Player Valuation Tip #4: Draft with tiers

Tip #1: Where do player values come from?
Tip #2: The Hit/Pitch split
Tip #3: Valuing your picks and making preseason trades

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 dropoffs in each position on draft day.

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 3B this year: Donaldson, Bryant, and Arenado are followed by a HUGE gap before Tier 2 starts with Kyle Seager. It's a great argument for taking a 3B in the 1st/2nd round. If you don't get one of the top three 3B, you're signing yourself up to deal with lesser production and greater risk in the Tier 2 guys (Seager, Beltre, Frazier, Longo), or even one of the later ones. If I don't get one of the top-3, I'll be shooting for the last guy drafted out of tier 3 or 4, as there are a bunch of potential breakout mid-range 3B's this year (Bregman, Lamb, Moustakas, Castellanos to name a few).

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 green 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.

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 three most valuable players remaining at each position, with their values in green (to the left of the name), and the dropoff 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 dropoffs at a given position. For instance, if Belt and Pujols were drafted, you might want to prioritize drafting Tommy Joseph ASAP as there appears to be a big dropoff from him to the next 1B. 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. The best thing you can do for your personal draft prep this offseason 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 may vary! I'll also mark spots where there are particularly large dropoffs. Anyway, here we go:

Catcher

Tier 1: Sanchez, Posey
**Drop**
Tier 2: Lucroy, Grandal, Contreras
Tier 3: Perez, Realmuto, McCann, Gattis, Vogt
**Drop**
Tier 4: Molina, Martin, Leon, Ramos, Wieters
Tier 5: Mesoraco, Zunino, Norris, Gomes, Cervelli, D'arnaud, Castillo, Rupp, Murphy

First Base

Tier 1: Goldschmidt, Rizzo, Miggy, Votto
Tier 2: Freeman, Encarnacion, Abreu, Hanley
Tier 3: C. Davis, Santana, Hosmer, Myers
Tier 4: Belt, Pujols, Joseph
**Drop**
Tier 5: Bour, Gonzalez, Napoli, Bell, Duda, Bird, Carter
Tier 6: Cron, Mauer, Zimmerman, Pearce

Second Base

Tier 1: Altuve, Turner
Tier 2: Murphy, Cano, Odor, Dozier, LeMahieu
Tier 3: Gordon, Kinsler, Kipnis, Carpenter, Pedroia
Tier 4: Schoop, Travis, Forsythe, Zobrist
**Drop**
Tier 5: Hernandez, Castro, Walker, Harrison, Schimpf, Panik
Tier 6: Wong, Phillips, Lawrie, Kendrick

Shortstop

Tier 1: Machado
Tier 2: Correa, Seager, Lindor, Story
Tier 3: Villar, Bogaerts, Segura
**Drop**
Tier 4: Diaz, Tulowitzki, Andrus, Semien
Tier 5: Miller, Peraza, Russell, Swanson, Anderson, Nunez
Tier 6: Gregorius, Baez, Escobar, Crawford, Gyorko, Asdrubal, Arcia, Polanco

Third Base

Tier 1: Donaldson, Arenado, Bryant
**Drop**
Tier 2: Frazier, Beltre, K. Seager, Longoria
Tier 3: Sano, J. Turner, J. Ramirez, Rendon, Franco, Bregman
Tier 4: Lamb, Moustakas, Castellanos
Tier 5: Kang, Suarez, Duffy, Healy
Tier 6: Prado, Moncada, Solarte, Gurriel, Reyes, Sandoval, H. Perez, Drury

Outfield

Tier 1: Trout, Betts
Tier 2: Harper, Blackmon, Marte
Tier 2: CarGo, Cruz, Pollock, Desmond, Springer, Stanton
Tier 3: Jones, Braun, McCutchen, B. Hamilton, Yelich, Trumbo, JD Martinez, J. Upton
Tier 4: Benintendi, Cespedes, K. Davis, Polanco, O. Herrera, Schwarber, Bradley
Tier 5: Piscotty, Eaton, Kemp, Thames, Gomez, Bautista, Kiermaier, Calhoun, Cain
Tier 6: Pederson, Puig, Dahl, Broxton, D. Santana, Buxton, Heyward, Ozuna
Tier 7: M. Cabrera, Inciarte, Duvall, Tomas, Fowler, Peralta, Mazara, Jankowski, Renfroe, Granderson, Holliday
Tier 8: Ellsbury, Grichuk, Beltran, C. Dickerson, Pence, Gardner, Kepler, Pillar, Reddick
Tier 9: Span, Choo, Dyson, Brantley, Margot, Bruce, Souza, R. Davis, Werth, A. Gordon, Saunders, Markakis
Tier 10: Kim, Moss, A. Dickerson, Haniger, Soler, Judge, Naquin, Conforto, Maybin, M. Smith

Starters

Tier 1: Kershaw
Tier 2: Scherzer, Syndergaard, Sale, Bumgarner
Tier 3: Darvish, Kluber, Strasburg, Lester, Arrieta, Verlander, Price, Archer, Carrasco, Cueto
Tier 4: Hendricks, Tanaka, Hill, Maeda, C. Martinez, Porcello, DeGrom
Tier 5: Quintana, A. Sanchez, McCullers, Hamels, Paxton, Greinke, Taillon, Stroman
Tier 6: G. Cole, Fulmer, Duffy, Matz, Salazar, Gausman, Urias, Shoemaker, Nola
Tier 7: Harvey, Velasquez, Samardzidja, Pomeranz, Teheran
Tier 8: Felix, Lackey, Cotton, Estrada, Keuchel, Desclafani, Happ, Ray, J. Gray
Tier 9: McHugh, Snell, Odorizzi, Smyly, G. Gonzalez, Skaggs, S. Gray, Manaea, Pineda, Roark
Tier 10: Moore, Chen, Cobb, J. Ross, Iwakuma, Ed. Rodriguez, Walker, De Leon, Guerra, Richards, Bundy
Tier 11: Nova, Rodon, Straily, Foltynewicz, Davies, Wainwright, Eickhoff, Hellickson, Tillman, Montgomery, Conley
Tier 12: Berrios, Glasnow, Giolito, Musgrove, R. Lopez, L. Weaver

Relievers

Tier 1: Jansen, Chapman, Britton
Tier 2: Miller, Kimbrel, Diaz, Davis
Tier 3: Melancon, Giles, Oh
Tier 4: Osuna, Colome, Betances, Herrera, Kelley
Tier 5: Robertson, Familia, Reed, Bedrosian, F. Rodriguez, Allen, Feliz
Tier 6: Ramos, Rodney, Watson, Dyson, Maurer, Madson, Iglesias
Tier 7: Ottavino, Johnson, Capps, Holland, Gomez, Kintzler, Street, Vizcaino
Tier 8(th inning): Storen, Treinen, Edwards, Strickland, Barraclough, Neris, Benoit, Uehara, Strahm, Dayton, Jones, Doolittle