Well, that did not take long. I am already questioning some of the logic I am about to present.
Recall that last week I discussed I was going to present my first run of the 2012 first round in the order that I would personally take the player as opposed to a strict ranking or prediction of how I foresee the populace rating the players. To kick off the festivities, I shared the players that I suspect others may choose in the first round but did not make my cut.
While I have no qualms with the players I am about to present, I have realized some of the explanations I am about to offer may contradict some of the points I made last week, keeping some players out of the first round. That said, this actually reinforces a point which is there is no hard and fast rule. Granted, baseball is a game of numbers and at the end of the day, we can assign a static number ranking each player. I used to live and die by this number and developed a reputation in the industry for my ability to compute this number. The thing is, I became a batter fantasy player when I began to understand that you cannot completely quantify everything. A player's expectation cannot be considered static but rather dynamic. I think most accept the fact that a player's projection is better thought of as a range.
The point I have come to realize over the past several years and continue to try to incorporate into my game playing is the probability a player falls at different points within his range is not the same for each player and may not be symmetrical. This could be an oversimplification, but here is an example of what I mean. Let us consider two players. The first is projected to hit 40 homers but there is some serious risk involved as while he has prodigious power, he also strikes out a lot. His ceiling is upper 40s, maybe even 50 homers, but he could also just as easily hit 30. The second is projected to hit 35 homers. His contact rate is pretty stable as is his fly ball rate. The actual number of homers he hits will be in proportion to his home run per fly balls, which typically can fluctuate a bit. If you are in a home run derby league, do you prefer the higher risk, higher reward player with a static projection of 40 homers or the more reliable guy, expected to hit five fewer?
Still the 1?
For several years, I have been preaching to take the latter which will be reflected, for the most part, in the ensuing list of my 2012 first round. But, there will be a few guys you can challenge me with, contending I am contradicting some of my own advice. That, my friends, is the beauty of this hobby and exemplifies both the fact there is no always or never and how the objective static projection needs to be subjectively put into context.
With that as a backdrop, here is my list of who I would take, as of right now, in a 2012 draft. I will do the "building the suspense" things and start with No. 15, working my way to the guy I would take first overall if I was drafting today.
15. Prince Fielder - I cannot imagine Fielder is going to sign with a team that plays in a park that would seriously impact his numbers in a negative manner. I do not like the fact that Fielder does not contribute steals nor is a lock for .300, but his other counting stats should remain through the roof and since he is at 15, the only way I would be taking him is if the following 14 players are all taken, which is not going to happen. But if I did take Fielder at this spot, I would be looking for some speed with my wheel pick.
14. David Wright - As I mentioned last week, I am a fan of consistency and prior to this season, Wright was a pretty good bet to have a very good year, if healthy. The two seasons he stayed on the field, he was a first rounder. His injuries have been more flukes than chronic, so I do not want to downgrade him too much for missing some games. Also last week, I alluded to the fact that the Mets may move the fences in at Citi Field which should really help Wright and I implied that if they did not lessen the dimensions, that I would replace Wright with Ian Kinsler. I still feel that way and actually would be thrilled to start my team with Wright and Kinsler, provided nobody was available from the names I am about to discuss.
13. Carlos Gonzalez - This is the first instance where you can point out that my logic may contradict itself as there is no way I can spin the fact that Gonzalez is not a health risk and I cited health as a reason for keeping a few players off the list last week. That said, the reason I put Gonzalez at this spot is even though he missed a good amount of time this season and had an off year in terms of performance, he still was a borderline first rounder. If I was drafting, I would take him in this spot but mitigate the risk with someone very reliable next. Of course, last spring, I pegged Matt Holliday as being as reliable as they come, more on that later.
12. Hanley Ramirez - I would be shocked of Ramirez slipped to this spot so this is more of an explanation of why I do not have him higher than it is justification of his being first round worthy. I suspect many will still give him a position scarcity bump that I am not willing to do. I am also leery of his declining skills. Ramirez's isolated power and BABIP are trending in the wrong direction and he is at the point in his career where he may run less. So even though prior to this season, he was in the top-15 for three straight years, I will let someone else roll the dice and I will find my shortstop later.
11. Matt Holliday - Putting Holliday here is actually a bit misleading, for if the next 10 players actually were the first 10 players drafted, I would pass on Holliday here since there is a very good chance he would be available for me in the second or even the third in a 12-team league. As I alluded to earlier, part of Holliday's appeal is his consistency and reliability. I consider this season a fluke and still fashion Holliday as sure a thing as there is to produce solid numbers. If I took a risky player like the aforementioned Ramirez, Gonzalez, Wright or Kinsler, I would be quite pleased to balance that with Holliday. I do have some concern that Holliday's running was limited this season as a latent portion of his value was quiet steals. Upon further review, if this list is truly a reflection of who I would take, Holliday does not belong here but rather mentioned as a possible follow-up pick when I discuss a riskier player.
