Building the Ultimate Draft List -- Part 1

Building the Ultimate Draft List -- Part 1

This article is part of our MLB Observations series.

Last year, I switched up my draft prep in one crucial respect. Instead of building my own cheat sheets by hand, I outsourced the process to a combination of the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) Average Draft Position (ADP) and an average between two well-known high-quality projections algorithms, Steamer and Derek Carty's The Bat. I weighted the NFBC ADP – comprising dozens of recent drafts on which informed players wagered their hard-earned money – at 60 percent and Steamer and The Bat at 20 percent each. 

The idea was to mine the best information available by combining the vast knowledge contained in the high-stakes market with the most predictive performance metrics.  The market handicaps who's slated for closer roles and how healthy players looked late in the season, while the projections systems aren't mislead by recency bias, buzzy players or cosmetic results not commensurate with underlying skills.

The 60/40 split was somewhat arbitrary, but I got the rough idea from high-stakes professional bettor Rufus Peabody who uses his own metrics to estimate the relative strength of NFL teams and combines them with the market number (point spread) to make his bets. As rigorous as he is with his own process, Rufus still gave the market number more weight. 

But where the light bulb went on was after I read an article about a horse-racing bettor who had a moderately successful algorithm that only took off when he combined it with publicly available market data: 

A breakthrough came when Benter hit on the idea of incorporating a data set hiding in plain sight: the Jockey Club's publicly available betting odds. Building his own set of odds from scratch had been profitable, but he found that using the public odds as a starting point and refining them with his proprietary algorithm was dramatically more profitable. He considered the move his single most important innovation, and in the 1990-91 season, he said, he won about $3 million.

Accordingly, I ran the 60/40 split last year to generate my draft list, tinkered with it to account for only my strongest leans and assembled my teams. While a couple were duds (perhaps not coincidentally the ones where I departed most from my new methodology), this one finished 12th overall in the NFBC online (more than 2,100 teams) and this one cashed in the NFBC Main Event. 

Given last year's results, I reprised the method for 2020, but modified it slightly. I gave more weight (two-thirds) to the NFBC values and only one sixth to each of the algorithms. I did this initially because I mis-remembered last year's split as 70/30 and wanted to make sure the algos had enough of an effect on my rankings to differentiate them from ADP and afterward, when I realized it was actually 60/40, out of inertia. I could still switch them, but 60/40 was just a guess last year, and the algo-based rankings aren't tailored specifically to the NFBC game with its overall contest element that prevents you from being too light on any category out of the draft, e.g, the projections-based rankings don't account for the scarcity of stolen bases. That three and a third percent probably doesn't make a huge difference, and for now I'm content to leave it, but full disclosure, it's not exactly the same as last year's, and I might change it later in draft season. 

I also re-calculated the NFBC hitter/pitcher/closer/catcher splits to generate dollar values. Last year, I just went off my 2017 numbers, using a 66/34 hitter/pitcher split, with $293 of a hypothetical $3,120 ($260 * 12 teams) budget spent on closers and $145 on catchers. But given the way starting pitching has been pushed up more than ever and saves have declined in the NFBC, I decided to update it. 

Accordingly, I used recent NFBC ADP, setting the No. 1 player, Ronald Acuna, at $45 and the number 276 (23 starters * 12 teams) player (Carter Kieboom) at roughly $1, and made the total add up to $3,120 by multiplying $45 (and each successive draft slot value) by .98586. (As you might imagine, it took some trial and error to get the parameters to line up.) I went with $45 for the No. 1 overall pick instead of $52, or whatever Acuna fetches in the NFBC auctions, because auctions are a different ecosystem, and the top overall valued player by Steamer and The Bat, according to my formula, was closer to $45. In any event, the starting number wasn't likely to sway the overall distribution much. 

Here's what it looks like – keep in mind this is recent NFBC ADP only leading up to my draft on Friday, February 21st. 

