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Updated: Oct 14, 2021

Average draft position (ADP) is the most used, but perhaps least acknowledged tool in fantasy baseball. Plenty of articles point out “players I like (or don’t like) at current ADP,” and plenty of articles analyze ADP trends, but the true extent to which ADP influences people in drafts is difficult to overstate. Unless you are in one of the first half-dozen drafts in October, setting the ADP yourself, you are looking at it whether you consciously use it or not. It is crutch draft preparation for the unprepared. It is heavily utilized by players who use their own draft lists based on their own values. In 15-team 50-round draft-and-hold leagues, such as NFBC Draft Champions, it is invaluable to players looking to wait as long as they can to bank projected value that does not align with ADP trends. ADP is not everything, and players should neither rely on it too heavily, nor expect that every player will be taken around his ADP. Nevertheless, ADP is highly influential. The question I seek to answer is this: At what point in a 50-round draft-and-hold league should you make a conscious decision to completely disregard the ADP and “get your guys,” regardless of where the ADP says they are being drafted?

Let us back up a bit. If you are participating in 15-team 50-round draft-and-hold leagues, you should use your own player rankings unless you have a highly informed sense of the player pool and relative player values. In the early rounds of a draft-and-hold, you want to track your rankings relative to the ADP. The NFBC draft room, for example, lets you sort players by both ADP and your own custom rankings, so you can toggle back and forth as necessary. If you have a player ranked 70th overall, but the player’s ADP is 110th overall, then The Price is Right is your game. You want to draft that player as close as you can to the ADP without going over (i.e. someone else drafting him). Using ADP as a guide, drafting that player 90th overall amounts to “jumping” the player above his ADP. But from your perspective, any pick after 70 will bank surplus value, and the longer you can successfully wait, the more you bank.

None of this is new, and it is pretty intuitive for most players. This early game of banking surplus is done in many ways with many different systems. Run your own rankings or lists produced by projections against the ADP and draft players you like while banking as much projected surplus as possible. That is not an absolute rule you have to follow, but it is a game everyone plays to one degree or another, exceptions notwithstanding (hello, catchers!).

How long does that general strategy make sense?

Let us start by mapping out the projected value of the player pool. Using a crude standings gains points model and Ariel Cohen’s ATC Projections, I mapped out the projected player values in an NFBC Draft Champions league from pick 1 through pick 750. Here it is, charted out with the projected rotisserie points every round (i.e. every 15 picks):

What we see is a steep decline of roughly five points within the first nine rounds (135 picks), and then it takes another 30 rounds (450 picks) to gradually drop another four points until the projected value becomes negative. Here is the same data presented in table form:

Before I mapped this out, my expectation was that the curve would essentially flatten out near round 30 and you would be left with a pool of players projected with nearly identical values. Thus, at that point, you would no longer be able to play the “bank the value” game. That is not the case at all. The gradual decline in projected value continues steadily through round 50. Thus, all things being equal, the longer you can wait to draft a player with higher projected value, you can continue banking that excess value throughout the entire draft.

All things are not equal, however. The line added to the graph denotes the point at which, despite continued gradual decline in value, projected values become zero or negative. What is the point of banking value if that value is projected to harm your team? That begins happening just before Round 40, or approaching pick 600. That gives us a pretty good starting point for ignoring the ADP, but can that point be earlier in the draft?

The group preceding the negative value group is the group of 163 players projected between 0 and 1 point in value. The beginning of that tier is player 426, or approximately Round 28. Here are the first 10 players in the list, beginning with player 426:

Mayers and Bummer are good relievers and next-in-line to close on their respective teams. Elvis Andrus should get the bulk of starts at shortstop in Oakland. In other words, our baseline expectations for many players in this tier (and the projections) are still trustworthy, and if those expectations are out of line with the ADP, then there is value in trying to bank as much as we can. Plus, a standard active roster of 14 hitters and nine pitchers is only 23 players deep, so in Round 28, owners are barely starting to fill bench roles. From my own experience, I’m still drafting full-time players at that point, and I find that I am still drafting players far later than where I have them ranked. For example, I have Colin Moran as a top 300 player, yet his ADP in Draft Champions leagues since January 1 is 399th. He and quite a few others still present incredible buying opportunities in the early 400s.

That narrows the window to somewhere between roughly pick 500 (Round 33) and Pick 589 (Round 39). What we want to find is the point at which “banking” projected value becomes less profitable than trying to simply beat the projections and be the first to snag the players who you think will do just that. Instead of looking for profit based on projection versus ADP, start looking for players who meet the following criteria:

(1) Player has a sensible surface projection, and

(2) Player has a realistic chance of beating that projection.

Players that meet this criteria are, for example, prospects who might get more playing time than anticipated, pitchers who could find their way into a rotation, veterans who have not yet signed with a team, and relievers who could take over a closer job and run with it. Those players start to mix in right around the time that everyone should have rounded out a complete starting lineup of 24 active players and a handful of semi-reliable backup starters, but they are the bread and butter of the final 200 picks of a 750-player draft. Players currently being drafted in NFBC Draft Champions leagues between picks 500 and 600 include Randy Dobnak (501st), Forrest Whitley (516th), Vidal Brujan (531st), Logan Webb (556th), Adam Ottavino (589th), and Drew Waters (596th). Those are all players who fall into the aforementioned categories. Their legitimate range of possible outcomes is so far removed from their projections that it makes little sense to draft them based on those projections. They’re depth pieces and dart throws who cost very little to roster, but could outperform our baseline expectations for them considerably.

When those are the types of players mostly comprising the available player pool, it is time to shift the draft strategy. If you are still playing The Price is Right at that point, then you are playing the wrong game. In the range of picks 500 to 600 you need to gradually shift your approach to whatever game go ahead and grab the players I want now before I lose out on them is called. You should have a good feel for your roster construction at that point, so it’s time to ignore the ADP entirely and queue up you best depth pieces and dart throws. Draft them in order of preference and acquire as many of them as you can.


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