During the conclusion of 2009 and into this year's playoffs, we'll be compiling our current Top 100 rankings for next year.
All 6 authors will be taking turns nominating whom they think are the best fantasy players in baseball, along with our first two big sleepers of 2010 upon conclusion. We'll also neatly wrap up and revise our initial Top 100 in the offseason, so you'll always have a quick list to use right before draft time.
In Part 1 this week, we'll be looking at the first 12 players on our list.
1. Albert Pujols (Aaron Murray)
Albert Pujols is simply awesome at baseball. This year Baseballmonster.com rates his fantasy value at 2.05, a full .46 points higher than the next rated player, Zack Grienke (who is also awesome.) For context that .46 points is about as much value as a player like Dustin Pedroia, Mariano Rivera, or Adrian Gonzalez has provided, which means that Pujols this year has been worth a #2 overall pick and a solid third round pick, all from a guy whose BABIP is well below his career mark. Sure, his elbow could explode at any time and he plays at fantasy’s strongest position, but that’s no reason to pass on a deity when all your other options are mere mortals.
Ryan: Over/Under; How many years Pujols will be 1st overall in drafts? I'd put it at 3.5 and I'd take the over, starting with this year.
Lee: At this point, I'd take the over also. Even if he ends up one year not being the "best," he's easily the safest pick in the draft, and should be for the next half-decade.
2. Prince Fielder (Corey Dawkins)
I had trouble with this one because this year we saw a couple players really start to do the things we were expecting on the diamond. Some like to go with the power and speed combo and I did pause to give it some thought but 40-50 home run power doesn't grow on trees. Since Aaron referenced Baseballmonster.com above, I'd note that he's currently at 1.33, the second highest hitter on the board. Prince is really the only one without any true question marks left as he hits for decent average, gets on base, has power and drives them in. He's in the middle of an improving lineup and he's also only 25 years old.
Sure he doesn't give you stolen bases, but it's a lot easier to find 20-steal guys in the middle of a season (see Carlos Gonzalez, E. Young Jr) for relatively cheap than a 20 HR guy (remember how hard it was to pick up Ryan Braun a few years ago). Thankfully, his BABIP is right around the upper limit of "normal" at .320 and his HR/FB% is approximating what it was 2 years ago when he hit 50. While I think that Hanley and Co. are elite players, that sliver of a doubt of turning in a sub-par season because of the lineup around them makes me take Prince here.
Troy: I think this is a bit early. Pujols rises to the top because he leads each category by a mile ahead of every other first baseman. Fielder is only a step beyond them. His numbers may look great compared to the league, but in a grouping of firstbasemen he falls back to the pack. His average is likely to regress as well next year, as he is more of a .280 hitter.
Aaron: I agree that he's less volatile than some of the other options at the top of the first round, but his lack of position dominance makes it hard for me to see him as a #2 overall guy.
Kevin: What worries me was his HR drop in 2008. Made me wonder whether 50 HR was a bit of a stretch. This year he's done very well again, so maybe 2008 was the fluke, but because he hasn't been quite as consistent as some other top hitters, I drop him a few spots.
3. Hanley Ramirez (Kevin Jebens)
You could make a case for either Hanley or Chase Utley here. Both are tops at their position by leaps and bounds. There were two deciding factors for me. 1) For once, 2B seems to have more depth than SS. Sure, you can get good mid-round picks at either position, but at SS, two of the three guys who have been elite for years (Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins) had down years, making them riskier (though cheaper) picks in 2010. On the other hand, players have begun to emerge at second, with Aaron Hill and Ben Zobrist adding to the number of very respectable options. 2) Hanley's NL-leading BA makes him look all the more appealing. Besides, Hanley is five years younger, and I still think he has an outside chance at 40/40.
Lee: When you get production that rivals that of classic offensive positions (1B/OF) how can you pass up the shortstop? I wouldn't be surprised if Hanley does eventually break 40/40.