10. Jacoby Ellsbury - Speaking of risky, here is the poster child. Let me start off by stating I think the power spike is real, though exaggerated. I think Ellsbury can reach low 20s next season. As I like to say, homers are hits too, so assuming some of the homers are caught, his batting average should suffer. The good thing about Ellsbury is with his speed, he only needs to hit 15-20 homers to warrant a selection at this spot. Think about it, this is about where Carl Crawford has been drafted the past few seasons and now, Ellsbury's expectation is going to be eerily similar to what many thought Crawford would do until this season.
9. Adrian Gonzalez - While his owners may not be complaining, Gonzalez had a rather strange season as his power was down but his average was way up. The runs and RBI were there. A good in-season manager would have made up for Gonzalez's deficiency in power by using the unexpected batting average as a buffer and finding a high power, low average guy to plug into their lineup. If I was sure that next season, Gonzalez's power would return, he would be higher. This spot is a bit of a hedge, anticipating a drop in average and a rise in power, but maybe not to the 40+ level we thought coming into 2011.
8. Troy Tulowitzki - Others are definitely going to bump Tulowitzki up since he is a shortstop but I am going to penalize him a little for always missing some games and not adjusting for position scarcity. This probably means I am not going to own him next season, but that's OK.
7. Robinson Cano - This lofty ranking is not for Cano playing second but rather because he is as consistent as they come. His ceiling may not be as high as others, but his floor is way higher. Drafting Cano does necessitate chasing steals, likely from an outfield spot, but there are 22 more rounds to deal with that.
6. Joey Votto - Votto actually scares me a little as a lot of his value is derived from a batting average driven by a high BABIP, but he has displayed an ability to maintain a high BABIP, he makes good contact and he takes walks, which means he is selective and mainly offers at pitched he thinks he can handle. I am not horribly worried about the drop in power this season as I suspect 2010 was the outlier and 27-30 homers will be Votto's range.
5. Jose Bautista - Get ready for it as Bautista's second half is going to be dissected through and through and used by his residual detractors as the vehicle to suggest he is going to fall back to earth next season. Obviously, 2010 is going to be the career year for Bautista, but there are enough positive signs to suggest that 2011 is his new baseline. He may slide a little from it or he may improve upon it a bit, but 2011 should be his new expectation. And, Joey Bats finished as the fifth overall hitter this season so putting him at No. 5 works for me.
4. Matt Kemp - Nope, he is not my number one choice, as he will be for many after finishing this season as the top fantasy hitter. The reason is while Kemp's power and speed combo is top notch, his contact rate is still shaky which means he is prone to slumps. He managed to go the entire season without a slump due to an inflated BABIP, which is not likely to repeat. This little bit of risk is enough to block Kemp from making my top three, which I am reserving for the three most reliable and consistent players in the game.
3. Miguel Cabrera - In formats where I am allowed to choose where I want to pick, I am probably going to shoot for the 7-9 spot since I am very likely to be able to draft Cabrera. His lack of speed prevents him from ever finishing in the top-three, assuming he does not hit .350, but his consistency and bankability render him my third choice if I am picking third and the next two guys are gone. Getting him later in the first round gives me a tad more profit is all.
2. Albert Pujols - I understand that an argument can be made that Pujols is no longer the sure thing he was for so many years, but even in an off year, he is still a top-10 player which is what I want. The one concern - very small concern - I have with Pujols is his walk rate was low. But a closer look reveals that the majority of that was fewer intentional walks than previous seasons. If this trend continues, it could be a good thing as that gives Pujols another 30-40 hacks he did not have before. His skills are still very much intact, including sneaky stolen base potential. So even if you are conservative and temper his at bats, the production will be there.
1. Ryan Braun - I need to applaud my colleague Ron Shandler, who pegged Braun as his second pick this past spring. I now agree and, with Pujols' risk, would take him with the first pick if I was so blessed. I know Kemp's 2011 value was higher, but Braun's five category potential combined with his consistent and reliable track record make him my clear top choice. I would not expect a repeat of the steals, but he will still run a lot. Braun's contact and walk rates are stellar so his slump potential is small. As mentioned with Holliday, there is no such thing as a sure thing, but Braun is as close as they come with an unusually high upside for someone so reliable.
When Todd is not ogling Ryan Braun, you can find him you can find him hanging out at the forum at Mastersball.
Focusing primarily on the science of player valuation and game theory starting in 1997, Todd Zola and Mastersball carved out an important niche in the fantasy industry. In 2006, Todd became the Research Director for fantasybaseball.com, and in 2009, he relaunched Mastersball and is now a managing partner.
Todd competes in Tout Wars and the XFL, and has been a multiple-time league champion in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has been a contributor to the fantasy content at MLB.com and SI.com, is a frequent guest on Sirius/XM and Blog Talk Radio and is an annual speaker at the spring and fall First Pitch Forum symposiums.