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A few weeks ago, I was a guest of “Fantasy 411” on MLB.com’s Baseball Channel with Mike Siano and Cory Schwartz. It was a good time, as it always is when friends get together and talk baseball, and one of the things that made it fun was the debate. Cory and I got into a discussion of the second slot in fantasy drafts, with him saying that Alex Rodriguez was the pick, and me making the case for Jose Reyes.

The consensus top pick this year in mixed leagues of usual size (12 teams) and format (five categories each for hitting and pitching) is Hanley Ramirez. There are some dissenters-ESPN.com has Alex Rodriguez at the top, based on yesterday’s scroll on the network during the Astros/Braves game-but Ramirez’s combination of power, speed, average, and shortstop eligibility carries the day for most. Once you get past Ramirez, though, there are disagreements, and not only are Reyes and Rodriguez involved, but some people, such as Will Carroll, stump for Albert Pujols. Here are the three players’ projected fantasy stats, pulled from the Player Forecast Manager:


              AB   AVG    R   HR   RBI   SB
Rodriguez    547  .282   99   30   100   18
Reyes        613  .309  120   15    73   64
Will's Guy   540  .339  124   35   122    7

Pujols has the prettiest stat line. He also plays the position at which the replacement level is highest. I’m sure there’s a strong case to made for him ahead of the other two, but there’s no way I can justify taking a first baseman with one of the first three picks of a fantasy draft. In a bigger league, perhaps, but you blow off first base in a 12-team mixed league and end up doing well for yourself. The 13th-best first baseman in PFM, Derrek Lee, is projected to go .289/80/18/81/7. Yes, there’s a cost, but that’s still a good player.

Let’s make the case for Reyes. My primary argument is a positional one. This is no longer 1999; shortstop is not a place where you have tons of great offensive talent, so getting an impact player at shortstop gives you an edge on the competition. Moreover, third base is a very deep position now, comparable to first base in offensive talent, so waiting to take one is less damaging now than ever before. Per PFM again, the 13th-best third baseman, Kevin Youkilis, will bang out a .275/80/20/82/3 line, which will play quite nicely at third.

To make a more rigorous comparison, let’s look at what happens when you pick either player. If you take Reyes, you have to fill the third-base slot with someone else. If you take Rodriguez, you need a shortstop. To get an idea of what’s left, I took the average of the next ten shortstops listed after Reyes (remember, one team has Hanley Ramirez already) and the next 11 third basemen listed after Rodriguez. As an aside, note that PFM actually has Reyes rated ahead of Ramirez, and David Wright ahead of Rodriguez. Wright is included in these averages.

If you take Jose Reyes, this is what you can expect to get from the left side of your fantasy infield:


               AB   AVG    R   HR   RBI   SB
Reyes         613  .309  120   15    73   64
3B            536  .281   84   25    90    6

If you take Alex Rodriguez, this is what you can expect to get from the left side:


               AB   AVG    R   HR   RBI   SB
Rodriguez     547  .282   99   30   100   18
SS            526  .286   78   12    64   12

Adding it up:


               AB   AVG    R   HR   RBI   SB
Reyes+3B     1149  .296  204   40   163   70
Rodriguez+SS 1073  .283  177   42   164   30

This is actually not as close as I expected it to be. Taking Reyes instead of Rodriguez will leave you essentially even in home runs and RBI, and way ahead in average, runs, and steals. The incredible depth at third base this season is the primary cause of this-there is a big group of guys who are projected to hit 20-25 homers with appropriate attending production stats-but even if the “taking Rodriguez” line were ahead on power, there’s just no way to make up 40 stolen bases.

That’s just the statistical argument. There is also the gap in the players’ ages. Reyes turns 26 in June, putting him at just about his peak with some growth expected. He still has upside left in him, particularly when it comes to his batting average and power. Rodriguez turns 34 in August, and as Nate Silver pointed out earlier this week, he also may already be in decline. I hesitate to go that far for one of the greatest players ever, but I will say that there’s much less chance that Rodriguez outperforms his projection than there is that Reyes does. You win fantasy leagues by finding the guys who over-perform.

I’m no fantasy expert, as my career in Tout Wars has shown. However, in this case, I think I’m on the right track. Hanley Ramirez is clearly the top pick, and if you’re sitting second, you have to go with the 26-year-old shortstop who can be a category killer. Any other choice is wrong.

