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Intro: Finding Undervalued Players Using Expected Draft Values


At RotoBaller, we are all about bringing you the best analysis in the fantasy sports universe. We’re proud to unveil a draft-season project that looks at the past 10 years of draft data to find undervalued and overvalued players based on Expected Draft Values. 

This series introduction will briefly break down our methodology and then present four players that this exercise has painted as undervalued targets. 

Using recent history, we should be able to identify players presenting positive expected value (+EV) and negative alike.Tomorrow will bring a general overvalued piece, before each individual position (sans catcher) is analyzed.

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Our Methodology

First, let's explain what Expected Draft Value is. It is the value you would historically expect, on average, from a given draft slot. In other words, Expected Draft Value lets you put a stat line next to every pick in the draft... if the player you draft performs better than expected, you get positive value. If the player you draft performs worse than expected, that's negative value. As we all know, a fantasy draft is all about maximizing the potential positive value from every pick. Expected Draft Values help us do that.

As you'll note, this analysis only pertains to hitters and will focus around batting average, home runs and stolen bases. Runs and RBI do enter the equation, but they are more products of circumstance and of HR and BA.

We took every player-season from the past 10 years and classified them into one of seven cohorts: 1) BA+HR+SB, 2) BA+HR, 3) HR+SB, 4) BA+SB, 5) BA, 6) HR, 7) SB. The minimum bar for entry into each cohort is:

1) BA+HR+SB: .270, 15 HR, 12 SB
2) BA+HR: .275, 25 HR
3) BA+SB: .270, 15 SB
4) HR+SB: 12 HR, 12 SB
5) BA: .300
6) HR: 27 HR
7) SB: 15 SB

The cohorts were defined to have roughly the same amount of players (150-170 each), and we chose these cohorts to reflect the types of players we frequently target in drafts, i.e. 5-category guys (cohort 1), pure power guys (cohort 6), speedsters (cohort 7), etc.

We then took each cohort and created rolling averages of the stat lines and player rankigs to smooth things out from the top to the bottom of each cohort.  The end result was a smooth dataset that allowed us to set Expected Draft Values for any draft pick. This allowed us to say "If you draft a power + average hitter 97th overall, your Expected Draft Value should be a line of 285-26-76-75-4. That's your 'break even point'. If you draft a player at 97 who performs better than that, you win, are at least put yourself one player closer to winning. 

 

How Expected Draft Values Help You Win Your League

It may be clear by this point already, but if you know the expected break-even point of every draft slot, you can identify which players are projected to return positive or negative value. Below, I look at four players that are being undervalued in drafts based on their NFBC ADP, ATC + THE BAT projection averages, and Expected Draft Values. (Yes, THE BAT is part of ATC’s aggregate equation, but it was the most accurate non-aggregate projection system in ‘18 per FantasyPros and deserves the spotlight.)  

Without further ado, here are some players that stand to return substantial profits to fantasy owners at their current cost in 2019 drafts. 

 

Nelson Cruz - DH, MIN

NFBC ADP: 97
Expected Return for a Power+Average Hitter Drafted 97th: 75-26-76-4-.285
2019 The Bat + ATC Nelson Cruz Projection: 81-34-95-2-.275

Yeah, that’s quite the power gap. Cruz continues to produce as he ages gracefully whilst protected from playing the field, yet fantasy owners are shying away in ‘19 (unless they’re wise and using our ranks that have Cruz at 66). This likely has more to do with his DH/UTIL designation, but your roster’s flexibility can handle this crazy discount. Only Aaron Judge had a higher average exit velocity than Cruz’s 93.9 MPH mark in 2018 (min. 200 batted-ball events) while his average homer distance and Barrels/PA rate were both in the top-15. Minnesota’s ballpark is nothing to be afraid of, few things are for a man’s of Cruz’s caliber. If Cruz hits his projection, he would be fair value around 50th overall, so lean into this discount and enjoy your profits. 

 

Rougned Odor - 2B, TEX

NFBC ADP: 130
Expected Return for a Power+Speed Hitter Drafted 130th: 80-17-62-21-.259
2019 The Bat + ATC Projection: 85-28-81-16-.254

Odor had hit 63 homers with 29 steals between 2016-17 before going 18 HR/12 SB over 535 PAs in ‘18. He started cold but wound up with a .253 average and career-best .326 OBP, though the optimism is shackled to a 50% success rate on the basepaths. Systems won’t over-penalize one rough year there, nor will it overweigh the sudden ability to take a walk, but Odor is just 25 and calls Arlington home. Baseball Prospectus has a handy Park Factors by Handedness stat, where Texas LHBs enjoyed the 10th-best HR Factor and fifth-best overall runs factor in ‘18. Odor's projection implies fair value around 75-80th overall, so there is substantial room to profit here.

 

Ryan Braun - 1B/OF, MIL

NFBC ADP: 199
Expected Return for a Power+Speed Hitter Drafted 199th: 73-19-62-15-.237
2019 The Bat + ATC Projection: 69-21-69-13-.267

Braun has plenty of health questions, but one has to consider the possibilities here.  You’ll either get a guy knocking on five-category contribution in a plus hitter’s park and stacked lineup all season long, or you get that for a while and then combine his output with a waiver-wire pickup for an above-average composite. You can see that most power-speed hitters near this point of the draft will cost you in batting average, yet Braun won’t. No one, including the projections, are touting Braun as a 600-PA lock set to regain his superstar form, but his modest output across the board is worth much more than a pick near 200. In fact, his projection becomes profitable to draft anywhere below 125 overall. 

 

Mike Moustakas - 3B, MIL

NFBC ADP: 142
Expected Return for a Power Hitter Drafted 142nd: 68-29-80-3-.255
2019 The Bat + ATC Projection: 74-32-90-3-.260

Like Braun, Moustakas gets to tee off at Miller Park while likely hitting around sixth in a crowded lineup. The PA limitations push his ceiling down, but he could easily outperform Travis Shaw or Jesus Aguilar and earn the cleanup spot. It makes little sense that his HR/FB rate dipped after coming from pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium, so look for regression to pay off in ‘19. His exit velocity rose two full ticks alongside a 1.3-degree gain in launch angle and six-percentage-point climb in hard-hit rate compared to 2017 per Statcast data, so consider me in.  Mous's projection becomes profitable anywhere after ~80th overall.

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