Aaron Gleeman

Draft Strategy

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ADP Notes: Middle Rounds

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Last week in this space I discussed the value in studying Average Draft Position (ADP) information and used the current ADP rankings found within the Rotoworld Online Draft Guide to examine early-rounds trends that are already becoming clear six weeks before Opening Day. This week let's delve a little deeper into the ADP numbers in search of mid-round bargains, overvalued players to stay away from, and end-of-draft sleepers.

Remember, simply using ADP rankings as your cheat sheet is a mistake, because it means that you're essentially tagging along with conventional wisdom. However, there's plenty of value in using ADP numbers to map out your opponents' likely strategies and identify undervalued players who figure to fall through the cracks. First up, let's examine where a trio of mid-round second basemen are typically coming off the board:

101. Dan Uggla, 2B
111. Rickie Weeks, 2B
121. Howie Kendrick, 2B

Uggla offers big-time power and run production for an up-the-middle position, but his strikeouts increased dramatically last season while his batting average dropped 40 points. At 28 he's much older than most third-year players and it's unlikely that he'll hit .280 again like he did as a rookie. As a .250 or .260 hitter with little speed he's in danger of losing quite a bit of fantasy value if his power declines at all.

I'd certainly snatch Uggla up if the price was right, but on average he's being taken 101st overall and that seems too high given that Rickie Weeks and Howie Kendrick are typically still available one or two rounds later. Weeks is similar to Uggla in that he's a low-average hitter capable of smacking 20-30 homers, but the big difference is that he's also a 30-steal threat (although his long history of injuries makes him more of a risk).

Kendrick doesn't have nearly as much power as Uggla or Weeks, but 24-year-old second basemen who hit .306 through their first 160 games have the potential to be pretty special. With nine homers and 45 doubles through 605 at-bats he's certainly not without power and Kendrick's minor-league track record suggests that he's capable of swiping 15-20 bases. Passing on Uggla to snatch up Weeks or Kendrick later is a smart move.

OK, now let's slide from second base to shortstop. Last week's column discussed how the tremendous hype surrounding Detroit's headline-making offseason has perhaps inflated Miguel Cabrera's perceived value and the same thing seems to be happening to Edgar Renteria. Beyond that, two shortstops who disappointed in a big way last season are looking like potential bargains this year:

96. Edgar Renteria, SS
207. Stephen Drew, SS
220. Julio Lugo, SS

Renteria batted a career-high .332 last season thanks to 39 percent of his balls in play falling for hits, but his career mark on balls in play is around 30 percent. Expect a regression back to his .291 career average, which along with 10-15 homers and 10-15 steals makes him overvalued as a top-100 pick. Plus, Renteria's previous stint in the AL saw him hit just .276/.335/.385 before being shipped out of Boston after one year.

Rather than spend an eighth-round selection on Renteria, it makes sense to wait another 100 picks before grabbing Drew or Lugo late. Drew hit just .238 in his first full season, but managed a dozen homers and 44 total extra-base hits, walked 60 times, and went 9-for-9 stealing bases as a 24-year-old. His batting average should rise 30-40 points, which along with his power and speed would make him a major bargain in the 200s.

Like Renteria in 2005, Lugo was a bust as the Red Sox's shortstop last year, hitting just .237/.294/.349. However, despite the putrid on-base percentage he still swiped 33 bases while being caught just six times. Plus, Lugo quietly finished the year on a high note after hitting just .197 prior to the All-Star break, batting .282 in the second half. He's perfectly capable of hitting .275 with 80-90 runs and 30-plus steals.

Now that we've got the middle infield covered, let's switch to the outfield. A mistake that many fantasy owners make here is relying too much on name recognition or past performance and not nearly enough on potential or current ability. It's tempting to target veterans who've put up big numbers before, but don't overlook promising young players just because they lack experience. Here's a perfect example:

106. Jermaine Dye, OF
108. Jeff Francoeur, OF
110. Delmon Young, OF
124. Matt Kemp, OF

Dye is coming off the board before Francoeur, Young, and Kemp due to his recognizable name and .315-44-120 season in 2006. More important at this point is that he turned 34 years old last month, hit just .254-28-78 last season, and that monster 2006 campaign is the only time he's posted an OPS above .850 since 2000. Meanwhile, Francoeur has hit .280 with an average of 24 homers and 104 RBIs during his first two full seasons

Dye's upside is limited and there's an awful lot of room for decline at this point in his career, whereas Francoeur is just 24 years old and a much better bet. Young and Kemp haven't proven themselves as much as Francoeur, but they're capable of 20-20 seasons at just 22 and 23 years old, respectively. Dye may seem like the "safe" pick, but Francoeur is far less of a risk to fall off a cliff and Young and Kemp possess way more upside.

139. Aaron Rowand, OF
157. Willy Taveras, OF
161. Jeremy Hermida, OF
172. Michael Cuddyer, OF

Rowand turned a career-year into a huge contract from the Giants, but moving away from Philadelphia's hitter-friendly ballpark will hurt and he hit just .265 with a .740 OPS between 2005 and 2006. Even if Rowand somehow beats the odds to repeat his .309-27-86 numbers from last season, you can get relatively similar production from Hermida and Cuddyer three rounds later or wait to go after Taveras' 40-steal speed.

200. Gary Matthews Jr., OF
226. Rick Ankiel, OF
239. Adam Jones, OF
246. Lastings Milledge, OF

Despite handing him a $50 million contract last winter, the Angels quickly realized that Matthews Jr. isn't the player they thought he was and spent nearly twice as much money to sign Torii Hunter as his replacement this offseason. Most fantasy owners apparently haven't yet learned the same lesson, taking Matthews ahead of better, higher-upside outfielders like Ankiel, Jones, and Milledge.

Matthews is capable of producing 15-18 homers and 15-18 steals, which has plenty of value. However, he's not even guaranteed everyday playing time in the Angels' crowded outfield now that Hunter is patrolling center field and he's a 33-year-old career .261 hitter who batted .252 last year. Jones and Milledge offer similar power-speed combos with much higher ceilings, while Ankiel is one of the cheapest 30-homer threats available.

Moving from outfield to another hitting-rich position, here's an interesting and potentially exploitable trend at first base:

76. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
190. Adam LaRoche, 1B
235. Billy Butler, 1B

Gonzalez is underrated in real life, but only raw numbers count in fantasy and calling Petco Park home severely depresses his stats while limiting his upside. In two seasons with the Padres he's hit .302 with 34 homers, 108 RBIs, 111 runs, and a .550 slugging percentage in 160 road games. Unfortunately, over that span Gonzalez has hit just .280 with 20 homers, 74 RBIs, 74 runs, and a .446 slugging percentage in 157 home games.

Gonzalez is an excellent all-around player, but Petco Park means that he'll have a tough time improving upon or even maintaining his .282-30-100 production from last season. At the same time, LaRoche recovered from hitting .133 in April to post a .272-21-88 season and also put up a .285-32-90 campaign in 2006. He's not as good as Gonzalez, certainly, but there isn't a 114-pick difference between them.

Butler is a much riskier alternative to Gonzalez because he has just 92 big-league games under his belt, but 21-year-olds who hit .292/.347/.447 as rookies tend to become pretty amazing offensive players and his minor-league track record also suggests that he's capable of big things. Passing on Gonzalez in the sixth round to address other needs before taking LaRoche or Butler late is a smart approach.

Aaron Gleeman is Rotoworld's senior baseball editor and contributes to NBCSports.com's Hardball Talk blog. Also find him at AaronGleeman.com and on Twitter.
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