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Charging the Mound: Ranking of Top Five Picks

Chris Liss

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire.com and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).

We spent a lot of time on your radio show on Tuesday night talking about the ranking of the top five picks in this year's draft. While it's fun to debate the relative merits of Hanley Ramirez, David Wright, Matt Holliday and Jose Reyes, let's face it, it's really not that important of a debate. You want any one of those guys on your team, period. That decision likely isn't going to make or break your draft.

To me, the more interesting players are the problem players. When we did the Yahoo! Friends and Family draft on Monday, I was more interested in seeing how far down Albert Pujols and Johan Santana fell. We talked about this during the draft, and it was fascinating to me to see how far Pujols has slipped. He went at No. 16 (2.4, to Brandon Funston), and you were next on the clock with him. Would you have pulled the trigger if Brandon didn't take him? On one hand, the description of his injury is pretty grisly. On the other hand, he's having a pretty good spring, and he's been playing through this injury (albeit it's probably worse now) since 2003. I talked to Will Carroll, and he's pretty upbeat about him still. But yet ... you just don't want to miss with your first round pick. Fortunately, I haven't really had to make that hard decision on Pujols yet - I drafted fifth in the Yahoo draft, and I'm drafting 3rd (of 15) in the NFBC this weekend.

You ended up being the guy that took Santana, answering my other question heading into the draft. He's still our top pitcher in our rankings, and in most other rankings as well. I initially had him 17th overall, but have bumped him up to 14th after the trade to the Mets. And yet... if I'm sitting there with the 14th pick and he's the highest ranked player on my board, I don't want to be that guy and pull the trigger. I just hate spending my top pick on a pitcher anyhow, and his September performance also has me a little spooked. I guess that means I should downgrade him again in my overall rankings. He went 17th to you - what were your thoughts when making the pick?

Who are some of the other tricky players that you're tracking in drafts? I try to avoid the players early that could "break" your draft if they break down or blow apart. Then again, unlike football, it's pretty hard for just one player to break your team in baseball. If you get little-to-nothing from your first round pick, you can still win, but you've also dug yourself a hole to climb out of. Excluding rookies for a second, who are those players to you with the most variance?

----Original Message-----
From: Christopher Liss
Sent: Wednesday, March 12, 2008 9:18pm
To: jeff@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: Charging

I wouldn't have taken Pujols had Funston taken Santana. I probably would have taken Grady Sizemore, who I almost took anyway, but then I changed my mind and took Santana on a whim. Santana burned me in my home league last year when I felt I had to take him at 11 (remember he was consensus top-5), and I don't usually like taking pitchers that early, but value is value, and all things being equal, give me the bold pick. Give me the guy who's the best value even if it's not what I had planned.

I thought about Pujols before Brandon took him but decided I didn't want to risk it for a player who doesn't even steal bags. Yes, he could go 45-135-130-.340, but with that lineup, the runs and RBI will be harder to come by, and he doesn't run. And keep in mind that if Pujols does have to have surgery on the elbow, it's an eight-month rehab, meaning that if the Cards are out of range (and with that roster, I expect them to be), there's a good chance they shut Pujols down in June instead of September in order to get him ready for 2009 when Chris Carpenter will also presumably be back.

The question for you is what do you do if Pujols slips to YOU at pick 28 in the NFBC? That means you take him over guys like Carlos Guillen who you took at pick 29. Pujols won't slip that far unless some bad news comes out, but hypothetically, you have to take him there, right? I would. At some point, ceiling, even in the early rounds, outweighs floor.

Here are some other players I have trouble valuing - tell me if you see them more clearly:

Travis Hafner - what did last year mean? He was one of the best hitters in baseball before that.

Lance Berkman - see Hafner

Magglio Ordonez - what do you do with a guy coming off that kind of a year out of nowhere? You downgrade him severely, I'd think, but if he hits .300 with 20-25 homers in that lineup, the counting stats will be very good again.

