Fewer experts, more mockery

Andy Behrens
Yahoo! Sports

Experts drafts are great, except they're full of experts. We behave as a herd. We do not have radically different tendencies. When we get together, we produce drafts that look nothing at all like what you'll experience in your league.

Mock drafts are great, too, except they don't count. There's no obvious incentive to select the players you like. In fact, the point of a mock is to see how other people value the players you like. If you enter a mock with owners from your real leagues, the worst thing you can do is actually draft the players you want in the rounds you hope to get them.

So experts can't be trusted to deliver realistic drafts, and no one can be trusted in a mock. These are pesky difficulties to resolve when you decide that your website needs to host an experts mock draft. The only reasonable solution is to invite non-experts, and to play out the league. Thus was born the draft we're about to discuss.

The intention was to create a roto league with a Yahoo! default configuration in which the draft looked … well, normal. In a normal draft, even in a competitive league, everyone is not equally prepared, nor equally fixated on the same small collection of players. Our invitees were a mix of accredited fantasy experts, bloggers, message board contributors and less-seasoned owners. This meant that the draft featured an appropriately wide range of fantasy experience.

How wide?

Well, one of our participants was Derek Carty, who writes a terrific, graduate-level fantasy column for The Hardball Times. In recent weeks he's looked at leverage index and secondary relievers, and he's written thoughtfully about the probabilistic concept of value in fantasy auctions. Another of our participants was my friend Stephen Himes, an aggrieved Royals fan who sent this email immediately before the draft: "I have never drafted online. We always do ours at Buffalo Wild Wings. I'll have my phone on."

So yeah, there was a range of fantasy experience, and it was kind of wide.

The draft also included Rotoworld's Pat Dahl, four regulars from the Fantasy Baseball Caf – bigh0rt, raiders umpire, Another Blown Save, and Mugrila – and three people who operate excellent baseball sites, Tim Stuart from North Side Baseball, and Jackson Broder and Aaron Shinsano from East Windup Chronicle.

Oh, and it included a reader named Bob who doesn't want me to reveal any details about his life whatsoever, for professional reasons that make perfect sense. Bob once sent a note that began this way: "Andy, I am bored at work and staring at my glorious-looking Yahoo! profile…"

He then described his glorious profile, rich with virtual trophies. No one had ever sent an email where the exclusive purpose was to brag about his achievements in the notional world of imaginary sports. So Bob was invited, and that gave us 12 teams.

The draft was held at Mock Draft Central in late-January. We'll detail the first five rounds today, then examine the rest next week. It felt very much like a typical competitive public draft, right down to the part where one of the owners couldn't actually launch the draft room…

Round 1
P1 Derek Carty, Hardball Times – Alex Rodriguez
P2 Jackson Broder, East Windup Chronicle – Hanley Ramirez
P3 Tim Stuart, Northside Baseball – Miguel Cabrera
P4 Brendan Horton (bigh0rt), Fantasy Cafe – Jose Reyes
P5 Stephen Himes, Pine Tar Incident – Jimmy Rollins
P6 Aaron Shinsano, East Windup Chronicle – Albert Pujols
P7 Patrick Dahl, Rotoworld – Matt Holliday
P8 raiders_umpire, Fantasy Cafe – David Wright
P9 Another Blown Save, Fantasy Cafe – Ryan Howard
P10 Bob – Chase Utley
P11 Mugrila, Fantasy Cafe – Johan Santana
P12 Andy Behrens, Yahoo! – Ryan Braun

Those are the dozen players who will generally get taken in Round 1. No huge surprises there, except in the exact sequence of picks. Wright doesn't usually fall quite so far (ADP 4.0), and Cabrera doesn't usually go quite so high (ADP 8.2). I prefer Utley to Rollins, but they were actually taken very close to their average draft positions. Also, it can be reasonably argued that the drop-off between Utley and the next best second baseman isn't as great as the gap between Rollins and the next best shortstop. And that's probably the exact internal dialogue that Wild Wings Himes was having.

Back when Santana was still a member of the Twins, his ADP was 17.6. Today it's 12.6, which isn't too surprising. I'd have gladly taken Santana and Braun at the turn if Mugrila had passed on the No. 1 pitcher.

Here's an important fact about Braun: he hit .450/.516/.964 against left-handed pitchers last year, which is both astonishing and unsustainable. That absolutely won't happen again. You can't rely on another .324 season, but you can reasonably expect a 35-20 year with exceptional run and RBI totals and a batting average close to .300. He shouldn't fall past the 12/13 picks.

Jackson Broder, for reasons that remain unclear, was never able to enter the draft. There's always one guy who sends the commissioner a series of increasingly desperate "OMG! It won't (expletive) load!!! WT…?!" emails. Lucky for him the pre-draft rankings at Mock Draft Central are very good.

In fact, thanks to auto-picking, Broder's streak of drafts in which he took Juan Pierre six rounds too early finally came to an end.

Round 2
P13 Behrens – Alfonso Soriano
P14 Mugrila – David Ortiz
P15 Bob – Prince Fielder
P16 Blown Save – Carl Crawford
P17 Raiders – Grady Sizemore
P18 Dahl – Aramis Ramirez
P19 Shinsano – Jake Peavy
P20 Himes – Carlos Beltran
P21 Horton – Vladimir Guerrero
P22 Stuart – Brandon Phillips
P23 Broder – Ichiro Suzuki
P24 Carty – Brian Roberts

Ramirez was the draft's first significant departure from ADP. He went 16 spots ahead of his average draft position, though that doesn't mean he's an unsafe pick. Ramirez has hit over .290 in each of the last four seasons, and he's reached 30 HR and 100 RBI in three of them. Power is less reliable at third after Ramirez and Garrett Atkins are drafted, so I get the thinking. Once you've taken Holliday in Round 1, it's tough to take another outfielder in Round 2, even with Vlad and Beltran available. Which, of course, is an argument for taking David Wright in Round 1.

