One of the most oft talked about fantasy baseball concepts is that of scarcity, usually positional scarcity but also statistical scarcity. It is at this point I usually get on my soapbox, waxing poetic about the multiple connotations of the term scarcity. I thought I would try something different here and talk in general terms about the concepts related to scarcity, but not actually use the term.
How to adjust a player’s value or ranking based on the position(s) they qualify is a hotly debated topic with respect to valuation theory. There are two general viewpoints. The first is that value should be assigned independent of position. If a league has 168 roster spots allocated to hitting, and if in order to legally fill all the spots, one has to roster a player outside of the top-168, that player returns “negative value”. Okay, I’ll say it, that player’s position is commonly referred to as a scarce position. The other stance is that the draft-worthy player pool should be composed of ample players to legally fill all the allotted roster spots, with draft-worthy being defined as a player returning positive value. Long-time readers know I espouse the latter. I believe that sufficient players to fill all roster spots should comprise the draft-worthy pool.
The argument used to support the former view is that the same stat line should result in the same value, irrespective of position. Obviously, I disagree, and here is the simplistic example I like to use to demonstrate why. Let’s say we are playing a home run derby league. The rules are we each need to choose one player from POOL A and one from POOL B. You have the first pick, who do you want?
POOL A: Red 45, Blue 40
POOL B: Green 20, Black 10
If you truly believe the all stats are equal regardless of position, then Red should be your choice, as he is the most valuable since he hit the most HR. My turn, I will pick Green. That leaves you Black for a total of 55 HR. I get Blue and guess what, I win with 60 HR. What happened?
The point that proponents of the first viewpoint miss is not all of Red’s or Green’s HR are useful. What if I presented the pools as follows?
POOL A: Red 5, Blue 0
POOL B: Green 10, Black 0
Now you obviously select Green first. Well, this is how I feel the original stats should be considered. At minimum, I am guaranteed 40 HR from POOL A and 10 from POOL B. The first 40 HR from POOL A and the first 10 from POOL B are not useful. I do not want to assign value to that which is not useful, and I certainly do not want to pay for it.
What if I now extend this example to include 6 pools? And what if instead of POOL A, POOL B etc., I called them catcher, first base, second base, etc.? This is why I am comfortable contending that a home run from a catcher is not necessarily worth the same as a home run from another position. Each stat at each position is not equal to that of the same stat at the other positions; an adjustment needs to be made. This adjustment is the determination of the USEFUL stats at each position. So what I am comfortable saying is a USEFUL homer from a catcher is worth the same as a USEFUL homer from a second baseman, or whatever.
The repercussions of only valuing useful stats is the exact same stat line for say a shortstop and an outfielder may be worth different amounts, depending on the level of useful stats each contributes, which is based upon the performance of the last player drafted at each position, akin to Blue and Black above. Let’s say a shortstop hit .300-30-100-35-120. For kicks, we’ll call him Hanley. Now say an outfielder named Grady hit the exact same thing – who was more valuable, Hanley or Grady? The answer is there is not enough information available, as you need to also know how the last draft-worthy shortstop and outfielder fared. Anecdotally, most figure the last shortstop is not as good as the last outfielder, rendering Hanley a bit more valuable than Grady.
Let’s bring this discussion more into the realm of actual player pools. Using the concept of scarcity discussed herein, most consider the position of catcher to be the scarcest, followed by second base and shortstop. But you know what? If you use last year’s final stats and calculate values for a 15-team mixed league with standard 14 man hitting rosters (leading to 180 draft-worthy players) without positional considerations to compute useful stats, you can legally fill all 15 team’s hitting lineup with the top 180, with the sole exception of catcher. So while even though you should still use positional considerations to get useful stats as the exact line of each position is a bit different, an argument can be made that scarcity does not exist, save for catcher except in leagues with fewer than 15 teams in the mixed format and 7 or 8 in the single league format. For the record, we predicted this phenomenon before last season, in part due to the early recognition of this by site user viper.
How I plan on applying the above to my drafts and auctions will be fodder for future blog entries and Draft Kit essays. But first, I would like to discuss, at least in a general sense, some of the other connotations of the term scarcity. One such use is to describe a position that has a bounty of talent at the top end, but a large drop-off to the dregs at the back end. Another is to refer to a position that in total, the cumulative value of the draft-worthy pool is significantly lower than the other positions. So please visit again soon, as I will try to get those written later this week. If you have not seen it yet, there is a pinned thread in each message board forum that I will update when a new blog entry is posted.