In a recent column, I stated that in a snake draft, Ryan Braun would be my first choice, then Miguel Cabrera. I have received a little flak for that, questioning my wisdom, or perhaps the lack thereof. Some feel that should be reversed while others suggest Mike Trout should be the first guy to be picked. Truth be told, this bandwidth is probably better spent writing about some of the other 747 players that will break camp in April, but since the reasons behind my assertion are even more pertinent than the conclusion, I thought this would be a good topic to bridge us out of football mode and into baseball mode. Plus, it serves as a nice introduction for those new to the site as it will give you an idea of my philosophy and a taste of what you might get if you become a Platinum subscriber.
For now, I’m going to leave Trout out of the discussion. There’ll be plenty of time to talk about the sophomore phenom. Suffice it to say the fact I am willing to consider him with the third pick is testament to the fact I feel he will have a strong season. But, I don’t feel it will be as strong as that of Braun or Cabrera, and that’s without even considering the risk involved.
There are two general reasons why some prefer Cabrera over Braun. The first downplays Braun’s stolen base superiority while the second cites the difference in positions, Braun being an outfielder and Cabrera playing the perceived weaker position of third base. I’ll address each of these and explain why neither makes Cabrera a better choice than Braun.
Before I get into the meat of the discussion, it is important to keep everything in context. There are many different ways this game is played, in terms of formats, rules and strategies. The most important aspect of a discussion of this nature is something I preach ad nauseum, and that is “know thy league.” If according to your format, Cabrera’s stats are potentially more helpful than Braun’s, you’ll get no argument from me if Miggy is your choice. Knowing your league’s dynamics and market treatment trumps any objective valuation and ranking. In other words, if your argument is “I know how my league drafts and even though Braun may be more valuable, I can end up with a better team if I draft Cabrera,” I’ll accept that. Well, first I’ll ask for an explanation and if I buy it, I’ll stand down.
Let’s talk about the notion of Braun’s steals not serving as the primary means of differentiating the duo from a fantasy perspective. From a strict valuation point of view, the fewer the number of teams and the fewer active roster spots, the less impact steals provide. There are some mixed universe leagues with ten teams, three outfield spots and no corner infielder. In this format, the value of Braun’s steals is less as compared to a league with more teams and active roster spots. For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume a more standard setup with five outfielders.
The usual argument is “I can always get steals later.” Yeah, you can. But if you already have them, you don’t have to get them later. Any time you put yourself in a position to HAVE to chase something, you’re not efficiently utilizing all your assets. Restricting the inventory from which you can select hinders your ability to construct a team to maximum potential. By choosing Braun, I will cede that I am probably giving up a few points in average and perhaps a handful of homers and RBI. But I am plus 20-something steals and overall, have a more balanced foundation from which to build. Getting technical, in a vacuum, the extra steals are worth more than the slight difference in HR, RBI and average. Why would you want to knowingly put yourself in a hole?
The answer to that for many is “because Miggy is a third baseman and I’d rather draft him than an outfielder.” The implication is Cabrera plays a perceived scarce position and it is better to get it out of the way early, so as not to be left with dregs later. Unfortunately, this opens the Pandora’s Box labeled scarcity as there are numerous interpretations and connotations of the term. I’ll leave that for another time and just equate scarce with weak – however you want to define it. I won’t even get into the fact that mathematically, the raw value of the same stats from a third baseman are worth the same if they came from an outfielder. I’ll instead address the notion that “Cabrera plus Outfielder X is better than Braun plus Third Baseman Y.” The problem with this is it is not a two-player comparison but rather a total roster comparison. The premise is outfield is deeper than the hot corner, so in a later round, the available outfielders are better than the available third basemen. And maybe they are. But if they are and I took Braun, I’m not going to take a lesser third baseman in that round if that’s all that’s available. At some point, the level of talent is going to be such that everyone is the same player, regardless of position. It’s a fallacy to think at the back end of the player pool that the available outfielders and first basemen are better than the remaining middle infielders and third basemen. In most leagues (context is everything), they’re not. At some point, I’m going to find a third baseman and he’s going to be comparable in value to whoever you picked in the same round. It’s the nature of snake drafts.
Looking at these two points in a more general sense, irrespective of the reason, it is not wise to sacrifice potential, unless you are 100 percent sure you can make up for it and then some. This is the draft dynamics alluded to earlier. If you know your league way undervalues steals, then yeah, maybe you can go with Cabrera and get bargains later without losing ground in power by grabbing speed late. This doesn’t happen in my leagues so my lean is Braun. Getting a bit mathematical, if you assign an auction dollar value to the players and use that to set up your draft rankings, you will find the biggest delta of potential to be at the top. That is, the difference in potential between adjacent players in the first round is greater than that of the second, which is greater than that of the third, etc. The earlier you sacrifice potential for scarcity (statistical or positional) the harder it is going to be to make up the difference.
The bottom line is I don’t want to have to make up the difference. I want to continue to separate my team from the pack. Ryan Braun gives me the best chance to do just that.