1Ronald Acuna Jr.OF45.00
2Christian YelichOF44.36
3Mike TroutOF43.74
4Cody Bellinger1B, OF43.12
5Mookie BettsOF42.51
6Jacob deGromP41.91
7Gerrit ColeP41.31
8Trea TurnerSS40.73
9Francisco LindorSS40.15
10Trevor StorySS39.59
11Juan SotoOF39.03
12Justin VerlanderP38.48
13Walker BuehlerP37.93
14Fernando Tatis Jr.SS37.39
15Max ScherzerP36.87
16Nolan Arenado3B36.34
17Jose Ramirez3B35.83
18Alex Bregman3B, SS35.32
19Freddie Freeman1B34.82
20Jack FlahertyP34.33
21Anthony Rendon3B33.85
22Bryce HarperOF33.37
23Rafael Devers3B32.90
24J.D. MartinezOF32.43
25Stephen StrasburgP31.97
26Shane BieberP31.52
27Aaron JudgeOF31.07
28Starling MarteOF30.64
29Mike ClevingerP30.20
30Adalberto MondesiSS29.78
31Blake SnellP29.35
32Ozzie Albies2B28.94
33Pete Alonso1B28.53
34Austin MeadowsOF28.13
35Jonathan VillarSS, 2B27.73
36Chris SaleP27.34
37Gleyber Torres2B, SS26.95
38Javier BaezSS26.57
39Jose Altuve2B26.19
40Luis CastilloP25.82
41Keston Hiura2B25.46
42Ketel Marte2B, OF25.10
43Xander BogaertsSS24.74
44Yordan AlvarezUT24.39
45Patrick CorbinP24.05
46George SpringerOF23.71
47Charlie BlackmonOF23.37
48J.T. RealmutoC23.04
49Clayton KershawP22.72
50Lucas GiolitoP22.40
51Chris PaddackP22.08
52Aaron NolaP21.77
53Vladimir Guerrero Jr.3B21.46
54Giancarlo StantonOF21.16
55Yu DarvishP20.86
56Matt Olson1B20.56
57Josh HaderP20.27
58Bo BichetteSS19.98
59Eloy JimenezOF19.70
60Charlie MortonP19.42
61Whit Merrifield2B, OF19.15
62Victor RoblesOF18.88
63Noah SyndergaardP18.61
64Tyler GlasnowP18.35
65Manny Machado3B, SS18.09
66Luis SeverinoP17.83
67Tommy PhamOF17.58
68Kris Bryant3B, OF17.33
69Yoan Moncada3B17.09
70Zack GreinkeP16.84
71Kirby YatesP16.61
72Luis RobertOF16.37
73DJ LeMahieu1B, 3B, 2B16.14
74Anthony Rizzo1B15.91
75Max Muncy2B, 1B, 3B15.69
76Paul Goldschmidt1B15.47
77Aroldis ChapmanP15.25
78Jose Abreu1B15.03
79Ramon LaureanoOF14.82
80Brandon WoodruffP14.61
81Gary SanchezC14.40
82Jose BerriosP14.20
83Roberto OsunaP14.00
84Trevor BauerP13.80
85Nelson CruzUT13.60
86Eugenio Suarez3B13.41
87Matt Chapman3B13.22
88Liam HendriksP13.04
89Josh Donaldson3B12.85
90Joey GalloOF12.67
91Marcus SemienSS12.49
92Jeff McNeilOF, 3B, 2B12.31
93Jorge SolerOF12.14
94Eddie RosarioOF11.97
95Carlos CarrascoP11.80
96Tim AndersonSS11.63
97Nick CastellanosOF11.47
98Brad HandP11.31
99Sonny GrayP11.15
100Mike Moustakas2B, 3B10.99
101Yasmani GrandalC10.83
102Taylor RogersP10.68
103Marcell OzunaOF10.53
104Corey KluberP10.38
105Josh Bell1B10.23
106Mike SorokaP10.09
107Edwin DiazP9.95
108Carlos CorreaSS9.80
109Andrew BenintendiOF9.67
110Kenley JansenP9.53
111Trey ManciniOF, 1B9.39
112Zack WheelerP9.26
113Ken GilesP9.13
114Oscar MercadoOF9.00
115Mitch GarverC8.87
116Miguel Sano3B8.75
117Jesus LuzardoP8.63
118Rhys Hoskins1B8.50
119Shohei OhtaniP8.38
120Frankie MontasP8.26
121Amed RosarioSS8.15
122Michael ConfortoOF8.03
123Lance LynnP7.92
124Willson ContrerasC7.81
125Eduardo Escobar2B, 3B7.70
126Madison BumgarnerP7.59
127Zac GallenP7.48
128Max FriedP7.37
129Cavan Biggio2B7.27
130Michael BrantleyOF7.17
131Hector NerisP7.07
132Elvis AndrusSS6.97
133Danny Santana1B, OF6.87
134Tommy Edman2B, 3B6.77
135Dinelson LametP6.68
136Eduardo RodriguezP6.58
137Kyle SchwarberOF6.49
138Raisel IglesiasP6.40
139David DahlOF6.31
140Gavin Lux2B6.22
141Yasiel PuigOF6.13
142Max KeplerOF6.04
143Brandon WorkmanP5.96
144Kyle TuckerOF5.87
145Julio UriasP5.79
146Craig KimbrelP5.71
147Will SmithP5.63
148Franmil ReyesOF5.55
149Nick AndersonP5.47
150Hyun-Jin RyuP5.39
151Byron BuxtonOF5.31
152Mallex SmithOF5.24
153Will SmithC5.17
154Alex ColomeP5.09
155Corey SeagerSS5.02
156Hansel RoblesP4.95
157Kyle HendricksP4.88
158Jose LeclercP4.81
159Salvador PerezC4.74
160Carlos Santana1B4.68
161Lourdes Gurriel Jr.OF4.61
162Scott Kingery3B, OF4.54
163Robbie RayP4.48
164Archie BradleyP4.42
165Yuli Gurriel1B, 3B4.35
166David PriceP4.29
167Garrett Hampson2B, OF4.23
168Matthew BoydP4.17
