First Draft of 2001, part 2    (01/22/01)

I decided to participate in the combined experts league on  The downside of such a league is that there are only 10 teams, but the pool of available players is 30 teams and farm systems.  So no matter how full your roster is of "star" players, there are likely to be star players available in the free agent pool.  Another aspect of importance is that each position has a game limit, thus limiting the amount of production from each position.  What someone else might view as obstacles, both aspects - the large player pool and the games limit - provided inspiration for my strategy.

My theory is that if I filled my team with players who are regarded as having great talent but are injury prone, I should be able to field a team with a huge potential for production.  When healthy, each will produce like the superstar talent they are.  When/if they get injured, I will have plenty of quality replacements to choose from in the free agent pool as there should be no end to available productive players due to the relatively small number of active rosters in the league.  Due to the injury prone nature of my players, I should have no trouble maintaining flexibility with my roster regarding the game limits as well, as they will be missing a good number of games resting injuries.  It'll be like having a platoon of superstars at almost every position.  Put mathmatically, if great players produce twice as much as good players, I should be able to get 1.5 times as much production from every spot where I don't already have great player.  And since no team will be able to fill it's roster with nothing but great players, I should be able to field a very formidable team.  I'm calling my effort the “Ellis Burks strategy”, in honor of the often injured but supremely talented outfielder who was half of an extremely productive platoon in San Francisco last year.

In those cases where I wasn't able to get an injured player, I tried to get either a once highly regarded prospect who had not lived up to his billing, or a player who would be given an expanded role this year, either due to the trade or retirement of another.  Both types of players, like the injury plagued ones, would be eager to show that their reputation and status of previous years was undeserved.

Conversely, I avoided players who came out of nowhere last year, especially ones who's secondary numbers did not support such gains (like Garrett Stephenson's 16 wins), and young pitchers who endured heavy workloads (like Ryan Dempster, who threw 3600 pitches last year - 10th most in the majors - and Livan Hernandez, who threw 3825 - good for #2).  Those type of players are more prone to injury and decreased effectiveness.

I drew the #3 spot in the draft order, which wasn't too bad.  I think I would prefer to be down in the draft order a little more.  There's a big drop-off in production after the top 2 (Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson), and another one after #7 spot (after Maddux, Brown, Helton, Glavine and Kile).  But only 9 points separate #8 to #14.  So I think it's better to get 2 of the top 14 than to get 1 of the top 5, unless you're drafting #1 or #2.  Regardless, after the 3rd round, I'm not sure it matters much.  Even so, although it'd be nice to grab Pedro or Unit, I don't believe either is requisite for building a dominating pitching staff.  In fact, there are a number of really good young starters that have tremendous potential, who have been used conservatively to minimize injury risk, and should be available through round 15.

So here's how it went, with a few comments after each round:

Draft Recap:
1st Round:
1. Baseball HQ: P. Martinez, Bos, SP
2. Fantasy Baseball Headquarters: R. Johnson, AZ, SP
3. Long A. Rodriguez, Tex, SS
4. Wall St. Sports: D. Jeter, NYY, SS
5. Bart Lynch: C. Jones, Atl, 3B
6. Dr. Stats: M. Mussina, NYY, SP
7. Creative Sports: K. Brown, LA, SP
8. Sandbox Users: I. Rodriguez, Tex, C
9. Sandbox Sports: G. Maddux, Atl, SP
10. Woodman: T. Helton, Col, 1B

I wanted ARod simply because there's a good chance he'll be the most productive everyday player in baseball this year.  His numbers are already quite impressive considering he's a shortstop.  Then add he's going from a home park that depresses offense by 15% to one that boosts it by 12% and the potential for him producing Nintendo-like numbers becomes even greater.  Add to that is the fact that he's 25, an age when increases in production are common and what you have is the very real chance that he could be the first shortstop in history to hit 50 homers, and both score and drive in 150 runs.  I was hoping that Ivan Rodriguez' hand injury would scare people away long enough for me to get him in the 2nd round and thereby fill the 2 toughest positions with the 2 best players at those positions, but alas, no luck there.

