Fantasy Baseball 101: Drafting Rookies Correctly


Today’s edition of FB101 is dedicated to The Dominators.

Rookies are a special, special breed of big league ballplayer. This is especially true in an era where ballplayers are hyped endlessly from high school until they make their professional debuts.

Some of them (see: Longoria, Evan and Braun, Ryan) will make immediate impacts upon their debut and never look back.

For ever story of immediate success, however, there are others (see: Gordon, Alex and Wieters, Matt) that will flop and flounder and take the long road to success, if they ever get there at all.

That brings us to the focus of today’s FB101—the one and only—Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 26, signed a three year/$9.25 million deal last winter with the Minnesota Twins, as the club attempted to rebuild a middle infield that was ravaged by the trade of JJ Hardy, the free agent exodus of Orlando Hudson and the mere existence of Alexi Casilla and Matt Tolbert.

The Twins paid more than $5 million in posting fees to win the rights to Nishioka, a highly-regarded defender in Japan who was also coming off one of the best offensive seasons of his career.

If we’ve learned anything over the years, it is that stats from Nippon Professional Baseball should always be taken with a grain of salt when players find their way to the United States.

Only Ichiro Suzuki has ever lived up to the intense hype and hoopla that surrounded his debut after years of dominating the Japanese game. Plenty of others—such as Hideki Matsui, Kaz Matsui, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Irabu—have fallen short of matching their overseas accomplishments in Major League Baseball.

Suzuki was drafted during his debut season—by one enterprising and knowledgeable general manager—back in 2001. He was, however, drafted appropriately for an unknown commodity attempting to transition from the less aggressive NPB to MLB, as he went in round 17 at pick 130, nestled loving between the likes of such forgettable players as Richie Sexson and Dave Veras.

Despite all of these obvious warning signs, Steven Kunkel—general manager of the The Dominators franchise—took Nishioka in round six of the SLB Draft and to this very day defends the pick with such fervor that I couldn’t help but respond.

In a post on the SLB message board Steven said:

You want to know why Tsuyoshi Nishioka wasn’t THAT bad of a pick:

Because 3 relief pitchers were drafted in the 6th round.

Because Ian Stewart, who was drafted that same round, has already been dropped.

Because Dan Hudson, drafted that same round, has an 0-4 record with a 5.92 ERA

Also, because Colby Lewis, Phil Hughes, Vernon Wells, Madison Bumgarner, Aaron Hill, and Brandon Morrow, all drafted in the 7th round, have been flops so far this year.

Granted, having drafted Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Colby Lewis in round 6 & 7, I will take that as a HORRIBLE two round selection based on early small sample sizes. :)

Luvs :)

Given the complete and utter asininity of this post, I’ve decided to focus very heavily on why Steven is absolutely wrong in his assertion of Nishioka’s value.

So, without any further ado, I present…

Six Reasons Why Tsuyoshi Nishioka was an AWFUL Pick in Round Six:

Zero Big League Experience.

Were any other players with absolutely no big league experience drafted that early? Hell no. Some were drafted, however, so let’s take quick gander at how many other players with zero big league experience were drafted.

Two. Two is the answer. Michael Pineda and Brandon Belt, both taken in the final round of the draft, and neither one was, by any estimation, overpaid for on draft day. That’s what happens when you draft rookies appropriately.

Of the three no-experience rookies drafted: Nishioka is running on underwater treadmills, Belt is in Triple A and unemployed in the Salmon League and Pineda is tearing it up—albeit for a different club than the one that drafted him in the SLB. Experience isn’t everything, but it important and it certainly is a large indicator of where and when a player should be drafted.

Middling Expectations

Nishioka was a career .293/.364/.426 hitter in Japan, numbers that—although solid—don’t indicate he was a top-tier talent. To compare, Ichiro was a .353/.421/.522 career hitter and Kaz Matsui was a .302/.351/.471 hitter. Both Ichiro and Matsui had better resumes that included more power and speed.

