Fantasy Baseball: Draft This, Not That

Collin HagerSenior Writer IJanuary 22, 2010

LOS ANGELES - AUGUST 31:  Justin Upton #10 of the Arizona Diamondbacks runs to first on his game tying home run in the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers on August 31, 2009 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California.    (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Drafting often brings out the most angst in fantasy owners. There are always questions as to whether or not the right player has been selected, if a player was drafted too high, or if he will be able to perform.

The common word in all of that is "if." There is no way to eliminate the risk associated with drafting any player.

As owners, it is possible to reduce it through selection of players that will produce at a comparable level but be drafted later.
With all the tools at the disposal of fantasy managers, one that is not used as much as it should be is the ADP, or Average Draft Position. This statistic tells you exactly where in a typical draft a player is being taken.

It eliminates the size of the league strictly because it discusses overall placement. Understanding how to use it in an advantageous manner will give an owner a slight edge on draft day.
Using this as a backdrop, there are certain players even in the shallowest positions that can produce statistics rivaling those selected much earlier.

Draft Justin Upton, Not Matt Kemp
To get the ball rolling with an easier one, owners should look at Upton rather than Kemp. While Kemp is a cornerstone player and a true No. 1 outfielder in 2010, Upton is just as primed to replicate the numbers. In 2009, the two recorded the following numbers:
Kemp: 606 AB (at-bats), 26 HR, 101 RBI, .297 AVG, 34 SB
Upton: 526 AB, 26 HR, 86 RBI, .300 AVG, 20 SB
Kemp has a 2010 ADP of 7.9, basically making him a first-round selection in all drafts. Upton, though, is available at around selection 32. There is just as much buzz surrounding Upton as there is Kemp, and Upton will come to owners at a less expensive price. While you cannot afford for either to fall on their face, it is less of an issue outside of Round One.
For sake of argument, at the same rates, Upton would have driven in just over 99 runs with 80 more official at-bats. From an overall perspective, both have maintained similar BABIP numbers, hovering around .350 last season and with both over .335 in 2008 as well. That would take some luck out of the equation, as it has been demonstrated that the numbers are repeatable.
For Upton, the greatest determinant of his ability to go blow-for-blow with Kemp will be his ability to stay on the field. Upton played in only 109 games in 2008 and 138 games last season, landing on the DL in both years for a stretch of time.
The parallel with Carl Crawford may be better statistically, and one could easily argue the merits of Upton over the selection of Crawford as well.

Draft Rajai Davis or Nyjer Morgan, Not Michael Bourn
This next debate has been floating around on the Internet a fair amount recently, generating heated responses from both sides. The fact is, Bourn is going to cost an owner a pick too early in the draft to return the needed value. It is not that he is worthless; he just does not provide enough of a balanced platform when compared to Morgan and Davis.
The infatuation with the Astros’ outfielder began last season, and with good reason. After all, he stole 60 bases, hit .285, scored nearly 100 runs, and had 171 hits. There is very little not to like about a line like that. The concern that should arise is whether or not this is sustainable.

When you peel back the onion a bit, Bourn’s .367 BABIP looks unrealistic. His previous career high had been .330 with the Phillies in 2007, a season where he played just 105 games.
Luck, therefore, can be assumed to have a lot to do with the average that is propping up his current value. With his contact rates and swing percents seeming constant over the last three seasons, this is the only material difference.

There is no doubt he will still steal bases, but the expectation should be for his average to fall much closer to .270 than to advance above .285. His ADP being around 66 makes the return too risky.
While Morgan does not have much professional experience to draw upon, those that draft him should note the continued consistency in his numbers from the minors to the majors. Morgan has shown a BABIP around .350 in every year of professional baseball, making him much more likely to hover near his .307 average of last season.

