Draft Day Dilemma: Off the Top

LaDainian Tomlinson or Shaun Alexander? LeBron James or Kevin Garnett? Let's face it, neither of these questions have a wrong answer. The consensus top two in most recent fantasy football and basketball drafts have continued to live up to their history of excellence. Baseball has a similar 1-1A conundrum – Alex Rodriguez or Albert Pujols?

I'll argue right off the bat that there isn't a clear-cut incorrect answer to this query either. And anyone that wants to fire off a long-winded account as to why there is, in fact, a wrong answer, is wasting venom. I'll take A-Rod, but that answer doesn't sit well with everyone. Read on …

My question is simple … How do you rate a 1B in Albert Pujols lower than a 3B in A-Rod? Better supporting cast? A-Rod had that cast last year, more or less, and still posted similar numbers (deeper in his career) to Pujols, who had a lesser cast – as will be the case again in 2006.

Albert is the best hitter in the game, has shown so consistently in his first five years and will only continue to grow – I'm so, so tired of the A-Rod hype – if his supporting cast warrants your top ranking, then his numbers should have been much better than Albert's in '05 and likewise this year … but they won't be … – Scott

Not many people are going to pick A-Rod over Pujols … supporting cast or not. Pujols is the best player in baseball … period. – D, Iowa

Given the track records, age and health history of both A-Rod and Pujols, there is no reason to expect that either will fall from the lofty perches they've inhabited for the past several years. And those perches are nearly identical in height. Just take a look at the past five-year 5x5 roto averages for each player – I use five years as Pujols has been in the league just five years.

5-year averages:
Alex Rodriguez: 160 games, 48 HR, 126 RBI, 124 R, 19 SB, .305 BA
Albert Pujols: 158 games, 40 HR, 124 RBI, 126 R, 6 SB, .332 BA

As you can see, A-Rod takes an edge in HRs and SBs, while Pujols takes the BA category. However, you may as well call power a push as in the past three seasons, Pujols has hit just one less HR than A-Rod (131 to 130). And the speed angle might not be as decisive a victory for A-Rod either, as Pujols surprisingly added that dimension to his game in '05, swiping 16 bases compared to Rodriguez's 21.

With the two players virtually identical at face value, the separation is going to come from their external factors at play heading into the '06 season.

St. Louis was sixth in the league in runs scored last season. If you ask me, it overachieved. Don't get me wrong, the Cards had capable bats surrounding Pujols, but injuries and age could have easily weighed them down even more. The 35-year old Jim Edmonds had his worst statistical season since coming to St. Louis. Neither Larry Walker nor Reggie Sanders, both nearing 40, could manage more than 100 games because of injuries – neither will be back in '06. And, of course, the biggest snag of all was the shoulder injury that limited Scott Rolen to 56 games.

For the Cardinals to repeat their run-scoring pace from a year ago, Rolen and Edmonds are going to have to bounce back to the numbers of their prime years – a risky proposition. Otherwise, the team is going to need big help from unlikely sources in Juan Encarnacion, Larry Bigbie and Junior Spivey. Compared to the Yankees lineup, well, this lineup just doesn't compare.

Hitting at the top of the Yankees batting order will be the newly acquired Johnny Damon, followed by Derek Jeter then A-Rod. Talk about sitting in the cat-bird seat if you are Rodriguez. Damon has topped 100 runs in eight straight seasons. Jeter has topped the mark nine of the past 10 seasons, only falling short (87 runs in 119 games) in an injury-plagued '03 campaign.

With those two atop the order, it's hard not to predict A-Rod as the RBI champion this season. And he'll have the requisite protection behind him in Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield. By comparison, Pujols will have David Eckstein and Junior Spivey setting his table. While both have career on-base percentages in the same range as Damon (but still out of Jeter's ballpark), both are much less consistent from year-to-year than Damon and Jeter have been.

The surrounding cast clearly favors A-Rod. And for that reason, he belongs atop the '06 fantasy draft board. For those picking second, there is nothing wrong with the consolation prize. Of course, as I said, not everyone is going to agree with me on this ...…

Pujols No. 2? Are you kidding me? You're an idiot! – Chris, St. Louis, MO

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