2nd Round:
1. Woodman: N. Garciaparra, Bos, SS
2. Sandbox Sports: J. Kendall, Pitt, C
3. Sandbox Users: T. Glaus, Ana, 3B
4. Creative Sports: M. Piazza, NYM, C
5. Dr. Stats: C. Schilling, Ari, SP
6. Bart Lynch: T. Glavine, Atl, SP
7. Wall St. Sports: T. Hudson, Oak, SP
8. Long K. Wood, ChiN, SP
9. Fantasy Baseball Headquarters: J. Cirillo, Col, 3B
10. Baseball HQ: R. Alomar, Clev, 2B

As it turns out, the top 3 catchers in the game were taken before my 2nd pick came around.  There's a huge drop-off in production after them, so there was no use in trying to get a catcher for a while.  I decided I needed a super stud pitcher to lead my staff.  Unfortunately, all of the 700+ point candidates were gone... except one.  Prorating Kerry Wood's injury plagued freshman year in the bigs to 35 starts yields 751 points.  Last year, after returning from an 14-month layoff due to Tommy John surgery, he did not have his control, stamina or breaking pitches back.  Essentially, he was threw nothing but his fastball and change-up. And yet he held opposing batters to a .226 average, 7th lowest in the majors.  This year, he should be fully recovered and a more savvy strategist on those days when he doesn't have everything working.  If there's anyone who has the talent to make the step up to 700+, perhaps even 800+ point pitcher, it's Wood.

3rd Round:
1. Baseball HQ:  M. Ramirez, Clev, OF
2. Fantasy Baseball Headquarters: R. Nen, SF, RP
3. Long V. Guerrero, Mon, OF
4. Wall St. Sports: B. Colon, Clev, SP
5. Bart Lynch: C. Park, LA, SP
6. Dr. Stats: M. Rivera, NYA, RP
7. Creative Sports: A. Benitez, NYN, RP
8. Users: E. Alfonzo, NYN, 2B
9. Sandbox: A. Leiter, NYN, SP
10. Woodman: B. Bonds, SF, OF

I probably chose Guerrero one round too early, but I don't regret it.  Logic would dictate that I choose a second baseman or a third baseman, but I had my eye on 2 guys at each of those positions who merit a 3rd round pick less than Guerrero.  Besides, he might be the best outfielder available and the expectation of a 600+ point season is reasonable given the offseason improvements to the Expo line-up.

4th Round:
1. Woodman: D. Kile, StL, SP
2. Sandbox Sports: T. Hoffman, SD, RP
3. Sandbox Users: D. Wells, Tor, SP
4. Creative Sports: M. Tejada, Oak, SS
5. Dr. Stats: F. Tatis, Mon, 3B,
6. Bart Lynch: J. Bagwell, Hou, 1B
7. Wall St. Sports: R. Clemens, NYA, SP
8. Long C. Delgado, Tor, 1B
9. Fantasy Baseball Headquarters: J. Kent, SF, 2B
10. Baseball HQ: J. Giambi, 1B, Oak

This was another pick that probably could have waited, but Helton was gone and it's really a toss-up between he and Delgado as to who is the best offensive first baseman in baseball.  Helton is not likely to duplicate his career effort last year - it's way beyond his normal production.  Delgado, on the other hand, produced a year in 2000 not drastically different than his 1999 campaign.  I was looking at Fernando Tatis at third base as a possibility, but I wasn't prepared to take him this early in the draft.

