- AJ Mass, Fantasy
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"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."-- Albert Einstein
Call us crazy then because here we are yet again for another mixed-league mock draft. But with apologies to Einstein, we do expect the results to be different this time around -- because each and every draft is a completely different experience.
This draft, conducted Tuesday, is simply a snapshot of how this particular group of ESPN Fantasy staff members felt on this particular day at this particular time. In fact, just a few hours after this draft ended, the news of Zack Greinke's injury might well have dropped him a couple of rounds in the proceedings, and we soon after got some grim news about Chase Utley from our own Stephania Bell that definitely would have affected the draft.
Remember, the purpose of these mocks is not to provide you with a step-by-step blueprint on the "right way" to fill your roster. Such a document doesn't exist. Just because you see that one owner took Player X in Round Y doesn't mean that's where you should expect to see him go when your league has its big day. Depending on your league's scoring system, in what part of the country you live, what teams your owners root for and more than a million other variables, the way your league values players is not going to be the same as ours.
So why do we do it? Why do we publish the results of these mocks if no two drafts are the same? It's to give you a sense of perspective. We know you've made your own rankings lists and have your own opinions of what players you love and what players you hate. This single mock isn't likely to change your mind on any player's true worth; nor should it. However, there's bound to be something that jumps out at you as an odd pick: a player you think was taken way too early, one who dropped way too low, or perhaps a sleeper selection you've had in your back pocket who wasn't selected at all. If that's the case, it behooves you to take a closer look -- to double-check your work, if you will.
Perhaps revisiting the numbers will only serve to reinforce your view that you are right and we are wrong -- but maybe one more look at the stats will cause your opinion on that player to change as a result. Either way, as a service to you, we offer up the following review of our recent Electric Boogaloo.
As always, we used ESPN Standard settings, meaning a 10-team mixed league with a 25-man roster featuring the following positional breakdown: one of each infield position, five outfielders, one 1B/3B, one 2B/SS, one utility player, nine pitchers and three bench spots.
The drafters, in first-round order, were as follows: me, Nate Ravitz, Shawn "C-Dub" Cwalinski, Matthew Berry, Pierre Becquey, James Quintong, Tristan Cockcroft, Mike Sheets, Christopher Harris and Eric Karabell.
For each round, I'll try to explain a bit of the reasoning for my own picks, as well as point out a few selections that might fall into that "jump out at you" category and offer up some theories as to why those particular choices might have been made. Only time will tell on exactly which side of the line that separates genius from insanity each of these picks ultimately will land.
Until then, mock away, Shabba-Doo!
My pick: Albert Pujols. Not that this selection needs any justification, but to put Albert's greatness into a little historical perspective, since 1962, only four players have had even a single season with the kind of numbers in the "important categories" that Pujols has averaged for his career thus far. Until he's not the first overall pick anymore, he has to be the first overall pick.
Carl Crawford might not be a consensus top-five pick, but the combination of his high batting average and those stolen bases makes up for the fact he's not likely to reach anywhere near 30 home runs. Becquey was surprised that Evan Longoria fell to him at 5, and, as we'll see, he ended up having to adjust his strategy over most of the early portion of the draft as a result of this development. Karabell was amazed that Robinson Cano fell to him at the No. 10 pick, as he has the second baseman ranked No. 5 overall after crunching all the numbers. My guess is that, rightly or wrongly, positional scarcity scares more people in terms of getting one of the top shortstops than it does anywhere else on the field.
My picks: Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez. I already had a first baseman, so I didn't need to draft Prince Fielder or Ryan Howard here, and I thought I might be able to get away with waiting until Round 4 or 5 to draft two from the trio of Andrew McCutchen, Jose Bautista and Jason Heyward. So with only Roy Halladay off the board, and knowing from experience that most of my fellow owners likely would wait before diving into the starting pitching pool -- Karabell, for instance, later told me he had entered the draft planning to go hitters in the first 10 rounds -- I decided to see what would happen if I grabbed a solid foundation for my rotation sooner rather than later.
