you gotta mention we were in the scoliosis room.
Dave: Hah, of course.
Because AOL Instant Messenger would not allow us to type lengthy responses, we had to move to a Yahoo! Chat room. Our method for choosing a chat room was to find the least-populated one (less people infringing on our discussion). We ended up in the Scoliosis room under the Health sub-category.
Jon: This is a tough one. I'll say Cliff Lee.
Note: Cliff Lee was the last pick overall, taken by me. He wrangled his way onto my fantasy team by putting up solid K/9 numbers for the Indians last season. Baseball Cube (also in the link bar) has his minor league stats as well (they’re equally impressive).
Dave: I'll have to go with Barry Zito in the third round. He was taken prior to Schmidt, Mussina, and Randy Johnson. I simply cannot condone that decision by Ben. Zito has exhibited that he's falling off recently - it's a major stretch to take him ahead of Mussina or Schmidt.
Jon: I agree, Dave
Jon: I knew there was something that irked me. That was it.
Mike: Gagne was the worst pick. Second round, #12 overall. He puts together great numbers but he doesn't pitch enough innings to warrant wasting a second round pick when aces like Tim Hudson and Curt Schilling are available. Not to mention the multi-stat valuable hitters like Manny Ramirez, Carlos Delgado, and Vlad.
Ben: Of the first five rounds, I felt the worst pick while was Nomar. His poor second-half performance and his injuries are masked by his great first half. I was quite surprised to see him go before Vlad, Manny, Schilling, and Thome.
Jon: As a sidenote, after all of the Millwood talk on the blog, what do you think about his 8th round draft?
Mike: Taking a pitcher who will only throw 80 innings in the second round, no matter how good those innings are, just doesn't make sense.
Dave: I don't like Millwood in the 8th either. But, Zito and Gagne are worse picks, I would say.
Ben: Millwood's 8th round pick makes sense because he was picked after Wolf. There's no denying, Jon, that Randy Wolf is the ace of the Phillies staff and probably the best lefty in the NL.
Mike: Zito was the second worst pick maybe, yes.
Ben: You'll all be wanting to trade for Zito in a few weeks. I'm not worried.
Ben: Barry's been sharp in his spring starts, and he is only 26. He could easily turn it around.

An addition: Derek Jeter. Not only is Derek an inferior option to Edgar Renteria, but the 4th shortstop has no business being taken ahead of other scarce positions such as 3B (not a one, if you exclude ARod (who will qualify eventually), was taken yet). Also, Derek Jeter in the 2nd round of any draft is a bad idea.

Another addition: Jason Kendall. As Jon tells me repeatedly, this pick is entirely inexplicable. He hated the pick when he took him, and he hates the pick now. He probably felt the pressure to choose a catcher.

3. Who was the best pick?

Jon: Nick Johnson. I completely lost track of him. I would have taken him over Dunn, had I not been spaced out. What a great pickup. For runner-up, can I give a shout out to Matt Stairs? Although he shouldn't have been drafted at all, I love the guy, and I really appreciate somebody finding a spot for him on their team. But, Johnson in the 23rd round?! Unheard of!
Mike: If SB were a stat then I would say Carlos Beltran in the 3rd round. He should put together even better numbers this year in that KC lineup. Maybe Jason Giambi in the 7th round but he's a huge injury risk.
Dave: I can't not gush with joy over my draft. I felt I got a number of players that should not have fallen to me. My favorite on my team of underrated players is Jorge Posada. Javy Lopez and Piazza were both taken ahead of him, and he's arguably the better prospect for this coming season. Posada's advantage at his position rivals many others'.
Ben: The best pick was Dave's pick-up of Jason Giambi as the last pick in the 7th round. Remember, despite Giambi's drop in batting average, he put up amazing power numbers, and his OBP will be over .400.
Jon: Dave, you smarty...
Dave: I also loved Giambi, but I loved Posada more. Giambi's a great pick in the 7th round though, surely.
Mike: I will say Dave, I think your lineup is a little TOO risky.
Ben: I have to agree with you, Dave. I can't imagine why anyone would pick Piazza over Posada at this point in their respective careers. Granted Posada is 32 and older than people think, but he's just been getting better each year.
Jon: Yes, Posada was a great pick. I couldn't believe he fell. I guess with so many All-Stars on that Yankee team, some of us forgot about half of the team...