Hunter Pence - Pence was a good prospect and red hot as a rookie before getting hurt, but I'm not sold on that sample size.

Jason Bay - See Hafner and Berkman - only he wasn't as good when he was good.

For all three, I wonder about the steroid/HGH issue as well.

James Shields - elite peripherals - but I have trouble giving him full respect. The Devil Rays [which it's still my right to call them] will score more runs, and while you can argue he'll face some tough lineups in the AL East, he faced those same lineups last year.

Matt Cain - Anothe

I wouldn't have taken Pujols had Funston taken Santana. I probably would have taken Grady Sizemore, who I almost took anyway, but then I changed my mind and took Santana on a whim. Santana burned me in my home league last year when I felt I had to take him at 11 (remember he was consensus top-5), and I don't usually like taking pitchers that early, but value is value, and all things being equal, give me the bold pick. Give me the guy who's the best value even if it's not what I had planned.

I thought about Pujols before Brandon took him but decided I didn't want to risk it for a player who doesn't even steal bags. Yes, he could go 45-135-130-.340, but with that lineup, the runs and RBI will be harder to come by, and he doesn't run. And keep in mind that if Pujols does have to have surgery on the elbow, it's an eight-month rehab, meaning that if the Cards are out of range (and with that roster, I expect them to be), there's a good chance they shut Pujols down in June instead of September in order to get him ready for 2009 when Chris Carpenter will also presumably be back.

The question for you is what do you do if Pujols slips to YOU at pick 28 in the NFBC? That means you take him over guys like Carlos Guillen who you took at pick 29. Pujols won't slip that far unless some bad news comes out, but hypothetically, you have to take him there, right? I would. At some point, ceiling, even in the early rounds, outweighs floor.

Here are some other players I have trouble valuing - tell me if you see them more clearly:

Travis Hafner - what did last year mean? He was one of the best hitters in baseball before that.

Lance Berkman - see Hafner.

Magglio Ordonez - what do you do with a guy coming off that kind of a year out of nowhere? You downgrade him severely, I'd think, but if he hits .300 with 20-25 homers in that lineup, the counting stats will be very good again.

Hunter Pence - Pence was a good prospect and red hot as a rookie before getting hurt, but I'm not sold on that sample size.

Jason Bay - See Hafner and Berkman - only he wasn't as good when he was good.

For all three, I wonder about the steroid/HGH issue as well.

James Shields - elite peripherals - but I have trouble giving him full respect. The Devil Rays [which it's still my right to call them] will score more runs, and while you can argue he'll face some tough lineups in the AL East, he faced those same lineups last year.

Matt Cain - Another good pitcher on a bad team. Just a guy I don't want to own and actually bet Dalton Del Don that Carlos Zambrano would have a better year than him.

Rick Ankiel - I don't like that he was tainted by the steroid brush. I don't trust him and probably won't own him.

Those are just a few. There are a lot more, I'm sure. What are your thoughts on those players, and who do you have trouble seeing clearly at this point?

-----Original Message-----
From: jeff@rotowire.com
Sent: March 12, 2008 11:28 pm
To: liss@rotowire.com
Subject: RE: Charging

(One quick editing note with Shields - remember, it's "Rays" and not "Devil Rays" any longer)

I think you're right about Pujols, if he's still there at No. 28 in the NFBC, I have to take him, especially if I end up with Hanley Ramirez with my first round pick, because I'd have to worry less about Pujols' lack of stolen bases. The way that this is structured, my feeling is that the winning team will have a few chances go its way. Pujols is the ultimate gamble in that regard. That said, I really hope that I don't have to make that choice.

With problem players and outliers, I think that the natural tendency is to project them to revert to the middle. Unless there's a clear cut reason that still exists for a player coming off of a down year, I'm going to classify it as just that, a down year, and project him to bounce back. Maybe it won't be back all the way to his peak level, but enough so as to make a difference. That said, I can be pretty liberal in defining such a clear cut reason. Maybe it's a player hitting his post-peak years, or it could be an injury.

