Examining how to identify the right kinds of sleepers.
If it’s January, it must be time for fantasy analysts to come out of the woodwork and start identifying “sleepers.” This term is almost as old as fantasy baseball itself. While it is possible it was a useful exercise at one point, like a lot of other overused buzzwords the term sleeper has become completely arbitrary and therefore virtually worthless. So far this winter, I have seen the following players identified as sleepers:
Big power might suddenly be tough to come by at a position that had been well stocked before 2014.
If 2013 looked like the dawn of a grand new era at first base, in 2014 reality came crashing down on this supposed new paradigm. Ten first basemen earned $25 or more in mono formats in 2013; in 2014, only five first basemen managed to reach this vaunted plateau. It could be argued that first base has been impacted more by the limited offensive climate than any other position. The days of the 25-30 home run hitter aren’t dead and forgotten, but with fewer top shelf big boppers to go around, fantasy owners have to decide if they want to invest a high draft pick on a major power play or if they want to try and opt for cheaper production that is attached to more of an all-around player. James Loney’s 2014 line looks excruciatingly boring, but he was the 13th-best first baseman in fantasy in 2014. Unless your league is super shallow, what were once pedestrian-looking numbers are now a staple in some team’s lineup.
Despite the lack of top tier production in 2014, the top of the player pool still looks strong. Paul Goldschmidt and Miguel Cabrera both look to bounce back from injuries and take their rightful place at the top of the heap in mono leagues. Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Abreu offer strong power production and could easily fill the void if Cabrera’s injury recovery winds up being on the longer side. Immediately beneath this quartet of $30-plus potential earners is a trio of grizzled veterans—Adrian Gonzalez, Victor Martinez, and Albert Pujols—accompanied by last year’s big breakout player, Anthony Rizzo. Martinez produced at an elite level last year, but the fickle nature of V-Mart’s high batting average makes Rizzo the most likely to crack the top five this year assuming further growth.
Breaking down the position into fantasy-value-based bins.
Today, we kick off our positional tier rankings. For the third year in a row, we have made this into a collaborative effort. Players at each position will be divided into five tiers, represented by a “star” rating.
Five-star players are the studs at their position. In general, they are the players who will be nabbed in the first couple of rounds of the draft, and they will fetch auction bids in excess of $30. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They will also be early-round selections, and they are projected to be worth more than $20 in most cases. Three-star players are the last tier in which players are projected to provide double-digit dollar value in auctions, and two-star players are projected to earn single digits in dollar value in auctions. One-star players are late-round sleepers and roster placeholders. The positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of last year’s values but rather try to offer some insights into what we expect will happen in 2014.
The Nats have been relatively quiet this offseason, but they're loaded with potential fantasy assets.
Unless you play in a dynasty or long-term keeper league and are already placing bets on the futures of Trea Turner and Joe Ross, the Nationals have had a very quiet offseason thus far. This is boring if you are an avid follower of the hot stove, but from a fantasy perspective boring can be good. Barring a late trade or free agent signing, the Nationals will be bringing most of the same core back for another run at a division title in 2015. The biggest loss for fantasy is Adam LaRoche, who the Nats allowed to leave so that Ryan Zimmerman could move to first base due to a chronic shoulder injury. The Nats are the kind of team that doesn’t seem to have any obvious superstars, but do have a number of reliable contributors who provide more fantasy value than you would expect at a glance. While this provides the potential for a few cornerstones, it does take away the odds of landing a sleeper; as a result, Washington does not have any sleepers identified for 2015.
[A note for our readers. While informative, since we are still months away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, these previews are far from definitive or complete. Free agent signings, trades, and other offseason news will change the landscape for most if not all teams. For any moves that take place after a team preview is written, please look to our Transaction Analysiscoverage for instant reactions, and then check back on the Team Previews for more detailed updates (including lineups, rotations, bullpens, etc.) as we get closer to Opening Day.]
Why adhering to tiered rankings might be an impediment in auctions.
It is only a few players into your 2014 NL-only fantasy auction and you are already unhappy with how the auction has progressed. It isn’t because you panicked and overspent on a player or two early but rather because everyone else is buying players and you’re still sitting on the sidelines, waiting to hit your spot. The problem is that you’re reaching the point of the auction at which you have to fill your top offensive slot with a $30-plus player and they’re almost entirely gone. You don’t want to pay $35 for Hanley Ramirez, but the only alternative left is David Wright, and you have a bad feeling about him this year.
For some fantasy players, this scenario might not sound familiar. However, if you use a tiered approach to auctions, it is entirely possible that you can get trapped in a scenario where you feel like you have to overpay a player or two in order to fill out your “tiers” on offense.