Monday, February 17, 2014

Fantasy Funkhouser: Solving the 5th Pick in a 2014 Snake Draft Problem

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Fantasy Funkhouser will review all things Fantasy Baseball. After all, life is a small sample size.

As I finalize my preparations for my 2014 rankings there appears to be one over arching question for people early in their draft. Specifically, there is one position above all others people do not want to be drafting from in 2014. That is the 5th spot in a snake draft. The reason is that after the, essentially, inarguable top 4 of Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Paul Goldschmidt, and Andrew McCutchen there is a large grouping of people with high ceilings but also low floors.

Players like Carlos Gonzalez who is guaranteed to miss at least 20 games that usually occur at the end of the season, which for contending teams is the least opportune time. Or Chris Davis who blew up the baseball world with an epic 2013 season that many seem skeptical he can repeat. Robinson Cano has moved to a less hitter friendly park at Safeco, Jacoby Ellsbury has some injury flags on him, and Bryce Harper could be the MVP or he could have another year of slow progression towards superstar status.

Based on current ADP info, it appears many owners are skirting by these players that have more question marks than the Riddler in favor of safety and security in the form of Clayton Kershaw. Certainly this isn't a bad choice. Kershaw earned $57 last year, based on The Fantasy Baseball Guide. He was third on ESPN's player rater, and Yahoo ranked him second overall when the final pitch was tossed in 2013. This is exactly what a Top 10 pick looks like. Dominant, safe, secure, and the caveat of Kershaw is that drafting such an elite pitcher so early allows you to basically forgo taking another starter for 8-10 rounds in most standard leagues. Even in the 2014 LABR mixed league draft, head honcho Steve Gardner saw no issues taking Kershaw at the dreaded #5. Ray Guilfoyle at Fake Teams agrees with Gardner's pick. He writes:
Loved the Kershaw pick by Steve Gardner at #5. He represents little risk and is the most dominant starter in the game. With few 40 home run hitters left in the game, starting pitchers will offer more production going forward.
Yes, yes, and yes, Ray. Most logical people are on board. The general strategy is to turn your nose up at pitching for the first several rounds and get elite hitters, but when all of those hitters could sink your title dreams the pitcher that might be the best of a generation seems like a nice safety blanket. Sure there's a greater risk of injury for a pitcher than a hitter in general, but in this specific instance there are a litany of different reasons to not take the next 5-6 ranked offensive players.

With all this uncertainty it seems easy to fall comfortably into taking Kershaw. To going in early for that pitcher just because he is so good. But if we can all agree with hitters being more valuable and in a perfect world we'd take one in the first round, then why shouldn't we consider Ryan Braun?

Oh, PEDs you say, well yes he does have that hanging over his head, but is that something really worth punishing fantasy wise? He's served his suspension, he's back with something to prove, and while convicted cheaters like Alex Rodriguez and Melky Cabrera have regressed quite a bit once their "gummy" supply was stunted, but Rodriguez was already breaking down and Cabrera somehow willed his PED use into a great season, which clearly he is not capable of on his own. Braun though has been elite, well, forever. Look at his career stats and tell me when he started taking PEDs. If we go on what we know and what has been reported it's likely that he started somewhere at the end of 2010 and into 2011. There was a spike in his numbers, but those were also over his prime age years.

Let's strike those two from the record because I'm feeling generous. Prior to that he was still a wrecking machine. In 2009 and 2010 he earned $40 and $34 respectively by smacking 30 homers with 100+ runs and 100+ RBI with double digit steals. His wOBA and ISO during his entire career has stayed largely in line with what he's always done.

Last year he obviously struggled with the on-going media speculation of his PED use. The failed drug test that was somehow overturned, and then the fall out that he was indeed using PEDs. Braun came off looking bad. He vehemently denied the claims initially, attacking and attempting to destroy the reputation of some people in the process. His standing in the court of public opinion is at an all-time low. Along with battling some injuries and running less there are legitimate concerns about Braun, but compared to what the other players are offering up, I think he's worth this pick.

Even if we say he won't be the player he was, a reasonable demotion in his overall performance still lands him safely in the .290 AVG, 25 HR, 90 R, 90 RBI, and 15 steal range. Those are comparable to CarGo or even a guy like Adam Jones, but unlike those two, I think this is a pretty safe floor for the now clean Braun.

Stats and projections don't take into account the emotional state of the player or off the field struggles, but I'm not too concerned about it. Sure road games will be tough, but a guy like Braun, who is the +Milwaukee Brewers' best player is used to getting heckled anyway. On top of it, I have a personal feeling that people like Braun are slightly detached from the reality of a situation. For most normal people, this would be a heavy burden to carry. There would be a fear or apprehension going anywhere, showing your face, and especially trying to hit a moving round ball being thrown at you with a round piece of lumber, but super athletes have to be detached in this weird way. Baseball is almost more of a sanctuary or release for players like Braun, not an impossible mountain to climb.

This, however, is fantasy baseball. If you say I don't want this guy on my team because I just don't like him, then that's all well and good. I'm 100% fine with that. Take Kershaw or CarGo and be on your merry way, but if you're looking to take who might be the best player at #5 then that could very well be Braun.

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