Ravitz grabbed Kevin Youkilis in Round 2, and although Youk qualifies only as a first baseman for now, Ravitz took the long view, saying: "From the moment I took Youk, I decided he would eventually be my third baseman and I wouldn't draft another one until the final round." That's why we'll see Ravitz coming back with Prince in Round 3, and, later on, Justin Morneau and Adam Lind. Meanwhile, because he had passed on Cano in Round 1, Becquey had to agonize over whether to take Utley or Dustin Pedroia in Round 3. Eventually, he opted for Utley. "I was debating between [the two] and went with Utley because, at-bat for at-bat, his upside to outperform his draft position far exceeds Pedroia's, who'd have to have the best-case-scenario season to justify taking him mid-second."
Of course, after further reports regarding Utley's knee surfaced post-draft, Becquey would have made a different call. "[Now] I'm afraid that Pedroia's overall numbers will far exceed Utley's on a pure games-played basis, and I would have taken Pedroia with the pick instead." What a difference a day or two makes! Similar risk/reward upside is the reason Berry's pick of Nelson Cruz makes a lot of sense in Round 3, as long as there's no repeat of his three 2010 visits to the disabled list. It's obvious on which side the TMR falls in that debate.
My picks: Jayson Werth, Justin Verlander. Curses! Foiled on the last two picks before I selected in Round 4! Have I mentioned how much I hate the bookend position? With so many of the top outfielders now off the board, I felt obligated to grab Werth here. But rather than hamstring my power by selecting Ichiro, as well, I decide that with only two pitchers claimed since my last time under the gun, I'd grab another hurler here. Barring someone such as Ian Kinsler or Buster Posey falling to No. 60, my plan is to continue my "all-in" on starters when my turn comes around again.
Harris gets Joe Mauer, probably about two rounds later than he would go in most drafts, another function of knowing that, generally speaking, this group will wait on catchers and not pay for saves. At this point, though, he had clearly become too big a bargain to pass on. Harris also selected Zack Greinke in Round 5, something he wouldn't have done if given a mulligan: "I don't think we'll get a pure sense of what his early season will look like until he tries to throw. Sure, he could miss three starts, but remember how Jacoby Ellsbury was going to come back 'any day now' all last season? He could be fine, and thus a great value. But he should probably go, oh, a round or two later than I took him, and only then to someone who's not risk-averse." Becquey grabbed Jose Bautista in Round 4, which only served to further exacerbate his buyer's remorse on Longoria. Believing in Bautista's power numbers at third made Becquey wish even more that he had grabbed Cano in Round 1 and avoided perhaps getting stuck with damaged goods at second base. Becquey followed up with Victor Martinez in Round 5, a player who would not have lasted nearly as long in most leagues. The other side of that coin was Quintong's selection of Hunter Pence. Although probably on target for our draft, it was likely a few rounds early for most leagues.
My picks: Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Carpenter. Having already decided to wait on my middle infield spots, the fact that guys such as Rickie Weeks, Jimmy Rollins and Martin Prado are flying off the board before my turn comes again inspires me to go in for the kill and grab a realistic 30-35 wins with Jimenez and Carpenter. While the rest of the league now plays catch-up on the mound, I'll simply target the guys I want at each position when my turn comes around.
Karabell continued his power-speed "combo specials," following up his claim to both Uptons by taking Alex Rios in Round 6. Meanwhile, Andre Ethier that same round to Berry could prove to be a huge bargain. Becquey grabs Dan Haren as he attempts to secure an ace to anchor his staff, using his newly formed theory, "Pitching is plentiful, even though AJ is hoarding it all." C-Dub had no intention of drafting a catcher this early, but Brian McCann is a guy who might go as early as Round 3 in a "normal" draft. A 40-pick value at a position where there are few standouts? That was "too much to pass up." Mike Stanton and Shane Victorino are picks from these two rounds who have a very good chance of lasting anywhere from five to seven rounds longer in leagues where "name recognition" takes precedence over having done your homework.
My picks: Paul Konerko, Chris Young, Chone Figgins, Pablo Sandoval. Konerko gives me a shot at 30-100 from my corner spot, and there's been a bit more spring in the Kung Fu Panda's step so far this spring. I don't love Figgins as my second baseman, but I need some speed somewhere, and with Young possibly being moved to the middle of the D-backs' lineup, I'm not sure he's going to be a solid source for steals.
