Frankie Valli's beautiful falsetto vocal on the 1975 #1 hit, "My Eyes Adored You" should have been in the memory bank of every fan and scout at Surprise Stadium last weekend as Brandon Wood circled the bases following a walk-off home run for the Royals. In 2006, Wood was the #3 prospect in baseball and proceeded to hit 42 home runs at Double-A that summer. In October, the Angels sent him to the Arizona Fall League, where he continued to sizzle, setting a league record with 14 more homers in 29 games. Those of us who witnessed the AFL performance were convinced that this was the next great fantasy player. Imagine, 56 home runs from a 21-year-old shortstop? As Tim Kurkjian would say, "Are you kidding me?"
Even though Wood will only turn 28 this weekend, it seems as if his career has been in a downward spiral forever. The Angels organization certainly didn't help by making him a platinum member of the Triple-A shuttle and never giving him enough at-bats to prove himself, but the numbers don't lie. In 700 major league at-bats from 2007-2011, he hit .186 with a .225 on-base percentage, 218 strikeouts and only 32 walks. Once pitchers learn that they don't have to throw strikes to get you out, they won't throw you strikes. For those of us who invested part of our fantasy budget in Wood during his Angel years, a better song would be Dire Strait's "Money For Nothing."
Ever since the emergence of "Moneyball", the debate has raged in the baseball community about scouting vs. numbers and old school fans vs. SABRmetricians. While I'm certainly an excessive number-cruncher, it seems that from a fantasy prospective, you need to use both methodologies to your advantage. Sometimes a visual of a player can give you an edge while other times (as with Wood in 2006), never seeing him play might have given you a better take on his future. In his three minor league seasons leading up to that Fall League performance, he struck out 400 times!
In order to win your fantasy league, the key driver won't be how you rate Joey Votto against Prince Fielder. Success will very likely be measured by which players you take in the late rounds of a snake draft or in the end-game of an auction. As the Old Duck approaches his 30th year of Rotisserie Baseball, there are numerous examples on both sides of the equation.
> In the first year of this wonderful game (1984), the last player the Ducks drafted was Tony Gwynn for $5. Needless to say, there was no Internet to help the analysis, but the fact that in two part-time stints with the Padres in '82 and '83, his strikeouts and walks both numbered 37 told me there was a disciplined hitter waiting to emerge. He led the NL in '84 with 213 hits and a .351 average. Of course, Terry Francona and Jerry Mumphrey were also on my roster, so the IQ ranking has to be tempered.
> The 1990 Ducks' championship was fueled by getting Ron Gant for $1 in the end-game. He became a 30-30 player that season and was a force on the roster for years. This one was strictly a visual pick, as he had 19 homers and 19 steals in his rookie year of 1988 before collapsing all the way back to A-ball in '89. At age 25, the skills were just too good to pass up.
> In March of 1993, the Dodgers televised a Spring Training night game back to Los Angeles. In the bottom of the 9th, the Marlins brought in a rookie named Trevor Hoffman to close out the game. With the bases loaded and a 3-2 count, he struck out Eric Davis with a change-up. A few weeks later at the draft table, that visual was crystal clear when the Ducks chose Hoffman for $1 as their final player. He wasn't in line for saves in Florida with Bryan Harvey as the closer, but it was apparent that anyone with the cajones to throw that pitch in that situation would be a closer eventually. At mid-season, he was traded to the Padres and the rest is history.
> 2009's end-game choice of Martin Prado for $3 was purely a numbers play. As a part-time player in '08, he had an OPS of .838 and also offered position versatility. He ended up hitting .307 in 500+ at-bats.
> Last year's final pitcher on draft day was Kris Medlen for $3. It is doubtful that I'd ever actually seen him pitch because I recall being surprised last summer that he was only 5'10''. The key was looking at his skill set in '09 and '10 prior to the elbow surgery.
Of course, we don't have time to discuss the dozens of bums the Ducks have drafted in the $1-$5 range over the years but the point is that both math and eyesight can lead to success. And if Brandon Wood makes the Royals' opening day roster, you won't have to worry about my bid.