As they enter the sparring room, the ninjas size each other up.
Hanley Ramirez seems like your prototypical ninja. He's slick with the glove, fast, and deceptively powerful—the perfect complements for a fantasy assassin.
On the other side of the room is Albert Pujols. He doesn't quite fit the mold of a ninja. He's big and not as quick or fast as Ramirez. But Pujols is patient and doesn't make many mistakes—if any at all. Most importantly, foes don't want to be on the other end when he does unleash an attack.
Who do you want—the consistent slugger or the balanced superstar? Really, it's going to come down to how fantasy owners want their team to roll. Can we determine which player will be more helpful for teams in a vacuum? We can try.
There are a few factors we need to discuss—specifically statistics, position scarcity, injury potential, expectations, and lineup.
Originally, I began this conversation with statistics. When it comes to the first overall pick, position scarcity doesn't seem like it should be a factor because you have the rest of the draft ahead of you.
But everyone is going to have sleepers at each position, some they like more than others, and selecting Pujols, a slugging first baseman, or Ramirez, a balanced shortstop, should throw a wrench in most draft plans. It is a helpful wrench, but a wrench that will change how you were expecting to do things.
So, first baseman or shortstop—where is there less talent?
It's easy to look at the list of players at both positions and see that the talent drop-off happens more abruptly at shortstop.
Pujols is the best of five first basemen—Pujols, Ryan Howard, Miguel Cabrera, Mark Teixeira, and Prince Fielder—who will likely be selected in the first two rounds of your draft.
And while there is a distinct difference between those five and the next group, there is still a significant amount of talent to be picked. There are also several upside guys a tier or two down the line—like Chris Davis and Garrett Jones.
Shortstop is also about five deep—Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, Troy Tulowitzki, and Derek Jeter—at the top, but the drop-off to the next tier is severe. So instead of picking someone like Joey Votto or Justin Mourneau in the second tier of first basemen, we're picking specialists—sluggers like Jhonny Peralta and thieves like Elvis Andrus—or aging vets—like Miguel Tejada and Orlando Cabrera—at shortstop.
Based solely on position scarcity, there's no question that Ramirez is the choice.
Let's take a look at Pujols' and Ramirez's three-year averages of the big five stats used in 5x5 leagues and a couple other decimals that can help in more complex leagues:
- Name - (AB) R/HR/RBI/SB/AVG/OBP/SLG
- Albert Pujols - (552) 108/39/118/8/.337/.444/.626
- Hanley Ramirez - (601) 117/29/85/38/.325/.398/.549
We can argue that home runs or steals are more scarce (I did last year and really ticked some people off), but the bottom line in rotisserie and head-to-head leagues is that it's about the final numbers, right?
It's not scientific or super geeky, but if we add runs, homers, RBI, and steals together for each player, we get the base number of stats they will provide to fantasy teams in roto and H2H:
- Pujols - 273
- Ramirez - 269
How's that for close? Over the three-year averages, Pujols also has an edge in every decimal, giving him the edge here. But now it's time to look beyond the three-year numbers, and talk about trends and projections for the future.
Pujols has been a stud ever since he stepped on a Major League diamond. He's virtually a lock for 35 homers, 110 RBI, and a .320 average. In fact, those are low expectations for him.
That says a lot for his consistent awesomeness. So, we can pencil him in for the 273 above and continued strength in the decimals—his 1.101 OPS in 2009 was only the fourth best total of his career, but it still led the majors by .070 over Joe Mauer, who was playing out of his mind in 2009.
What can we expect from Ramirez? The Marlins' middle infielder is four years younger than Pujols, and, at age 26, he's entering into his prime as a baseball player.
So, while Ramirez stole a little more than half as many bags (27) as his career high (51) in 2009 and had nine fewer homers (24) than his career high (33), he cut down on his strikeouts, led the National League in batting, and drove in 39 more runs. He's still evolving as a hitter, and it's doubtful that we've seen the best of Hanley Ramirez.
Will he ever combine his career-best statistics for a 125/33/106/51/.342/.410/.562 line? It seems improbable. If he does, there will be no debate about whether he should be No. 1 or not.
A better question to ask: Is he more likely than Pujols to increase his three-year averages in 2010? That answer is an emphatic "yes."
There is a simple three-word saying scrawled in ancient texts that were written by the first ninjas to walk upright—a ninja creed, if you will: "Draft the upside."
Over the last three years Ramirez has played in 154, 153, and 151 games. Over the same span, Pujols has played in 158, 148 and 160.
Neither player has missed enough time to significantly damage fantasy owners. So, we can look at age, position concerns, and play style as potential precursors to injury.
Pujols is 30 and Ramirez is 26, so we'll give a slight edge to Ramirez, there.
A shortstop is more likely to suffer an injury in the field, whether from taking a spike in the shin or colliding with a fellow fielder on a fly ball, than a first baseman. Edge: Pujols.
The third tie-breaking factor in this argument is play style. And you can already see where this is going. Ramirez, who plays a more demanding position in the field, is also more active on the basepaths and more susceptible to sprains, strains, and pulls. Edge Pujols.
Overall edge: Pujols.
Ramirez has Dan Uggla, Jorge Cantu, and some prospects around him. And Pujols has Matt Holliday, Ryan Ludwick, and a handful of prospects around him.
Holliday is clearly better than Uggla, and Cantu is a little better than Ludwick.
We have to give an edge to Pujols now because of Holliday. But the development of both teams' projected center fielders (Colby Rasmus in St. Louis and Cameron Maybin in Florida), and the ability of their right fielders (Ludwick and Cody Ross) to cash in on the potential each has flashed will play a significant role in each team's production.
For what it's worth, Florida's a little younger and unknown, so there's more potential upside there.
So, Pujols edges Ramirez by a three-arguments-to-two count and is the obvious safe choice as the top pick in 2010.
Me? I prefer the balance provided by Ramirez's bat and legs, and his upside.
Luckily, as this argument has hopefully proven, getting the second pick is an enjoyable consolation.
Who should be picked third? Let's save that for another day.
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