Welcome to the inaugural posting of Lord Zola'a Fantasy Baseball Roundtable. We have invited some of the brightest minds in the industry to serve as my knights in an effort to bring you varied opinions and analysis on salient fantasy baseball topics. It is still early, but many of us have been hard at work, preparing our rankings and cheat sheets and even drafting. And not just in mocks for Web sites and magazines, but drafting leagues that count and perhaps even award some jelly beans to the victor. While it is a little early to really pinpoint the 2012 trends, the best players are the best players, so today I thought we would begin with a discussion featuring the best players.
Is there anyone that most others consider a first round pick that you will be avoiding?
Ryan Carey, Mastersball.com's newest columnist, tossed the initial salvo:
Well, I will kick things off by saying that if this were phrased as a Final Jeopardy question the answer would likely be: Who is Curtis Granderson? Taking a quick look at some of the early draft results I have seen here and there, I think this is the guy who is consistently going in the first round that most people will say is the most likely to fail to repeat or build upon his 2011 numbers. I'd like to say that I would avoid him, but I actually already fell into the trap and drafted him at thirteen in a fifteen team early draft league, passing on Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia and Evan Longoria. If I could make that pick again, I would grab Kinsler instead and wait to see what made it around the turn. Being that Granderson is firmly locked into an area near the back end of first in 15 team drafts I think he is the guy most likely to see his ADP drop as we get closer to the season.
No hurler worth that price?
Lawr Michaels, Mastersball Managing Partner and author of KFFL's Tumbling Dice, responded with:
Yep, Curtis Granderson, followed by Jacoby Ellsbury. Not that they did not have terrific years in 2011, and, Ellsbury might prove to be as solid as his mate Dustin Pedroia and thus really be a true first rounder, but, the jump of 105 total bases from his previous career high (259 in '09 to 364 in '11), and the jump in home runs (from a high of 9 to 32) and doubles (from 27 to 46) leaves one a bit piqued. Those are huge jumps and it is a hard game, so they will be difficult to duplicate. Not that at 28 he cannot, but that is the difference between being a good player and a bone fide star, or the difference between the first round and the middle of the second round.
As for Granderson, he actually had more total bases (338) in 2007 as a Tiger than as Yankee in 2011 (322). And, granting that Granderson adds to his value with 25 steals last campaign, I do wonder why he is considered a first rounder this season after his .262-41-119 year, but when Adam Dunn, for example, went .266-46-102 in 2004, and basically followed with like seasons for the next seven seasons, he never had the same appeal, despite an OBP 20 points higher?
Granderson did walk 85 times, but he whiffed 169 times last year, and for better or worse (and despite the presence of the short porch on the Yankees Stadium right field line) Granderson might be a mid-second rounder, but probably is more like a third rounder, as Dunn was before he hit the wall in 2011.
Perry Van Hook, Mastersball.com's Minor League Analyst and Examinar.com contributor, took the discussion in a little different direction:
What makes a player a solid first round pick?
Confidence that he can repeat those numbers again this year and thus truly be a cornerstone pick for your fantasy team. A Cy Young award doesn't do that - it just means that the pitcher had the best year in his league, so Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw, or even the more likely to repeat his numbers year after year Roy Halladay do not justify using your very first pick in a fantasy draft this year. And by the way, no pitcher can help you enough in five categories to justify a first round pick from that point of comparison with many other first round candidates.
Perry tweaked a nerve in Ryan:
I was waiting for someone else to say Kershaw or Verlander so I could second that opinion. I've never been one to grab pitching early in drafts and this year will be no different for me.
I think Granderson's ascent to first round status is a direct result of the tumble former first rounders like Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Jose Reyes (and even Alex Rodriguez and David Wright) have taken since this time last year as well as fallout from the Ryan Braun situation. I know when I chose him in my draft, I did so because I wanted to start out with a power/speed combo, and the outfielders I liked better went right before me, so I definitely settled for my least preferred choice. Hanley Ramirez right now is sitting just outside the first round in early National Fantasy Baseball Championship drafts and he is the guy I think you are going to see climb back into the first round as the season approaches.
