Ottoneu Resource: ZiPS Draft Tiers and Potential Bargains

Last night, the FanGraphs Staff League II finished up its fantasy auction. Starting at 6:30pm EST, we plugged away until our eyes became blurry, our muscle coordination began to fail, and we became so delirious that even Chone Figgins and Ryan Roberts started to look damn attractive. Staring at a computer screen intensely for 5 hours — stressing out over fringe major-league players — is a recipe to make anyone go insane.

Now that our draft is done, I figured I’d share with everyone a nifty resource that I put together: a tiered ranking for every position, based on players’ projected points according to ZiPS and CAIRO. As I explained in my first post:

I took ZiPS projections for hitters (from the Baseball Think Factory) and CAIRO projections for [starting] pitchers (from RLYW), and then converted these projections into an expected point total for each player. I then broke these players up by position and tiered them, allowing me to see at a glance which positions were deeper than others and which might hold unexpected value.

Well, here is my spreadsheet (right-click, “Save As”). I’ve included the prices that players went for in our draft (minus some of the later round selections, when I couldn’t keep up). This is obviously most helpful for FanGraphs Points leagues, but it’s not a bad proxy for other leagues as well. I’ve included my tiers, and then also included the larger ZiPS and CAIRO projections so that you can find points projections for other players not included in the tiers.

Please keep in mind that these spreadsheets are far from perfect. The projections don’t account for issues like playing time or injuries — Notice how Victor Martinez is highly ranked? — and projection systems are notoriously rough when it comes to rookies. I have not tampered with these rankings in any way, though, because I wanted to present them to you relatively unbiased (you still have to deal with my somewhat arbitrary cut-off points for tiers).

Based on these rankings, there were a couple players that I targeted coming into the draft, since I thought they might be underrated by most people. I didn’t end up with all of these players, but they all did end up being pretty good bargains:

Nick Markakis — Projected 813 pts. (9th best outfielder)

Markakis may not be a mediocre outfielder in most other fantasy formats, but he’s a stud in points leagues. He “slumped” last season and only put up 830 points, but before then, he’d put up over 900 points for four seasons in a row. He hits for average, has a great walk rate, and when he’s at his best, rips a ton of doubles. He’s also going to be 28 years old this season, so he’s despite his drop-off last season, he should be entering his physical prime. I ended up signing Markakis for $21, which is more than I was hoping to pay but still less than any of the outfielders near him in the rankings.

Matt Cain — Projected 1,068 pts. (8th best starter)

According to CAIRO, there are 12 starting pitchers projected to contribute over 1,000 points this season. In general, the list is what you’d expect: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Justin Verlander, Felix Herandez…and Matt Cain. Cain has posted over 900 points each of the previous five seasons in a row, and he’s cracked the 1,000 point level in each of the past two seasons. Darned if I know exactly how he keeps his home run and hit rates so low, but considering he’s been so consistent over the past five seasons, he looks like a great value grab.

Cain lasted late in our draft and ended up going for $22. The lowest any other top starter went for was $25 (Cole Hamels), and most of the top starters were in the $30-40 range.

Billy Butler — Projected 865 pts. (8th best first baseman)

I’m somewhat afraid to admit this, but when I bid $32 on Eric Hosmer, I had him mentally confused with Billy Butler. I thought I was bidding on Butler, but had my awesome-Royals-first-basemen confused. Welp, talk about a costly mistake.

Butler is a very similar case to Nick Markakis: he hits for a high average, walks a ton, has mediocre home run power, and blasts a ton of doubles. He’s a middling fantasy option in other formats, but in points leagues, he’s an underrated second-tier bat that posted 890 points last season during a down year. Oh, and he’s still only 26 years old.

In the end, I’m still happy with Hosmer, considering he has a rosy future ahead of him and also projects well. But still…$32 for Hosmer or $19 for Butler? If I could have a re-do, I’d take Butler hands down.

Neil Walker — Projected 730 pts. (9th best second baseman)

Walker is one of those players that gets underrated because A) he’s on a crappy team, and B) he’s mediocre in everything and great at nothing. I had him last year in a 5×5 league and remember not liking him, but in retrospect, I could have done a lot worse at second base. He won’t kill you in any category, but he flies under the radar because he doesn’t stand out in any particular way.

And in point leagues, Walker simply gains value. He hit 36 doubles last year and walked 8 percent of the time, posting 730 points — not a shabby total for a middle infielder. He is also only 26 years old and flashed a decent amount of power in the minors (.200+ ISO in Triple-A), so I was very happy to grab Walker for my middle infield slot late in the draft. At $8, I consider him a bargain.

Honorable Mentions:

Mark Buehrle (Proj. 855 pts.): I nabbed Buehrle for $1 late in the draft, and I’m excited to see how he does in the National League and in the cavernous new Miami Ballpark.

Mark Reynolds (Proj. 748 pts.): Although he’s projected to post around the same amount of points as Michael Young ($21) and David Wright ($23), Reynolds was signed for $9 in our league.

Matt Wieters (Proj. 683 pts.): The fourth-best catcher in the majors (according to ZiPS, at least) was signed for $11.

Jeff Francoeur, Melky Cabrera, and Carlos Lee: SABER BIAS ALERT! You don’t have to like these players, but they still project to post around 700 points each. In our league, they went for $4 each. If you’re looking to construct an outfield on the cheap, you could do worse than targeting one or more of these guys.

We hoped you liked reading Ottoneu Resource: ZiPS Draft Tiers and Potential Bargains by Steve Slowinski!

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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.

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Brandon Warne

Chone Figgins only looked attractive because he was on my team 😉