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There is a fundamental divide amongst fantasy baseball drafters:  those who hate drafting pitchers in the first 8 rounds and those who don’t.

I am the latter.  I’m not saying I prefer to draft pitching over hitting.  Much like Billy Beane at the Winter Meetings and Billy Bean at a Winter Sale, I’m always looking for a good deal.  If people want to overvalue hitters and undervalue pitchers, I’ll draft some pitchers.

Rather than proselytize my drafting philosophy in this post, I’m just going to look back at Rounds 3-8 of 2008 and objectively analyze the findings.

The analysis was based on the following:

  • Players are valued (ACT PS) based on 10 team ‘Point Shares’ for a MLB C / 1B / 2B / SS / 3B / CI /MI / 5 OF/ 9 P universe. Point Shares are the estimated increase or decrease that a player would provide the average fantasy team if replacing the average player at his position.
  • Draft position value (EXP PS) estimated by taking the Point Share total for the player who finished with that ranking – e.g., Mark Teixeira finished in 25th with 3.39 point shares so this was the Expected Point Shares for the 25th draft pick.
  • ADP (Average Draft Position) from MockDraftCentral.com
  • Green shading = Player delivered above value; Yellow shading = Player delivered close to value (ACT PS – EXP PS = 0 – -2.0); Orange shading = Player delivered far below value (ACT PS – EXP PS < -2.0)

Here are the final totals by position:

Pos Value (>0) Solid (0 – -2.0) Below Value (< -2.0) Total
C 1 1 2 4
1B 1 2 2 5
2B 1 1 2 4
SS 0 1 5 6
3B 0 2 2 4
OF 3 4 11 18
DH 0 0 1 1
SP 5 1 7 13
RP 3 1 1 5
Total 14 13 33 60

Notes: Rounds 3-8 are tougher than they appear. More than half the picks delivered far below their expected value. The only position that delivered above average value – aka the best bargain – were relief pitchers (K-Rod, Papelbon, and Nathan were the bargains). Most hitting positions are about 50/50 with one glaring exception – shortstops. The only SS that was even close to a good value was Michael Young as Jeter, C-Guile, Tulo, Tejada, and Furcal all disappointed.

Starting Pitching is definitely the most extreme. There were some great bargains (CC, Hamels, Haren) as well as several busts (Bedard, Verlander, Smoltz, Harang, etc.). If we were to apply our ‘risky pitcher‘ criteria to the 13 pitchers drafted between 21-80 in 2008, it would’ve ignored the 5 value starters (though Sabathia and Hamels were close to +700 pitches from previous year) and flagged Kazmir (+700 pitch spike), Lackey (27+% breaking pitches), Smoltz (27+% breaking pitches), and Bedard (27+% breaking pitches). So that would leave 5 great picks and 4 horrible picks. Not great but better value then seen in the hitting positions…

  1. Eric W says:
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    Great stuff. used to be dead set against drafting pitchers in the early rounds but I am slowly starting to switch my strategy. still wont be caught dead with a top of the line closer on my team no matter how much the numbers back them up.

  2. Steve says:
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    @Eric W: I’ve taken Peavy in the 4th and Haren in the 5th in a few mocks I’ve done recently. They’re great guys to have in the bank when the starting pitching starts flying off the board in rounds 7-10. I’ve got complacent a couple of times, though, and sat back too long and ended up with a 3-4 guy as my number 2 starter.

  3. Freak says:
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    When people zig, you gotta zag.

  4. Adam1 says:
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    billy bean at the winter sale? is that the best you could muster?

    if you’re going to be homophobic, at least be funny. if being funny is too much to ask, then at least be original. you fail on both fronts.

  5. @Eric W: My work is half done then… :)

    @Steve: Peavy/Haren in the 4th/5th is great.

    @Freak: Exactly.

  6. @Adam: Sorry. It made us laugh.

    Grey – you hear this? If you’re going to put anything homophobic in your posts, the requirement henceforth is for funny and/or original but preferably both. I suggest you remove the ‘Man Crush’ draft where you photoshopped your face and Alex Rios’s onto two grapplng Roman Gladiators.

  7. Tony says:
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    @Rudy Gamble: Whats with some of the a-holes lately?

    Long live Razzball.

  8. Steve C. says:
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    @Rudy: Your very interesting study also highlights the divide among drafters over position scarcity. For example, of the six SS picks, the study finds no bargains and five busts. Although true on an absolute scale–e.g., Tejada’s point share is lower than his 71 ADP–these picks may look better if scarcity is taken into consideration.

  9. @Steve C.: Well, the Point Shares take position value into account. There were values among middle infielders but not at this level (http://razzball.com/2008-draft-rankings/2008-best-values-10-team/). The best values at SS was Jhonny Peralta (#30 in value overall), Stephen Drew (#42 overall), and Cristian Guzman (#77).

    I think the best way to view 2B/SS in Rounds 3-8 is “Where would I draft this guy if he was an OF?” If it’s multiple rounds later, don’t take him. But even then, there’s tough breaks. Tulo getting a freak injury. Furcal getting hurt AGAIN. Carlos Guillen going from great value to awful value….