In an effort to take a fair and unbalanced look at expectations for Nishioka coming into the year, I’ve gathered projections from three well-renowned resources:

ZiPS is the highest on playing time, while Rotochamp is almost as enthusiastic about his ability to steal bases. Personally, I don’t see anything here that’s overly impressive. Projections for his base-stealing are all over the place, but the majority lean closer to 20-25 than 30-35 as a potential ceiling for Nishi. The OBP figures to be right around league average and the runs scored—if he can hold down the two-hole—should be somewhere in the 75-90 range. Orlando Hudson raked in 80 runs last year in the same spot, so let’s assume that’s where Nishi lands.

In order to figure out what type of numbers Nishioka will be bring in the extra base hit departments, let’s take a look at this track record in Japan:

This indicates that his upside for XBH is probably going to fall somewhere in the 20-30 range for doubles and likely single-digit triples. I’d be shocked if he got more than single-digit home runs, especially playing the bulk of his games at power-suppressing Target Field. In the end, you’re essentially overpaying for an undeterminable number of stolen bases and a league average OBP.

Reach for the Right Guys

Teams reach for players. I get it. I’ve reached for many a player in my day, usually when I think he’s going to have a monster year and I’m worried that someone else at the table is looking at the same guy. The thing is if you’re going to reach for a player, you’ve got to be right.

This holds especially true when you’re reaching for someone with zero big league experience, middling expectations and absolutely nothing—beyond position eligibility—that makes him worth noting.

I feel it’s safe to say that no one else at the table was looking at Nishioka in round six. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that no one else was likely looking at him anywhere before the final round or two, if at all. That makes the sixth round reach absolutely mind-boggling. It’d be like if G-Doggy had pounced on Brandon Belt in round six. There’s no reason to go that early on someone with nothing but hope and promise on their side. Especially when there are better players available at that position.

Value: Relative and Real

Steven mentioned a number of other players who were taken in the sixth round who were also struggling. Players such as Dan Hudson and Ian Stewart—both of whom actually had roughly sixth round value headed into the draft. Stewart was derailed by injuries all spring and his demotion isn’t much of a surprise, much of his value is driven off of a few big years bashing balls out of Coors and a lot of hype as a prospect. Hudson is a young fireballer who pitches in a hitter’s haven. He was never a top-prospect and was drafted as the third starter on a team that was woefully low on starting pitching in the draft. His upside, however, made a sixth round pick totally manageable as this could be the year he finally gets 30+ starts and lives up to his potential.

Also mentioned in Steven’s rambling was the fact that three relievers were taken in that round. What he failed to mention in that all three relievers were taken at the ends of the round near the wrap, where reaching is a must, especially for a commodity like top-tier (or second—maybe third—tier in Papelbon’s case) closers.

Furthermore Steven go on to attack players taken in round seven such as Colby Lewis, Phil Hughes, Vernon Wells, Madison Bumgarner, Aaron Hill and Brandon Morrow for their early season struggles. On this list Morrow started the year on the DL and has made one starter wherein he struck out ten guys in 5.1 innings. Lewis, Bumgarner and Hughes have only made a handful of starts this season. It’s too early to judge any of them regarding their long-term value, but Bumgarner has the pedigree of a future workhorse and Hughes has front-of-the-rotation stuff when he’s healthy and hitting his spots. The same can be said about Wells and Hill. These are players with proven track-records and/or at least some success in the big leagues. They’re likely to play up to (or at least close to) their round seven value. Nishioka—if he meets ALL of the most grandiose expectations will be lucky to match round six value.

You Say Tomato, I Say Tomato. You Say Nishioka, I Say Infante.

Steven made a follow-up comment to take some shots at the shortstops who were drafted after he pissed away a used a draft pick on Nishioka:

“So I can set the record straight, Johnny did steal my 4th round pick of Starlin Castro one pick before I wanted him–bastard.

To double-up the record…

These were the shortstops taken AFTER Tsuyoshi Nishioka…

*clears throat* In order:

1) Ian Desmond (8)–7 Runs, 8 RBI, 7 SB, .253 OBP
2) Juan Uribe (13)–6 Runs, 12 RBI, .291 OBP
3) Mike Aviles (13)–4 Runs, 10 RBI, .241 OBP
4) Ryan Theriot (14)–10 Runs, 8 RBI, .367 OBP
5) Reid Brignac (14)–5 Runs, 4 RBI, .311 OBP
6) Omar Infante (14)–DROPPED!
7) Clint Barmes (15)–DL!
8) Erick Aybar (15)–DROPPED!

