Position Scarcity Strategy (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
Long before I ever dreamed of working in fantasy sports, and certainly before I discovered the FantasyPros Auction Calculator, I was just a die-hard fantasy baseball player using complicated excel formulas to create my rankings and values. It took several years to hone the process, but eventually, I reached a point where I felt confident in the results each and every season.
A close friend of mine always struggled to create his values, and so, dutiful colleague that I am, I created a step-by-step guide to aid him in the process. A few weeks later, I got an exasperated phone call. Decorum and diligent editors prevent me from repeating what he said verbatim, but it was essentially that my process stunk and produced values and rankings that were nonsensical.
After I asked for a few examples, I diagnosed the problem immediately. “Did you accidentally skip the eighth step? Running replacement value by position?” After a long pause, my friend realized his error, and I received an apologetic call a day later, followed by an obnoxious one when he won our league the following year.
The point of the story is that a player’s position is relevant to his overall fantasy value. And understanding position scarcity and how to (and perhaps more importantly, how not to) let it factor into your drafts is an integral part of your fantasy baseball preparation.
Suppose the best player at catcher and shortstop were projected to have identical numbers across the board. Absent considering position scarcity, you might as well flip a coin to determine which player to rank higher and draft first. But instead, any fantasy manager would prefer the catcher, given the difference in depth at the catcher and shortstop positions.
Here’s an easy example to illustrate the point. Let’s take a look at FantasyPros’ consensus projections by position for hitters for 2021. Now let’s assume we are in a 12-team league where every team starts one player at each position other than outfield, where they can start four (go with me on the positions to make the example easier to follow).
Here are the projections for the “replacement” player at each position (i,e, the highest projected player who would not be drafted as a starter).
Note: Rather than take the statistic of a single replacement player, such as the 13th catcher or first basemen, I like to take the average of the five players who fall at 11-15 to avoid outliers:
- C: .253, 47 runs, 13 home runs, 47 RBI, 4 steals
- 1B: .266, 77 runs, 25 home runs, 86 RBI, 3 steals
- 2B: .273, 71 runs, 21 home runs, 74 RBI, 12 steals
- SS: .272, 88 runs, 29 home runs, 92 RBI, 7 steals
- 3B: .265, 81 runs, 25 home runs, 77 RBI, 4 steals
- OF: .252, 80 runs, 26 home runs, 80 RBI, 9 steals
As you can see, the projected replacement options at each position vary greatly. Catcher, as expected, has the weakest replacement option, and second base, though substantially better than catcher, is notably thin. At shortstop, meanwhile, a much stronger option is likely to be available on your waiver wire.
What It Does Not Mean
Before discussing what a positional scarcity strategy means, let’s talk first about what it does not mean. It does not mean “second base and catcher are weak, so I should be reaching for that position in my draft.”
The reason you should not reach for a scarce position is simple: rankings and dollar values take into account that scarcity already. Here are the 2021 consensus projections for three players:
- Player A: .271, 79 runs, 24 home runs, 83 RBI, 8 steals
- Player B: ..277, 79 runs, 28 home runs, 90 RBI, 6 steals
- Player C: .265, 75 runs, 24 home runs, 86 RBI, 6 steals
Do you have a strong preference among these players? Probably not, right? Maybe Player B by a hair?
- Player A is J.T. Realmuto: Expert consensus ranking: 59
- Player B is Eddie Rosario: Expert consensus ranking: 97
- Player C is Didi Gregorius: Expert consensus ranking: 147
Why the disparity? Because the experts who provide fantasy baseball rankings already take into account position scarcity. They know that a catcher with similar projections to an outfielder or shortstop is worth more. If you stray far from those rankings to consider a player’s position, you’re essentially considering scarcity twice.
That’s not rocket science. But fantasy baseball managers constantly overthink the concept of position scarcity and factor it in far more than they should.
What It Does Mean
With all that said, you shouldn’t be blind to position scarcity just because rankings and values take it into account. You can and should do a few things to make sure you’re considering a player’s position enough.
- Tier each position: Every fantasy manager should feel comfortable understanding the depth of every position before entering the draft room. The easiest way to do that is to create tiers for yourself to know when the drop off comes at each position. That will give you a sense of when you need to pull the trigger on a shortstop versus an outfielder who you have ranked similarly.
- Mock draft: I hope you know by now that you can complete mock drafts on the FantasyPros draft simulator in less than 10 minutes. With constant mock drafting, you’ll be able to sense when you get uncomfortable with the remaining options at a position. Perhaps you don’t like the way your teams come out if you fail to grab a first baseman by Round 7. Then you know you’ll need to make sure you’re moving on the position before then.
- Nomination strategy: In an auction/salary cap draft, knowing the depth at each position can inform your nomination strategy. Although position scarcity will be embedded in a player’s salary cap value, understanding the remaining strength of a position during your draft will allow you to know when and whether to nominate players from a certain position to drive up bidding and get money off the table.
In my opinion, that’s the extent of how position scarcity should factor into your strategy. Whether you are thinking about it consciously or not, you are thinking about it during the draft by preferring J.T. Realmuto to Eddie Rosario. But other than making sure you understand the depth at each position, you shouldn’t do much with it.
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