  10. Winson says:
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    I like your post. Shows some good insight for draft strategies. The thing I’m curious about is how this looks for 2007 and 2006 as well. I usually like to look at these general position trends that go back 3 season to get a better gauge. Things change from year to year, so you’d like to see if there’s any merit to this trend that happened in just one year.

  11. Excellent post, Rudy.

    This is something I’ve been very interested in, in part because this year I’ve (almost) decided to abandon my “grab two top 10 starters in Rounds 3 through 6″ strategy (last year: Hamels and Smoltz) for a “grab a few 2nd-tier starters with upside in rounds 7 through 10″ strategy. (My hopes: C-Bills and Shields).

    One factor that bears closer inspection is this: When a hitter disappoints, as many did here, it’s rarely a catastrophic disappointment; it’s usually disappointment by degrees. For example, if you drafted Rios/Hart/Markakis et al. you got less than what you hoped for, but you didn’t get nothing.

    On the other hand, if you drafted Bedard or Smoltz or Verlander, you basically did get nothing. (Two b/c of injury, one b/c of meltdown.)

    I think this is why people view hitters as “safer” picks. Unless someone’s injured all year (Furcal) or a total anomalous bust (Tulo) you still get some return on investment. Pitchers tend to be either boom or bust. Bedard in the 3rd round last year was basically a season-killer for a lot of people.

    Add to this that many later-round pitchers go on to deliver early round value (Lincecum, Dice K) and you seem to be able to get by with pitchers in later rounds.

    Of course, there are hitters who do the same (Hamilton) but they seem harder to identify/target. Maybe that’s just me. (FRENCHY!!!!)

    @Tony: The price of popularity, sadly.

  12. @Winson: Good idea. I don’t have ADP or Point Share calculated for 2006-2007, though, so it would require way too much work at this point. My gut says things would average out a bit. Can’t imagine SS is always this bad but I do believe that ‘scarcity’ drives over-valuation for middle infield.

    @Baron Von Vulturewins: I think it’s always worth re-evaluating strategies and I do agree that it appears pitchers are more likely to go bust than hitters. I count 6 hitter busts (V-Mart, Hafner, Figgins, Byrnes, Furcal, Tulo) out of 42 hitters (14%) and 4 out of 14 starting pitchers (29%). So pitchers are inherently riskier but there is payoff to that risk.

    A lot of my preseason thinking for 2009 is how to avoid the busts. I will not take any pitcher that satisfied 1 or more of the ‘risky pitcher’ criteria in the first 10 rounds (next version of Point Shares due out end of this month will note this for every starter). That would’ve made it 2 busts out of 9 (22%) which narrows the gap. I don’t see anything jumping out about Harang and Verlander that screamed ‘ready for meltdown’…

    The only players on the hitters busts that I deemed to have any value last year were Furcal and Tulo (hate early catchers, don’t like DH’s, Byrnes’ fall was easy to see, don’t draft speed-only guys at 3B). So I suppose my hitter bust rate was even lower than 14%.

    Seems like I should do a follow-up post on Rounds 9-14…

  13. Lou Poulas

    Lou says:
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    My issue remains the risk. The last 5 years have had 5 different #1 pitchers – Randy Johnson, Chris Carpenter, Johan Santana, Jake Peavy, and Roy Halladay. THe best batters have been either Albert Pujols or Alex Rodriguez. Year to year, which pitcher to gamble a high pick on?

    Also, 1/4 of every starting pitchers worth is tied up in the horrible stat of wins. Wins almost seems random at times, making it very hard to predict value.

  14. Lou Poulas

    Lou says:
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    I suspect I am shortchanging your position though Rudy. I just looked at #1 at each position, the spread may be much more even if you look at say, the TOp 5 batters vs the Top 5 pitchers

  15. @Lou: Last year, I felt that Santana, Peavy, and Webb would all deliver top 10 value. I picked up Santana with my #1 pick in both expert drafts. He finished #9 in value…better than anyone taken after him in the 1st round except Pujols (elbow scare). This year, my early projections have a couple starters in the top 12 (Sabathia, Santana, Lincecum) but I’m not feeling it. Probably look for two starters between Rounds 3-7.

  16. BigFatHippo says:
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    @Rudy Gamble: Wow, perfect timing for this post.

    Did a mock last night at ESPN to get familiar with their draft board. Took Halladay in the 3rd and Billingsley in the 8th. Rather than clog up this box with the results* I’ll e-mail them to you. I was floored how well it turned out, obviously there were no Razzballers drafting against me.

    * ESPN doesn’t save mocks so there’s no way to transfer it here.

  17. Tony says:
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    @Rudy Gamble: I wouldn’t put CC in that top 12. I have a feeling this is going to be a rough year for the big guy in NY. We’ll see though, he’s a great pitcher, but that division and that type of media, its a whole new ballgame.

  18. bostonaccent says:
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    2006 would be interesting, since we’d see some of the WBC hangover for starters that we’ll be seeing again this year. Javier Vazquez making both the top 20 risk list and being rostered for Puerto Rico makes that CHONE projection look more and more like “fantasy baseball.”

