2017 Sleeper Hitters (The Search for Narco)

If you’ve played fantasy baseball for a number of years, you know that we are living in a golden age in regard to that amount of information available to owners on draft day. As a result, it gets harder to find sleepers every year. You’ve luckily come to the right place though because I can assure you that nobody is trying to find sleepers mathematically in the way that I am.

Unlike other sleeper lists you may find, I am not subjectively picking my sleepers. No, no. I’m using math and only math! I first came up with a formula about 8 years ago to try to mathematically identify sleepers and I’ve analyzed the results every year to tweak it and make it better and better. I’ve now gotten to the point where I’ve established a series of benchmarks and statistical analysis to generate a list of sleepers each year and, man, it works well.

After recently analyzing ten years of draft data and stats, I’ve landed upon the parameters and formulas for the 2017 version of my sleeper system. Looking back from 2007 to 2016, there have been 64 hitters who met my criteria going into the draft. Half of those hitters were drafted twice as high the next year and 80% at least outperformed expectations that year.

While that’s good, the system gets more interesting if we only look at hitters who were in their team’s Opening Day lineup. We can’t always know which batters those are in early January but it’s a helpful piece of data. Dating back to 2007, there were 29 hitters who met my criteria and were also in their team’s Opening Day lineup. Of those, 21 (72%) were drafted twice as high the next year and 90% outperformed expectations that season.

Needless to say, this latest version of the sleeper system has a track record of finding good players for you to target later in your drafts.

What To Know About My Sleeper System

The basic goal of this system is to find players who are about to break out. I find that the best players to fit that model are those that have not had a lot of time in the majors yet and, specifically, haven’t had a full year of stats to be analyzed by the public. For players without a full of year of stats, their previous season totals generally look lower and not as enticing to the less-informed fantasy owner. To find such players, I first filter down the draft pool to players who meet these benchmarks:

  • Less than 400 plate appearances last year
  • More than 125 plate appearances last year
  • Less than 900 career plate appearances going into this year
  • Under 30 years old
  • Not being drafted in the Top 100 players

My next step is to look within that list for those that performed at an elite level during that limited time. This is where my system gets a little funky but I calculate a Fantasy Points Per Plate Appearance for each player based on their previous year’s stats. I then identify which players were 0.66 standard deviations above league average for that year in that stat.

This lets me know who was performing at an elite level in their plate appearances despite not having a full season of play. Now I’ve got a list of sleepers to target!

Who Meets the Criteria in 2017?

On average, there are about six players per year who meet the criteria I just laid out. We have, well, six players for 2017 who meet it. Huzzah!

  • David Dahl (OF, COL)
  • Alex Bregman (3B, HOU)
  • Jose Peraza (2B, CIN)
  • Ryon Healy (3B, OAK)
  • Jefry Marte (1B, LAA)
  • Abraham Almonte (OF, CLE)

In early ADP data, it’s looking like Dahl and Bregman may fall within the Top 100 and, thus, not be sleeper picks according to my criteria. So keep an eye on that. It’s projected that Healy will be in the Opening Day lineup for Oakland but there are some questions about whether Peraza, Marte and Almonte will be coming off their respective benches.

Some Noteworthy Borderline Candidates

Though I laid out the criteria for what makes a “sleeper” in my system, there are always some players who just barely don’t make the cut because they had a few too many or too little plate appearances. I figured I’d quickly highlight these players as they still may be worth keeping an eye on.

  • Andrew Toles (OF, LAD) – He was just under the PA benchmark
  • T.J. Rivera (2B, NYM) – Also just under the PA benchmark
  • Hernan Perez (3B, MIL) – He was just above the PA benchmark
  • Devon Travis (2B, TOR) – Also just above the PA benchmark

I was a fan of Travis last year and think he could have a big season if healthy for a full year. Perez was very interesting last year but may be pushed to the bench with the Travis Shaw acquisition in Milwaukee.

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

Peraza is an interesting speedster that gets overshadowed by Hamilton in Cincinnati. If he can continue hitting .300 and continue the pace to steal 60 bases (which I think is possible), he’s very interesting. Healy‘s AVG and HR combination is exciting but the question is just how much regression to expect in both. Marte is being drafted so late that he’s worth a flier in deep leagues even if his HR surge from last year isn’t sustainable. Meanwhile, I think Almonte can be ignored and may not even be on the roster in Cleveland.

Any particular players jumping out from these lists for you all that you’d like to see analyzed a bit more closely this offseason?

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  • Jake
    01/21/2017 at 2:58 PM

    This is awesome! Thanks for doing my homework. No really though, great research.

    • Luke
      01/22/2017 at 1:32 PM

      Haha, thanks man! Always glad to do homework for others.

  • Randy
    01/23/2017 at 1:26 PM

    I get butterflies when I see you have new posts!

    • Luke
      01/24/2017 at 12:53 AM

      Hearing stuff like that makes my day!

  • SR
    01/23/2017 at 5:34 PM

    I love these posts, but I have a few questions. The pitcher screen looks at the fundamental skill set of the pitchers (e.g. SwStr%) rather than past performance. But for the hitters, you are basically looking at those who previously performed in limited samples and the projecting things out for a full season, given playing time increases. I can understand how both approaches can yield useful sleepers. But the system for identifying pitchers is more aesthetically appealing to me, because it seems less likely to be distorted by luck in small sample sizes.

    I can’t argue with your results but do you have any plans to tweak the hitter screen to include raw skills like LD%, K-BB, or hard-hit ball metrics? Or to eliminate luck (BABIP)? Is it just that what can make a good hitter is more varied than what makes a good pitcher?

    • Luke
      01/24/2017 at 12:51 AM

      You make a great point. When I started using this system of identifying sleeper hitters, it was eight years ago and those types of stats really weren’t readily available. I didn’t start doing pitchers until more recently and only did so after I came up with a good system using pitch stats. Since I already pleased with the results of the hitter system, I only worked on tweaking what was actually working each year to improve upon it.

      But, the difference between hitters and pitchers for me is that it’s easier to identify what makes a pitcher valuable versus a hitter. For a hitter, there are guys who are two-category stars that are valuable but there are also guys who contribute little bit in five categories too. For a pitcher, you don’t see that type of variety in types of value. It’s easier to set benchmarks for elite pitchers as a result. Coming up with a similar system for hitters is a bit harder though.

      That being said, I think it might be interesting to try to do something like you’re suggesting. It’s got my wheels turning at least! I actually have a post upcoming where I calculated a bunch of expected stats for hitters using raw skill data to try to highlight some over/underachievers. Keep an eye out for that.

  • Alex
    01/26/2017 at 10:26 AM

    I have been playing fantasy baseball for 7 years now and this is my first time stumbling upon your website! I am really looking forward to your cheatsheets this year and have no doubt this will finally be the year I win my league! Along with Randy, I got pretty stoked seeing posts starting to pop up for fantasy baseball! Keep up the awesome work!

    • Luke Gloeckner
      01/27/2017 at 1:37 PM

      That’s awesome, man! I’m still waiting on more data to get released but I’m hoping the first draft of the cheatsheet should be out within a few weeks. Enjoy the articles and analysis in the meantime.

  • Tom Mahon
    03/24/2017 at 6:39 AM

    How did your sleeper picks from last year pan out? Great info on this site!