In Search of Fantasy Baseball Value – Where’s Cano?
March 14, 2014 | gregsauce
Finding value in a fantasy baseball draft is a lot like spotting Waldo in the chaotic crowds of the books that bear his name. You just have to know what to look for. Instead of searching for striped caps and sweaters, we look at advanced stats that might attribute a poor 2013 season to bad luck. Instead of scouring the page for Waldo’s signature cane or glasses, we attempt to forecast breakouts based on age and minor league track record.
My most recent chase for fantasy value started with a question: Is Robinson Cano worth a first-round pick? A predictable and relatable follow-up question immediately followed: Is Jason Kipnis worth a second-rounder? After numerous revisions to my rankings and a few mock drafts (tune into the stream sometime, by the way), my gut told me the real value at second base was in the middle and late rounds. I wrote about playing the waiting game at second base last season and I believe that strategy still holds water. The second basemen beyond the top-3 or -4 again seem homogenous in terms of the statistics we are expecting from them. More importantly, the drop-off from the “elite” guys to the likes of Aaron Hill, Brett Lawrie, Chase Utley, and Jedd Gyorko doesn’t seem as steep as the slide down the rankings at third base and shortstop (first base is loaded, same as it ever was).
I wanted some form of statistical proof for my hypothesis, so I chased value down a rabbit hole, deep into Spreadsheetland. What follows is a fairly crackpot attempt to find correlations between ADP, auction values, and statistical values based on numbers from last season. Was all this data mined from a single online source? Of course it wasn’t! On the lies/damned lies/statistics Venn diagram, the findings on my spreadsheet belong firmly between statistics and damned lies. With that warning out of the way, let’s jump to some dangerous conclusions.
Actually, let’s start with a dangerous set of omissions and assumptions:
1. This exercise paid literally zero attention to outfielders and pitchers. Sorry, but my army of typewriter monkeys would strike if I made them look up and key in the ADPs, auction values, and player rater values of the top-80 outfielders or top-120 pitchers.
2. In an effort to avoid negative numbers and/or dividing by zero, if a player rater value was zero or less, I set it to 0.01.
3. Similarly, if a player’s auction value was listed at $0 or less, I set it to $0.1.
4. In my analysis, players with eligibility at multiple positions were confined to the position(s) where they are most likely to be slotted in an active roster. This applies primarily to catchers with first base eligibility.
All data was gathered on 3/6/2014 or 3/7/2014. The ADP data I used from FantasyPros.com is an amalgam of ADP data from Yahoo, ESPN, CBS, NFBC, and MockDraftCentral. The auction values, also from FantasyPros.com, are a consensus of dollar values from 8 experts. The player rater values are from ESPN. Here’s the spreadsheet for all your downloading needs:
Now that you’ve got the spreadsheet open, what are you looking at?
• In the center of the page, I’ve ranked each position in terms of auction dollar value. Those positional tables also include the players’ 2014 ADP and 2013 ESPN player rater value. Lastly, these tables calculate each player’s player rater points per auction dollar. Yes, it’s a little weird to mix 2013 performance with projected 2014 value. Eric Sogard is weird too, but we all got behind him for #FaceOfMLB, didn’t we?
• The right side of the page slots each player into a draft round based on ADP for a 12-team league (outfielders and pitchers are absent, as noted earlier). This allows us to compare players of similar snake-draft value at different positions. The average player rater and PR/$ values for each round are also calculated here. Note that some rounds, like the 3rd and 8th, only feature a couple non-OF, non-P players. As always, beware small sample sizes.
• At the top of the left side of the page the average PR and PR/$ values by draft round are compiled. Below that, the average cost, PR, and PR/$ for each position’s top-12 players are calculated. Scroll a little further down and those same values are averaged for each position’s “reserve” players.
So what does it all mean?
Let’s start with position scarcity. Does it exist? If so, at which position(s)? The tables from the bottom left on the spreadsheet give us some insight:
[table “1” not found /]
[table “2” not found /]
If you still had any doubts about wait to selecting a catcher, kiss them goodbye. Catcher’s 0.367 PR/$ inside the top-12 is the lowest of all positions, while its 1.32 PR/$ for reserves is by far the best of all positions. Small sample size alert? Affirmative. Regardless, looking at the positional breakdown in the center of the spreadsheet, we can see there is value to be had at backstop up and down the rankings. You may not want to be the guy stuck with Evan Gattis or Jason Castro, but you shouldn’t want to be the first owner to select a catcher either. It is important to note that while value relative to ADP or auction cost at catcher gets better as you wait, the absolute PR performance of late-round squatters is significantly lower than that of most starters. There’s a decent argument to be made that you want a top-6 catcher, but only if the price is right on draft day.
