There are two different and distinct ways to kick off each season in fantasy baseball. I am referring to the two popular ways to fill teams’ rosters pre-season – namely snake drafts and auctions. In either method of commencement, the goal is to accumulate the most player statistics for the forthcoming season.
However, drafts differ from auctions in the value proposition of roster slots – which is static for snake drafts. Unless you are able to trade draft picks, you are cemented with those specific slots that in turn correspond to fixed levels of fantasy value. At an auction, the distribution of acquired values may vary more widely.
The predominant first overall snake draft selection in just about any fantasy format (or depth) this year was Mike Trout. The impetus for that is easy to explain. Trout is the player with a tremendous (dare I say the highest) floor of talent, a high upside of statistics to accumulate, and a proven track record to back everything up. In economic terms, he provided the most potential value with the least amount of risk.
Fantasy owners who were blessed with having a #1 overall pick this season (who selected Trout), should be pleased with how the first half of 2019 has turned out. To date, Trout has returned the 8th highest accumulated auction value of any player, and the 6th highest value of any batter [valuation method described below].
However, everything that I have said thus far – is true for snake drafts, but not for auctions. For auctions, one can re-allocate resources and forgo selecting a hitting superstar. Instead, one can scoop up the entire middle of the auction (the above average players) – which corresponds to a budgeting method commonly known as “Spread the Risk.” One could instead distribute money towards extra superstars [which in turn forces the acquisition of many bottom players] – in the budgeting method known as “Stars & Scrubs.” The way that you decide how to allocate auction dollars towards your team’s purchases is a major part of the game. I personally enjoy the auction format the most as it increases the importance of correct player valuation.
Let’s start with a simple question. Given the year to date 2019 mid-season results (and assuming an NFBC style, 15 team, 5×5 mixed roto league):
Which player was the better purchase at the 2019 auction table?
Mike Trout (OF, LAA)
Eduardo Escobar (3B/SS, ARI)
This sounds like a trick question. Although Escobar is having a career season, Mike Trout is still mashing as per usual – and Trout’s usual is pretty darn good.
Before you answer the question though – let’s see each player’s 5×5 statistics to date:
Well, is seems that Trout has a higher value in every single category, aside from RBI. 7 RBI shouldn’t be more valuable than 8 additional runs, 4 additional HRs, 5 SB and a .005 gain in batting average. So, shouldn’t the answer be obvious?
But don’t answer the question just yet … let me also provide you with a dollar valuation for the two players in question.
Trout’s valuation is larger than Escobar’s by $7.21 (or by 27.5%).
So which player of the two should you have purchased for your fantasy team in March?
The answer is … Eduardo Escobar!!!
Wait just a minute! Didn’t I just tell you that Trout was worth $7 more Escobar’s value? How can that be???
Although Trout has earned more than Escobar, he also cost $45 more than Escobar to acquire. What is missing in this decision – is what the price was to acquire each player.
First, let’s define three quantities:
- $Value – The annualized 5×5 roto value of each player. For this, I am using FanGraph’s Auction Calculator on YTD 2019 stats, with NFBC standard settings (15 teams, mixed AL/NL, $260 budget and positions – 9 P, 2 C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, CI, MI, 5 OF, U). However, for the 9 pitchers – I forced there to be at least 5 SPs and at least 2 RPs, which is more reflective of how fantasy teams operate in practice. This will represent what a player was actually worth in the first half of 2019.
- $AAV – The average auction value for each player in 5×5 roto / NFBC style format. For this, I am using the actual NFBC AAV values for the month of March 2019. This will represent the cost that it would have taken to acquire a player back at the auction table. For those players who weren’t drafted, or who were only drafted as a reserve, we will set a nominal price for them of $0.10.
- $Bargain – The difference between the $Value and $AAV. This represents the profit that each player had provided year to date for the 2019 season, from his initial pre-season draft price.
Let’s go back to that player comparison now …
Although Mike Trout is currently the 6th most valuable player to date in terms of accumulated value, if you had purchased him in a fantasy auction this year, you would have paid $51 on average, for an $18 average LOSS. Had you purchased Eduardo Escobar [which would only have set you back $6] – you would have returned $26 of value, for a $20 profit.
