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It's that time of year again, folks. You're making your lists and checking them far more than twice. You're crunching the numbers and trying to find those hidden gems. Now certainly, the tops of most people's lists are going to be approximately the same. It's not hard to surmise that your top 10 should include players like Hanley Ramirez and Grady Sizemore. After all, they're going to provide help in all five offensive categories in a 5x5 league. But what about guys who excel at one particular skill, players who can go a long way toward winning you a category all by themselves? At what point do they enter the mix? How valuable are Willy Taveras' 68 steals if they bring only a single home run along with them? How much stock should you put in Ichiro Suzuki's .310 batting average when he's not likely to do much in the way of power or RBIs? Carlos Delgado's 38 dingers in 2008 were nice, but he's not exactly what you'd call fleet of foot. Forget about him helping your stolen base totals. What value should you place on the Cesar Izturises and Ryan Theriots of the world?
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But that's not nearly the end of the discussion. Yes, Taveras' thievery likely put you at or near the top of the stolen base category, but at some point, the law of diminishing returns takes over. If you win the steals category in a 10-team league, you get 10 points. That's true whether you win the category by a single steal or by 40 or by 400. Taveras' 68 steals were nice, but if you needed only 30 or so to put you over the top, the value of each subsequent stolen base decreased.
So how much is each stat actually worth in terms of fantasy? Take a look at the following table:
What we've done is very simple. We've taken the league-wide totals from last season to create a statistical universe for our players to inhabit. We determined the expected statistical output of the average player, assuming even distribution among the lineup spots. From this, we were able to extrapolate the relative value of each hit, each run scored and so on. In other words, since there were more home runs than stolen bases in 2008, by a ratio of about 7-to-4, the value of each stolen base was about seven-fourths that of a home run, matching the relative frequency of the event. We then created a ranking based on each player's actual relative 2008 output. Here are our top 25 hitters, based on this information:
So we see that Taveras' raw value was third overall in the majors last season. But it would be a big mistake to stop here and assume that means we're saying he's a fantasy first-rounder. These numbers are only half the story. Why? Because although Taveras will help you win that steals category, you have to factor in that with one homer and only 26 RBIs, he'll be an anchor dragging you down to the ocean floor in two other categories. How do we figure out where that balance is? At what point does the scale tip from Taveras being a benefit to an albatross? Clearly, it's not going to be at the third overall pick.
What you have to do is figure out where each player would rank if you removed, one at a time, each category from the equation. In other words, if steals weren't a category, where would we pick Tavares? A far cry from third -- try more along the lines of No. 276. If we take homers out of the mix, however, Taveras clearly would be a top-three pick. By balancing all these mini-rankings, we can adjust our initial rankings to reflect the law of diminishing returns, to avoid having too many eggs in one statistical basket. After doing all the math, we're left with the following top 25:
In a 10-team league, and factoring in the drafting of pitchers, Taveras now looks more like a sixth-rounder, which seems a lot more on target. Certainly, because these rankings are based on last season's numbers, there's plenty of room for adjustment. This is where you should consider drafting Taveras if you think his 2009 season will be identical to his 2008 season. If you think his move to Cincinnati will result in some increased power numbers, you can move him up the list. Similarly, if you think he won't be running nearly as much with Dusty Baker playing traffic cop, you can drop him considerably.
This personal adjustment will help this list be of greater usefulness to you on draft day. Obviously, if you believe McLouth had a career year last season, you should lower him a bit for 2009. If a player had a down 2008 or missed time because of injury, like Victor Martinez, you likely will need to move him up the list a bit. Ultimately, those are the kinds of decisions everyone has to make for themselves. However, I believe that as a starting point, this is the truest way to establish the value of a player with a high batting average (Ichiro, No. 30) versus one with a large home run total (Delgado, No. 40) versus a speed demon like our old friend Pierre (No. 80).
In case you're curious, you can check out the entire Pierre Rankings list by clicking here.
Good luck, everyone, and happy drafting!
AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.