One of the things you get when you get the “Expert” tag bestowed on you, besides the ID card and the five percent discount at Thornton Melon’s store, is the chance to participate in mock drafts. I love fantasy drafts, more for the psychology of the room than for the actual draft. Me, I’m an auction guy, but those are tougher to pull off. I was recently in my first mock draft of the year, run by our friends at Rotowire and hosted at the always entertaining Mock Draft Central.
I went into the draft armed with preliminary PECOTA projections and my own biases and leanings. I tend to go with the best available player regardless of position, relying on my ability to make deals in season. That strategy often bites me, often showing up as a failure to draft a shortstop. I miss out on the good ones and end up with Alex Gonzalez … or worse, having to trade Ben Sheets for Alex Gonzalez, as I did in 2003.
Still, being an “expert” sets you up for failure. You’re in a league of like-minded guys, some of whom focus on fantasy where I’m a multi-sport, multi-platform injury writer-slash-rumormonger. If that last sentences sounds like setting up an alibi, it is. I’m a much better fantasy football player than fantasy baseball. I have a hard time separating real performance from “roto performance,” part of the reason that I do much better at baseball simulation games than roto.
It was a fourteen team, mixed 5×5 league and I had the seventh pick in a snake draft. (Amazing how this type of lingo makes perfect sense to fantasy players and none whatsoever to our significant others …) Here’s how it went for me.
1. Miguel Cabrera, FLO – Cabrera at seventh overall is a no-brainer. He’s got the most upside, and while I’m concerned a bit about the team surrounding him, he hit .339/.430/.568 last year; he’s going to produce even in that park and context.
2. Joe Mauer, MIN — I got killed for taking him in the first round in a 3-round mock for MLB.com’s Fantasy 411 last week, but I think he’s the best available catcher and one of the top hitters in the game. While I’ll acknowledge that he’s a bit of a reach in roto due to his lack of power and steals, PECOTA likes him almost as much as I did pre-PECOTA.
3. Andruw Jones, ATL – I’ve written a bit about him recently, but it was Dayn Perry that convinced me to take him. Jones isn’t the all-around player he once was and his defense is nothing in roto, but he’s added power to his game. It was Perry’s chapter in Baseball Between The Numbers that proved the contract year phenomenon and I’m willing to bet that Jones won’t be the exception to that rule.
4. Brian McCann, ATL – Yes, I know it is odd to take two catchers so early, but I couldn’t come up with a reason why not. McCann was my first real decision. He ranked high on my overall board and #2 on my catcher board. Knowing that he’s #1 on many catcher boards also came to mind. In a real league, one of these would be trade bait. Does locking up these two make less sense because the position is so thin that many people would be willing to take a Yadier Molina type good-glove guy here?
5. Jake Peavy — Matsuzaka went two picks ahead of me here, cementing my idea that Matsuzaka is this year’s Felix Hernandez. He’s going to be good, but drafted way too high. Peavy’s a solid starter assuming he stays healthy and stays in PETCO. Starters always go later in expert leagues, but the run on the top tier of pitchers had begun and I wanted an ace. My normal pitching strategy is to get an “ace and four jacks”: a top tier guy like a Peavy and then wait to see what midlevel starters with upside are available towards the middle of the draft.
6. Ray Durham – “The first hmm” pick. In my defense, PECOTA likes him. Probably a bit of a reach, but Jim Thome, John Lackey, and Jeremy Bonderman went just before him, all guys that I had set to take. Losing Thome hurt since there wasn’t significant power available at value.
7. Barry Bonds – The worry about power made me make this pick. I’m not as scared as most by his injury problems. His legal situation is a wild card, but assuming that he can do what he did last year, I’m willing to take the chance. There are few players with as much upside or downside as Bonds.
8. Cole Hamels – Looking over my draft board, there were still a couple #2 level starters on the board. While I nomally skip past these guys, there were some interesting names that figured to be better than the hitters I was looking at. I decided to go off chalk a bit when I didn’t see anything I liked and debated Barry Zito and Jered Weaver, but went Hamels. I can’t really explain why, other than that I’ve liked this kid since pre-BP days.
9. Adrian Beltre — I hate this pick. Remember when I said that there was nothing there I really liked or thought was good value? It was even more true in this round. I was debating between him and Adam LaRoche here and hated Beltre less. Tadahito Iguchi or Josh Barfield would have been better and went just behind me. Then again, looking back at this, I’m not sure who would have been a better selection.
10. Adam LaRoche – Again at this pick, there was nothing there that screamed value to me. Cory Schwartz from MLB.com always says you win drafts in the middle rounds, so these two picks would worry me if we were playing them out. LaRoche was the best available first baseman by this stage, which is poor reason to pick someone.
11. Jered Weaver – After looking at Weaver in the eighth, I was stunned to see him still there. I know Jeff Erickson likes Angels and there’s nothing that says that Weaver’s rookie campaign was a fluke. If I’d picked him in the eighth, I would have been happy, but getting him three rounds later made me ecstatic. (It’s important to note that knowing things like guys’ location and favorite teams can often come in very handy. Knowing someone’s girlfriend’s name is even better, especially in an internet league where your smack talk won’t result in fisticuffs.)
