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.

Fun with similar price points…

It’s weird comparing player values — particularly the lower dollar guys — post-auction. Just for the heck of it, I went into Fantrax, searched all owned players, and went looking for guys priced similarly whose values I think are way off. For this exercise, I just picked three pairs to look at.

Here we go…

Matt Kemp ($11) vs. Max Kepler ($10)

This, to me, is a great example of how nomination order can influence a player’s value. Max Kepler, a top-50 or so prospect depending on whose opinion you buy, was the fourth player nominated overall and went off the board for $10. I like Kepler a lot. I have him in my minors in my other dynasty league. But I was not in the Kepler market at $10.

Strategically, I think you’re better off drafting/adding prospects, stashing them in your minors, and hoping they can develop and you can cash in on their cost controlled status. I mean, if you can get Kepler for a buck, sure. But $10 is a pretty hefty price tag. And you’re not really buying him for his 2016. I suppose if he’s completely over-matched, you could cut bait after the year at no real detriment. But if you’re buying a player with this profile for $10, you’re hoping for some long term gains. So you’re looking at a $12 (minimum) player in 2017 before you can realistically hope for profit and you sort of have to ride him out until then, because if you bought him for $10, cut him because he disappoints as a rookie (plenty of rookies do), then breaks out as a soph, you’ll feel silly.

Matt Kemp, meanwhile, went for a buck more. The Padre outfielder has averaged 623.5 plate appearances over the last two years, so while he’ll always be an injury risk, it seems fair to say that he’s defied his reputation over our most recent and relevant sample. He finished as the 43rd highest scoring OF in 2015 and in 2014 he was 13th. In a start-up league, this is production in line with a team’s third or fourth best hitter.

And for the same price as a player with seven plate appearances to his name.

Kemp’s best years are behind him and Kepler’s are likely ahead of him, so I get why you’d be inclined to invest a little heavier in one than in the other. But for 2016? Or the next two years? It’s tough to imagine Kepler out-producing Kemp. It’s certainly not impossible. But it’s tough.

Trevor Bauer ($6) vs. Bud Norris ($6)

Again, nomination order had some impact here. Bud Norris, who I guess is going to make the Braves pitching staff (?), came up seventh overall and Trevor Bauer‘s name didn’t show up until nomination #361. Huge gap.

Having said that, I think it’s tough to justify Norris under any circumstances for more than a dollar. He’s just not any good. It’s totally within the realm of possibility that the Braves coach him up, squeeze value out of him a la Aaron Harang, and as a result you have a league average or slightly better pitcher until sometime in July when a desperate contender with a worse coaching acumen trades for him. And that’s valuable.

And look, I don’t particularly like Bauer. The strikeouts are awesome, but he walks everybody and serves up a ton of home runs. But he’s also just 25-years-old and is in one of the best organizations in baseball as far as developing pitching talent. And he’s super talented. Guys that aren’t don’t have 8.47 K/9 rates at the big league level.

I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest the floor for both of these guys is pretty similar. Norris has the same flaws as Bauer but without the strikeouts. He’s also six years older and I’m not sure you can argue there’s much more untapped potential in that arm. For that reason, if you’re dropping $6 on a guy whose best case is league average-ish, you may as well just drop it on the younger, more talented guy who could be an adjustment away from being a Tier 2 type. I mean, if Bauer gets that HR/9 rate under 1.00 and shaves a walk per nine, is he not suddenly a very valuable piece?

Matt Holliday ($8) vs. Billy Hamilton ($8)

Other than “he’s old,” what’s the knock on Matt Holliday? Even last year when he was hurt, he put up a .351 wOBA. He has a .389 career mark. Sure, some of that is padded from his time in Colorado, but he’s done enough in Oakland and St. Louis to dismiss any Coors effect out of hand.

Holliday is awesome. He walks a ton, he gets on base a ton (.386 career clip), and he’s always at or above 15 homers. He may also be unlocking first base eligibility too, which isn’t super valuable, but it’s better to have than not. If he plays a healthy season, even with the expected regression for a 38-year-old, he’s arguably a top-25 overall outfielder and a team’s third best hitter. For $8, that’s pretty incredible. Please trade him to me, whoever owns him (Dan?).

Billy Hamilton, meanwhile, is a guy we’ve discussed a bunch. In real life, he’s defensively valuable, a nightmare on the base paths, and just generally a fun guy to watch. But his sabermetric stats mostly stink.

He only walks about 6% of the time. He has a career .287 on-base percentage and his wOBA is even worse because he lacks power. So yeah, he steals a ton of bases, but that skill is really only useful — or valuable in this league — if he’s getting on base.