Dealing with the rumors of players using performance-enhancing gear is a different story. Unless a player has been mentioned in a specific report, I tend not to incorporate that innuendo in my projection for the player. I'm not educated enough on the ability to spot a user, nor connected enough to know which player has a raging case back acne that hasn't been reported by observant media types. The story and the factor cannot be ignored, but I don't feel comfortable trying to guess who I should downgrade or to downgrade them all.

And so it goes with these specific examples. Most of my projections aren't going to be bold here. I'll list my projection for each of them, with a comment.

Travis Hafner (.298/.415/.557, with 34 homers) - As you suggested, use of performance-enhancing gear has been suspected, but it's not as if he's ever been mentioned in a concrete rumor. It could just as easily have been a case where the knee injury that he played through prevented him from generating enough power from his base. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt here. He's off to a good spring (.440/.550/.600, albeit with no homers), for whatever that's worth.

Lance Berkman (.292/.408/.547, with 36 homers) - How much of his decline last year can be attributed to a lower batting average? A pretty significant portion, I think, and if you look at his BABIP last year versus his career numbers, you can see that it's well below. His power output wasn't that bad - he still hit 34 homers, but his doubles dropped. My biggest concern about him might be his conditioning, but overall, I expect a decent return this year.

Magglio Ordonez (.322/.390/.521, 23 homers in 145 games) - I'm having some second thoughts about this projection. We all know that he's not going to hit .363 again, so the question is how much do you downgrade him? I have him at .322, which is well within what he was capable of in his pre-injury form. But is that enough, and maybe we should factor in a little more injury risk? I'm starting to get cold feet here.

Hunter Pence (.313/.363/.542, 26 homers) - I'm a believer. His minor league numbers indicated that he could do this. Sure, I'd like to see a little more patience at the

(One quick editing note with Shields - remember, it's "Rays" and not "Devil Rays" any longer)

I think you're right about Pujols, if he's still there at No. 28 in the NFBC, I have to take him, especially if I end up with Hanley Ramirez with my first round pick, because I'd have to worry less about Pujols' lack of stolen bases. The way that this is structured, my feeling is that the winning team will have a few chances go its way. Pujols is the ultimate gamble in that regard. That said, I really hope that I don't have to make that choice.

With problem players and outliers, I think that the natural tendency is to project them to revert to the middle. Unless there's a clear cut reason that still exists for a player coming off of a down year, I'm going to classify it as just that, a down year, and project him to bounce back. Maybe it won't be back all the way to his peak level, but enough so as to make a difference. That said, I can be pretty liberal in defining such a clear cut reason. Maybe it's a player hitting his post-peak years, or it could be an injury.

Dealing with the rumors of players using performance-enhancing gear is a different story. Unless a player has been mentioned in a specific report, I tend not to incorporate that innuendo in my projection for the player. I'm not educated enough on the ability to spot a user, nor connected enough to know which player has a raging case back acne that hasn't been reported by observant media types. The story and the factor cannot be ignored, but I don't feel comfortable trying to guess who I should downgrade or to downgrade them all.

And so it goes with these specific examples. Most of my projections aren't going to be bold here. I'll list my projection for each of them, with a comment.

Travis Hafner (.298/.415/.557, with 34 homers) - As you suggested, use of performance-enhancing gear has been suspected, but it's not as if he's ever been mentioned in a concrete rumor. It could just as easily have been a case where the knee injury that he played through prevented him from generating enough power from his base. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt here. He's off to a good spring (.440/.550/.600, albeit with no homers), for whatever that's worth.

Lance Berkman (.292/.408/.547, with 36 homers) - How much of his decline last year can be attributed to a lower batting average? A pretty significant portion, I think, and if you look at his BABIP last year versus his career numbers, you can see that it's well below. His power output wasn't that bad - he still hit 34 homers, but his doubles dropped. My biggest concern about him might be his conditioning, but overall, I expect a decent return this year.

