Discussions of positional scarcity are typically limited to how it applies to a team that is drafting to achieve maximum balance across all of its league's categories. However, with the ever-increasing number of differing strategies in fantasy baseball, we should examine how positional scarcity affects these strategies and whether it is something that should even be considered when employing them.
For a point of reference, let's first look at the traditional positional scarcity tactics. In Art McGee's book, How to Value Players for Rotisserie Baseball, there is an in-depth analysis of how to value players against the rest of the league, as well as against the other players at their respective positions. The basis of this analysis is that the very last player selected in a draft will have some minimal value to a team.
This minimum value is the standard by which all others are judged. When calculating a player's salary or value relative to all other players in the league, one uses this least possible value as a basis for comparison. However, when evaluating players against the others at a position, one uses the least possible value for the last possible player drafted at that position. For example, if a twelve team league requires five OF, then the top OF is compared to the 60th best OF, not to the worst CA (who is usually the worst hitter to be drafted in the league).
If you are playing in a straight draft league, this significantly increases the draft location of a player such as Alex Rodriguez or Brian McCann. If you are playing in a typical auction style league then each of these players will be worth a few more dollars at the draft table relative to the others at their position.
Opponents of the positional scarcity strategy believe that one should only draft for value, no matter what the position, and that players such as Rodriguez and Piazza should only be purchased if they can be had for some perceived value. It is a fact that in any given season, there are far more opportunities for players to "overachieve" at positions such as OF or 1B than there are at SS or C. Perhaps one should pay for consistency at those weak positions and take chances on cheaper, high skills players at others.
How does positional scarcity affect some of the most popular draft strategies?
The LIMA (Low Investment Mound Aces) Plan
The LIMA plan can be used in either straight draft leagues or auction leagues. This analysis is confined to the straight draft format, although its principles can be applied elsewhere. LIMA's basic premise is to draft high skills pitchers, who have undefined roles and may be undervalued at the draft table. This will mean those pitchers will drop to later rounds in the draft. To accompany these pitchers one drafts a powerful array of hitters with most/all of his early round picks.
The most difficult phase of applying the LIMA plan to a straight draft is choosing when to pick up that high-skills closer to anchor the staff. In 5x5 leagues, the closers usually slide further (because they are light in the strikeouts category) than in 4x4 leagues. Having one top tier closer can really aid a pitching staff, so do not be afraid to draft one in the first five rounds. Aside from that pitcher, all of one's other picks (in rounds eight to ten) should be hitters. This is where the positional scarcity evaluations can really be useful.
Most of your opponents will be balancing their pitching staffs with starters while you are picking up most of your batting lineup. This will allow you to draft players at scarce positions a little higher than normal because there will still be strength at other positions in the middle rounds. Therefore, drafting Alex Rodriguez in the first round is a given, followed by McCann or Russell Martin.
This strategy will begin to pay off when you are filling out your hitters with your 16th or 17th picks while your opponents are still 3-5 hitters shy of a full team. In the later rounds you can begin to pick up the high skills middle relievers and starters who are necessary to complete your LIMA strategy. If you are in a 5x5 league, then you may have to intersperse some of the high skills and high K/9 starters a little earlier.
The Sweeney Plan
The Sweeney plan involves punting the HR and RBI categories. While this may not be feasible in a 5x5 league, it is certainly a possibility for 4x4 teams. This plan is tailor-made for the use of positional scarcity because it narrowly defines what types of hitters one needs to acquire, that is, a hitter with high SB potential and a high BA.
At positions such CA, these two skills can be very difficult to come by. One must evaluate the players a little differently from a positional scarcity standpoint. Obviously, at CA, there are very few high BA-high SB combinations. Outside of Martin, no one really fits the mold. So while he may be a 4th or 5th round pick in a normal straight draft, one may decide to draft him as high as the 2nd round when utilizing the Sweeney plan.
Most of the other batting positions provide ample opportunity to pickup players who have the high BA-high SB combination. It is the goal of the Sweeney plan to maximize output in all of the pitching categories and to finish at the top of the BA and SB categories. In this respect, one must take an approach opposite to the LIMA plan during a straight draft. The early rounds should be spent acquiring front-line starters and closers, and these picks should be mixed in with hitters who fit the Sweeney profile. Some positions will be more scarce than others in BA and SB, so one should plan accordingly for those.
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