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

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

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

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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Very interesting piece.
Here I was hoping for some actual analysis, not a glorified IM conversation.
I\'d like to play this out when Strat-o comes out with the 08\' rosters. (RYA-MOR, I hope you read this).
7. [Jaffe] Matt Garza 8. [Sheehan] Carlos Pena 9. [Sheehan] Carl Crawford 10. [Jaffe] Brad Lidge 11. [Jaffe] Dioner Navarro 12. [Sheehan] Shane Victorino 13. [Sheehan] Scott Kazmir 14. [Jaffe] Ryan Howard Ok, I know, his defense sucks (1st base though) and he has had an off year, but really, Garza, Pena, Crawford, Navarro and Victorino over Howard? Are you serious?
I don\'t think the point of the article was to say that because Howard was drafted 14th, he is the 14th best player. There may be a lot of haters on Howard, but that seems a bit of a stretch. I think he fell more as a result of strategy than anything else (although I don\'t see why Sheehan didn\'t pick him at #9 with the intention of using him as a DH 4/7 games and a pretty good situational pinch hitter in Phili while leaving Jaffe with no 1b). All told, to draw any conclusions from this \"analysis\" seems a bit of a stretch. Is the point of the draft to assemble to best team or to assemble a better team than the other? If it is to choose the better team wouldn\'t you want to hoard positions (in which case the exercise gets dumb quickly)? If you want to assemble the best team independent of the other person, then any strategy like (I assume) the one used for Howard, i.e. \"my opponent doesn\'t need 1b so I can wait\", artificially distorts the value enough to make any conclusion worthless. But maybe it was all for fun and I shouldn\'t get worked up over such things...
Though Joe didn\'t make it explicit in the piece, we did agree beforehand that positional hoarding wasn\'t allowed, which as I noted in the conclusion could distort the importance of some of the choices. Regarding Howard/Pena, here\'s a quick little bit from my pending piece elsewhere on site today, a viewpoint that I think Joe would subscribe to as well: Despite his monster counting stats (48 homers, 146 RBI) Howard finished with just 5.4 WARP3 this year, Peña with 9.1. Peña\'s .314 EQA outdoes Howard\'s .293 thanks to a 38-point edge in OBP and adjustment for park, and he\'s got about a three-win advantage with the leather according to the DT numbers (-17 for Howard, +11 for Peña). The Fielding Bible Plus/Minus numbers have Peña at +14, good for fifth among first baseman, Howard at +1, ranked 12th. Howard is a fearsome hitter, but as the Dodgers showed in the NLCS, he can be tamed with a steady diet of sliders, and having three lefties to throw at him in high-leverage situations (J.P. Howell, David Price and Trever Miller, not necessarily in that order) will almost certainly be a factor in this series.
I love baseball prospectus, but this article is the most mindless thing I\'ve read here. I want that five minutes back.
I don\'t think thats the biggest issue with this format. I think its the 2 relievers taken just before Pat Burrell.
Baffled by Cole Hamels not being the first pick. Are you trying to win 4 games out of 7, or the most games over the course of a regular season? It is an interesting piece, but it seems a bit odd to try to support \"the air of assertion without evidence\" by having the person who made the assertion participate in a subjective process. BP spent some time coming up with the Secret Sauce, why not take a look at what those numbers tell you when you pull Troy Percival out, and replace him with some combination of David Price and Dan Wheeler?
I absolutely concur with the pick of Pena ahead of Howard. There is no comparison in how well the two guys are swinging the bat (or more importantly seeing the pitches) right now.
Really? You\'d pick Pena six picks ahead of Howard without even considering defense? I don\'t know why I\'m getting worked up over this article.
the only guy I might have considered over Pena in that next group is Kazmir. When you say \"without considering defense\" not sure what you mean. Pena is the far superior defender so that enforces the higher pick, but Pena is the better overall bat right now I think. Howard simply hasn\'t hit well against strong pitching in the playoffs. If you look at regular season it\'s about a wash in terms of home/road splits and pre/post all star splits, but of course Howard\'s #s are a little more HR dependent and he plays in the better hitter\'s park.
In the context of a 2 team draft, Howard falling 6 picks almost certainly had to do with the logic that \"the other team already has a 1B\".
in your first post you said you liked the way pena was \"swinging the bat right now\" as opposed to howard. I took that to mean you made your statement that, going into this series, you think pena is the superior hitter. I can see the argument when you include defense, because Howard is a butcher and pena is elite defensively.
im surprised utley didn\'t go first, i think the gap between him and iwamura is greater than between upton and victorino. maybe even longoria over upton also...
You guys are reading too much into this. Is there a more objective way to do it? Sure. Is it enjoyable to read something with a twist, something with a different angle like this? I think so. To suggest that its mindless because Sheehan and Jaffe decided to have a little fun seems a bit over the top.
i don\'t think it\'s mindless, i think it\'s a good idea for an article... i still say utley and longoria are the most valuable players (in the context of this article, we\'re really talking about value over the other teams player at said position). picking hamels first wouldn\'t get an argument out of me either, the only reason i\'d go utley/longoria over hamels is b/c of the likelihood of hamels only pitching in two games this series. as a phils fan, i\'m hoping for rain saturday! that way, hamels has a better chance at making three appearances. that being said, upton is having one heck of a postseason... he had some big hits last night, and plays a great center field, so i can understand him as the #1 pick... just comes down to preference, and my philadelphia bias