Aaron: Hanley is definitely a top three pick but don't expect the same monster BA next year as his current BABIP of .393 is due for some regression.
4. Chase Utley (Lee Perrault)
There is going to be a dramatic change at the top of the draft compared to 2009. Reyes, Grady, and Wright should all fall out of the Top 10, and many new faces will appear. Chase isn't one of them.
Like Kevin said, while both Hanley and Chase are leaps and bounds ahead of their respective positions, there is some new depth at 2B, almost to the point where fantasy second basemen of the late 2000s are looking like fantasy shortstops of the late 90s/early 2000s.
Utley has finished with a wOBA the past 3 years of:
2009 - .416 (tied for 3rd with Prince)
2008 - .391 (13th, but behind Kinsler)
2007 - .420 (7th)
With a career 9.9% walk rate(R potential), a 15.5% HR/FB rate, and a shot at a modest 10-15 steals, Utley's pretty much the best you'll get at 2nd base, and with #1 outfielder-like production at second, he's an easy choice for fourth on this list.
Troy: You also need to mention his walk rate ballooned to 13.9% this year and while it should regress in 2010 he looks to be over 11% going forward. Utley is a very consistent player and outside of injuries will be sure to return on the investment of a first round pick.
5. Ryan Braun (Ryan A. Restivo)
Easiest call I'll ever have to make. If you can get Ryan Braun in the first 6 picks, please do it! That's right, no A-Rod here.
There are two positions that I think are very deep next year, third base and first base, and I can live with a lot of players there and at corner spots. If I can get Braun here and grab a corner later I'd take it.
It's not time to diss on David Wright and Alex Rodriguez. At this point I'd probably say A-Rod and Braun are equal talent-wise, and when they're equal I would rather have the upside. Braun is entering his age-26 season and could still improve! I'm not sure if Wright gets his power back. Looking at his 2008 data, he hit 5 opposite field home runs at Shea, and at Citi Field he has managed to hit one the opposite way. Add that to the relative impossibility to hit home runs to left center field, except for Mark Reynolds, I would expect Wright to produce more steals than home runs as long as he plays 82 games at Citi Field.
Kevin: A guy that can give me 40/15 is always welcome. I do like his upside as well, and the Brewers have a great offense to support his numbers. There's no reason to gamble on any uncertainty in the first round, and guys that used to be great now have question marks.
6. Mark Reynolds (Troy Patterson)
I had to think hard in this spot since the MI elite had gone. With OF and 1B are available later and even while third base has shown a lot of promise this year there is no one who did what Mark Reynolds did in 2009 at third base, nevermind any other position. When I wrote on him last there was some questions on his power with some extra "just enough" homers according to HitTracker. He still has this with 33% of his homers in the "just enough" range, but that still would put him near 40 homers if adjusted this year.
Most would claim he has only done this once and shouldn't be trusted this early, but Reynolds was top 5 in every category except batting average in 2008 among third basemen. I always expected regression to the mean, but his past two year are competent enough to make me think he is worth the risk.
Aaron: It's hard not to like a guy with 50/30 upside. The good news is that he probably won't go this early in most leagues because people get scared by the K's.
Kevin: I know he's good, and I like him a lot. But why take any risk in the first round? What if he regresses next year? There are still guys out there that you should be able to bank on their numbers barring injury (Howard, M-Cab). Reynolds might be worth more... but he could end up being less. The nice thing is he'll have 1B eligibility too.
Lee: I'm unsure what kind of risk Reynolds brings outside of cause for concern around batting average. Even if he regresses, a sure 30-35/20 at 3B still makes you one of, if not the best, third basemen available. I'm a little biased as a Reynolds owner, and I think he'll still slip in some drafts past guys like A-Rod. I'll happily take that advantage.
7. Tim Lincecum (Aaron Murray)
I think it's important to be excited about your first round pick, and boy is this guy exciting. His numbers are all trending in the right direction, and I see no reason, barring injury, to think that he won't be one of the top three pitchers in baseball next year; I'd be shocked if he wasn't one of the top five. He just beats out Grienke as fantasy's number one starter because of his higher K/9 and the defense behind him. Pick him early, hope that he can improve his B/9 again in '10, and then don't take another starter until the middle rounds.
