Draft-Day Dilemma: Need for speed

Draft-Day Dilemma: Need for speed
By Mike Harmon
February 11, 2005

Mike Harmon
Yahoo Sports
In my previous column, I tackled the difficult question of which player should rise to the top of fantasy baseball drafts. I am somewhat surprised that my endorsement of Alex Rodriguez didn't generate more buzz or outrage from Albert Pujols or Carlos Beltran supporters. Was I that convincing, or am I alone in thinking that this was a hard decision?

In the discussion regarding the number one selection, I mentioned the meteoric rise of Carl Crawford in recent "experts" drafts. The selection of Crawford at No. 4 overall struck me as a curious, but bold, move. My quick review of available online cheat sheets and the magazines that have hit the newsstands shows Crawford as a consensus early-to-mid second round selection.

No doubt, the 23-yearold outfielder is an intriguing and exciting fantasy player who will be among the most charted and scrutinized draft selections this season. After all, the rarity of the stolen base slides this category above and beyond all others in leagues using the traditional 5x5 set-up.

Therefore, this edition of the Draft-Day Dilemma focuses on Crawford, Ichiro Suzuki and Juan Pierre. All three players stand to be drafted in the first two rounds, and bring similar attributes and stats to the table. Crawford is a base-stealing phenom. Ichiro slaps hits better than anyone and Pierre is a perennial three-category contributor with RBI machine Carlos Delgado added to the mix.

Would I draft Crawford fourth overall? Not a chance. I would cast my eye in the direction of Vladimir Guerrero, Bobby Abreu or Alfonso Soriano.

Would I draft Crawford over Ichiro or Juan Pierre? No question about it. If the flow of the draft brings Crawford my way to start the second round, he's as good as gone.

Two-year averages (Crawford has only two years of experience)

  • Crawford: .288 average, 92 runs, 44 extra-base hits, 8 HRs, 54 RBIs, 57 SB, 181 hits
  • Pierre: .316 average, 100 runs, 36 extra-base hits, 2 HRs, 45 RBIs, 55 SB, 212 hits
  • Ichiro: .343 average, 106 runs, 43 extra-base hits, 10 HRs, 61 RBIs, 35 SB, 237 hits

The selection of these three players for comparison is appropriate on a number of levels. All three players score runs in droves, hit for average and steal bases. Additionally, all three of them have never seen a pitch that they didn't like. The trio has drawn only 427 walks in a combined 1,683 games (one in every four games played). To put that in perspective, Barry Bonds walked 232 times in 147 games this past season.

Juan Pierre will certainly slap his share of hits to make up for the aforementioned lack of bases on balls. He's reached the magical 200-hit mark in three of the past four seasons. His .326 batting average last season ranked 10th in the major leagues and he possesses a career average of .312 (career-low was .287 in 2002).

Pierre will be followed in the lineup by Luis Castillo (.285 average and .372 On-Base Percentage as a No. 2 hitter in 2004) to keep the line moving for the big boys, Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Delgado. Both players will be on the move to distract opposing hurlers and to force bad pitches to the sluggers. I would suspect that their stolen base totals will be quite similar to last season (45 and 21, respectively).

Last season, Pierre scored 100 runs hitting ahead of a combination of Castillo and Paul LoDuca. The addition of Delgado may push that total north of 120. Mike Lowell drove in only 22 runs in the final 55 games of the season with Jeff Conine in the five hole. Miguel Cabrera hit .229 in 29 September games. The addition of Delgado stabilizes the Florida lineup and will force opposing pitchers to pitch to Cabrera. Delgado's driven in 91 or more runs for nine straight seasons (99 or more in the past seven). Pierre's runs scored total may go through the roof. But to be fair, 31 outfielders scored 90 or more runs last season

However, Pierre's power numbers leave you wanting. Pierre has slammed just seven home runs in 683 games (2,755 at-bats). Additionally, he averages a mere 45 RBIs per full season of play. As such, I'm ranking him third on this list.

There's no question that Ichiro is a hit-slapping machine, having reached 200 hits in each of his first four major league seasons. And, of course, he earned a new major league mark with 262 hits last season. So it's a given that Ichiro will help lead your squad to the upper division of your league in batting average. And naturally, that high OBP creates the potential for scoring buckets of runs. The acquisitions of Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre intrigue me in that regard.

Ichiro also has averaged 112 runs per season. Given the fact that he's been on base an average of 276 times per season, that's not such a surprise. Even in last year's down season in Seattle, Ichiro gave fans of the M's and fantasy owners something to cheer about (101 runs, 60 RBIs, 36 SB and .372 average). What is a bit surprising is that the Mariners didn't turn Ichiro loose on the base paths more often. He stole 36 bases last year (caught 11 times) despite ending an at-bat on first base 261 times via hit or walk.