5th Round:
1. Baseball HQ: J. Lopez, Atl, C
2. Fantasy Baseball Headquarters: R. Dempster, Fla, SP
3. Long J. Vidro, Mon, 2B
4. Wall St. Sports: K. Griffey, Jr, Cin, OF
5. Bart Lynch: M. Hampton, NYN, SP
6. Dr. Stats: R. Durham, Chi, 2B
7. Creative Sports: E. Chavez, Oak, 3B
8. Users: J. Damon, Oak, OF
9. Sandbox: B. Giles, Pit, OF
10. Woodman: B. Zito, Oak, SP

When comparing by age, Jose Vidro's career numbers are very similar to those of Edgardo Alfonzo, who is acknowledged by many as the most consistently productive second baseman in the game.  In fact, they are superior in each of the past 2 years - .822 to .782 OPS at age 24, .919 to .887 at 25.  Someone asked me why I didn't go for Alfonzo in round 2, which would have given me 4 #1 guys at 4 positions.  My simple answer: I might have gotten one anyway and I didn't risk losing my ace pitcher in the process.  By the way, Jose Vidro and Craig Biggio are the only 2 second baseman in the past half century to have 200 hit, 50 double seasons.  Biggio, who's coming off knee surgery and is on the downside of his career at age 35, is not likely to repeat that performance.  Vidro, who turns 26 this season, has a very good chance of repeating that feat a number of times.

6th round:
1. Woodman: S. Rolen, 3B, Phil
2. Sandbox Sports: K. Foulke, ChiA, RP
3. Sandbox Users: K. Benson, Pit, SP
4. Creative Sports: M. McGwire, StL, 1B
5. Dr. Stats: B. Larkin, Cin, SS
6. Bart Lynch: A. Jones, Atl, OF
7. Wall St. Sports: D. Erstad, Ana, OF
8. Long P. Nevin, SD, 3B
9. Fantasy Baseball Headquarters: J. Posada, NYA, C
10. Baseball HQ: B. WIlliams, NYA, OF

Well, here's where I would have like to get Tatis.  If not him, then Scott Rolen, who should be healthier now that Philadelphia is replacing it's turf with a much, much better artificial surface.  That didn't work out, though.  So to my mind, the best 3rd baseman available was Phil Nevin, who I still don't think has reached his potential.  He missed most of September last year with an abdominal strain and began the year with a badly sprained ankle.  If he can stay relatively healthy this season, a 40-homer, 120 RBI campaign is not out of the question, given the Padres' offseason improvements, which, in large part, are due to subtractions.

7th Round:
1. Baseball HQ: K. Millwood, Atl, SP
2. Fantasy Baseball Headquarters: F. Thomas, ChiA, 1B
3. Long J. Vazquez, Mon, SP
4. Wall St. Sports: T. Batista, Tor, 3B
5. Bart Lynch: D. Lowe, Bos, RP
6. Dr. Stats: S. Sosa, ChiN, OF
7. Creative Sports: J. Lieber, ChiN, SP
8. Users: R. Palmeiro, Tex, 1B
9. Sandbox: M. Ordonez, ChiA, OF
10. Woodman: L. Hernandez, SF, SP

As I saw a number of quality pitchers being selected in the previous rounds, it did not dawn on me until here that I only had one pitcher.  Oops.  Well, I had a great infield, that's for certain.  Rather than a recovering injured arm, I decide to go with an unfinished one, but one on the verge of good things.  Vazquez, who had the second most strikeouts last September and 196 overall seemed like a great candidate.  And seeing as how he struck out 9 or more in 5 of his last 6 starts - coming against Atlanta (twice), NY Mets, St. Louis and Florida - there was no way not to like him.  Millwood would have been a good choice as well as he looked strong down the stretch, but by the time I picked, he wasn't an option.

8th round:
1. Woodman: J. D'Amico, Mil, SP
2. Sandbox Sports: R. Ankiel, StL, SP
3. Sandbox Users: B. Koch, Tor, RP
4. Creative Sports: R. Furcal, Atl, SS
5. Dr. Stats: C. Finley, Clev, SP
6. Bart Lynch: G. Sheffield, LA, OF
7. Wall St. Sports: R. Hidalgo, Hou, OF
8. Long B. Abreu, Phil, OF
9. Fantasy Baseball Headquarters: K. Sasaki, Sea, RP
10. Baseball HQ: D. Dreifort, LA, SP