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Gregjitsu
2/27
I have to admit, I\'m not a huge fan or Reyes second. Here\'s why: In the mock drafts I\'ve done, HanRam, Reyes, and Rollins go in the first round. But Stephen Drew and JJ Hardy fall a long way, and can usually be had between rounds 7-10. So if you spend the second pick on Pujols, you could have an infield of: Pujols, Aramis Ramirez (3rd round, usually) and JJ Hardy. Or you could have David Wright, Berkman/Morneau/Adrian Gonzalez, Stephen Drew. To my mind, once HanRam is gone, SS isn\'t worth a first round pick.
PCoughlan
2/27
Joe: Any insight as to how to adjust Reyes\'s forecast if he ends up batting thirs in the Mets\' lineup? Would you still think of him as a \'category killer\'? Would he not run less?
harderj
2/27
Who goes second in an A.L. only league?
philosofool
2/28
Sizemore.
DWrek5
2/27
High replacement level doesnt have to be a bad thing right? If Pujols goes down and you are able to plug in a decent 1B off waivers, that makes him a safer pick. If Reyes goes down, theres no way his production can be replaced from waivers.
eighteen
2/27
Seems you\'re arguing against taking the superior player because you\'re screwed if he gets injured. That may be a consideration when the players involved have significant injury histories, but that\'s not the case here. Besides, if you draft a properly balanced team after taking Pujols, you\'ll still be screwed if he gets hurt.
Oleoay
2/27
The way to hedge against injury is to draft someone who helps across the board. Neither HRam or Rollins will get you 50 SB, but you\'ll get more home run/RBI help and AVG is unpredictable to the extent that A-Rod could have a higher BA than Jose Reyes. Also, if you\'re waiting 6 more rounds (on average) before drating a 3B or SS, then yeah, you won\'t get much of a player. However, the dropoff from a round 1 OF or 1B to a round 7 OB or 1B isn\'t as drastic as a round 1 3B or SS to a round 6 3B or SS.
DWrek5
2/27
eighteen Not really my argument. But I know what you\'re saying. I was basically saying I wouldnt use position depth as a reason not to draft Pujols. If I think hes better than Reyes I take em, if not, then I dont. One could play the postion scarcity card, but when it comes to the guys were discussing, Im taking the best player.
eighteen
2/28
I see your point, too, and I don\'t disagree. It\'s just that in a competitive league, having a first round pick get hurt is crippling, no matter who it is. The thing about SB\'s is that a lot of the guys who get \'em will kill you in every other category. Last year, only 37 hitters had 20 or more SBs, including Taveras, Bartlett, Gathright, Matsui, Pierre, Rajai Davis, Izturis, Bourn....blecch. Very few SB guys contribute anything else, and if you don\'t get at least one of those, well...Taveras, Bartlett, Gathright...
nbmehta79
2/27
Sound logic Joe - good piece. Even with the above evidence and depth at 1B, I\'d still have a hard time taking anyone but Pujols because he\'s the best hitter outright, but now the wheels are turning...
philosofool
2/28
I\'m not convinced that you\'ve adequately accounted for positional issues here. In any league with a utility player or fifth infielder, 1B gets much more scare and replacement level 1B begins to look a lot more like replacement SS: in those leagues, 12 SS will get rostered but 16-18 1Bs will. Also, there\'s some double think in tossing Pujols on the grounds that 1B is deep when 3B is at least (probably more) deep this season. I agree with those who\'ve said a more interesting comparison is Reyes vs. Pujols. But I\'m going to side with you on this one and say Reyes over Pujols. Those steals are worth a lot and give you the flexibility not to worry a great deal about SBs in any of your other selections.
philosofool
2/28
Whoops. This comment was intended to go on the bottom.
ubrnoodle
2/27
Joe, I usually like your work but you\'re really not a fantasy baseball guy right? I say this because, your analysis is clearly flawed. \"no way I can justify taking a first baseman with one of the first three picks of a fantasy draft”. You then go onto show the replacement level for 1B and 3B. To me Youk and Lee’s stat lines are essentially the same (nod to Lee in BA). However Pujols destroys AROD, unless you truly value those 9 steals so much, which I think is a little crazy. I’ll take the 60 points in BA and 25 extra runs any day of the week and twice on Sunday. I know you’re arguing for Reyes, but Pujols + Youk >AROD + Lee, based on these stats. So think twice before you consider AROD and throw out Pujols in the top 3.
akachazz
2/27
I\'m with the Uber-noodle on this one. Even though the cliche in real baseball is that 1B is essentially DH and has the best hitters, I think 3B has more depth in fantasy than 1B. Maybe you should have had Pujols rather than A-rod.
Oleoay
2/28