Realistically, I think in order for Hamilton to be worthy of being on a roster in Dynasty Grinders, he has to get on base at a .300 clip minimum. That means he needs to be .026 better than he was last year. That’s a fairly significant growth requirement. And even then, because he’s not launching homers or lashing liners, he’s not overly valuable. I think his best case scenario might be a reserve centerfielder worth a dollar or two.

So while Holliday and Hamilton went for the same price, their values are worlds apart. The only way Holliday gets cut postseason is if he retires, gets hurt, or age rears its ugly head. Even with a $2 raise, he’s a guy you probably want around for $10 in his age 39 season. Hamilton may not be on a roster past June.

Some thoughts about my team…

A few days have passed since our auction draft and I’m still not settled on how I feel about my team overall. Some things I like, some I don’t.

So I’m going to write some words and think this thing through a little. Sometimes writing helps to clarify.

You can also read Jordan’s thoughts on my team here.

As an aside: you can probably tell by now that I don’t care too much about talking about my team publicly. Some owners are tight-lipped. Personally, I don’t think sharing my thought processes gives away any competitive advantage. If I have a thought that I think becoming public does compromise some advantage then, well, I just won’t share it publicly. Simple enough.

Thought #1: I kinda wish I hadn’t won BOTH Joey Votto and Miguel Cabrera.

Coming into the auction, I hoped to get two cornerstone hitters and go from there. I did not plan for them to both play the same position.

To be clear, I love both these guys. I’m not upset that I have them. But I do wish I would’ve spent the cash — $70 went to Votto, $71 to Miggy — from one of these guys on a player from a different position. Like, say, Josh Donaldson ($68), Andrew McCutchen ($69), or Jose Bautista ($62).

In a vacuum, I’ll take Miggy or Votto over all three of those guys. But given positional need and roster flexibility, I painted myself into a corner taking two top tier first basemen.

Thought #2: Alex Rodriguez is kind of an obstacle.

I don’t think $21 for A-Rod is too much. Jordan looked at some values using the FanGraphs auction calculator suggesting A-Rod is a $1 player, meaning I overpaid by $20 and cost myself significant value. I think the calculator is wrong.

Zips has a .336 wOBA for A-Rod in 2016. Steamer is much cooler on him. According to Steamer, he’ll be only the 105th best hitter. Fantrax, whose projections aren’t worth much, has him as the 71st best hitter. He was the 31st highest scoring hitter a year ago in a renaissance season.

No matter how you slice it, this is not a $1 player. Truthfully, $21 probably is a few bucks too much, but that’s true of a bunch of players. David Ortiz, who is A-Rod’s mirror image in a lot of ways (age, risk, production, position eligibility), went for $30. At 40, anything can happen with A-Rod. But I feel like I’ll get good numbers from him.

The problem is, he’s a utility-only hitter. And one of Miggy or Votto is plugged into that other spot, which leaves my options slim. I tend to try to accumulate talent first and worry about lineup composition later, but in this case I wish I hadn’t.

Thought #3: Patrick Corbin and Nick Markakis are a couple of my favorite values.

I love Patrick Corbin. (You love him too, given all the inquiries I’ve had for him already.) In his only full season in 2013, he posted a 3.43 FIP. Last year, in 16 games coming back from Tommy John, he picked up right where he left off with a 3.35 FIP. Oh, and he improved his strikeout and walk rates. He got swinging strikes on his slider 24% of the time.

The risk with him is clear. He could get hurt again, the track record is short, and he could be on an innings cap in 2016. I guess his home park is less than ideal too. But he’s also just 26 and has posted the kind of numbers most teams will seek from their SP2 or SP3.

And for $16. Marcus Stroman, who I like a lot, went for twice as much. I’ll take my $16 Corbin over a $41 Michael Wacha or $30 Masahiro Tanaka, for example. Off-season fantasy darling Raisel Iglesias, who I also like a lot, went for $29. Corbin struck out about a batter and a half less per nine, but also walked fewer and posted better FIP, xFIP, and HR/9 despite a BABIP that was higher by .041. I’m not saying Iglesias won’t be superior (because “upside!” or whatever). But $13 better? All I’m saying is I like this particular player at his particular price.

Markakis, meanwhile, is just an old favorite of mine from his time with the Orioles. Four bucks for a career .291/.359/.429 hitter makes me happy.

