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How to Find Sleepers Deep in the Numbers: Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy


How to Find Sleepers: Fantasy Draft Strategy

Whether you play in a standard 12-team league or a super-deep-40-man-roster dynasty league, one thing remains constant. This one ever-so-important facet of fantasy sports is contrast. There are distinct personalities within your league, personal draft preparation techniques and disparities between every fantasy owner-- each owner has his or her own distinct drafting and management strategy.

The question is: what makes some fantasy owners more successful than others year-in and year-out? If your league has a trophy or plaque which gets engraved every season, wouldn’t it be nice to see your name on that glorious celebratory prize numerous times? We (the royal we) should be in chorus with a resounding, “HELL YEAH IT WOULD!” Sure, winning money is great, but the greatest part of coming together for a draft as a group every season is the camaraderie, bragging rights and overall tomfoolery that is fantasy draft day. It’s like Christmas, for adults, without all the fakeness and useless money spent.

And of course the answer to the aforementioned question of how to create a Yankee-esque dynasty of fantasy dominance is value. Finding value where other owners’ contrasting views on draft prep and management cause oversights or miscalculation can give you a solid edge. Part of it is luck-- with any fantasy sport, luck can be the corner on which you stub your proverbial toe, crumbling even the strongest team. You cannot draft for luck, just as you cannot draft for wins in H2H formats. Your instincts and your information sources are the key.  So how do we find value? First, you have to establish an average on which to base value, and from there, you establish who are the under- and over-valued players. One of my favorite metrics to look at when assessing value is wRC+ or “weighted runs created plus.” 

 

Using wRC+ to find Fantasy Baseball Sleepers

By SD Dirk on Flickr (Originally posted to Flickr as "Brandon Belt") [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons"Similar to OPS+, Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) measures how a player’s wRC compares with league average.  League average is 100, and every point above 100 is a percentage point above league average. For example, a 125 wRC+ means a player created 25% more runs than league average. Similarly, every point below 100 is a percentage point below league average, so a 80 wRC+ means a player created 20% fewer runs than league average. wRC+ is also park- and league-adjusted, allowing one to to compare players who played in different years, parks and leagues.  Want to know how Ted Williams compares with Albert Pujols in terms of offensive abilities?  This is your statistic." Source: fangraphs.com

Take into consideration that walk rate plays a part in wRC+, which mean that finding under-valued players by this method will be the most beneficial in OBP leagues. However, it could be stated that players with higher walk rates and OBP typically play in the top half of the lineup, get more PA and are mostly everyday players who produce the most. Thus, one could conclude that wRC+ has merit as a predictive stat for all league formats.

We know that the MLB average wRC+ for hitters is 100. If looking for value in a list of the 2013 Overall Top 250 hitters, we want to look for a player who was drafted with a late-round ADP or low auction value whose offensive value is equal to or greater than players with much earlier ADP or higher auction amounts.

Example: This list of outfielders from 2013 ADP rankings shows great value from the 9th and 10th Rounds. Beltran, Pence and Gomez were absolute steals at this point of the draft.

2013 OF RANK PLAYER 2013 ADP 2013 wRC+
30 Josh Willingham: 109 102
31 Martin Prado 110 103
32 Shane Victorino 113 119
33 Carlos Beltran
115 132
34 Hunter Pence
121 133
35 Carlos Gomez
126 130
36 Carl Crawford 138 108
37 Angel Pagan 140 114
38 Alejandro De Aza 145 97
39 Ben Revere 149 92
40 Nick Swisher 150 116

 

The history of wRC+ shows that 100* is about league average overall for hitters. Hunter Pence’s 2013 ADP** had him drafted  at 125th overall, which in 12-team leagues put him in the late 10th round, right around the likes of Rickie Weeks, Salvador Perez and Miguel Montero, and behind Ike Davis, Chase Headley, Josh Willingham and Melky Cabrera, to name a few on most draft boards. These are all players that Pence handily outperformed. Pence had a wRC+ of 133* in 2013, and he carries a career average wRC+ of 117* over seven MLB seasons. What this illustrates is that he’s been above the league-average wRC for his whole career, yet the goofy outfielder is annually drafted lower than his net worth.

Conclusion: Weighing a player’s wRC+ versus his positional peers and measuring their ADP differential can be a vital tool in establishing value. T0 prove this, let's pinpoint some under-valued players coming into 2014 by looking at current 2014 ADPs** versus career-average wRC+.

Players who I think may be in the same under-valued boat as Hunter Pence for 2014:

Player 2013 NFBC ADP 2014 NFBC ADP 2013 wRC+ Positional 2013 wRC+ Rank Career wRC+ Proj wRC+(Steamer)
Jayson Werth 178.55 95.38 160 2 112.2 (10 yrs) 127
Chris Carter 321.84 223.32 113 37 125 (2) 119
Yan Gomes 650.76 215.16 131 5 131 (1) 108
Colby Rasmus 274.58 250.38 130 19 104.4 (5) 110
Brandon Belt 221.71 141 139 6 125.5 (2) 135

 

  • Jayson Werth when healthy (as he is now), can definitely produce a higher value than players with similar ADP. His projected 127 wRC+ would give him essentially third-round ADP production at a seventh-round price tag, and a cool hashtag #ValueOF.
  • Chris Carter is an all-or-nothing slugger, most useful in H2H formats by owners who punt batting average. Does he hold Roto value? Sure, but it is diminished by his wiffle-ball approach. Even so, if you can get an 18th round, 119 wRC+ player, you're getting ninth-round value.
  • Yan Gomes may not be an open-and-shut case due to limited service time. However, with the fifth-ranked wRC+ for all catchers from 2013, Gomes could come cheaper than he should due to skepticism. With Carlos Santana likely headed to third base, the catching duties are Gomes's in 2013, which means more PA. Currently a late-17th-round average, you could surely make hay if he copies his 130 wRC+ from 2013. I think Steamer's 108 projection is a bit conservative. I don't suggest paying higher than a 15th-round price for Gomes, however, due to the likelihood of his BABIP regression from a lofty .342 in 2013.
  • Colby Rasmus is a curious case. Over his five-year career, he has had two seasons with a 130 wRC+, one with St. Louis in 2010 and another with Toronto in 2013. Between those two 130 years are two sub-100 campaigns. This is where your gut and instincts come in to play. Your inner scout either gives Rasmus a pass on the eyeball test or it doesn't. I hope I can sway you to take a shot on him by stating that his 250.38 ADP screams value.
  • Brandon Belt may be the least appreciated asset the Giants have. This could either be due to their horrible 2013 season, because they're a small-market team, or even because of Belt's platoon role over the past few seasons. Whatever the reason, Belt had a quiet offensive breakout in 2013, producing his wRC+ mark of 139.  At 35% better than the league average, there is PLENTY of room for a two-round jump in value here. I would feel 100% confident taking him in the seventh.

I will be working on similar projects involving pitchers and may even collaborate with fellow Rotoballer Josh Bixler to assess closers and handcuffs with similar metrics.

 

The league average wRC+ for Outfielders only was 102*.

*Player stats, averages and numbers as well as the definition of wRC+ were sourced from fangraphs.com

**ADP source: FantasyPros.com




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