Lawr then raises an interesting point:
Understood on Granderson, but then why has Matt Holliday not moved up accordingly? If healthy, he is as productive across the board like Grandy (well, he does not really steal any longer)?
Well, I think everyone is mentally discounting the Cardinals offense with Pujols' departure and I think last year the best argument we've always had FOR picking Holliday early, his track record of good health, finally got punctured. That and a desire to grab players on the way up and you are actually seeing Holliday go in the 3rd round. But I think you just answered your own question by mentioning the dwindling stolen base totals. That's the main thing that is going to make people push him down their lists accordingly as most will chase the "upside" of Mike Stanton, Justin Upton, Nelson Cruz, Hunter Pence, Andrew McCutchen and even the also discounted Carl Crawford over Holliday this year.
Brian Walton, Mastersball.com Managing Partner and former National League Tout Wars champion, offered a new name:
How about Joey Bats? As Perry mentioned, this should be about confidence in repeatability. While Jose Bautista had a second standout year in 2011, who doesn't at least have some concern that midnight could be near? No one wants to get caught paying for last year's numbers, or those from the year before.
Speaking of last season, Bautista trended down considerably in home runs and RBI from 2010. Adding a third data point to that line for 2012 would have him at around 32 home runs and 82 RBI. Those would be very good, but not first-round quality numbers.
A-Gon: not gone when Lord picks
Sure, his could shoot back up, but that is the inherent risk with Bautista. He hasn't yet shown the desired level of consistency.
Nicholas Minnix, KFFL.com's Managing Editor and author of the always entertaining “Finger Nickin' Good,” hopes you are listening:
I tell anyone who'll listen that I wouldn't take Matt Kemp with one of the first few picks. I understand that, even with a significant rollback, his numbers will probably still be good, but I'd much rather pick a player with the kind of track record to which Perry alludes (a la Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera), especially one who isn't an outfielder, a position that's so much easier to fill with quality bodies. Former Mastersball.com editor Jason Mastrodonato and I discussed this a few months ago, and we both felt at the time that Jacoby Ellsbury stood a better chance of delivering numbers worthy of top-end draft status than Kemp would. Kemp's poor rate of contact and substandard surroundings in LA, not to mention his seeming aloofness, just don't make me confident enough in him to take him that early. I believe that this is something Todd also addressed in a column for us after last season. Ellsbury may not hit 30-plus bombs in 2012, but his swing and approach are much sounder than Kemp's. Say he hits only 15 or 20, which is more than reasonable (the organization forecasted a power spike for him in the near future). He'll still hit about .300, and he'll make up for some lost dingers because he'll take advantage of more opportunities to run.
Apparently, Perry was listening:
Kemp will be fine as long as he stays away from his personal kryptonite -- Rihanna.
Well while Brian's point about a possible continued decrease in numbers for Bautista - most likely HR slightly down but average down from a ridiculous .302 to .280 ish, he wouldn't deliver $30+ roto value like the first eight or nine hitters BUT he would still be a late first rounder - you can't argue his selection in the 11-15 range.
Lawr comes to Bautista's defense:
Bautista did suffer injury woes off and on over the course of the year, and played in 12 fewer games. More importantly, his OBP jumped a ridiculous 70 points with 32 more walks (and a league leading 24 intentional as opposed to two the year before) while his whiffs were down by five.
I think the dude is here to stay for a while. Those are deadly numbers for anyone not named Dunn.
Bautista was #2 on my list, so I agree that he is not the guy I am going to reach for in the first rd. If he falls too far though I think you have to take him. For me he's like Robinson Cano - I think they are both solid first round picks - I just don't like how high they are being drafted - more Ryan Braun repercussions.
Zach Steinhorn, Mastersball.com editor and mlb.com writer, joins the party:
I personally have a tough time viewing Prince Fielder as a no-brainer first rounder. If he signs with the Rangers, that's one thing. But if he goes to a place like Seattle or Washington, I can see his counting numbers suffer. Also, keep in mind that he's alternated excellent and good seasons throughout his career, and I'm not paying top dollar for a first baseman who could bat .280 with 32 homers and 100 RBIs. Give me Mark Teixeira a round later and I'd be thrilled.
