Fantasy Baseball Roundtable: Player A or Player B?

by Todd Zola, MastersBall.com on February 27, 2012 @ 10:16:10 PDT

 


Welcome to this week's episode of Lord Zola's Fantasy Baseball Roundtable. This week my honorable knights and I are going to switch back to some player analysis, but with a twist, which was unbeknownst to the Roundtable, but they came through perfectly.

Lord Zola's Wrap-up:

I know, we haven't even started yet, so maybe this is my introduction. What I did was ask a bunch of "Which do you prefer, Player A or Player B?" questions. But the catch is, each pair of players was chosen with a purpose that transcends just getting some opinions on a handful of players. I selected players with similar market value and similar skills, but there was something definitively different in their history that I was hoping would be the defining reason one player was chosen over the other, and indeed, my wish came to fruition.

In a moment, I will list the choices posed to the knights, with my hidden agenda. As you read through the discourse below, do it keeping in mind that the reasoning behind each knight's decision is every bit as important as the specific player analysis, as in many instances, it speaks of a more global philosophy that can be applied to the evaluation of all players.

Ichiro Suzuki or Cameron Maybin: Both are being drafted about the same time. The skill sets are not a perfect match, as Ichiro has historically hit for a better average with Maybin having more power, but the primary factor I wanted to contract was Ichiro had his first down season in his career while Maybin finally started to how the promise many of us were waiting for.

Tampa Bay Rays SP Jeremy Hellickson
More to come: Hellickson

Max Scherzer or Jeremy Hellickson: A couple of young pitchers being drafted at just about the same time, but with vastly different 2011 campaigns. I was curious to see how the Roundtable would view the sabermetric quirks for each. Hellickson was widely considered to be lucky, with a low BABIP masking pedestrian peripherals as he won the AL Rookie of the Year. Scherzer, on the other hand, finally reduced his BB/9, but was victimized by a high BABIP and HR/FB, inflating his ERA.

Neil Walker or Jason Kipnis: Walker, the established solid but boring second baseman, versus Kipnis, a rising sophomore, perhaps not as hyped as some others, but still getting his share of attention.

Dexter Fowler or Alex Rios: Fowler, the thought to be future star, off to a disappointing start to his career, as opposed to Rios, a budding five category stud that was first inconsistent and last year simply bad.

Matt Cain or C.J. Wilson: Cain is the sabermetrician's bane, as he consistently defies what the advanced metrics say he should do, while Wilson is the scout's dream, someone who has successfully made the conversion to starter from closer, by altering his arsenal, adding a cutter while taking a bit off his fastball and changeup so he could work more efficiently and go deeper into games.

Here is what the assembled knights had to say about each pair.

Ichiro Suzuki or Cameron Maybin

Nicholas Minnix: My instinct is to go with Maybin, but I don't think either is terribly exciting. I'm not sure how Ichiro's ability, at his age, will play in the three-hole, but it certainly won't involve more running, even if it does include more chances to drive in runs. A few years ago, we could've said that Ichiro had the power to hit 15 home runs in any season, but that wasn't his game and what he'd sacrifice in other areas probably wasn't worth the trade-off. Now, I'm not at all willing to concede that point. He's a much more reliable choice because he's certain to deliver decent numbers. He makes contact too often not to do some damage. I think Maybin sounded more exciting, but his poor contact rate puts the stolen bases at risk, and without those two things, the rest isn't attractive. So, I think I just talked myself into Ichiro.

Perry Van Hook: Maybin - that's still going to be a reasonably early pick and while I think Ichiro can be successful in the third spot I don't think he will have as much overall value (unless his batting average returns to elite levels).

Tim Heaney: I prefer Maybin for the more tangible upside. With Ichiro batting third, his stolen-base chances will probably be limited, and though Ichiro has flashed batting-practice pop, I don't want to pay dearly for him to try that approach in games and jeopardize his already shaky BA peripherals.

I'll take rising ability over declining talent if they can be had at similar prices.

Rob Leibowitz: In a non-keeper format, I give Ichiro one last try. Despite being in the twilight of his career, Ichiro has not shown any significant alteration to his plate discipline or speed skills. 2011 looks like a clear outlier when you consider his annual batting averages on balls on play against his 2011 output. He continues to show his durability and a rebound in batting average for one last hurrah seems probable to me. Maybin has made some significant gains, giving up some of his power for making contact, but overall he still remains a fairly undisciplined right-handed hitter in a pitcher's ballpark. He may provide a few more HRs than Ichiro, but he is not likely to provide the same value, especially when you consider Ichiro may come at a discount after his 2011 campaign and could still easily garner over 700 plate appearances and a .300 batting average.

In a keeper format, depends on whether I am in contention or not. Maybin is only first turning 25 and has nice upside, so I would like to see how much more growth he has particularly if I am not likely to go for it in 2012.