Magglio Ordonez (.322/.390/.521, 23 homers in 145 games) - I'm having some second thoughts about this projection. We all know that he's not going to hit .363 again, so the question is how much do you downgrade him? I have him at .322, which is well within what he was capable of in his pre-injury form. But is that enough, and maybe we should factor in a little more injury risk? I'm starting to get cold feet here.

Hunter Pence (.313/.363/.542, 26 homers) - I'm a believer. His minor league numbers indicated that he could do this. Sure, I'd like to see a little more patience at the plate, but that's also been there in his minor league stops. Just keep him away from shower and hot tub doors.

Jason Bay (.283/.386/.499, 28 homers, 9 stolen bases) - I think that problems with his knee started his slide, and then it became a bit of a death spiral after that. I do think that the 21 steals he had in 2005 are a fluke - I doubt he'll approach that level ever again.

James Shields (13-9, 3.92 ERA, 196 K's) - The Rays don't scare me - their offense is rapidly becoming one of the scarier lineups in baseball, and they have attempted to fortify their defense and bullpen over last year's horrid units. If anything, this projection might be a little tame.

Matt Cain (11-13, 3.67 ERA, 184 K's) - I really try not to think too much about a pitcher's wins, but yeah, this team behind him is going to stink. Is there an infield that's going to produce less offensively than the Giants, even accounting for the excision of Pedro Feliz? I still want to own Cain for the right price, but I'd rather have Shields if we're going to compare the two. Cain's walk rate also makes him a little scarier to own.

Rick Ankiel (.279/.332/.510, 31 HR's) - I guess I'm still drinking the Kool-Aid on Ankiel, if you go by his power projection. I'll say this much - there's a lot more fantasy players out there with your approach on him. He's coming at a discount in almost every league that I've seen.

I'm rambling on here, so I'll just name a few more players and let you bring this one home:

Yunel Escobar - Is he for real, and will he eventually run more?

Rickie Weeks - Everybody's favorite sleeper, but just how much are you willing to spend on someone who is nearly certain to hurt your batting average? I know what he did over the last few months of the season, but doesn't everything he did the past year-and-a-half count? He's hitting .143 (with 12 strikeouts) in 28 at-bats this spring.

Scott Rolen - Is he done, or does he have Mike Lowell-esque resurgence left in him?

Kosuke Fukudome - If I have a blind spot in my projections, it's that I tend to over-value players coming over from Japan. What's your projection on Fukudome this year? Next year?

B.J. Ryan - Pretty self-explanatory here.

Pedro Martinez - Such a stark drop in velocity, but his brief stint upon his return last season was pretty good.


-----Original Message-----
From: Christopher Liss
Sent: March 13, 2008 12:15 am
To: Jeff Erickson
Subject: Re: Charging

I drafted Weeks in the sixth round of our Yahoo Friends and Family League, so I like him. He was a 16/25 guy in 409 at-bats at age 24 last year, for God's sake. And he had a .289 BABIP (Batting average on balls in play), which is a lot lower than his minor league numbers and lower than most players in the league, especially ones with that much speed, so his average should come up. I'm not worried about his spring training stats. With his strong finish and pedigree, there's a lot of profit to be had from a second-base-eligible sixth rounder.

I think Rolen, another player I drafted in that league, is going to bounce back, so long as he stays healthy, though that turf at the Rogers Centre (Is that really what it's called now?) isn't especially forgiving. Look at what Rolen did in 2006: .296/.369/.518, and that he's just 33 and claims to be healthier than in years - I like him as long as he holds up.

Fukudome - who knows? The party line is 20/15/.290 with good on-base percentage. Right now he's hitting fifth, but there's been talk of him hitting second and also third. Pencil him in 90/100, for runs and RBIs, and which is which depends on where he hits. I have him also on my Yahoo team believe it or not, but that was just a value play in the 14th round - Johnny Damon and Joey Votto were the next outfielders drafted after him.

