Musing on positional scarcity and age…

I always feel compelled at the beginning of these posts to remind the rest of the league: I swear, I’m not trying to sway your personal valuations or opinions. I just want to riff on fantasy baseball. If I happen to use a player on your team as an example and view him unfavorably, oops. I would hope we’re all capable of coming to our own conclusions. It’d be pretty boring if we all had exactly the same valuations.

So, having said that…¬†how valuable are good-not-great¬†players at super top heavy positions? Or positions that aren’t even top heavy, but rather mediocre all throughout?

Two positions immediately jump to mind here, and that is catcher and shortstop. Let’s look at¬†shortstops.

Through nearly three full weeks, here are your top five overall scorers with the salary they went for at auction:

shortstops
Carlos Correa was our league’s highest paid shortstop at $81, so it’s nice that he’s pictured here. He was also the fourth highest paid hitter in the league, which means he’s being paid to be an absolutely, unquestioned transcendent talent and fantasy producer.

The obvious thing that jumps out is that four shortstops who were practically free either at auction or in our minor league draft currently sit atop the landscape at the position. In fact, Trevor Story, Jean Segura, Aledmys Diaz, and Eugenio Suarez cost just 11.1% of what Correa costs combined.

Granted, we’re only 19 days into our fantasy schedule. But our regular season is 148 days long, so we’re already over 12% of the way through the season. No one would be surprised if Correa ends up as his position’s best producer by the end of the season, but what we have so far shines an interesting¬†light on the shortstop group. It has paid to not pay for these guys.

Behind Correa in terms of salary at shortstop are Xander Bogaerts ($58), Corey Seager ($54), and Troy Tulowitzki ($46). Bogaerts ranks ninth in scoring, Seager ranks 28th, and Tulowitzki is 29th.

For the sake of argument, let’s just look at those three guys, whose average salary is $52.70, or $53 to simplify.¬†Of course, no one went for $53 at auction, but we did have¬†Francisco Liriano go for $54 and a couple¬†go for $52: Kyle Schwarber and Edwin Encarnacion. Some big names and reliable fantasy producers that cost in the mid-to-high¬†$40 range: Cole Hamels, Justin Upton, George Springer, Sonny Gray, Chris Davis, Jose Altuve.

Hypothetically, if that list of players played the same position as Bogaerts, Seager, and Tulowitzki, would they have gone for less? I’d argue not. There are pitchers mixed in, so the positional view is wonky, but what if the shortstops were left fielders instead? Is Seager getting $54 to play the outfield? Hell, right fielder Matt Kemp cost $11. If Seager played the same spot, are you really paying him $43 more? Go look at Kemp’s last two years worth of stats before answering, because they’re¬†likely to be better than you think.

In terms of having ever accomplished anything worth banking on, only Tulo has done it out of this group for more than a single season, but his age and injury concerns chew up some of his value.

The argument I’m making is that Bogaerts and Seager had “being a shortstop” baked pretty heavily into their price. Age was baked in there too, I’m sure, but whatever. Bogaerts was the top scoring shortstop in our format a year ago, so good for him and all, but Jhonny Peralta ($7) was number two and Brandon Crawford ($14) was number three. Peralta being hurt to start the year is a wrinkle, but those guys got pretty heavily punished for not being 23-years-old and presumably keepable for a decade. Maybe age was an even bigger factor than position?

Speaking of Bogaerts and 2015: he scored 810.5 points last year and yes, he led the way for shortstops. But compared to all other hitters, he ranked 55th. The two guys below him: Nick Markakis ($4) and Brandon Belt ($12). The two guys above him: Evan Longoria ($20) and David Peralta ($17).

So you could have literally bought the four hitters directly surrounding Bogaerts in 2015 net points and still had $5 left over!

Also, while Bogaerts was the 55th highest scoring hitter last year, he’s the 17th highest paid hitter this year. He’s also not priced to be immune from greed and his salary is going to grow by $2 a year. So… yikes.

Just as easily as it is to envision that $81 Correa being tops at short in August, it’s not crazy to see Bogaerts and Seager in the top five or even three. But it also seems fair to suggest that even if these guys lead the charge at their position, they’ll come out behind in the greater landscape of hitters at large.

Last year, Bogaerts averaged 40.525 points per week as the top shortstop. The 16th highest scoring shortstop, Erick Aybar ($3), averaged 27.325 points per week. So a 13.2 weekly edge between the best possible “starting” shortstop and the worst. (I grant you, this is a bit primitive. It assumes the top 16 scorers are spread across each of the 16 teams, it ignores platoons, guys got hurt and that screws up their net output, etc. I get it.)

Crush Davis, who you’ll recall went for less money and was just the second best right fielder (but also has 1B eligibility) behind MVP Bryce Harper, averaged 55.835 points per week. Kole¬†Calhoun ($10), the 16th best RF, averaged 38.805 points per week, a difference of 17.03 between second best and 16th.

