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.

2016 Auction Review – Team Canada

Team Canada

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So what happens when you skip the $80 player and sprinkle those dollars amongst 3-4 guys? Well you see here with what Team Canada was able to do with just that strategy. Stephen Strasburg and Cole Hamels were the only two to top the $50 threshold. Both aces look like good buys for this squad. Is there enough in the middle tier to push this team over the top though?

Hitting – Good

The 1-10 hitters on this team starting at each position are good. Robinson Cano, Anthony Rendon, Yeonis Cesdpedes, Starling Marte, and Yasiel Puig are all legit candidates to be top 5 relative to their primary position. Gregory Polanco and Joey Gallo are young and formidable. Victor Martinez has no reason to be done hitting and isn’t tied to just utility. Everything about Trea Turner seems to be unreasonably positive, so time will tell if Dusty Baker lets him play. Lucas Duda is not a slouch at first base, but he is going to disappear a couple weeks this year as he does every year. The group as a whole seems able to withstand that, the floor here is high.

Pitching –¬†Good

Strasburg and Hamels are great on their own. Weeks that you get 3 starts from the two of these guys you will be sitting quite pretty. Weeks that you only get two or God forbid less for whatever reason, there’s trouble. Can Jeff Samardzija reclaim his stellar record after returning back to¬†the National League? Samardzija was an interesting case on the auction block. Last year he seemed poised to take a step forward, but the story is the American League and poor defense could be partially to blame. Drew Smyly at $27 seems like a costly gamble. Behind those guys is a slew of back end rotation fodder. Is there a surprise lurking in that back end? The bullpen is alright, nothing flashy.

Depth – Not Quite

Assuming the primary utility guys will be filled by Victor Martinez and Jayson Werth, with a little sprinkle¬†of Pablo Sandoval and Joey Gallo, there is just not a lot of depth. Yangervis Solarte covers three positions, but not terribly well. No backup catcher. Eugenio Suarez is a fine stop gap for Turner until he gets eligibility assuming he plays in Cincinnati. And there is that mess of “could be’s” the back end of that rotation. There just is not a lot to play around with. If a few of those guys don’t break in their respective big league rotations, how long do you stash before you just your losses for useful roster spots?

Why 2016 would be bad…¬†

Team Canada’s hitters¬†will carry this team to a high floor week to week. That will keep them in most games. But, if Strasburg or Hamels refuse to be legit tier 1 starting pitchers, pitching¬†will be a headache all season long. What if Rendon can’t stay healthy? Cano could be¬†already too old? Perhaps Yasiel Puig will never mature. The possible domino affect of bad news sinks this team in a hurry.

Why 2016 would be¬†good…¬†

It starts with nobody gets hurt. Sure you could say that about any team, but the top half of this roster is rock solid full of stars. Perhaps a couple of those starters have a few hot weeks, maybe they’re even good. Either way this team could be a move or two away from being great, or simply standing pat and enjoying good luck. If some of that stuff doesn’t break that way but Joey Gallo and Henry Owens (or any of those SP) break into a star like role, they could carry this roster.