How fantasy baseball rankings are made

Mike Trout is arguably baseball's best player, so why isn't he No. 1 in our fantasy baseball points rankings? Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Every January, the disbelieving tweets start to come in. "I just saw your 2020 rankings. Do you even watch baseball? Did you just pick names out of a hat? I hope everyone else in my league uses your list at our draft, because I'm sure to win if they do. I could do a better job with my eyes closed."

To that last point, I'd love for you to give it a try. I don't say that to be confrontational. Rather, I think that until you actually make a serious and honest attempt at taking all of your personal biases out of the equation and constructing a 2020 rankings list of your own, you're never going to fully understand what to take away from such a list. Let's walk ourselves through this process, shall we?

Judging the future

First up, we can't honestly rank players until we come up with a projected stat line for the upcoming season for each and every one of them. It's all well and good to say that you think Aaron Judge is going to win the AL MVP this season, but does that mean he hits 40 HR? 50 HR? He's missed 50-plus games in both of the last two years, so that risk has to factor into the equation doesn't it?

I'm going to hedge on the lower side, at 25 games missed and 35 total round-trippers for the season. If you think he definitely is going to do better than that, you'll probably have him ranked higher than I do in the end. Nobody knows for sure, but we have to start from somewhere. Now, do these projections for 1,500 players or so -- in 2019, over 2,000 individuals played in at least one MLB game, with 1,714 playing in at least five -- and you should have a decent starting point.

Valuing value

So, now that we have a stat line for each player to compare, how exactly do we make that comparison? How much is each individual stat actually worth? Last year, the league average team hit .252 with 226 HR, 749 RBI and 76 SB. Let's divide those numbers by 13, representing a typical number of different batters on a major league team's roster on any given day, and we get .252 with 17 HR, 58 RBI and 6 SB. Let's call this our "average player."

Back in 1980, an "average player" would have hit .265 with just 9 HR, 50 RBI and 10 SB. We're talking a Rob Wilfong (1.1 WAR) type. Last year, one player in the 2019 "average" range was James McCann (3.8 WAR). The game has changed. Power is not as valuable, relative to the league as a whole, as there's so much more of it to go around. For rotisserie formats, steals are more valuable than ever as there are so few in the overall player universe, yet the category is still worth 20% of your hitting value in a 5x5 league.

In points leagues, steals aren't weighted as heavily, as all stats are consolidated into a single number for each players' score. Still, batter strikeouts have to be factored in as a negative. The ability for a hitter to get doubles and triples needs to be added in as a positive, with each total base counting. As such, once you've ranked each player in terms of the value of the stats you've projected, you must then adjust them for crucial core abilities such as contact rate and having a good eye at the plate. This should help elevate players in your rankings who possess the strongest skill sets and are thus more likely to exceed the expectations of your initial projections.

Comparing apples to oranges

So far, we've been focusing on the men with the wooden sticks. However, we're also going to have to project out stats for pitchers as well. This is a far more arduous task, as figuring out win totals is a fool's errand (especially in today's world of openers and an increasing reliance on the philosophy of "just get me to the sixth"). Saves are only as reliable as the manager's decision to use relievers in the closer's role. However, what we can attempt to quantify is durability, command and dominance. As such, IP, K/BB and K/9 are going to have the greatest influence on our pitching ranks.

After creating our pitching hierarchy in that way, we must then attempt to "shuffle the deck" and slot our hurlers into our hitters list. In most points leagues, generally speaking, the best pitchers are going to end the season with more overall fantasy points than the best hitters. As such, the elite SP tier needs to be taken far sooner in this format than in roto leagues. Pitching tends to be a lot more top-heavy than hitting. As you go deeper into MLB rotations, there's not as much of a talent gap between what you might be drafting and what's left on the board.

Uncomfortable truths

It's for all of these reasons that Mike Trout ends up at No. 10 in my overall points rankings. This is surely going to be a head-scratching result for many fantasy players, but this is the point of the process -- seeing where the numbers may disagree with the "groupthink" that exists in the fantasy universe.

Even at No. 10, Trout is still a first-round pick and, yes, you can absolutely argue for still taking him No. 1 overall. In fact, if he gets 500 at-bats, he's very likely going to be that No. 1 overall talent, by a country mile. However, you can't completely ignore the fact that he hasn't reached that particular statistical milestone since 2016.

With four elite pitchers in the first-round mix, along with the fear that Trout might ease up completely on the base paths to prevent any repeat injuries -- his 13 attempts last season were a career low -- the numbers say that this is where Trout needs to be. And if you want an accurate and useful set of rankings, you have to take the names off the back of the jerseys and stick exclusively to the most likely set of stats to come in 2020. That's what I do and it's what I have done.

Look, if all you really want is to confirm what you already think, then don't even bother with the process. Go ahead and rank all the players based on reputation and name value alone. However, you do so at your own risk. The reality is that, in fantasy, surprises happen all the time. Unless you're willing to get some results that you might not reach intuitively, you'll never be prepared when the unexpected arrives.