Passing Judgment: Fantasy Baseball – The Goldschmidt Standard

Paul Goldschmidt 2As you prepare for the 2014 fantasy baseball season, it is generally undisputed that the first two picks of any draft (except NL-only leagues) will be Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout in either order.  But after that, there are several players who warrant consideration to be taken third overall.  Some candidates include reigning National League MVP Andrew McCutchen, Chris Davis, and Robinson Cano.  While these three are certainly viable options and worthy of being taken third, I would argue that there is a better option out there.  His name is Paul Goldschmidt.

Before I delve into why I think Goldschmidt should be taken third overall, let me explain why I would pass on McCutchen, Davis and Cano.  McCutchen was absolutely deserving of the MVP award in 2013 as he led the Pirates to their first winning season in 20 years along with a berth in the post-season.  He is the centerpiece of a much improved Pittsburgh team and provides great production in all five standard Roto categories.  But statistically, his MVP season was far more valuable in real baseball than in fantasy baseball (only 21 home runs and 84 RBI).  At 27-years old, he is entering his prime and will likely get stronger, so a return to his 2012 level of power would not be surprising at all.  However, the fact remains that he has yet to reach 100 RBI in a season and has scored more than 100 runs only once.  I know, I set very high standards.

In the case of Chris Davis, there is nowhere to go but backwards in 2014.  He is the epitome of a late bloomer as he finally put it all together after he was traded to Baltimore.  In 2013, Davis led the league in home runs (53) and RBI (138).  Even more impressively (and improbably), Davis had a batting average of .286.  Not too bad for a free-swinger who struck out 199 times.  But if you really look at his batting average, it plummeted over the course of the season as there was no way he could maintain numbers in the .330’s.  He will still be a great source for power and RBI, but his peripheral numbers are due for a major regression and he clearly brings nothing to the table in terms of speed.

Finally, I would pass on Cano as well despite the positional scarcity of second base.  Seattle’s new $240M man is unquestionably still the best second baseman in fantasy baseball and worthy of a first round pick.  But just not the third pick.  First, he will be playing half of his games at Safeco Field.  I don’t care about moving fences in or the length of his home runs that he hit in 2013.  The fact remains that it will be much harder to hit home runs without the fortune of a 300-foot right field porch at Yankee Stadium for 81 games.  Second, the man just got paid.  No, he didn’t just get paid…he got almost a quarter of a billion dollars.  Cano has always had a reputation for not running hard on every play or appearing to be in slow motion at times.  Now that he has one of the richest contracts in baseball history and is playing on a sub-standard team, it is plausible that he could take his foot off the pedal.  Finally, Cano finds himself on an island in the Mariners’ lineup as opposed to being one of many great hitters.  Sure Seattle has added Corey Hart and Logan Morrison, but that pales in comparison to being surrounded by the Yankees’ prolific big bats over the years.  It would be foolish for pitchers to give him anything to hit, so Cano could be drawing a lot of walks and force himself to swing at bad pitches just so he can try and put the bat to the ball.

After dissecting the three choices I would not take, we can now talk about which player I would take third overall.  Let’s take a look at Goldschmidt’s 2013 statistics which earned him a Silver Slugger award: a triple slash line of .302/.401/.551 to go along with 36 home runs, 125 RBI, 103 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases.  He led the National League in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage and OPS.   That is awfully impressive for a 26-year old first baseman in just his second full season in the big leagues.  Goldschmidt will not turn 27 until September, so he is technically not even in his prime yet.  What he provides across the board is elite and likely going to improve as he matures.  It is already a great sign that he drew 99 walks last year, an increase of 39 from the year before.  To go along with that, he decreased his strikeout rate from 22.1% to 20.4%.  These trends are going in the right direction and bode well for an even more impressive 2014.  Sure first base is a deep fantasy position, but locking up the kind of production you are getting in all five Roto categories is impossible to pass on.  It is unknown whether he can sustain double digit stolen bases over the long haul, but for now it is icing on the cake to get that many steals from your first baseman.

So if you have the third pick of your fantasy baseball draft, there are many options available for you.  No one would think you are crazy for taking McCutchen, Davis or Cano.  In fact, it is probably expected that one of those players is taken at that spot.  But I am recommending that you think a little outside the box and recognize that you could be sitting on a gold mine (pun intended) if you act accordingly.

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