Moving to first base, the assumption that it’s the deepest position is pretty well confirmed based on the above metrics. First basemen deliver the best raw player rater numbers beyond the top-12, without giving up much in terms of PR/$. Interestingly, 1B’s average PR/$ in the top-12 was only 4th-best. This is likely a result of the top players like Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Davis demanding top dollar, more than anything else. In general, the top-12 PR/$ values for all positions besides catcher are relatively close.
So what about the position that spurred this whole experiment? My hypothesis was that the talent at 2B was deep and that there was more value to be had beyond the top-3 players. If we compare the average PR value of the top-12 second basemen to that of the other infield positions, we see that 2B (6.44) ranks behind 1B (7.44) and 3B (7.63), but ahead of SS (5.93) and C (4.07). For the 13th-to-20th ranked players, 2B is second to 1B in average PR. Here’s what those average PR and PR/$ values look for each position’s top-20 if we exclude the three highest ranked players:
[table “3” not found /]
I’ve already established that first base is deep, but look who clocks in at #2 in average player rater value? Yes, second base is pretty deep too – deeper than third base and shortstop, at least. Next, let’s look at the table of all top-24 second basemen:
[table “4” not found /]
It’s pretty easy to see all the potential for value beyond the top names. Carpenter, Altuve, Prado, Utley, and Lowrie all stand to deliver excellent return on investment if they can reproduce something close their 2013 performances. Meanwhile, players like Gyorko, Lawrie, Profar, Rendon, and Guerrero are all capable of breakout seasons that could land them inside the top-12 at the position should some of the incumbents fall out. The key is deciding which players to target, but when a position is deep like this, it’s often correct to simply go for the guys who will cost you the least. If Profar and Gyorko both have the same chance of breaking out, Profar is the guy to target because he can be had five rounds later or $8 cheaper in the draft. Still, I don’t want to completely disregard the elite second basemen as draftable options. The raw production of Cano, Kipnis, and Pedroia make them valuable if the price is right and you should draft them accordingly.
It’s much more likely, though, that I’ll be pouncing on the top third basemen early in my drafts. There are plenty of elite options at the hot corner this season, but things get ugly fast after the top-12. Hell, thing start to go south after the top-8. Let’s look at this table one more time:
[table “2” not found /]
On average, there is absolutely no value to be had at third base after the best guys are gone. If you can’t land Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion, Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria, or David Wright in the first two or three rounds, you might want to reach for Matt Carpenter, Ryan Zimmerman, or Josh Donaldson. If you don’t you run the risk of starting a third baseman with some sort of statistical deficiency – batting average for Jedd Gyorko and Pedro Alvarez, power for Manny Machado and Martin Prado, and so on. Those problems are going to arise for every team at some point in the draft, but I’d rather try to get an elite 3B early and worry about plugging my team’s statistical holes at deeper positions. I’m not saying third base is completely devoid of upside. I mentioned Gyorko, Lawrie, Profar, and Rendon in my review of second base and all three are also eligible at third. I also like Nolan Arenado and Mike Moustakas to outperform their respective ADPs and despite his age, I think Aramis Ramirez can do the same.
Let’s wrap things up with shortstops. The position offers a surprising amount of PR/$ value later in drafts. I postulate that this is primarily because shortstops are cheaper on average than every other position except catcher. Only Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki command more than $25 in auctions, so it’s easier for their positional counterparts to provide decent return on investment. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to put Hanley and Tulo’s contributions into context because neither played a full season in 2013, thereby suppressing their player rater values. To me, both of them are slightly undervalued this season based upon their abilities to contribute elite numbers in multiple 5×5 categories at a position where most players are one-trick ponies. Ian Desmond, Jean Segura, and Jose Reyes also do a decent job of chipping in across the rotisserie board. Beyond them, however, shortstop is a sea of stolen base artists and 12-12 guys.
Profar again stands out as a potential bargain, but the guy I’m most intrigued by is Jed Lowrie. In his first full season, Lowrie posted 80 runs, 15 homers, 75 RBI, 1 steal, and a .290 average. He mashed 45 doubles, as well, which for a young player is often an indication of more home runs to come. Lowrie’s .344 on-base in 2013 bodes well for the future, as well. By FantasyPros.com’s ADP, he’s being taken 16th among shortstops. If you miss out on the elite performers and are looking for a bargain middle infielder with pop, Lowrie is your guy.
That does it for this foray into ridiculous self-fulfilling stats. I want to remind you one last time to take all of these numbers with a large grain of salt. Past success does not dictate future success and the values represented here in ADP and auction dollars are merely averages. No draft is going to play out exactly as these statistics dictate, but I hope at least some of my data was interesting to you. Based upon these results, I still feel good about my hypothesis that second base is deep. More importantly, they show to me that third base drops off hard in the middle rounds and that waiting on catcher is still a solid strategy. If you care to refute my claims or draw your own conclusions from the numbers amassed in this piece, please respond in the comments or hit me up @gregsauce on Twitter. Thanks for reading.