So, through that lens, you’re better off just having the better overall player in Davis than you are having the top guy at a weak position. Having Davis instead of Bogaerts, again in this admittedly simplified example, gives you a 4+ point weekly edge over the worst possible starter at each¬†position.

Starting Davis/Aybar gets you 83.16 a week. Starting Bogaerts/Calhoun gets you 79.33. Also, the total cost of Davis and Aybar is lower than the cost of Bogaerts and Calhoun by $19, meaning that, at least theoretically, not overpaying for perceived positional scarcity affords you more resources to help your team.

Personally, I like to view players across their broader peer groups: pitchers against other pitchers, hitters against other hitters. Yes, a player may be the third best shortstop or the fifth best catcher, but that ranking is not interchangeable across positions.

Buster Posey is so good, he does not have a peer group at the catcher¬†position. He is a tier, the two tiers below him are filled with chirping crickets and sawdust, and then other guys start falling in line after that. Yeah, you’d like to have whoever is second or third best, but if you have to settle for that 16th guy, it probably won’t be overly painful.¬†The difference is negligible.

The injury prone player, what are you good for.

Oh the ballad of Troy Tulowitzki and Giancarlo Stanton. Could you guys just play a full season and stay healthy the whole time, please?

Easier said than done, baseball is a hard sport to play and some players seem to be more prone to not being able to play the long season as well as everyone else. With that in mind, that doesn’t mean that these kinds of players have lost all value.

In fact these players have quite a bit of value yet. It hurts so bad when they get hurt, because typically they’re quite great when they’re healthy. So what’s their value? You have two parts greatness, one part injury concern, and one part luck. When drafting Stanton or Tulo, you’re taking a risk. They’re great players, but are you getting 140 games played?

Well Stanton played 145 in 2014, but only 74 in 2015, 116 in 2013 and 123 in 2012. That’s three partial seasons and almost one full season. This is not a great track record. But, when he plays he’s great. Stanton is one of those guys you will see 50 point weeks. The average weekly score in our league should sit around 550-600, 50 is a lot! Even better when Stanton gets hot, he could score 100. It’s been done. Crazy!

That’s some wicked value from a talented player. It hurts when he doesn’t play. Over the course of a long season, perhaps you cannot count on Stanton or Tulo to get you a full season worth of work, but does that mean you should settle for Nick Markakis or Erick Aybar because they’ll play everyday? Probably not.

You lose the player when they get hurt, but you don’t lose the roster spot. You can replace them. And their replacements put up value, granted not as much, but its not zero. Heck, 400 PAs from Giancarlo according to Steamer Projections is worth about 610 PAs from Brett Garnder. Steamer has Gardner projected for the 45th best OF.

And that’s with playing Gardner everyday. If you play Giancarlo for 400 watch him get hurt and replace him with a replacement level guy (worst case scenario) for 210 PAs you still have almost a 900 point player for the season. Wow. Or Ryan Braun.

Plus we discussed the one part luck, what if Giancarlo is healthy, plays 150 games. Well then you have a top 2-3 hitter on your hands, congratulations!

Injury prone guys have their risks, but they are attractive because they are often worth it anyway. Sure there’s a chance lady luck is against you and the player misses the whole season, but that can truly happen to any player.

A little thinking out side of the box and it’s not hard to see how the risk and reward of these kinds of players is truly worth.

Pre-auction valuation of players, an introduction.

It is fairly commonplace now days to have a multitude of resources that help you compete in fantasy sports. Whether you use magazines, subscription websites or various crowd sourcing tools, there is usually little problem in drawing what a player’s value will be in any fantasy league.

Dynasty Grinders is not different enough to make those types of tools useless. Quite the opposite, I believe in having more information to gather to draw my conclusions. The crowd definitely has information for you to draw from.

That being said, there are differences. Dynasty Grinders is a head to head, points based scoring, dynasty fantasy baseball league. It is similar to FanGraphs‘s version of Ottoneu, but different. We have a larger budget, draft different positions, more players. It is similar to standard dynasty leagues, but different, mostly because we are not roto.

That being said they all offer a synopsis of sorts about how the crowds are assuming players are going to perform from year to year. They are just projections, but these projections offer a baseline. This baseline is necessary to judge assumed value of any given player. The trick here for Dynasty Grinders is how to calibrate various projections or draft utilities to Dynasty Grinders’ settings.

FanGraphs does offer a nice auction calculator utility. It actually works quite nicely. But, alas, it also has its short comings. Take for instance the values of these top 5’s using Steamer Projections and with standard roster construction:

FanGraphs Auction Calc – Standard Hitters

Name Team POS PA rPTS Dollars
Mike Trout LAA OF 671 1256.1 $89.8
Bryce Harper WAS OF 647 1174.0 $78.5
Giancarlo Stanton MIA OF 647 1127.2 $72.0
Paul Goldschmidt ARI 1B 658 1123.7 $69.7
Miguel Cabrera DET 1B 649 1091.9 $65.3

Phew, $90 for Mike Trout? Hot damn. That’s a hefty price for the guy who’s won four¬†one MVPs. But, in a sixteen team league, and with the projection of 1256 points, he has a value that it would take several players to make up at other positions. Let’s take a look at pitchers.

