h2h Corner ~ 2010 Hitter Rankings

This article comes on the heels of my worst fantasy year in history. Sure, I won my most competitive, long-term, keeper h2h league and my free agent fantasy league, but I finished last in my two NFL leagues, got smoked in Survivor, and I lost my College Football Bowl Series league (hey, I drafted two suspended players).

Though my interest in all things fantasy knows no bounds, fantasy baseball remains my true (and first) love. There are so many nuances to drafting and building a team. Unlike football, there are no specific baseline stats (touchdowns/yards) by which every player is measured. In addition, the football season is so short that it is impossible to analyze any trends, players get hot, players get cold. There doesn’t appear to be much rhyme or reason.

In baseball, some players get runs, some get RBIs (but not because of themselves), and some get stolen bases. Early recognition of which players will get you which categories makes the draft even more important than in football because you need to get off on the right foot and have your categories covered. Hey, I did draft Russell in Survivor this year (yeah and I still lost) – so I have some bonifides.

Keeping this in mind, I’m going to analyze my initial hitter rankings step-by-step for 2010 h2h 5×5 standard leagues. I’ll start with a global perspective of the fantasy universe, followed by a more in-depth analysis by position (ending with SPs and RPs). I split my rankings between hitters and pitchers because I have a distinct strategy for drafting in an h2h league. Out of my first 10 picks, I like to use eight or nine of them on hitters (don’t worry about catchers), and the remaining one or two on strong K pitchers. Statistically, hitters are easier to track and project; pitchers, on the other hand, can be dominant one year, and completely worthless or injured the next (Right, Dr. Faustus?).

My goal in drafting, therefore, is to accumulate as many top 70 hitters as possible and to get two of my top-ranked pitchers. Last year, for example, I had Javy Vazquez as a preseason top 10 pitcher. Not many people, however, shared this opinion. Knowing that I could follow my strategy and sleep on Vazquez until after the tenth round made me much more comfortable loading up on bats in the first ten rounds. Starting in round 11, I was able to binge on pitchers (like it is Busch light and I’m in college). You can download all my rankings here.

Given the slightly unorthodox nature of my rankings, I imagine there will be several questions about them. Because I’m that good, I’ve jumped the gun and answered your questions before you even asked them.

Who do you think you are? Ranking Jacoby Ellsbury at seven (above Howard, Fielder, Cabrera, and Wright!!!!)?

I plead guilty to buying Jacoby Ellsbury as a top 10 fantasy hitter — maybe because I see so much of my tee-ball game in his MLB-game. Still there is no denying that he can flat out fly. Ellsbury had ten more stolen bases than Carl Crawford –not a small number. It’s also ten more than Crawford has had in any season.

Another reason to buy into Ellsbury: his OBP. In 2009, the Red Sox centerfielder posted a .355 OBP. In one AAA season, he posted a .360 OBP and in two AA seasons, he got on base at a .422 clip. If the Sox keep him at the top of the line-up, he’ll steal and score plenty. Because of his legs, Ellsbury alone can win you one category each week. To replace his stolen base production you’d need someone like Figgins and Jimmy Rollins. And, even then, it would be a far less than perfect replacement as that would greatly diminish your power potential.

Sure, chicks dig the long ball, but there is really nothing that beats a one category wunderkind. If you can get Ellsbury in the late first round, then guess who is coming back to you? Someone like Teixeira, Fielder, Cabrera, etc. Power abounds, there is simply no healthy person that really duplicates Ellsbury.

That said, monitor early ADP returns. It is likely people won’t value Ellsbury as highly as they should. Most rankings sites will have him lower because they aren’t tailored to the h2h game. If he is going in the third round, there is no reason to take him in the first. It’s all about getting high value in the “later” rounds. That said, be careful not to sleep too far; you don’t want your savvy buddy taking him out from under your nose (like a friend of mine did with Vazquez last year).

Isn’t Ian Kinsler always inured?

Ian Kinsler has been labeled “injury prone.” But is he? If I asked you to guess how many games he missed last season, you’d probably say 40, right? Well, the answer is less than half that (18 games). In the 144 games he played, Kinsler did his best Chase Utley impression: 31 HRs, 86 RBIs, 101 runs and 31 SBs even though he managed career lows in batting average (.253) and on base percentage (.327). Still, in almost 2,000 major league ABs, Kinsler is a .279 hitter and gets on base at a .350 clip; so, don’t expect his ratios to be as low this year. Kinsler should hit somewhere in the .270s, while continuing to score, knock guys in, steal and hit homers. Luck is when hard work meets opportunity or something, right? Kinsler is when skill meets a great lineup playing over half their games in hitter friendly ballparks.

Draft Kinsler with confidence, not just as a second basemen, but as an offensive behemoth.