I don't have Ryan, but I did draft Jeremy Accardo with my last pick, and that pretty much says it all. Ryan's just 10 months removed from Tommy John surgery, and I doubt his command will be all the way back by Opening Day. If that's the case, why rush him into the closer role?

As it happens, I also have Pedro - did you pick these guys because they were all on my team or related to players I took, or was it just random? Or were they only available because no one had a good read on them and figured they'd pass. Either way, I really like Martinez this year. His September was outstanding - exactly what you'd expect from him when completely healthy (32:7 K:BB in 29 IP). He's had another six months to get healthier and by all accounts is feeling good this spring. Pedro's an all-time great, he's only 36, (he won't be Randy Johnson's age until 2016), and one of the toughest and fiercest competitors around. In other words, this isn't Mark Prior or Rich Harden we're talking about.

Also, it's interesting to note, I took him in the 10th round, and got a "Wow" out of one of the drafters, which is always good. I was talking with Scott Pianowski on the XM show the other day about how a few people cursed when he took Nick Markakis. I said people cursing is the second best thing - it means that people are jealous of the pick which is a good feeling, but I've found that it has no correlation as to whether it's actually a good pick. But when people laugh at your pick or pan it, rest assured, it's a stroke of genius... (assuming the pick is sincere, and you've done your homework).

Article first appeared 3/13/08


I drafted Weeks in the sixth round of our Yahoo Friends and Family League, so I like him. He was a 16/25 guy in 409 at-bats at age 24 last year, for God's sake. And he had a .289 BABIP (Batting average on balls in play), which is a lot lower than his minor league numbers and lower than most players in the league, especially ones with that much speed, so his average should come up. I'm not worried about his spring training stats. With his strong finish and pedigree, there's a lot of profit to be had from a second-base-eligible sixth rounder.

I think Rolen, another player I drafted in that league, is going to bounce back, so long as he stays healthy, though that turf at the Rogers Centre (Is that really what it's called now?) isn't especially forgiving. Look at what Rolen did in 2006: .296/.369/.518, and that he's just 33 and claims to be healthier than in years - I like him as long as he holds up.

Fukudome - who knows? The party line is 20/15/.290 with good on-base percentage. Right now he's hitting fifth, but there's been talk of him hitting second and also third. Pencil him in 90/100, for runs and RBIs, and which is which depends on where he hits. I have him also on my Yahoo team believe it or not, but that was just a value play in the 14th round - Johnny Damon and Joey Votto were the next outfielders drafted after him.

I don't have Ryan, but I did draft Jeremy Accardo with my last pick, and that pretty much says it all. Ryan's just 10 months removed from Tommy John surgery, and I doubt his command will be all the way back by Opening Day. If that's the case, why rush him into the closer role?

As it happens, I also have Pedro - did you pick these guys because they were all on my team or related to players I took, or was it just random? Or were they only available because no one had a good read on them and figured they'd pass. Either way, I really like Martinez this year. His September was outstanding - exactly what you'd expect from him when completely healthy (32:7 K:BB in 29 IP). He's had another six months to get healthier and by all accounts is feeling good this spring. Pedro's an all-time great, he's only 36, (he won't be Randy Johnson's age until 2016), and one of the toughest and fiercest competitors around. In other words, this isn't Mark Prior or Rich Harden we're talking about.

Also, it's interesting to note, I took him in the 10th round, and got a "Wow" out of one of the drafters, which is always good. I was talking with Scott Pianowski on the XM show the other day about how a few people cursed when he took Nick Markakis. I said people cursing is the second best thing - it means that people are jealous of the pick which is a good feeling, but I've found that it has no correlation as to whether it's actually a good pick. But when people laugh at your pick or pan it, rest assured, it's a stroke of genius... (assuming the pick is sincere, and you've done your homework).

Article first appeared 3/13/08

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