I've said this before (and now I'll say it again) - "sleepers" are relative. They lurk in the middle and the end of your draft and they are known and unknown commodities alike.
Looking at starting pitching today, I'm struck by the range where players are being selected and ranked across different systems. It's not that it's just interesting, it's that it can seriously help you. If you're willing to take a player in the 8th round but you don't have to take him until the 13th round, isn't that kind of a "personal sleeper" of sorts?
Allow me to take a step back and explain what the heck it is I'm talking about.
We've been focusing almost exclusively on the results over at Mock Draft Central to help us try and get a thumb on the pulse of where players are going to be drafted. But one of the major problems with mock drafts, and certainly referencing a singular source for mock draft results, is that where a player is selected is intrinsically tied to where they are ranked in that system. The draft can be overwhelming at times, and most managers face that moment of panic where they just can't decide and there's 15 seconds left. There's a darn good chance the player selected is going to at least be in the current queue, right?
Take Madison Bumgarner for instance. Looking at Mock Draft Central, Yahoo, ESPN (rankings), and CBS (rankings), he's a guy you should target either in the 4th, 6th, 7th, or 8th rounds (in no particular order). Helpful for planning purposes, ain't it?
So while you might have been using MDC ADP to target Yu Darvish in the 10th round since he currently has an ADP of 121, you might find your strategy blowing up in your face when you get into the draft room over at Yahoo and notice his rank is 85 (and, in fact, his Yahoo ADP is 82).
It's important to not only know your system, but to understand that people you're playing against might be using other sites for their information and it's entirely possible they have a different concept of value for someone you're targeting.You can use this to your advantage.
Some examples for you (Mock Draft Central ADP, Yahoo ADP, Yahoo Rank, CBS Rank, and Erik Karabel ESPN rank):
|SP||MDC ADP||Y! ADP||Y! Rank||CBS Rank||ESPN Rank|
If you're in Yahoo, you could be in for a pleasant surprise when it comes to David Price. MDC and CBS puts him among the elite starting pitchers, but he's not even going to show up in the next 15 ranked players screen in the draft in Yahoo until about the tail end of the third round and he's being selected towards the middle of the fifth overall. You might be of the persuasion (as I am) that you don't take starting pitchers within about the first six or seven rounds, but I believe Ray pointed out a "two ace" draft strategy that worked for him, and grabbing Price in the 5th would be a pretty fantastic start to that approach.
If you want to employ James Shields on your team, don't sign up in CBS as they have him ranked 35th overall whereas Yahoo pegs him as more of a 7th round talent. Shields is certainly a workhorse, but CBS seems to think that he can repeat that 2.82 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, which most prognosticators scoff at. He should be good for 185-190 strikeouts and his ERA ought not climb much above 3.50, but that's simply not good enough for a third round pick in my book. 7th? You bet.
Mat Latos is also ranked ridiculously high in CBS, a system which seems to really overvalue pitching -- and yet, he can be had 6 rounds later in Yahoo's system (or so they say). I'm not high enough on him to pick him in the 4th round, but if Mat Latos is staring at me in the 9th or 10th, you better believe I'll be on board. Yes, he's moving from spacious Petco to a bandbox in Cincinnati, but it's not like he's strictly a flyball pitcher (in fact, he has been more of a ground ball pitcher, which is going to play nicely no matter how hard it is to hit a home run in your home park). It's not likely that he'll see a drop in his ERA or WHIP, but I wouldn't expect them to spike much since the ERA predictors all suggested his ERA was about right when controlling for home run rates, walks, strikeouts, and all the other wonderful things that FIP and xFIP will do for you. He's young, he will likely flirt with 200 strikeouts, and with a better offense behind him, he ought to easily crack double-digit wins. But if your competition is reading CBS, you're probably going to have to overpay.
Lastly, I'll briefly touch on Jeremy Hellickson, who it seems everyone wants to vilify for outperforming his predictors in 2011. First of all -- no, Hellickson wasn't as good as his ERA suggested. And yes, his ERA and WHIP are likely to shoot up a tad based on good old fashioned regression relative to his luck stats (BABIP, HR/FB). But if I'm in Yahoo and he's still on the board in the 14th or 15th round, well, I'm going to feel like I picked someone's pockets. Hellickson has a very good defense behind him and he generated nearly a 10% swinging strike rate in large part due to possessing one of the very best change-ups in baseball, not to mention he has a terrific minor league track record.
These things aren't going to change due to regression, and his if his change-up remains as dominant as it was last year and he maintains the same rate of whiffs, he's going to be successful. My bet is on something around 3.50 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and if he can give you 200 innings, he'll provide around 170 strikeouts. Poster boy for regression, yes - but in the teen rounds, sign me up for Hellickson.