Balancing risk with security is an essential part of every fantasy baseball draft. Finding the best sleepers to enhance your team is where the risk comes into play. Over the nine years that I’ve been running this site, I’ve been using a system for finding sleeper hitters that is meant to minimize risk while still giving you the ability to find hidden gems. Each year, the system has evolved slightly as more data has become available to use and analyze. The 2018 version, of course, is the best version yet.
For the uninitiated, my search for the best sleepers has been called a search for “narco” (because these guys are so sleepy that they’re narcoleptic… which I found funny nine years ago and now I’ve stuck with the label). I have established various benchmarks and if a player meets all of those benchmarks then they fall into my list of sleeper hitters. This isn’t a system based off scouting reports or an eye test; it’s all math and stats.
In 2018, I’ve tweaked my formulas and benchmarks to try to enhance the system based off what I learned over the past few years. Using my new system, there would have been 66 players who met the criteria over the past 10 draft years and 41 of them would have exceeded their draft value. The more interesting part is that 20 of those players ended up being, for lack of a better term, super sleepers who really broke out that year and delivered huge value. Here’s a list of some of those super sleepers from recent years:
- 2017: Byron Buxton (143 ADP), Domingo Santana (255 ADP)
- 2016: Jackie Bradley Jr. (319 ADP)
- 2015: Mookie Betts (113 ADP)
- 2014: Charlie Blackmon (450 ADP), Yan Gomes (268 ADP), Kole Calhoun (215 ADP)
- 2013: Matt Carpenter (375 ADP)
- 2012: Paul Goldschmidt (168 ADP), Josh Reddick (386 ADP), Jason Kipnis (184 ADP)
Needless to say, each year this system generates a handful of players that ended up being key to fantasy baseball championship runs that year.
What To Know About My Sleeper System
There are many types of sleepers out there but I’m trying to find players who haven’t broken into the mainstream conversation yet despite numbers that suggest that they are about to. What I’ve found is that players who haven’t gotten a full season of playing time are generally undervalued because they don’t have those gaudy stat lines that a 600 PA season shows off. After lots of trial and error, these are the first filters I apply to the draft pool:
- Less than 400 plate appearances last year
- More than 150 plate appearances last year
- Less than 800 career plate appearances going into this year
- Under 28 years old
- Not being drafted in the Top 100 players
With those filters applied, I get a bunch of players and then I calculate a Fantasy Points Per Plate Appearance stat for each of the players to see how well they performed in their limited duty. The fantasy points are based off weighting certain stats that are relevant for fantasy success. With that all calculated, I run some additional calculations to translate those FPPPA into z-scores to see how far above average the players were for that year. I then identify which players were 0.50 standard deviations above league average and target these players.
There’s an additional filter that is valuable here as well but one that we can’t apply yet. I also only target players that are slated to be in their team’s opening day lineup out of the gates. We want guys that are actually scheduled to play games.
Who Meets the Criteria in 2018?
There are eight players this year who meet that criteria before their average draft position (ADP) comes into play, which is something that goes up and down as we get closer to the season. Of those eight, there’s a good chance that many of these players won’t be in their team’s opening day lineup so tread carefully. I’ve broken the eight down into a few categories:
Maybe Being Drafted Too High
- Rhys Hoskins (1B, PHI) – 44.5 ADP
- Rafael Devers (3B, BOS) – 100 ADP
It may seem a bit odd to discount players who meet my criteria that are being drafted too high but this is about finding sleepers who are going to exceed their draft value. In the past ten years, there have been 13 players who met my benchmarks but were drafted in the Top 100 and only 4 of them delivered more value than their draft position. Interestingly, two of them were from last year with Gary Sanchez and Alex Bregman but the point remains that these are actually risky picks. Rhys Hoskins hit a million homers last year but he is getting drafted far too high for my liking so he definitely won’t be on my final sleeper list. Rafael Devers is flirting with that Top 100 value so he’s in iffy territory. His ceiling for this season sees him as a hitter with a good AVG and 25 HR potential. I’m actually kinda concerned that he’s going this high based off that. He’s young and a great prospect but the price tag may be too high for him.
The Sweet Spot
- Matt Olson (1B, OAK) – 125 ADP
- Nick Williams (OF, PHI) – 307 ADP
Players that fall in this range are my favorites. Matt Olson had huge numbers last year (he hit 47 HRs between his time in the minors and majors last year, which is actually the same as what Hoskins did) and he’s being drafted near the 10th round of 12-team leagues. The risk is fairly low at this point as you have most starters filled in so this is a spot where it doesn’t hurt to roll the dice on a potential huge sleeper. Nearly 200 picks later, you can find another big sleeper candidate in Nick Williams who, like Devers, could develop into a high AVG hitter with 20 HR, 10 SB potential (his high strikeout rate is a red flag though).
These two players will likely be landing on a lot of my teams due to the projected draft slots here and the potential to deliver breakout seasons.
Maybe Won’t Have The Opportunity
- Nick Delmonico (3B, CWS) – 465.5 ADP
- Jesus Aguilar (1B, MIL) – 517 ADP
- Brian Goodwin (OF, WAS) – 602.5 ADP
- Pat Valaika (3B/SS, COL) – 610.5 ADP
These are the unfortunate players who played pretty damn well in limited time last year but likely won’t be cracking their team’s opening day rosters. They’re still worthy of keeping an eye on as the season rolls on but they likely won’t be on your draft day sleeper list. The one who has the most hope of cracking the opening day lineup is Nick Delmonico but I’m not too sold on his skill set (he hit 9 HR in 43 G last year but that seems like an aberration based on his track record). The one who excites me most from this list is Jesus Aguilar due to his 30 HR power potential but he’s trapped behind Eric Thames. All in all, these are players to just keep on your scouting list to see if anything happens with them but you can ignore them most likely.
There’s a lot of names on my sleeper list this year but it really comes down to two at the end of the day. For me, I see a lot of hype around Rhys Hoskins and Rafael Devers but I think that Matt Olson and Nick Williams offer similar skill sets at a much cheaper price. If I’m looking for potential breakout hitters with less risk attached to them, I’ll be looking at Olson and Williams this year.
Luke is better known as Mr. Cheatsheet despite his last name not being Cheatsheet. He makes spreadsheets, writes blog posts and his rankings were in the top 10 accuracy among FantasyPros experts in 2014, 2016 and 2017. When he's not doing fantasy baseball things, he can be found playing board games or rating beer.