Every list I look at has Albert Pujols as its #1 player. He's the consensus first player that should come off the board in every league. And really, you can never go wrong acquiring Albert Pujols. He's a megastar, unquestionably the best hitter in baseball. He gives you batting average, runs, home runs, and RBI, all in spades, and even tosses in a couple steals, because why not?
But if it's me with the #1 overall pick, or setting up a top __ list, or deciding how to allocate my auction funds, Hanley Ramirez is at the top of my rankings. Since it'd be a pretty boring post if I didn't, I'll explain why.
(By the way, this article assumes a 12-team league. In a 10-team league, position eligibility loses some of its importance, and I think makes it a dead heat between Hanley and Pujols).
We'll start with a look at their stats. These are their average 5x5 stats over the past five years (starting with Hanley's first full season):
Ramirez: .313, 112 runs, 25 HR, 78 RBI, 39 SB
Pujols: .330, 111 runs, 41 HR, 122 RBI, 9 SB
Obviously you're ecstatic with either of those lines. Hanley gives you across the board plus production other than RBI, and Pujols will post outstanding numbers in four different categories. Based purely on numbers, you're probably leaning towards Pujols, and that's perfectly reasonable. You're thinking, "Oh, I can just draft Michael Bourn in the 11th round to take care of my steals." And you can, of course you can. I won't ever say that taking Pujols first overall is a bad pick. It's a safe pick, a sure thing, and you'd be following the advice of all the experts.
But not my advice (notice how I just labeled myself a non-expert...oops!). I'm assuming you've all done ten or twelve fantasy baseball drafts, yes? When you're going through your draft, true or false, you much more often find yourself trying to find a reasonable steals guy to draft than a reasonable power guy to draft?
Of course it's steals. The thing about steals guys is that, when it comes to baseball, they're actually not all that valuable. Sure, speed is nice, and if you can be a very effective basestealer, you can put yourself into a position to score a lot of runs. But a bopper will always be more valuable, have a more solidified lineup spot, and thus, be a safer pick in the middle rounds. Think about guys like Dave Roberts and Eric Young, speed guys who disappeared because their speed wasn't enough to keep them playing every day.
The speed of Hanley acts as a counter-weight to Pujols' power numbers. Now, Pujols still has a 17 point edge in batting average. What position does he play again? First base? And Hanley plays...shortstop, that's right. But is position eligibility something you even want to take into account at the top of the draft?
Umm...yes? Why is Robinson Cano's average draft position 9.9? Because it's so impossible to find a .315 hitter who gets 25 HR, 100 RBI, and 100 runs? Kevin Youkilis is going 19 picks later. Vlad Guerrero is going 107 picks later. The reason Cano is so enticing (beyond his talent) is that he's a second baseman.
To wrap it all up, what position would rather be in 22 picks: you've got a huge-hitting 1B and holes at all the tougher positions to fill, or you've got a do-everything SS, and can wait for the right 1B at the right time in the draft? As a bit of reference, here are a couple guys at each position, their numbers from last year, and their average draft position (ignoring guys whose ADP is less than 24, since theoretically they won't be available, and guys with multiple position eligibility):
- Kevin Youkilis* (.307, 77 R, 19 HR, 62 RBI in 102 games) - ADP of 28.6
- Adam Dunn (.260, 85 R, 38 HR, 103 RBI) - ADP of 50.6
- Kendry Morales (.290, 29 R, 11 HR, 39 RBI in 51 games) - ADP of 59.6
- Justin Morneau (.345, 53 R, 18 HR, 56 RBI in 81 games) - ADP of 60.3
- Billy Butler (.318, 77 R, 15 HR, 78 RBI) - ADP of 66.5
- Paul Konerko (.312, 89 R, 39 HR, 111 RBI) - ADP of 93.4
- Jose Reyes (.282, 83 R, 11 HR, 54 RBI, 30 SB in 133 games) - ADP of 27.2
- Jimmy Rollins (.243, 48 R, 8 HR, 41 RBI, 17 SB in 88 games) - ADP of 44.6
- Derek Jeter (.270, 111 R, 10 HR, 67 RBI, 18 SB) - ADP of 52.5
- Alexei Ramirez (.282, 83 R, 18 HR, 70 RBI, 13 SB) - ADP of 70.2
- Elvis Andrus (.265, 88 R, 0 HR, 35 RB, 32 SB) - ADP of 99.3
- Stephen Drew (.278, 83 R, 15 HR, 61 RBI, 10 SB) - ADP of 100.4
The ultimate scenario would be if Jose Reyes were to fall to your second round pick, but there's just no way you could count on that. And if you miss out on Reyes, you're sifting through the bargain bin at shortstop. Meanwhile, you should be able to get Morales or Morneau with your 5th round pick (#49), or Konerko all the way down in the 7th (#73). Or, if you wanted to just ignore 1B for a while, both Derrek Lee and Adam LaRoche had at least 19 HR, 75 R, and 80 RBI, and they're both going after pick #200, putting their draft spot somewhere in the middle of the 16th round.
You know what shortstop falls in that area? Yunel Escobar (.256, 60 R, 4 HR, 35 RBI, 6 SB in 135 games).
Take Hanley. Unless you're in the same league as me, and I've got the #2 pick. In that scenario, Albert Pujols is a no-brainer. :)