Whether you're in a league that chooses players via draft or auction, it's always a good idea to first look at the player pool in terms of positions. Determining what positions are thin or deep in talent is key to determining where to allocate your auction dollars or where to make early draft picks in a draft. It's also a key factor when making decisions on what players to retain in keeper leagues. Here's my take on how the talent compares at each position this season. First base is deep, shortstop is top heavy, but second base is deeper than usual, so we didn't add a positional scarcity component to our 2B values and rankings. This page should be used in conjunction with our rankings, dollar values and cheatsheets.
Much of this material is featured in the RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Guide 2011, but I've modified it to include it in one article on the site.
We've removed the split between "earn" and "bid" values in the magazine this year, instead implementing into our values a positional scarcity element for catchers and shortstops into our general values. Our scarcity component for catchers is much higher than for shortstops. If we didn't add that component, we'd only have 9-10 catchers with positive values. These values imply that you're in a league that uses two catchers per team in a 12-team league. The upper tier of catchers has expanded from the 3 M's (Mauer, McCann, Martinez) to five, including both Buster Posey and Carlos Santana. Santana requires a bit of faith to draft among the elite, thanks to his truncated season, but his rate stats indicate that he belongs there. There isn't a rookie catcher this year that could make the leap like Posey and Santana did last year, though if the Yankees make room for Jesus Montero and keep him behind the plate, he has that sort of upside. Other new names to watch out for this year include J.P. Arencibia and Josh Thole.
Albert Pujols once again occupies his own tier, but there's an otherwise quite deep first tier of first basemen this year, with the addition of Joey Votto and Adrian Gonzalez among the league's elite. Gonzalez should thrive in Boston following his emancipation from Petco Park - his road OPS has been at least .160 points higher in each of the last three seasons, plus he steps into a much stronger surrounding lineup. Sitting at 10 and 11 respectively among first basemen, Kendry Morales and Justin Morneau present a high upside coupled with significant injury risk. Morneau in particular could profile among the elite if we could just guarantee 150+ games out of him. Meanwhile, Todd Helton has fallen out of consideration for many in mixed leagues, despite playing half his games in Coors Field - he went undrafted in many of our early mock drafts.
Right off the bat, we should note that there wasn't a positional scarcity component added to our second base dollar values, with 25 qualifying second basemen coming in with positive values. Keep that in mind when you're evaluating how much you want to spend on the elite players at the position. 2010 was a tough year for many of the elite second basemen. Chase Utley first slumped then got hurt, Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler also spent significant time on the DL, and 2009's breakout players Aaron Hill and Ben Zobrist regressed to the mean. We don't think that the same will happen to 2010's breakout second baseman Kelly Johnson, at least to the same degree. Meanwhile, Gordon Beckham should be a lot more affordable this year after slumping over the first half in 2010, while providing the value that many expected in last year's drafts.
Jose Bautista came out of nowhere last season to hit 54 homers and knock in 124 runs. Was it for real, or is he the next Brady Anderson? Upon reflection, Bautista's power surge began toward the end of 2009, so we're projecting him to hit 38 homers in his return campaign. Meanwhile, second base might be deeper than third base this year, especially if you're in an AL-only league. Granted, eventually Kevin Youkilis and Chone Figgins will regain third-base eligibility, but come draft day there will be a paucity of strong options there once you get past the top tier. For those looking for new blood at the position, watch the spring training battles in Florida and Kansas City, where Matt Dominguez and Mike Moustakas respectively are fighting for their team's starting jobs. Dominguez has the clearer path, but Moustakas' bat is closer to being ready.
Unlike second basemen, the shortstop values are inflated with a positional scarcity component. There are barely enough shortstops that would earn positive values without inflation to field the bare minimum in a mixed league draft, but there's just so few shortstops among the first two tiers of hitters to properly account for them without using some scarcity add-on. Essentially, this becomes a problem of how to properly value Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez, given how much they stand out from the rest of the shortstop pool. The lack of elite hitting shortstops really stands out in the AL, where there are no first-tier players those on the next tiers are either speculative (Alexei Ramirez, Elvis Andrus) or fading (Derek Jeter). If you opt to sift through the bargain bin and look for upside, Jed Lowrie might have the potential to outperform his projection, but for now he doesn't have a starting job with the Red Sox.
Carlos Gonzalez tops our outfielder rankings this year, and while there's a danger of relying too much on last year's stats, he's precisely the type of player that we've undervalued in the past. He's young, he's toolsy and he's had some problems with plate discipline, which frightens off the sabermetrically-inclined fantasy player. While the low walk rate remained in 2010, his strikeout rate also dropped. Furthermore, his big home/road split won't be a problem in the near future, following his contract extension with the Rockies in January. Drew Stubbs is the outlier in our top-10 this year, but he managed to have a 22-homer, 30-steal season in his first full year in the majors despite a 67-percent contact rate. With any sort of improvement in that department, he has the potential to go 30-40. As with shortstops and third basemen, the ranks thin out quicker in the AL, so if you plan to go with $1 outfielders in your draft, you may be surprised at the poor quality of those remaining.
The reliever market is typically an unstable one, and this year is no different. To wit, Rafael Soriano signed with the Yankees to be their set-up man right at press time for the magazine, turning our No. 4 closer into our No. 35 reliever. He'll get a few more wins as a result of the change, but obviously loses nearly all of his projected saves. Meanwhile, watch the Rays' bullpen situation. At press time their closer position was unfilled by a previously minted closer, and thus we've projected Jacob McGee to fill the role. Meanwhile, Jonathan Broxton lost his role as the Dodgers' closer last season, but with a new manager, we're projecting him to win back at least a share of that role. He's a good candidate for a bounceback season. On the downside, be very careful when considering the Mariners' David Aardsma. The Mariners reportedly were already looking to deal him this offseason, and then he underwent hip surgery in January. He's unlikely to be ready for the start of the season.
Last year we saw what could happen when you take the game's most reliable starter in Roy Halladay and move him from the AL East over to the NL. His ERA dropped to 2.44, and he was able to win 21 games in small part because he could throw more innings and get deeper into games. He tops our list again this year, and one could make the argument that he should be drafted among the top five players overall in snake drafts, due to his likelihood of repeating. This year there are five significant starting pitchers that have moved from the AL to the NL and should see a significant improvement in their rate stats - Zack Greinke, Cliff Lee, Shaun Marcum, Matt Garza and Javier Vazquez. Vazquez is the riskiest investment of the five due to the big drop in velocity in his fastball. The reason for that drop hasn't been fully explained - was it merely by pitching for the Yankees, a change in his mechanics undetected by his pitching coach, an arm injury, the effects of age, or none of the above? If you're trolling for a pitcher that misses bats but hasn't put it all together yet, take a flier on Houston's Bud Norris, who could be this year's Gio Gonzalez.