Jonathan Halket’s recent column has emboldened me. I have something of a rant to let loose as well, also aimed at “fantasy gurus.” Actually, this isn’t so much of a rant as it is a piece of advice to those who may read the results of all-“expert” drafts. So, heed the following sentence.
Internal politics and self-interest are involved in making picks in drafts whose results will be published on well-trafficked fantasy baseball sites.
Now, I want to make it very clear that I am not accusing any of these people of colluding, deliberately misleading their readerships, or any overtly conspiratorial behavior. What I am saying is simply that correctly identifying breakouts is seen as the type of accomplishment on which fantasy guru reputations are staked and grown in the mainstream fantasy community. Sensibly drafting a team of boring, but solidly matched and reliable veterans is not seen as sexy. Nobody exhibits a palpable aura of excitement when landing Bobby Abreu in their fantasy draft (except me, I love owning Abreu). For this reason, you will see many young, burgeoning stars, or stars-to-be get over-drafted in these all-expert leagues. Yet, this is something that people don’t seem to acknowledge in any meaningful way.
I remember watching a preview of the 2005 season in which a roundtable of pundits were making their MVP predictions. When it came to the AL, the usual suspects were thrown out there, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez and so forth. Then, one guy nominated, in seeming sincerity, Bobby Crosby. Crosby was coming off of a Rookie of the Year season and appeared to have a bright future ahead. But, nobody could have truly thought of him as a viable MVP candidate.
Most astute observers don’t think anything of these instances. Personally, I figured the show’s producers had stipulated that one of the non-sacred pundits had to throw out a highly controversial, and somewhat unrealistic nomination just to drive discussion and for the purposes of saying something that everybody watching at home didn’t already know. That’s par for the course after all.
When a fantasy guru publishes the results of a draft in which he drafts Alexei Ramirez with something like the 35th pick in the draft, he’s not doing quite the same thing as the Crosby nominator, and it’s certainly not as choreographed and premeditated, but he is, to some degree, “making a statement.” In fact, he’s likely doing two things.
The first thing he’s likely doing is putting his money where his mouth is. He’s likely talked up this player in the run up to draft time, and he’s showing his readership that he truly believes. That’s laudable in theory, but often the guru has stretched to get the player in question, which gives a false impression of that player’s value (and maybe even that guru’s level of expectation for that player).
The second thing he may be doing—and this is the dangerous one—is falling victim to the experts’ echo chamber. Every year there are a few darlings of the “expert” community. For some reason that maybe Malcolm Gladwell can explain, but I can’t, these players start out as potential breakout stars and throughout the preseason ascend experts’ pre-draft ranks at a remarkable pace only to end up in a ridiculous position. Two good examples of this last year were Chris Iannetta and Chris Davis and they both busted.
It is the young possible-but-not-definite studs the experts are in fiercest competition for. And, in pursuit of these players and the potential glory associated with being able to lay claim to landing them, the gurus often outsmart themselves.
As a tangential point to this whole discussion I want to address one more thing you commonly see when these gurus post round-by-round recaps of their all-expert league drafts. Frequently, you will read the author of such columns make a comment along the lines of, “I thought I might be reaching a little here, but I really wanted this player and knew he wouldn’t be available at my next pick.” I don’t understand how that is a viable defense of the pick being discussed. Either you reached, or you didn’t. As I read them, these types of comments reinforce my point about gurus feeling they have to draft guys they talk up for purposes of accountability, even if that player doesn’t represent the best pick.
The way I see it is very simple. Generally speaking, I don’t like or dislike players themselves; the question is the price I’m willing to pay for a player. So, to say that I wanted player X, and I had to take him here makes no sense to me. At every price point or numbered pick in a draft, there are multiple players that are perfectly defensible choices on their own merits. Did you pick one of those players or not? In your mind, does the player you selected have as good a chance as anybody else out there at proving to be the most valuable player (at least to your team) among those currently available? If you want player X, but he’s not one of those players, it makes no difference if that was your last chance to draft that player, no? Am I missing something?
This whole semi-rant comes back to two main points.
One, it’s unwise to pay premium prices for potential. In the early stages of the draft you are investing in production, but you are also paying for reliability. That’s what a blue-chip stock is; a relatively non-volatile investment that history dictates will be a sound long-term asset.
Two, a player’s projected production or ADP doesn’t really mean anything in terms of determining whether you got value by acquiring that player. The only value you accrue is the difference between the overall production the player gives you and the price you actually paid for him. A “sleeper” is only a “sleeper” if he’s drafted as such. If you think player X is undervalued at 60, and you draft him at 30, he now has to produce at that level to be a sound investment for you. If he gives you 45th pick value, you were right about your initial read, but you still made a bad pick.