As we all prepare to draft our rotisserie fantasy leagues this spring, it’s important to take note of the statistical categories that are becoming more difficult to get. The two categories that I’d like to focus on here are stolen bases and batting average. Both are likely to be drafted in the early rounds. Players who are drafted later that contribute batting average and stolen bases can hurt your team in other categories, which makes them difficult to roster and start during the season.
One way to make the scarcity easier to understand is to look at the draft board in a 15-team league and highlight the players who will make a significant contribution. In order to avoid judgments based on name value, the names of the players were removed. The idea is to make this less about the individual players, and more about the distribution of the category.
To map out each category, I used the NFBC ADP in 15 team leagues since February 15 and created a draft board. Instead of the player names, the cell contains the projected stat totals for each player, according to ATC projections.
Mapping Out SB and AVG
Stolen Base Distribution
You may be wondering: What about those four guys going past round 27 who will steal more than 14+ bases? I can make up ground in the steals category by drafting them. The average projection for those four players is 332 PA, 8 HR, 39 R, and 31 RBI, and a .225 AVG. Even if you believe that a player in that range will get closer to full-time PA, those stats will hurt your team in 4 of 5 categories. In general, the later stolen bases are drafted, the more the player will hurt your team, either through lack of plate appearances or poor performance.
There is a fantastic fantasy baseball book called The Process by Tanner Bell and Jeff Zimmerman. It lists the average NFBC Main Event results from the previous season. In 2021, last place in a Main Event league required 64 SB. That’s just to finish in last place! That averages 4.5 SB for each of the 14 hitters rostered on a team. Most of us will roster a few players who don’t steal bases at all, which means that a manager will need to roster a few players who steal 8-10 bases just to break even.
The more meaningful number for fantasy managers is the 80th percentile steals target in a main event for 2022 which is around 120; an average of 9 SB per hitter. Only a few teams will be able to roster a player who steals more than 30 bases. Because of this, many fantasy managers try to piece it together with multiple players who get a moderate number of steals. An example of this would be one 20 SB guy, three 15 SB guys, four 10 SB guys, and another three who will get at least 5 SB. Only 33 players are projected to get at least 15 SB, which is only two per team in a 15-team league. That’s not enough to go around.
Another interesting exercise from looking at the distribution of stolen bases is to look at the total number of steals taken in each round of a draft. The top 450 players by ADP are projected by ATC to get a total of 1920 stolen bases. They are broken down as follows:
Steals by Round
|Round||SB||% of Total SB|
Over 50% of the stolen bases are drafted before the end of the 12th round in a 15-team league. Beyond that, questions start to arise about playing time and overall performance. Fantasy managers like to talk themselves into the players who provide late sources of steals, but they often don’t live up to expectations. For example, in 2021, players that were drafted as late sources of steals were Leody Taveras, Oscar Mercado, Victor Reyes, and Kevin Kiermaier.
Batting Average Distribution
Many fantasy managers don’t think of acquiring batting average early in the draft the way that they think of drafting stolen bases, but the distribution of batting average is similar.
The average of all the batting averages in the map above is .256, which would have scored between 7th and 8th place in Main Event leagues in 2021. There’s nothing wrong with finishing in the middle of the standings, but many fantasy managers prefer to target the 80th percentile threshold for their fantasy categories. The 80th percentile target for batting average based on 2021 Main Event results was .263. The distribution of players in a 15-team draft who are projected to have a batting average above .263 is shown below:
Batting Average by Round
|Round||# Players > .263||% of Total|
In order to reach that goal, any starting hitter that has a batting average below .263 must be balanced out by one that has an average that is higher than .263 by the same amount. For example, The ATC projection for Jazz Chisholm is 558 PA and a batting average of .239. A fantasy manager that rosters Chisholm must also roster another hitter that has an equal number of PA and a batting average of at least .287. Only 12 players are projected to have batting averages that high, and 8 of the 12 are drafted before pick 100.
Like the stolen base category outlined above, the sources of high batting average available late in the draft do not provide significant contributions in other categories or are susceptible to losing playing time. The four players projected to have a high average that are drafted after pick 100 are Alex Verdugo, Michael Brantley, Nick Madrigal, and Luis Arraez. The average ATC projection for those 4 players is 538 PA with a .293 average (check), but they are only projected for an average of 9 HR, 5 SB, 68 R, 54 RBI. All of those totals are well below the averages needed for a hitter in a Main Event league.
Good luck in 2022!