Fantasy Baseball 2013: #1 Overall Pick Debate

By Corey March

The fantasy baseball experts at ESPN have spoken. The debate over number one overall pick drew a lot of attention and although the decision was far from unanimous, Ryan Braun drew the honor of preseason number one.

It may be hard to believe since fantasy baseball is a relatively new phenomenon but the game is actually primitive. Fantasy baseball and baseball fans in general are oriented to classic stats like fielding percentage and home runs, but the game has undergone a revolution.

We have emerged from the “steroid era” and are now in the midst of the “era of advanced statistics”. Zone Rating and Wins Above Replacement are for more representative of a players value but are extremely difficult to understand and calculate from a fans perspective. That’s why fantasy baseball is still dictated by runs, hits, home runs, runs batted in, stolen bases and average. As a result, fantasy baseball does not determine the coveted “most valuable player”, but instead the most useful player.

For the purpose of fantasy baseball, we need to suspend everything we may know or see about Sabermetrics or advanced statistics and focus instead on what is familiar.

The hotly-debated number one overall player came down to Braun, Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera. These three players are absolutely worthy of discussion after posting three of the best seasons in MLB history (steroid era not included). Let’s first look at how these players ranked in comparison to one another in 2012.

Braun: 108 runs (3), 191 hits (2), 41 HRs (2), 112 RBIs (2), 30 SBs (2), 63 BBs (3), .319 AVG (3)

Trout: 129 runs (1), 182 hits (3), 30 HRs (3), 83 RBIs (3), 49 SBs (1), 67 BBs (1), .326 AVG (2)

Cabrera: 109 runs (2), 205 hits (1), 44 HRs (1), 139 RBIs (1), 4 SBs (3), 66 BBs (2), .330 AVG (1)

Based solely on last year’s statistics, Cabrera warrants the first overall pick. If we’re using last season as a projection, it’s important to consider that Trout had one less month to build his resume. Trout’s adjusted numbers over the course of a full season widens his gap in runs, steals and walks but still didn’t match the other two in the rest of the categories.

Next we’ll look forward at how each player’s team changed over the off-season and how it affects their fantasy prospects.

The Detroit Tigers added Torii Hunter but otherwise, there were no major additions or subtractions made to the Detroit or Milwaukee Brewers lineups this winter. However, the return of Victor Martinez adds another big bat in the middle of Detroit’s lineup. With Cabrera hitting third, Prince Fielder hitting clean up and Martinez hitting fifth, his addition will likely have more influence on the pitch selection that Fielder sees.

The batters hitting in front of Braun and Cabrera remain unchanged. Cabrera is preceded by Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter, a combined .372 on-base percentage. Braun is preceded by Norichika Aoki and Rickie Weeks, a combined .340 on-base percentage in 2012. From this perspective, Cabrera will have the opportunity to drive in more runs.

In the case of Trout, he is most heavily impacted by big bats that can drive him in. The addition of Josh Hamilton is a major development for Trout’s fantasy prospects. With Hamilton and Albert Pujols, two of the best hitters in the game hitting behind him, I fully expect Trout’s run total to skyrocket at the slight expense of stolen bases. If a lead-off runner scores 37.8% of the time, I expect the number to approach 50% for Trout with his ability to get on base and the ability of Hamilton, Pujols and Mike Trumbo to drive him in.

After considering last season’s numbers and the future prospects of each candidate, I would draft Cabrera as the top fantasy player. Cabrera earns it based on his triple-crown 2012 season and the frequent opportunity he’ll have to drive in runs. Combined with his consistent and healthy track record, Cabrera is the most secure pick in the draft.

If you’re looking for my pre-season MVP pick, however, Trout earns that one.

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