OpinionJanuary 18, 2008


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2008 Best Players by Position

By Josh Milczski

It was no surprise when Albert Pujols was taken first overall in nearly every fantasy baseball draft last season. Since he’s entered the league it can be argued that there hasn’t been a better hitter in all of baseball. There was little question last season who the first pitcher taken in the draft would be either. Johan Santana has arguably been the most dominant pitcher in baseball the last four years now. Is Pujols still the consensus number one pick in 2008? And will Santana still be the first pitcher taken? I’d like to break down the possible changes to the names toward the top of your positions lists. Whose stock fell, who narrowed the gap, and who simply took over?

These analyses are based off of a 12-team, 5×5 league setting.

Catcher

The catcher on a fantasy roster used to just be a fill-in, but it has become an increasingly important fantasy position. Whatever he gives you is a nice bonus. No longer. Not with the likes of Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, Brian McCann, and Russell Martin. And with up-and-comers like Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Geovany Soto, and J.R. Towles getting their shots at the big leagues, there will be no shortage of offensive productivity from this position. Last season, Mauer and Martinez were the cream of the crop, usually going in the fourth or fifth rounds, quickly followed by McCann. Martin would be taken some ten rounds later. Martin will likely be gone by the beginning of the fourth round this year.

Victor Martinez is my pick for the best fantasy catcher in 2008. Many will dispute that Martin deserves this spot, especially since he’s far and away the most balanced offensive catcher in baseball, but Martinez’s power cannot be ignored. While Martinez had no stolen bases to Martin’s 21, Martinez had 27 more RBIs and six more home runs. While speed is something you don’t generally expect from your catcher, Martinez’s power makes him my choice as the best fantasy catcher in 2008. He will likely be going as early as the third round, followed quickly by Martin.

Top 5

1. Victor Martinez
2. Russell Martin
3. Brian McCann
4. Joe Mauer
5. Jorge Posada

First Base

Power is to be expected from the first base position. Last year’s nearly unanimous first pick was first baseman Albert Pujols. It’s a testament to Albert’s amazing abilities that his 32 home runs and 103 RBIs last season is considered poor by his standards. With young power hitters like Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard crushing the ball, the consensus for the best first baseman is not a unanimous one any longer.

Still, I consider Albert Pujols to be the best option at first base in 2008. Even taking into account his subpar 2007 season, his three year averages rival that of any player in any era. Fielder and Howard both have the stuff to lead the league in home runs, but their batting averages are 40 and 60 points, respectively, below Pujols’ average last season. Howard struck out once every two and a half at-bats, while Pujols has maintained a .330 average since entering the league seven years ago. Pujols remains one of the best pure hitters in the game and just so happens to hit for power as well.

Top 5

1. Albert Pujols
2. Prince Fielder
3. Ryan Howard
4. Mark Teixeira
5. David Ortiz (DH)

Second Base

There was no bigger gap between the best and the second best than there was at second base before last season. Chase Utley was the easy choice when deciding which second baseman to take if given the opportunity. He certainly did not disappoint, even though he missed nearly 30 games due to injury.

Chase Utley is the best offensive option at second base. There is no question. A full round will go by before the next second baseman is even considered. This is not because the next options are only mediocre, far from it, but because Utley is simply that dominant at his position. There is no longer a shortage of quality options at second base, with well-rounded players like Brandon Phillips and B.J. Upton (eligible at 2B in most leagues), along with speedsters like Brian Roberts and Chone Figgins being out there if Utley is not available.

Top 5

1. Chase Utley
2. Brandon Phillips
3. B.J. Upton
4. Robinson Cano
5. Brian Roberts

Third Base

Alex Rodriguez was drafted anywhere between second and sixth last season and if you took him you enjoyed one of the best seasons ever by a third baseman, easily winning the American League MVP with 56 home runs and 156 RBIs, not to mention his 24 stolen bases.

The numbers in 2008 will likely be similar to those of 2007 and Alex Rodriguez should be the first player, much less the first third baseman, taken in the draft. Fortunately this position is easily the deepest of the infield, with David Wright, who should be at 30/30 for years to come, and Miguel Cabrera, whose power numbers should begin to rival anyone in the league. Great options are available after these three as well, though the picture is not quite as clear as it is at the top. Youth dominates the next few options at third base with the likes of Ryan Braun, Garrett Atkins, and Ryan Zimmerman being valuable alternatives.

Top 5

1. Alex Rodriguez
2. David Wright
3. Miguel Cabrera
4. Ryan Braun
5. Aramis Ramirez

Shortstop

When asked about the best offensive shortstop in baseball before last season, there was little discussion out of Jose Reyes. That is no longer the case in 2008. This is certainly not due to the performance of Reyes, who could win your stolen base category almost single-handedly, but because of the emergence of two shortstops that are determined to give Reyes a run for his money for the top spot at shortstop.

By the slimmest of margins, Hanley Ramirez should be the first shortstop taken in 2008. Ramirez’s batting average is 50 points better than Reyes and his 51 stolen bases are ten more than Jimmy Rollins gets. While Reyes can dominate the stolen base category by himself, it is easier to get those statistics later in a draft, while players like Rollins and Ramirez can help your team in both the speed and power categories. After these three we see a list of consistent veteran performers like Carlos Guillen, Derek Jeter, and Michael Young, not to mention a young Troy Tulowitzki that make shortstop a position that should produce nicely for your team.

