2011 draft day resources

With draft dates quickly approaching as fantasy preseason gets into full swing, now feels like an apt time for this year’s list of my favorite research resources.

Resources at a price

In terms of for-pay resources, I recommend only two tools: THT Forecasts and in-auction software. Beyond this, most of the best fantasy information on the net is either free or can substantially be gotten for free.

In terms of projection systems, there is a lot of helpful, free stuff out there for free on the Internet. Fangraphs has fantasy forecasts by Bill James, RotoChamp, and “The Fans” (crowdsourced projections) available on player pages. Fangraphs also tends to feature ZiPS projections once they are released in their entirety. Right now, Fangraphs does not have a sortable 2011 projections page on-line, but will likely add one in the coming weeks. CHONE, which has won most accuracy comparisons, no longer exists.

Tom Tango recently tested the accuracies of the most popular projection systems on the market (CHONE, Oliver, ZiPS, PECOTA, Marcel) and found that for players with higher sample sizes of major league production, the projection systems tend to be pretty fungible overall. Where the real challenge comes, however, is in forecasting younger players with little or no minor league records. That is where the systems vary most and this is where Oliver and THT Forecasts have a comparative advantage.

According to Tango’s evaluation of the forecasts from 2007-2010, Oliver does the best at forecasting young players based on minor league production. This is why I recommend Oliver and THT Forecasts so highly. Everyone and their mothers know what Bobby Abreu is capable of, but what about young players like Jason Heyward or Brian Matusz last year? Or how about Mike Stanton or Freddie Freeman this year? Especially for keeper leagues, Oliver and THT Forecasts act as a great resource to evaluate young player’s prospective value to help you determine whether they are a multi-dollar investments at the auction table, or $1 spec picks at best.

In addition to being fantastic at projecting young players via Oliver, THT Forecast also offers three other great resources for fantasy players. First, THT Forecasts has a customizable fantasy pricing guide that lets you accurately forecast players’ fantasy values, a true burden for auction leagues. For batting stat categories, you can choose among AVG, R, RBI, HR, SB, 2B,3B, BB, K, OBP, SLG, OPS, TB, SB-CS, TB+BB, Runs Produced, and 2B+3B. For pitching stat categories, you can choose among W, SV, ERA, WHIP, K, K/9, BB/9, HR/9, IP, TB, K/BB, and Net Wins (Quality Starts and Holds are not yet available). These highly customizable fantasy pricing permutations make calculating values for diverse leagues as easy as clicking the right buttons.

Free sites offer similar pricing systems, but a pricing guide is only as strong as its forecasts and THT Forecast is the only system that uses Oliver (rated second only to CHONE, now defunct, amongst the various forecasts Tango evaluated from 2007-2010).

In addition to being a fantastic preseason draft-day resource, Oliver shines in its continuous usefulness through its “rest of season” projections. Like most fantasy system, Oliver “learns” as more data become available, but rather than wait until the offseason to tell you what it’s learned, Oliver incorporates its new knowledge into the form of “rest of season” (ROS) projections. ZiPS offers a similar service for free, but crucially THT Forecasts adjusts its numbers using weekly updated playing time projections.

Finally, THT Forecasts offers exportable spreadsheets of Oliver forecasts so that you can rank your Oliver’s in-season and rest-of-season expectations to mine for value throughout the season.

Each of THT Forecast’s features make it a true bargain. Full disclosure: I work for the Hardball Times (duh) and contribute to THT Forecasts. Nonetheless, I can honestly attest to its value and utility, having used it for almost a year now. If you do not believe me, just read Tom Tango’s full evaluation of the forecasting systems. Customer service for THT Forecasts is also incredibly responsive. You can purchase access to Oliver via THT Forecasts for $14.95 for the entire 2011 season.

The only other for-pay software that I can legitimately recommend are in-draft tools. Though I do not use in-draft software, the two that my colleague Joe Dimino most recommends are the offerings of RotoLab and John Benson (link broken?). I have little to no experiences with this on draft day, but here is what Joe had to say in the comment section of Brad Johnson’s Feb. 7 article A Beginner’s Guide To Auction Draft Nominations:

I’ve used Benson’s software and RotoLab. One of the nice things about both of these is that they will calculate inflation during your auction and adjust player prices accordingly. It’s also nice to visually be able to see that there is one really good player at a position left, with a huge dropoff after, things like that.

If you are in a standard league, I’d recommend going with RotoLab over Benson. I think the interface is more intuitive. Also a nice feature of rotolab is the ability to tune values for overpaying for stars or balanced drafting. You can tweak this based on the other owners in your league, or your own preferences, depending on whether you are trying to predict salaries, or if you are using it to recommend strategy for your own team.

One thing I don’t like about these is that in both you have to guess what the league split on pitching vs. position players will be —there is no way to have it just give you what it thinks it should be. This is where having historical information for your league drafts from previous years helps.

Both have a moderate learning curve, so don’t order them the night before your draft; take some time and play with them for awhile.

