How Much Should You Expect to Lose With Your Top Picks?

I came across an interesting article by Fangraphs’ Mike Podhorzer on Twitter this morning, wherein he shows that last year’s breakouts typically fail to earn their keep the following. It’s well worth a read. But I started wondering to what extent they fail relative to every expensive player. Because – after all – every top-50 list fails in the aggregate to live up to its preseason billing for the simple reason that players outside the top-50 before the year will wind up on it by year’s end. There’s nowhere to go but down for every set of players in the Top-10, Top-20, Top-x.

So I ran the numbers for the top-75 players, what they cost and what they earned.

Here are the results:

NFBC ADP Player $ Cost* $ Earned** P/L
1 Mike Trout 44.38 25 -19.38
2 Mookie Betts 43.75 27 -16.75
3 Clayton Kershaw 41.38 34 -7.38
4 Jose Altuve 41.13 36 -5.13
5 Kris Bryant 40.25 21 -19.25
6 Nolan Arenado 39.50 34 -5.50
7 Paul Goldschmidt 39.25 38 -1.25
8 Manny Machado 39.13 19 -20.13
9 Bryce Harper 36.88 21 -15.88
10 Trea Turner 35.88 15 -20.88
11 Max Scherzer 35.13 40 4.87
12 Anthony Rizzo 34.25 26 -8.25
13 Carlos Correa 32.63 16 -16.63
14 Charlie Blackmon 32.25 42 9.75
15 Corey Seager 30.38 14 -16.38
16 Chris Sale 30.13 40 9.87
17 Joey Votto 29.76 30 0.24
18 Corey Kluber 29.05 45 15.95
19 Edwin Encarnacion 28.70 23 -5.70
20 Freddie Freeman 28.35 17 -11.35
21 Xander Bogaerts 28.01 9 -19.01
22 Francisco Lindor 27.68 24 -3.68
23 Trevor Story 27.34 8 -19.34
24 Yu Darvish 26.69 12 -14.69
25 George Springer 26.37 23 -3.37
26 Jake Arrieta 26.05 12 -14.05
27 A.J. Pollock 25.74 6 -19.74
28 Brian Dozier 25.12 26 0.88
29 Giancarlo Stanton 24.52 43 18.48
30 Nelson Cruz 24.22 28 3.78
31 Rougned Odor 23.93 9 -14.93
32 Buster Posey 23.64 7 -16.64
33 Justin Verlander 23.08 20 -3.08
34 Kenley Jansen 22.53 27 4.47
35 Dee Gordon 21.99 24 2.01
36 Gary Sanchez 21.72 17 -4.72
37 Billy Hamilton 21.46 14 -7.46
38 Chris Archer 21.20 10 -11.20
39 Stephen Strasburg 20.95 28 7.05
40 J.D. Martinez 20.69 28 7.31
41 Jean Segura 20.20 9 -11.20
42 Wil Myers 19.96 16 -3.96
43 Christian Yelich 19.48 18 -1.48
44 Carlos Carrasco 18.78 27 8.22
45 Jose Abreu 18.33 26 7.67
46 Kyle Hendricks 17.68 5 -12.68
47 Carlos Martinez 17.26 14 -3.26
48 Kyle Seager 17.05 10 -7.05
49 Andrew McCutchen 16.84 20 3.16
50 Todd Frazier 15.66 5 -10.66
51 Ian Kinsler 15.47 6 -9.47
52 Edwin Diaz 15.10 12 -3.10
53 Roberto Osuna 14.74 16 1.26
54 Justin Upton 14.22 29 14.78
55 Wade Davis 13.88 12 -1.88
56 DJ LeMahieu 13.71 10 -3.71
57 Masahiro Tanaka 13.54 6 -7.54
58 Ken Giles 13.38 12 -1.38
59 Anthony Rendon 13.06 21 7.94
60 Alex Bregman 12.90 15 2.10
61 Jose Ramirez 12.59 29 16.41
62 Kenta Maeda 12.29 7 -5.29
63 Zack Greinke 12.14 26 13.86
64 Alex Colome 11.85 13 1.15
65 Khris Davis 11.71 24 12.29
66 Cody Allen 11.43 10 -1.43
67 Jose Quintana 10.89 9 -1.89
68 Eric Hosmer 10.76 24 13.24
69 Gerrit Cole 10.25 7 -3.25
70 Andrew Miller 9.65 6 -3.65
71 Adam Jones 9.42 12 2.58
72 Miguel Sano 9.30 10 0.70
73 Carlos Santana 9.08 12 2.92
74 David Robertson 8.76 15 6.24
75 Rich Hill 8.55 14 5.45
AVG top-75 22.33 19.27 -3.07
AVG top-50 27.53 21.76 -5.77
AVG top-25 33.93 25.56 -8.37
AVG top-10 40.15 27 -13.1

*using NFBC auction values in descending order for a couple rounds, then an incremental multiplier as explained in this article.

** using RotoWire’s Dollars Earned Calculator  for a 12-team mixed league with a 66/34 hitting/pitching split (per the results I got from the NFBC last year.)

As you can see, on average every tier loses value in the aggregate. Players get hurt, and others like Aaron Judge, Tommy Pham, Luis Severino and Whit Merrifield come out of nowhere to replace them. The higher the tier, the more money they had to lose and hence the more money on average they lost.

You can quibble with the exact values – hard to see how Jose Altuve didn’t earn his lofty price tag – but that’s beside the point. The baseline expected loss for a top-10 player is about $13 and for a top-75 player $3.07.

In Podhorzer’s piece, he analyzed recent breakouts, and his sample included players whose average ADPs were 102 the following year, and on average they lost nearly $10. In that range, you’d expect only a mild loss, maybe $2, so his findings are significant even if we establish a baseline for comparison.

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Keep in mind the dollar values earned are imprecise, and the sample is only 75 players from a single season (in my case), but it does seem likely last year’s breakouts are bad values relative to players drafted in their tiers.