Kicking Rocks: Losing Sleep(ers)

Damn you, internet! Damn you, hordes of fantasy sports writers churning out an over-abundance of content! It used to be so easy; so much fun. I would dominate my fantasy baseball league year after year and there was no greater ego boost than sitting there on draft day, listening to the chorus of “Who’s?” after making what I knew to be a tremendous and pretty sneaky pick in the later rounds and knowing that the player I just grabbed was going to impress all year and be a heavy trade target for my competition in no time. They used to be called sleepers. Now, thanks to all of you, they’re the trendiest picks in the draft and are losing their value year after year.

You’ve got to admire the growth of the fantasy sports business. It went from being a back-room group of nerds playing their own sports-related version of Dungeons and Dragons to a multi-million (dare I even say billion?) dollar industry that turns even the coolest of jocks into crazed stat-geeks. There are countless web sites dedicated to the game and even in the dying age of print, you still have dozens of fantasy-related magazines hitting the shelves of both newsstands and those archaic monstrosities called bookstores.

But I remember back in the day when I first started playing this game, which had already been around for more than a decade before I joined my first league, when hard work and due diligence pushed you ahead of your competition. It was more than just studying a team’s 25-man roster. I dug deep. It was the 40-man roster. It was the minor league affiliates. It was the scouting reports that no one else had the patience to sit and read. I knew as much as I could about every major league team and its players. And on the day of our draft, while most were still in bed recovering from Phish at the Wetlands the night before, I was up early, searching for any and all last bits of information of position battles and rotation finalists.

Today, all that work is already done for you. It’s sitting there at your fingertips just a few clicks away. And because of that, the edge that I once had — the ability to pull a name from out my posterior during the 21st round and have it be an impact player no one ever heard of — is gone.

Go ahead and Google “fantasy baseball sleepers” and you’ll see more entries pop up than you know what to do with. Every web site, every magazine, every radio show on…yup…SiriusXM Fantasy Radio…has its own list of sleepers. But can we really call them that anymore? Maybe ten years ago we could. Maybe if it were ten years ago, players like Allen Craig, Kris Medlen, Anthony Rizzo and Matt Moore wouldn’t be on everyone’s radar like they are today. But suddenly Jeff Erickson says that one of his favorite picks in the December RotoWire Experts Draft is Marco Estrada and…BAM! He goes from a 23rd round “who?” to a guy you have to reach for in the 18th because now everyone is looking to “sneak him through.” And God forbid Matthew Berry latches onto him. Then you’re looking for him in the 12th.

Look at them all — Josh Rutledge, Jarrod Parker, Jason Grilli, Todd Frazier, Matt Harvey, Starling Marte. Sleepers? Not anymore, they aren’t. They’re so trendy, hipsters wouldn’t draft them. How about the rookies? Jurickson Profar, Billy Hamilton, Manny Machado, and Dylan Bundy? All of them are high-profile these days, mainstream picks if you will. Everyone knows them, everyone wants them and none of them are going to come at the sleeper price they once had.

Maybe I sound like the old man sitting on his porch collecting frisbies and baseballs from careless and disrespectful  neighborhood kids, but dang it, sometimes I miss those days when a little hard work and gumption was all you needed to win your league. I might hear a “nice pick” or a “ooooh, you just stole him from me” during my drafts, but they just don’t elicit the same feelings of a good, old-fashioned “who.” It’s just not the same.

Now if you’ll excuse me, the job beckons and I have to go do a write-up on Yordano Ventura.

 




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Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site, RotobuzzGuy.com, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at rotobuzzguy@gmail.com

28 Responses to “Kicking Rocks: Losing Sleep(ers)”

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  1. Lil' Hank Conger says:

    Outstanding article – my thoughts exactly… I forgot about the “who”‘s I used to get. They did feel really good, I would always smile like the grinch immediately after knowing what I had done.

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  2. Clement says:

    Just don’t write about Jose Hernandez

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  3. Jay29 says:

    All it means is now you focus on veterans who start being way undervalued. It’s not as sexy, but it’s the new fantasy market inefficiency. Rutledge goes for $10? Draft Jeter for $2. Rizzo goes for $16? Draft LaRoche for $1.

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    • Ray says:

      This is what’s been happening in my dynasty auction league the past few seasons. Especially with a dynasty league where the focus tends to be on young talent and sleepers, the older crowd tends to go undervalued.

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    • Yup, I’ve sadly been doing this for years in my local league. It’s not exciting or even satisfying to be buying the Bobby Abreus and Carlos Lees of the world every season in the past, but value is value. If that’s where it happens to be, then I will take advantage.

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  4. Chris says:

    “They’re so trendy, hipsters wouldn’t draft them.” hahahaha

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  5. Brownie says:

    Yahoo is ranking Matt Harvey 149th overall – just behind Anibel Sanchez. Ahead of Parker, Anderson and Minor.

    There’s absolutely no way he’s a sleeper now!

    The popularity of fantasy sports has brought a whole new level of strategy into our game. Personally – I love having a team full of young players. I love watching the new young stars of the game develop. But the internet sleeper hype show means everyone and their brother wants the guys I do now. Need to find “new value” in players.

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    • Jimbo says:

      And if you really believe in “what used to be a sleeper” sort of guy, now it is like a game of chicken to see who has the biggest rocks and will draft him earliest. Last year Lawrie went in the THIRD round for my league, ahead of Zimmerman, Pablo, Aramis!

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  6. Johnny Come Lately says:

    Great article Howard!

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  7. Jimbo says:

    While everyone knows about everyone, drafting them “correctly” still provides ample return. Patience in place of obsession is key.