I’m in a league that uses highly customized stats and I still haven’t found a software package that works perfectly. The one stat that always gives me trouble is pitchers adjusted OPS against, which is calculated as 2*OBP against + SLG against.

We also use relief points for pitchers, calculated as 2*SV + HLD + RW – RL – BS. I haven’t found software that distinguishes relief W/L from starter W/L so I can add this customized stat. I don’t think either projects holds, although maybe they’ve updated for this year.

We use quality starts instead of wins, and I haven’t found software that projects those either.

Hope that helps. I’m very interested if anyone uses other software and has an opinion, as I’d rate Benson C+ and RotoLab B- and would love to find an “A.”

Take the information at face value, as it clearly was not written for this post. The concept of what these in-draft software programs do is pretty nice and powerful, but my view is that I can do what they do for free, albeit with more work on draft day. Perhaps a reader has used a better in-draft management tool (or even RotoLab/Benson) and can identify it and elaborate about it in the comments below?

Free resources

The first free resource that I can offer is a spreadsheet of 2010′s hitters with a minimum of 300 plate appearances broken down by BABIP and xBABIP. The article gives you all the information you will need to understand the information presented, but in a nutshell, it took each player’s batting line and adjusted it to reflect xBABIP rather than actual BABIP. In other words, the article presents what each player should have hit last season, in theory, if we strip batted ball luck from the results.

The second free resource that I can recommend is my own xWHIP 2.0 calculator. xWHIP is similar to xBABIP, but for pitchers. xWHIP takes a pitcher’s batted ball data, normalizes his LD rate (19 percent) and home runs per fly ball (11.5 percent), and determines his expected hit rate based on the new batted ball distribution. I am working on a new version of xWHIP. The beta, using 2008 values, can be found in the bottom of my original (and now outdated) Top 50 Fantasy Reliever rankings article.

The third resource I can offer is my extensive, long toiled, and up-to-date fantasy baseball rankings by position. I’ve ranked the top 20 infielders at each position (including middle and corner infielders), the top 60 outfielders, the top 100 starting pitchers (you can read my thoughts on each of those 100 pitchers by clicking here, though the list has since been updated), and the top 50 relievers. I also included Oliver’s top 20 by position and compared them to my own for good measure, though to access the up-to-date value stats that each player is expected to contribute, you will have to purchase THT Forecasts.

The updated rankings indicate changes that have been made from my original preseason rankings (and why I made the changes), so to see my thoughts on the various players I ranked, you can access the original (out of date) rankings by position: Catcher || First Base || Second Base || Shortstop || Third Base || Corner and middle infield || Outfield || Starting pitchers

If you want rankings from other resources, Fantasy Rundown has an excellent collection of fantasy rankings from the various sources around the net. Just don’t be a rankings slave.

The fourth resource I recommend is a recent and extensive article I wrote on how to value players for auction drafts. In addition to my methodology, there is a link in my article to how Tom Tango recommends calculating auction values.

Also check out my amazing list of the most humorous fantasy baseball team names. Because that is what owning a team is really all about!

Want to stay on top of various teams’ precarious closer situations? Follow CloserNews on twitter, where MLBTradeRumors creator Tim Dierkes and crew bring you the most up-to-date facts and rumors regarding closers as soon as it hits the wire.

I am also currently working on the most up-to-date comparison chart of fantasy rankings by drafting system for CBS, Yahoo, ESPN and Mock Draft Central. Readers of Roto Authority may recall I did this last year. I should have this chart up by March 15, so check back to this post around then. I will use THT Fantasy’s twitter to tweet about when I add the ranking comparison chart completed and online, so I suggest following THTFantasy and my twitter account in the interim. UPDATE: You can download my comparison spreadsheet by clicking here.

Other great free resources include RotoAuthority’s “What It Takes To Win,” Fantasy Rundown’s catalog of prospect rankings from around the net (including that of THT’s Matt Hagen), and the Fantasy Outlook section of Game Of Inches (my own blog, to which I contribute under the moniker David “MVP” Eckstein).

What other fantasy resources do you use? Which do you like/dislike and why? Sound off in the comment section below.

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Comments

  1. Ken said...

    Oliver is great, but the valuation system is a black box and I don’t understand what it’s doing. Correct valuation is actually MORE important than projections.

    I think you need to use z scores a la tango and last player picked

  2. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Yeah. Oliver does an iteration of Zscores and the like, with positional adjustments and other scarcity coefficients.

    My zScore rankings chart came heavily in handy last night

  3. Ken said...

    yeah cool. I guess if I knew how the THT price guide worked, I would feel much better about it. is there a link somewhere that explains it, or is it purposely proprietary?

  4. Bruce said...

    I use Diamond Draft draft-day software, and would rate it a solid B. I like the general setup and flexibility, as well as the overall response during the draft. I could wish for an easy way to import my own dollar values and rankings in batch, rather than having to go through the entire database (or at least that section that I work with), and am not a great fan of having as many screens as this software has. Still, it’s been fine for five or six years for me, and I plan to stick with it.

  5. Jeffrey Gross said...

    I think it’s intentionally proprietary. The most I know about it is that, to quote an email about it sent to me a while back when I was writing about z-scores:

    “It’s fairly complicated, uses z-scores and iterations, and is essentially theoretically perfect.”

