The Value of Tiers
Ray Flowers explains why the Tiering Model is the best way to put together a Fantasy Baseball draft list and how to understand the process.
So, I’ve smashed your dream of using a top-whatever list. I can’t leave that void in your life, so allow me to fill it with the correct way to put together a draft list.
The best way to put together a draft list is the tiering model.
Before we get to that directly though...
This Guide has positional rankings for mixed leagues, AL and NL-only setups. You can find them here. If you look at those rankings you will see, on the far left side, a RANK and TIER tab. You will also notice that there are colors associated with the different tiers. This article will explain what those tiers mean, and why they matter.
Tiering is a model used to rank players by putting "like" performers on the same level or tier.
Though such a simple concept, it is hard for some people to grasp this idea because many out there, in fact nearly everyone, has an inescapable need to draft the “best player” with every pick (am incorrect thought discussed in detail in Why No Top-Whatever List?). The tiering model tries to dispel this line of thought, at least a little bit. Let’s see if I can say this in a way that doesn’t lead you to think that my “expert” card should be voided.
Take the case of Xander Bogaerts vs. Francisco Lindor. Some of you definitely want Bogaerts. Others absolutely want Lindor. Maybe you have a personal preference, heck we all do. But here’s the dirty little secret – it might not matter which player you get since they are basically interchangeable. A little extra power here, a bit more speed there, but overall is there really much difference at all here? No, there really isn’t. Sorry, but it’s true. I know you may not want to hear that, but it’s still the truth. This is the strength of the tiering model. The fact is that getting either one of the players should suffice. This is hard for some folks to accept. We get so worried about taking Player A or B, we have hour long arguments about it, that we miss the main point which is – try to get a player you can trust who will produce. A little up here, a little down here, but if the players are basically the same guy, and the tiering model will show you that, then the truth is that it’s more important to get one of those guys than it is to get “one” of those guys.
Let me reiterate the goal of the tiering model.
You want to group ‘like’ players together in terms of their overall fantasy production. Let’s look at second base to explain how this plays out in the real world.
TIER 1: Jose Altuve is on a tier all by himself. His overall game is simply unmatched at the position. He has some pop, tons of speed, a massive batting average and three unparalleled seasons of fantasy excellence.
TIER 2: This next tier has four “like” players, even if their games are total different. Robinson Cano is the most stable offensive performer at second base the last decade. Period. Trea Turner has no track record, and less power than Cano, but his potentially elite speed leaves him with a projected overall outlook that is similar to that of Cano. Daniel Murphy doesn’t run much anymore, but his overall offensive game isn’t much different than Cano, albeit with a bit less in the historical record. Brian Dozier exploded all over everyone last season. He never gets hurts, steals some bases, and scores a ton of runs to help offset his middling batting average, which is the worst of this group.
TIER 3: Jean Segura has elite speed and showed some significant pop last season. Rougned Odor is a counting category monster, but he lacks upside in average and there are concerns about his approach. Matt Carpenter doesn’t excel in one area but he’s extremely consistent and productive season after season. Dee Gordon has zero power, but he has the wheels to lead the league in skills and his average is never a negative. DJ LeMahieu has little power to speak of, and he’s not hitting .348 again, but he plays in Coors field, is an established hitter, and a career .300 hitter who has scored 189 times the last two seasons.
Let me state again the goal – to put like players on the same tier. You will note from the above example that this “likeness” can take on many forms. Look at tier #2. You have two power types in Cano and Dozier. You have all-around solid in Murphy. You have blazing speed in Turner. It’s not that the players are alike in skills, that’s not what the model says. What the model says is that the player’s overall productivity and outlook is similar. The model suggests that it’s OK to take Turner ahead of Cano if you need speed. It’s OK to take Dozier ahead of Murphy if you need power. The model does not say you’re dumb if you take Dozier ahead of Turner. The model says that the players on the same tier have a similar outlook, even if they get there in different ways. It’s perfectly acceptable to take Player A for his speed over Player B for his power if that’s what your team needs. It’s not always as simple as saying Player A is “better” so he’s the guy you have to roster.
A few closing thoughts.
I’ve noted this multiple times in this piece, and trust me I’m sober as I write the following; you’re infatuation with Player A over Player B isn’t always a net positive. Remember, we’re really not rostering players, we’re rostering production. Runs, homers, strikeouts, saves… it’s the numbers that matter not the name on the back of the jersey. We've been taught forever that we have to have Player A or Player B. I'm not saying that players don’t matter, they do, but sometimes our belief that if we don’t get “our guy” we’re in trouble simply isn’t true. Targeting players is fine, but realize that it’s all about the production and there isn’t just one guy that can get us to where we need to be.
Before you start your draft determine how you feel about the tiers at each position. Set that baseline for yourself. If you think there are five top-2 tier second sackers, do you have to get one of those? What if you think there are 10 top-3 tier second baseman? Are you comfortable with one of those options? Does the answer change if you’re in a 10-team league versus a 15 teamer? Let’s example up.
Let's say there are 14 top-3 tier players at second base.
Let's say there are 10 top-3 tier players at catcher.
Let’s say that 13-of-14 second baseman have been drafted.
Let’s say that 5-of-10 catchers have been drafted.
The tiering model would suggest to you that you take the second baseman first, with the idea being that it’s highly unlikely that all five catchers will be taken before the last second baseman goes off the board (of course, not all leagues are the same – we’re just playing the percentages here). Even if a top-overall list has all five catchers listed ahead of the last second baseman, the tiering model points you to getting that last starter worthy second baseman that you trust first – even if he “ranks” last according to ADP or that top-whatever list since you really don’t want to fall to tier 4.
Decide this for each position before you begin your draft. Do the prep so you can crush it when the bullets start flying. Give the tiering model a shot. You might be surprised how much the tiering model helps.