Mike Kuchera of Fantasy Baseball Express held a 2009 Early Expert Mock Draft on Friday, November 7. The full results are over at Mock Draft Central, so feel free to check it out. Posted below is my round by round analysis, which I hope you will find interesting.
I want to first thank Mike for the chance to participate in the auction. As background for those of you that have not been to our site, Roto Think Tank is now a three year old blog focusing primarily on auction strategy and player valuation and evaluation. My partner, Mike Gianella, and I have been playing fantasy baseball for, jeez, 15 years or so. We began our venture into analysis and strategy with Alex Patton, and continue to work with his site, Patton & Co., in our "downtime."
Admittedly, this was not my best draft. I was a bit thrown off initially by the interface (accounting for picks in round 4 and 5, but I'll get to that later), and did not have a chance to pre-rank players. And, well, in November, it is difficult to get into that draft mindset. I also admit to being a non-pro on mixed league 12 team leagues. One of the hardest things for me to do in a draft is play it straight - I love strategies. But that was my plan going in.
R1 - Hanley Ramirez. Two things about Hanley. One, he is only 25 years old. Two, he can flat out hit. I am a big fan of position scarcity, even in mixed league, and shortstop is a position that does fall off sharply after the first couple of players (how badly did Rollins owners feel this year?). Strong 4 category player with a contribution in RBI from the shortstop position had to be my first pick.
R2 - Dustin Pedroia. There is little not to love from Pedroia. Increase in extra base hits from 48 to 73. A 10 point increase in OPS+. A 5 category contributor from the second base slot. Deserving of a number 24 pick.
R3 - Lance Berkman. Lance is still only 32 years old. He rebounded from an "off-year" in 2007 and returned to the form of his very solid mid- to late 20s seasons. 5 first basemen were already off the board at number 25; as a result, Berkman was a no-brainer for stability at the corner.
R4-5 - Vlad Guerrero and Victor Martinez. Well, this is where the interface got me. In the interest of full disclosure, I told Geoff that I did not want to roll back several picks. It is hard to go wrong with Vlad despite age. He was not my first choice this early, but you can live with the production. Unfortunately, Vlad's body is older than his real age, and he reminds me of Andre Dawson in the twilight of a career too early. V. Martinez is not the guy I wanted at catcher...Soto was my guy. But once I had a catcher, I did not want to give up another pick too early. Injuries robbed V-mart of his power this year...I do expect a bounce back in light of his good 2007 numbers and his relative youth.
R6 - Edwin Encarnacion. Encarnacion was, in retrospect, a product of my discombobulation after the R4-5 debacle. Third base does drop off, but there were better picks than Edwin available. He truly is an enigma, though I am very encouraged by the increase in his walk rate, despite the corresponding increase in strikeouts. He should be a 30+HR guy in that bandbox.
R7-8 - Jamie Shields and Adam Wainwright. Admittedly a little early for Shields, I like my pitchers in their mid- to late 20s and with stuff. Shields is both. He is a + WHIP and steady ERA guy who made strides in his ability to pitch in 2008. With a good team behind him (despite being in the stacked AL East), I have a hunch he will continue on the upside of the development curve. Wainwright is a favorite of mine. Assuming health (which with Adam is not a given), Wainwright is poised to become a top tier starter, and was on pace to do so last year until derailed by his injury. I expect big things from him this year on a competitive Cardinals team.
To interrupt for a moment, I wanted to talk about mixed league strategy. I always assumed that, in mixed leagues, the pitching pool is deeper than the hitting pool, and that it is easier to find replacement level players (or VORP equality if you will) from the pitcher free agent pool than from the hitter free agent pool. In both 12 team mixed drafts I have done, I picked pitchers late and still feel very good about my staff. Time will tell whether this strategy works.
R9 - Joey Votto. Highly under-rated because he plays in obscurity. He put up an OPS+ of 124 as a 24 year old rookie, and I see nothing in his numbers to suggest a step backward next year. I like Votto very much in this round.
R10-11 - Torii Hunter and Lastings Milledge. Hunter is a safe pick. If you take 2001-2008 and look, they look pretty similar. The worry - there is a lot of wear and tear on that 33 year old body and the power, RBI and average slipped a little. Milledge is a medium risk/high reward player. At his age, the power and speed are still developing, and his K/BB is not awful (though its not really good either). A move out of Washington will certainly help his stock, but he's going nowhere for the moment. There were safer picks, but speed and upside are important.
R12 - Richie Weeks. Not my favorite player, but young and with upside. His K/BB suggests that, if he were to cut down Ks by 1 every 30 AB, he would likely raise his average above .250. He reminds me of Jimmy Rollins in some ways; he hits the ball in the air a lot because of his power, when his speed suggests that being a line-drive hitter would be more beneficial.
R13-14. John Danks and Matt Garza. Danks came out of nowhere this year for a breakout. If he had not run out of gas at the end of the year, his numbers would look even better. The key is keeping the ball in the park. I see no step backward coming. Garza is another favorite - young and with stuff. Come to think of it, the Rays really fleeced the Twins in this trade. I was ecstatic to get Garza this late...with one hesitation. With his stuff, why does he pitch to so much contact? 128Ks in over 170 IP - not what you expect with his stuff.
R15 - Xavier Nady. Safe pick here...he just produces, and has progressed as he's gotten older and picked up more ABs. Don't expect more than what he did last year, but there is no reason he will not duplicate those numbers. Sexy picks are good, but sometimes, you need to assure yourself of stats.
Here is where I abandoned the strategy of playing it straight and making safe picks. I saw where my team was headed, and I thought it needed some "juice." And juice it got.
R16-17. Clayton Kershaw and Ubaldo Jimenez. We know what Kershaw is...in that park, I have to believe good things will come. Jimenez is about 40 less walks from being unhittable. He does not pitch to contact. He keeps the ball in the park (partly because hitters are afraid of getting drilled and have poor footing at the plate). Youth and experience = a potential top tier starter.
R18 - Jesus Flores. He strikes out a lot, but he has potential 15 HR power. He is still inexperienced, but will play full-time in 2009.
R19 - Scott Baker. Baker refined his stuff, pitching to less contact. His K/IP increased despite not having "monster" stuff. He is still young and looks on the verge of hitting the 200 IP mark next year. If he can keep the HR down to the low 20s, so many of those being solo because he doesn't walk many, he should be in the league leaders in ERA and WHIP.
R20 - Ryan Garko. Really, you ask? Garko had a slump this year, with decreases in extra-base hits, HR, and average. On the other hand, he knocked in 90 runs and slightly reduced strikeouts while slightly increasing walks. As a round 20 DH, you can't ask for much more.
R21 - Michael Bourn. I hate this pick already and I will hate it all year. Bourn is a 5th outfielder who Ed Wade believes is an All-Star. He strikes out 25% of the time, gets caught stealing 20% of the time, and put up an OPS of 57. Yes...57. In a mixed league, if you are desperate for speed, take Carlos Gomez...he put up an OPS of 79.
R22-23 - Manny Parra and Carlos Villanueva. Both Brewers. Both young. Both with a lot of potential. At this stage, you look for closers-in-waiting (I didn't like most of those), or your high risk/high reward picks. Villanueva, by the way, drastically reduced his walks this season. He might have an eventual role in the pen, but I don't think you can give up on him as a starter quite yet.
In the end, the roster has holes but did not turn out too poorly. I am short on saves (okay, I have none) and my average could be in trouble, but runs, HR and RBI should be solid. My pitching staff has proven young veterans, with a couple of potential stars if things break right. All-in-all, not a bad day's work. And drafting, auctioning and writing about baseball is better than working!