The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Monday, March 29, 2004

So on Saturday at 11:30 I gathered up my player printouts and drove to Mountain View. The draft was to be held at 1 p.m. at the home of Darren, one of the league members. I introduced myself to the other members -- I had not met anyone besides Brian and Eric -- and we chatted while waiting for stragglers. One topic of conversation was a spring training game between the A's and the Colorado Rockies; someone had heard that Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, a stud hitter who was ranked seventh in the tips that we downloaded from Yahoo, had not played all spring!

Eric and Brian arrived late, toting two whiteboards and a lot of little paper rectangles attached to magnets and containing the names of the better players. The left whiteboard was filled with names of major leaguers, separated by position. The right whiteboard was a grid, with our teams as columns and positions as rows. When players were drafted they were moved from the left rightboard to the right. This was a handy arrangement, as it allowed us to see what players were available, and which teams' positions had been filled.

We had a set draft order, but in even-numbered rounds we drafted in reverse order. So the ninth player would get the tenth overall pick (first in the second round), and the first player would not draft again until the 18th pick. The first and last players would therefore always draft two players at once (except of course at the very beginning and end). I had the fifth slot, so I was always in the middle of a round and my drafts would always be nine picks apart.

Glenn started us off with the obvious first pick, Alex Rodriguez. Next up was Mel, whom Brian had described to me as a Giants fan who liked to take home town players. So we were all expecting him to pick Barry Bonds, but he chose Albert Pujols instead.

Tom did something more unexpected: He drafted Vladimir Guerrero, the ex-Montreal player who was picked up as a free agent by Anaheim. Then it was Jeff's turn. However Jeff was not with us; he was at home with his baby, and had submitted a list of players that he preferred to draft. Dodgers reliever Eric Gagne was at the top of his list, so we assigned Gagne to Jeff's team.

And then it was my turn. I had achieved my ambition of drafting Alfonso Soriano. But ... what about that other undrafted player, the one with the single-season home run record? Should I have considered him?

No, Soriano was a better pick, for these reasons:

  • Bonds is getting old. He turns 40 this season.
  • Soriano is actually ranked higher in my ratings (159 versus 141). Bonds does not have good run and RBI stats, because he plays for a weak-hitting team (and in a pitcher's park at that). The Giants got worse in the off-season so that trend is likely to continue.
  • And most importantly, there are other good left fielders. There are very few good second basemen; aside from Bret Boone, who may have had a career year, no second baseman had a rating higher than 115.

Next up was our host, Darren, who took Bonds. Then Eric selected Pedro Martinez, the first starting pitcher to be taken. Mike, our commissioner, also took a pitcher, Cubs star Mark Prior. Then it was time for Brian and his two picks; he took first baseman Jim Thome and the aforementioned Bret Boone.

Mike took another pitcher on the way back, Blue Jay Roy Halladay. Then Eric took another Toronto bird, first baseman Carlos Delgado. A lot of good players were still avaiable. Gary Sheffield (whose 2003 stats gave him a monstrous 162 rating) had suffered a thumb injury, and Giants pitcher Jason Schmidt had had elbow problems. No one knew if Todd Helton had been abducted by aliens or what. And then there was my backup first round pick, Carlos Beltran ...

Who was immediately selected by Darren.

I shook myself free of the fantasy of landing Beltran and got to work. We were allotted 90 seconds for each pick and it looked like I would need all of them. I scanned my sheets, but there was no clearly superior player who stood out. Finally as time ran out I decided to lock up the shortstop I had had my eye on, Edgar Renteria of St. Louis. Like Soriano, Renteria stood out in a field of mediocrity. He was ranked 30th in the Yahoo material, so I had originally planned to draft him third. But the idiosynratic picks that I had already seen convinced me that the other players probably put as little faith in the Yahoo standings as I did. So I chose Renteria.

The absent Jeff was assigned the absent Todd Helton. (By the way, now that my chance to crack jokes about Helton is over, let me state for the record that neither I nor Brian nor Eric were able to find any evidence that Helton had ever been absent from training camp.) Tom selected the other premier shortstop, Nomar Garciaparra. Mel took catcher Javy Lopez. And Glenn closed out the second round by drafting Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood.

While this was going on I was annotating my printouts. I had copied my ratings into several files of the top players grouped by position. Now as I mentioned yesterday, the ratings are skewed for players with large numbers of steals. I knew that if I slavishly followed the ratings, I would load up on all the players with lots of stolen bases. The league is scored by matchpointing, which does not reward huge victories -- if the second place player had 200 steals for the season, I would get the maximum matchpoints whether I had 201 steals or 400. So I also listed position players' steals, and a separate rating which excluded steals. I planned to keep track of everyones' steal totals as they made their picks.

