Position Scarcity Guide (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
To get the best fantasy baseball team, take the best players. Easy, right? The only problem comes with the fact that in fantasy baseball, sometimes the best player for your team is not the best player available. At these points in a draft, the strong, adept players separate themselves from the weak.
What goes into determining the best player for your team? A few things. Very early on in the draft, taking the best available player is, of course, smart. As the draft continues, prior picks play a major role. Details like category needs, ballpark, and other more minor factors will be taken into account. There is one thing, however, that even capable fantasy players sometimes forget to consider. Not only is this an important element of drafting, but at times, it is the most important element.
Let me pose to you a question. Which of the following teams do you think has the best chance to consistently succeed from Opening Day through the final weekend of the playoffs in a 10-team league? Project utility slots and pitchers as close to average as possible for both hypothetical squads.
Projected Positional Rank:
- C: 5th
- 1B: 5th
- 2B: 5th
- 3B: 5th
- SS: 5th
- OF: 14th
- OF: 15th
- OF: 16th
Projected Positional Rank:
- C: 8th
- 1B: 9th
- 2B: 5th
- 3B: 1st
- SS: 3rd
- OF: 4th
- OF: 20th
- OF: 21st
For complexity’s sake, let’s just take into account Team A and Team B’s starting hitters. We’ll continue under the assumption the rest of the team functions the same way.
For a 10-team league, you may look at both Team A and B and think they had good drafts. In fact, Team A and Team B both have an average projected rank per position of 8.75. So, how could there possibly be any difference between the two teams when their projected positional ranks are identical overall? Position scarcity.
For 2019, I would expect Team A to have a strong team headed into the regular season, but Team B could really struggle.
Take a look. Catcher, first base, and outfield, (along with relief pitching), are all very scarce across the board. Not one of those positions is deep. Second base, third base, and shortstop (along with starting pitching), on the other hand, have crazy amounts of depth. Where are Team A’s strengths? Maybe nowhere, but they are also weak nowhere. Team B, meanwhile, is strong at the deepest positions and weak at the scarcest spots. That means Team B will really struggle to find production at catcher, first base, and outfield. If projections hold, there’s no way Team B receives enough production from its strong spots to make up for its weak positions.
Team B would undoubtedly struggle to consistently produce as well as other teams across the board. Team A, on the flip side, would not have these issues. While Team A might not have as many top producers as Team B, it will not have nearly as many liabilities. Strong, consistent players will carry a team more than one or two singular players across an entire season.
Now, let’s be clear before going any further. A player’s position should not be a large determining factor in the first or second round. Take the best player available. But as soon as the draft gets past the first couple of rounds, paying attention to positional eligibility and scarcity can make or break a team. Heading into the 2019 fantasy baseball season, what’s the best strategy to deal with position scarcity? Here you go.
When Possible, Hold Off On…
Starting pitching, while not as deep as some years, offers plenty of options. When the 50’s and 60’s of starting-pitching rankings include solid performers like Hyun-Jin Ryu, upside picks like Alex Reyes, and plenty of bounce-back candidates, it’s tough to argue with waiting. If dead-set on paying heavily for pitching, you’re better off snagging a top reliever or two early.
Late Targets (by FantasyPros’ SP Expert Consensus Rankings): Kyle Freeland, COL, (54); Hyun-Jin Ryu, LAD (59); Josh James, HOU (60); Alex Reyes, STL (63); Drew Pomeranz, SF (112); Brad Peacock, HOU, (RP 61, preparing to rejoin rotation in 2019)
Not only are there 10-12 solid options at the top of the second-base rankings, but the rest of the list is littered with potential bargains. Guys like Matt Carpenter, Gleyber Torres, and Jonathan Villar are all going after the top six, but they aren’t even some of the most enticing names. If waiting until later on nets you one any of these guys, you should be set at the keystone.
