Part 3 of my look at the top 24 players for the 2011 season.
In the homestretch of my top 24 with the entire first round left. Remember when viewing these top 12 picks that a lot of my process involves the highest floors just as much as the highest ceilings. Sure, I want the guy who can explode for the transcendent season, but what I really want is the guy whose “bad” season is still pretty damn good (see also: Rodriguez, Alex).
12. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, COL – T3 (middle name Trever) is a very good player on the cusp of entering his prime and though he has three good seasons out of the four he has been in the league, he still hasn’t cracked 100 RBIs, he has only topped 11 stolen bases once and though his .290 career average is damn good, 2010 was his only season above .300 (he hit .315). Mix in significant injury risk as he has missed 40 and 51 games in two of the last three seasons and there is reason for concern with Tulowitzki. On the plus side, he will be just 26 years old next year, he has home run totals of 24, 27 and 32 in three of the last four seasons and he plays the thinnest position in fantasy baseball. Don’t just extrapolate T3’s 2010 to a full season of at-bats when projecting him for 2011, that would be very dangerous. He needed an otherworldly month of September that included 15 home runs and 40 RBIs to put up a full season’s worth of numbers in 122 games. I would view his 2010 as a full season expectation for 2011.
11. David Wright, 3B, NYM – Well that’s more like it. Wright’s 2010 season was back to what we have come to expect from the third baseman as he raised his power totals from 10 HR/72 RBI to 29 HR/103 RBI and the only real expense from 2009’s line was the stolen bases dropping from 27 to 19. It was a great fantasy baseball season, but there are some concerns from a real life baseball standpoint in that he set a career-high in strikeouts at 161 (21 higher than last year’s career-high mark of 140) and his walk rate continued to tumble. His 2007 peak of 13.2% has dropped yearly with the sharpest drop coming from 2009 to 2010 as he shaved off 1.7% to 10.3%, second-worst in his career. For me, we are splitting hairs a bit to freak out on the latter as his 10.3% rate was still among the Nation League’s best (24th overall). Wright remains a superstar in his prime and a few more strikeouts aren’t going to cut into his value much when he is putting as complete a line as he does, even if the stolen bases taper off to the 13-17 range.
10. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, COL – I am probably a little lower on him that most, but remember what I said back in Part 1 about not overrating the most recent season one way or another. And like I mentioned again at the outset of this piece, a player’s floor is important to me, too. As a 25-year old with one full season and just 319 games in all under his belt, would it surprise if Gonzalez seriously regressed from his breakout 2010 season? His batting average was significantly inflated by a .384 BABIP (.355 career, .333 career-high before ’10) and he enjoyed the 7th-best home run per flyball rate in baseball (20.4%) which masked a drop in flyballs from his 2009 mark. All that said, he’s not some fluke scrub who came out of nowhere (3-time Baseball America top 32 prospect: 32, 18, 22 from 2006-2008) so just because I’m entertaining the notion that he could regress significantly, I am not saying it’s 100% that he will. If pressed for a stat line on his 2011 season, I would be somewhere in the neighborhood of .291 AVG, 98 R, 26 HR, 102 RBI, 22 SB. He still cracks the top 12 with ease because his ceiling is a season that matches or even exceeds 2010, he is that talented.
9. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, NYY – A-Rod has started on the slow decline that is the twilight of his career, but even a pair of his worst seasons are good as many players out there. The batting average dipped (.270) to the lowest it has been since 1995 when he wasn’t yet a full time player, but he still banged out 30 HR and 125 RBI in 137 games. With just four stolen bases on seven tries, the end may be here for A-Rod as a runner, but he may have another sneaky 12 SB season in him once 100% healthy again. I think 2010 serves as his floor for the next 2-3 years though .300 and 35 are both in play in everything breaks in his favor in a given a year. You’re not drafting A-Rod for upside anymore, you’re taking him to mitigate early round risk and have a bankable stat line from your first round pick.
8. Robinson Cano, 2B, NYY – All the raving about Cano’s 2010 season has me a bit puzzled. It’s not that I don’t believe he deserves accolades for a brilliant season, it’s that I’m wondering where these plaudits were last year. Essentially Cano’s stock has risen significantly thanks to 24 RBIs and 27 walks because outside of those two improvements, his 2010 was the same as his 2009. Cano is a 4-category superstar in the midst of his prime and he is worthy of your first round pick. I think he’s a first rounder on his numbers alone as he doesn’t really gain much from position scarcity. There is this perception that second base is thin, but just as I did last year, I think it is one of the deeper positions even once you get past Cano, the 18th ranked Chase Utley and a healthy Dustin Pedroia.
