“Death, taxes and fantasy baseball ADP attrition.” — Benjamin Franklin, probably
In his infinite, albeit cryptic, wisdom, Ben sagely alluded to a particularly critical truth: about 40% of the rosters you draft this March will turn over during the season.
Indeed, whether it’s by poor performance or injury, about two in every five players will be bad (or injured) enough to warrant being replaced by another. Some will generate enough value to justify owning but not doing so at their respective costs. It’s inevitable, unavoidable — no one drafts a perfect team, period. The only thing you can hope to do is (1) maximize your return on investment (ROI), and (2) minimize your risk.
For this exercise, I compare FantasyPros’ composite average draft positions (ADP) to their end-of-season (EOS) rankings for 2015. (If you happen to know where I can find historical ADP data, or if you happen to have some on hand and are willing to share, please let me know!)
I assume a certain number of players comprise the draftable population of each position:
|Top 100%||Top 50%||Top 20%|
Looking at various degrees of attrition helps understand exactly how volatile a certain position, or even a specific tier within a position, might be. That’s why I’m sad I only have 2015 data; more historical information can help refine the frequencies depicted below to offer a better understanding of positional volatility.
Top 100% of ADP by Position
Starting at the highest level, here’s how many players started and ended the year within the draftable population of their respective positions.
|C||7 / 15 (47%)|
|1B||9 / 15 (60%)|
|2B||10 / 15 (67%)|
|3B||11 / 15 (73%)|
|SS||8 / 15 (53%)|
|OF||43 / 60 (72%)|
|SP||37 / 60 (62%)|
|RP||17 / 30 (57%)|
This is a pretty broad assessment of what happened at every position, but it’s still informative: only 142 of 225 players (63%) generated enough value to warrant being owned, let alone drafted at a particular price, in standard mixed formats in 2015.
The numbers are all fairly close, but you can see which positions in 2015 were a little more reliable than others. Third basemen and outfielders retained their values fairly well, whereas catchers and relief pitchers did not. Even a high-level evaluation such as this can still guide draft strategy, especially for an auction: invest more heavily in the safer positions in order to maximize expected value.
Top 50% of ADP by Position
On to players drafted in the top halves of the draftable populations of their respective positions.
The first column, Top 50%, indicates how many players drafted in the top half of their position finished in the top half. The second column, Top 100%, indicates how many of these players finished anywhere within the position’s draftable population. In simpler, each column answers a question:
- How many of, say, the first eight catchers off draft boards in 2015 finished in the top eight? (Top 50%)
- How many of these eight catchers finished in the top 15? (Top 100%)
|Top 50%||Top 100%|
|C||4 / 8 (50%)||5 / 8 (63%)|
|1B||4 / 8 (50%)||6 / 8 (75%)|
|2B||4 / 8 (50%)||6 / 8 (75%)|
|3B||5 / 8 (63%)||8 / 8 (100%)|
|SS||2 / 8 (25%)||5 / 8 (63%)|
|OF||17 / 30 (57%)||24 / 30 (80%)|
|SP||20 / 30 (67%)||26 / 30 (87%)|
|RP||8 / 15 (53%)||9 / 15 (60%)|
I don’t have to tell you that shortstop was a nightmare in 2015. Obviously, the breakouts of Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Francisco Lindor make us forget just how bad shortstops performed in terms of who was drafted when. Three shortstops drafted in the top eight didn’t finish the season in the top 15.
The top 30 starting pitchers were the most reliable top-half of any position in 2015, and given Brad Johnson’s assessment of the pitching landscape a few days ago, we can reasonably expect continued reliability in 2016.
Again: relievers are not a sound investment. The coin-flip probability of a closer failing to pay dividends applies not only to the entire draftable population of closers but also the top half as well. In other words, the inconsistency is not isolated to the weaker, theoretically less reliable, tiers at the position. It’s an ugly scene; 40% of the top-15 didn’t even finish in the top 30.
Even with some massive breakouts that could have threatened to devalue some players, third basemen were very reliable in 2015, with the entire top half of the position generating enough value to be worth owning all season.