I did something similar for pitchers. I listed their saves and holds, and for starters created a separate rating that excluded saves and holds.

After the first four picks of the third round -- Piazza, Loaiza, Vernon Wells, and Manny Ramirez -- I was back in the spotlight. Now I really had no idea whom I should pick, so I filtered through the sheets to find the best player remaining. (Note that whenever I say "best", that is shorthand for "best player compared to others at his position.") That seemed to be right fielder Abreu. I had no idea what his first name was or even where he played. (His name is Bobby and he plays for Philadelphia.)

Darren took Tim Hudson, and Eric selected reliever Billy Wagner. Mike took "The Moose," Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina. Now everyone started to notice that Mike had three arms -- the ones belonging to three very talented pitchers. Brian closed out the third round with a Yankees pitcher, Javier Vazquez.

I won't bore you with a complete recitation of the draft -- though I will mention that Mike stayed with pitchers, selecting Mark Mulder on his fourth pick. At this point I had 91 steals, which was twice as many as anyone else. So I laid off the full ratings and concentrated on steal-independent statistics. My fourth pick was pitcher Jamie Moyer. By now all the superior position players had been selected, and I decided to get some pitching before it vanished. In the fifth round I took center fielder Andruw Jones.

I continued to stock up on what was left of the good pitchers, as there were still many reasonable position players remaining. My next five picks:

6. Johann Santana (pitcher, Minnesota)
7. Joe Nathan (closer, Minnesota)
8. Frank Thomas (first base, Chicago White Sox)
9. Roger Clemens (pitcher, Houston)
10. Ivan Rodriguez (catcher, Detroit)

Moyer and Clemens are fine pitchers, but they are both over forty. I-Rod was the last of the quality catchers. I hadn't planned to worry about catchers; at this point I was following my ratings and they were leading me into unexpected territory.

By now I had abandoned my running total of steals, saves, and holds. The picks were coming faster and it was all I could do to make a good selection when it was my turn.

11. Hawkins

What is a Hawkins? Well, at this point I was drafting relievers that I had never heard of. Now when you draft a position player you don't know, you can take it on faith that he will play the same position, and hope that his stats will have some resemblance to what he did a year ago. But relievers can change roles; a closer one year can be a setup man the next. So I was just drafting players off my sheet and hoping they would have a useful role somewhere.

(By the way, LaTroy Hawkins is a Chicago Cubs reliever.)

12. Randy Winn (left and center fielder, Seattle)
13. Mark Redman (pitcher, Oakland)

This was a steal. Redman is a fine pitcher and moved to a good team playing in a pitcher's park.

14. Jason Varitek (catcher, Red Sox)

This kind of popped out. I looked up at the board and Varitek, who is not great but was far superior to any other catcher remaining, was still there. "What is Varitek doing there? Send him over."

15. Placido Polanco (third base, Phillies)

I finally got a third baseman. Actually Polanco was the third-ranked third baseman in my ratings, but was not highly ramked by Yahoo.

At this point there were still some quality players, but the pickings were getting thin.

16. Brad Wilkerson (Montreal)

I knew nothing of Wilkerson, but he had reasonable stats and played first base and all outfield spots, which I thought might give me reasonable flexibility in case of injury.

17. Armando Benitez, Florida's new closer.
18. Juan Encarnacion (right field, Dodgers)
19. Miguel Batista (pitcher, Toronto)
20. Rocco Baldelli (center field, Tampa Bay)

By now it was garbage time. Many of the league members were indulging themselves by picking this rookie or that longshot player. I was not prepared to do this, and anyway the last five roster spots have the same weighting as the first five.

21. Rafael Soriano (reliever, Seattle). I now had both players named Soriano. (Brian drafted both players named Lee.)
22. M. Morris. Whatever that is. I was told he was the best pitcher that the Redbirds have.
23. L. Ayala. Okay, now I was reaching. I still have no idea what an Ayala is, even after I found out that he was a relief pitcher for Montreal.
24. Milton Bradley. I'll pay him by spinning that wheel on the game of Life. This was kind of my sleeper pick; Bradley had a good season in 2003 and is Cleveland's best young player.

And when I was looking for some sort of pitcher I noticed that the board still contained

25. Theodore Roosevelt Lilly III. I hope he pitches like he did at the end of 2003 rather than at the beginning.



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