THESE were my choices following Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Are my sins really THAT BAD?!?!”

What confuses me most here is his mention of Starlin Castro. The dude has been touted as the next Derek Jeter and it is shocking—given the overwhelming dearth of worthwhile shortstops—that he lasted as long as he did in this draft. The thing is, however, how did Steven not have a legit backup plan? Travis—among others—as evidenced by the shortstop choices made—realized that once the top names were off the board, there was no point in reaching just to have a guy with “SS” beside his name on the roster shot. Steven claimed—to no end—when defending himself that Nishioka was the guy he wanted all along. Liar, liar pants on fire.

Let’s get into the comparisons here. First and foremost, with the exception of Ian Desmond—and that dude does have some breakout potential, he’s got wheels and burgeoning power, but he’s probably a year or two off—in round eight, no one else took a piss-poor short stop until the final four rounds. If there had been some sort of short-sighted run on low-value shortstops in round six or seven or eight or even eleven or before, this argument might hold water, but there wasn’t.

Do most of the shortstops listed here kinda suck? Yes, but they were almost all drafted seven rounds or more AFTER Nishioka was already on Steven’s roster. Also—and correct me if I’m wrong—all but Desmond and Aybar were drafted as bench-types due to their multi-position eligibility and either of those two could outperform their draft slot. Most of the cats listed offer the same things, league average(ish) OBPs, good—but not great—speed and the chance to score some runs and maybe ring out a few triples along the way. They are all slightly-lesser versions of Nishioka if he maxes out his potential…except that they all went roughly where Nishioka should have been drafted.

If I were a betting man, I’d put money on at least half, if not all, of these bros outproducing Nishioka in 2011.

The Best of What Remains

In 2010, Jorge Posada went undrafted. Given his track record and the lofty potential for anyone in the Yankees lineup, it was absolutely mind-blowing for that to happen. In 2011, three shortstops with either more potential or a better track record than Nishioka went undrafted: Yunel Escobar, JJ Hardy and Alcides Escobar all went untouched. Hell, even Jason Bartlett was still out there.

Not all of these players offer the same skill-set as Nishioka, but at season’s end, they could all have the same or better value and their sticker price isn’t a sixth round draft pick, it’s an injury-drop or a DL-pickup. Hardy alone could produce top five shortstop numbers if he’s finally healthy again and takes advantage of the move to Baltimore. Either Escobar offers significant upside and at least some level of a proven track record. There’s just so many better options.

The long and short of it is this, I don’t think that Nishioka is going to be a complete train wreck. I think his upside is somewhere around that of Kaz Matsui. He’ll—hopefully—put up a line somewhere in the projected .285/.345/.390 range with 30 stolen bases and 80 runs scored. All of that is, however, very optimistic…because it’s entirely possible that he is a train wreck who can’t adjust to the big leagues.

Regardless of whether he is or is not a train wreck, I still think that Steven royally overpaid for a guy who—once again—wasn’t on anyone’s radar. Most of the table didn’t even learn he was SS-eligible until Steven asked me to look it up. He was that far down on almost everyone’s sheet.

Steven has made many an ill-advised reach in the past—Manny Ramirez 2009: Round One, Pick One/Troy Tulowitzki 2008: Round One, Pick One—that have not paid off. This will likely prove to be another of those picks as the same inherent value—and likely the same player—would have been around more than half-a-dozen rounds later.

It’s not a case of hating on the player, it’s a case of hating where/when the player was drafted in relation to the value that was not only left on the table, but the value that was in-turn handed to everyone else at the table as a result.

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3 thoughts on “Fantasy Baseball 101: Drafting Rookies Correctly

  1. Mike Kunkel April 24, 2011 / 10:48 pm

    get the goddamn writeup done Mr. I get distracted easily and don’t really want to finish the draft analysis.

    Like

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