FanGraphs Auction Calc – Standard Pitchers

Name Team POS IP rPTS Dollars
Clayton Kershaw LAD SP 217 1430.3 $118.4
Max Scherzer WAS SP 212 1264.2 $95.6
Chris Sale CHW SP 210 1251.9 $93.9
Jake Arrieta CHC SP 208 1189.3 $85.3
Corey Kluber CLE SP 211 1183.4 $84.4

And there you have it. Starting pitchers! Now, nobody is arguing who is on the list. Those guys are studs, and in weeks that they start twice, your team is sitting in the clear driver seat.

Why the higher values? Well the context matters. First, this auction calculator is not considering that we’re a dynasty league, so while Max Scherzer is quite good, it might be better to throw the extra dollars on Corey Kluber who should be fairly easy to keep for the next half decade.

Secondly, Three of these guys are projected to outscore Mike Trout for the season. Now, any rational betting man would probably put their money on Trout to meet projections more than any other player. Pitchers are volatile, perform a job that biomechanically impacts their ability to stay healthy, and their statistical floors are just lower.

Finally, FanGraphs is tied to OttoNeu which doesn’t do head to head. They’re doing roto. This makes a difference too. Dynasty Grinders allows 7 starts per week. The guys listed above are going to get every chance to start no matter what. However, our league is likely to be prone to people not carrying 7 man staffs and streaming starts like FanGraphs assumes.

No, more likely you’ll be carrying a 9 or even 10 man starting pitcher staff. Why? Because, after the third or forth tier of starting pitcher, match-ups start to matter quite a bit. So while most teams will have their first four or five starts each week pigeon holed, those last ones often leave tactical match-up decisions.

Being able to keep 30 active players, it makes sense to grab more starters to have more choices, and also limit the streaming ability for other teams in a way. If you could pick 6 good starters who won’t get hurt, you could just do that. For those of us who can’t predict the future, we will be hedging.

So what does that change? Well let’s tweak the auction calculator, instead of letting it use the bench spots wherever, lets tell it that all 16 teams are carrying the following roster:

2 C, 1 1B, 1 2B, 1 SS, 1 3B, 1 CI, 1 MI, 6 OF, 2 UT, 10 SP, 4 RP

Yes, while we’re not able to capitalize on all these players as full-time starters, these guys who we will be bidding on backups, do offer coverage on a week to week basis. Each week offers an extremely limited opportunity in getting starts at each position. If Mike Trout is only playing 5 games one week, you’d rather have a backup play the other two days if possible, rather than leaving the spot open. You’d also rather have a starting capable player over the replacement level one. We’re all trying to win here…so what does the FanGraphs Auction Calculator say now?

FanGraphs Auction Calc – Adjusted Roster Hitters

Name Team POS PA rPTS Dollars
Mike Trout LAA OF 671 1256.1 $55.3
Bryce Harper WAS OF 647 1174.0 $49.7
Giancarlo Stanton MIA OF 647 1127.2 $46.5
Paul Goldschmidt ARI 1B 658 1123.7 $44.0
Miguel Cabrera DET 1B 649 1091.9 $41.9

Well, that’s quite a difference… Let’s see those pitchers again…

FanGraphs Auction Calc РAdjusted Roster Pitchers

Name Team POS IP rPTS Dollars
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers SP 217 1430.3 $71.1
Max Scherzer Nationals SP 212 1264.2 $59.7
Chris Sale White Sox SP 210 1251.9 $58.9
Jake Arrieta Cubs SP 208 1189.3 $54.6
Corey Kluber Indians SP 211 1183.4 $54.2

Now these prices almost seem too low. They probably are. The truth is that the prices are most likely in between these two values of sorts. If you click on the links that I provided. You’ll see the difference more so.

In the original list, FanGraph’s AC is setting the replacement level ($1) for players ranked 16th, 17th, 18th. That’s certainly low. Addison Russell, Erick Aybar, and Brandon Crawford are all in that “zone”, and they’re all going for at least a few dollars, if not even more.

In the second list, where the replacement level for SS is being set much lower, those three guys are all being rated around $7. Low or high? Who knows. In the case of Russell, a rookie last year, perhaps its low, as the young guys attract value in dynasty leagues.

But, when you tell the calculator that there will be money spent on the bottom of the roster, that lowers how much can be spent on the top players. Over the next two and a half months leading up to the draft, I will be going over these valuations much more. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Oh, Happy New Year!