4. Whose team looks the best out of the box?

Ben: Not yours Dave. Sorry. Those injuries are going to harm you. Sheffield, Edmonds, Giambi, Nixon, Burnett, and even Santana are all risks at this point, and that's a big core of your team. No one team really looks that much better out of the box. From the looks of it, we have about four or five teams that should be fighting for the top spot. It's clear though that pitching is a premium this year. There's just not much out there.
Dave: Although I like my team a lot (and I mean A LOT), I'm going to defer to the Screwballers. Yacov really put a nice team together with very few holes. He's a little weak in the starting pitching department, but I would say most of the top teams are.
Mike: I like The Ralphie Treatment. Very balanced and no noticeably poor picks.
Jon: I won't go with my team, although I am infatuated already. Instead, I'm picking Ralphie. Some very good picks, too. Like Lee (not Clifford), Burnitz, and Milton.
Dave: Milton? Eric?
Jon: Milton = W's
Jon: Yeah, forget Milton.
Dave: Milton = Crappy pitcher. Nothing you will say will allow me to forget that.
Jon: Ralphie, with Beckett and Prior, already has a better rotation than I.
Ben: Burnitz will benefit from the air in Colorado, but Milton has been utterly unimpressive this spring.
Ben: And no pitcher has struggled more than Beckett. He has a lot to live up to, but he's young and potentially fragile. He threw a lot of pitches in short order in October.
Jon: He won't have to play him (Burnitz).
Mike: Schilling, Vazquez, Brown, Clemens... I'll take my rotation but I am a little worried about injuries.
Jon: You should be very happy with that rotation. Who watches a lot of the AL East? You do, Mike!

5. The debate always rages: Should relief be taken early? Is Gagne et al., worth it? What are the positive aspects of taking relief this early?

Jon: In my opinion, relief should not be taken early. It is inevitable that the closing studs will be taken too early for a one+ category player. On the other hand, if everybody is disregarding, nobody should be afraid to pick up the studs, once they've fallen a few rounds. There are always relievers waiting to be picked in the latter rounds.
Mike: I don't think relief should be taken until the rest of the team is essentially in place. I have no closers and I didn't take my first holder until the 14th round. They just don't provide enough stats to warrant an earlier pick when multistat players of great worth are still on the board.
Dave: I can't really condone taking relief this early. You're covering 3 categories if you're lucky (K's, SVs, and half of ERA and WHIP), and there are too many 4 or 5 category studs out there to justify relief.
Jon: And relief pitching, again, is so volatile. Consistency is best, which means drafting hitters earlier.
Ben: The positive aspect of taking relief early is utter domination in the save category. You can try to predict the hold men, but more often than not, it fails. It's easy to get saves from guys you wouldn't want on your real-life team. But in fantasy leagues you're willing to take a risk on Danys Baez or Braden Looper.
Ben: Also, Dave, to answer your comment, relief effects on ERA and WHIP are minimal. A closer may pitch 70 innings a year while your top-line starters will throw over 200.

A few other parting shots:

Not enough owners took advantage of the DL spot that is made available by Yahoo! I knew that it’s often difficult to fill that spot, and I drafted Burnett so that he would be available to me in June. I may have to drop him if my team becomes injury-riddled, but at least I have him for right now.

I was really heart-broken when Jon drafted Adam Dunn. I drafted K-Rod (not Felix (I’m sorry you can’t tell)) and Adam Eaton with the expectation that Dunn would fly under the other owners’ radars. He didn’t and I was stuck with Trot (still a potentially great option once he returns) instead of Dunn. Dunn, though he had an average near the Mendoza line last year, is poised for a breakthrough. His OBP last year was still a very respectable .354, and he still hit his fair share of HRs. In this league, where sluggers rule the offensive categories, Dunn could potentially be very valuable.

My least favorite pick was Jim Edmonds. I didn’t want to draft such a brittle outfielder, but he puts up solid stats (275/380/517 and 40 bombs last year) in limited time. He’ll also be hitting 2nd in an extremely potent Cardinal lineup.

Toward the end of the draft, you’re basically praying for the best from some of the players with the most talent. Generally, they also put that talent to little use. This is especially evident with selections such as Jesse Foppert and Juan Cruz. These pitchers have shown the capability to strike out batters at extremely high rates – a great sign for pitchers. The problem has been control, however. Because of faulty command, neither player has enjoyed success in The Bigs yet. With a miraculous critique of their technique, however, they could blossom into top-shelf starters.

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