Kevin: The old debate about how high to take a starter. I would probably gamble on Lincecum. Of course, if you take him in the first half of a snake draft, you gotta wait a long time to get your first slugger, and some elite guys will be off the table. I'll only take a starter this early if I'm near the end of a snake draft.
Ryan: I will give the slight disagreement here. In a head to head league next year I would be fine with grabbing a top end starter like Lincecum in the first round. How many elite starters are there out there? Maybe 5 or 6.
Aaron: Yeah, taking a pitcher this early doesn't quite feel right to me either but the case can be made that Lincecum is the Pujols of pitching. Halladay doesn't have the K/9 while King Felix, Verlander, Vazquez, and Carpenter all have checkered pasts. Haren is great but is getting lucky this year based on his BABIP and Grienke is really close but Lincecum edges him out. Lincecum is the only one on this list that I would wager even money as a top three starter next year and that kind of certainty is worth a mid-to-late first round pick.
Lee: I don't really look at a Top 100 as a mimic of the first round, so I agree with putting Lincecum this high. Does my draft strategy say Lincecum is worth a Top 10 pick? Probably not because of how rosters are constructed, but he is immensely talented, and is easily the first pitcher that should be selected.
8. Ryan Howard (Corey Dawkins)
I hate taking first basemen this early but there are very few people who have true 50 home run talent. 4 straight seasons in the mid 40's HR and 130 RBI+ is damn near impossible to find and if you can grab him this late, do it in a heartbeat. There are some thoughts that you should go after a balanced HR/SB threat but in order to win, you must dominate some categories. He hits in an incredibly hitter friendly park and he still has all the tools around him. His batting average is even respectable right around league average .270. Overall, I can't find any issues with taking him here.
Aaron: Are you implying that Ryan Howard is not a balanced HR/SB threat? He's got seven whole steals this year! Seriously, though, his Bill James Speed Score has risen consistently since 2007 so in addition to being an elite option at HR and RBI Howard has an outside chance at double digit Steals in '10.
Lee: While I'll always prefer a five category player, Howard is still the next elite pick at first base, even with Yankee Stadium now a lefty launching pad.
Kevin: Howard never really impressed me until I owned him on a team. That high RBI trend will continue on the offensive Phillies, and there's no reason not to bank on 40+ HR. Just because he's not a BA king doesn't mean you should pass up on him for the chance at, say, a .300 hitter with 25 HR.
Troy: Howard was nearly my choice for the 6 ranking, but only passed for position eligibility with Reynolds. The lineup and stadium are clearly benefiting Howard, but that is more reason to like him. I still expect he could have another season with an average higher than this, but he's never going to be a .300 hitter.
9. Matt Kemp (Kevin Jebens)
There were many people I thought of for this spot, and I'm sure most of them will pop up in the following picks. However, it's hard to ignore Kemp's power and speed combination. He's stolen 30+ two years running, and he's not caught all that often (81% success rate) compared to other SB guys (he beats out Bourn and Figgins and Rollins, to name a few). He's still developing his power stroke, as evidenced by the rising HR trend over the last three years. While his average isn't tops, .300 isn't anything to sneeze at either. Finally, he plays one of the best teams in the National League. Though I'm not pegging him for a 40/40 season, I'm perfectly happy with 25-30 HR and 30+ SB. Last year I would've chosen Grady Sizemore here. For 2010, Kemp's the power/speed guy to go for after Hanley--and he's a better average hitter than Sizemore anyway.
Lee: Are we thoroughly convinced Kemp is surpassing Grady as the #2 overall outfielder? While I know Grady had injury problems this year, his return after rest didn't hamper him all that much, and his elbow surgery and abdomnial surgery are both minor enough that he's returning to baseball activities in November. I still have some reservations of Kemp as a Top 10 player.
