MASTER NOTES: 2017 ADPs vs 2017 Reality

I learned a lot in many years working with and for Ron Shandler. It was the result of his insistence that we have to understand and embrace the imprecision of projections and valuations. This theme recurred in Ron’s fine opening essays in the Baseball Forecaster annual, and every so often, Ron would write a piece here at Master Notes showing how many players defied their projections and valuations.

As I write this, on Thursday, June 29, MLB is 96.3% of the way to the exact mid-point of the 2017 season—a fine time to check and see how those pre-season projections panned out.

So in this edition of Master Notes, I compared pre-season ADPs with current year-to-date (YTD) player performance, and look for patterns in the round differences as well as players with big jumps and falls in their pre-season rounds versus their YTD rounds.

Method

My main data source was the excellent BaseballHQ.com Custom Draft Guide (CDG), using these settings:

  • 15-team mixed league
  • Standard 5x5 roto categories
  • Standard roster: 14 hitter/9 pitcher, six reserves, 435 players in all
  • 70/30 Hit/Pitch budget split (for current valuation)

Pre-season ADPs are included in the CDG output, but are averaged from several sources, so there were some ties. I resolved these by ignoring them, since they only mattered in cases where the ADP tie occurs at “the wheel,” where rounds transition and the difference between rounds is nominal anyway.

To get current rounds, I used the CDG dollar values, then simply ranked the players from most valuable (Paul Goldschmidt) to the 1,126th-most valuable (BAL starter Chris Tillman, just behind BAL starter Ubaldo Jimenez, who is just behind BAL starter Kevin Gausman, which makes it remarkable that the Orioles aren’t 10-70).

The top 435 YTD players (23 per roster plus six reserve rounds) were assigned to rounds by YTD rank. All players from YTD #436 (Kennys Vargas) down were rated as Round 30 to facilitate the subtraction process.

I did impose some limits for what was interesting. And since I’m just past the 300-word mark and haven’t said anything yet, I suspect I’m testing your limit. The overall round analyses did not include the players outside the top 435 by ADP, since that’s more than 600 free agents and most of them are still below roster level.

Among individual players, I decided that “Big Gainers” had to have seventh-round YTD value or better, around $15 YTD, or jumps of 10+ rounds. Nobody’s that curious about a Round-16 player who jumps to Round 13. Similarly, “Big Losers” must have started with ADPs in the seventh round or better, or dropped 10+ rounds.

Findings

Overall, what I found was that Shandler was right. Only 4% of players are in the same round YTD as where they were drafted. An additional 9% are one round different (+1 or -1), and 7% are within two. But 38% missed by 10+ rounds and another 24% are 5-9 rounds out of synch. That’s almost two-thirds of players overdrafted by six rounds or more!

Twelve of the 23 ADP rounds had zero matches with YTD, as did five of the six reserve rounds (remember in both cases this includes players above their ADP round as well as below). The median round error was -4 rounds. Every round but one had a range of YTD outcomes of 20 or more.

In general, though, the ADP rounds sow a steady downward slope in average dollar value, with a few blips. The seventh and eighth rounds in particular stand out, as both are significantly better than fifth and sixth rounds in average YTD round and average YTD dollar value.

Also, the 17th, 20th and 23rd ADP rounds all returned YTD results above their level. Not surprising, considering the 17th had eight players in double-digit YTD dollar value, including Domingo Santana (MIL), Ivan Nova (PIT), Brandon Kinzler (MIN), Jedd Gyorko (STL), Greg Holland (COL), Matt Holliday (NYY), David Peralta (ARI) and Melky Cabrera (CHW); the 20th had overperformers Chris Owings (ARI), Brandon Phillips (ATL), Brett Gardner (NYY), Justin Bour  (MIA) and Josh Reddick (HOU); and the 23rd had Steven Souza Jr. (TAM), Luis Severino (NYY)—and Aaron Judge (NYY).

The lesson in this last bunch might be that there’s profit to be made by betting on an underappreciated closer, so long as has the job, and established veterans with high-value track records but questions.

The most accurate round turned out to be the first, perhaps unsurprisingly, given the amount of thermally-augmented air spent on the topic before the season. Six of the 15 players by ADP are also first-rounders by YTD: Jose Altuve (HOU), Goldschmidt, Bryce Harper (WAS), Trea Turner (WAS), Max Scherzer (WAS) and Charlie Blackmon (COL). Another four—Mike Trout (LAA), Mookie Betts (BOS), Clayton Kershaw (LA) and Nolan Arenado (COL), are YTD second-rounders. Two first-rounders, Josh Donaldson (TOR) and, especially, Madison Bumgarner (SF), were injured early.