Rather than purchasing Mike Trout – you were far better off this season buying Christian Yelich or Cody Bellinger, or Josh Bell. Each have earned more value than Trout. You were also better off purchasing DJ LeMahieu or Pete Alonso, or Gary Sanchez. Each of the three have earned less than Trout, yet have far exceeded his returned profit. They were all superior purchases from a return on investment perspective.
I have said this before, but it is worth repeating –
Winning fantasy baseball is All. About. Value.
Below are the top 20 most profitable batters in 2019 at mid-season:
|9||Tommy La Stella||49||16||44||0||.304||$17.74||$0.1||$17.64|
|17||Fernando Tatis Jr.||41||11||28||13||.337||$17.32||$2.0||$15.32|
Assorted Assumptions & Notes (in no particular order):
- Please note that the FanGraph’s Auction Calculator currently returns year to date values prorated to the amassed percent of season. While now close to the midpoint of the season, the sum of all auction values for players above replacement totals to about half of the annualized figures. In order to compare mid-season values to auction AAVs, I have scaled up all of the mid-season auction values to the full season levels – while preserving the $1 required minimum bids.
- The FanGraph’s Auction Calculator uses a Z-Score methodology, which intrinsically determines the Hitter/Pitcher % split. The players of the NFBC, however, are typically more pitcher centric. The NFBC has a lower Hitter% in their split. I have not adjusted any splits for this exercise. Thus, hitters may appear slightly more favorable as mid-season bargains versus pitchers.
- For the NFBC AAV figures, I have obtained values which are rounded to the nearest dollar. This may result in a 50-cent mismatch in true bargain values above (in either direction).
- DJ LeMahieu was the largest hitter bargain of the first half. For a mere $1 average auction value, he returned nearly $32 of accumulated value – the 8th highest overall total for hitters. Before the season, fantasy owners did not assume that LeMahieu would get full time at-bats in the Yankees crowded infield. However, with the injures to Andujar and Gregorius, DJ accumulated regular at-bats, and is the current Yankee leader in WAR for 2019.
- Before the season started, Josh Bell was the #1 hitter bargain according to the ATC Projections. Currently, he is the #2 highest hitter bargain year to date. Those who followed the ATC Projections and acquired Bell in their leagues, were rewarded with approximately $30 of excess profit.
- Ketel Marte was a player that I touted pre-season as one of the best hitter bargains for high batting average players. On The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational – Beat the Shift Podcast, I noted that Marte would also see a boost in power this season. The ATC Projections had him down for 14 HRs for the year [highest of the FanGraphs projection systems], a threshold that he has already eclipsed.
- I was surprised to see 4 catchers found within the top 20 of the hitter bargains list. In fact, there are 8 catchers in the top 30. It is hard to tell though whether it is the result of an extremely low replacement catcher level (which I have previously disagreed with using fully in valuations). However, catchers this season – in particular the mid-range catchers – have been far more valuable than originally projected. Players like James McCann and Mitch Garver, etc. have provided a strong boost to the typically thin position.
- Christian Yelich, the most valuable player YTD with a $52 value, does not appear in the top 20 above. Yelich, who had a high pre-season $AAV of $39 has only returned $13 of profit. A $13 bargain is superb, but unfortunately it misses the top 20 list.
- The three most valuable undrafted players have been Tommy La Stella ($18 value), Hunter Pence ($17 value), and Josh Phegley ($16 value).
- The average cost of the top 20 bargain players (including undrafted players at $0.10) was $4.5. The average returned value of the players was close to $23.
I will go through the mid-season pitcher bargains in my next post. Happy 4th of July to you all!
Ariel was a finalist in 2018 & 2019 for the FSWA Baseball Writer of the Year award. He was also nominated for Baseball Article of the Year in 2018, and Best Baseball Series in 2019. Ariel is the creator of the ATC (Average Total Cost) Projection System. Ariel also writes for CBS Sports, SportsLine, and is the host of the Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational - Beat the Shift Podcast (@TGFBI). Ariel is a member of the inaugural Tout Wars Draft & Hold League, and plays high stakes contests in the NFBC. Ariel Cohen is a fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) and the Society of Actuaries (SOA). He is a Vice President of Risk Management for a large international insurance and reinsurance company. Follow Ariel on Twitter at @ATCNY.