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Draft Strategy: Do Not Ignore ADP

Average draft position, or more commonly referred to as ADP, has become an important piece of information for snake drafters over the past couple of years. We here at RotoGraphs mention it in our articles all the time when analyzing players in the pre-season as we try to get a handle on where fantasy players are getting drafted. But, there are still fantasy owners out there who believe that ADP is useless and completely ignore it during their drafts. I think that’s a huge mistake.

Over the weekend, I participated in an industry mock draft that will be used for the organizing website’s draft kit. During the draft, a discussion was had in the chat room where the ADP debate was rehashed. Some participants claimed that they completely ignore it and will draft a player where they want to. I disagreed with this philosophy and here is why.

First of all, yes, ADP is flawed. No matter what site you grab it from, it is going to be biased toward the default rankings of that site. It also usually includes drafts that use varying roster requirements, like both one and two catcher leagues, which significantly affects the value of players at that position. That said, these are weak reasons to completely throw out the data. This is the same tired argument made against WAR. We know the stat isn’t completely perfect. But that in no way means we should totally ignore it!

So now that I have successfully convinced you that flawed ADP data is better than no ADP data, let’s move on to why it needs to be part of your draft day materials. For the most part, when you participate in a snake draft, you are going to be drafting players in descending order of your projected dollar value. I understand that many snake drafters don’t actually generate dollar values for every player, but in essence, you are still doing this in your head. When you choose to draft Hanley Ramirez over Josh Rutledge, it is because you project Ramirez to earn more value in your league than Rutledge, even if that isn’t actually typed out onto your computer with a projected stat line and corresponding dollar value.

So let’s pretend every player is instead a dollar value, a number you project the player to earn at the end of the season. You absolutely love Rutledge this year and given his expected slot in the batting order, home field and his performance in limited action last season, think he will go 25/20 and earn $23. Let’s say that equates to a third round pick. His current ADP from Mock Draft Central is 256th overall, or pick 4 in the 22nd round.

If you were to ignore ADP and draft players exactly where you want given your projected value, then you may very well be satisfied drafting him in the third round. You expect him to go 25/20 and earn $23, so that’s fine value for a third rounder. Unfortunately, now you’re well on your way to building a perfectly average team. Continually draft a player at the value you think he’ll earn and you’re destined for a middle of the pack finish. In the draft, you must select players to maximize value. The team that wins likely generated well over $300 worth of value throughout the season. Drafting a $23 player in the third round is just a step toward a $260 team, and that won’t earn you any prize money.

So looking at ADP, you know that Rutledge is pretty much ignored in drafts that have taken place on Mock Draft Central so far. There is obviously never a guarantee of when a player will get selected in your specific draft no matter what the ADP number and range says. But, you are probably pretty safe waiting until round 13 to draft Rutledge after knowing his ADP. Round 13 is usually reserved for $8 players.

Now with ADP in hand, you instead decide to draft a different $23 player in round three, one who everyone also thinks is worth that amount as well. You also draft a $23 player (Rutledge) in round 13 when everyone else is drafting players they think are worth $8. Suddenly, you have $15 worth of additional projected value than the rest of your league. And we’re all drafting based on our projections, right? So we want to maximize the amount of projected value we draft, which correlates pretty darn well to total roto points. Of course, this ignores what happens over the rest of the season. But during the draft, we have no control over that part, so all we can do is draft the most valuable team based on how we project each player.

Using Rutledge, whose current ADP sits at 256, and projecting him to earn third round value is an extreme example. And armed with this ADP data, you may even be better off waiting even longer than round 13 to draft him. But the earlier you decide to draft him, the more you cut into your profit potential and reduce your chances of winning your league.

Another way of looking at this is by pretending you had a crystal ball. You are the only one in your league who knows exactly how every player performed at the end of the season. Say you had this power heading into the 2012 season. Do you draft R.A. Dickey as your first round pick? How about Chase Headley in the second round? Of course not! Why? Because you could draft them much later and then your team has the equivalent of two first and second rounders! The name of the game in a snake draft is drafting players later than your projected value. It’s no different than in an auction draft; fantasy owners simply use “round” and “pick number” instead of a dollar value to determine the cost of the player.