Expecting Success: How do the top players rank at the end of April?

Reading Ron Shandler’s story at USA Today yesterday, Fantasy’s First Round Has Been Filled With Busts, I realized in my recent series looking back at how fast starters and slow starters in April 2013 performed over the whole year, that I never looked at how the best players might do in April. And what that meant for the year as a whole.

Ron says two of the Top 15 this year were actually in the Top 15 at the end of April. That would be No. 15  Troy Tulowitzki (ranked 4) and No. 3 Paul Goldschmidt (ranked 13).

So how did things rank last year? At the end of the first month in 2013, three players ranked in the Top 15 at the end of April. No. 13 Justin Upton ranked No. 1, No. 6 Robinson Cano ranked 10th, and No. 1 Miguel Cabrera ranked fourth. Worst off was number 10 ranked Giancarlo Stanton, who ranked 244th.

So, not a big difference between years. And perhaps it’s more telling to look at how many of the preseason Top 15 finished in the Top 15 each month:

April: 3
May: 4
June: 2
July: 3
August: 3
September: 0

For the season as a whole, however, five of the preseason Top 15 finished in the Top 15 at the end of the year. Which goes part way toward explaining why we pay these guys the most.

Here is the month x month for the Top 16 most expensive players in 2013, with their month x month rank:

Screenshot 2014-05-06 16.13.47

The ranks include all players from last year, so some of these are illogically low. Perfectly good for ranking in the top 500 or so, but not reliable below that.

If you take a look at the next 18 (I rounded up due to ties),  you see more reason why we ranked some players higher. Here are the Top 15 finishes by month for those taken No. 17 to No. 35:

April: 1
May: 3
June: 2
July: 4
August: 1
September: 1

End of season: 4

It is perhaps telling, too, that three of those Top 15 finishes out of the second group came from Cliff Lee, as did one End of Season finish in the Top 15 (h finished 12th).

We’re not perfect predicting, not by a long shot, but the interesting thing here is not only how infrequently we get thing right, but how frequently we get the rank kind of right overall. It’s that sliver of success that gives better players value.