Chance Favors the Prepared Fantasy Baseball Mind - ADP: A Necessary Evil

by Todd Zola, on March 28, 2013 @ 14:15:40 PDT


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The Internet is now overflowing with essays hammering the concept of ADP. I've got a few of them out there myself, which is ironic since I was producing ADPs from National Fantasy Baseball Championship satellite leagues for our Platinum customers before they were even produced by the NFBC. At the time, they were helpful. As with any strategy or tool to gain an edge, it is most effective when no one else is doing the same thing or using the information. ADPs are everywhere so they are no longer the drafting tool they were five years ago.

Arizona Diamondbacks OF Adam Eaton
Can't truss it on Eaton

A few of the conventional reasons cited when making the case why ADPs are no longer the cat's meow are they often are a mishmash of different league formats and rules. Some are biased by the default ranking of the site administering the mock draft or even the inclusion of computer-drafted teams. Some include mocks prior to decision altering information being made public such as the recent PED scandal, the pause around Felix Hernandez signing his extension and even Michael Bourn signing with Cleveland. In short, the credibility of the ADP is questionable.

All of this is well and good, but my main beef with ADPs is the perception of what they are and what they should be used for. Let's say we generated an ADP using the same league format, within a short time frame so the information was all the same. The result is not a guide to help you rank players like many appear to believe, but merely a quantification of how the market ranks the players. I realize this may seem to be one and the same, but here's the difference. If you want an opinion on something, who do you ask? I hope it is someone well edified on the subject, so their answer is credible. Now think about an ADP. With due respect to those generating it, and I don't care if this is an NFBC ADP, do you really trust each and every person's opinion that goes into producing the ranking? Think about it -- only one person wins a league. There are 14 losers. To be blunt, an ADP aggregates the opinions of more losers than winners. If you use an ADP to help rank a player's potential production, you are misusing it. You should be coming up with your expected production independent of the ADP, then perhaps gauging market value using an ADP that best resembles the league of interest. To base your picks on the ADP is a big mistake.

I and others have been preaching this and similar arguments for a couple of years but I still hear things like "That was a great pick, you got him at pick 90 and his ADP is 72," or, "You took him way too early with the 52nd pick, his ADP is 67." In fact, a feature of the NFBC draft room is to grade your draft relative to the current NFBC ADP. That drives me nuts.

Much like the scarcity argument posed last week, it's one thing to continually make a point anecdotally to a populace that likes numbers while it's another to actually use numbers -- so let's use numbers to help make the point sink in.

Reviewing the concept of APE, you determine the dollar value of each player like you would an auction and then line them up highest to lowest. Given that this is not the same as a properly constructed draft list, if you assign a round number to each value corresponding to where they fall (in a 15 team draft, the 15 highest values would be round one, the next 15 round two, etc) and multiply that by three, the resulting number represents the number of players above and below that pick or player that are fundamentally the same, or at least they have the same value. Same value is defined as anything within two dollars. In other words, a $16 player and an $18 player are basically the same guy. Expected performance, thus the corresponding value is best thought of as a range of outcomes. Outcomes with $2 worth of value are the same. Going back to the rankings, a sixth round player would have 18 players above and below that can be considered to be equal in value.

Let's use an example. In a 15-team league, pick 80 is the fifth pick of the sixth round, so the players ranked between 62 and 98 are all the same as player 80, assuming you agree a player +/- $2 is the same player. What would happen if at that pick, you chose a guy with an ADP of 95? You'd be chided for taking him too early, but did you? According to APE, you took a guy within the two dollar range, so no, it was not too early. Now think if this were the 10th round, there would be 30 players above and below. If you took a player with an ADP 27 picks later, hysterical laughter would ensue and insults would fly -- all unwarranted.

Going back to pick 80, what if player 65 was still on the board and you drafted him, what would the reaction be? Everyone would be lauding what a great value pick you just made -- or was it? He's also within that $2 boundary, so was it really that great a pick? Not according to APE it wasn't.

I realize there are fallacies in this argument. The ranking by dollar values does not necessarily mesh with the projected dollar values if you order them via ADP, but they'll be pretty darned close. At minimum, they are close enough so the notion of APE can still be applied.

The bottom line is I no longer need to use straw man arguments for why I feel ADPs being misused, I can demonstrate it mathematically. Even if the ADP is a perfect reflection of the market and is generated by a group that really knows their stuff, the application of the ADP is faulty. It's not a judge of the quality of the pick unless the choice was so egregious it falls out of the limits set by APE. And even then, the intrinsic value of the pick could make it viable.

The intrinsic potential is how much the player contributes to your team's ability to win. It is dependent on your team construct and your strategy. Different players may have different intrinsic potentials to different teams. It is your job as a fantasy owner to put as much potential on your team as possible.

One way to do this is be better in tune with the player pool. Another is to know the market value of the players so, on occasion, you can utilize this to wait on a player with greater intrinsic potential because his market value strongly suggests he will be there in a later round. This allows you to first take another player with a lot of intrinsic potential, but whose market value suggests won't be available next time around. You need to be careful when doing this and it's not likely you can play this game with every pick, but you can squeeze an extra player or two onto your roster by knowing the market value of the players.

To give credit where credit is due, this concept was originally crystallized by KJ Duke, a very successful high-stakes player, in a forum discussion from a couple of years ago. By day, KJ is also a very successful portfolio manager and compared buying stocks with the greatest intrinsic potential at the lowest market value to assembling a fantasy squad.

Another use of an ADP could be to devise a general strategy in concert with tiered rankings. The idea is to find pockets of players with similar intrinsic potential and see where they are likely to be drafted. If you pencil in taking a player at that position around that time, you can better decide what players or positions to take earlier.

Today's message is short and sweet. Some live and die by ADP and feel it is the most accurate ranking of players. Others want to make a point and proclaim the ADP as useless. All that matters is what you think. As is often the case, the truth lies in between. ADP is a tool that if used properly can assist in constructing your team in an optimal manner -- nothing more, nothing less. To follow it blindly is a mistake. But so is categorically ignoring it.

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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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