  19. agarthered says:
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    Hey guys!

    I just got designated 7th pick in a first year keeper league, If both MCAB and Braun are there, who do you guys think I should take. I intially thought MCAB because of the third base eligibility, but that will only last one year, so not I’m a bit lost haha!

  20. Lou Poulas

    Lou says:
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    @agarthered: Tough one, hope for Holliday or Sizemore? I would personally go with Braun if I had to choose, but maybe here is a place you actually take a pitcher Rudy style

  21. @agarthered: I vote Braun. I like OF better than 1B and feel he’s a safer bet than Mig-Cab. If this was 4 years ago, I’d take Johan. I don’t see a starter out there now that qualifies as a #1 keeper (even Lincecum)…

  22. agarthered says:
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    Werd, I do like the 3b eligibility this year, but you’re right with liking OF more than 1B

  23. James says:
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    Rudy,
    Great post — I have wanted to post about this topic. There is a huge bias about pitchers in the early rounds. I believe this is an arrogant opinion and misguided – especially in H2H.

    In H2H I will beat anyone by drafting a Reyes and elite pitchers. I tried this last year, made it to the finals in both, and won one league. At the worst my team will tie, but win with the ERA tie breaker.

    Reasons why I rather go with elite options:
    1. Everyone is focused on sleeper pitchers and I can get the top hitting sleepers
    2. Hitters don’t get shut down
    3. Younger pitchers are more injury prone
    4. Hitting call ups are less of a commodity

    Thus, I will be drafting top pitchers and using my lower picks and call ups to round out my lineup before the playoffs. However, you need to constantly be changing to adjust to the “fantasy environment” and your league. For example, after Johan there are legitimate concerns to many aces until Haren that weren’t there last year. Therefore, Haren instead of Peavy will be my starting point.

  24. James says:
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    Thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

  25. agarthered says:
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    @James Yeah I don’t think i’ll be looking towards, Lincecum, Santana, Sabathia this year, but most likely will be gunning for Haren, Beckett, Peavy, Billingsley in most drafts.

    In the past i’ve usually waited till the 7th round to make my first pitching selection, but Rudy’s article on pitching injury risks, has scared me off of a few guys I really liked late on this year (Nolasco, Greinke, Myers), so i’ll have to start a few rounds earlier.

  26. @agarthered: I also agree that if Peavy falls to me in the 4th or (heaven forbid) later, I will pounce. That’s just good value, as me granpappy used to say.*

    @Lou: If anyone cares, I was perusing the new Baseball Prospectus and they are VERY down on Holliday this year in Oakland, for all the usual reasons. (Mostly park effect.)

    Down enough that I doubt I’d draft him unless he was available in, like, the 6th. Which he won’t be.

    *He never said this.

  27. agarthered says:
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    @Baron I’m with you on Holliday, I will not draft him this year. The Coors Field factor is now gone, so is my urge to draft him.

  28. @agarthered: Hell, I drafted him last year at the 8th pick (after riding him in ’07 to a championship) and regretted it. My disbelief at his shoddy final numbers in ’08 has been recorded in comments all over this site. I like his swagger but, sadly, he’s dead to me.

  29. Lou Poulas

    Lou P says:
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    @Baron Von Vulturewins: Put me on record as a Holliday believer. Sure, he takes a hit for the park move, but I still think he can be a Top-10 batter. I don’t think .315 110/25/105 with 15 SB is out of the question.

  30. @Lou P: Hey, I like Holliday, especially in ’07. But he had 25 HRs last year, playing half his games in Coors. I do believe park effect can be over accentuated, but he’s in arguably going from one of the better hitters parks to one of the worst.

    Two years ago, he had 36 HRs — but 12 of those — 12! — came in September. They still count, of course, but that means he was one ridiculous hot streak away from finishing with, say, oh, about 26 to 28 HRs on the season. Expecting 25 in Oakland seems to be overly optimistic.

    Plus Oakland doesn’t run. At all.

    PECOTA has him at .291, 23 HR, 89 RBIs. Not that he can’t beat that, but proceed with caution. And even if he goes .310, 25, 100 — that’s not top 10 or even Top 20.

  31. Adam1 says:
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    @ Rudy Gamble

    Hmm… Surely you can see why a man crush draft with grappling gladiators is funny and original, while playing on a gay man’s appreciation of clothing is, well, kind of lazy?

    I’m offended more by the laziness of the joke than its mean-spiritedness.

  32. @Adam: I hear ya. Thanks for the encouragement to step up my blog game. I won’t disappoint you Adam…

  33. @Steve C: I had read something on this…I don’t buy it all. D-Wright is the best option as the #3 hitter. Reyes would be a better #1 hitter than #2 hitter. Complete BS. I can easily see Hanley moving to #3 and Maybin moving to #1. Not worried though – whatever he loses in SBs, he gains in RBIs…

  34. Lou says:
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    @Baron Von Vulturewins: That’s a fair point about not being top 10, and I should have been more descriptive. Using Pecota, CHone, etc, a line of .315 100/25/100/15 would really be a good outfielder. At the end of the season when somebody knocks in 140 not so much so.

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