Draft prep: Undervalued and underrated
And then, you have the other end of the spectrum.
Just as surely as some players -- the overrated -- go too early on Draft Day, some go too late, giving us, naturally, the underrated.
For some reason, the buzz factor eludes these underrated, making them Fantasy's forgotten no matter how many league championships they helped win the year before. People go out of their way to avoid them, letting them fall round after round after round until their actual worth far exceeds their perceived worth.
And on Draft Day, that's a market inefficiency you want to exploit.
So as you go over this list of the undervalued and underrated, don't make it your mission to correct the market, taking these players where they deserve to go as opposed to where they actually go. Wait to take them where they actually go, but make sure you're the one who takes them. While everyone else in your league might think you're just doing what they do -- grabbing for another late-round schlub -- you know you're capitalizing on their improper perception.
Sounds devious, no?
Prince Fielder , 1B, Milwaukee (Roto: Rd. 2, H2H: Rd. 2)
Fielder is a first-round pick trapped in a second-rounder's body -- seriously. The guy hit 50 home runs last year -- a stat that should earn him first-round consideration even if he hit .260, but he hit .288. He bats in the middle of one of the best developing lineups in baseball, doesn't strike out an exorbitant number of times, and has yet to turn 24.
You heard me, right? He hit 50 homers as a 23-year-old. Do you realize how unprecedented that is? How now, at a time in the history of mass communication when the hype machine often runs in overdrive, do we not laud this guy as the second-coming of Babe Ruth? How!?
I think a lot of people discriminate against Fielder because he doesn't look pretty. He doesn't look like an athlete. OK, I'll say it: He looks just plain fat. And while I do think his weight could cause knee problems at some point in the future, he hasn't shown signs of it yet. He shouldn't have to worry for a few more years. Sometimes, I think a lot of us would fare better in Fantasy Baseball if we never watched a real baseball game, never got a real look at the players and instead assessed them strictly by their numbers and trends. Maybe then, Fielder would look a whole lot better.
I know you probably opened this column looking for mid-to-late-round steals, and they'll come, but I want to point out this Draft Day inefficiency to the people who pick late in the first round. In a season with so much first-round talent available, some first-round players have no choice but to spill into the second round. Fielder might end up being one of them. So if you play your cards right and take advantage of whoever falls victim to numbers -- be it Fielder or someone else, like David Ortiz -- you could essentially end up with two first-round players. I'm just sayin'.
Chipper Jones , 3B, Atlanta (Roto: Rd. 6, H2H: Rd. 6)
Chipper is good -- way good -- but Fantasy owners refuse to acknowledge his goodness because they don't want to deal with the inconvenience of him missing a few games. He has, of course, missed notable time the last few years, having not played in more than 137 games in any of the last four, but he's only once fallen short of 400 at-bats. So no, he's not built like Stretch Armstrong, but you can certainly count on him for three-fourths of the season, if not more.
I could understand people not wanting to take Chipper if they play in leagues without DL or bench slots, meaning if he goes down with an injury, they either have to cut him or take zeroes while he misses time. But if you can carry a serviceable backup for him, why not take him? What's the hesitation?
I've heard an argument in favor of drafting Albert Pujols in the first round despite concerns of him blowing out his elbow this season. Even if he does, the argument says, you could still pick up another first baseman for the rest of the way. It's not like you get Pujols for ... let's say four months ... and then nothing for the final two.
It's a fine argument, and I have no problem with it. But why wouldn't the same apply to Chipper?
You might say Pujols is the better hitter, but is he really? Last year, in standard Head-to-Head leagues, Chipper averaged 3.2 Fantasy points per game. Pujols averaged 2.9. And yes, Chipper had a better year than usual, but in 2006, he still averaged 2.9. Of course, you could make the argument that Pujols had a worse year than usual, and he probably did, but don't most people blame those 2007 results on his balky elbow -- the same one that threatens his 2008 season now?
So Chipper goes five rounds after Pujols even though he hits just as well, has similar injury concerns, and plays a slightly weaker position. Define underrated.
Ian Kinsler , 2B, Texas (Roto: Rd. 7, H2H: Rd. 9)
Let's compare the 2007 totals of two second basemen:
Player A -- 20 homers, 23 steals, 96 runs and 61 RBI in 483 at-bats
Player B -- 24 homers, 22 steals, 86 runs and 82 RBI in 474 at-bats
Pretty close, right? So why does Melvin Upton (Player B) consistently go 4-5 rounds earlier than Ian Kinsler (Player A)?
"That's not fair!" you protest. "You omitted the most important comparison between the two -- batting average!"
OK, yeah, Upton hit .300 last year, and Kinsler hit .263. But batting average has the potential to change so much from year to year because it depends so much on luck, on "hitting 'em where they ain't."
Look, we know Adam Dunn is a .260 hitter, and we suspect Nick Swisher is also, but why do we already want to throw Kinsler in the same category? He's played only two years, and he hit .286 in 423 at-bats as a rookie. And Upton struck out 154 times last year. You really think he can hit .300 again with that low of a contact rate?
Wait four rounds and take Kinsler. You might just end up with the better player.
James Shields , SP, Tampa Bay (Roto: Rd. 12, H2H: Rd. 11)
In order to include Shields on this list, I have to admit I goofed. If anyone out there happens to read my work consistently -- and believe me, the idea would shock nobody more than me -- you might remember an auction analysis I wrote over the offseason in which I called Shields the "worst buy" among starting pitchers at $11. Maybe I felt a need to defend our early offseason rankings (which had him ranked 43rd, by the way), or maybe I just had sour grapes that I didn't purchase Shields myself at a bargain basement price, but in any case, I've changed my mind.
