StrategyJune 15, 2008

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Hindsight is 20-20, Even When Your Picks Aren’t

By Erik Blomain

ADP (Average Draft Position) data is very useful in any draft preparation when used correctly. It allows you to see how Joe Average Fantasy Player values any given player. However many owners believe in using the ADP charts as their cheat sheet. This approach is attractive to beginner and intermediate players because it guarantees that they will never “reach” for a player. They will always value a player at his market price. But therein also lies the fatal flaw to this approach – you will always pay market price for a player. It is analogous to the stock market novice investing in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. This approach ensures that you will never underperform the market, but it also ensures you will never outproduce the market.

The smart money in stocks and in fantasy comes not from investing with the average; it comes from identifying market inefficiencies (commodities that are either undervalued or overvalued by the market) and using them to your advantage. The easiest way to glean these market inefficiencies from the ADP data is to do it in retrospect. Here I intend on revisiting some of the key ADP trends leading up to the 2008 season and evaluate them based on what we now know nearly halfway into the season. I will wherever possible highlight what I think to be inefficiencies that are universally applicable.

Below is the top 30 players in ADP, taken from, listed with their Yahoo! Ranks on the season to date (Yahoo ranks are meant to indicate a player’s value in a standard 5×5 league).

Alex Rodriguez86
Hanley Ramirez5
Jose Reyes22
David Wright24
Matt Holliday89
Jimmy Rollins189
Albert Pujols13
Miguel Cabrera149
Chase Utley2
Ryan Howard78
Prince Fielder133
Johan Santana58
Carl Crawford53
Alfonso Soriano35
Ryan Braun19
Grady Sizemore36
David Ortiz85
Carlos Beltran56
Jake Peavy66
Brandon Phillips44
Vladimir Guerrero144
Ichiro Suzuki40
B.J. Upton25
Mark Teixeira80
Carlos Lee58
Lance Berkman1
Curtis Granderson296
Victor Martinez766
Russell Martin120
Alex Rios132

The first thing that jumps out from these numbers should be obvious: things did not quite shake out the way Joe Average predicted. For a variety of reasons only 5 of the top 20 ADP players are in the top 20 Yahoo! Ranks, and only 2 first round ADPs are in the top 10. What caused this alarming amount of midseason busts? Injuries to be sure played a part, as at least 10 of these 30 players have had DL stints. But this is only part of the answer. The rest can be explained by the first market inefficiency that I have identified from these data:

1. Players that are regarded as “injury prone” or “past their prime” come at significant discounts.

This one was pretty easy to spot, simply by looking at the current Yahoo! Top 25 in which Milton Bradley, Chipper Jones, Miguel Tejada, and Manny Ramirez figure prominently. These players all are perrennial studs who for one reason or another were pushed off the top of the fantasy heap for more trendy players. Manny’s ADP was 36, putting him a full round behind Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez, and Alex Rios. More dramatically, Chipper Jones and Miguel Tejada both were drafted in the low 70s on average, well beyond the first closer rush. Milton Bradley was not even in the top 250 despite being a career .280 hitter with power in a potent lineup. On the pitching end, injury prone Huston Street, Brad Lidge, and Ben Sheets were all drafted well outside the top 100, and have put up great numbers. Scott Kazmir is also outperforming his ADP of 69. If this year has shown us anything, it is that anyone can get injured, whether they have injury histories or not. THE BOTTOM LINE: Seeking out players with such histories is a good way to land high-ceiling players at bargain-basement prices while only taking on moderate additional injury risk.

2. Breaking the bank for a catcher will cost you elsewhere.

The second market inefficiency that I identified comes at the tail end of the top 30, the catcher run. In many leagues 3 catchers were drafted in the 3rd round- Victor Martinez, Russell Martin, and Brian McCann. Exactly one of those 3 have justified their ADP (Victor Martinez has been abysmal and Russell Martin is having a nice year, but is not in the top 100 or on a 20-20 pace). It appears that Joe Average Fantasy Owner, seeing that the catcher position is scarce, is chomping at the bit to fill this position early. Like Joe Mauer, Jason Varitek, Javy Lopez, and Pudge Rodriguez before them, this year’s crop of “can’t miss” catchers turned out to be anything but. Catchers drafted 8 or more rounds later are outperforming the studs, and competent options like Miguel Olivo, Kurt Suzuki, and Chris Snyder sit atop many leagues’ waiver wires. Yes, those owners that banked on a late round catcher like J.R. Towles or Jarrod Saltalamacchia to carry their teams at catcher were disappointed. However a hole at catcher is much easier to fill than holes elsewhere, because of the aforementioned depth that usually sits on the wire. THE BOTTOM LINE: Draft an upside catcher late in the draft and be ready to stream other options if they do not pan out.