7. Joey Votto, 1B, CIN – If I may pat myself on the back for a moment, one of my big predictions for 2010 was that Votto would hit 35 home runs and knock in 120. He hit 2 more home runs and knocked in just seven less. I am happy to say I was firmly entrenched on Votto bandwagon and took him well above his third round (29th overall) ADP last year in two separate leagues. But enough about me because let’s be honest, no one gives a damn about me & my leagues. I love Votto again for 2011, but be careful if you’re betting on a repeat season. His home run boost was driven by a major league best 25% HR per flyball rate. He was at 18% the two years before so he is scheduled for a regression especially considering that he actually coupled the major HR/FB rate with a 4% drop in his flyball rate. He is more of a 30 HR hitter and there is nothing wrong with that. Especially when you are hitting .320+ with 100+ runs scored & driven in. I realize first base is really deep, but that mean that you should ignore the immense star power and take a lesser player just because they play a more scarce position.
6. Evan Longoria, 3B, TB – On the surface, Longoria’s 2010 season might feel like a disappointment. It is probably because he was a chic MVP pick, but then by season’s end his home run total had dropped by 11 from 2009 to “just” 22. So he didn’t have the career year many expected (including yours truly), but he was hardly anything close to a failure. Remember that we are in a different era for offense and 22 home runs is legitimate once again. Yes, his 33 HR season was excellent, but his 22 HR season was still very good; the total was good for 7th-most among all third basemen. Longoria has put together three brilliant seasons and he is still a year away from his prime meaning we likely haven’t seen his best.
5. Ryan Braun, OF, MIL – Here is another great example of the high floor theory I am talking about. The 2010 season was Braun’s worst, but there was nothing bad about it as he hit .304 with 25 HR, 103 RBI, 101 R and 14 stolen bases. When your lowest OPS in four seasons is .866, you are an awesome player. That is exactly what Braun is and at age 27, he is either a year into or just starting his prime depending on what range you consider the prime to be for a player. An underrated factor to Braun’s greatness is his sustained health. He has played 151, 158 and 157 games the last three years and he played 113 of 118 possible games in his rookie season after coming up in late May. That kind of reliability is hard to find these days so that definitely earned Braun an extra boost in these rankings.
4. Carl Crawford, OF, FA – The biggest free agent hitter available this offseason, I don’t feel like Crawford’s value will move much one way or another based on his new home. Crawford has always been a speed/batting average superstar with a smattering of power, but since moving down to the 2-3 spots in the lineup, he has become a legitimate five category stud and there is no reason to believe he won’t continue to play that way for the next 2-3 years at the very least. He is averaging .299 AVG, 13 HR, 70 RBI, 93 R and 50 SB the last eight years despite the inclusion of a washed out 2008 season where he played just 109 games thanks to injuries. Crawford was inexplicably outside of the top 12 in ADP last year (15th overall), but there is no way he will end up there this year.
3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, DET – This is not a homer pick, not in the slightest. Cabrera is .320-34-120 in the bank and it doesn’t matter what position you are getting those numbers at, they are elite. His stability is even better than Braun’s as Cabrera has averaged 158 games in seven seasons since becoming a full-time player. That is pretty much unheard of in today’s game. With so many seasons in the .320-34-120 range, it isn’t farfetched to believe that Cabrera has a career year where he goes .330-45-140 in his holster still. Again, I don’t really care that he plays at the deepest position in the game, when the numbers are that good and that consistent and the player is still in his prime, he is automatically a top 5 pick.
2. Hanley Ramirez, SS, FLO – When you look Ramirez’s stat line from 2010, it is easy to say he disappointed, but did he really? No, he wasn’t the 2nd-best player in baseball as he was drafted to be, but anyone who thinks they can predict exactly where a player will finish in any given year is ridiculous. You first round player is picked that high because you are expecting a high quality, minimal variance stat line that will serve as the beginning foundation for your team. If they happen to finish exactly where you drafted them in the overall rankings, that is a bonus; not an expectation. A big reason that Ramirez is draft so highly is because of the scarcity at shortstop and all he did last year was hit for the 2nd-best average among shortstops (.300), deliver the most stolen bases (32), score the 2nd-most runs (92), hit the 4th-most home runs (21) and drive in the 5th-most runs (76) despite playing a career-low 142 games. I wouldn’t criticize anyone taking Ramirez first overall, but for me we have seen his career year (2007) and while he probably has at least one more 30+ home run season in him, I doubt he has any more 50+ stolen base ones.
1. Albert Pujols, 1B, STL – Why try to fix what isn’t broken? I am not sure how anyone but Pujols could occupy the top spot until he gives us a discernible reason to replace him. One of his nicknames is “The Machine” and he continues to live up to it year in and year out with incredible numbers. I hope we don’t have to sit through another offseason hearing about his balky elbow and how this is now the year that it will catch up to him. Maybe it is, but until he falters from his perch as the best in the game, he deserves to be picked first in just about any league format you can create. Even with a middling supporting cast, Pujols managed to lead the league in runs scored and driven in because when you are the best, your supporting cast doesn’t matter.