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2011 Draft Prep: Don't be scared to trust scarcity

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It has become conventional wisdom to put Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki near the very top of draft lists this year, due to their absolute dominance of the weak shortstop position. For those who still have some doubts as to how a shortstop could be one of the two or three most valuable players in all of Fantasy, we now have some visual evidence to back up that claim.

Below is a visualization that displays every batter who projects to earn at least 150 Fantasy points this season. Batters are grouped by position, and in the shortstop view, you can see Ramirez and Tulowitzki hovering far above the remainder of the shortstop pool. The vertical distance measures projected Fantasy points for the 2011 season. Also, from left to right, players are arrayed according to their projected OPS. By this measure as well, Ramirez and Tulowitzki stand out from among the crowd. While their production may not be the highest in Fantasy overall, it will probably be the hardest to replace, should you miss out on them on Draft Day.

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Fantasy owners can use this interactive tool to size up position scarcity as well as locate the dropoff points within each position in preparation for your upcoming drafts and auctions. Each view provides an overall picture of how value is distributed by position, but you can also dig in deeper to see the trends that have landed each player in his particular place in the projections pecking order. Hover over each mark to see a player's projections for each of the standard 5x5 batting categories as well as his projected Fantasy point total and OPS. Click on a mark, and you will see the player's three-year history (where applicable) and 2011 projections for Fantasy points and OPS appear just below the scatterplot. The inclusion of OPS trends helps to show how productive hitters have been on a per at-bat basis in recent years, even if their playing time has fluctuated.

In clicking through each of the positions, you can see that each one comes with its own unique patterns of tiers and drafting strategies. At catcher, there is a tier of six players who all promise to provide well-above-average production, but these half dozen backstops are hardly interchangeable, particularly in Head-to-Head scoring systems. While Joe Mauer and Buster Posey are both elite options, owners who pass on Mauer to take Posey are likely to miss out on a significant amount of Head-to-Head value. However, once you miss out on the top six, your options become harder to distinguish apart, making it worthwhile to sit out on catchers for a few rounds while filling other needs.

At the corner infield positions, a small number of tightly-clustered players form a clear elite. Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera are unquestionably the top options at first base, while Mark Teixeira, Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard form a distinct sub-elite. The gap between the top producers and the near-average talents is even more glaring at third base, as Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright, Alex Rodriguez and Jose Bautista are the only players at the position who are clearly far above average. (Bautista, incidentally, does not appear in the third baseman view of the graph, as his primary position is outfield.) This division between haves and have-nots makes it critical to draft elite-level players for your corners.

On the other hand, there is much less urgency to grab either a second baseman or outfielder early, as there are few dramatic dropoffs in projected production at either position. This is especially true for outfielders, while owners in deeper leagues should note that there is a meaningful difference between getting a second baseman ranking near the bottom of the top 13, and getting one who just falls short of this group. In other words, if you are getting to the point in your draft where Gordon Beckham, Kelly Johnson and Neil Walker are the best second base options available, it's time to move quickly on one of them.

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The graphs put the differences in scarcity among the positions in stark visual terms, and it also highlights where competition over playing time could put a player's productivity at risk. When you click on any of the team logos displayed to the right of the graph (after activating the highlight option), it highlights every player from that team for the position that has been selected. For the most part, there is just one player per team displayed, but exceptions, such as the Indians' crowded middle infield situation and the Rockies' collection of first basemen, can be found. Potential time share situations can be found even among outfielders, where three per team is the norm. For example, while Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs should not have to fend off threats to their playing time, the clustering of three Cincinnati outfielders near the bottom of the grid suggests that Jonny Gomes, Fred Lewis and Jeremy Hermida (not to mention Chris Heisey, who missed the cutoff) could all have a shot at snatching playing time away from each other.

One final note on interpreting the graphs ... while projected Fantasy points and OPS correlate strongly in general, even a casual scan reveals some outliers. The high Fantasy point totals, relative to OPS, for players like Juan Pierre, Carlos Gomez and Elvis Andrus shows exactly how dependent these speedsters are on stolen base production to maintain their value in Head-to-Head. It also shows how other outliers like Kurt Suzuki and Miguel Tejada will need to meet their RBI and runs scored projections to produce as expected, though their ability to do so is partially dependent on their teammates.