Top 5

1. Hanley Ramirez
2. Jose Reyes
3. Jimmy Rollins
4. Carlos Guillen
5. Troy Tulowitzki

Outfield

Alfonso Soriano was likely the first outfielder taken in your 2007 draft, with names like Vladimir Guerrero, Carl Crawford, and Manny Ramirez following. Power seemed to be hard to find from outfielders last season, with Soriano and Ramirez being hampered by injuries and Guerrero hitting nearly ten fewer home runs than he has averaged over the last ten seasons. Adam Dunn did not disappoint in that department, but fantasy managers balk at the .260 batting average. One outfielder that did not disappoint was Matt Holliday, second only to Dunn in home runs, while boasting a .340 batting average.

Runners always seemed to be on base when Matt Holliday came to the plate and he seemed to never disappoint, cashing in 137 RBIs, which was tops in the National League. He should be the first outfielder selected in your 2008 draft followed by some great combinations of speed and power like Soriano, Sizemore, and Beltran. Crawford and Sizemore only seem to get better with age and Beltran and Guerrero remain consistent options. None of these outfielders should make it out of the second round, but high average hitters like Ichiro Suzuki and Magglio Ordonez should still be available as quality alternatives.

Top 10

1. Matt Holliday
2. Carl Crawford
3. Vladimir Guerrero
4. Grady Sizemore
5. Alfonso Soriano
6. Carlos Beltran
7. Ichiro Suzuki
8. Magglio Ordonez
9. Carlos Lee
10. Curtis Granderson

Starting Pitchers

Johan Santana was the consensus first pitcher taken in 2007, but the gap has narrowed significantly as Jake Peavy, Erik Bedard, and Brandon Webb have established themselves as dominant fantasy pitchers as well. His numbers were down in 2007 compared to his previous three seasons, but Santana still managed to be one of the best fantasy options at starting pitcher.

The 2008 season will likely see Johan Santana in another uniform, likely on a team that will give him much more run support than he received in Minnesota. This is one of the reasons why Santana will remain in my number one spot as the best fantasy pitcher in baseball. He managed to pitch nearly seven innings every time he took the mound and averaged over a strikeout per inning. His strikeout to walk ratio was still one of the best in the league and he’s averaged nearly 250 strikeouts per season over the past four years. His homeruns allowed went up in 2007 which is one of the reasons why he might not be the first pitcher taken this season, but he stays atop my list in 2008. Followed quickly by Peavy.

Top 10

1. Johan Santana
2. Jake Peavy
3. Brandon Webb
4. Erik Bedard
5. Josh Beckett
6. C.C. Sabathia
7. Justin Verlander
8. Scott Kazmir
9. Cole Hamels
10. John Lackey

Relief Pitchers

Jose Valverde and Joe Borowski led their respective divisions in saves, but Valverde is in Houston now, much fewer save opportunities, and Borowski had an ERA over five. Francisco Cordero had 44 saves, but he’s in Cincinnati now, a far cry from the Brewers run support. Some regulars near the top of this list, Francisco Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera, watched their ERA spike to nearly three and over three, respectively. The top of this list will be far from consistent.

Jonathan Papelbon steered clear of the injury bug that plagued him in 2006, likely due to the much deserved confidence Boston had in Hideki Okajima to spell Papelbon occasionally and keep his innings pitched down to some extent. Papelbon will have plenty of save opportunities on that roster once again, and should remain dominant in the closer role, a role not so certain prior to last season since he was initially slated to be in the rotation. With Boston’s rotation being one of the best in the league and having quality arms like Okajima and Mike Timlin paving the way to him for ninth inning work, Papelbon should be the best closer in baseball this upcoming season.

Top 5

1. Jonathan Papelbon
2. Francisco Rodriguez
3. J.J. Putz
4. Joe Nathan
5. Mariano Rivera

Projected average draft round for some of the mentioned players*

First RoundSecond RoundThird RoundFourth RoundFifth RoundSixth Round
Albert PujolsMark TeixeiraVictor MartinezBrian McannErik BedardJustin Verlander
Prince FielderDavid OrtizRussell MartinJoe MauerJosh BeckettScott Kazmir
Ryan HowardRyan BraunBrandon PhillipsRobinson CanoC.C. Sabathia 
Chase UtleyCarl CrawfordB.J. UptonBrian RobertsFrancisco Rodriguez 
Alex RodriguezVladimir GuerreroMagglio OrdonezAramis RamirezJ.J. Putz 
David WrightGrady SizemoreCurtis GrandersonCarlos Guillen  
Miguel CabreraAlfonso Soriano Troy Tulowitzki  
Hanley RamirezCarlos Beltran Brandon Webb  
Jose ReyesIchiro Suzuki Jonathan Papelbon  
Jimmy RollinsCarlos Lee    
Matt HollidayJohan Santana    
 Jake Peavy    

 

 
*Note: The players listed are not necessarily in actual average draft order, only what round they are projected to be picked.

 
Josh Milczski is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Josh in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of Omaha Red Sox.
 
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