2016 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper Hitters (The Search For Narco)

Draft dates are being set. Keepers are being locked in. Sleepers are being dreamt of. Ah, yes, fantasy baseball season is officially upon us and it is time to, once again, set our sights on finding those 2016 fantasy sleepers.

I will continue my tradition of starting my seasonal draft coverage with the unveiling of my batch of prospective sleepers for 2016. These reports have been published here for seven years now and I’ve dubbed them as a “search for narco” as the hope is always to find the sleepiest sleepers possible (narcoleptics sleep a lot so… ya know). Unlike other sleeper lists you may find, this list is not subjective at all. I’m not picking sleepers based on gut feelings nor scouting reports. No, I’m picking sleepers based on a cold, calculated and emotionless formula.

2016 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers - HittersThe formula that I use for generating my list of sleepers has evolved over time. Each year that I’ve done this, I’ve been able to do more research and tweak my parameters so that it gets a little bit more successful. I’ve settled upon a fairly good set of conditions after seven years of doing this. From 2008 to 2015, there have been 45 players who have met my sleeper criteria and 34 of them outperformed expectations that year (a whopping 75% success rate, baby). Sometimes there are huge successes like drafting Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo, Carlos Gonzalez or Mookie Betts before they were an early round pick. Other times, there are more minor successes like getting a helpful player like Kole Calhoun or Charlie Blackmon at low cost. The system is not infallible but it’s been pretty consistent in generating a good list of possible sleepers. To see a full list of who had been identified and how they performed before and after they were named a sleeper, check out this nice little Google Doc.

How To Find 2016 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers

My goal with this system is to find players who have not gotten a full year of stats so the general public isn’t fully aware of them despite the fact that they may have performed great in their brief time in the MLB. To find such players, I look for players who meet these benchmarks:

  • Less than 400 plate appearances last year
  • More than 100 plate appearances last year
  • Less than 900 career plate appearances going into this year

This gives me a good list of guys who should a limited amount of time in the majors but a sample size that is still worth analyzing. My next step is to look within that list for those that performed at an elite level during that limited time.

My particular method to find an elite player involves using the Total Fantasy Points that the players accumulated in my points league (the type of league where you gain 1 point for a single, 2 points for a double, etc). I take those Fantasy Points from the past year and divide them by the player’s Plate Appearances to get a Points Per Plate Appearance statistic. I take that stat and identify all of the players who were 0.5 standard deviations above league average for that year in it. This usually gives me a fairly small group of maybe a dozen hitters but I’m not done yet.

There are a couple more steps that must be taken to determine who may be sleepers from that original list:

  • Remove players already being drafted in the top 100 ADP this year
  • Remove players who are not scheduled to be Opening Day starters for their team this year

Players who are already being targeted in the top 100 of a draft are excluded for a number of reasons. The most obvious reason is that they aren’t really “sleepers” if the public is drafting them that high but, more importantly, my research has found that these players are often much bigger gambles anyway and less likely to deliver good value.

I remove players who are not Opening Day starters because they may never crack the lineup and are much riskier picks. We want sleepers who are actually going to play!

Who Met The Initial Criteria in 2016?

The first part mentioned above was coming up with my list of players who performed excellently in a limited capacity last year. We need to generate that list first before we end up removing anybody. This year’s initial list is a fairly big one to start with:

Curt Casali (C, TB)
Chris Gimenez (C, TEX)
Greg Bird (1B, NYY)
Travis Shaw (1B, BOS)
Phil Gosselin (2B, ARI)
Devon Travis (2B, TOR)
Maikel Franco (3B, PHI)
Corey Seager (SS, LAD)
Aaron Altherr (OF, PHI)
Michael Conforto (OF, NYM)
Matt den Dekker (OF, WAS)
Randal Grichuk (OF, STL)
Mikie Mahtook (OF, TB)
Thomas Pham (OF, STL)
Stephen Piscotty (OF, STL)
Kyle Schwarber (OF, CHC)
Trayce Thompson (OF, LAD)
Steve Clevenger (DH, SEA)
Miguel Sano (DH, MIN)

Okay, But Who Will Likely Meet The Final Criteria?

As noted earlier, that initial list isn’t the final list of my sleepers. First off, there are players being drafted too early (Kyle Schwarber for instance) that need to get removed. After that’s done, I need to then take off the players who don’t appear to be starters at this point. The projected starters may change as we get closer to Opening Day but we have a decent idea already of some of them at least.

Applying those filters this year, that long list gets trimmed on down to a more digestible list of 6 potential sleepers:

Curt Casali (C, TB)
Maikel Franco (3B, PHI)
Aaron Altherr (OF, PHI)
Michael Conforto (OF, NYM)
Randal Grichuk (OF, STL)
Stephen Piscotty (OF, STL)

How Do You Feel About That Group, Mr. Cheatsheet?

I like this group. I mean, as a Phillies fan, I’m excited to see two Phillies on there so that’s a good start. But, really, it looks like a decent group of guys that I’ll now have to do more research on. The hope of this exercise is really to find potential sleepers and I now have a group of players to focus on and learn more about. Stay tuned to the site in the weeks ahead for further analysis on these six players.

How do you all feel about this year’s group of six potential sleepers? Feeling good about any of them in particular?

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  • Neal
    February 3, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    Not too excited about Casali or Altherr who have never hit for average…but the others, Franco especially, yes!

    • Luke
      February 3, 2016 at 1:46 pm

      Good call. Not thrilled about Casali myself. I just WANT to believe in Altherr as a Phillies fan but, in my initial glance at him, I’m skeptical of him too because of that AVG and also that K%. Hopefully better signs pop up when I do some further analysis.

  • Joe
    February 3, 2016 at 7:03 pm

    Why did you leave out D. Travis from Toronto? Injury? He’s surely going to be the starter if / when healthy

    • Luke
      February 3, 2016 at 7:23 pm

      Yup, you got it. I want to see more info about his injury. I should probably have included him in that final list with asterisk. Once we see how he’s progressing with the injury then we’ll know a bit more about how to value him.

  • John
    February 3, 2016 at 7:04 pm

    What’s your opinion on Michael Conforto? I’ve heard good things about him, not to mention his WS stats were great. But what would you say is his realistic season? His high/low?

    • Luke
      February 9, 2016 at 6:54 pm

      Initially I’ve got him realistically pegged at around 25 HR’s with a .275 AVG. Definitely a lot of potential value there. I’m going to do a full write-up on him later on though.

  • Aaron
    February 8, 2016 at 4:22 pm

    Did Justin Bour not meet your criteria? What keeps him off this list?

    • Luke
      February 9, 2016 at 6:52 pm

      Yeah. Based on the cutoffs I had put in, he was weeded out because he had too many PA’s last year. I cut it off at 400 PA’s. His stats would have certainly met my criteria aside from that though. He’s definitely an interesting player.

  • Nick
    February 9, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    Great to have your site up and running again! I just made a donation. This is a solid list. I’m not a Grichuk believer, but if he falls I would jump on him.

    • Luke
      February 9, 2016 at 6:57 pm

      Really, really appreciate that. Makes the work worthwhile! I’m concerned about Grichuk’s strikeouts but his power is intriguing. This year will certainly tell a lot more about his future though. At the right price, definitely could be worth a gamble.

  • Howie Decker
    March 5, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    Just want to say that I am glad I found this site and the work you’re doing is unbelievably great. I plan to make a donation once I can get my Paypal funds built up.

    PS great name (we have a son named Luke)!