12. Eric Gagne – Closers are something I always find overvalued. Every year more closers fail than succeed and there’s always some undrafted guy who becomes the next Joe Borowski or Todd Jones. Still, to be competitive, you have to have at least one guy who’s going to be hearing from the Rolaids people. I waited well past the drafting of the elite guys and really got no guidance from either my injury database or PECOTA. With no more closers on the board, someone was going to make the reach. It’s kind of a statement pick, in that I think he’s going to be OK, not great.
13. Troy Tulowitzki – I needed a SS, so it was him or Khalil Greene, and why not take the Coors guy? I know nothing about Tulowitzki besides what I read, but one interesting thing to note here is that the humidor is going to be a topic that could shift some drafts. Mentioning it positively or negatively with the first Rockie pick could give you some information. Guys I know are evenly divided on what kind of effect the humidor will have, so knowing if guys are dropping Rockies hitters down their boards and/or moving pitchers up is good to know.
14. Roger Clemens – Yay, another flyer! Clemens proved that over a half-season or so, he’s still among the elite. He’ll help in strikeouts and WHIP at the very least, but the chance that he stays home in Katy makes this a gamble. I’ll take the risk, knowing that any pitcher I draft has a significant risk of injury negating the retirement risk Clemens carries.
15. Doug Davis – Having just made the Clemens pick, I needed a 200 inning guy to hedge that risk. Joe Sheehan did a great job of breaking down why Jeff Suppan might not be as good in Milwaukee, and while I just blue-skied it, my guess is that the D-backs defense will help Davis. Knowing that I like the D-Backs in the West and as a possible 90 win team helped me decide. With mid-pack pitchers, I’ll almost always go with winning teams over great individual numbers.
16. Jonathan Broxton – Here’s where I get a bit speculative. Broxton isn’t the closer, but he has closer stuff. Saito has his own question marks and Broxton’s been mentioned in some trades, so the possibility that he gets the chance at some saves moves him up. At worst, he’ll be a good strikeout guy for me.
17. Akinori Otsuka – Otsuka is a nice “pair with” pick. The risk of having Gagne is mitigated somewhat by Otsuka, assuming Otsuka is the guy who gets the ball if Gagne goes down. It’s a safe enough assumption and Otsuka has been a solid setup guy.
18. Gary Matthews Jr. – Looking at my roster, I realized that I was short of some outfielders with fewer and fewer picks left to go. Much like I always seem to end up without a SS, I was worried I’d end up short of OFs this time around. I was forced to look at my board in the ninety seconds I had to make a pick and ended up going with the best available player. I was still short in the outfield, so getting the power/speed combo at this stage wasn’t bad. At least I got better value than Stoneman.
19. Kenny Lofton – As perturbed as I was initially to take Matthews, I was instantly happy to see Lofton come back around. Even at his age, Lofton can still produce with his bat and his legs. Moving to Arlington should help his raw stats some, so expecting last year’s numbers is safe.
20. Scot Shields – I moved back to filling in my bullpen with guys who could close. Shields has been the subject of trade rumors and is the guy who gets the ball if Frankie Rodriguez goes down. On the downside, he’s pitched enough innings to look for the Scott Sullivan effect this year. I like this pick at this stage.
21. Chris Snelling – This is the very definition of a risky late-round pick with upside. Assuming Snelling can stay healthy and that RFK affects him more like it did Alfonso Soriano, he’s a solid value at this stage. That’s a longshot assumption, however. I’ll still take risks at this stage – what’s the worst that can happen? You waste a pick that by definition is less valuable and use the roster slot on someone off the waiver wire who surprised everyone.
22. Mark DeRosa – He’s hardly a great pick, but has the things I’m looking for this low. He has guaranteed playing time, multiple positional eligibility, and some decent upside. Multi-position guys, especially in the low rounds, seem to be universally undervalued. You’re not going to find a Chone Figgins down here, but there are guys who can play around the IF. If you can grab someone like Chris Coste who can catch as well, you’re even better off.
23. B.J. Upton – How the mighty have fallen. I don’t know where Upton factors into the Rays plans, but I know that he’s got more upside than most of the trash left on the board in this very deep league. At worst, he’s the guy I drop to pick something up and at best, he’s this year’s Brandon Phillips.
I think my team’s okay. If this were a league where we were playing it out, I’d certainly need to address saves and power. I can’t rely on getting someone at the end of the draft like Jonathan Papelbon, as I did in two leagues last year. (No inside info there, I just liked Papelbon’s chance of cracking the rotation.) I usually punt steals, opting to be mid-pack by grabbing a lot of guys who steal ten bags a year. Somehow I managed to get solid steals at 18 and 19 with the back to back CF picks.
It’s a mid-pack team with upside, especially if Clemens and Bonds live up to expectations. I missed out on a good number of guys, including one that will be this year’s Wily Mo Pena PECOTA pick. If the double-catcher play pans out or Matthews or DeRosa play in line with their recent signings, the team will have a chance to contend. In December, that’s all you’re hoping for.
Of course, I want to hear YOUR thoughts. You know where to find me. I’ll post the best criticisms, tips, and discussion in a column next week.