Of course, the “upside” here is nil and the power numbers last year were sobering. He hit three home runs all year with a .080 ISO. But in 2013, he hit 10 homers with a slightly better .085 ISO. He had a 2.1% HR/FB rate a year ago. Of players with 500 or more plate appearances, only noodle bats Alcides Escobar, Ben Revere, and Angel Pagan got less of their fly balls into the seats. Escobar went for $3 and Revere for $6, for whatever that’s worth. I don’t think getting back to double digit bombs is unrealistic — I think it’s likely, in fact — and if he does that (and frankly, even if he doesn’t) he will be a very solid starting outfielder at practically no cost.

Thought #4: I left too much money on the table.

I came in $10 short of our $500 auction budget due to trades, then proceeded to leave $21 in my pocket at draft’s end. That was very stupid.

Here’s what happened: after starting slowly, I quickly piled up some big dollar players. My first three players cost me $70, $71, and $71. Then I added a $21 A-Rod and $60 Johnny Cueto. My next two players, Sonny Gray and Tyson Ross, were had for $96 total. That was my setup through the first 98 nominees.

From there, I hybernated. I eventually grabbed Martin Prado ($4) at the 179th nomination spot. Going 81 spots and almost two hours without adding a player is a long time. The wait was deliberate. My cash was much lower than most everyone else’s, so I decided unless a player I really coveted came up, I’d sit back and let other teams spend, hopefully opening some holes for me later.

It worked, but I failed to hit those holes.

I sometimes undervalue hitters and/or overvalue my own ability to squeeze points out of lesser hitters. That cost me. I just waited and waited, and eventually the players worth spending on ran out and I was left with $21. I feel a lot better about my offense today if I’ve got an Alex Gordon ($17) or Matt Kemp ($11) to plug in. Or I could have, you know, taken that extra $21 plus the $21 spent on A-Rod and allocated it better. That’s enough to have bought a Starling Marte, Robinson Cano, Yasiel Puig, or JD Martinez, just to rattle off a few.

Thought #5: I should’ve kept pushing for Max Scherzer.

This sort of rolls into #1 and #4.

I bid Scherzer up to $85, then he went to Ferns for $86. There’s no telling how high the bidding might have gone if I’d kept pushing, but I wish I’d found out. If I land Scherzer, I almost definitely don’t get both Miggy and Votto.

I’m also not totally comfortable with Carlos Carrasco ($71) as my SP1, though I don’t mind his price. In other words, getting Scherzer would’ve likely took me out of the market for one of the hitters, but not Carrasco. Penciling him in as my SP2 behind Mad Max would’ve been fun.

Thought #6: Speaking of Carlos Carrasco

Someone commented in the auction room after Carrasco went off the board that the winning bid was influenced by “hype.” To which I say: when a guy finishes as the 17th highest scorer on only 30 starts, the ninth best FIP, the fourth best xFIP, and the fifth best K/9 rate, the hype has some merit behind it. And he did all that with a high, unfortunate BABIP and elevated HR/FB rate.

I get the risks here. He’s gone over 100 innings in his big league career just thrice and has maxed out at 183.2. That’s on my radar. I won’t sleep easy knowing this. But he’s paid as a top 12-13 pitcher and all indicators are that, if healthy (a caveat that applies to every pitcher), he should produce right in that range.

Thought #7: I won’t have trouble rooting for my guys.

I don’t really believe in targeting players I “like” as in, hey, so and so is fun to watch on TV, so I should do something totally irrational to get him. It’s a tiebreaker for me when choosing between similar players. But I ended up coming out of this auction with a bunch of unheralded guys that I generally like beyond just fantasy stuff. Mike Napoli ($4), Nori Aoki ($1), Denard Span ($4), and Johnny Cueto ($60). The latter isn’t “unheralded” but I wanted to mention him so that I could link to that photo.

I remember a few years ago — I think 2011, but I’m not sure — I had Aoki on my MLB The Show team. Except I had no idea he was a real player. I thought he was one of the random minor leaguers or a fictitious rookie the game created. But he was awesome in the game. He was a slap hitter kind of like Ichiro, lashing line drives all over the place. He was fast, too. In video game baseball, I attempt a million steals. As soon as I realized he actually existed, I liked him even more and have been fond of him ever since.

Thought #8: Please stay healthy, Corey Dickerson.

I didn’t actually mean to win Dickerson. I was sort of half bidding him up, half interested in him at a bargain basement price. But I accidentally clicked him for the $10 winning bid which, actually, you know, might end up working out quite nicely.

This is a guy with perpetual health issues who is obviously going from a hitter’s park so favorable that calling it simply a “hitter’s park” isn’t enough. His perceived value is way down. But he’s still just 26 years old and has posted some remarkable offensive numbers. Of batters with 600+ plate appearance since the beginning of 2014, he has the 23rd best WRC+ (133). Because park factors play so vividly in how Dickerson’s viewed, I used WRC+ because it’s a park adjusted stat. wOBA (.390), which is not park adjusted, ranks him 11th in all of baseball under those same criteria.