Ryan Carey: Well I faced this question with my first draft of the year and I chose Maybin. I'd do it again today. The funny thing is in my mind this was more a comment on how far Ichiro had slipped in drafters' minds than it was Maybin getting raised up that much. It was the 8th Rd of a 15 team draft after all. I chose the younger player with the better power profile who can still provide the stolen bases that I wanted.

Max Scherzer or Jeremy Hellickson

Minnix: Scherzer, because despite the results and inconsistency last season, he made noticeable gains in how frequently he issues walks, and from start to start last year, it appears that he became more of a pitcher and less of a thrower. Hellickson has to pick up the strikeout rate to something closer to those of his farm record, and that probably involves using his breaking ball more often. From what I've read, he was hesitant to do so, and that may change, but if it doesn't, corrections elsewhere will probably make this year's results a lot less pretty.

Van Hook: Give me Hellickson every time - even IF his strikeout totals don't rise this year (and I think they will), his ERA and WHIP will be much better than Mad Max.

Heaney: Hellickson's K's will come; his stuff and acumen are too good for them not to. But Scherzer's dominance rate dropped to 8.03 last year while he showed significant control improvements. A positive correction on his 2011 4.40 ERA gives him the edge over the likely regression that'll hit Hellickson.

Hell Boy gets the edge by a hair for the long haul, but for 2012, Scherzer, who still has an ace's build in him, will reside higher on my cheat sheets.

Lawr Michaels: I do agree with Perry: Hellickson over Scherzer, though either is fine as a #3 at this point.

Leibowitz: This one is a gamble and format does not matter as much. It comes down to Scherzer's volatility in the long-ball department and Hellickson's ability to translate his strikeout rates to the majors. Hellickson, himself, is a fly-ball pitcher, who also pitched over his head despite a low strikeout rate in his rookie season. Right now I might actually defer to track record and go with Scherzer and his track record of back to back 8+ K/9 and improving command and control. I expect Hellickson may be the better pitcher in the long run, but there might be more bumps in the road for him at the moment than Scherzer.

Carey: I would likely go for Hellickson over Scherzer, but it's close. I admit, I still worry that big injury they have always said Scherzer was going to get one day because of his violent delivery. I think I'd opt for Hellickson on the premise that I could get him cheaper. Then I'll hope that his strikeout rate rises a bit more this year as they take the kid gloves off him.

Neil Walker or Jason Kipnis

Minnix: Kipnis, because there's more power and stolen-base upside. I think he's one of the more polished prospects to reach the bigs in the last couple of years, so I don't think he's much at risk to lose PT. Walker turned in quality roto numbers last year, but I want to say that much of it was on the strength of his RBI total - somewhere in the 80s? - but he hit something like 12 homers and only in the .270s. His average with RISP must've been something like .350, but whatever it was, I don't trust him to make quite as large of a contribution this year.

Van Hook: While I like both I will go with Kipnis who I think is a better bet for both double digit HR and SB.

Heaney: Walker seems like the type who needs RBIs to boost his value. It's like what happened to Delmon Young after he drove in 112 in 2010; drafters tend to overvalue ribbies, which fluctuate for hitters who aren't heart-of-the-order mainstays.

At the point where you'd consider this pair, Kipnis gives you much more profit potential. He won't hit .300, but he has enough of a base where he could hit .270 with 15-homer, 15-steal contributions. Walker has pop, too, but isn't as definite a swipes contributor. I want as much SB potential as possible out of my middle infield, and Kipnis is a better source.

Michaels: I do like Kipnis a lot. As Cory Schwartz (mlb.com) noted, Walker is competent, but kind of boring.

Leibowitz: When I look at Walker, I see a player who may have already hit his ceiling. His three-year declining fly-ball rates/increasing ground-ball rates is also not an encouraging trend, but overall he looks like a fairly safe bet to hit at least .270 and manage double digits in HRs.

Kipnis, on the other hand, is still moving towards his ceiling as he has not yet translated his minor league contact-making skills to the majors. In the minors he was making contact more than 80% of the time on a regular basis and is also capable of a .270 or better batting average. In the power department, Kipnis has slightly more raw power, though this may be a wash given similar ground-ball/fly-ball rates. Where Kipnis offers an edge is speed. He is a good runner and a smart runner at that. Between the majors and minors last year he was 17 of 18 in stolen base attempts and has at least 15/15 potential in the majors.

So given a similar skill set, but an edge in the speed game, I would give Kipnis a try in all formats.

Carey: This one isn't that close for me, I would take Kipnis easily over Walker. No need for me to go into too many stats here as the others have hit on most of them, but Kipnis could have a mediocre year and still out-produce Walker across the board (except for BA I concede). The thing that really impressed me with Kipnis last year was how he looked in the batter's box and on the field in general. Just a tenacity that was infectious for the team. Not too many rookies come up and assume a leadership role, but Kipnis did for the Tribe last year. Walker is a nice player and for me he is a fallback at 2B if I miss out on my breakout guys. I will say that I would rather have him than either Aaron Hill or Kelly Johnson this year.