3. Joe Average values proven commodities at the end of the draft.

Looking at the last 50 ADPs from 200-250, it is mostly stocked with “name” players. It seems clear that the average fantasy player likes to close out his draft with players he has heard of. We’ve all been there, the last round rolls around, and you draft Tom Glavine instead of Evan Longoria, or a similarly “proven” player. You know what you’re getting, you tell yourself. Players such as Gary Matthews Jr., Hank Blalock, Julio Lugo, and Mike Cameron all went in the low 200s, a full 25-50 picks ahead of Evan Longoria, Joey Votto, Justin Upton, and other youngbloods. Yet the thing most owners fail to realize is that these low upside “proven” players are a dime a dozen on the waiver wire once the season begins. Meanwhile, in our age of media and fantasy columnists hyping prospects LONG before their callup, adding and stashing a few young lottery tickets on your bench can pay off. Do NOT expect the next Ryan Braun from every callup. On the contrary, the more prudent play might be to sell off when the hype reaches a crescendo. A good example is the Jay Bruce/Cueto phenomenon this season- Bruce was traded for players at and around the value of Alex Rios, and Cueto went in trades for Chad Billinglsey. THE BOTTOM LINE: Close out your draft with young high-ceiling players before drafting veteran role players.

4. Closers are not what they appear.

I am not the first expert to notice the fact that early round closers are not a good investment. On the contrary, draft strategy articles abound that support this view. That is because in any given season, around 1/3 of all closer situations will get murky as the season wears on, whether it is due to ineffectiveness, injury, or act of God. Additionally, closers who have logged more innings are more prone to injury (Read – JJ Putz). This position has one of the highest turnover rates of any position in baseball when it comes to the fantasy leaderboard from year to year. This year has had several hits among the top tiersv- Francisco Rodriguez, Jonathan Papelbon, and Joe Nathan, but also several misses – Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito, and JJ Putz. Meanwhile closers drafted in the later rounds have been good – Matt Capps, Joakim Soria, Kerry Wood, Brad Lidge, Huston Street, etc. That is not to say that drafting late round closers guarantees success in saves. On the contrary, for every happy Lidge owner, there is a furious Manny Corpas or Jason Isringhausen owner. The point is that drafting a closer higher has about the same risk as drafting a closer later. Like the previous example with injury prone players, you can get closers on the cheap that have about the same success rate as their higher-tier brethren. THE BOTTOM LINE: Draft closers late and in bunches, rather than trying to add a stud early and 1 or 2 mediocre closers late.

5.The effect that a player’s lineup has on his statistics is incredibly overrated.

The poster child for this market inefficiency is Miguel Cabrera. This off-season we all seem to have gotten a bit of Tiger-itis. We all loved the potential of this lineup to be among the top of every offensive category. This improved Miguel Cabrera’s ADP from around 11-14 going into 2007 to 8 in 2008. A similar phenomenon happened with Edgar Renteria, who was drafted earlier than in previous years. However what was the rationale in expecting such an improvement in Cabrera? Even if he hit cleanup in the Tigers lineup and the top 3 hitters’ on base percentage was .05 higher (a big difference) over a full season, that still only translates to about 10 extra RBI. Additionally, he could not be expected to suddenly hit 40 HRs; he has never hit 35 in a season. Also, he is aweful on defense as a result of his conditioning, something that the Marlins had major reservations about when they traded him. None of these facts could have predicted his abysmal start to the season, but they should have been enough to place him squarely behind Chase Utley (who put up MVP numbers when healthy last year and continued that into this year) and Ryan Braun (who was also on an MVP pace). THE BOTTOM LINE: Do not let a player’s lineup alone greatly influence his value.

These 5 market inefficiencies that I have identified are by no means an exhaustive list. I readily admit that I am making generalizations based on only this year’s data. Further analysis of the treasure trove of ADP data is warranted. However it was not my goal in writing this article to give such an exhaustive list. I simply wanted to illustrate a way of thinking about the draft as an inefficient market, and how to use ADP to elucidate that market. This approach can help identify where the average player goes wrong and help players avoid such beginner’s pitfalls.

Erik Blomain is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Erik in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of cyberer.
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