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Karabell: Updated rankings thought process

5/8/2008

Nobody is drafting a fantasy baseball team in May -- at least I don't think anyone is -- but it's still fun to look at rankings and see what people would do if they were drafting. You saw Matthew Berry's rankings Monday and, later, a staff consensus from the rest of us, and there have to be things you disagree with. I just know there are.


I wouldn't call sitting down to rank 340 players in May a tough job, but it probably took us, individually, longer to do this than what it might take to do an actual ESPN.com draft. Colleague Tristan Cockcroft didn't even eat Monday as he toiled over his lists from dawn to dusk! You can't just take your preseason rankings and tweak them because a lot of things have changed. You'll miss players. You can't just look at our Player Rater because a lot of things will be changing. Things change every day. You'll be running in circles with your rankings and updating them daily. But you also can't disregard what you thought in March, what we've seen happen and what you think today. It's actually kind of an interesting process. I can only speak for how mine went, so here goes.


Starting over: By doing this the first week of May, one has to pretend this is the only draft you'll have, from here to the rest of the season, and rank accordingly. Slow starts are only a little bit relevant because what really matters are the final numbers and what players will be doing. I'm of the mind Ryan Howard had about the same April he did a year ago, then the homers started coming, and he had a monster second half. David Ortiz is already on his way to doing this. We're basically starting from scratch and putting faith in certain players, whether they've gotten off to good starts or bad ones. To answer your next question, there is no book on which good starts are legit and which bad ones are a fluke. You have to go player by player to evaluate. We have a pretty good idea which teams are better than we thought, and I do believe the Cardinals, for example, are in this for the long haul, and I feel more confident in Albert Pujols, Rick Ankiel and a number of St. Louis pitchers than I did a month ago.


Injuries count: Of course they do! But they count more in May. The main difference between drafting on March 28 and drafting May 8 is that 10 times more players are hurt. We have the benefit of more knowledge about Alex Rodriguez straining a quad muscle. A month ago, he was healthy. I didn't rank A-Rod first anymore because we know he's missing at least a few weeks, and possibly quite a bit more. I did stick with Rodriguez just outside my top 10 because I think he can do in four months what most players need five months to do. He's a special player. I did not, however, bother to rank Philip Hughes or Chris Carpenter because we just don't have enough information.


Roles count: I submitted my rankings to the editors on Monday, after we knew Max Scherzer was going to make his first start of the season later that night but before he actually made it. Hey, debate my work all you want, but I do follow deadlines. Wow, didn't things change on Scherzer in a matter of an hour? Again, I am not privy to which players others ranked and where, but Scherzer didn't get a good rank from me. He could have pulled a Clay Buchholz and no-hit the Phillies and still I believed he wasn't set in that rotation for the duration of the season. I barely ranked him in the top 340, down where the non-save middle relievers were. I think he'll help a fantasy team. Hey, I didn't rank Heath Bell. But I also ranked Jay Bruce and Chase Headley because I think they'll be in the majors before long, and I treated Joba Chamberlain as if he'd end up doing what the Yankees are telling us. He'll pitch in the bullpen for about two months, spend a month in lovely Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, then start about 15 times. Similarly, someone such as Carlos Marmol will see his value change the instant Kerry Wood loses his job. I guess from my ranking I don't think it will happen, though I do think Marmol has tremendous value.


Taking chances: Every draft is different. There are rules for one league you won't see in another. There are people in one draft who run their teams like no other. You might have a five-man bench, or a smaller one, or two catchers versus one. Maybe it's an OPS league, too, or head-to-head versus roto. There are some drafts in which I won't take a big risk until Round 20, and others in which upside-heavy Tim Lincecum would be my fifth-rounder. It depends on the league. I tend to be a conservative drafter, and player, so my ranks reflected this. Johnny Cueto wasn't among my top 20 pitchers, nor was Edinson Volquez, who appears better so far. They're each still rookies in my book, and thus not to be totally trusted for the long haul of their first season. These rankings aren't for keeper leaguers. If you're taking a chance, sure, those are good bets to strike hitters out, but it depends on what kind of team you desire. I ranked Corey Patterson, naturally, better than all the others because I figure by the late rounds he's worth a shot, but I would have ranked him a lot better a few weeks ago. I'm more inclined to believe Patterson's bad two weeks than his good, but then again, he could easily be more valuable than Andruw Jones, whom I tried to not rank at all.


Personal feelings: And that, of course, brings me to my next point. I don't know if there's a round in which I actually would be excited about selecting Dodgers center fielder Jones. Interestingly, I wasn't the one who ranked him the worst of the group, though he didn't make my top 200. He has to be drafted based on his potential to turn this mess around, and for his track record. The Dodgers won't just release him, will they? Anyway, no matter whom I do and do not like -- and I have nothing personal against Jones -- people might not realize how many players 340 is. That's a lot of players. It's just about all of them who matter, then some who might not matter a bit. I'm a Phillies fan and I don't hide it, yet nobody ranked New York's Johan Santana in a better spot than I did. You must separate hometown bias from fantasy opinions. Want more proof we've put aside our likes and dislikes for the betterment of the rankings? If Matthew Berry saw J.D. Drew walking in the ESPN cafeteria, would he slug him, trip him or just ignore him? Berry makes no pretense about his lack of love for the Red Sox right fielder. Yet check out who ranked Drew the best of the group.


Thinking positionally: There haven't been too many surprises in terms of altered eligibility so far, so I didn't really take that into account. We knew Ryan Braun would be adding outfield eligibility and Bill Hall was heading to third base, but it didn't come into play for me. Billy Butler will be eligible at first base soon, which is always nice, but his ranking took a minor hit for me based on the fact he's still sitting on his first home run. Who knows where Carlos Guillen ends up on the diamond, but the fact he could be eligible at three infield positions soon didn't move him into my top 30.


The old get older: One thing I did take into account was when I saw a struggling player on the wrong side of 30, I was more inclined to assume his production wouldn't be changing much. I didn't rank Travis Hafner or Todd Helton too well back in March, and I certainly didn't this week as it appears neither can deliver the numbers many of us hoped for. If I'm wrong, so be it, but age does matter in determining future production. Again, you kind of pick your spots. I didn't think Frank Thomas was toast when the Blue Jays did, and I stuck with him in fantasy leagues, but Thomas can be had in a far different spot in drafts than Hafner and Helton. Similarly, the young kind of look younger to me after a month, with so many rookies predictably struggling. I liked Eugenio Velez of the Giants a whole lot more before he started playing regularly, for example. After seeing his approach at the plate in person a few times, I'm skeptical about him. I'm glad I avoided the young Rockies and Yankees starting pitchers, as well. Plus, although I did rank Cincinnati's Bruce and San Diego's Headley, they looked a lot better a month ago.


I enjoyed ranking all these players, as well as seeing how the consensus turned out on them. We all had our own opinions, and I'll be sharing a list of some of the names I differed most with the others on in Friday's blog. We're all right and we're all wrong, in a way, until we see how it plays out. Hmmm, wouldn't it be nice to draft this week? I'm game if you are.

Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com fantasy. You can e-mail him here.