Isn’t the top 60 a little high for Curtis Granderson, seeing as he can’t hit a lefty?

The short answer is no. I mean it didn’t stop me from ranking Ryan Howard in the top 15. Curtis Granderson is a career .210 hitter against southpaws, while Howard is a career .226 hitter against lefties.

The long answer? What is not to like in a lefty moving to Yankee stadium to presumably bat before/after Captain Jetes and before Teixeira, A-Rod, Posada, etc? In 2009, Granderson realized his potential to be a 30-HR mainstay. The evidence was there as he hit 22 in just 141 games in 2008. In fact, his 162-game averages from 2007 – 2009 are 25 HRs, 108 runs, 70 RBIs, and 19 SBs. I can’t find a thing to dislike in that line.

Also, who doesn’t think the Yankee lineup plus their joke of a ballpark doesn’t pad those numbers a bit? I’m starting to think I may have ranked Granderson a bit too low. I would not be shocked with a 35 HR/25 SB campaign. Still, it’s more likely he ends up 30/18.

What is the deal with Jimmy Rollins?

Jimmy Rollins posted some abysmal ratio numbers last year: .250 AVE and .296 OBP. Those are atrocious. However, his season was not all bad; he did manage 100 runs and 31 SBs. He also hit 21 HRs and knocked in 77 RBIs. Those are all nice stats, especially from a shortstop. Here’s the trick, though. I think Rollins 2009 ratios are his career floor (until he breaks down for good and his career is over). I don’t think he is done, which means he should be back hitting .270 and posting a .330 OBP next year. As his percentages realign with his career norms, his counting stats will also inflate (with the exception of HRs). A 110+ run, 15+ HR, 70+ RBI, 35+ SB campaign is not impossible. Just be ready for the early season swoon.

Who is Carlos Gonzalez? And, a follow-up, why is he ranked higher than Josh Hamilton or David Ortiz?

The Colorado Rockies acquired Carlos Gonzalez from Oakland in the trade that sent Matt Holliday into his AL purgatory. Previously, he was part of the trade that brought Dan Haren to Arizona. Clearly, many organizations have believed in Gonzalez’ potential. It is time you did too.

Gonzalez only got into 89 games last season (62 in the second half). In that short amount of time, however, he did a great deal of damage. In August, he hit .371, posted a .432 OBP, scored 16 runs, knocked six HRs and drove in 13 runs. In September/October, he scored 19 runs, hit five HRs and swiped seven bases.

In three AAA seasons, Gonzalez hit .312 and posted a .385 OBP. While his counting numbers (15 HRs and 8 SBs) seem small, he is still only 23. Gonzalez is the next Justin Upton, you can book it. I have him as an eighth rounder or so, but think you can get him much later. If so, enjoy the healthy returns.

Meanwhile, David Ortiz put up decent numbers, but they are pretty pedestrian when compared to his first base brethren. I’d rather have a 20/20 threat. As for Josh Hamilton, he’s a risky proposition. Personally, I’m not drafting someone who has a good chance of spending a significant portion of the season on the DL in the first ten rounds. Leave that selection to your idiot friend who got stuck in traffic and is having the autodrafter make all his selections for him.

I can’t make heads or tails of the players from 23 – 28 (Kevin Youkilis, Aramis Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, Chone Figgins, Ryan Zimmerman and Mark Reynolds)!

This is one of those rare occasions where I say you can draft based on positional/statistical need. If you are sitting there in the third/fourth rounds and the above players are available, take a look at your roster and figure out what you need. For example, if the left side of your infield is open, take Troy Tulowitzki (third base is very deep). If you have no speedsters, grab Chone Figgins.

However, if you need a third basemen with some power, who do you select? I suggest Kevin Youkilis. Since 2006, Youk has averaged 94 runs, 21 HRs, 91 RBIs, a .296 AVE and a .393 OBP. That is exceptionally consistent production. Furthermore, his power numbers have been higher recently (29 HRs in 2008 and 27 in 2009), so that 21 HR number is likely smaller than his output will be in 2010.

I rank Aramis Ramirez behind Youk mostly because he only played half a season last year. I’m generally skeptical of recently injured players; I tend to make them prove they are healthy before drafting them. Still, from 2006 – 2008, Ramirez averaged 146 games, 87 runs, 30 HRs, 110 RBIs, a .296 AVE and a .366 OBP. Clearly, if healthy, he’ll outperform Youkilis. I’m a risk-adverse drafter in the early rounds, which is why I give Youk the slight nod.

Now for a very difficult player to peg: Mark Reynolds. The NL strikeout leader the last two seasons, Reynolds has long had the power to do great things fantasy-wise. He was a trendy sleeper going into 2008, based on his rookie season during which he blasted 17 HRs and hit .279 in only 111 games. In 2008, the homeruns kept coming (he hit 28), but his batting average (.239) made them almost worthless. Reynolds has prodigious power – there is no denying that as evidenced in his 2009 stat line (98 runs, 44 HRs, 102 RBIs, 24 SBs and a .260 AVE). So we have to worry about his average a little.

