How to use Rankings Lists

Every year around this time we are inundated with rankings lists from every fantasy site imaginable. There will always be some different and unique ideas on each list that you see, but it is important for all consumers of these lists to understand exactly what they mean so that we can best use them.

For this article, the rankings lists in discussion are those forward-looking, rest of season lists that get published on every major fantasy site. We are not talking about year to date production value.

The first assumption that people often make is that rank lists are best used to predict the future production of players relative to one another. While it is true that ranking lists are forward-looking in nature, anyone who tells you that they can accurately predict future performance is lying to you. We can use past performance data, scouting reports, injury history and all types of analytical tools to break down the numbers and give our best estimates of what is to come, but everyone needs to remember that rankings lists are nothing but rough estimates. No player is immune to injury or to slump.

Here is a list of 2013’s top 15 players from Y!s 5×5 player rater:

  1. Miguel Cabrera
  2. Clayton Kershaw
  3. Chris Davis
  4. Mike Trout
  5. Paul Goldschmidt
  6. Max Scherzer
  7. Adam Jones
  8. Andrew McCutchen
  9. Hunter Pence
  10. Adam Wainwright
  11. Robinson Cano
  12. Yu Darvish
  13. Cliff Lee
  14. Jose Fernandez
  15. Adrian Beltre

There are some big names on this list, but how many analysts out there do you think nailed that one? Here’s a hint: the answer starts with Z and rhymes with hero. In fact, unless Jose Fernandez’s mother happens to be a huge Orioles fan, I doubt anyone had all these players in their pre-season top 50 (or even top 100). If we can’t rely on rankings lists for their predictive value, then what can we use them for?

There is one thing that rankings lists can really be helpful for: figuring out a player’s current market value. Rankings lists will vary from site to site and also change continuously as the season marches along. If you view your rankings lists as snapshots in time, however, they can be very helpful in trying to determine a player’s true market value.

What Rankings List Should you Use to Determine a Player’s Value?

I would love to tell you that Fantasy Assembly’s lists are so accurate that we are a one-stop shop, but the reality is that you need to look at as many different lists as you can. Lists are made by humans and humans have biases. I am a huge fan of consolidating rankings lists down by averaging them. If one expert’s rank list is helpful, an average of rankings lists from 10 or more experts could be used as a reasonable approximation of the market.

As an example, let’s look at polarizing player Matt Kemp and try to approximate his current market value. The chart below lists Kemp’s ranking on each site and his average rank at the bottom. Please note that Fantasy Assembly has not yet completed our overall consolidated ranking, so Kemp’s Fantasy Assembly ranking listed here is a projection based on the consolidated positional lists.

Site Kemp Rank
Yahoo 61
ESPN 74
Fantrax 40
CBS 33
RotoHobo 48
Fantasy Assembly 52
Fake Teams 40
MLB.com 45
Rotobanter 164
Fantasy Freak 33
Rotoworld 9
Razzball 81
Average Rank 56.67
Average Minus Outliers 50.7

The result of this exercise suggests that Kemp’s current market value is somewhere between early to mid fifth round, which sounds pretty good to me. Ironically, Fantasy Assembly’s projected Kemp ranking is the only one that falls in this range.

Using Rankings to Evaluate Trades

Trading is very difficult. Everyone has slightly different ideas as to how they feel about an individual player, but when making a trade I always make sure I get market value or better in return.

Using Kemp as an example, if you were looking to trade him, you should get a fifth round caliber player in return. If you seek middle infield help, then you should be targeting a guy like Carpenter or Kinsler. If it is pitching help that you need, then perhaps a Chris Sale or David Price offer would make sense. Of course I would always try to acquire a player like Ian Desmond or Cliff Lee first before settling for a market value offer.

Keep in mind, however, that if you are trying to acquire a player like Kemp, his owner is likely to value him more highly than the market does. This means you would likely have to give up significantly more than fifth round value to acquire him. Remember that there were a few experts who had Kemp him valued as a third rounder or better. These people will be most likely to own him.

If an owner is asking for too much in return for the player I covet, I will try to work out another deal with another owner. Patience is key when looking for the right deal. Settling for market value is okay, but do not deal a healthy Kemp for a significantly lower ranked player like Everth Cabrera because you can’t get anybody to bite on a fair offer. If you are having trouble moving the player that you prefer to deal, you are better off adjusting your sights and offering up other players in exchange for different targets.

An example of this occurred for me last season. At the trade deadline I was looking to trade Jed Lowrie for a catcher upgrade, but I could not find any deals that made sense. Instead, I opted to keep Lowrie and I dealt Troy Tulowitzki for Buster Posey and Hunter Pence. I would have preferred not to trade Tulo, but I had an extra SS and needed to make a move. Pence’s September surge helped my team rise from fourth place to first in the season’s final weeks.

Using Rankings to Evaluate Drop Candidates

The analysis here is conducted in similar fashion, but you have to keep in mind that the bottom 30% or so have little to no trade value. If your league has 12 teams and each team rosters 25 players, league wide there are 300 players owned. You aren’t going to get many takers on a player whose value falls outside the top 200 overall.

If you have a short-term need to fill and the player you want to move is valued at 225, then it is perfectly acceptable to drop that player. Someone else will likely pick them up, but you could waste weeks trying to find a deal to no avail.

If you have a struggling player who is still ranked reasonably highly by the expert sites, then you either need to ride it out or sell low in trade. Dropping such a player is generally a bad idea. Selling low is a bad idea too, but you can usually get more via trade than you would off the waiver wire.

Tommy Landseadel

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Tommy is also known as tlance on the CBS and Sports Hoopla message boards. He has been playing fantasy baseball for 16 years in many different format types and looks forward to helping you with your fantasy baseball questions! You can now follow me on Twitter @tlandseadel

2 thoughts on “How to use Rankings Lists”

  1. Tommy, because the closer position is so volatile year to year. What approach do you use at draft time.

  2. Thanks for the question J.

    I don’t really have a set approach for closers. It all depends on the league format, the situation and the value you can get.

    Normally in roto leagues I like to avoid the top closers and pick lower ranked closers who have demonstrated the skills to be above average. This year, however, I think some of the best values might be Rosenthal or Uehara if they fall far enough. I have grabbed one of them in almost every draft I have done this year. I don’t see much difference between closers 2 and 6 on my list and if one falls outside the top 100, I will grab him.

    I also like to invest in at least a couple set-up guys with good skill sets who have elite closer potential if given the chance. This year, guys like Cody Allen, Mark Melancon and Sergio Santos are some of my favorites.

    In weekly points leagues, I prefer to avoid closers all together and load up on RP eligible starters.

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