Thursday, June 13, 2013

The 2013 Franchise Player Draft

Now that I’m back from my short hiatus, I can start to catch up on the stories from the past few weeks. For example, the third annual ESPN Franchise Player Draft was held last week. There’s something about the concept of the Franchise Draft that I just find appealing. Maybe it’s appreciating all of the game’s young talent, maybe it’s because I like projecting the future. Either way, I want to look at it and offer my take.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, the Franchise Player Draft asks a simple question: you can draft any player to start a team with the guarantee you will get that player for the next ten years. Who do you take?

ESPN’s 30-pick order went as such (player ages in parentheses):

1. Mike Trout (21)
2. Bryce Harper (20)
3. Manny Machado (20)
4. Buster Posey (26)
5. Clayton Kershaw (25)
6. Evan Longoria (27)
7. Yoenis Cespedes (27)
8. Matt Harvey (24)
9. Miguel Cabrera (30)
10. Joey Votto (29)
11. Andrew McCutchen (26)
12. Giancarlo Stanton (23)
13. Yu Darvish (26)
14. Robinson Cano (30)
15. Jason Heyward (23)
16. Justin Verlander (30)
17. Dustin Pedroia (29)
18. Matt Kemp (28)
19. Troy Tulowitzki (28)
20. Justin Upton (25)
21. Ryan Braun (29)
22. David Wright (30)
23. Shelby Miller (22)
24. Jurickson Profar (20)
25. Stephen Strasburg (24)
26. Felix Hernandez (27)
27. Joe Mauer (30)
28. Andrelton Simmons (23)
29. Jose Bautista (32)
30. David Price (27)

That order is pretty solid, although if I could lodge one general complaint, it would be that the list skews too old. Picking a 30-year old means you’ll be getting that player when they’re 39, and that can be a dangerous thing to bargain on. To put it another way, Albert Pujols was coming off a runner-up finish in the MVP race at 30. Take him for ten years starting that season and you wouldn’t even be halfway through his contract yet. I’m not sure that I would take any 30-year old, or at least, not until pick 20 or so at earliest.

Of course, picking young can backfire if you go too unproven. For example, Eric Hosmer and Dustin Ackley have looked like good picks in the past, and I’m not sure you would want to tie a franchise to either of them for ten years at this point in their development.

Really, you need a combination of youth and track record, which is why the top three picks are more or less perfect-you aren’t going to top those three for combining youth with track record. That’s probably also the order they should go, just based on what they’ve done so far.

I’m not as sure about the 4 and 5 picks; catchers and pitchers do come with a larger injury risk. However, if you were going to pick a pitcher and a catcher, Kershaw and Posey should absolutely be the go-tos. Evan Longoria at 6th seems about right too; by the end, Longoria will be 36, which is probably right about where you want to be for a ten-year deal. This gives you all of a player’s prime late-20s and early 30s.

Yoenis Cespedes at 7 seems like an overdraft to me. He does have the age advantage, but his performance to date doesn’t seem to back it up. He’s like Adam Jones, in that both have good power and have the tools to handle center, but I would really like to see a little bit more patience at the plate before I start throwing them into the MVP conversation. In fact, what’s to separate Jones and Cespedes? Both are 27, Jones is working off of a weighted runs created+ of 126 and 127 in 2012 and 2013, while Cespedes is at 136 and 115 for those two. This isn’t to knock Cespedes, but I’d peg him as more of a end of the first round or second round guy.

I would say the next three are all overdrafts as well. I realize Matt Harvey is young, but pitchers do carry risk. He would probably be one of my top pitchers to go, I just think that it’s odd he went ahead of pitchers like Yu Darvish, Felix Hernandez, Stephen Strasburg, etc. It’s probably in part because Harvey’s breakout is the most recent, leaving him more in people’s mind. Like I said, I’d still probably take him in the first round. I would probably just wait until the late teens to do it.

Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto have similar problems in my mind. They’re good hitters now, but they’re a little old by my standards. On top of that, they’re a little defensively limited for my liking. If we’re still in the top ten picks, I would be trying to get at least one of position OR youth. Getting 30ish year old first basemen (or should-be first basemen) with the #9 pick when players with both qualities like Andrew McCutchen or Giancarlo Stanton are still on the board seems like a bit of a swing and a miss to me. Or heck, you can take Chris Davis. He’s matching them in most hitting stats this year, but he’s only 27. He doesn’t have their track record, but you’d only have him until his age-36 season, rather than his age-38 or -39 one.

Speaking of those two, I’m surprised they made it as long as they did before getting taken. McCutchen I suppose has disappointed because he isn’t as good as last season, although he’s still just 26 and on an all-star pace. Stanton probably falls into the “hurt by recent events” group, quite literally thanks to his injury. I still feel like that’s the only knock on him, though. Seeing as players taken ahead of him have about as much of an injury history as he has (Votto was hurt last year, Longoria has had injury issues, etc.), I don’t think it’s justified.

