The question of value

by on March 16, 2010 @ 00:00:00 PDT


Your draft list says Mike Piazza should be worth $32, and this is the one player who you think will anchor your roster the best. Bidding opens at $5 and you toss in a few early tokens to keep everyone honest. Once the bidding hits $25, you sit back, hoping that you can snag him for under value. He hits $29, and then $30. You're ready to jump in at $31, but hold off, worried that someone else would shout $32 and shut you out. But by the time you make that decision, you hear the horrifying sounds of $33 and $34 ... and then silence.

It's all over. All your hard work, all your plans, all your dreams of October Yoo-Hoo. Just because bidding on Mike Piazza has stalled at $34, and you know darn well that he's not worth a penny over $32.

But here's the deal ... If Edgardo Alfonzo gets on base a half dozen more times and if NL pitchers throw a half dozen more meatballs, Mike Piazza could be worth $35 or better come October. Over the course of 162 games, all you're asking for is an additional Alfonzo seeing-eye scribbler and a grooved fastball once every 27 games. Certainly within the realm of possibility.

And with that tidbit in hand, you end up with a $35 Mike Piazza on your roster. And you can go home tonight and not snap at the wife.

Dollar valuation is all based on player projections, which are highly variable. There is no such thing as a firm value for any major leaguer, except after the season is over. So to get married to any printed value is foolish. Every figure has some play, and that play is driven by the market.

If you are convinced that Eric Chavez is worth $26 and land him for $21, you will have overpaid if the rest of the league sees him as no more than a $17 player. Even if he is really worth $35.

But, how do you know what Eric Chavez is really worth?

The dollar value for any player is only partly a factor of his expected performance. The real factors that determine player value are:

  1. The perceived value by the owners in your league. If your league is in Marin County, Calif. and everyone thinks Chavez is a $45 player, then Eric Chavez is worth $45.
  2. The stage of the draft you are currently in. If Chavez comes up for bid in Round 2, he is likely to go for far more than if he slides to Round 20.
  3. The position and category demands when the player comes up for bid. If Chavez's name comes up when there are few third basemen left, it can artificially inflate his value.
  4. The prevailing winds of the media. If the news out of spring training reports that Chavez is "tearing apart pitching in Arizona," that could inflate his value.

When it comes down to it, we really don't know what any player is worth. Value is determined solely by whatever the last bidder is willing to pay. We may have a general range of expectation (Chavez likely won't go for $5, or $50) but no player has any firm value.

So, perhaps we should dispense with player values altogether...

Consider this system:

Forget player values. Go into your draft with a simple ranked list of players. A by-positional ranking is probably the best way to go, but an overall list - with batters and pitchers integrated - also may be useful.

Within each position, separate the players into tiers. The first tier should include all full-time players who are the top performers at their position. For some positions - like outfield and relief pitcher - this may include a dozen or more players. For other positions - like catcher and shortstop - this may include only a handful.

Your second tier makes up full-timers who are the moderate to low-end performers. These are players ranging from the Mike Bordicks to the Mike Benjamins, the Dave Mlickis to the Terry Mulhollands, but generally those who would go for more than $1 in a standard roto draft. It is important that you rank the players within this tier, an exercise that is not as important with the other tiers. Most of your drafting will likely come from this group.

Tier No. 3 includes your part-timers with good upside. These are the Shane Spencers and the Jason Johnsons, players who might exceed expectation with some additional playing time and could come cheap, but are risks.

Your final tier No. 4 holds those potential $1 players who you would consider acceptable to draft.

With this list compiled, you can determine your own goals and strategies for the draft.

One strategy might be to go after at least 3-4 Tier 1 players, fill the bulk of your roster from Tier 2, take a chance on 3-4 from Tier 3, and keep your Tier 4 cherry pickers in case you get caught short.

Another alternative might be to ignore Tier 1 and just fill your roster from Tiers 2 and 3.

A third, higher-risk alternative might be to land four to six Tier 1 players and then backfill as much as possible from the other three tiers. It's all according to your own preferences.

This structure also allows you to respond to events as they occur in the draft.

If you're at the point when all the Tier 1 players and the better Tier 2 players are gone, you can decide not to waste money chasing anything else in Tier 2 and concentrate on getting the most bang for the buck in Tiers 3 and 4.

If you're short on cash and see your cherry pickers getting gobbled up, you might decide to get a few choice $1 players onto your roster before finishing up on the mid-level names.

This system has several benefits. It gives you a good deal of flexibility and it's doable without any dollar values at all (although you certainly can include the values in the tier structure). It also prevents you from getting caught up in the "Player A at $14 is better than Player B at $13" syndrome, which is counterproductive.

The system's disadvantage is that it distances you from some of the in-draft economic dynamics. You may not recognize the impact of the bidding war going on for the last great power hitter, so it might make most sense to stay away from those. But if you can build a roster according to these tiers of players, you will have likely structured things well and stand a good chance of contending.

And it won't matter that you spent $25 on Eric Chavez.

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Ron Shandler began publishing statistical reports for baseball analysts and fantasy leaguers in 1986. Since then, his enterprise has grown into one of the largest information providers in the industry, producing quality products continuously and over a longer period than any other fantasy baseball company.

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