I was hoping that young Rick Ankiel would drop to my pick in the next round, but that didn't happen.  I did get a terrific outfielder who's growth over the past 3 years points to him having a very fine 2001.  It was here that I added another dimension to my strategy.  Major League Baseball is making a very concerted effort to enforce the strikezone as it is written this year.  They are even going so far as to hold training camps for umpires, managers and coaches alike.  Twice in the last 40 years, MLB has made a similar move.  Each time, young hard-throwing pitchers with control problems have been the greatest beneficiaries.  To a lesser extent, aggressive hitter's who know the strikezone and make contact a high percentage of the time have benefited as well.  I suppose the reason being is that even with the expanded strikezone, they are less prone to either swing and miss, or fail to hit the ball solidly.  Regardless, Abreu is a good example of such a hitter: he makes contact more than 80% of the time and walked nearly as much as he struck out for the past 2 years.  On the downside, Darren Dreifort fits the profile of the type of pitcher who's likely to take a big step forward this year.  Oh well.

9th Round:
1. Baseball HQ: R. Mondesi, Tor, OF
2. Fantasy Baseball Headquarters: J. Gonzalez, Clev, OF
3. Long J. Rocker, Atl, RP
4. Wall St. Sports: M. Sweeney, KC, 1B
5. Bart Lynch: J. Dye, KC, OF
6. Dr. Stats: K. Lofton, Cle, OF
7. Creative Sports: S. Green, LA, OF
8. Users: C. Everett, Bos, OF
9. Sandbox: S. Stewart, Tor, OF
10. Woodman: L. Walker, Col, OF

I got a lot of quizzical looks with this pick and I have to admit, I enjoyed it.  But Rocker is no gamble... at least not unless he starts talking to Sports Illustrated again.  Over the second half of last season, he posted an ERA of 1.30 and struck out 40 in 27+ innings.  He's wild, yes, but that plays perfectly into the new strikezone theory, and few pitchers throw harder than Rocker.  With an expanded strikezone, he might post a whole season ERA of 1.30 and strike out 125 batters, a phenomenal total for a closer.  I was also considering Larry Walker as an option, because he certainly fits the profile of an oft-injured, high upside player who makes good contact.  Unfortunately, he doesn't even make it to Ellis Burks standard, as he has played 140+ games in a season just twice in his 12-year career and he's coming off multiple surgeries.  Now that I think about it, there might be such a thing as "too injured".

10th round:
1. Woodman: E. Young, Cubs, 2B
2. Sandbox Sports: O. Vizquel, Cle, SS
3. Sandbox Users: E. Renteria, StL, SS
4. Creative Sports: S. Elarton, Hou, SP
5. Dr. Stats: J. Smoltz, Atl, SP
6. Bart Lynch: L. Castillo, Fla, 2B
7. Wall St. Sports: J. Isringhausen, Oak, RP
8. Long B. Wagner, Hou, RP
9. Fantasy Baseball Headquarters: O. Hernandez, NYA, SP
10. Baseball HQ: M. Mantei, AZ, RP

My last pick of the first 10 rounds also got a few strange looks.  But if Billy Wagner's healthy and recovered from his partially torn flexor tendon, there's no better closer in the game.  Not for control and high strikeout totals.  Not Hoffman, not Rivera, not Nen or Benitez.  Not even Rocker in this beneficial climate.  His injury and repair is not nearly as involved or as serious as the ligament transplant involved in  Tommy John surgery, so recovery time and rehab are much less demanding.   All the reports on his recovery have been positive and there's every reason to believe that he'll be nearly 100% by the beginning of spring training and full strength by the beginning of the season.  If so, I stole 2 of the top 5 closers in the game in the 9th and 10th rounds.  However, it was not an easy choice.  I wanted to pick up Orlando Hernandez here.  He had a solid September and looked like a strong candidate for a rebound in 2001.  Unfortunately, FBHQ and Baseball HQ were picking next.  At this point in the draft, FBHQ needed starters and Baseball HQ had no closers.  I knew if I picked Hernandez, chances were good that Wagner would be gone by my round 11 pick.  However, if I picked Wagner, Hernandez would probably be gone quickly as well.  Basically, I flipped a coin.  Wagner won.  And true to my gut feeling, Hernandez was gone with the next pick.

Next up: Rounds 11-15