Have a question or a comment? Send them to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com . Be sure to put Hitting Tiers in the subject field.

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Player News
Carlos Sanchez get the call
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(1:17 pm ET) The White Sox have recalled infielder Carlos Sanchez from Triple-A Charlotte Friday, as expected, to take Gordon Beckham's spot on the active roster. 

Charlie Leesman released by White Sox
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(1:03 pm ET) The White Sox have released pitcher Charlie Leesman, shortly after designating him for assignment. Leesman posted a 4.10 ERA in 66 2/3 innings at Triple-A Charlotte this season.  

Manny Machado will need more than minimum time
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:59 pm ET) Orioles third baseman Manny Machado has yet to begin baseball activities as he recovers from a sprained right knee, and manager Buck Showalter told reporters he will need more than the minimum time to return from the disabled list.

Machado is eligible to return Aug. 27, but he appears to be behind schedule at this point. The hope was that he would begin baseball activities by Sunday, but it appears unlikely. According to MASNSports.com, Showalter is expected to give an update with more details on Machado's timetable Saturday. 


Paco Rodriguez expected back after roster expansion
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:00 pm ET) Dodgers reliever Paco Rodriguez, on the disabled list with a strained teres major muscle, has been limited to less than max effort throwing so far as he continues to recover. According to the Orange County Register, he is not expected to return to the majors before Sept. 1 roster expansion. 

Chris Perez does not expect to be 100 percent
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:51 am ET) Though he expects to be in the majors when rosters expand Sept. 1, Dodgers reliever Chris Perez admitted to the Orange County Register Friday his ankle is still not 100-percent healthy.

"It's serviceable," Perez said. "I feel good. I'm still trying to build up the strength in it."

Perez has a 5.03 ERA in the majors this season, and is trying to work his way back from bone spurs in his ankle. He does not expect to undergo surgery to remove them, so he will have to manage the pain. He is currently on a rehab assignment at Class A Rancho Cucamonga, where he will make one more appearance next Friday. 


Logan Watkins starting Friday
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(10:38 am ET) Cubs infielder Logan Watkins is in the starting lineup Friday against the Orioles, one day after being called up from Triple-A. This will be his first start of the season and just sixth in his career. 

Adam Eaton could return shortly after beginning assignment
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(10:13 am ET) White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton is set to begin a minor-league rehab assignment at Triple-A Charlotte this weekend, and could be back in the majors soon after, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Eaton, who has been out two weeks with a strained right oblique, could be back from the disabled list as early as Tuesday, when the team opens a series against the Indians. 


Brian Schlitter begins rookie-level rehab
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9:36 am ET) Cubs pitcher Brian Schlitter began his rehab assignment with a scoreless inning for the Arizona League Cubs Thursday, as he continues to work his way back from a shoulder injury. Schlitter has been out since Aug. 10 due to inflammation in his shoulder, and it is not clear when he is expected back. 

Blake Parker shuttled back to Triple-A
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9:32 am ET) Cubs pitcher Blake Parker was sent right back down to Triple-A Iowa following the conclusion of the team's doubleheader, for which he served as the 26th man.

Parker appeared in Thursday's game, allowing two hits and striking out two batters over one scoreless inning of relief. It lowered his season ERA to 6.08 in 13 1/3 innings. 


Clayton Kershaw goes eight strong for win No. 15
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:10 am ET) Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw had a no-hitter going against the Padres until the sixth inning. The ace surrendered his first hit to opposing starter Tyson Ross.

Kershaw went eight innings strong for the win at home on Thursday, improving to 15-3 on the year. The southpaw permitted one run on three hits and two walks while striking out 10 in a 2-1 victory. Of his 103 pitches, 69 were strikes. He improved to 15-3 on the year, matching Johnny Cueto, Wily Peralta and Adam Wainwright for the major-league lead in victories. 

Over his last three starts covering 25 innings, Kershaw has allowed five earned runs. He has gone eight-plus innings in seven of his last nine starts. He owns a 1.82 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP over 21 starts (153 1/3 innings). He will make his next start Wednesday at Arizona.

 
 
 
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