Dexter Fowler or Alex Rios

Minnix: Rios, because he already has the 20-20 or even 20-30 skill set. Fowler inches closer every year by making advances in his ability to get on base, his average versus righties, things like that, and he could very well be on the verge of a breakout season. Rios has done it a number of times, he's not old (only 32, I think), and if he's healthy, in that ballpark, he's a good bet to contribute in at least four categories. In a mixed league, as late as you can get either, I'd rather side with the player who brings the possibility of 20 bombs to the table in addition to the 25 or so stolen bases, and Fowler just isn't there.

San Francisco Giants SP Matt Cain
Underrated, still: Cain

Van Hook: Fowler, who could be in for a breakout season. Sorry not a fan of Rios after that crappy season and wouldn't bet a player I like that he will rebound. I would take him with a lower, less risky pick but not over a guy who should out produce him.

Heaney: Fowler is one of my favorite sleepers for 2012, but Rios' immediate upside is much grander. Chronic toe soreness sapped Rios' power for most of 2011, and he had a breakthrough in September when he lowered the hand positioning in his stance.
Fowler has a power-speed mix, but his stolen-base potential heavily outweighs its companion. Rios has difference-making 30-30 ability; you only have to pay for a fraction of what that costs on the surface. Plus, he's coming off a down year; history shows that's when you take a chance on the enigmatic talent.

Michaels:

Ichiro Suzuki or Cameron Maybin? Who cares?

Dexter Fowler or Alex Rios? Who cares even less...

And, I feel bad about Ichiro, because he is a Hall of Famer, and he has aged well. But, the players in this quartet are all interchangeable parts for rounds 10-16 as I see it now. The upside for Maybin might be age. The upside to Fowler is he is better - which really says more about how much Rios has dropped than Fowler upped his game.

Leibowitz: Neither of these players screams "Buy me."

Fowler twice has had to post BABIPs well into the .300s to hit just in the .260s. He will be 26 on opening day, has not cracked 20 steals in two seasons despite consistent playing time. Fowler's skill lines just look flat without sign of growth. He did enjoy a better second half, but overall his 2011 performance fits easily within the rest of his career. I guess, at least from the sense of comfort, one knows what one will get from Fowler. He is still young enough that he might yet break out, but I remain unconvinced.

Rios is simply frustrating and in an auction environment it depends on price vs. risk. At least one can see that his batting average on balls in play jumps up and down violently leaving opening the possibility of some return of production, though I hold out little hope the power will return to the 20+ range. His 10% or above HR/FB rates of the past now look like flukes when contrasted against recent seasons. Overall, I do not like the drop off in speed and power.

Grudgingly, I think in this situation I might go with Fowler. He at least walks and is showing some small signs of improvement.

Carey: Interesting case, as I have drafted both at times this year. Rios has been a guy I have been buying, partially due to his price point in drafts. I like 20/20 guys and he has proven he can do that and has the ballpark to do it in. I think just a regression gives you a very decent 15/15 season. While I believe Fowler is a good sleeper pick this year in his own right, if you draft him it is because you believe he is going to take the next step and provide you with impact stolen base numbers. I'm just not sold that he is going to be an elite thief. He's the more risky pick in my mind.

Matt Cain or C.J. Wilson

Minnix: For me, Wilson. I think the southpaw is pretty undervalued. He's handled the transition to the rotation outstandingly, better than anyone expected, and he backed up his 2010 breakthrough with an even better campaign last year. He toned down the frequency of walks last year, he has a high-end K/9, and he accomplished all this while pitching half of his games in Texas. He moves to a much better ballpark for pitchers, isn't expected to be the ace in Anaheim and still gets to face Oakland and Seattle a few times each. That offense should be better than it's been in a few years, too. Cain is a very good pitcher too, don't get me wrong, but Wilson offers greater potential, I think.

Van Hook: Two very good choices here - hopefully for SP2 - but I give the edge to Wilson pitching in front of a better defense AND offense. Also, likely to have more wins as well as more strikeouts.

Heaney: Cain's skills are stabilizing, but Wilson's offer more K's. He moves to a pitcher-friendly ambience with newly reloaded run support (they bought some new Machine). Wilson is intimately familiar with pitching in the only hitter-leaning park in his division.

He's one of the best cases of reliever-to-starter transition in recent memory: His grounder inducement, dominance, control, strike-zone aggressiveness and stamina all held up or improved in his second season in his new role.

Though he has similarly favorable road destinations in his division, Cain doesn't have sufficient run support to bolster his win total. You hate drafting for that, but in cases like this, it breaks a tie and reminds us how undervalued Wilson is.