3B has a fair amount of depth, but it also has a lot of variety to it. You have guys who steal bases, guys who hit for average, guys who hit for power and some combination in between. First basemen mostly hit for power and average, with the only difference being quality. That being said, I look at fantasy baseball similar to how major league teams look at the amateur draft... In the first round especially, take the best player possible. I tend to go for all-around players and non-pitchers, weighing in position scarcity to an extent. On the other hand, I don\'t like picking second in a draft either, though it\'s better than picking in the middle of the round.
Oleoay
2/27
Why aren\'t you taking Chipper before A-Rod? *couldn\'t resist*
jonathanaustin
2/27
There is a huge hole in your analysis. The average SS will cost you a much lower pick that the average 3B. Using ESPN\'s draft list (since PFM doesn\'t give number ranks its harder to use), the next 10 SS\'s will cost on average the 101st pick while the next 11 3Bs will cost on average the 68th pick. Thus the question is whether the production you listed is worth having to use a 6th round pick rather than a 9th for your second player. No idea if that makes up for the lesser production, but it makes the answer not as clear as you present.
Pietaster07
2/27
This is exactly why I\'m a much bigger fan of auction drafts. If I feel like spending the money, I can get both Reyes AND Pujols.
mafrth77
2/27
If you play in league where walks count, espescially in a points based league, the difference between Pujols and the #2 first baseman(Teixera)) is about the same as the difference between Teixeira ant the #12 first baseman (Morneau), According to Pecota. No other position has that kind of best and the rest separation
mhmosher
2/27
Great analysis. Totally agree.
coryschwartz
2/27
Thanks for throwing me under the bus! For the record I picked Reyes 2nd (after A-Rod went first) in a 12-team mixed league last year, so I\'m not totally against the concept. And I do agree that SS is not as deep at 3B, although it does have several other good options besides the Big Three (Drew, Peralta, Hardy, etc.). That said, my expectations are for bigger numbers than that for A-Rod, something like .290-110-35-110-15 if not a little better. I think that would skew the overall numbers a little more evenly or perhaps favorably. In any case, thanks for giving the chance to provide a little rebuttal, although me getting into any debate with Joe Sheehan is like bringing a slingshot to a shootout... --Cory
KrisM615
2/28
\"I will say that there\'s much less chance that Rodriguez outperforms his projection than there is that Reyes does.\" Am I the only person who finds that statement to be way off? I know Reyes is only 26, but he\'s basically been the same hitter for the past three years and I don\'t see him improving much more. A-Rod on the other hand has a forecast of 30 home runs, even though he\'s hit 35 in two of the past three years, and 48+ in two of the past four. He\'s also been a .300+ hitter in three of the past four seasons, and can easily exceed his .282 projection. I know PECOTA is the most accurate system for projecting players, but it\'s very pessimistic of A-Rod. He not only has a good chance of exceeding the projection, but he has a shot of outperforming it by a huge margin. Reyes is a pretty safe bet to come close to what PECOTA indicates, but does anyone really see him outperforming that projection by much more than a small amount? I sure don\'t.
Oleoay
2/28
Not as much in recent years, but Reyes used to have a hard time staying healthy, especially with his legs. If he strains a hamstring, he loses almost all his value. Someone like A-Rod can still retain some value even if he gets hurt. And yeah, PECOTA looks way off on A-Rod.
twon88
2/28
Pecota has Reyes\' breakout rate at 41% with a 0% collapse rate Arod is 5% breakout with 27% collapse. I have no issues with that. Reyes does not turn 26 until June 11, thus he is on the cusp of his peak years. Way more room for growth with the player eight years younger.
sephrath
2/28
Out of curiosity, how does this change if Arod has his typical Odd year performance... You are forecasting his worst year ever, which may not end up being the case. If Arod goes out and hits .320 with 50 hr and 150 rbis... then does this analysis still work out?
twon88
3/05
analysis looks good now
rwperu34
2/28
Derek Lee and Kevin Youkilis are no better or worse than the 13th ranked SS.
kylelitke
3/01
You think Reyes has a much better chance at outperforming his projection? His projection seems about in line with what I\'d expect, whereas Alex\'s is a worst case, even a declining Alex should have more than 30 HRs and 100 RBIs, scenario that I can only imagine is assuming another injury.
strupp
3/02
Joe, I would have liked to see how this argument is weighted considering the use of a UTIL or DH spot. Rather, shouldn\'t we consider the difference between Reyes and the 11th best SS and Pujols and/or ARod vs the 18th or 20th best CI?