Roundtable: why rank?by Nick Fleder
February 27, 2012
There was some discussion among the four staffers who compiled, over the last two weeks, the THT consensus rankings that top-200 lists and similar endeavors are pretty much dumb. Besides being wickedly tedious to put together, they don't do much by way of providing context or personal preference in draft strategy, and—we're guilty of this too—are thrown at readers among a mess of other top 200 lists.
So I set the THT staff out to discuss such rankings and share our opinions on the matter. For better transparency, and for better drafting, we do discuss.
Nick Fleder: I admit this may come across as slightly hypocritical, but during the compilation of our staff rankings, I recognized that there wasn't a lot of love for top-200 lists, or even top-250 and top-300 lists, for that matter. Point being: the number is mostly arbitrary and requires a great deal of context that isn't provided.
For example, my top 200 list may cater to how I play as a fantasy baller (never heard that one before, have you?): I may go pitching-heavy in my ranks, have shortstops top-heavy, and have relievers all in the 150-plus range because I simply don't pay for saves.
Whatever my mindset may be, it's certainly not supported by seemingly random rankings. It requires an in-depth, comprehensive write-up that would be not only tiresome to this author, but worthless to many readers who may then have to struggle with 15 different write-ups from 15 different sources that actually provide no consensus whatsoever but rather a vast jumbling of data to sift through.
Josh Shepardson: My biggest problem with the top-200 is the lack of context it comes with. A top-200 list is going to look much different for a two-catcher, corner-infielder, middle-infielder, five-outfielder league than one that starts one catcher, no backup infielders and only three outfielders (Yahoo! default).
It is also inherently silly. If I take my 12th-best player, and he's a starting pitcher, and I come up on the clock again, and hey look, another starting pitcher tops my list, am I really going to go SP/SP in the first two rounds? Maybe, if it is some kind of strategy I've already planned on, but likely no.
Jeff Gross: Oh, boy. I could never rank my top 200. I have issues ranking 60 outfielders, and 100 starters is pushing it, too. THT Forecasts has a "more perfect" system that has billions of iterations and positional value adjustment, but here's the quick and dirty Z-Score weighting system known as EYES.
Brad Johnson: I don't really do snake drafts anymore, so rankings have very little impact on my approach to fantasy. I consider position rankings to be a basic sorting feature and will occasionally draft a guy who is two or more spots from the top at a specific position based on my team needs.
Given that I put little stock in positional rankings, it follows that I think big boards are nonsense. Your first couple of picks should come from the big board and your personal preferences. After that, you really ought to be building by team-specific needs such as position and category rather than whether or not Player X is 43rd-ranked and Player Y is 68th-ranked. If Player Y is better for your team, and you're not very confident he'll be available for your next pick, then select Player Y.
Mark Himmelstein: In previous years, have you noticed you have a penchant for finding anything in particular on the waiver wire? Saves, perhaps? Or maybe outfielders who steal bases? Or pitchers with a good ERA but modest strikeout rate? Then focus on other areas in the draft, even if you think Brian Wilson, Brett Gardner, or Doug Fister is the best player left on the board.
The converse of this is true, as well. If you've found yourself repeatedly struggling to patch a particular type of hole using the waiver wire, that may be an area you should give extra priority on draft day, even in spite of your own rankings.
Jeff Gross: I think the problem with rankings if they don't indicate tiers. I internalize my valuations of players by tiers. There are "guys" who in my head are essentially fungible. That's how I view them. I like the rankings simply because it requires you to organize your thoughts some. Being a rankings slave, however, is silly.
Nick Fleder: I would urge readers to ask their trusted experts—if you want to call us that—to explain their mindsets in their specific rankings rather than blindly trusting. If my style fits yours, then you may want to take my top 200 to heart and use it as a cheat-sheet of sorts, but don't, by any means, trust any list over your gut.
This extends to a whole other side of drafting, one that Brad explained with the Player X and Player Y analogy: Do you feel comfortable taking someone way ahead of his Average Draft Position or rankings (the former often a byproduct of the latter, to a certain extent) if you really love 'em? Would you dare make Dee Gordon a seventh-round pick if he goes, on average, in the 10th?
There's a lot of strategy involved, and sometimes it takes a gutsy call—and don't forget that if everyone is playing from the same field, you may actually use that fallacy to your advantage by saying, "Hell, if everyone's gonna wait on a seventh-round player till the 10th, I can get some value in rounds seven to nine"—but as a general rule, cater to your gut rather than these rankings. Whew.
Brad Johnson: Then again, rankings were never meant for me. I have values for more than 500 players internalized. I can look at a sorted short list of names and pick the best one for my team without pause (okay, sometimes I need the full minute and a half to introspect). Rankings are for those who know the top 100 players and the guys on their favorite team but don't pay attention to an entire league.
So your choice to put stock in any rankings comes down to this: How many player values have you internalized? Is it 100? 200? 500? The more players you can analyze in detail without consulting a stats page, the less you should worry about rankings.
Mark Himmelstein: While these lists can be enlightening to discuss, we are not simply betting on which players are going to perform the best in a vacuum. We are playing a dynamic game based on the outcomes of another dynamic game. We are making decisions that are based on previous decisions and which in turn will influence future decisions, all of which are mixing and mingling with 11 other people's decisions.
That means strategy, tactics, creativity, self evaluation, evaluation of opponents and all that other fun stuff that's really what makes fantasy baseball such a fascinating game. It also means too much precision can be a sin. Adaptivity and good judgment will trump precision nine times out of 10.
Nick can be reached for questions, comments, or concerns via email: nick.fleder AT gmail DOT com.
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