Michaels: Of everyone listed, the only name that stands out to me is Cain, who is not only very consistent, but all of his numbers from 2010 to 2011 were virtually the same, save he cut his home runs allowed in half. And, he is just 28. He is the only guy on the list I have actively tried to get on all my mocks this year.

Leibowitz: As pitching goes, Cain is the picture of "stability." Six straight seasons of at least 32 starts, consistently over a 7.0 K/9, and in recent seasons much improved control all while pitching in a pitcher's park. The only thing he has not done is win more than 14 games, which of course is more the result of his team then anything else. C.J. Wilson has only been a starter for two years, has better strikeout skills and in 2011 advanced to a new level of control improvement which is out of context with the rest of the career. So it is more likely that he will regress in that department. However, he pitched for and will pitch for a team more likely to get some wins.

In the end, Cain is perhaps the "safer" play which there is no such thing as in the realm of pitchers. I might go upside then for Wilson's strikeout skills, hope the new control is for real, and look to benefit from his run support.

Carey: This may be a little of a cop out here, but honestly I don't think you can go wrong here. Both solid pitchers who will help your teams this year. At the point both kind of come into the discussion in straight drafts, I think it comes down to the W's. If I already have my ace, I like Cain as a number two. Think his ratios will be safer. If I have waited to pick my number one guy, I am going Wilson, because of the two I think he has the better chance to get the counting stats that I want from my number one SP.

Lord Zola's Wrap-up, Take Two:

What fun would it be if everyone agreed? Here are my answers, quick hit style.

What? Zach has a question? OK, let's hear it.

Zach Steinhorn: Can I get some more opinions as to where you'd draft Ryan Braun now in light of the suspension being overturned - before whom, after whom, etc? We'll be discussing this on the next Fantasy 411 podcast and wanted to gather some more thoughts from industry people. Thanks!

Ask and ye shall receive. In the midst of our player analysis, the Braun news was obviously announced.

Van Hook: I have him either second or third - behind Pujols, maybe Miggy, ahead of Kemp.........................today.

Lord Zola: I have the third pick in an NFBC draft tonight (last Friday), and if Miggy and Pujols are gone, Braun will be next. (And they were and he was.)

Heaney: I'm in Lord Zola's camp: Braun has moved up to my third preference for the top pick behind Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera. Though I like to build 1B power in the first round, even if I miss out on Pujols and Miggy, Braun's production is more bankable in five categories than the first-sacker alternatives, which can't be passed up. Gonna be a fun wrinkle in tomorrow's mixed LABR draft (where he went sixth.)

Minnix: I'd consider Adrian Gonzalez or Joey Votto with the third pick. Braun is right there, definitely ahead of Matt Kemp.

Michaels: I do like Tulo with pick #3 - shortstop with 30 bombs. There will be another 30 homer outfielder out there when the pick comes back to you. Well, one with 30-homer capability.

Lord Zola's Wrap-up, I mean it this time:

Ichiro over Maybin - more a testament to my not thinking Ichiro is done as I like Maybin. Conventional wisdom assumes Ichiro has lost a step, but he has not, he was just very unlucky with BABIP on line drives, which is out of his control. I'll make up the lost power using batting average buffer that Ichiro will again provide.

Hellickson over Scherzer - but not by much as I am very optimistic Scherzer takes the next step. Well, I think he already has, but it was masked. The oddity with Hellickson was discussed by the fine folks at FanGraphs as they showed the Rookie of the Year winner was shortchanged on strikeouts based on how many swing and misses he induced. This will correct just like a high or low BABIP will, increasing his K-rate.

Walker over Kipnis - what can I say, I am conservative, probably to a fault. Give me the tried and true, no matter how boring, over the up and comer that needs to show he can sustain a useful average at the MLB level. If Kipnis doesn't hit for average, he doesn't score, he doesn't knock in runs and he doesn't steal. His power is not nearly sufficient to make up for all that.

Rios over Fowler - I've been driving the Rios bandwagon since November, no sense in deserting it now. I just think he is too skilled to have fallen off that much and while I think Fowler is a candidate for a breakout, I think he is hurt by the fact he is kind of a tweener, should he eschew the power, make better contact and run or should he take advantage of the thin air and continue to try to drive the ball? Trying to be very good at two things often results in not reaching your potential in either.

Cain over Wilson - but I wouldn't want to live off the difference. It comes down to track record and that even though I see the numbers and realize Wilson is a completely different pitcher now, it was not that long ago I was advising people not to pick him up when he was named closer as his peripherals were horrible.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to share your comments below and keep an eye out on KFFL Baseball Facebook page or via Twitter by at @KFFL_Baseball for next week's discussion topic.

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.

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About Todd Zola, MastersBall.com

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.

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