Tracking ADP Changes: The Delusion of Cheap Speed

We’re preempting the promised report on the first half of our NFBC slow draft to offer some information that, for a change, you might find useful. Stats, Inc. keeps track of Average Draft Position in NFBC drafts, starting with the earliest drafts in late 2016 and updating as the preseason heats up. We’ve been tracking the tracker—following the movement in ADPs– and have seen some interesting things.

When we studied this recently, there had been 46 NFBC drafts (there have now been 57; the trends we report below have mostly continued, and none of them, with one exception noted below, has reversed itself). The NFBC ADP at that time of course reflected the average of all those drafts. We knew what the ADP after 34 drafts had been, and we calculated the separate ADP of the next 12. We figured—accurately, it appears—that the all-drafts ADP would mask some interesting developments.

Our hypothesis wasn’t and isn’t that the movement would reflect what the smart money or the wise guys are doing. One occasionally hears about this or that expert who’s supposedly the Warren Buffet of fantasy baseball. We don’t doubt such people exist, and we wouldn’t actually mind being one or two of them, but they’re mostly playing DFS, a very different game than full-season Fantasy. Full-season Fantasy is generally a low-stakes game, and information about it is inexpensive and abundant. Its “market”—the auction prices or draft positions of the players—is thus very efficient. It’s not that smart people know something that you don’t. It’s that everyone already knows something that you do, even the stuff that you’re very proud of yourself for unearthing after hours of research.

So we concentrated on players whose ADP went down by 25 spots or more. In other words, they are being taken two or three rounds earlier in the standard NFBC 15-round draft than they were. Most of the biggest movers were closers, which is pretty much what you’d expect: a reliever can have superb stats and still be worth rather little in standard 5×5 rotisserie if he’s not going to provide 30 or 40 saves to accompany those gaudy numbers. (This is one of our beefs with standard rotisserie, but don’t get us started.) So, as pitchers enter or leave the closer mix, their value changes radically. Thus, among the biggest ADP decreasers were Fernando Rodney, Shawn Kelly, Addison Reed, and Neftali Feliz. Conversely, one of the biggest losers was Corey Knebel. We’re not certain, but we think the headline “Knebel No Longer Expected To Close” may have tipped some people off.

Other guys who rose or fell did so for obvious, or at least surmisable, reasons connected to a change in status. Michael Saunders became more attractive once the Phillies signed him to play left field, thereby squeezing Roman Quinn (who dropped a reciprocal amount) out of a starting job, at least for now. Michael Wacha lost favor because of the news that the Cardinals might try to make him a super-reliever in the Andrew Miller mode rather than a starter. Brandon Moss declined because he signed with the Royals, whose ballpark is a bad fit for his skill set. Melvin Upton Jr. declined because he’s Melvin Upton Jr.

For a couple of players, the market just seems to have recognized, a bit belatedly, how good they’re likely to be, and corrected itself accordingly. So it was with Robert Gsellman (who dropped 25 slots) and James Paxton (who dropped 27). Gsellman’s ascendancy probably also had something to do with Bartolo Colon’s departure for Cleveland, which made the Mets’ rotation logjam a bit less jammy. With Paxton, everyone just seems to have noticed what we had been very pleased with ourselves for noticing: that Paxton’s granular numbers last season were superb, notwithstanding a stratospheric BABIP of .347.

Before we tell you about our major discovery, we want to emphasize that, if you’re the kind of person who does a 50-player baseball draft in mid-winter, this is a big deal. Paxton’s ADP after 34 drafts was 204—he was a 14th-round pick. Over the next 12 drafts, it was 170—a 12th-rounder. His ADP after 46 drafts was 195. If you’re sitting there looking at the 195 and licking your chops at the prospect of outthinking the market by getting Paxton in the 12th round, you will be disappointed when you find that the market has left you behind and that some cunning opponent has grabbed Paxton in the 11th or even the 10th round. With such small blocks is the pyramid of Fantasy glory built.

Anyway: the major discovery is that there’s no such thing as cheap speed. Expensive speed you know about: if you want Billy Hamilton or Dee Gordon, you’re going to pay for him. But you probably thought, as we did, that you could grab a fast guy or two relatively late in the draft. It doesn’t look like it, though. Here are some numbers for a few guys whose primary skill set is speed and whose fantasy calling card is stolen bases. The first number is the ADP after 34 drafts; the second number is the ADP in the next 12; and the third number is the ADP after all 46.

Jarrod Dyson 312 197 282
Manuel Margot 267 212 253
Rajai Davis 225 178 213
Mallex Smith 362 325 352
Jose Reyes 308 281 301
Chris Owings 375 352 369

And it’s not just these guys. Virtually every plausible candidate for 20-plus stolen bases is being taken at least a bit earlier in the draft than he was before. The exceptions are readily explicable. Quinn and Upton we mention above. There’s also Hernan Perez (163-177-167), recently euchred out of a starting job, at least until they actually start playing baseball, by the arrivals of Travis Shaw and Eric Thames. The exception to the exceptions was Jose Peraza (136-149-140), except now he’s at ADP 137, and will likely go earlier and earlier as more drafts reflect the Brandon Phillips trade.

We’ll keep monitoring this and other ADP changes as the drafting season progresses, and let you know if we see anything else of interest. Meanwhile, though, on a completely different subject: over the two years we’ve done this blog, we have sometimes had occasion to express our intense and catholic tastes in popular music. We’ve probably gotten more comments on this than we have about baseball, leading us to think that our readers have similarly strong, though not necessarily congruent, tastes. So we urge you to check out the ongoing rock and roll reminiscences of Einstein Described As Robin Hood, which we predict that all but the most jaundiced among you will enjoy.

The Birchwood Brothers are two guys with the improbable surname of Smirlock. Michael, the younger brother, brings his skills as a former Professor of Economics to bear on baseball statistics. Dan, the older brother, brings his skills as a former college English professor and recently-retired lawyer to bear on his brother's delphic mutterings. They seek to delight and instruct. They tweet when the spirit moves them @birchwoodbroth2.

newest oldest most voted

Saying that players “dropped” or “went down” is a bit misleading here, ie. “Gsellman (who dropped 25 slots)” – can you revise the language a little to note that it’s actually a positive change?