A frustration for many fantasy baseball managers is that the "one size fits all" approach used by many media sources, simply put, doesn't fit. The simplest and most convenient way for most organized presentations of fantasy player projections to be structured is in terms of a "standard" fantasy league - 12 or 14 teams within either the AL or NL, each team with a budget of $260 for a roster of 23 players. This format allows most fantasy managers to at least read from the same sheet of music, if not sing precisely the same hymn. However, for managers whose leagues are substantially smaller than the traditional, this system of player valuation is inherently misleading.
Reading Art McGee or nearly any teacher of fantasy player valuation will lead to one clear tenet: Players have value to the extent that they are better than the lowest level of players taken. In a league using a draft, this means that players merit early-round selections only based on their superiority to the players available in the draft's final rounds. In an auction league, this leads to the more familiar system of grading players by "value," ranging from the stratospheric amounts assigned to the very elite, down to the foundation of fantasy value assignments - the $1 player. Understanding the $1 player in your own league - based on its number of teams and other rules affecting the number of players to be selected - is critical to understanding your league itself.
The easiest way to come to understand your league's $1 player is to "draw a line." Pick a position, rank the players from the best on down and draw a line where the league will likely stop selecting players. Let's walk through this exercise with one position - AL second basemen. In a typical fantasy publication, or any set of projections based on a 12-team AL-only league, one would normally assume that about 16-18 second basemen would be selected-meaning that the $1 player should reside around 16th or so on the list. Using the Baseball HQ projected values for the 2000 season, we saw a list like this.
The list delivers on our expectations; by the time we approach the 20th player, we're down to the traditionally "valueless" player - a player with questionable talents and/or opportunities, and fairly little to offer a fantasy team without significantly exceeding expectations. In a standard 12-team league, "the line" gets drawn right around the Jerry Hairston to Enrique Wilson
area. These are, more or less, the $1 players.
However, in a smaller league, say, one with only eight teams - the calculation becomes much different. The line gets drawn higher on the list. This league is unlikely to have the word "Graffanino" spoken at its auction, because the last player taken is likely to rank about 12th. And the players around that point, by simple logic, are that league's $1 players: players like Spiezio, Cairo, Febles or DeShields. The overriding temptation will be for the manager acquiring Delino DeShields for $1 to consider him a bargain since the fantasy publications place a nice big "$10" next to his projected stats. The learned small-league player has made the necessary adjustments, and realizes that this caliber of player will inevitably be available at seemingly bargain-basement prices.
Taking this example one step further, let us make two reasonable assumptions about this data set. First, assume that the "projected values" are linear in nature - that each dollar of projected value represents the same increment of "value" to the fantasy team. Second, assume that the commitment of funds per team - very close to $20 each - in the original model will hold true in the smaller league model. With a sense of the smaller league's level of $1 player, we can build on these assumptions to show a newly scaled set of player values, for the eight-team league:
A = Projected value for a 12-team league
B = Improvement over $9 undrafted player
C = Adjusted value after scaling to $165 total
This table, though built using only a tentative set of player values, reinforces two fundamental beliefs about the nature of small leagues:
- Small leagues tend to value top-tier players at approximately the same levels as do standard-sized leagues
- The relative distortion in auction prices increases as player values decrease
This is derived from just having a clear understanding of the caliber of player who will remain standing after the draft or auction is concluded - knowing the $1 player. The more a given league strays from the standard fantasy model that serves as the basis for most popular analyses, the more critical it becomes to fully understand the league's $1 players.
For the advanced, the resulting advice is clear: Prepare your own customized player valuations for your league, taking into account the factors discussed above. For the initiate, the resulting advice is still direct: Take the time to understand the concepts of relative value, and to fully understand where the last selected players at each position will be. Consider this heavily in determining protection lists, assessing trades or preparing draft or auction strategy.
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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