Thursday, March 3, 2011

Fantasy Baseball 2011 - First Round

Two years ago I did a mental exercise of sorts and drafted my own first and second rounds of a 12-team fantasy baseball league. I didn't do it last year, but I'm ready to have another go. Again, I only do the first couple rounds, because I don't want to give away any of my personal information about guys I might be targeting when my ultra-competitive keeper league drafts this Saturday. But the first two rounds are the kind of hardball decisions that can make or break a draft. So let's get down to it.

1. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins - I'll summarize my argument for taking Ramirez over Albert Pujols. Shortstop is miserable this year. Hanley is an across-the-board producer at the game's weakest non-catcher position.

2. Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals - Pujols is the epitome of reliability. His .312 average last year was actually 19 points lower than his career average. The guy is a hitting machine, and you won't be unhappy with him, even if you take him first.

3. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies - This is where your draft list gets a lot tougher. So I'll repeat: shortstop is miserable this year. Tulowitzki has had a couple of really nice seasons, and just a filthy September: .322, 30 R, 15 HR, 40 RBI. Even after only playing 18 games in June and July, his season was good enough to rate in the top 25 in Yahoo's ranking system. If he can stay healthy, it looks like he's the real deal, and his wide contributions at a thin position make him one of the more useful guys out there.

4. Joey Votto, 1B, Reds - Almost every list I saw coming into this season actually had Miguel Cabrera at #3, behind Pujols and Ramirez. The thing is, Votto has all the pedigree that Cabrera has, he puts up the same kind of numbers, but he's got the ability to contribute on the basepaths as well. Add in the question marks that we're hearing about Cabrera's drinking issues, which could cost him some playing time this season, and I think Votto is a decidedly better pick this season.

5. Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays - Third base isn't quite shortstop, but it's still a fairly tough position to fill. And Longoria is another 5 category contributor who's valuable no matter where you play him. It's also worth mentioning that his 22 home runs last year were actually a career low. An uptick back to around 30 HR is completely reasonable. Partner that with a .285 average, 100 runs and RBI, and the potential for double-digit steals, and I think we're happy.

6. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers - Listen, on a basic, baseball-only level, Cabrera is better than everybody except for Pujols. He's a fantastic hitter with tremendous power, and he posts stats every year, without fail. But there are two small factors that pull Cabrera down from #3 to #6 in my book. First, the aforementioned alcohol issues. I'm not too concerned with it affecting his on-field performance (it doesn't seem to have ever had an impact in the past), but with the legal system being involved again, there's the chance of missing some time. Second, he's still a first basemen. I mean that in two regards: he's only 1B eligible, and he doesn't steal any bases.

7. Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies - This is one spot where I tend to differ from general fantasy baseball opinions. Most people will have Robinson Cano as their #1 second baseman. But Utley is a completely proven commodity, who from 2005-2009 averaged the following stat line: .301, 111 R, 29 HR, 101 RBI, 15 SB. He was injured for part of last year, but came back and looked fine. He had 8 multi-hit games in September. I'll bet on Utley every time.

8. Carl Crawford, OF, Red Sox - A lot of people are going to tell you that Crawford's speed numbers will go down because he'll end up batting 2nd or 3rd in the Red Sox lineup. Those people are retarded. Crawford batted in the two-hole 408 times last year, and in the three-hole 192 times. Will he steal 50 bases? Probably not. But he's a very skilled hitter with pop and speed, and he's going into a lineup that might be the best in baseball. I'd expect a broad range of statistical contributions.

9. David Wright, 3B, Mets - Two years ago, David Wright was a "question mark." His power dipped to 10 HR and 72 RBI, his steals spiked to 27, but his batting average stayed high (.307). In 2010, Wright got back to his normal line, though he posted the lowest average of his career at .283. I trust the overall package, though. Wright will always find a way to be a fantasy force, even if his team is in constant disarray. Constant, extreme disarray.

10. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies - Alright, chances are he's not going to go 34-26 again. And it's almost a certainty that his batting average will drop off from the crazy .336 he hit last year. The thing is..."almost"..."chances are"...but what if? He certainly showed that he has the capacity to be a nightmare for opposing pitchers, and a ridiculous fantasy contributor (#1 ranked player in Yahoo last season). I wouldn't necessarily recommend Gonzalez as a pick for everybody here, but if you're pretty confident in your ability to draft down the board, his upside is tremendous.

11. Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers - Ever since he came into the league, Braun has been a spectacularly steady producer for fantasy owners. Very good power, good speed, career .307 hitter, plenty of run production. Basically, Braun is exactly what you're looking for if Carlos Gonzalez looked too risky for you.

12. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Red Sox - This tier of first basemen is a little tough to analyze, until you actually start to consider the difference in Gonzalez's situation between last year and this year. In 2010, Gonzalez hit 36 points higher on the road, and hit 20 HR away from Petco, versus just 11 in San Diego. Partner that with the fact that he goes from the Padres (22nd in the majors in runs scored) to the Red Sox (2nd), and you're looking at a very real chance of a .300-110-35-110 season out of Gonzalez...as a floor.

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