169Kenta MaedaP4.11
170Sean ManaeaP4.05
171German MarquezP4.00
172Jorge PolancoSS3.94
173Ian KennedyP3.89
174Willie CalhounOF3.83
175J.D. DavisOF, 3B3.78
176Khris DavisUT3.72
177Lorenzo CainOF3.67
178Edwin Encarnacion1B3.62
179Lance McCullers Jr.P3.57
180Justin Turner3B3.52
181Carlos MartinezP3.47
182Mike MinorP3.42
183Wilson RamosC3.37
184Sean DoolittleP3.32
185Jake OdorizziP3.28
186Joe JimenezP3.23
187Keone KelaP3.18
188Ryan McMahon2B, 3B3.14
189Luke WeaverP3.09
190Omar NarvaezC3.05
191Luke Voit1B3.01
192Giovanny GallegosP2.96
193Kevin Newman2B, SS2.92
194Hunter Dozier3B, OF2.88
195Mark MelanconP2.84
196Mike FoltynewiczP2.80
197Christian Walker1B2.76
198Andrew HeaneyP2.72
199Carson KellyC2.68
200Bryan ReynoldsOF2.65
201Paul DeJongSS2.61
202Didi GregoriusSS2.57
203Christian VazquezC2.53
204Jean SeguraSS2.50
205Nick SenzelOF2.46
206Andrew McCutchenOF2.43
207Sean MurphyC2.39
208Brandon Lowe2B2.36
209Marcus StromanP2.33
210Kolten Wong2B2.29
211Adam EatonOF2.26
212Avisail GarciaOF2.23
213Alex VerdugoOF2.20
214Griffin CanningP2.17
215Aristides AquinoOF2.14
216James PaxtonP2.11
217Joe MusgroveP2.08
218Jorge AlfaroC2.05
219Jose UrquidyP2.02
220Masahiro TanakaP1.99
221Mitch KellerP1.96
222Dustin MayP1.93
223Joey LucchesiP1.91
224Jo AdellOF1.88
225Justin UptonOF1.85
226Joc Pederson1B, OF1.83
227Michael Chavis1B, 2B1.80
228Francisco MejiaC1.78
229Caleb SmithP1.75
230Gio Urshela3B1.73
231A.J. PukP1.70
232Rougned Odor2B1.68
233Tom MurphyC1.65
234Nick Madrigal2B1.63
235Luis Arraez2B, OF1.61
236Yadier MolinaC1.58
237Jon Berti3B, SS, OF1.56
238Austin HaysOF1.54
239Nomar MazaraOF1.52
240Travis d'ArnaudC1.50
241Brian AndersonOF, 3B1.48
242Sam HilliardOF1.45
243Miles MikolasP1.43
244Ryan YarbroughP1.41
245Adrian HouserP1.39
246C.J. Cron1B1.37
247Mark CanhaOF1.35
248Sandy AlcantaraP1.34
249Hunter RenfroeOF1.32
250Mychal GivensP1.30
251David PeraltaOF1.28
252Jon GrayP1.26
253Dylan BundyP1.24
254Aaron CivaleP1.23
255Dee Gordon2B1.21
256Yandy Diaz1B, 3B1.19
257Emilio PaganP1.17
258Garrett RichardsP1.16
259Shin-Soo ChooOF1.14
260A.J. PollockOF1.13
261Chris ArcherP1.11
262Anthony DeSclafaniP1.09
263Dansby SwansonSS1.08
264Danny JansenC1.06
265Eric Hosmer1B1.05
266Scott ObergP1.03
267Randal GrichukOF1.02
268Brendan McKayP1.00
269Shogo AkiyamaOF0.99
270Buster PoseyC0.98
271Miguel AndujarUT0.96
272Ryan BraunOF0.95
273Steven MatzP0.94
274Wil MyersOF0.92
275Austin RileyOF0.91
276Carter KieboomSS0.90

When you add up the implicit NFBC expenditures by position, it looks like this: 

Total $713.16165.54103.25230.94326.591,104.3699.4942.68333.96
Avg. $11.8911.8210.3219.2516.3310.235.2410.6711.52

The first thing I noticed was that pitching – already expensive in the NFBC three years ago relative to the old 70/30 industry-league standard – was an even bigger portion of the budget, coming to $1.104.36 out of the $3,120 for a 64.6%/35.4% split. Moreover, relief pitching that went for $293 in 2017 dropped to only $210.73. That means an even bigger portion of total resources ($893.63) is going toward starting pitching:


Knowing these splits is necessary for converting the algorithmic projections into dollar values – and ultimately rankings. The projections can tell you how hitters are valued in each category relative to other hitters, but to compare starting pitchers to relievers to hitters, you need to know how much of the total budget to apportion to each. 

In Part 2 - I'll dive into the Steamer and The Bat projections for hitters and pitchers, how and why I separated relievers and catchers from the rest and how I integrated them back into an overall dollar-value based ranking. Then I'll add the NFBC ADP and aggregate it back into the master list.

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Chris Liss
Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.
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