Also making it surprisingly long: Jason Heyward and Troy Tulowitzki. Tulo is in the conversation (with Cabrera) for best player right now, but he’s younger (by two years) and plays a harder position with greater ability. At the very least, I’m really confused by how he fell all the way to 19th.

Jason Heyward is also a massive steal at 15th overall. Remember all the talk about how good he was last year? You may have noticed he’s off to a slower start this year. He’s still fielding and running well, but his .207/.323/.357 line is unimpressive. Except... his OBP and slugging aren’t too bad, given his batting average. He’s also striking out at his lowest rate ever. The culprit? His batting average on balls in play is a abysmal .224. Now part of that can be traced to his contact, where he’s hitting...more line drives than ever before? Yep, 21.4% of his batted balls are liners, compared to 19.3% last year and 17.5% for his career. Jason Heyward apparently just broke a mirror or something. He should be fine; you should predict a “bounce-back” MVP second half in order to win friends and influence people. With that in mind, it’s a shock he didn’t go sooner either.

I don’t have a real issue with where Darvish and Upton went. Again, I’m concerned on the age for Cano, Pedroia, and Verlander. Like with Votto and Cabrera, I can see a lower pick, but given how second basemen seem to flame out a little early, people may be too optimistic about Pedroia and Cano. For Verlander, I feel like having an older pitcher would be a bigger risk. At the very least, I think it’s a little strange he went so far ahead of Felix Hernandez.

Kemp is kind of a weird pick. His hitting is down (.255/.305/.335), in part due to a career-high K rate and a career low walk rate. Unlike Heyward, his BABIP is more or less at his career mark, so it doesn’t appear to be bad luck. It may be injury, but other players seemed to be dinged harder for injury. I mean, I really just don’t know what to make of this one. If I were personally drafting, I probably would have waited to take him in the second round in hopes he rebounded, but given his past, it makes sense that he would be picked by then.

For players in the 20-30 range...again, Braun, Wright, and Mauer are all pushing it, age-wise. Braun’s speed may help him age a little better, but he’s probably about where I would have taken him (or Votto or Cabrera, had they not gone so early). Bautista is definitely too old to go this early-I doubt a 41-year old Joey Bats would be a lineup anchor, or at least, I’d say it’s less likely than for just about any other hitter taken thus far.

This is probably about where I would take pitching, in the early twenties (or late teens), and Hernandez, Miller, and Price would be some of my first to go after Kershaw and Darvish.

I like the Jurickson Profar pick. Prospects can be risky, but top prospects (especially batters) are generally a little safer, and at 20, Profar has a lot of time left to improve if need be. Andrelton Simmons is an interesting choice, too. At 23, his hitting is probably still in need of a little work, but he’s an undeniably great fielder, and as a shortstop, his talents are best used. I definitely like this pick.

It’s one thing to review this, but another to do it. So, if I were to do a franchise draft like this, what would it look like? (My additions listed with ages)

1. Mike Trout
2. Bryce Harper
3. Manny Machado
4. Giancarlo Stanton
5. Andrew McCutchen
6. Clayton Kershaw
7. Buster Posey
8. Jason Heyward
9. Evan Longoria
10. Troy Tulowitzki
11. Yu Darvish
12. Felix Hernandez
13. David Price
14. Stephen Strasburg
15. Jurickson Profar
16. Shelby Miller
17. Matt Harvey
18. Miguel Cabrera
19. Joey Votto
20. Justin Verlander
21. Ryan Braun
22. Oscar Taveras (21)
23. Justin Upton
24. Chris Davis (27)
25. Madison Bumgarner (23)
26. Gerrit Cole (22)
27. Jean Segura (23)
28. Anthony Rizzo (23)
29. Andrelton Simmons
30. Yoenis Cespedes

I think that list is pretty solid. I may have undervalued experience, if anything; players can be good into their 30s, and young players can fail to meet expectations. I guess I’d rather just miss by having someone like Anthony Rizzo not become an MVP instead of have Miguel Cabrera fall off a cliff. I can see why people would go the other way, though. Additionally, pitchers and injuries scare me a little more, so I generally went through "tiers" of players hitters first.

What were my additions? Oscar Taveras (the Cardinal prospect generally seen as the #2 minor leaguer hitter in baseball, behind Profar), Chris Davis, Madison Bumgarner, Gerrit Cole, Jean Segura, and Anthony Rizzo. All of them fell in the last third of my draft, though, meaning I mostly just shuffled players the same set of players they drafted.The six I booted were Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia (as I said, I’m a little more wary of old-ish second basemen), Matt Kemp (although I was debating taking him 30th), David Wright, Joe Mauer (again, the age scares me a little), and Jose Bautista (far and away the oldest player taken).

I would like to follow up on this, but we kind of have to wait a decade to do so, or at least a few years. So I guess at this point, I’ll just have to take my picks and agree to disagree.

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