It's almost your draft day and you're making your lists. It's really easy to figure out you want to rank players like Alex Rodriguez and David Wright in your top 10. After all, they're going to provide you with help in all five offensive categories in a 5-by-5 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 Juan Pierre's 64 steals if they don't bring any home runs along with them? How much stock should you put in Ichiro Suzuki's .351 batting average when he's not likely to do much in the way of power? Carlos Pena's 41 dingers 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 Chone Figginses and Dan Ugglas of the world?
Let's use Pierre as our case study. There's no question that if you had Pierre in 2007, you were going to do well in steals. There were only 42 players with 20 or more stolen bases last season. Compare that with 87 players who hit 20 or more HRs, and it would be reasonable to assume that Juan's 64 swipes were more valuable to your team than, say, Prince Fielder's 50 homers, simply because there were fewer steals to go around.
But that's not nearly the end of the discussion. Yes, Pierre's 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 if you win the category by only a single steal or by 40 or by 400. Pierre's 64 steals are nice, but if you only needed 30 or so of them to put you over the top, then the value of each subsequent stolen base becomes less and less.
So how much is each stat worth? Take a look at the following table:
What we've done is very simple. We've taken the totals for last season, and created the league average, assuming an even distribution among each lineup spot. From this, we're able to create a relative value of each hit, each run scored, and so on. We can then create a ranking based on each player's actual relative 2007 output. Here are our top 25 hitters, based on this information:
So we see that Pierre's raw value was sixth overall in the majors last season. But it would be the biggest mistake in the world to stop right here and assume that this means we're saying Pierre is a first-rounder. These numbers are only half the story. Why? Because although Pierre will help you win that steals category, you also have to factor in that with zero homers and only 41 RBIs, he's an anchor dragging you way 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 Pierre being a benefit to an albatross? Clearly, it's not going to be at the sixth overall pick.
What you have to do is figure out where each player would rank if we were to remove, one at a time, each category from the equation. In other words, if steals weren't a category, where would we pick Pierre? A far cry from sixth, try more along the lines of No. 200. If we take out homers from the mix, however, then Pierre would clearly be a top-3 pick. By balancing all of these mini-rankings, we can adjust our initial rankings to reflect the law of diminishing returns in having too many eggs in one statistical basket. After doing all the math, we're left with the following "new" top 25:
In a 10-team league, Pierre is now looking more like a fourth- or fifth-rounder, which seems about right in my book. Certainly, because these rankings are based on last season's numbers, there's plenty of room for adjustment. Obviously, if you believe a player had a career year last season, you can lower them a bit for 2008. If a player had a down 2007, or missed time because of injury, you'll likely need to adjust them upwards a bit in the list. Ultimately, those are the kinds of decisions that everyone has to make for themselves. However, I believe that as a starting point, this is the truest way to identify how to value a player with a high batting average (Ichiro, No. 24) versus one with a large HR total (Carlos Pena, No. 31) versus a speed demon like Juan Pierre (No. 45).
Oh, and in case it will keep you up at night Mr. Figgins comes in just behind Pierre at No. 46, and Uggla clocks in 10 spots behind him (click the link for complete rankings).
Good luck everyone and happy drafting!
A.J. Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.