Fantasy Baseball: A Revolutionary Look at Draft Theory and Perceived Value

by Todd Zola, on February 4, 2013 @ 13:54:16 PDT


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Boston Red Sox DH David Ortiz
Value pick, or just where he belongs?

From Todd's column: Chance Favors the Prepared Mind

For years, I have built several research projects using a foundation I call graph-a-draft. The process works by generating dollar values as if the draft was an auction and then assigning dollar values to the draft spots in descending order. The primary finding was the descent was not linear. Specifically, the delta between players in the early rounds is greater than in the middle and later rounds.

The emanating draft strategy from this appears early on: You leave potential production on the table if you select a player too far down your list, most likely to fill a position you consider scarce. The advice has always been not to stretch too far at the beginning for once you reach round five or so, the next several players are all close enough in value that they are the same player. So now if you jump down your list a ways to find a player at a specific position, you aren't sacrificing potential.

The problem with this is that the idea is too abstract. Most fantasy baseball players are numbers-oriented. Not to mention, they like tangible evidence something is true.

Largely because a series of planned essays are going to incorporate the graph-a-draft theme and they are going to attack such sanctified themes as scarcity and average draft position, I felt I needed a stronger argument that involved numbers and concrete rules. Ladies and gentleman, I introduce the rule of "Round Times Three: Close counts in more than just horseshoes and hand grenades." I know I need a cute acronym for this; we'll worry about that later.

Here's the principle: Dollar values are best thought of as ranges, not static integers. Take away a wind-blown homer and a steal, and a $17 player becomes a $15 player. Give a guy 15 more plate appearances and the associated production and a $23 guy is now a $25 guy. The rule of thumb is players within $2 are fundamentally the same guy. Some are comfortable bumping that to $3 or even higher, but we'll stick with $2. The smaller the number we set as equal in value, the more powerful the findings about to be revealed will be.

Let's go back to the graph-a-draft principle. What we want to do is set a concrete boundary for players to be considered the same according to projected dollar value. All you need to do is take the round in which the player is ranked, multiply by three and that many players above and below the player in question are almost always within $2. The rule of thumb rattles a little at the extremes, but that's OK.

Here's an example. Let's use a 15-team league. The 50th ranked player is the equivalent of a fourth-round pick. Take four and multiple by three to get twelve. This means twelve players above and twelve players below are fundamentally the same guy as the 50th ranked player. By rankings, the 38th to 62nd ranked player is all the same guy.

Similarly, a player slotted in the 10th round has 30 players to either side that can be considered the same. Think about that; when you're in the 10th round, 61 players offer your team the same potential.

If you don't agree then you don't agree that players within $2 in value are the same. The graph-a-draft data followed by round times three results in this $2 or less differential an overwhelming number of times.

One controversial repercussion is the notion of a value pick is seriously questioned. Up to this point, if someone selects a player with seventh round value in the ninth round, the drafter is lauded for their value pick. Let's say you have pick 9.05 or number 125. This means the players ranked 98th-152nd are the same. You take your 100th ranked player. If the draft goes chalk, this is pick 7.10 and everyone pats you on the back. But based on the round-times-three notion, is it really a value pick or just someone within the range of expectation for that 125th spot? My contention is it now should be considered the latter, sorry.

What does this mean for your strategy?

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About Todd Zola,

Focusing primarily on the science of player valuation and game theory starting in 1997, Todd Zola and Mastersball carved out an important niche in the fantasy industry. In 2006, Todd became the Research Director for, and in 2009, he relaunched Mastersball and is now a managing partner.

Todd competes in Tout Wars and the XFL, and has been a multiple-time league champion in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has been a contributor to the fantasy content at and, is a frequent guest on Sirius/XM and Blog Talk Radio and is an annual speaker at the spring and fall First Pitch Forum symposiums. Fantasy Baseball

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