Every time I look at this guy's stats, I fall more head-over-heels in love with him. Make fun if you want, but then go look at his stats yourself. You might start to feel the same way.
How did he walk only 36 batters in 215 innings? How did he allow less than a hit per inning? How did he post a WHIP of 1.107 and a strikeout rate of 7.7 per nine innings? How did he do all that without getting mentioned in the same breath as CC Sabathia , Brandon Webb and Dan Haren ?
No, he wasn't a huge prospect coming up through the minors, and you didn't hear a whisper of him in Fantasy circles entering 2007. But he didn't just ride some hot streak to this out-of-nowhere success. He got off to a good start, struggled in the dog days of June and July, but then rebounded to post a 2.39 ERA in August and September. He's the real deal, and I'd trust him as my No. 2 Fantasy starter more than I would Roberto Hernandez , Daisuke Matsuzaka or Ben Sheets .
Julio Lugo , SS, Boston (Roto: Rd. 20, H2H: Rd. 22)
You won't often find a member of the Red Sox on an "underrated" list, but if the shoe fits, what can you do?
A lot of people look at Lugo this year and think, "Why would I want a shortstop who hit .237?" It makes sense. I wouldn't want a shortstop who hit .237 either, but I don't see Lugo as a shortstop who hits .237.
Lugo had a bad first half last year -- and bad probably doesn't do it justice. It was beyond awful. He hit .197. I don't know why.
Sometimes slumps just happen, and considering Lugo hit .280 after the All-Star break, I think we have to consider his first half with the BoSox nothing more than a slump. After all, he has a career average of .271 and, apart from last year, hadn't hit lower than .275 since 2003.
And then you have to factor in his 33 steals and eight homers that, with the return to normalcy of his batting average, could easily get back in the dozen range. Those kinds of numbers from your starting shortstop wouldn't kill you, would they?
If you miss out on one of the Big Three shortstops in the first round or two on Draft Day, keep in mind the kind of fallback option you have in Lugo. You don't necessarily have to grab Khalil Greene or Edgar Renteria .
Mark Ellis , 2B, Oakland (Roto: Not Drafted, H2H: Rd. 28)
For years, all anyone ever wanted in Fantasy was a second baseman who could hit 20 home runs. Well, now we have Ellis, who hit 19 last year, and nobody wants him -- like, literally nobody. He's gone undrafted so far in Rotisserie leagues, and they more often have a "middle infield" roster spot to fill.
Look, I don't want to spread too much love on Ellis. Unlike most of the players on this list, I didn't look at his 2007 stats and immediately target him as a sleeper going into the offseason. Only after I saw his draft averages in early 2008 did I stop and think, "Hey, this guy's underrated."
I don't entirely trust Ellis because he had never reached even 15 home runs before, but then again, he had only once topped 500 at-bats before last season's 583. Plus, he's only 30. He certainly wasn't too old for a breakout last year.
I don't know that Ellis can match his Fantasy performance from a year ago, when he hit .276 with 19 home runs, but in leagues that don't count walks, can you guarantee me that Kelly Johnson or Jeff Kent will top him?
Obviously, I like Johnson and Kent more because they have a higher ceiling than Ellis. But if you need a power-hitting middle infielder, I think you'll get better value from Ellis -- someone who you can draft with your very last pick. I'd rather have him than the unproven Yunel Escobar or the painfully average Felipe Lopez and Tadahito Iguchi -- all of whom go before him in most drafts.
Here's a quick look at a few other players currently valued too low on Draft Day:
Dustin McGowan , SP, Toronto (Roto: Rd. 17, H2H: Rd. 14): McGowan doesn't get enough love probably because of his pedestrian 12-10 record last year, but with that record, he posted a lower WHIP (1.223) than Fantasy aces Justin Verlander and Roy Halladay -- his own teammate. He also struck out 7.6 batters per nine innings and allowed only a .230 batting average against. Why do so many people see him as a fluke? The Blue Jays once considered him one of the top prospects in their organization. I tell you -- Shields as my No. 2 starting pitcher and McGowan as my No. 3 sounds pretty sweet to me.
Aaron Hill , 2B, Toronto (Roto: Rd. 17, H2H: Rd. 16): Hill is kind of like Ellis, only with a higher batting average and more room to grow. Their inclusion -- along with Kinsler's -- on a preseason underrated list shows just how much deeper the second base position has become.
Troy Glaus , 3B, St. Louis (Roto: Rd. 20, H2H: Rd. 19): Ironically, I used to consider Glaus one of the more overrated players in Fantasy, but a shift in public perception changes everything. The guy has a few foot problems one year, and suddenly nobody wants to touch him. He still hit 20 homers in 385 at-bats. In a full season, 35 seems more likely than not, and the move away from artificial turf should help keep him healthy. And how's this for synergy? Grab Chipper early, Glaus late, and you have a pretty good, underrated tag-team duo at third base.
Jack Cust , OF, Oakland (Roto: Rd. 27, H2H: Rd. 27): Jack Cust -- and had to go to timeout for it. But all jokes aside, this longtime minor-leaguer hits for serious power and goes totally ignored until the final round or two on Draft Day. Look guys, he didn't just hit well immediately after his call up. He caught fire again in August, batting .314 with six home runs. Sure, he might hit only .250 and strike out 200 times, but if he hits 35 homers, that makes him, what, Adam Dunn ? If all the new young players in Oakland don't steal his at-bats, you have a late-round gem on your hands. And if you play in a league that counts walks but not strikeouts, wow ... you have a diamond.
You can e-mail Scott your Fantasy Baseball questions to email@example.com. Be sure to put Attn: Draft Day in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state.We'll answer as many as we can.