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Make Your Own Rankings For Fantasy Baseball Success

Saturday, February 20, 2016


Pitchers and catchers have reported. It’s a little over two weeks until the first Spring Training game and a little over a month and a half until the regular season begins. That can only mean two things – BASEBALL IS BACK and it’s time to get serious about prepping for your fantasy baseball season. 

With the wealth of statistics and projections available to the fantasy baseball player these days, it’s often tempting to just go with the “expert” opinion and not really study for your draft or auction. While simply following a cheat sheet might roster a decent, middle of the pack team, those who win leagues have poured over the data and usually have made their own rankings. 

Where to Begin?

The prospect of creating your own rankings may seem daunting at first, but relax. It’s not like you have to start from scratch. It’s more like tweaking your own rankings. 

You can begin in any number of ways. Historical data can be a good starting place, beginning with the previous season’s statistics and working back a few years to see if you notice any trends. 

For instance, you may be under the impression that Mike Trout is a solid five category player – a common perception. You’d be wrong. Trout stole 49 bases in 2012, 33 bases in 2013, 16 bases in 2014, and 11 bases last season. The trend is pretty common among power hitters with speed. They tend to run less the older they get. 

Alfonzo Soriano is a classic example. He was over-drafted for years under the assumption he’d put up close to 30/30 when the reality was that he was a .250 hitter with 30+ bombs who never almost ran. Still valuable. Just a little less so. 

That’s why I’m ranking Bryce Harper as my number one player over Trout. Trout is probably number two, as he excels in four other standard categories, but I tend to like power / speed combos, as they are exceedingly rare. 

If you go the route of building your rankings based on historical data, don’t stop with last year. Look back a few years to see if last season’s numbers might be an outlier. 

A good example, where you might want to be cautious is with a player like Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies. Last season he hit 42 HR in 157 games. In 2014, he hit 18 HR in 111 games. And in 2013, he hit 10 HR in 133 games. The jump should make you suspicious. On the one hand, he’s just shy of 25, so you can make the argument that he’s just starting to develop his power. On the other hand, he only hit 32 HR in 1156 PA between AA and AAA ball over two full seasons. 

A safe play might be to give weight to both arguments – Arenado hadn’t shown this kind of power in the minors but he is still relatively young and developing. So split the difference. Most of his career he’d looked like a 15-20 HR guy. Last year he hit 42. Maybe this year we should expect 25-30 HR. But, if you just looked at last year’s numbers and made Arenado the cornerstone of the power in your lineup, your team could be in trouble right out of the chute. 

And no, I’m not saying don’t draft Trout or wait an extra round or two on Arenado. I’m saying don’t rely on the reputation of the player or fall victim to recency bias when selecting your team. Look at the data and make informed decisions. 

Create Tiers by Position   

Not only does creating tiers by position help you to understand how deep or shallow a given position is, it also can give you a sense of what positions are most likely to provide you with the boost you need in individual statistical categories. 

So, it’s worth noting that all seventeen of the players projected by Fans at FanGraphs to hit 30+ HR are either outfielders or corner infielders. It’s equally worth noting that all eleven of the players projected to steal 30+ bases are either outfielders of middle infielders. Initial conclusion – both power and speed can be found in the OF – corner infielders are good sources of power – middle infielders are more likely to give you speed. 

When you’re making out your tiers by position, keep in mind that 1B and 3B will also get drafted at CI and that 2B and SS will also get drafted at MI. A common mistake for new fantasy players is to underestimate how deep they have to study. If there are twelve players in your league, you need to know at least eighteen 1B and eighteen 3B (oversimplifying here a bit) in order to take into account CI) and you need to know eighteen 2B and eighteen SS in order to take into account MI (deeper still if you have a DH or Utility position). 

By using the observation above about where certain categories can be enhanced, your rankings might be completely different by position than your opponents. If you wanted to stock up on power, you might want to select from power scarcity at 2B in the form of a Matt Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals or a Robinson Cano of the Seattle Mariners. But, if you want to tap into speed from a position that is fairly deep in speed, Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros is who you want manning the bag up the middle. 

Again this isn’t about touting Altuve over Cano. It’s about knowing where fantasy numbers are coming from, in general, knowing the depth of those numbers by position, and making informed decisions about how you construct your roster. 

Sort and Filter the Data to Find Hidden Gems

Excel is your friend when it comes to fantasy baseball preparation. But, if you’re not prepared to go full scale geek on your draft or auction, at least sort and filter the data on the website of your choice. 

Sorting and filtering has the benefit of not only letting you know about the projected leaders in any given category, but can highlight a player you might otherwise be unaware of his versatility. In Excel, you might filter for players projected to hit 30+ HR, but also filter within that subset for players projected to steal more than 15 bases. FanGraphs will allow you to set similar parameters.  Or, you might simply sort by HR – highest to lowest – and then scan the other categories in your fantasy format to locate those special players. 

Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs are the only 1B projected to steal 10+ bags, but they’re also expected to hit 35-40 HR. A similar case can be made for Kris Bryant of the Cubs and Todd Frazier of the Chicago White Sox at 3B with 26-33 HR potential and double digit steals. A strong case can be made for Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros as the top fantasy shortstop in just his second year in the league because of his 24 HR, 22 SB projections. You might pass on a mostly power guy like Cano or a mostly speed guy like Altuve and go with Rougned Odor of the Texas Rangers at second because he’s projected to do a little of both – 21 HR / 13 SB. 

Be creative and look at unusual combinations of statistics to find the players your opponents might miss. Don’t forget to look at statistics that are not tallied in your league, but are indicators of those that are – BABIP in relation to BA / OPS and ISO in relation to HR / lineup construction in relation to R and RBI. 

Have Fun with the Numbers       

Remember that the purpose of making out your own rankings is first and foremost to familiarize yourself with the players and their production so that you can recall it on the fly, especially during an auction but even in a draft. There’s nothing more fun than nominating a player who half your league hasn’t heard of.

Your goal is to assemble a roster that does well in ratio statistics and racks up numbers in counting categories. If you simply work off of a cheat sheet, you’re very likely to overlook categories. Getting big named hitters who mash can leave you in a lurch for SB. Or focusing on speed guys can result in mediocre HR and RBI totals. Balance is the key.

You’re only going to succeed at that draft or auction in late March if you start familiarizing yourself with the numbers now. The best way is to play with the numbers. Have fun. Be creative. And, create your own rankings. 


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