In four minor league seasons, he posted a .280 AVE, though none were above AA (he actually hit .290 in those AA seasons). So, there is evidence to suggest that last year wasn’t a fluke. Add in the shocking 24 SBs (seriously where did they come from) and Reynolds is looking like a downright steal in the third/fourth round. This could be somewhat of an illusion, however; don’t forget Chris Davis’ horrible 2009. Think Davis is an outlier, remember that Derrek Lee stole 21 bases in 2003 season, a number he never approached again. With Reynolds, I’m betting the SBs aren’t there next year, but the other numbers mostly are.

Given this uncertainty, it wasn’t all that difficult to rank Ryan Zimmerman higher than Mark Reynolds. Zimmerman is only 24, yet he has played four full seasons in the majors. In those seasons (including just 106 games in 2008), Zimmerman has averaged 86 runs, 23 HRs, 90 RBIs, a .282 AVE and a .345 OBP. The more I look at it, the more I think Zimmerman is the second coming of Aramis Ramirez. Look at the obvious comparisons: Ramirez starred for a crappy team (the Pirates) and played four full seasons by his 25th birthday in which he averaged 77 runs, 29 HRs, 98 RBIs, a .282 AVE and a .332 OBP. I think Zimmerman has a tad more upside than 2004 Aramis, and could be in for a great year.

Did any of this clear up the third basemen rankings?

Didn’t think so.

Still, I hope these statistics and player trends will help you determine which player out of this schmorgasborg you want manning your hot corner in 2010. Frankly, I don’t think you can go that wrong with any of these players. If you are playing for upside, Reynolds is your guy. If you are very risk-adverse, Youkilis is your god of walks.

Do you have any other questions? Please post in the comments sections, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

I’ll be back shortly with first base, second base, etc. rankings.

If you want other columns, please let me know. Also, feel free to share your insights below or at my Twitter (@h2h_corner)/Facebook pages.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. […] Outside of Jacoby Ellsbury, there aren’t too many surprises in my top 10 outfielders. That said, I think Justin Upton deserves special recognition, particularly since he’s so young (he’ll turn 23 in August). In just 138 games last year, Upton hit 26 HRs, scored 84 runs, knocked in 86 and stole 20 bases. He also managed a .300 AVE and a .366 OBP. Really, the only downside to Upton at this point is his health. While his health should certainly be accounted for, his upside makes him a tempting draft pick. Typically, you don’t talk about upside with players ranked in the top 20 or so – given that most are at or near their peak performance. For this coming season, I think he could have a very similar year to a Miguel Cabrera – maybe a little worse average, but vastly more stolen bases. I ranked him below Holliday, Ichiro, and Crawford, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up being a more valuable fantasy player in 2010. He is just that good. […]

    Reply

  2. […] Ellsbury – Current ADP 20 – If I like Carl Crawford, I must be in love with Jacoby. In fact, I am. Ellsbury had ten more stolen bases than Carl Crawford –not a small number. Another reason to buy […]

    Reply

  3. Posted by Sean on February 1, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    How would your approach to the draft change if your league was H2H with points? (non-roto). I play in a 12 team H2H keeper league with points such as 1 for single, 2 for double etc…

    I’ve generally taken the same exact approach you mentioned above with the goal being trying to load up on hitters while still trying to get 2-3 stud pitchers who put up a high number of K’s.

    Reply

  4. Sean- points leagues make it pretty easy on you if you like excel. I’d simply put all the players in a spreadsheet with their stats from last year (or if you;’re ambitious, teh last three years), then use the projection system you like the best.

    Get a four-year average of their points and you’ll have a pretty decent draft board – of course you’ll need to move some rookies up and some veterans down accounting for age, but that woudl give you a great look into overall performers.

    As for the drafting strategy – i think you need consistency in a weekly accumulation league, which means batters high and high risk/high reward pitchers later in teh draft. This coudl work especially if Ks get you huge points- check out my pitcher 2011 column and David Simmons work (all on the home page).

    let me know if you need any additional help! Thanks for reading!

    Reply

  5. […] Stubbs (17, 41) because I figured everyone would talk about him. However, as the guy who called Carlos Gonzalez an 8th rounder last year, I think Stubbs has that kind of ability to overpay his draft slot. Currently the […]

    Reply

  6. […] Meanwhile, in h2h, he should go near the top 40. Given his ADP, I think Stubbs is as close any player will come to matching the return on investment Carlos Gonzalez gave owners last year (and remember I called CarGo an 8th rounder last year). […]

    Reply

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