Top 20% of ADP by Position
Here, the first column, Top 20%, indicates how many players drafted in the top 20% of their position also finished the season there. The second and third columns remain unchanged. To reiterate the questions they answer:
- How many of, say, the first three catchers off draft boards in 2015 finished in the top three? (Top 20%)
- How many of these three catchers finished in the top eight? (Top 50%)
- How many finished in the top 15? (Top 100%)
|Top 20%||Top 50%||Top 100%|
|C||1 / 3 (33%)||2 / 3 (67%)||3 / 3 (100%)|
|1B||1 / 3 (33%)||3 / 3 (100%)||3 / 3 (100%)|
|2B||1 / 3 (33%)||2 / 3 (67%)||2 / 3 (67%)|
|3B||1 / 3 (33%)||2 / 3 (67%)||3 / 3 (100%)|
|SS||0 / 3 (0%)||1 / 3 (33%)||2 / 3 (67%)|
|OF||5 / 12 (42%)||7 / 12 (58%)||11 / 12 (92%)|
|SP||6 / 12 (50%)||11 / 12 (92%)||12 / 12 (100%)|
|RP||1 / 6 (17%)||5 / 6 (83%)||5 / 6 (83%)|
Among the 15 best infielders (the top three at each position), only two did not finish the 2015 season among the top 15 at their respective positions. That’s pretty good, and it’s what we would expect given the caliber of these players. In fact, among the 45 outcomes depicted in the last column, only four players — Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez, Anthony Rendon, Greg Holland — were not worth owning in 2015 and could be considered absolute busts.
The second column indicates that, despite a small degree of attrition, the top-tier starting pitchers, relief pitchers and first basemen are all worth their draft prices in terms of safety. Shortstop and, perhaps surprisingly, outfielders are markedly less reliable; only one of the top three shortstops finished the season in the position’s top eight, and barely half of the top-12 outfielders finished in the top 30.
Yet top-tier outfielders and starting pitchers are perhaps the most reliable bunch: half (or nearly half) of them produce as much value as they’re expected to. Compared to relievers and shortstops… ugh, don’t get me started on shortstops again.
What did we learn?
It depends on what you choose to take away from these tables. The numbers are small enough to likely not be statistically significant, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to know that these same trends continue from year to year.
If I had to give blanket advice, I’d say: invest more heavily in more reliable positions. That would mean steering draft dollars away from top-tier shortstops, catchers and closers and, instead, settling for lower-tier or bottom-of-the-barrel options. Then, take that surplus and invest more heavily in top-tier corner infielders or — contrary to my own strategy — starting pitchers.
Some scattered notes about how I would specifically approach certain positions:
- Catcher: The volatility at this position makes me want to do one of two things: draft Buster Posey, or go really cheap. It’s not that other catchers — Salvador Perez or Brian McCann, for example — won’t generate value, but there’s a high likelihood that an undrafted catcher (say, Francisco Cervelli) will generate more bang for his buck (aka a better ROI).
- Outfield and Starting Pitcher: Given the reliability of the toppity toppest tiers of each, as well as the still-high turnover rate overall within the position, I would be inclined to draft maybe two elites players at each position followed by three (or, for starters, four) dirt-cheap options. This affords me great flexibility — I can replace them easily and without regret if they suck, and if they don’t suck, I will have generated a positive ROI and a keeper consideration for next year.
- Shortstop: …is utterly fascinating this year. There’s so much young talent, but there’s also so much faith in young talent. Someone, if not multiple someones, will likely disappoint this year. It will be obvious in hindsight, knowing what we do about limited batches of information. The positional premium for a good shortstop makes it that much riskier investing in someone who’s not all he’s chalked up to be. I would be hard-pressed to convince you to not salivate over Correa, Lindor, Bogaerts or Corey Seager, but I will probably steer clear of all of them this year unless one seems especially affordable relative to the rest. (And if that happens to anyone, it will probably be Lindor, who is, for whatever reason, going after Bogaerts in NFBC drafts.)
- Relief Pitcher: There are several elite closers, but only one — one! — justified his value in 2015, and that was Mark Melancon. As aforementioned, even as safe as the best closers seem, the small-sample volatility of relievers runs rampant throughout the position, not just in the lower tiers. Frankly, it’s a coin flip not worth taking. Buy yourself some $1 closers and some $1 elite setup men to make up for it.