Back to Bautista with Nick:
I agree with Lawr. Even if Bautista slips to 30-35 home runs, which I wouldn't call a lock, he's demonstrated that there's some bankability in his skill set. His eligibility at third base for at least this year is certainly enough to put him over the hump. If he declines on that slope AND is only OF-eligible next season, then it's time to reconsider.
Ryan brings up an interesting point:
I think Fielder is a classic standard/deep league case. If Ryan Howard, Justin Morneau and Kendrys Morales were all still healthy and Adam Dunn was still Adam Dunn I think you'd see him slip significantly. As it stands that second and third tier at first is thinner than I've ever seen it before.
Tim Heaney, KFFL.com Managing Editor and author of “Rounding the Bases,” finishes us off with:
I won't be calling the names of Matt Kemp and Jacoby Ellsbury unless they're still there in Round 2. Sure, both could maintain their five-category studliness, and I actually prefer the Red Sox fly-catcher here if I had to choose. Still, the weaknesses in Kemp's batting-average components and Ellsbury's likely regressing homer production make me nervous tabbing the most hyped members of the deepest position for my core. You can find more stable four- and five-category production than them from sources with a larger track record.
Continuing my outfielder bashing, I'm hoping fantasy baseball players don't make Curtis Granderson their first-rounder. Sure, his power profile is tailor made for Yankee Stadium, but even with his notable improvements against left-handers, his batting average grew all the way to ... .262. People expect it to improve again? I suspect he'll soon contract a cruel disease called MTS: Mark Teixeira Syndrome, with the symptoms including a looping lefty swing that erodes batting average thanks to the appeal of reaching a value-boosting short porch. That hardly defines a first-round profile, especially if he's not an infielder.
Lord Zola's wrap-up:
Wow, with knights like this, who needs me? I am a big believer in the notion of bankability in the first round, even if it means giving back a little in terms of upside, so I have no issues with dropping Kemp and Ellsbury down several notches. I also see both sides of the Bautista debate. He is past being called a fluke, but as Brian suggests, there is still something tugging at you when it comes time to pull the trigger. Every action has an opposite reaction, which for me elevates Miguel Cabrera's and Robinson Cano's status up a few pegs higher than their conventional ADP.
But to answer the question, two names came to mind. The first is Evan Longoria. Year after year, he is drafted in the mid to late first round. The funny thing is, he has yet to end the season returning first round value. Something has always gone wrong. His average is high, he swipes a few bags, but the power is down. Or the homers are there but the average suffers. When I first posed the query, Longoria was going to be my suggestion, but while the above was being bandied about, I was on the clock with lucky pick thirteen in a fifteen team league and chose the Rays' third baseman, so I needed another name to offer. For what it is worth, the reason I took Longoria is I sensed I could start the team with Ian Kinsler and Longoria and I had a better chance of doing so by taking Longoria first and I was correct. I actually have Kinsler rated higher, but this is part of the draft dynamic we will discuss in future Roundtables.
Anyway, the player I will be avoiding in the first round is Adrian Gonzalez. This time last year, we assumed he was going to hit 50 bombs moving out of PETCO Park. And while he deserves a mulligan on his power last season due to offseason shoulder surgery, I think we put too much credence into the park effect. This is not to say Gonzalez is still not going to be an outstanding run producer in the heart of a potent lineup, he is. It is just that with so many other outstanding hitters accruing upwards of 50 or 60 combined homers and steals available in the first, with Gonzalez's complete lack of speed, he needs to hit 45 homers with an average north of .300 to warrant first round selections and I am not convinced he is capable. Not only is the jury still out on his power, we are also not sure if he can sustain such a high average. Though, there is a good chance what we are seeing is a trade-off. The increase is batting average on balls in play is Gonzalez smacking doubles off the Green Monster, but at the expense of homers. This can be a topic for a different day, but given two players with the same raw value, I will take the one with more power and a lower average.
Todd is the Content Manager for the Mastersball Platinum Subscription product, featuring frequently updated player projections, values, rankings and profiles along with unique Excel tools, Minor League rankings and cutting edge strategy essays. Click HERE for details.
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.