Imagine you own a $20 outfielder. It’s pre-draft, and he’s the only player on your roster. He costs $20, and he’s projected to provide $20 of value. You’re offered a $17 shortstop who is projected to be worth $17. The projections properly account for position-adjusted replacement level. Would you take the trade?
No, right? You wouldn’t give me a dollar for three quarters, so why should you trade $20 for $17. Who cares about the positions, that’s supposedly included in the price.
Dig down another layer and you might consider the swap. It’s a $3 loss, but perhaps you can make up the ground in-draft. Shortstop is such a scarce position that we’re probably talking about trading the 20th best outfielder for the third best shortstop. Is losing $3 in a trade worth solving the fantasy nightmare known as shortstop?
Maybe this is an issue of replacement level. I said it’s included correctly, but maybe I’m wrong. This is where our little puzzle gets difficult. Replacement level at shortstop is ugly regardless of league type. In standard leagues, a replacement level outfielder can be better than most rostered shortstops. Especially if you have the flexibility to use guys situationally.
To put a name on it, let’s say Rajai Davis is a replacement level outfielder in your league. If you can afford to use him only against left-handed pitchers, the numbers that get counted for your team will be comparable to a MUCH better player. That opportunity is almost never available with shortstops. Try using Adeiny Hechavarria situationally.
Once we get right down to it, this seems to be a problem of replacement level depth. A 12-team, five outfielder league probably rosters about 75 outfielders overall. The same league might roster 24 shortstops. Let’s use Zach Sander’s end-of-season rankings to visualize how these replacement levels look.
You can use a different methodology to get a different cohort of players, but the lesson is the same. Replacement level at shortstop is terrifying.
This premise is what we discussed in the comments of last week’s BATNA piece. And you know what, I’m mildly flummoxed. Intuitively, I believe that depth at replacement level matters. What I don’t know is how it should affect my dollar values. Should I be willing to squander $3 of value because outfield has more replacement level players?
There were 22 outfielders who provided between -$2 to $2 of value per Zach’s accounting. There were five such players at shortstop. And that’s ignoring situational value. Darin Ruf was a -$15 player. He also had a 156 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers. In other words, if you spot started Ruf in his handful of games against lefties, he was a star.
Ruf is also the 163rd ranked outfielder. There are 82 names between where I ended the above list and cherry picked Ruf’s name. Presumably, at least some of those 82 players have a situational use case. There are very few analogs among the shortstops. I see Javier Baez, Wilmer Flores, Jose Ramirez, Everth Cabrera, and Chris Owings.
We’ve identified that outfield has a more robust replacement level than shortstop. There are more replacement level outfielders and they are more likely to provide leverageable, positive skills to your team. Replacement level shortstops offer few opportunities to leverage their talent, and most of them barely produce anything.
The range of depth at replacement level has us wondering (or at least me) if we would trade a $20 outfielder for a $17 shortstop simply to avoid the messy shortstop market. But if we’re willing to entertain trading $20 for $17, that must mean are valuations are wrong. I see a few possible solutions.
- Apply a replacement depth penalty to outfielder value
- Apply a replacement dearth bonus to shortstop value
- Ignore replacement depth entirely or else trust that it’s properly accounted
- Live with a world where $20 is sometimes equal to $17 in some weird, fringe cases
An important note about all of this: the decision to trade $20 for $17 invariably hinges on the user’s confidence. I know I can draft another $20 outfielder if I so desire. I can use the $3 I save in the trade to select three replacement level outfielders or one $3 outfielder. Even if we shift the scenario to a post-draft trade, I can simply go to the wire and focus on upside selections until one of them breaks out.
My question to you: do you include replacement level depth in your calculations? Replacement level is typically calculated by determining a hypothetical replacement quality performance and then anchoring it to $0. How would you also include depth in those calculations? Personally, I’m stumped.