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March 5, 2010

Fantasy Focus

Draft Exercise

by Craig Brown

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I've done what feels like thousands of fantasy drafts-mock drafts, auctions, snake drafts, whatever-and I'm certain I've never, ever held the first pick. And to hold the first pick in an AL-only, 10-team, Scoresheet keeper league-in my opinion the most realistic fantasy game-well now, that's just a little daunting.

Here's another way to look at it: I'm a gadget geek. Suppose someone gave me a $2,000 gift card to an electronics store. I could see myself standing in the middle of the store, surrounded by bright, shiny new high-definition TVs, stereo equipment, computers. Holy cow. You can't lose in a situation like that, but there's so much to chose from. How do you win? I felt like I had stepped into the middle of that cliché: "If you could pick any one player to start your franchise, who would it be?"

My strategy as I prepped for the first pick was straightforward: Find the player who has the best chance to make a lasting impact. I don't want a one-year wonder. I want a player who will provide solid first-round value for the next seven years, minimum.

In Scoresheet, the emphasis is on total performance. Scoresheet counts the number of singles, doubles, triples, home runs, walks, and strikeouts for a hitter in a given week and modifies that against the opposing pitcher and fielders to determine his chances in each plate appearance. Platoon splits (vs. left-handed pitchers and right-handed pitchers) from the previous two seasons also determine success or failure. Baserunning counts, too. With that in mind, I'm looking for a guy with a high OPS and consistent platoon splits. That's going to be my offensive strategy for the entire draft, although I know that will start to disintegrate sometime around the third round.

I narrowed down my choices:

Joe Mauer
PECOTA: 456 PA, .326/.418/.482, 84 R, 15 HR, 78 RBI, 4 SB, 48.6 VORP

Drafting the 2009 MVP with the first pick in 2010 always seems like a risk. Last year, he sacrificed some of his already outstanding contact rate-it was 87 percent in 2009, down from 90 percent the previous season-for more power. You don't need me to tell you, with a contact rate that high, that was a quality trade. The power came from hitting fly balls at a higher rate than any season since his debut back in 2004. A full 12 percent of those flies kept right on going over the baggie. (Hey, the Metrodome is history, so the clock is ticking on how many more baggie references we can work into our articles.) Mauer also comes with impeccable two-year platoon splits, batting .353/.414/.511 against left-handers and .343/.436/.523 against right-handers. He may not repeat as MVP, but 2009 was certainly no accident.

The whole position scarcity issue comes into play here as well. Last year, AL catchers posted a collective 724 OPS. As a group, only shortstops hit worse (719). Drafting Mauer early would save me the pain of having to select someone like A.J. Pierzynski or Jason Kendall during the later rounds.

The departed baggie leads to my No. 1 concern with Mauer: The Twins are set to move outdoors to the new Target Field. We have no idea how his home park will play and exactly how the weather will affect the game. Will balls get caught in a Yankee Stadium-like jet stream, or will this become Petco Park North? Or will it be somewhere in between? Mauer has performed incredibly well at home over the last two years, hitting .375/.451/.576 with 23 home runs in 510 at-bats. How will he adjust?

Another (albeit minor) concern is his contract situation. What happens if the Twins decide they can't bring him back? Can I roll the dice with the No. 1 overall pick on a player in an AL-keeper league who could possibly jump leagues in less than a year? Personally, I think a new contract will get done, but until the ink is on the paper, it's a possibility.

Mark Teixeira
PECOTA: 646 PA, .301/.400/.545, 90 R, 32 HR, 110 RBI, 2 SB, 42.1 VORP

Teixeira is a stud. He also took advantage of the home cooking of new Yankee Stadium, posting an OPS 131 points higher in the Bronx than on the road. The difference was entirely in his slugging percentage-there was just a seven-point difference in his home/road OBP split. Tex hit 24 home runs at home, 20 of which came when he was hitting from the left side of the plate. (That's a home run every 10.9 at-bats from the left side and one every 22.8 at-bats from the right) Of those 24 bombs, three went to left field, two to center and the remaining 19 flew out of right field (or right-center). Some players are fortunate enough to play most of their games in a stadium that perfectly suits their skill set. Teixeira is one of those players.