Five owners drafted speed with each of their first two picks. Derek took A-Rod and Roberts, Raiders took Wright and Sizemore, Himes took Rollins and Beltran, Broder auto-picked Hanley and Ichiro, and I drafted Braun and Soriano. There are different ways to approach stolen bases in 5X5 leagues. My preference is to avoid players who are severe liabilities in multiple categories (Juan Pierre, Michael Bourn, et al) unless it's completely necessary. And in a public league, it's rarely necessary.

I'm not really a member of the Cult of Crawford, though many fantasy writers are. He's never hit more than 18 home runs in a single season and he's never driven in more than 81. Those career highs are basically league-average, fantasy-wise. His relatively low on-base percentage (.331 career OBP) hurts you in custom leagues, and it limits his run-scoring. You'll sometimes see Crawford go in the mid- or late-first round in experts drafts, but mid-second seems more appropriate.

Blown Save paired him with Ryan Howard, which is fantastic. That's 40 to 50 HR in Round 1 and 50 SB in Round 2.

Round 3
P25 Carty – Carlos Lee
P26 Broder – B.J. Upton
P27 Stuart – Victor Martinez
P28 Horton – Mark Teixeira
P29 Himes – Magglio Ordonez
P30 Shinsano – Lance Berkman
P31 Dahl – Russell Martin
P32 Raiders – Alex Rios
P33 Blown Save – Bobby Abreu
P34 Bob – Curtis Granderson
P35 Mugrila – Derek Jeter
P36 Behrens – Justin Morneau

Most of the strongest 30/30 candidates were already gone, so the 20/20 guys went in Round 3: Rios, then Abreu, then Granderson. No surprise to see the top two catchers selected. Magglio didn't stray far from his ADP (32.6), but he's not likely to approach that .363 average again. His BABIP last season was .385 and his OBP was 52 points higher than it had ever been … at age 33. That doesn't seem sustainable.

As we just discussed in this primer, the elite second basemen are gone before the end of the third round. The position is deep, so reaching early for the highest-ranked player isn't really worth it.

Bob should've been ecstatic with his first three picks, Utley, Fielder, and Granderson. Last season those three combined for 334 R, 95 HR, and 296 RBI.

Round 4
P37 Behrens – Manny Ramirez
P38 Mugrila – Travis Hafner
P39 Bob – Chone Figgins
P40 Blown Save – Garrett Atkins
P41 Raiders – Miguel Tejada
P42 Dahl – Brandon Webb
P43 Shinsano – Jonathan Papelbon
P44 Himes – Erik Bedard
P45 Horton – Nick Markakis
P46 Stuart – C.C. Sabathia
P47 Broder – Derrek Lee
P48 Carty – Dan Haren

No one likes Manny this season. His home runs have declined over the last three years from 45 to 35 to 20. However, he's only a year removed from one of the best OPS seasons of his career (1.058 in 2006), and he's in the final year of the guaranteed portion of his contract. The non-guaranteed team-option portion is worth $40 million over two years, so that's considerable motivation. Early reports suggest the 35-year-old has approached this offseason with uncharacteristic determination. In the fourth round, Manny just doesn't seem like much of a stretch.

Of course, 11 pitchers would get drafted between my fourth round pick and my fifth, so that's the trade-off. Papelbon was among them, and this is where the draft began to veer away from a typical experts mock. When you get 12 fantasy writers together, there's an almost stifling pressure regarding closers. You're just not supposed to take them, ever. In my first experts mock of the season, Papelbon fell to the seventh round – and the drafter immediately felt the need to apologize.

But Papelbon's ADP is 42.6, J.J. Putz's is 49.8, and Joe Nathan's is 54.2. This is where they go. In a real draft, the first closer will get taken in Round 4 and a mini-run will occur shortly thereafter. That's a run I'm rarely involved in. There are middle- and late-round closers capable of good ratios and useful save totals. It's not that you'll regret owning Papelbon specifically; it's just that there are other ways to assemble a strong collection of relief pitchers.

Round 5
P49 Carty – Brian McCann
P50 Broder – Joe Nathan
P51 Stuart – Josh Beckett
P52 Horton – John Lackey
P53 Himes – Cole Hamels
P54 Shinsano – Adam Dunn
P55 Dahl – Eric Byrnes
P56 Raiders – Scott Kazmir
P57 Blown Save – J.J. Putz
P58 Bob – Troy Tulowitzki
P59 Mugrila – Torii Hunter
P60 Behrens – Hunter Pence

And there go Nathan and Putz. Shinsano was the only owner to select two pitchers in the first four rounds, but he managed to snag the last reliable 100-40-100 player in the fifth, taking Adam Dunn. That was a bit lucky. I'd considered Dunn in the fourth, but didn't want to add his .250-ish average to Soriano and Morneau.

Himes and Stuart both went SP-SP in the fourth and fifth. Tim still didn't have a Cub. He was supposed to fill the fanboy-who-drafts-all-his-favorite-players role, so that was a massive disappointment.

Through five rounds I was reasonably happy with my draft. Then in Round 6, I selected a great player, the best available at his position. And it was a huge mistake. That gaffe affected the three picks that followed, and it cost me two players I've been consistently targeting in drafts.

But we'll deal with all that in Part 2.

Yeah, OK. Fantasy draft recaps should not have cliffhanger endings. The player I took in Round 6 was Justin Verlander, which led directly to my failure to get Corey Hart, which led to a failure to get Francisco Liriano.

Every pick has consequences, and that's where we'll begin Part 2.