Player Valuation Tip #5: Draft with tiers

The player value series is back again! I run this series of posts every year now. They are a mix of repeats from previous years, which are intended as a resource to help broaden the base of people that know how to run player values, and newly updated entries which provide info specific to 2018. Stay tuned throughout the preseason for the rest of the series! - HWB

Tip #1: Know where player values come from
Tip #2: Set your Hit/Pitch split
Tip #3: Value your Picks and Make Preseason Trades
Tip #4: Customize your Projections

It may come off as odd to say this, as a purveyor of the best draft tool around, but draft tools can't do everything. One of the great subtleties to drafting in fantasy baseball is seeing and exploiting tiers within each position. While the Big Board will help you see them, it's another thing to plan for them and make sure you avoid the biggest drop-offs in each position on draft day.

(If you want to skip the words and get right to the tiers, here they are)

After calculating player values and ranking them, you'd like to think you could just always draft the best available remaining player... but if there were 4 great players and 8 terrible ones at a given position in a 12 team league, you would want to make sure you're one of the 4, not one of the 8. This is one of the main weaknesses of using Replacement Levels to calculate player values. And on top of that, if you can get the 4th of the four good ones, you'll be able to spend time on other positions earlier in the draft without giving up much.

This is illustrated pretty well at SP this year: Kershaw, Sale, Scherzer, Kluber are an obvious top-4 of similar value, and are followed by a HUGE gap before Tier 2 starts with Syndergaard. It's a great argument for taking an SP in the 1st/2nd round, especially if you are near the turn. Conversely, if you don't get one of the top four SP, just chill out, don't panic and grab one of the tier 2 guys immediately. I certainly have favorites among the next 7-9 pitchers after that, but they're more similar than they are different. If I don't get one of the top-4, I'll be shooting for the last guy drafted out of this 2nd tier. 

Users of the Big Board will have seen this already, but using the default Big Board custom projections, the distribution of player values looks like this for a standard 5x5 ESPN league:


Included in that plot are red bars representing every above-replacement level player at each position, as well as black dashes for the average value of a player at each position as well as bars for a positive and negative standard deviation above/below this value. It's a little hard to take too much away from just this initial look, but you can at least see here that there are clearly clusters of players that you might say are similarly valuable. The big gaps? Those are what mark out the tiers.

Another way to vizualize these tier dropoffs in the Big Board is in the Best Remaining tab. Around pick 100 in an ESPN league, your remaining players might look something like this:


Here we have lists of the five most valuable players remaining at each position, with their values in green (to the left of the name), and the drop-off to the next player in red (to the right of the name). Large, dark red numbers are what we're looking for here - they represent big drop-offs at a given position. For instance, right now Eddie Rosario is the best remaining hitter at $15. But Nick Castellanos is similar at $14, and the drop-off to the next 3B, Devers, is $4! That's a big swing. In this case you could be better off grabbing Castellanos if you still need a 3B. Depending on your leaguemates' draft strategies, you may also need to look at ADP to determine when players are likely to be drafted, but the basic strategy remains the same. Don't miss the ends of those tiers!

And finally, I'll throw out some tiers for each position, based on the Big Board's valuations. I will point out a disclaimer here, that tiers can be extremely subjective, but I'll do my best to draw lines between players that make sense based on upside/downside, as well as values as-calculated by the Big Board. One of the best things you can do for your personal draft prep this offseason (besides buying the Big Board) is to look at each position, decide where you think the tiers exist, and start to form a draft plan from there. It's a great way to familiarize yourself with the players available at each position. My tiers should serve as a starting point but your opinions (or your league settings) may vary! I'll also mark spots where there are particularly large drop-offs. I'm also doing something new this year - tiers will have similar $ values, across all positions. That way you can compare apples to apples when considering what player to draft when. At the bottom of each position, I'll list an 'Upside' tier, low value players that I see value in, and a 'What's left' tier, the guys that I don't want, but you might be stuck with in late rounds/deep leagues. Anyway, here we go:


Tier 1: -
Tier 2: Sanchez
Tier 3/4: -
Tier 5: Contreras, Posey
Tier 6: Realmuto
Tier 7: Gattis, Perez
Tier 8: Ramos, Zunino, Molina, B. McCann

Upside: Lucroy, Castillo, Barnes, Grandal, Chirinos, Avila, Mejia

What's left: Martin, Hedges, J. McCann, d'Arnaud, Wieters, Vazquez

First Base

Tier 1: Votto
Tier 2: Goldschmidt, Freeman, Rizzo, Abreu
Tier 3: Bellinger, Hoskins
Tier 4: Encarnacion, (Cruz - DH)
Tier 5: Myers, Hosmer
Tier 6: Smoak, Zimmerman, Olson, Mi. Cabrera, Desmond, Santana, Bour, Bird, Gallo
Tier 7: Mancini, Carpenter, Alonso, Morrison, Gurriel, Belt, Bell
Tier 8: C. Davis, Thames, (Morales - DH), (H. Ramirez - DH)

Upside: McMahon, Adams, Jo. Martinez, Flores

What's left: Mauer, Cron, Vargas, Napoli, Healy, Duda, Moreland, (Pujols - DH)