While I love darn near everything about Teixeira and think he's going to have a huge offensive year, there were a few things holding me back from using my first pick on him. First, his age. Teixeira turns 30 next month, and while he's certainly in his prime, I want my No. 1 pick to be someone who would justify that pick 10 years down the line. Second, his position. In the AL, first base is deep. It's probably the deepest of all the positions, fantasy speaking. While Teixeira is a quality defender, I'd rather use the first pick on someone who plays a position other than first base. And finally, there were his two-year platoon splits. As mentioned, the majority of his power comes from the left side, making it difficult to ignore the fact that his slugging percentage dips almost 90 points against southpaws. He makes up for that by hitting for a higher average from the right side, but in my mind, a 20-point gain in OBP doesn't make up for the dip in power.

Alex Rodriguez
PECOTA: 593 PA, .292/.408/.591, 99 R, 39 HR, 110 RBI, 14 SB, 54.4 VORP

He has had 12 consecutive years with more than 30 home runs and over 100 RBI in a season. How insane is that? And how great was it that he needed two homers and seven RBI on the final day of the season to keep that streak alive and he banged two homers and collected seven RBI? I'm sure he won more than a few fantasy titles for some lucky owners on that final day.

PECOTA loves A-Rod, and with good reason. A career high walk rate of 15 percent helped push his OBP north of .400 for the third time in the last five years and helped offset his .286 batting average, which was his lowest since posting a .285 average back in 1999. A-Rod is the type of player who needs his BABIP to be around .315 to push his average above .300. Normally, he makes it with ease, but last year it was at .303. He didn't reach .300 because of a lack of contact, though. His contact rate of 77 percent was right in line with his career rate. The hip injury probably robbed him of some spark off the bat, but he rallied and had a strong second half, hitting .337/.425/.560 from July 31 to the end of the year.

He's back and undoubtedly a first-round pick, but he's also the oldest of my group of five. If I'm going to eliminate Teixeira because he's on the wrong side of 30 (as someone who's in his 30s, you have no idea how it pains me to write that), I have to pass on A-Rod. Someone may push for the title with him on his or her roster this year, but I'm looking for balance that will keep me in contention beyond this season.

Miguel Cabrera
PECOTA: 667 PA, .308/.390/.555, 86 R, 35 HR, 102 RBI, 4 SB, 43.0 VORP

The consistency Cabrera has displayed over the last five seasons is nothing short of amazing. His slugging percentage has hovered between .537 and .568 while he's blasted an average of 33 home runs and 40 doubles. He also owns rock-solid two-year platoon splits, hitting .313/.409/.541 against LHPs and .307/.360/.542 against RHPs. Plus, he's going to be just 27 next month, and with his skills and durability, he's definitely the type of player I can see anchoring my team and providing first-round value for the next seven years.

However, just like Teixeira, Cabrera's position is preventing me from pulling the trigger. I'll be able to snag a decent first baseman sometime before the fifth round.

Evan Longoria
PECOTA: 684 PA, .279/.377/.534, 99 R, 36 HR, 107 RBI, 10 SB, 47.5 VORP

At 24, he's the youngest on this list, and with just two years in the majors, he has the least experience. Still, what's not to like? He improved as a hitter in 2009, and the evidence suggests he can continue to get even better. Last year, he cut his strikeout rate (from 24 percent to 21 percent) while boosting his walk rate (nine percent to 11 percent). His swing percentage fell from 47 percent to 45 percent while his contact rate remained a rock-solid 75 percent, indicating he's feeling more comfortable with the strike zone. His two-year platoon splits show he handles right-handers (.280/.357/.528) as well as left-handers (.270/.347/.529).

Defensively, the only player who grades higher than Longoria at third is Adrian Beltre. While he doesn't play a premium position (I'm calling center field, shortstop and second base the premium positions) he certainly brings strong defensive value. And since I'm not considering anyone who plays a premium position, Longoria is the top defender on my short list.

He's also under contract to Tampa Bay for the next seven years. (The last three years are club options, but if the Rays aren't going to want him in 2014, odds are strong I won't want him on my Scoresheet team.) That kind of stability is worth something in a keeper league.

Just prior to the draft, I narrowed my choices to Longoria and Mauer. I really wanted to go for Mauer, but I just couldn't get past the fact he has a new home address after all those years of raking at the Metrodome. Longoria will be the anchor for my team for the next several years.

Here's the how the first round went:

  1. Longoria
  2. Mauer
  3. Rodriguez
  4. Grady Sizemore
  5. Felix Hernandez
  6. Matt Wieters
  7. Zack Greinke
  8. Cabrera
  9. Teixeira
  10. Nick Markakis

Craig Brown is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

Craig Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

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Prospectus Q&A: Jonath... (03/05)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Focus: Center ... (03/04)
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