With scores of fantasy analysts listing their top sleepers or top young players or top rebound candidates for the upcoming fantasy baseball season, the most important part of a fantasy lineup seems to be overlooked - the best player in the draft.
Especially in an auction format, the best player on your team provides the basis for filling out the rest of your lineup.
This year, the choice comes down to Hanley Ramirez, David Wright, or Albert Pujols. All very talented. All very appealing. However, Pujols is the one worth breaking the bank for.
Fantasy baseball is all about building a well-rounded team. In a traditional rotisserie-style league, you have to excel across all categories to win. It's critical to craft a roster full of players that compliment one another.
This has to be kept in mind on draft day. Simply filling out your positions with the best player available in every spot won't lead to fantasy glory.
For a player to be worth building a team around, he has to contribute in at least four of the five categories. For hitters, the traditional categories are runs, homers, RBI, steals and batting average.
Pujols will give you runs. He will give you homers. He will give you RBI. And most importantly, he will give you lots and lots of average. Over the past three years, Pujols has hit at an astounding .338 clip. Nobody else on the board (aside from the injury-prone Chipper Jones) even comes close to that.
This is critical because it sets the table for the rest of the draft. With that huge boost in average, Pujols allows you to take players like Adam Dunn, Dan Uggla, or others that pack potent power but have potentially crippling batting average. This way, you team remains competitive in all categories.
It's like drafting LeBron James in fantasy basketball. He brings so much to the table across the board, the rest of the team almost balances out itself. The same is true with Pujols.
It's impossible to overstate the benefit of that. To win your league, you have to be near the top in every statistic. Filling out your roster with average hitters that do not bring you above average production anywhere will not take to you to the top.
Guys like Carlos Guillen won't kill you, but the don't win leagues.
You need to the hitters that can help you win a category. Like Dunn with homers, or Willy Taveras with steals. These are worthwhile players, not just filler. They are complementary players that require the right foundation of power and average.
Sure Ramirez and Wright will contribute across the board, but neither has the power to compete with Pujols. He has never had a season with less than 32 homers or 103 RBI.
And though both swipe more bases than Pujols, there is plenty of speed available at all positions and across all tiers of players. Top talent like Carlos Beltran and Matt Kemp, middle of the road guys like Jayson Werth and Adrian Beltre, and bargain basement players like Taveras and Kaz Matsui all should steal over 20 bases this season.
The key to a successful draft is flexibility. You do not want to be sitting there on draft day with the fate of your whole season resting on the hope of landing one or two specific players. It's risky, and you always end up overpaying.
The one guy that is worth overpaying for is Pujols. If you're in an auction, go as high as $50 for him. If you're in a traditional draft, pray for that first pick.
You'll thank me when you're sitting comfortably in those late rounds while the rest of your league tries to talk themselves into a Freddy Sanchez to even out Chris Young or Mark Reynolds and their .240 averages.