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October 21, 2008

Playoff Prospectus

One Through Twenty-Five?

by Joe Sheehan and Jay Jaffe

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From the World Series Prospectus:

[The Rays] have more talent, 1 through 25, than the Phillies do.

Compare the rosters, and while the Phillies have their share of frontline talent, perhaps even more than the Rays have, the Rays have almost no dead spots on the roster, and are much stronger towards the bottom of the lineup, the back of the rotation, the bullpen, and the bench.

These aren't throwaway lines, but there seemed to be a lightness to them, the air of assertion without evidence. In search of that evidence, we came up with an idea. Throw the two teams' rosters into a pool and have a draft. If there was some kind of disparity in talent, it should show up in the process of picking teams.

All of the details are below, but let's cut to the conclusion: the Rays' talent matches the Phillies through about the first nine roster spots, then obliterates it through the rest of the roster. In the draft, six of the first nine picks were Rays, though you could argue that the ninth pick (Carl Crawford) was a mistake. Even at that, it was even through the first 19 picks: ten Rays, nine Phillies. That's the top of a roster, more or less: a lineup, a starter, a high-leverage reliever.

Fourteen of the next 21 selections were Rays. The entire middle of the draft was Rays. By the time we got through 40 picks, the remaining pool consisted of nine Phillies and Michel Hernandez, who hasn't played yet this postseason. As Jay put it, "Even into the bench and the deeper bullpen, the Rays' players generally wound up getting chosen before their Philly counterparts."

That's the reason to pick the Rays in six, if not sooner. They simply have more talent than the other guys do.

---

Here's the draft, with comments interspersed. Joe had the first pick based on the half-time score of the Monday night game, with the draft proceeding in serpentine fashion from there. The only consideration was the players' performance over the next two weeks. Salaries, age, contract status... none of that mattered. You did have to build a real team, and you more or less had to abide by the players' actual skill sets and roles. (This only became an issue once.)

1. [Sheehan] B.J. Upton
2. [Jaffe] Chase Utley
3. [Jaffe] Evan Longoria

Joe: Our first disagreement. I thought Hamels was the clear 1A.

Jay: He may well be. I initially had Hamels and Utley, but the unlikelihood of Hamels pitching three games instead of two led me to back off of that while considering the gap between the two teams' third-base situations. Arguably the margin there is greater than that between Hamels and any of the Rays' front three starters.

4. [Sheehan] Cole Hamels
5. [Sheehan] Jimmy Rollins
6. [Jaffe] James Shields
7. [Jaffe] Matt Garza
8. [Sheehan] Carlos Pena
9. [Sheehan] Carl Crawford

Joe: I really expected Garza to be available here. I'll take Crawford. It's almost indefensible.

Jay: Wow, that is a surprise. Regarding Crawford and Burrell, I'd have thought you'd defer that one to lower down in the order to take somebody at a position where the gap was more clear. On that note, I guess that means I'll take Lidge and Navarro, who's the player I expected you'd take with the Pena pick in the last round. We've argued over Navarro before, with me in the nonbeliever camp, but this year he lived up to your vision of what he could be. Clearly my team will need somebody to cut down the running game with Upton, Rollins, and Crawford on the loose.

Joe: I think I underrated Navarro, so chalk that up to a mistake. Lidge was the other guy I considered, but thinking realistically, he's not Papelbon or Rivera, where you can get more from him in a short series. He's not a two-inning guy. And his true talent isn't his 2008 ERA because of the weird home-run rate.

10. [Jaffe] Brad Lidge
11. [Jaffe] Dioner Navarro
12. [Sheehan] Shane Victorino
13. [Sheehan] Scott Kazmir

Jay: Losing Victorino is a blow here, and qualifies as the first hoarding of talent at one position, though given his previous experience in right field, it's not a stretch the way benching Howard for Pena or vice versa would be.

Joe: Yeah, it's marginal. I couldn't take Burrell or Howard, so he was the best player left. It does create a ridiculous defensive outfield.

Jay: I'll take Howard and Werth, with the intention of slotting the latter at center; he's put up good numbers there in limited duty over the past few years.

14. [Jaffe] Ryan Howard
15. [Jaffe] Jayson Werth
16. [Sheehan] David Price
17. [Sheehan] J.P. Howell

Jay: Interesting but hardly surprising that it's the two lefties who rate as the most appealing Rays relievers at this juncture. While the thought of him playing third for your team tickles my funny bone, I'll take Burrell. And Ryan Madson, whose ability to go two innings helps cover for Lidge's lack of same.

18. [Jaffe] Pat Burrell
19. [Jaffe] Ryan Madson
20. [Sheehan] Akinori Iwamura
21. [Sheehan] Brett Myers
22. [Jaffe] Jason Bartlett
23. [Jaffe] Rocco Baldelli

Jay: I'll take Baldelli. It's not going to make for a pretty outfield defensively, but he beats Stairs or Jenkins or Floyd out there.

24. [Sheehan] Greg Dobbs
25. [Sheehan] Grant Balfour
26. [Jaffe] J.C. Romero
27. [Jaffe] Andy Sonnanstine
28. [Sheehan] Willy Aybar
29. [Sheehan] Cliff Floyd
30. [Jaffe] Matt Stairs
31. [Jaffe] Jamie Moyer
32. [Sheehan] Gabe Gross
33. [Sheehan] Chris Coste

Jay: I know his overall numbers out there are OK, but Gross was so bad in the outfield during the ALCS that I was content to avoid him at all costs.

34. [Jaffe] Dan Wheeler
35. [Jaffe] Ben Zobrist
36. [Sheehan] Chad Bradford
37. [Sheehan] Fernando Perez
38. [Jaffe] Geoff Jenkins
39. [Jaffe] Trever Miller
40. [Sheehan] Edwin Jackson

That's the last draft-eligible Ray who's actually made an appearance in October. Twenty-four Rays, 16 Phillies to this point.

41. [Sheehan] Chad Durbin
42. [Jaffe] Joe Blanton
43. [Jaffe] Eric Bruntlett
44. [Sheehan] Scott Eyre
45. [Sheehan] Pedro Feliz

Joe: Fine, I'll jump on the grenade.

46. [Jaffe] Carlos Ruiz
47. [Jaffe] So Taguchi
48. [Sheehan] Clay Condrey
49. [Sheehan] Michel Hernandez
50. [Jaffe] J.A. Happ

Jay has the final word: The interesting thing isn't just who has the top talent, but how big the gaps between the two teams at some positions are. That was a guiding principle in my drafting-I was content to avoid a choice between Pena/Howard, Crawford/Burrell, and even to some extent Upton/Victorino (though that wound up backfiring) because the gaps at other positions-notably catcher, second base, third base, and closer (our reservations about Lidge duly noted)-were greater, and more worthwhile to exploit in a closed system such as this, where one person's choices forced the hand of the other.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here
Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

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