How to Choose the Right Fantasy Baseball Rankings


Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

I hold the ranking of fantasy baseball players to be sacred. I hope you do too. I have heard it said that if you were to print out all the fantasy baseball rankings lists end-to-end, that you could walk across this great nation of ours 12 times, touching nothing beneath your feet but fantasy baseball enumerations. With so many ranking lists being released how do you choose the right fantasy baseball ranking list that is right for you? Cause let’s be honest, there’s some crap out there.

The most important step is to understand the types of rankings lists that you’ll run across. Every rankings list is is one of the following 3 types (or a hybrid of two or more of the below types):

  1. Curated: These rankings lists have a curator, an individual that creates them and has an emotional investment in them. The tool used to create them is simply the experience of the curator creator. The fount of their wisdom flows from their gut. (Ray Flowers or Ray Guilfoyle are excellent examples.)  It is easy to curate a list. In fact, my hunch is that a large number of fantasy baseball players create their own curated list themselves, that they scribble down hours before the draft. The secret is trusting experience of the curator.
  2. Calculated: These lists are entirely math driven. Creators of these lists plug past statistics into a spreadsheet and use a formula to spit out future projections, which are used accordingly to rank players. These lists are dispassionate and without bias. Sure, the creators of these lists may come in and tweak a number or two to reflect and injury or something but, by and large, what the computer spits out is what you get. The secret for these calculated fantasy baseball rankings is knowing and trusting the formulas that they use.
  3. Conglomerate: A better word for these fantasy baseball rankings would be aggregate, but I was feeling quite alliterative and needed a word that began with ‘C.’ These rankings are the result of averaging several lists together. Conventional wisdom might lead you to believe that by averaging several sources together you can achieve a greater level of reliability, but there is a fly in the ointment, which we’ll talk about in a moment.

The High and Lows of Each Type

Now that we have a greater understanding of the types of fantasy baseball rankings lists, we can talk about the strengths and weaknesses of each one. And you thought it ws as simple as scribbling players names down on a page!

As you can probably imagine, a curated list has a glaring hole in its swing. You’re trusting the gut of the curator, and you are putting your faith in his biases. His favorite players may be ranked several places too high, the only reason being that the curator simply liked them. Conversely, guys he doesn’t like may slide down the list, despite potentially giving higher value.

A curated list is buyer beware. But a good curated list, created by a strong, respected, experienced fantasy baseball expert can be golden. Just beware of the doofies who scribble one together in their basement.

Surprisingly, a conglomerate list fares even worse, but for the opposite reason. Averaging rankings lists takes the risk out of the list, but in removing the risk, you create a homogenous vanilla porridge that doesn’t give you any edge over follow fantasy baseball team owners. Why not just draft using ADP, the default rankings listed by your host provider?

Conglomerate lists tend to “herd“, a term statisticians use to describe the behavior when lists begin to converge so as to not produce outliers. Many are afraid of outliers when creating a rankings list, because you’re held accountable for that pick that may go against consensus opinion. So they (ESPN and the like are your biggest examples) average several lists together, smooth out the outliers, and publish the “safer” conglomerate. Remember when your momma said to never follow the crowd? This is true in fantasy baseball as well.

If you want an edge you need a calculated list. These lists have been proving to be historically the most accurate (tested by Tom Tango himself), being that they use cold, hard numbers. Rudy over at Razzball creates a solid calculated list each year, where he runs the numbers, then converts them in ranked list. Whereas a conglomerated list might tend to strip away an outlier, or a curator’s gut hedge their bet, these calculated lists allow dispassionate ranking.

Let’s summarize!

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that many lists are hybrids of the above types. I’ve obviously oversimplified here, but I wanted you to be able to spot the different types and understand where each list is coming from, which will help you be a better fantasy baseball player.

Us Crackerjacks will create a hybrid list, for example. First we run the numbers and project each player’s 2013 stats. We’ll take those raw numbers, then use our experience to curate an even more accurate (or so we hope!) rankings list.

Your takeaway is that it’s important to know how a fantasy baseball rankings list is created so you know if you can trust the list as you prepare for your fantasy baseball draft. I hope this oversimplification of rankings lists helps you look at them with eyes a little more open. Now bring on the rankings!