StrategyMarch 30, 2009

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Sleepers Awake!

By Anthony Catanzaro

Every fantasy baseball writer from here to Kalamazoo seems to have written an article (or full-on thesis) on the topic of “sleepers.” It seems it’s a “write” of passage and rightfully so, because sleeper identification is a core component of any sound fantasy baseball strategy. What follows is my contribution to the subject, with a bit of advice for the novice-to-intermediate fantasy GM.

First, a word of warning. This is not your average sleeper article. I will not merely be listing players that I advise you grab late in drafts to your own ultimate reward. I know, I know, I’ve probably disappointed many of you already. You probably read the headline, saw “sleeper” somewhere in the title, and wanted a quick fix of names and statistics to quickly assist your scouting this year. Well believe me, I know how you feel. I was in the same boat as recently as last year, scouring the net for “expert” advice on the best sleeper candidates instead of developing a plan for unearthing them myself.

Being a schoolteacher by day, I prefer to help others learn to help themselves. As the old saying goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and maybe, just maybe, he’ll stop bugging you for fish all the time.”

Sleepers can be defined in many ways, but it’s probably most useful to think of them as players that are undervalued on draft day that can be selected at a discount in the draft or at a discount salary for the statistics you project them to produce. This may seem like common sense, but for many newcomers to fantasy this concept of “value” seems disregarded altogether. The truth is you can’t know what round or salary is a discount until you know what round or salary is average value, and that’s where a bit of research is necessary.

Helpful sites like Mock Draft Central and CBSSportsline (among others) provide Average Draft Position (ADP) data that you can use as a gauge of where players are currently being drafted. Then and only then, once you have an idea of where players might go and what their relative value may be, you can ask yourself where the real deals lie.

What I’ve created below is a fairly simple, three-step process to help you generate your own personalized set of sleepers based on your own projections. Give it a try and I believe you’ll reap the benefits accordingly.

1.) Decide if you’re creating your own projections or using another source. Obviously, choose a projection source you feel you can trust.

2.) Research the ADPs for each few rounds and create an average player for those rounds using your projections. Break those players up into average hitters and average starting pitchers. Relief pitchers are an altogether different animal and will create false averages for starting pitchers so I advise creating averages for RPs separately. Here’s an example I created using CBS projections, showing average hitters and starting pitchers for a 12-team draft:


Rd. 11063210622.29919NA3.001.10220
Rd. 688208710.29017NA3.401.18190
Rd. 117015808.27011NA3.971.30188
Rd. 1673135415.26614NA3.941.35155

And here are the averages for RPs using ADP data from CBS as well. Since there are simply less draftable players at this position I had to scour the data to find rounds where at least two RPs were being drafted, which is the minimum amount to create an average player, and again I just took a small sample size, three rounds:

Rd. 52362.451.1071
Rd. 113273.581.2358
Rd. 173223.551.3763

As you can see, this small sample size requires extrapolation for those in-between rounds if you want an average player for each round of your draft. But I don’t feel that’s necessary. Even this simple process reveals several useful trends present in this year’s average draft:

• Saves will be available late (although in lesser quantity) and according to these projections, only at the expense of WHIP. So what we essentially have here is an entire sleeper category. Good to know.
• HR and RBI actually go pretty fast whereas stolen bases tend to be available later. Not the common thinking, but true for this set of data.
• Four-category pitching studs are really only available early, as in the first six rounds. But if you miss the boat, there really is no rush because there is high-quality talent available in rounds 6-11.

3.) Now the task is to find the outliers in each round, and there are a few different ways to do that. You can scan player projections for players who outperform draft-round averages as follows:

a) In several categories: at least 10 more R or RBI, and at least 5 more HR or SB than average in a round would constitute a sleeper.
b) In scarce categories: a solid provider of SB and SV, and to a lesser degree HR, RBI, and K, constitutes a sleeper.
c) From under-performing positions: one could make the argument that just getting average value out of a player from a position with scarce talent constitutes a sleeper. But, if you can find a C, 2B, or SS who will outperform the average UT player for a particular round, you’ve hit paydirt!

Some fine examples of sleepers who meet both criteria (a) and (b) are: OF Jayson Werth (ADP 166) and 3B Alex Gordon (ADP 175), both potential bargain buys. 2B Kelly Johnson (ADP 170) actually meets all 3 criteria, essentially creating a super-sleeper.

Now, you may have seen these players on other sleeper lists already this preseason, but right here is the proof: a set of data that actually reveals a value-producing trend. All three players actually project as average 11th rounders using this set of data, three rounds ahead of their average selection in the 14th round. That is very useful information to have going into a draft or auction.

In each of the above cases, you will have found a different kind of sleeper, with (a) being a straight statistical sleeper, (b) being a categorical scarcity sleeper and (c) being a positional scarcity sleeper. All are valuable and all can be tailored to fit your own personal strategy. All also require the work of first discovering what an average player is for each round before you can truly decide for yourself what constitutes a “sleeper.” Of course, nothing will guarantee that the GMs in your league will draft in alignment with ADP, but chances are some will. And when they do, you’ll be prepared to scoop the sleepers up in just the right rounds and assure you get maximum value for your picks.

Anthony "Ackshawn" Catanzaro has been playing fantasy baseball off and on since the late 1980s when he and his Long Island pals heard of “Rotisserie” and started their own basement league, tabulating team stats using the Sunday Newsday each week. He’s currently competing in The Great Fantasy Debate on and hopes to emblazon his name into the annals of fantasy baseball lore with a victory.
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