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Fantasy Baseball Doesn’t Favor the Cubs’ Odds

If you look at where fantasy baseball managers are drafting Cubs players, the wisdom of the crowds suggests they’re in for a rough year. But it’s not all bad news: the zeitgeist is pretty high on youngsters Starlin Castro, Geovany Soto, and Carlos Marmol.

Having just finished my fairly serious fantasy baseball draft this weekend (which involved travel and a six-hour auction), I was surprised to find myself with two Cubs. I think that’s the first time that’s happened, me being a Cardinals fan and the Cubs, in recent years, not being terribly good. Only five Cubs were drafted in our fairly shallow league, which did make me curious if other people were taking them… and if that might correlate to actual, real world baseball success.

So I pulled up Bloomberg Sports’s draft kit and obtained the average fantasy draft pick of every starting player in the NL Central–starters as determined by the depth charts at Yahoo! Sports and Baseball Prospectus–and totaled the average of that for each team.* I find it hard to argue with the results:

1st place, Brewers (ADP, starters): 140

2nd place, Reds: 177.4

3rd place, Cardinals: 177.9

4th place, Cubs: 182.5

5th place, Astros: 203.9

6th place, Pirates: 216.7

This compares pretty favorably with Baseball Prospectus’s highly regarded PECOTA projections, which have the Cardinals in second and the Reds in third, the Cubs not far behind in fourth, and the Astros and Pirates bringing up the rear (fantasy baseball does like the Brewers much more than PECOTA does).

It’s not all bad news for Cubs fans: fantasy baseball players think the Cubs have the best catcher, shortstop, third baseman, and closer in the division. What’s troublesome is pretty obvious: the outfield (ADP 225) and the rotation (ADP 204). The Cubs also have a lower median draft pick than any team besides the Brewers: their best players aren’t as highly regarded as the Cardinals’ and Reds’ best players, but they aren’t as reliant on mediocre-to-bad players at multiple positions (the Cardinals’ infield besides Pujols, for example, or the Reds’ unpredictable pitching staff).

* I skipped middle relief (not because it’s unimportant, but because it’s hard to predict the corps) and used the highest ADP in the event of a position battle. Obviously fantasy baseball doesn’t, in all but the nerdiest of leagues, directly take into account things like fielding and injury likelihood, as well as player smarts. In other words, a truly great catcher like the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina is undervalued because he’s not a great hitter. But the idea is that intuition and the wisdom of the crowds, i.e. all the little decisions people make in choosing a team, might have some advantages of their own.

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