    I mentioned Lawrie in the 3rd round – clearly an overdraft due to the hype machine – but there was still Encarnacion in the 14th, Trumbo in the 15th, Moosetacos in the 17th and Headley in the 21st. (12 team 5×5)

    Not all panned out, but I still see those picks as sleepers.

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  8. duder says:

    If you play Yahoo, they build the hype into their preranks. In an online draft, this means that you’re looking at Carlos Gomez in the 10th round (I got him in the 18th in a slow draft two months ago) and Marco Estrada in the 14th. It’s nuts. You said he goes from 23rd to 18th, but now in virtually all Yahoo online drafts he’ll go around the 14th or even sooner if someone wants to reach. It’s like the Yahoo guys read the articles and then rank everyone at their potential, risks be damned.

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  9. Freddy T says:

    Another classic, Bender. These Kicking Rocks articles are so on-point sometimes.

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  10. Stuck in a slump says:

    My last sleeper that I picked was Jason Kipnis in 2011. I had to wait for him, but since it was a keeper league, it was worth the wait. I managed to get him in the last round of that draft and have reaped HUGE dividends.

    Since that year, my league hasn’t had any real sleepers, and every time I read an article naming my preferred sleeper targets I shake my fist in the air and scream at the heavens “WHY?! WHY MUST YOU REPORT ON HIM?!”

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  11. paulcarmen says:

    Much tougher these days, but with all of the sabermetric analysis out there, a little extra effort in analyzing the advanced metrics can give you a distinct advantage on draft day.

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  12. King of the Byelorussian Square Dancers says:

    Play in a league with uncommon categories, most of the hype surrounds 5×5 contributors.

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  13. Detroit Michael says:

    While I mostly agree wtih the article’s premise, one can overstate the case too.

    Let’s use Cliff Lee as an example. He posted his third straight excellent season with skills slightly off from 2011 and identical virtually to 2010. He lead the majors in K/BB last year. Yet Lee is being drafted lower than he should, probably in my opinion because he “won” only 6 games last year. This is true in expert and ordinary mock drafts. Maybe it’ll correct itself when we get to real drafts, but I’m not convinced that a traditional statistic as fickle as wins is completely ignored in fantasy baseball market value.

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    • Jason B says:

      I think your point about looking for some rebound candidates (or players whose results didn’t match their peripherals) is well taken.

      Also I think Lee won six games last year (in the sense that pitching wins is indeed a real, actual thing); he didn’t “win” them. :)

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    • Detroit Michael says:

      By putting “won” in quotation marks, I mean to say that it’s a technical term. Lee of course didn’t really win any games. The Phillies won some games and six of the games that the Phillies won were credited to Lee according to the “win” statistic.

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  14. MLB Rainmaker says:

    See, I think this is just just a result of you attributing value to the stars of the past, and therefore thinking the new crew of guys reaching the elite level are sleepers.

    I mean I don’t get how Estrada is a sleeper? He was top ten in MLB in K/9 and the only one of that crew with BB/9 under 2 — those are legit numbers. Just because he wasn’t a prospect, doesn’t mean those stats won’t draw attention. A simple stats sort is all you need to find that gem…

    Real sleepers are guys completely off the radar, you’re just too blind to see them. Dan Straily led the minors in Ks last season and showed no issues adapting to MLB play and sports an ADP out of the top 300, Chris Archer sported a K/9 above 11 in 30 IP last season with a FIP 1pt below his ERA and may have SP gig with Niemann’s shoulder, and Jake Arrietta had a huge FIP-ERA gap fueled by a crazy 57% LOB that doesn’t make sense given his k/9. No one is talking about those guys.

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    • Evil Empire says:

      I think the reason you don’t consider him a keeper is because you (and the rest of us reading this article) are not the average fantasy baseball fan. Gotta remember, the VAST MAJORITY of fantasy baseball GMs are more of a casual fan. I would be surprised if more than 6 people out of the 26 in my two 10+ year old keeper leagues have even HEARD of fangraphs, let alone read this stuff. So when you are looking at k/9 or k/bb, those are stats that most GMs don’t pay any attention to. The problem is when all those crappy magazines out there out those guys. Those casual GMs come to like our “sleepers” but in the 3 sentence writeup in the mag, they don’t explain about k/9 or k/bb. Which means these casual guys know they like our sleepers, but they have no clue why the writers of the mag they favor like them.

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  15. Bambino says:

    I used to have a field day in my league picking up young pitchers a few weeks before they were about to make their major league debut. Now those same guys are actually going for cash in the auction and then taking bench space until they are brought up. I liked the old world better.

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  16. Dtrain says:

    Well put. That makes it that more important to know your competition and their draft tendencies. Example – my league partners love to reach for pitchers. I have only one guy who favors the “pick of the year” prospect. Knowing the helped me land Lawrie, homer, and trout in rds 6,7, and 20. Homer was painful, but Lawrie was solid until he got hurt and trout?…nough said.

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  17. John Rowan says:

    This is exactly why I gave up on fantasy sports. I can’t stand listening to league mates talk about prospective call-ups as if they’ve watched them play AA/AAA ball when all they did was read cbssports and ESPN articles.

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  18. EDUB says:

    That’s why I prefer early drafts as well as opposed to during ST or right before season when position battles and closers are already established. Last month a Jean Segura might fall under the radar but once it gets closer to season forget it…especially if he has a good spring

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  19. Clem says:

    Great article indeed. To combat this now, you can sometimes get a bargain on an older player who has lost some “cool points” due to just being in the league forever. But there’s nothing better than getting that young stud player that no one has heard of and see him blossom into a fixture on your team.

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  20. Dave DW says:

    This article is spot on. It’s like the MLB after Moneyball came out, suddenly everyone wanted OBP guys, so the A’s just switched to hoarding SLG. Kevin Youkilis, Chase Utley, and Ichiro are the “new” sleepers.

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