How to make the myth of positional scarcity work for you

by BaseballHQ.com on March 10, 2010 @ 00:00:00 PDT

 


Let's begin with a quick question:

For which of these two players would you pay more at auction, if you were guaranteed the following stats:

 
GP
AB
H
BA
HR
RBI
SB
Player 1
127
458
126
.275
9
54
12
Player 2
137
481
133
.277
10
46
14

Most Rotisserie owners would lean towards Player 2, based on the seven more base hits, the extra homer and the two extra SB. Might be worth an extra $1, but certainly no more.

Now - what happens when you learn Player 1 is a catcher?

You know the idea, right? Catchers with good stats are rare. So you have to pay more for them to avoid getting stuck with a dud.

Here's another question for you:

Why?

It's true that catchers who can hit for average and steal in double digits are pretty rare. But players who can do this are not so rare at all - that's why they're worth around $10 apiece, as both these players were in 1999 (Player 1 is Brad Ausmus of Detroit, and Player 2 is Chad Allen of Minnesota). And yet, in many leagues, Ausmus will command a premium at auction because of his status at what is perceived to be a "scarce" position.

The idea of "position scarcity" is one of those old saws that hangs around for so long that it gradually becomes a myth; it seeps into the consciousness of Rotisserie players and becomes accepted wisdom. You shouldn't accept it - because it isn't really that wise.

But by being aware of the myth, and by being aware of the unrelated real problem of player shortage in the end-game, you can get better results at the auction table.

To understand why "position scarcity" is a myth, you have to understand a central fact of Rotisserie budgeting: What you are trying to do at auction is to acquire value, in the form of HR, RBI, SB and BA. You are constrained by the positional requirements of Rotisserie rules, but a home run hit by a "scarce" position player is no more valuable to you than a home run hit by anyone else.

Because of that, if you overpay for a better quality player at a "scarce" position, your stats gain there will inevitably be offset (or more than offset) by the loss in stats someplace else.

Look at two hypothetical teams who spend $28 to acquire a catcher and a first baseman. Team A plays the values straight:

POS
NAME
$VAL
$SAL
H/AB
BA
HR
RBI
SB
C
Diaz
3
3
80/291
.275
3
28
5
1B
Vaughn
25
25
157/518
.303
36
104
1
--
TOTAL
28
28
237/809
.293
39
132
6

Team B, worrying about the "scarcity" of catchers, decides to pay $10 for John Flaherty, on the chart as a $6 value, and has to make up the difference by dropping down in class at first base:

POS
NAME
$VAL
$SAL
H/AB
BA
HR
RBI
SB
C
Flaherty
6
10
113/419
.270
10
54
1
1B
Segui
18
18
156/499
.313
20
72
2
--
TOTAL
24
28
269/918
.293
30
126
3

By playing straight and ignoring "scarcity," Team A has ended up breaking even in BA, and gaining 9 HR, 6 RBI and 3 SB. Examples are easy to find. Try it yourself.

To take advantage of the myth, your first task is to spread it far and wide. In your pre-draft bull sessions, mutter darkly about the "shortage" of whatever is widely perceived to be short: catchers, AL third basemen, NL middle infielders.

At the draft itself, keep bringing them out, with suitable comments about "running out of second basemen" and the like, in the hope of driving a bit of extra money out of the pool. Every dollar overspent by someone else is an advantage to you. If you are in a keeper league and you have your "scarce" position well filled, exploit that advantage by pushing them out as fast as you can (just be careful that you don't end up stuck with someone you don't want).

Finally, be aware that there can be a real problem of scarcity in the latter part of the draft, especially in keeper leagues.

The problem arises when there are a few teams left needing to fill a particular position and there is only one quality player left. The pickings are pretty thin, and thinner still if some of the better guys were keepers. If you wait too long, you could end up being involved in a nasty bidding war for otherwise valued $1 players. Be especially watchful if one of your opponents uses a "rare" player to fill his DH spot.

The reverse is also true: By acquiring the last top-notch player at a "scarce" position, you can put the pressure on your opponents and force them to get into that bidding war. Meanwhile, you sit on the sideline and figure out how best to spend the extra dollars that bidding war is indirectly putting into your pocket.

The important thing to consider and to remember is that value is value, regardless of position. Have a plan, don't overspend, don't fall for the myth of scarcity, and you will have a strong and effective draft.

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