Second Base

Tier 0: Altuve
Tier 1: J. Ramirez
Tier 2: -
Tier 3: Dozier, Gordon, Murphy
Tier 4: Schoop
Tier 5: Merrifield
Tier 6: Albies, C. Taylor, Cano, Odor, Lemahieu, DeJong
Tier 7: Villar, Kinsler, Nunez, Moncada, Kipnis, Harrison, Gennett, Baez
Tier 8: Happ, Castro, Panik, M. Gonzalez, A. Cabrera

Upside: Travis, Lowrie, N. Walker, Kingery, Mondesi, A. Frazier, Owings

What's left: C. Hernandez, Wong, Bra. Phillips, Zobrist, Pedroia, Peraza, Solarte


Tier 1: T. Turner
Tier 2: Correa, Lindor, (Machado - when qualified)
Tier 3: Bregman, C. Seager
Tier 4: Andrus
Tier 5: Segura, Bogaerts
Tier 6: Story, DeJong
Tier 7: Gregorius, Baez, Semien, Polanco, Beckham
Tier 8: T. Anderson, Arcia, M. Gonzalez, Cozart, Russell, Simmons, A. Cabrera

Upside: Owings, K. Marte, Torres, Rosario, Swanson

What's left: Crawford, Peraza, Tulowitzki, Galvis, Solarte

Third Base

Tier 1: Arenado, Bryant
Tier 2: Machado, Donaldson, J. Turner
Tier 3: -
Tier 4: Rendon
Tier 5: Castellanos
Tier 6: Moustakas, Gallo, Shaw, Devers, K. Seager, Beltre
Tier 7: Suarez, Sano, Lamb
Tier 8: Longoria, Franco, T. Frazier

Upside: Gyorko, Candelario, M. Chapman, Flores, Senzel, M. Duffy

What's left: Healy, Headley, Davidson


Tier 0: Trout
Tier 1: Stanton, Harper, Betts
Tier 2: Blackmon, Judge, JD Martinez
Tier 3: Yelich, Springer, Bellinger, Hoskins, Pham, Ozuna, S. Marte
Tier 4: J. Upton, Pollock, Benintendi, K. Davis, Hamilton
Tier 5: Cain, Buxton, Cespedes, Rosario, Puig, McCutchen
Tier 6: Eaton, G. Polanco, D. Santana, Desmond, Braun, Kiermaier, Acuna, Mancini
Tier 7: Inciarte, Margot, Conforto, A. Jones, O. Herrera, Bruce, Souza, Zimmer, Duvall, Haniger
Tier 8: Deshields, A. Garcia, Mazara, Hicks, D. Peralta, W. Calhoun, Gardner, Altherr, Trumbo, Brantley, De. Fowler, Reddick, Shwarber, Bradley Jr, Grichuk

Upside: Thames, Mahtook, Dahl, Maybin, Jo. Martinez, Piscotty, Brinson, Hays, Renfroe, Robles, Winker, Fisher, Pirela, N. Williams, K. Broxton

What's left: K. Calhoun, Kepler, Schebler, Choo, Joyce, Pillar, C. Gonzalez, Me. Cabrera, M. Taylor, Heyward, Markakis, Span, Dickerson, Kemp, C. Frazier


Tier 1: Kershaw, Sale, Scherzer, Kluber
Tier 2: Syndergaard, Strasburg
Tier 3: Bumgarner, Degrom, Severino, Greinke, Carrasco
Tier 4: Verlander, Darvish, Ray, Archer, C. Martinez, Paxton, Nola
Tier 5: Quintana, Samardzija, Tanaka, A. Wood, Hill, Hendricks, Keuchel
Tier 6: G. Cole, Godley, McCullers, Castillo, Ohtani, Lester, J. Gray, Arrieta, Price, G. Richards
Tier 7: Cueto, C. Anderson, D. Duffy, Morton, Bauer, Stroman, L. Weaver, Fulmer, Walker, Berrios, S. Gray, Taillon, Snell, Happ, Lamet, Porcello
Tier 8: Pomeranz, G. Gonzalez, Gausman, Lynn, Musgrove, Corbin, Maeda, Bundy, Gohara, Wacha, Cobb, Manaea, Nelson, Faria, J. Montgomery

Upside: Clevinger, Salazar, A. Reyes, Chatwood, E. Santana, Skaggs, Aa. Sanchez, Mikolas, Rodon, Pivetta, Newcomb, Peacock, Matz, Junis, T. Williams, Suter, Kopech, Cotton, E. Rodriguez

What's left: Roark, Teheran, Hamels, Davies, Estrada, Straily, F. Hernandez, Nova, Eickhoff, Leake, Chacin, Odorizzi, Vargas, Moore, Richard


Tier 1/2: -
Tier 3: Jansen
Tier 4: Kimbrel
Tier 5: A. Chapman, Osuna, E. Diaz, Knebel, Giles
Tier 6: Rivero, Hand, Morrow, Iglesias, Allen, Doolittle
Tier 7: A. Miller, W. Davis, Colome, Melancon, Vizcaino, Herrera
Tier 8: S. Greene, Treinen, Familia, Neris, Gregerson, Bedrosian

Upside for SVs: Parker, Lyons. Reed, Bradley, Devenski, Edwards Jr, Holland, Kela

Upside for other stats: C. Green, Betances, Robertson, Kahnle, Madson, C. Smith, Buehler, Barraclough, Hildenberger, Steckenrider, Givens, Hader

What's left: Rodney, Cecil, Brach, Britton, Soria, Boxberger, Neshek, Ziegler, Claudio

Spreadsheet version: