League Depth Affects Prospect Value

This winter, I’ve gotten in the habit of running polls about interesting trades in my patron dynasty league DTBNL. It’s a 25-team, keep-30 format. It’s a certified “deep league.” There are deeper leagues of the 30-team variety, but they are rare. By virtue of these polls, I’ve noticed some apparent misconceptions about prospect value in ultra-deep settings.

Yesterday, for an unknown league, Shelly Verougstraete ran a poll pitting Trevor Bauer against Jeter Downs, Taylor Trammell, and Josiah Gray.

UPDATE: Shelly reminded me that this is what the Reds actually traded for Bauer. So a 30-team, extra-mega-deep format.

I asked for more context, but it wasn’t offered. In my opinion, I’ll take Bauer 10 times out of 10 in a 12-team or shallower format. Equilibrium is probably around 14 or 16 teams. Add any more competitors and I’d start to increasingly prefer the prospect side of the equation.

These are opinions rather than exact science, and there are ways to torture those league types into shapes where my initial reactions would not hold true even just for myself. I might as well admit now, I can’t conceptualize how to form the math required to definitively prove a given prospect gains value relative to major league players as league depth increases. This is just a belief I have chosen to accept into my heart.

So I ran my own follow-up poll.

Curiously, the early results seem to indicate a strikingly wide range of opinions. I’ll offer a very generalized version of my thought process.

In a shallow format, prospects are a dime a dozen. Even elite guys like Vladito, Wander Franco, Julio Rodriguez, and Jasson Dominguez pop up at a rate of at least one per season. Further, the pop-up types who go on to be useful major league players tend to be entirely overlooked. In short, the massive supply of prospect depth makes me willing to trade any number of Jeter Downses for a major leaguer I covet.

As we start to ponder the deeper 14- and 16-team variants – i.e. leagues that run a 30-man or more minor league roster – we’re getting to a point where there is at least some challenge to printing prospects on a yearly basis.

This becomes legitimately difficult by the time we reach the 20-team plateau. The larger number of teams means the black hole gravity of rebuilding is all the stronger. More participants fill their roster nearly entirely with uncouth children playing in whatever passes for sandlots in 2020. This effect grows as more teams are added to the league.

In short, prospect supply becomes scarce. Demand is extreme. Apply your knowledge of economics to the previous two statements.

Meanwhile, I tend to find that unless a league is carefully designed to prevent this, the major league player pool is basically unaffected by league depth after around 16- or 18-teams. Nearly every additional rostered player is a prospect. Sure, you might find the odd Ivan Nova shift from permanent waiver fodder to occasional streamer, but they’re the exception rather than the rule.

What I’ve found while running the aforementioned polls is that at least a loud minority of respondents do not adjust their thinking to account for league depth. Tell them a prospects-for-MLBer trade happened in a 25-team league, and they’ll still hit you with their best 12-team-adjusted take.

There’s a corollary to this. If prospect value spikes as league depth increases, then it follows that ordinary, young major leaguers should also receive a blast of value. I’m looking at you 24-year-old Willy Adames.

Who was the worst young regular in the league these last few years? Probably Orlando Arcia. He’s been a nice little core performer for deep dynasty purposes just by virtue of volume and the promise of a long career. His is a worst case scenario outcome for this asset class. And would anybody really be surprised if he turned into a passable performer at his next stop. He’s still younger than half the 2019 rookie class.

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It’s a really interesting article.

I play in a 20-team, 25-keeper h2h league (with 30 roster spots, 5 IL spots, and 5 NA/minors spots). I’ve done pretty well to this point, but I’m still not 100% confident in my approach to the yearly redraft and weighing trade offers for the reasons you stated.