Fantasy baseball points ranks: How to maximize trades by leaning on numbers over names

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell hasn't gotten off to a great start this season, but his ranking here reflects his value for the remainder of the campaign. Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The task of coming up with rest-of-season fantasy baseball rankings is always an impossible one. After all, nobody can predict the future of so many moving parts with any degree of certainty, and there are always going to be, in retrospect, glaring mistakes that bring about head-scratching derision.

But I'd like to address today one player-performance prediction that has brought a lot of questioning comments my way over the past week: Blake Snell. The typical Twitter query goes something along the lines of, "How can you have Snell ranked so low? (No. 139 overall last week) I wish I could play in your fantasy baseball league!"

It seems like there's a "player of choice" each and every week that jumps out at the public at large as being way off in my top-300 rankings, causing my sanity to be questioned in ways both kind and unkind on the internet, so I'd like to use Snell as an example of the process involved.

Firstly, I deal with numbers, not names. When I create my rankings, a variety of predictive mathematical formulae are used in order to take every player's past performances and turn them into a future projection. I then take those projections and translate them directly into a range of potential points league outcomes those stats will produce and rank them from most to least valuable.

It's only then that I take a gander at the names. I do this to avoid putting any personal bias into the equation. And when there seems to be an outlier ranking, I try and take a closer look as to why that might be the case, rather than simply dismissing it, because the math is the math. After all, nobody seemed to raise an eyebrow with the likes of Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Justin Verlander and Jacob deGrom being in my top-five starting pitchers (SP) entering this week of play. There's got to be some validity to the process, no?

So, let's take a closer look at Snell. Before the start of the 2019 season, we had the following projections for him: 14-7, 2.88 ERA, 10.48 K/9, 1.19 WHIP. Coming off of a Cy Young campaign, and based on his career body of work, I don't think this projection created too many raised eyebrows. After all, wins are a bit of a fool's errand to predict and have little to do with a pitcher's actual performance. Plus, Snell's 2018 ERA of 1.89 was aided in large part by the combination of a ridiculous 88 percent strand rate and an "almost certain to regress" .241 BABIP.

Clearly, there's no disputing that, overall, he has not lived up to that projection quite yet. He's ranked as only the No. 53 SP on the ESPN Player Rater, having gone 2-3 with a 4.31 ERA, .303 BABIP and 71.4 percent strand rate. Yes, prior to the bizarre toe injury he suffered in his home, which sent him to the IL in mid-April, he was pitching lights-out. However, he's yet to show that he's fully recovered after two sad outings against the Royals. Until he does, we must remain somewhat skeptical.

Here's where the cognitive dissonance comes into play. If we all believed the original projection was indeed fair and potentially accurate, then when Snell starts the season with a .176 BAA and a 2.16 ERA in four starts, the rest-of-season rankings are actually going to see him drop a bit overall in relation to his peers. And, similarly, after these past two outings (0-2, 12.79 ERA, .393 BAA) he's actually going to rise a bit in the top 300 rankings going forward.

This is the "reality check" that is baked into the rankings process to prevent overreaction in either direction based upon the recency bias of one or two outlier weeks. I look at Snell to be exactly the same pitcher that we projected prior to the season, and while some may look at my current ranking of him as the No. 12 SP (No. 123 overall) as being off the mark, it's actually an improvement over last week.

The greatest takeaway from all this, however, is that if you still think I'm out of my mind with my Snell placement, you shouldn't get all bent out of shape. If you play in a league where everybody has the exact same opinion of the value of every player, then you're never going to be able to make any trades.

But, if you do happen to think I'm totally wrong on Snell, then you already know I'm open to a deal. Make me (or the fantasy manager in your league with Snell) an offer for someone higher up on my list, and we can see who ends up being right come September. After all, it's these differences of opinion that make fantasy baseball worth playing, isn't it?

Top 300 rest-of-season rankings

The following list reflects my rankings for points leagues from this point forward. Note that this is different from a ranking of how each player has played thus far in 2019. For a ranking of performance to date, check out the ESPN Player Rater.