Commentary

What about Pierre? Where to draft a "Juan"-category stud

Updated: February 18, 2008, 1:22 PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

It's almost your draft day and you're making your lists. It's really easy to figure out you want to rank players like Alex Rodriguez and David Wright in your top 10. After all, they're going to provide you with help in all five offensive categories in a 5-by-5 league. But what about guys who excel at one particular skill -- players who can go a long way toward winning you a category all by themselves? At what point do they enter the mix? How valuable are Juan Pierre's 64 steals if they don't bring any home runs along with them? How much stock should you put in Ichiro Suzuki's .351 batting average when he's not likely to do much in the way of power? Carlos Pena's 41 dingers were nice, but he's not exactly what you'd call fleet of foot. Forget about him helping your stolen base totals. What value should you place on the Chone Figginses and Dan Ugglas of the world?

[+] EnlargeJuan Pierre
Brad Mangin/Getty ImagesHow do you quantify Juan Pierre's fantasy value?

Let's use Pierre as our case study. There's no question that if you had Pierre in 2007, you were going to do well in steals. There were only 42 players with 20 or more stolen bases last season. Compare that with 87 players who hit 20 or more HRs, and it would be reasonable to assume that Juan's 64 swipes were more valuable to your team than, say, Prince Fielder's 50 homers, simply because there were fewer steals to go around.

But that's not nearly the end of the discussion. Yes, Pierre's thievery likely put you at or near the top of the stolen base category, but at some point, the law of diminishing returns takes over. If you win the steals category in a 10-team league, you get 10 points. That's true if you win the category by only a single steal or by 40 or by 400. Pierre's 64 steals are nice, but if you only needed 30 or so of them to put you over the top, then the value of each subsequent stolen base becomes less and less.

So how much is each stat worth? Take a look at the following table:

2007 Major League production
AB R H HR RBI SB
MLB Totals 167783 23322 44977 4957 22257 2918
Per lineup spot 621.4 86.4 166.6 18.4 82.4 10.8
Value -0.002 0.012 0.006 0.054 0.012 0.093

What we've done is very simple. We've taken the totals for last season, and created the league average, assuming an even distribution among each lineup spot. From this, we're able to create a relative value of each hit, each run scored, and so on. We can then create a ranking based on each player's actual relative 2007 output. Here are our top 25 hitters, based on this information:

Relative 2007 player production
RK PLAYER AB R H HR RBI SB RATING
1 Jose Reyes 681 119 191 12 57 78 99.9
2 Hanley Ramirez 639 125 212 29 81 51 89.7
3 Alex Rodriguez 583 143 183 54 156 24 88.7
4 Jimmy Rollins 716 139 212 30 94 41 83
5 Eric Byrnes 626 103 179 21 83 50 80.4
6 Juan Pierre 668 96 196 0 41 64 76.3
7 David Wright 604 113 196 30 107 34 75.9
8 Carl Crawford 584 93 184 11 80 50 74.4
9 Brian Roberts 621 103 180 12 57 50 72.5
10 Brandon Phillips 650 107 187 30 94 32 70.5
11 Grady Sizemore 628 118 174 24 78 33 67.1
12 Carlos Beltran 554 93 153 33 112 23 63.9
13 Matt Holliday 636 120 216 36 137 11 63
14 Ichiro Suzuki 678 111 238 6 68 37 62
15 Curtis Granderson 612 122 185 23 74 26 60.9
16 Chris Young 569 85 135 32 68 27 59.5
17 Bobby Abreu 605 123 171 16 101 25 58.9
18 Chone Figgins 442 81 146 3 58 41 57.6
19 Prince Fielder 573 109 165 50 119 2 56.8
20 Torii Hunter 600 94 172 28 107 18 56.4
21 Alfonso Soriano 579 97 173 33 70 19 56.3
22 Ryan Braun 451 91 146 34 97 15 56.2
23 Shane Victorino 456 78 128 12 46 37 55.7
24 Gary Sheffield 494 107 131 25 75 22 55.4
25 Nick Markakis 637 97 191 23 112 18 55.2

So we see that Pierre's raw value was sixth overall in the majors last season. But it would be the biggest mistake in the world to stop right here and assume that this means we're saying Pierre is a first-rounder. These numbers are only half the story. Why? Because although Pierre will help you win that steals category, you also have to factor in that with zero homers and only 41 RBIs, he's an anchor dragging you way down to the ocean floor in two other categories. How do we figure out where that balance is? At what point does the scale tip from Pierre being a benefit to an albatross? Clearly, it's not going to be at the sixth overall pick.

What you have to do is figure out where each player would rank if we were to remove, one at a time, each category from the equation. In other words, if steals weren't a category, where would we pick Pierre? A far cry from sixth, try more along the lines of No. 200. If we take out homers from the mix, however, then Pierre would clearly be a top-3 pick. By balancing all of these mini-rankings, we can adjust our initial rankings to reflect the law of diminishing returns in having too many eggs in one statistical basket. After doing all the math, we're left with the following "new" top 25:

Adjusted 2007 player production
RK PLAYER RK PLAYER
1 Alex Rodriguez 14 Chris Young
2 Jimmy Rollins 15 Torii Hunter
3 Hanley Ramirez 16 Carl Crawford
4 David Wright 17 Alfonso Soriano
5 Brandon Phillips 18 Prince Fielder
6 Matt Holliday 19 Nick Markakis
7 Carlos Beltran 20 Gary Sheffield
8 Eric Byrnes 21 Adam Dunn
9 Grady Sizemore 22 Brian Roberts
10 Curtis Granderson 23 Alex Rios
11 Bobby Abreu 24 Ichiro Suzuki
12 Jose Reyes 25 Carlos Lee
13 Ryan Braun 45 Juan Pierre

In a 10-team league, Pierre is now looking more like a fourth- or fifth-rounder, which seems about right in my book. Certainly, because these rankings are based on last season's numbers, there's plenty of room for adjustment. Obviously, if you believe a player had a career year last season, you can lower them a bit for 2008. If a player had a down 2007, or missed time because of injury, you'll likely need to adjust them upwards a bit in the list. Ultimately, those are the kinds of decisions that everyone has to make for themselves. However, I believe that as a starting point, this is the truest way to identify how to value a player with a high batting average (Ichiro, No. 24) versus one with a large HR total (Carlos Pena, No. 31) versus a speed demon like Juan Pierre (No. 45).

Oh, and in case it will keep you up at night … Mr. Figgins comes in just behind Pierre at No. 46, and Uggla clocks in 10 spots behind him (click the link for complete rankings).

Good luck everyone and happy drafting!

A.J. Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.