Commentary

30 Questions: New York Yankees

Updated: March 23, 2012, 8:59 AM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

Yankees

Is Curtis Granderson worthy of a first-round (top 10) fantasy pick?

Fantasy owners place a lot of importance in their first-round draft picks, which makes perfect sense. After all, if you select a player expecting something in the neighborhood of a .300 average, 20 homers and 50 steals, and all he does is hit .255 with 11 home runs and 18 stolen bases, then odds are your team might not be destined for championship glory.

Yes, I'm talking about you, Carl Crawford.

Even though, in hindsight, we at ESPN Fantasy were obviously way off base when we put Crawford atop our 2011 outfield rankings, most people agreed with our assessment at the time, just as they did when we ranked Curtis Granderson as our No. 27 outfielder. And wouldn't you know it -- Granderson shocked the fantasy baseball world by hitting 41 homers, driving in 119 runs, stealing 25 bases and scoring 136 runs. From 27th-ranked outfielder to sixth overall on the 2011 ESPN Player Rater.

[+] EnlargeCurtis Granderson
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesCurtis Granderson's combination of speed and power makes him fantasy gold.

Of course, now the million-dollar question is: Can Granderson repeat that success in 2012? And a related question: Would you dare select him in the first round?

That's exactly what happened recently in ESPN Fantasy's Twitter Mock Draft, when ESPN Deportes host Carolina Guillen selected Granderson with the No. 5 overall pick. That selection raised a lot of eyebrows … but I fully applaud the decision.

Allow me to state my case.

Back in 2010, I wrote an article endorsing Jacoby Ellsbury as a first-round fantasy selection based on our projection for him of eight home runs and 60 stolen bases. Many people scoffed at that article, and sadly, we'll never know for sure if I was right to make that endorsement or not, because Ellsbury got hurt in early April and ended up playing only 18 games. However, after watching him break out with 32 home runs and 39 steals in 2011, good enough for No. 2 on the 2011 ESPN Player Rater, I can't help but feel some sense of vindication.

Of course, I didn't just pull Ellsbury's name out of a hat. There was a method to the madness. Let's take a look at the league leaders in the four offensive "counting" categories from last season as a starting point:

OK, lemme explain. There were 20,808 total runs scored in the majors in 2011. Granderson's 136 runs accounted for 0.65 percent of them, a pretty high number considering he's just one player in an entire league. Of course, not all of those 20,808 runs were accounted for in fantasy, especially in mixed leagues. Fantasy rosters are limited; in a standard ESPN league, each team is required to start only 13 offensive players. That severely cuts back on the number of players who contribute to your league's stat pool.

So we drop the number of usable hitters to 200. Why 200? For several reasons. First, it makes for a more accurate number of hitters who would be used during the course of the season in a standard-sized or even a slightly deeper league. You don't just start the same 130 (in our standard) or 168 (in 12-team leagues with 14 active spots) hitters all season long.

Second, we are talking about drafting, and that means more of the player pool should be considered. If we were doing a retrospective 2011 argument, it would be obvious which players would be considered the top 130 or top 150. But since we don't just put those players on our draft lists -- we include more players, using 2012 projections instead of 2011 stats -- we must expand our draft scope to include those similarly valued players.

And finally, this allows us to get deeper into each position to more accurately determine value. For instance, there are only 10 active catchers at a given time in a standard ESPN league, but it's not always the same 10 catchers. Because of injuries, ineffectiveness or platoons, a good 15 or even 20 catchers could be used often. Expanding the pool includes these additional players who have fantasy relevance, even if they're not in the top 130 or 150.

Back to Granderson, let's compare his 2011 stats with those of the average upper-echelon fantasy baseball hitters:

As you can see, in four of five categories, Granderson gives you far more than the average hitter on a (deep) fantasy roster. It should be noted that the percentage for batting average is calculated in a slightly different manner because it is a ratio determined by a combination of both at-bats and hits, and not a singular category total, which explains the dash above. However, it's clear that Granderson didn't hurt you much in that category either, especially considering that if you turn just six of his outs into hits, he'd be at .273.

Using these percentages yields something I call "total impact," which is a measure of how much a hitter contributes to a fantasy team across all five categories. Here's a list of the most valuable fantasy contributors, based on the 2011 statistics for all players:

Total impact is the sum of each player's percentage of the top 200 hitters' stats in each offensive category, weighted due to the fact that there clearly are diminishing returns from having a total so far ahead of the league average.

After all, you get the same amount of points for winning the stolen base category by one steal as you do if you win it by 50, and since we also recognize that the majority of stolen bases tend to come from so few sources, once you have a certain "cushion" in this particular category, each subsequent stolen base has less value than the ones that came before.

That's why a player like Michael Bourn, who had 2.81 percent of all steals from the top 200 players, won't be listed in the top 10. With no power to speak of, one-category players like Bourn can't crack the first round. However, a player like Granderson easily does, and is worthy of mention in the same breath as MVP candidates like Albert Pujols and Matt Kemp.

Now, I can already hear your argument. "You used last year's statistics in that chart. There's no guarantee he does that again." And you'd have a good point. However, if we run the numbers again, this time using the 2012 ESPN Projections for each player, you will see that Granderson is still a first-round talent. Here are the top 10 hitters in terms of 2012 total impact:

If you're looking for a safe, conventional first-round pick, by all means, take someone like Joey Votto. Nobody is going to think any less of you for doing so. But if you believe our projected stat line for Granderson is an accurate outlook for 2012, it makes far more sense to grab him instead, because he's going to contribute more across all five categories. Is it unconventional? Sure it is. Is it risky? A little. But it very well could be the kind of pick that wins you a league championship.

AJ Mass is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. His book, "How Fantasy Sports Explains the World" is available for purchase here.You can e-mail him here.

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