Kevin: Lee, there's a good chance that Sizemore is perfectly fine next year and puts up a monster season. But I subscribe to the risk management in the first few rounds. I wouldn't be overly shocked that Grady is more valuable than Kemp next year. But in the first round, and in my own rankings, I try to avoid players with injuries in the year before. You can get burned by injury no matter who you draft, but why raise your risk in the first round or two, even if the player is really good?
10. Alex Rodriguez (Ryan A. Restivo)
Yes he's the oldest player taken so far but I'll still bank on A-Rod to have a great year. The only issue I have with taking Kemp over A-Rod is that you're paying a lot for Kemp to make that next big leap into superstar. I'm not going to lie, I broke the bank in an auction or two on Matt Kemp only to see him move around everywhere in the lineup. I say Matt Kemp can be a superstar as long as they hit him in the first five but every time this past year he hit AFTER Russell Martin, let's just say I was unhappy for those times.
Kevin: With a bit of injury history now, and his fall from grace from steroid use, I still wonder what sort of stat line the A-Rod of the future will post. I'm sure he's still valuable, but there's a bit of risk in him now. Kemp isn't likely to fall below his 2009 numbers, but he should go up. For A-Rod, I'm only comfortable using 30 HR/10 SB as his base point. This is good, but not stellar, and if injuries continue, I don't see much upside.
Lee: Kevin, I wouldn't be surprised if this is the start of A-Rod's gradual decline into merely above average. Granted, he's still the best or second best options at third base in the AL, but he seems like one of those players that in the first round, I'd let someone else pick him and chase upside.
11. Mark Teixeira (Lee Perrault)
Tex guarantees a strong power hitter in a ridiculous lineup playing in a left hander's paradise. Tex has been in the Top 6 of Batting runs the past two years, fueling his huge RAR values. You know what you're getting with Tex, and it's still an excellent anchor to your offense. For me, your first two picks should be safe, solid bets for the season, so Tex lands at #11 for this reason specifically.
I'll admit, while I can pass up Reyes because his value (SB) is hampered by leg injuries, it was hard not selecting Sizemore. When I draft next year, I won't be able to watch Grady pass me in the 2nd round, especially when his production wasn't severely hampered in his return this August before his two surgeries.
Kevin: I almost picked Teixeira instead of Kemp. What's not to like about a .290-.300 BA, 30+ HR (40 HR power in the new ballpark), and 100+ R and RBI due to the Yankee lineup? The only reason I DIDN'T pick him was due to the abundance of top 1B. Still, those stats are impressive for any position, and he's a good anchor for a team.
12. Joe Mauer (Troy Patterson)
There is little doubt that Mauer has been the best player in baseball this year with the bat, but it is good to remember he has 20 less games played than the top of this list. That probably won't change to much since he does get days off as a catcher, but he also gets in the lineup by DH as well. His stats before this year made him one of the best catchers, but this year his power has exploded and make him someone who would rank among the top first basemen.
Putting Mauer in perspective using Baseballmonster.com values he is 3 times as valuable as the next catcher (Victor Martinez). Albert Pujols is not even double the next first basemen. His stat line would put him near this group, but his position eligibility solidifies him here. Both his "just enough" homers and his previous SLG numbers call for a power regression, but at 26 he should be adding power. He should have the power to total 25 again next year at least.
Aaron: To me the question with Mauer is definitely his sudden power stroke. If he can sustain his ability to hit 25-30 HR then he belongs here, if not then he probably doesn't. If you look at his 2008 HR chart over at Hittracker compared to this year he looks like a different hitter, spraying balls to all fields with power. I'd be surprised if he didn't break 20 HR in '10 and with the potential to hit 30 he could certainly justify this selection.
Lee: When you think about it, how many guys really are a lock for 30 HRs? If they are at 2B or SS, we flock to them. Shouldn't C be even more so? If you could guarantee to me right now that Mauer hits 25-30 homeruns, I'd pick him right after Utley goes off the board.