You can follow along as we mock, but you’ll see us highlighting specific picks and rounds over the next couple of weeks too. Multiple times in the draft, I found that there were back-to-back outfield picks that were interesting. Matt Kemp and George Springer. Michael Brantley and Justin Upton. Yasiel Puig and Carlos Gomez.
In the third round, after picking up Miguel Cabrera and Anthony Rizzo with my first two picks, I found myself in just such a predicament. I wanted an outfielder, and Michael Brantley and Ryan Braun were clearly the best of the remaining. Given their respective ages, histories, name values, and draft positions, I found that juxtaposition interesting and worth investigating.
Would you rather have Brantley or Braun?
Full disclosure. I have not yet done my own rankings, since I’m deep into editing FanGraphs Plus, so I’m winging this mock. Once I investigate, I may decide I made the wrong decision. So it goes.
The first thing to do is check the projections, of course.
By Steamer projections at least, Braun gets the advantage. Per Jeff Zimmerman’s Standing Points Gained research, homers and steals are roughly equal in terms of owned stats in actual fantasy leagues. Since Brantley (637) and Braun (610) are roughly equal in their plate appearance projections, every homer is worth about .0033 in batting average. That means Braun’s ten-point lead in homers plus stolen bases overcomes his 12 point deficit in batting average.
A quick synopsis. If you choose a projection system, if you make projections yourself, if you manipulate projections to produce your own set — these are subjective changes. You’re guesstimating. We all are, and projections themselves only explain about half the variance in outcomes in any given year. To then turn around and yell about ‘not spending one dollar more’ than you’ve got on your spreadsheet makes no sense. Especially once you then introduce the randomness that is an auction / draft room / actual results. Suddenly you’re interacting with other human beings that are also making subjective decisions. So yeah, sometimes I’ll go a dollar or a few over my values for a guy I like. I could lie and tell you my values say to spend what I spend, but instead I’ll point to the impossibility of reducing the entire auction experience to one number. Yes, I wrote that on FanGraphs.
Back to the lecture at hand. A few aspects of the projections for these two players feel particular shaky.
Ryan Braun’s playing time, for one. 610 plate appearances would be a three-year high, and he’s 31 years old now. Between a nerve injury in his right hand and a few oblique strains, he’s missed some time. But once again, using Rob Arthur’s injury projection for position players, we find that these obstacles only predict eight missed games from Braun in 2015. Not even a full DL stint.
Ryan Braun’s power, too. After those years of near-.300 isolated slugging percentages, the .203 projected ISO seems modest. But really it’s right in line with the most likely non-steroid outcome that I outlined before last season. Over 600 PAs, it looked like he’d hit 24 homers based on evidence that steroids can lead to bat speed through muscle mass. He would have hit 20 last year with 600 PAs. Given that he played through an injury that has since been corrected by surgery, and Jeff Zimmerman showed that playing through injury can suppress power projections, there’s a tiny bit of upside remaining even if Braun is off the juice.
Michael Brantley’s power, of course. I took a much longer look at this already, and though it’s nice that his power came from an identifiable source (pulling the ball), the fact that his batted ball distance didn’t change much is a warning sign for the soon-to-be 28-year-old. His overall game is enticing, he’s a good real-life asset, but I’ll buy Steamer’s projected power.
I still feel pretty good about this decision, but I also think Michael Brantley went at right about the right place. If he retains more of his power than the projections believe, he’ll also likely hit for a better batting average, and if both of those things happen, there’s still a good chance that Brantley will out-earn Braun in 2015.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.