However, like Pierre, there's definitely a lack of power production that serves to temper my excitement. Ichiro has shown the potential for the long ball (watch a couple of rounds of batting practice before Seattle games to verify for yourself), but averages just nine homers per season. He also averages only 60 RBIs per campaign.

That leads me to Crawford as my top choice of this trio.

As I mentioned earlier, Crawford enters the 2005 campaign with two and a half years of experience under his belt at the age of 23. As fellow writer Matt Romig astutely observed in the debut of our new High Fives feature this week, Crawford has achieved a career On-Base Percentage of .315. This warrants at least a mention and moment of recognition, in that Crawford's fantasy value would change if he were dropped in the batting order.

However, it is highly unlikely that such a change occurs, particularly if Crawford's offseason work and consultations with established hitters helps him to make that leap into the upper echelon of fantasy studs. He's already a hero to fantasy owners everywhere, as he stands as the only player to top 50 stolen bases each of the past two seasons.

The D-Rays brought in a potential Hall of Famer in Roberto Alomar to play second base and hit behind Crawford. He's not the player he was in his last fantasy hurrah (2001, when he hit 20 home runs, drove in 100 runs and stole 30 bases for Cleveland), but he knows how to work a count and rattle pitchers.

Julio Lugo provides solid production in the third spot (7 HRs, 75 RBIs, 83 runs, 21 SB, .275 average) and helps set the table for budding superstar Aubrey Huff. Fantasy managers anticipate that Huff will step to the front of the game's young power hitters after a "disappointing" 2004 season. He never had that monster stretch fantasy owners anticipated, but still finished with tremendous numbers (29 HRs, 104 RBIs, 92 runs and .297 average). Josh Phelps, the recently re-acquired Travis Lee and Danny Bautista serve to make this a more formidable D-Rays team in '05.

One area where he trumps the other two candidates for my draft choice is that the potential exists for him to grow into a solid contributor in the power department. Pierre isn't going to bulk up and hammer out homers. Ichiro is content with being a table-setter. Crawford is still growing into his game. He hit 11 home runs last season, including seven after the All-Star break.

Don't get me wrong. Fantasy owners still have the need for speed, and Crawford will provide, as he's expected to battle Scott Podsednik of the White Sox and Dave Roberts of the Padres for the Major League steals crown.

But it's the fact that Crawford is still on the rise that merits my selection, and doesn't make his early selection quite so far-fetched.

I'll end this week with a couple comments from the mailbag.

I liked your analysis of how to choose the No. 1 pick in the draft. However, I'm puzzled by your comment that Beltran's numbers would be mitigated by having Doug Mientkiewicz protecting him in the Mets lineup. If Beltran bats third, don't you think Mike Piazza or Cliff Floyd or maybe even David Wright would bat clean-up? – Ron in Toronto

Ron –

The use of Mientkiewicz in that slot was intended to make fantasy owners take pause in considering a player in the Mets' lineup. No offense to those ardent supporters of the Mets, but when you enter the season with players such as Kazuo Matsui and Jose Reyes speaking about their goals for the year and near the top of the list is "not to get hurt," you have to be concerned. Mike Piazza has appeared in only 61 percent of the Mets' games over the past two years, and Cliff Floyd is rumored to be on the move to the Rangers in exchange for pitching. David Wright performed well after his call-up last season and appears destined to become a star. However, he's a second-year player who is sure to see more pressure this season, as everyone starts fresh at 0-0.

Therefore, if history repeats itself, the slick-fielding Mientkiewicz is suddenly hitting clean-up. And that's just not good for anybody.

Why is Barry Bonds omitted from your list of potential No. 1 picks? Is he still a first-round selection? – Tony in San Jose

Tony –

Bonds certainly enters 2005 with a number of question marks attached to him, and the steroid probe is not even high on the list. He won his seventh MVP last season amid tremendous scrutiny. The biggest question to my mind relates to the health of his back and knees entering the season, as he's missed 79 games over the past two seasons due to injuries.

With that said, the acquisition of Moises Alou offers protection in the lineup and means that he'll continue to score a ton of runs and rack up huge OBP totals. There's also no reason to believe that his contribution to other categories will drop off the map. After all, he's hit .341 or better each of the last three seasons while mashing 45 or more homers.

He's a late first-round pick to me, but not worthy of the discussion for No. 1 overall. Health concerns and the disappearance of the stolen base as part of his arsenal move him down the board.

Feel free to drop me a line about this latest Draft-Day Dilemma debate. Each column will end with responses to reader comments.

Updated on Friday, Feb 11, 2005 10:48 pm, EST

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