Round 8 saw the first closers go off the board, with the back-to-back selections of Heath Bell and Mariano Rivera. That's probably about three to four rounds later than one might typically expect in an environment where "paying for saves" is not considered a capital offense. By the time Cockcroft selected Pedro Alvarez, "third base was picked clean" -- in fact, the next hot corner selection was not until Mark Reynolds in Round 16. Cockcroft also grabbed Elvis Andrus as his shortstop, and it's a good thing he did because he likely would have taken up full-time residence in the stolen base cellar without him. In the next few rounds, the speed specialists start flying off the board to those owners who realize they, too, are woefully lacking in this department: Rajai Davis, Figgins, Brett Gardner and Juan Pierre are all taken in this part of the draft.
My picks: John Danks, Neil Walker, Vernon Wells, Angel Pagan. I selected Walker because I didn't know how long he would last in this circle, especially after the run of Kelly Johnson, Gordon Beckham and Howard Kendrick that preceded my turn. I also was targeting Ian Desmond to fill up my middle infield, but he went to C-Dub two picks prior. So I opted instead for Danks, who I think has an outside shot at being a top-25 pitcher, and waited even longer to take my shortstop. I was still able to select two productive outfielders at this stage of the draft. Maybe they're not elite, but getting a combined 35 homers and 35 steals past the halfway point? I'll take it.
Ravitz gets Geovany Soto in Round 15, a good six rounds' worth of value. Similar solid value picks? Karabell's Clay Buchholz and, at this point of the proceedings, so too is Sheets' selection of Vladimir Guerrero, whom many people are still drafting as if this were 2001 and not 2011. Many of the picks in these rounds were pitchers, and with nine required for a legal roster, you need to pick them eventually. You can quibble over who chose whom but not that the run occurred at all. Round 15 saw a serious closer run, as the number of guys with strangleholds on their team's job started to dwindle.
My picks: Jonathan Broxton, Francisco Cordero, J.J. Hardy, Edwin Encarnacion, Garrett Jones. After watching the rest of the owners pick and choose their closers, I caved and grabbed my 60 or so saves here, just to remain competitive in the category. I could have punted, but by this point in a mixed-league draft, what's left in the hitter's pool isn't going to get that much worse going forward; I might as well wait. Indeed, looking for some help in home runs, Hardy and Encarnacion, whom I considered in Rounds 16 and 17, were both still there in 18 and 19. In Round 20, I took another 20 home runs to fill my final outfield spot with Jones, who also can play first base, should the need arise.
Ravitz noticed that this is where "the hate had gone too far." At some point, you have to bite the bullet on some risky veterans, after they fall well past their rankings and/or average draft positions. That's why he went with the evils he knew: Brian Roberts in Round 17 and Grady Sizemore in Round 18, as opposed to X-factor guys such as Sean Rodriguez and Jose Tabata. Others in the "evil you know" category include Jason Bay, Manny Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano. The more knowledgeable your league, the less likely you can wait on the newer, fresher names like Craig Kimbrel, Jake McGee and Jonny Venters. Remember that when everyone is looking at the same sleepers, napping means missing out.
h4> ROUND 25
My picks: Ike Davis, J.P. Arencibia, Daniel Bard, Roger Bernadina, Denard Span. I closed out my pitching staff with Bard, who should provide great value, even if he doesn't end up replacing Jonathan Papelbon at some point in 2011; and if he does, well that's just gravy. Waiting until Round 22 to grab the catcher I wanted in the first place -- Arencibia -- was a joy. The rest of these picks are simply to add depth to my bench. At this point, might as well go with guys you like, regardless of the question marks attached. If they don't pan out, you've got a whole waiver wire with which to rectify your mistakes.
Mr. Irrelevant was actually Kurt Suzuki, Karabell's starting catcher. You might not be able to wait that long on the position in your league, but when you need only one backstop and you've missed out on the top five guys, why not just see who is left when the dust settles? For what it's worth, the order of selection of "recovering arms" went Peavy, Webb and then Bedard. Possible steals of non-catchers who might have fallen way too far? James Shields (Round 21, Karabell), Trevor Cahill (Round 22, Harris), Jason Kubel (Round 23, also Harris) and Edwin Jackson (Round 25, Berry).
Well, there you have it. We haven't reinvented the wheel or come up with a brand-new theory of relativity. But we have given you plenty of food for thought, set the table and invited you to dinner. Whether you choose to accept the invitation, that's entirely up to you. Bon appétit!
AJ Mass is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. His book, "How Fantasy Sports Explains the World" will be released in August. You can e-mail him here.
Follow AJ Mass on Twitter: @AJMass
AJ Mass chronicles the fantasy staff's second ESPN standard league mock draft of the preseason.