2011 draft day resourcesby Jeffrey Gross
March 04, 2011
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?
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.
Jeffrey Gross is an attorney (and die-hard Cubs fan) who currently resides in the suburbs of Chicago. In addition to writing for The Hardball Times, he also writes about craft beer as part of a side project blog titled "saBEERmetrics." He previously worked for The Daily Illini and Northern Star newspapers as a film critic and sportswriter (respectively). You can reach him by email at saBEERmetrics AT gmail DOT com.
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