Shortstop is deep, just not necessarily in the same way as second base. There are around 10-12 mouthwatering options at the top of the list. After that, it’s a crapshoot. Not a bad crapshoot, just a crapshoot. Guys like Jose Peraza, Elvis Andrus, Paul DeJong, and others further down the list do offer lots of intrigue. Yet those players are far from guarantees.
The best strategy, then, is to target guys in the back half of the top 12. Then wait if you can, but have a few players deeper on the list in mind if you swing and miss on the top few tiers. In fact, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to snag more than one shortstop if you don’t get a top guy. Be careful not to miss on all your targets, especially in 12+ team leagues. But with as many quality players as the shortstop position offers, it shouldn’t be terribly hard to find someone late.
Third base is stacked, simply put. Let me give you two different stat lines from 2018:
Player A: 529 AB, .308 AVG, 24 HR, 88 R, 92 RBI, 2 SB
Player B: 498 AB, .241 AVG, 32 HR, 73 R, 88 RBI, 5 SB
Somewhat close, right? Player A had a better batting average while Player B hit more home runs. Other than that, the lines aren’t demonstrably far apart.
Player A is Anthony Rendon, who ranks seventh in FantasyPros’ third base ECR. Player B is Travis Shaw, ranked 15th. That’s a large gap in rankings for a small production dip, especially since Shaw hit .273 in 2017 and set career bests in strikeout and walk rates last season.
Now, this isn’t to take anything away from Rendon, who had a solid 2018. It just goes to show how deep third base is. Unless a top-tier third baseman is far and away the best player on the board in the early rounds, you’re probably best served to wait and target another position.
Draft Early and (Potentially) Often
Great closers with no competition for saves have become fewer and further between. At least 12 MLB teams have some sort of question mark about their ninth-inning situation heading into spring training. At most, only about 15 teams appear to have a rock-solid closer. The way the MLB is moving, relief pitching has changed. In a categories league, it’s tough to compete for saves with fewer than three closers. Sure, there will be more than 15-20 jobs wrapped up by the time most drafts take place, but how many of those closers will inspire any confidence? If you’re not willing to pay up for saves, your best bet might just be to punt the position.
Try to have a solid relief pitching core by the mid-to-late rounds. This will most likely not be a year where you can hang around and snag a closer or two with the last few picks.
One-to-30 in the outfield rankings look pretty good. Too bad significantly more than 30 will get drafted. Don’t get fooled by the great outfielders at the top. Marcell Ozuna, A.J. Pollock, and Wil Myers are all high-upside names in the 20-30 range of FantasyPros’ outfield ECR. All three struggled through injuries in 2018, but I’d take any of them in 2019 … as my second or third outfield option.
After around the top 30, outfield falls off of a massive cliff. If you don’t believe me, take a look for yourself, and tell me how many you’d be happy to start. It shouldn’t be many at all. Stack up on as many outfielders as you can early and often, especially in leagues with five starting slots.
So long to the days where you could ignore first base and a true star would still fall right into your lap. It’s absolutely bananas how the MLB’s star power has shifted away from the position in recent years. Paul Goldschmidt, Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, and Joey Votto represent the last studs left. After the top 12 in FantasyPros’ ECR, the best player left might be a catcher (J.T. Realmuto). That tells you everything you need to know.
Don’t miss out on a quality first baseman, or else your overall numbers will really suffer. The distance between the top-tier players and lower-ranked guys is huge.
Research the catcher rankings, get a name or two in mind, and try to shape your draft around securing one of them. The difference in having a top-eight catcher and anyone after is nearly indescribable. No offense to any catchers outside of the ECR’s top eight, but … well, no offense actually says it best. You can’t expect to get any real offensive production from any of them.
I actually witnessed multiple teams in one of my category leagues go without a catcher last year. All the catchers they could roster would have only brought down their batting average. So they just rostered an extra bench batter or pitcher. Needless to say, these teams struggled to produce regardless. Not much has changed heading into the 2019 season.
Draft a top-eight catcher. You will not regret it.
Alex Altmix is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Alex, check out his archive or follow him @Altmix_23.