The second round has had some non-injury-related disappointments, with players falling into much lower rounds. The names that stand out here: Trevor Story (COL), barely rosterable; Miguel Cabrera (DET), under $7 and in the 16th; and Jonathan Villar (MIL), a YTD 13th-rounder. Three CLE players—Corey Kluber, Francisco Lindor and Edwin Encarnacion—are in the 10th, ninth and eighth rounds YTD, although that doesn’t count Kluber’s excellent start on Thursday. Two second-rounders, Joey Votto (CIN) and Chris Sale (BOS), have actually moved up to the top rung.

Big Individual Gainers

Speaking of player movement, let’s turn to individual players who have been way better than their ADP. Owners with a few of these players are going to be very competitive this year. Unless they’ve also got guys on the other side of the coin.

At the top of the pops is another veteran slugger, and Mark Reynolds (COL) is also in a good situation in COL. Reynolds was undrafted by ADP, and is a second-rounder YTD. At the time the ADPs were being compiled, of course, owners expected 1B in Coors would be manned by Ian Desmond.

Just back of Reynolds’ +28 gain is Justin Smoak (TOR), another ADP free agent who is a third-rounder having a breakout power and BA season. Interestingly, LA sensation Cody Bellinger actually was considered draftable by enough owners that he snuck into the late reserve. He’s all the way up into the second round, for a +26. Also at +26 is our first pitcher, Jason Vargas (KC), an ADP free agent who is, believe it or not (and I scarcely do, even though I’m looking at it right now), all the way up into the YTD fourth round!

Two more of the +25 big-jump players will be expected names: Ryan Zimmerman (WAS) and Avisail Garcia (CHW) were reserve picks who made it to the first and second rounds, respectively. Logan Morrison, Aaron Hicks and Trey Mancini were all free agents who are now worth fifth-round status.

And of course, Aaron Judge, who went from late 23rd by ADP to the first round, with the second-highest fantasy value behind Goldschmidt. Honorable mentions to YTD first-rounders Corey Dickerson (TAM), Elvis Andrus (TEX) and Jose Ramirez (CLE), who improved by six or more rounds to join the elite.

Big Individual Sinkers

Just as owners with a good collection from the previous group are sitting pretty, guys with more than a few of these next players are likely not going to be showering in Yoo-Hoo this year. Unless they do so for private reasons.

We’ll leave aside Bumgarner, Donaldson and Story, already discussed, and lead with a closer. Aroldis Chapman (NYY) was a late-third or early fourth ADP guy, but has returned barely $2 this year and is a reserve-round value. Ten other players have declined 20 or more rounds. Many injuries, of course—Noah Syndergaard (NYM), Zach Britton (BAL), Adrian Beltre (TEX) and Danny Duffy (KC) have all missed major time. And Starling Marte (PIT) got suspended.

But some players have been playing, just not nearly up to expectations.

A few top pitchers are among the worst performers, led by Justin Verlander (DET, -21), and including Kyle Hendricks (CHC, -21) and Jake Arrieta (CHC, -20). Extending into the -19, -18 and -17 cohorts captures such putative ace hurlers as Masahiro Tanaka (NYY), Cole Hamels (TEX) and the long-injured David Price (BOS).

Among hitters with 20-round or worse declines, we find Jonathan Lucroy (TEX), who went at a premium in many leagues but is producing at reserve-round level so far. Going into the -19s gets Carlos Gonzalez (COL) and Kyle Schwarber (CHC).

Conclusion

Of course we must all understand that this is a snapshot in time, and that the players who are way up today could fall in the second half of the season, and vice versa. The more interesting aspect is the effort to identify where the value “pockets” are this season—but only if we can follow up and see how 2017 jibes with past seasons. Is there something significant about the value surfacing ADP rounds 17, 20 and 23 this year? Or will it be 16, 19 and 22 next season?

In the meantime, the safest bet is probably to assume water will find its own level. Jason Vargas is probably not going to stay at 2.29/1.13. Hit Rate and Strand Rate anomalies suggest Rick Porcello (BOS, -16) is not the 5.00/1.50 pitcher he’s been thus far.

So there will be buying opportunities and selling opportunities here. Just don’t expect immediate and certain changes. We are still in the realm of the small samples that Ron Shandler has long warned lead to volatility and unpredictability. And as the season progress, that rest-of-season sample will be getting smaller all the time.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.