    You can goto my EYES article (linked above) and find some basic info on how to do it, as well as links to Tango’s formula.

    You could also go here for price guides:
    http://www.fantasybaseballhub.com/dollar_values.html

  6. Ken said...

    thanks Jeffrey. of course, the problem with being a closed system is, you can claim it’s perfect, and nobody can refute you smile

    even in the current situation, where this price guide is giving me pitcher values in the hundreds of dollars….

  7. Jeffrey Gross said...

    For the 12 team, 14 hitter, 9 pitcher 5 bench roster league experts draft i did last night, Pujols only calculated out to $36 in projected value, so its not so insane, in my opinion. Oliver’s price guide has different numbers than mine, but our ranking of players by zscore are relatively similar in tier rankings (e.g. Miguel Cabrera versus Pujols or Hanley versus Choo)

  8. David Gassko said...

    Ken,

    The Price Guide works similarly to Last Player Picked, with a few important improvements.

  9. Ken said...

    David – thanks for the info. I appreciate it. any idea if you guys can add in Quality Starts to it smile

  10. DesmondJenningsFan said...

    The THT forecasts are great.  I would recommend.

    For draft software, I have been very impressed with RotoChamp and will use that this year.  I think it’s their first year, but it’s pretty sweet.  I’ve used Fantastics/RotoLab in the past, but I think RotoChamp is laid out better with all the same features (including inflation).  Plus, the price is way more reasonable.

    For rankings, I just try to find a composite ranking.  Fantasy Cafe has composites.  I use them to gauge where I can expect my leaguemates to draft players.

    For other stuff, I like THT and FanGraphs (duh).  I think those 2 sites give me an edge, even if they aren’t always fantasy related.

  11. jmr said...

    Speaking of shill your own software, after a Fangraphs post about player valuation I set out to move my Excel spreadsheet over to a real application.  I didn’t have enough time to get everything done but I think it’s still pretty useful.

    It’s free so hopefully nobody gets upset that I posted about it here. 

    http://analogbaseball.com/optimizer

    I’ve never used any of the draft software mentioned in this post, but a couple things I did seem different:

    No projections are supplied in the software.  You drag and drop files with players, projections, ADP, etc. to import them.  It supports CAIRO and Marcels out of the box, and there’s an API to add support for any format.  I posted ZiPS support on the site.  You can load multiple projections and it averages them.

    Another difference is the stats are fully customizable, as are the positions.  If you have 2 * OBP + SLG – IBB + CS / PB as a category that’s fine, you can customize it to support that.  I posted a configuration that estimates QS, CG, and SHO on the site as an example.

    You can also customize the player rank algorithm.  I included a LPP/Tango standard scores algorithm as a default, plus a percentage of set goals algorithm, and position adjusted/not position adjusted algorithms for points leagues.  You can write your own using an API.

    There’s auction support, with a LPP-like dollar value calculator.  I’ve never been in an auction so who knows how that turned out.

    If you have a login to mockdraftcentral, you can drag and drop a MDC ADP report that you saved to load in ADP data.  You can also drag and drop a saved front page of mlbdepthcharts.com and it will go out and read the team pages to project playing time, saves, and holds.

    Take it with a grain of salt, and if people like it I’ll try to support it best I can.

  12. Yet Another Dave said...

    @DesmondJenningsFan/RotoChampMike: If you’re going to shill your own software, don’t be afraid to to put your name on it.

  13. varmintito said...

    I haven’t used any of the draft management software programs.  For me, their primary value would be calculating in-auction inflation.
    I like the THT forecasts, but for me BP’s PECOTA-based PFM is more useful because it is far more customizable.  My league has just about every oddball wrinkle you can imagine, starting with a hybrid player pool, and about half non-standard roto categories.
    I don’t know if Oliver or PECOTA’s underlying projections are better, but the number of options available at BP put it over the top.
    I also like a free product at fantasy 411 that is an average of projections from 15 (unnamed) sources—I assume the same web sites and magazines we all know and love.  This is a terrific “wisdom of crowds” resource, although it is somewhat limited as a valuation tool unless you have strong skills with excel, which I don’t.

  14. Jeffrey Gross said...

    varmintito,

    Oliver is more accurate overall. Both systems are pretty fungible on high reliability players, but Oliver is better as projecting players based on minor league productions and other low reliability players.

    I’ll check out the 411 stuff when i get a chance. sounds interesting

  15. MDS said...

    rotochamp doesn’t factor in player progression. I got a copy of it and deleted it within a day or two.

  16. ribman said...

    Projections are over-valued period- what makes an accurate projection exactly? All these systems pretty much say the same thing. I primarily use Baseball HQ info not because they have the best projections necessarily but because they teach concepts to valuing players and go beyond numbers in examining skills- playing time- health- factors that support break outs or break downs -that’s more important to me than .305- 15-65-89-12 or Player A is worth $22 hmm 23 is a bad bid- 20 is a bargain- really we know that how?

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