Sleepers and fantasy baseball draft guidance based on projections

We just need one hand to count the number of days until Opening Day and we are all scurrying to get our last fantasy baseball drafts in. Or, we’ve had our drafts and now we are just gawking at the wonderful teams that we drafted. We still have no way of knowing what will happen this upcoming season though and that mystery is part of the fun. I mean, everyone loves a good mystery but let’s try to solve the mystery a little bit and take a look at what my Special Blend projections say about the upcoming season.

For the uninitiated, baseball projections are created every year by very smart people who analyze historical statistical trends to give us their best guesses at how players will produce over the upcoming season. I don’t create projections like that because I’m not that smart. On this site, I take all of the best projection sources and other helpful data and throw them into a blender to create a projection system that averages that all together. It’s been shown to be a helpful predictor for fantasy baseball purposes by Fangraphs and my own past analysis.

These projections are not perfect and there will always be hits and misses within them but they give us valuable insight into what the stats are trying to tell us. They are unbiased and unmerciful. Let’s take a look at some lessons we can take from that type of unbiased outlook.

In Roto Leagues, Not All Categories Are Created Equal

In the past, I used to do an analysis of trends for each 5×5 roto category throughout a draft and it’s an interesting exercise. The main lesson to take out of that sort of analysis is that you can only find good value for most roto categories in the early rounds and then you’re just trying to limit the damage as the draft goes on.

Here’s a tweet of mine where I looked at how the hitting categories are trending throughout a typical 5×5 roto draft, based on the Special Blend projections:

What can you take out of a chart like that though?

Well, the idea here is that certain stats hold value throughout a draft better than others. Perhaps the hardest stats to find after the early rounds are AVG and SB. It doesn’t mean you should ignore other stats if you are trying to build a balanced team, but you should probably make sure that some of your early-round hitters are contributing in AVG and SB as well.

Now, that being said, SB is the stat least tied to any other stat. I say that because HRs automatically contribute to AVG, R, and RBI each time they are hit, but somebody could be good at stealing bases without contributing to any other category. I wrote an article a decade ago about the correlation between these stats and found that basing a draft around HR and AVG is probably the best bet for hitting.

The main thing to know is that not all stats last forever in a draft. Pay attention to the scarcity of certain stats as you draft.

The Projections Like These Hitters More Than Us

There’s a number of reasons that human bias comes into play when we’re drafting. We, as human beings, sometimes dislike a player because they burned us in the past or we have assumptions about their ability to stay healthy or we didn’t like something they once said or they look funny, or a million other things. Basically, we got opinions.

Projections don’t have opinions. They just spit out numbers based on what they see in a player’s history. It’s nice. Projections are very understanding and fair.

It’s hard to find a common thread in why we undervalue the players in this graphic below and why the projections, maybe, overvalue them. Regardless, the projections differ from us humans when it comes to a lot of hitters this year:

There’s not one piece of advice to offer after looking at a list like that. I would just say that this is a list of players that may represent safer bets than we’re giving them credit for. Whether they’re a declining veteran or a player without a lot of MLB experience, the projections see something valuable in them.

I wouldn’t base a whole draft around this list but it’s a good list of players to target in your middle rounds if you’re stuck on who to draft.

The Projections Respect Elderly Pitchers

If the projections are so unbiased and wise then perhaps the best lesson that they can teach us is that we need to overcome our age bias sometimes. Did you know that we, as humans, are more biased against age than almost anything else? I’m not talking about fantasy baseball here but life in general. Still, it pops up in fantasy baseball as well.

When I look at the undervalued pitchers, according to the projections, the common theme is that they’re old (to us). If we believe in the power of projections, maybe we need to look past that.

Beyond our age bias, if anything, these projections are much kinder to injury-prone pitchers than we are. And, yes, as I’m alluding to, the projections are also kinder to veterans in their twilight years. Should we learn from this? Should we believe this? Or should we trust our instincts about these players and their past injuries and age?

When I’m in a bind in my drafts and struggling to decide between a handful of pitchers, I’ll side with the projections more often than not just because they’re taking my own bias out of the equation. I will likely have a large majority of these pitchers on my teams as a result. Some will miss, some will deliver value but we’re probably overlooking them all to some degree either way.

Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Projection Basket

Look, I love the Special Blend projections because of the way they allow me to view the fantasy baseball landscape each year. They’re just one opinion though. If you’re using my cheatsheets on draft day, I do encourage you to change your settings midway through your draft to another projection system (Steamer and ZiPS are great). Check out how those projections view your draft as well too so you get a second opinion. The goal of projections isn’t to be 100% correct but to push us closer to reasonable expectations, so take it all with a gigantic grain of salt.

With that being said, have a great fantasy baseball season, my friends. Respect your elders and be a good person as often as you can.

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1 Comment

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    03/26/2023 at 1:43 PM

    Thank you Luke. Love reading your projections, sleepers and overall analysis. Best of luck this year as well!

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