Neither Zips or Steamer expect him to continue hitting so torridly, nor do they expect him to play a full slate of games. Maybe both are true. Maybe I’m trying to talk myself into the player. I mean, Max Kepler, who has logged a grand total of seven MLB at-bats, went for the same price. Depending on your lens, Dickerson at $10 is a bargain.

Closing thoughts…

Overall, I expect this team to compete. But the path will be tougher than it should’ve been, and that’s my own fault. I’m excited for the challenge.

Not that in anyone in Grinders should or does care, but I took the salaries players went for here and applied them to my team in the Dy-Nasty league you’ve heard us mention on a few podcasts, which uses pretty much identical scoring. My 25-man roster over there went for $792 total here. I’ve got another seven guys in my minors there that were auctioned off here and aren’t included in that total.

The roster I’m starting with is going to require a lot more effort and attention on my part. The margin for error is smaller. My offense is going to require patience and caffeine, because while there are quality players all over (I can’t wait until those of you who are new to this depth/scoring start seeing the types of players that become valuable), it’s a unit about as exciting as flossing your teeth.

But navigating that stuff is part of the fun, and I doubt anyone is looking at their team post-auction and seeing perfection. Everyone has work to do. I’m ready to get started.

2016 Auction Review – Long Ball to LF

Long Ball to LF

lblf

Where have all the first basemen gone… Alright step back take a second look. Perhaps Hanley Ramirez does take over at first base for Boston, qualifies, and now you have Michael Brantley in left, Jacoby Ellsbury in center. Eh. I mean, the best news for Hustle Loyalty Respect and Long Ball to LF, is that between them, the shortstop market is all but cornered. And except when they play each other, they should handily win that position battle each week. This was one of the hardest teams to project. I see the logic behind the roster, but I don’t love forcing the issue of transactions to get better roster utilization.

Hitters – Alright

This group is so close to good you can almost taste it. There is just pieces missing at key positions. First base is a concern even with Hanley presumably taking over. Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista are awesome in Toronto, but was last year the ceiling? Brantley appears to be ready to go to be ready close to opening day, but he’s had issues staying healthy. I don’t think any of us wanted a short stop to be a primary utility guy, and there’s almost no way around it here. Matt Kemp and Ellsbury sure, but they’ll be mixed into the outfield often enough. Just seems like a first basemen short. LBLF has that same rotating door utility problem. It’s not a glaring issue, but it can turn into one with an injury or two. It is not a huge problem that LBLF is also relying on Devon Travis, but three Blue Jays means on Toronto off-days this roster may have open slots.

Pitchers – Uh-oh

Dallas Keuchel is amazing. Now that he is out of the way. He’s capable of being dominate in 2-start weeks. That’s fine. The other 12 weeks when he’s not starting twice, you’re depending on Wheeler being healthy, Leake being above average, and a bunch of maybes and hopefuls. Sure, pitching is a finicky bitch and perhaps 6 good starters come out of this group of 12. It just seems like a ballsy risk in order to own three shortstops. The bullpen isn’t great either. Best case scenario is that six or seven guys from this group flesh themselves out to be good enough fast, and two or three make themselves easy to chop and replace with other depth.

Depth – Good

So while things on the pitching side don’t look amazing, the depth here is actually good. I just dogged the group of guys in the back of his rotation as guys you want to depend on, but I like Tyler Skaggs, Aaron Nola, Josh Tomlin, Taylor Jungmann, and Daniel Norris, they could be quite dependable. It’s not unrealistic. And while I assume one of the short stops is getting traded for something, even if they don’t. The hitting depth in the outfield is great, catcher is good, and if you find some 1B to move Logan Forsythe to a backup roll, even better. Those pitchers should be able to fetch something on the market and you can count on that happening most likely. Even with the Toronto issue on offense, I like the depth here.

Why 2016 would be bad… 

Both Xander Bogaerts and Francisco Lindor trend downward and become possible candidates for release next off-season. Keuchel loses his touch. The team never finds a first baseman. Take your pick. This team will take some real grinding to push to the top, especially if the market for shortstops does not bring something equivalent to what was spent.

Why 2016 would be good… 

I could just be wrong. Lindor and Bogaerts are amazing, they are good enough even if they have to server the utility role. Devon Travis stays healthy and ends up a top 5 2b. Hanley Ramirez ends up being a steal and hits like a top 15 first baseman. Michael Brantley returns to 2014 form. Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson nail their encore. Of the twelve starters just six have to be good. There’s trade bait all around this team.