Additionally, owners will lose very little in terms of overall speed. Morgan stole 42 bases in an injury-shortened campaign last year. He also scored 74 runs in just 120 games. He comes at a solid value compared to Bourn, with an ADP of 126.
Davis might also be a case where there is some regression in his batting average, but it will not cost owners the same price. In fact, he comes the cheapest of the bunch with an ADP just north of 166.

The Athletics expect Davis to be at the top of the order this season, followed by Coco Crisp and Kurt Suzuki. Both those players know how to hit, meaning if Davis gets on, he will score plenty of runs. In 2009, Davis scored 65 runs in 125 games. He did that despite recording only 390 at-bats. The 41 stolen bases will drive attention, as will the .300 average from last season.

I expect Davis to maintain his pace on the bases, registering closer to 50 this season in a full-time role with Oakland. His average likely falls south of .300 but should still remain above what owners would get from Bourn. With the chance to score more than 90 runs, he provides solid return on the investment.
Given the choice between the three, Morgan would be the favorite. He provides the best blend of multiple-category help with an ADP that will not hurt your fantasy prospects.

Draft Daisuke Matsuzaka, Not Javier Vazquez
The final debate today will be the most controversial in many circles. After all, why should anyone advocate drafting the Human Heart Attack, Daisuke Matsuzaka? Well, there are reasons. At the right value, he likely makes sense for many teams. No doubt, I am more bullish on his prospects than many. Go ahead, call me a homer. I can take it.
Vazquez is currently being selected as the 10th pitcher overall, going near the 60th pick in most drafts. Based solely on his 2009 season, that would make sense. He is another case, though, where a little more detail will go a long way. Vazquez showed dramatic improvement over both career averages and his 2008 season in his stint with Atlanta, much of which likely does not hang in the American League East.
In three years with the White Sox, Vazquez averaged about 8.56 K/9 with some rough math. This was after posting just over 8.00 in his season with Arizona and 6.59 in a disaster of a season with the same Yankees.

In fact, Vazquez had not had a number as high as his 9.77 in his entire career. It bested his previous high from 2003 of 9.40 K/9. Something about that number does not sit well. A 14 percent improvement at this stage of his career should raise eyebrows.
Batters last season hit just .226 against him with a BABIP of .297. His BABIP was very close to the league average of .303, but that underscores the importance of the additional strikeouts he accumulated. His strand rate was five points better than the league average of 71 percent.

Vazquez also reduced his percent of fly balls by six points, which is a 15 percent improvement. It helped boost his groundball-to-fly ball ratio by 33 percent from his career average.
The greater point here is that there is a tremendous opportunity for regression that is not being taken into account in early drafting. That should be emphasized even further when looking at the ballpark where he will pitch his home games and the teams he will be facing in his own division.
While Matsuzaka has the same teams to worry about, there is upside to his current ADP of 193. He is being selected as the 46th pitcher overall. While many will point to the multiple failings on a variety of levels last season, there are plenty of reports pointing to injuries that caused some of the issues. Matsuzaka ramped up quickly to pitch in the WBC and then returned to Boston out of shape.
Now, there are reports saying Matsuzaka hid an injury from the Red Sox front office through much of the season. The overriding point here is that there is no doubt he was hurt in some capacity. His resulting poor 2009 is being held against him too much, and he will produce more effectively than people may be assuming.
Matsuzaka will generate strikeouts, even if he gives you heart palpitations the second a runner gets on base. That will likely continue to happen even with some improved command and health. Matsuzaka kept his WHIP around 1.30 during his two healthy years in Boston, and there is no reason to assume that he cannot do the same again in 2010. That compares favorably to the career 1.24 mark of Vazquez.
Both have struck batters out at nearly the same rate over nine innings, and both stand a chance to win more than 15 games with their respective offenses producing.
While you may want to grab Vazquez, Matsuzaka’s current draft position makes him a better value given the potential for similar results.


Collin Hager is a featured Fantasy Baseball columnist on Bleacher Report. He is a regular writer on and maintains The Elmhurst Pub blog. Download the free draft guide here.