Positional Eligibility Going into 2022

Two weeks ago, I reviewed positional production in 2021 but ignored the elephant in the positional eligibility room: positional eligibility, at least in Ottoneu and Yahoo, but also a lot of other leagues, will look different in 2022. In Ottoneu, players are eligible at any position they played 10 games or started five games in the current or previous season.

However, to account for the shortened 2020 season, Ottoneu (and Yahoo) made a temporary change for 2021 eligibility, allowing the previous two seasons to count towards positional eligibility. Other leagues made similar changes – I play in a CBS league that reduced our games played and started requirements for 2021. For 2022, eligibility will return to normalcy and as of Opening Day, players will only be eligible at positions they played in 2021.

As an example, Manny Machado was last primarily a SS in 2018. In 2019 he played 37 games at short, including 35 starts. He hasn’t seen the position since. So by the standard rules, he would have been SS eligible in 2019 and 2020, but not 2021. But because of the temporary rule change, he was a SS in Ottoneu in 2021. For 2022, he will only be a 3B.

This has led to speculation about how different 2022 will feel compared to 2021. Will it be much harder to fill positions? Was 2021 a major outlier in terms of players qualifying at multiple spots?

To look into this, I worked with Ottoneu mastermind Niv Shah to get some position and roster data from the start and end of each of the 2019, 2020, and 2021 seasons, as well, as the current state. To be specific, for every player in the Ottoneu universe, Niv helped me gather the following data points:

  • Number of rosters a player is on
  • Average Salary for the player
  • Positions where they are eligible

And I have those data points for the following dates:

  • Opening Day 2019
  • Last day of the 2019 season
  • Opening Day 2020 (July Opening Day)
  • Last day of the 2020 season
  • Opening Day 2021
  • Last day of the 2021 season
  • October 15, 2021, after positions were updated across Ottoneu for the 2022 season

For example, I can tell you that as of Opening Day 2019, Nick Senzel was on 100% of rosters with a $7.94 average salary and was eligible at 2B. By Opening Day 2021, he was on 98.48% of rosters, with a $9.18 average salary and was eligible at OF.

I used that data to figure out, at each of those points in time, how many rostered players had multi-position eligibility and how many rostered players qualified at each position. Let’s start with some basic data:

Share of Players with Multiple Positions
One Pos % at One Two Pos % at Two Three Pos % at Three Four Pos % at Four Five Pos % at Five Total
Start of 2019 453 72.6% 121 19.4% 39 6.3% 10 1.6% 1 0.2% 624
End of 2019 467 64.5% 152 21.0% 74 10.2% 25 3.5% 6 0.8% 724
Start of 2020 448 73.7% 108 17.8% 43 7.1% 7 1.2% 2 0.3% 608
End of 2020 423 58.4% 116 16.0% 50 6.9% 12 1.7% 1 0.1% 724
Start of 2021 430 70.1% 112 18.3% 56 9.1% 12 2.0% 3 0.5% 613
End of 2021 471 62.8% 148 19.7% 91 12.1% 33 4.4% 7 0.9% 750
Oct 15, 2021 540 72.2% 148 19.8% 49 6.6% 9 1.2% 2 0.3% 748

Each row is a point in time; each column is how many position players (pitchers are removed unless they also qualify at an offensive position, including Util) qualify at one position, two positions, etc., and what percent of all rostered players that represents.

A couple of quick notes:

  • The number of rostered players jumps over the season. This is due to 60-day IL spots, plus some diversification of thought as the season goes on. For example, of the 137 additional players rostered at the end of 2021 vs. the start, only 44 were rostered in more than 25% of leagues. Most of the growth is from marginal players that some managers are excited about and others are not.
  • The number of leagues in Ottoneu is growing over time, but the number of players rostered doesn’t move a ton. That suggests that we, as a community, have more or less maxed out the universe of relevant players for a 40-man roster. Not sure what that means, but it is interesting.

And here is data on how many players qualify at each spot:

Share of Players Eligibility at Each Position
Position C 1B 2B SS 3B OF C% 1B% 2B% SS% 3B% OF%
Start of 2019 84 124 121 110 132 283 13.5% 19.9% 19.4% 17.6% 21.2% 45.4%
End of 2019 92 172 170 148 175 362 12.7% 23.8% 23.5% 20.4% 24.2% 50.0%
Start of 2020 84 132 106 109 114 280 13.8% 21.7% 17.4% 17.9% 18.8% 46.1%
End of 2020 81 130 120 103 120 296 11.2% 18.0% 16.6% 14.2% 16.6% 40.9%
Start of 2021 90 124 121 124 125 296 14.7% 20.2% 19.7% 20.2% 20.4% 48.3%
End of 2021 99 173 175 174 186 376 13.2% 23.1% 23.3% 23.2% 24.8% 50.1%
Oct 15, 2021 91 134 145 134 138 335 12.2% 17.9% 19.4% 17.9% 18.4% 44.8%

At first glance, 2021 doesn’t look like a major outlier, but there are three things I am seeing that I find interesting at first glance:

  1. If you only look at the “Start of Season” data points and focus on the percentages rather than the raw numbers, you can see that at the start of 2021, there were more multi-position players (29.9% in 2021 vs. 26.3% in 2020 and 27.4% in 2019) than in previous years. Not a huge surprise.
  2. If you look at the percent of players at each position at the start of each season, you can see that the increase in eligibility is at every spot except 1B and 3B.
  3. If you compare the October 15, 2021 data to the start of 2019 and 2020, it looks similar. There are fewer players at each position, but keep in mind that the 2019/2020 data is after auctions and this is before auctions. We can expect more churn in the player pool before Opening Day.

None of this is shocking – the rules for eligibility in 2021 were more lenient than ever before, so there was more eligibility than ever before. The next question though is how big an impact this is. We can’t just look at the “end of 2021” data compared to the October 15 data. While that represents changes in eligibility among players rostered when the season ended, it does not account for changes during the auction.

In fact, if you look at the end of season rosters (players who are on rosters when the season ends, but before people start making off-season cuts), you can get a sense of how much “positional loss” we should expect. This table looks at players rostered at the end of the 2019 season and how many were eligible at each position when the season ended vs. how many were eligible at each position when positions updated for 2020.

Positional Loss After 2019
C 1B 2B SS 3B OF
2019 Eligibility 92 172 170 148 175 362
2020 Eligiblity 90 139 134 123 134 336
19-20 Difference -2 -33 -36 -25 -41 -26

Those players lost 163 total positions. Now compare that to what happened at the start of this off-season, looking at players rostered when the 2021 season ended:

Positional Loss After 2019 and 2021
C 1B 2B SS 3B OF
2019 Eligibility 92 172 170 148 175 362
2020 Eligiblity 90 139 134 123 134 336
19-20 Difference -2 -33 -36 -25 -41 -26
2021 Eligibility 99 173 175 174 186 376
2022 Eligiblity 91 134 145 134 138 335
21-22 Difference -8 -39 -30 -40 -48 -41

Total loss is 206 positions, or an extra 43 positions vs. what we saw in 2019. The additional losses are mostly concentrated in SS, 3B, and OF.

To take another angle on this problem, I created the table below. The first line on this table is the actual start of 2021 data; on Opening Day of 2021, there were 613 total bats rostered and 430 of them qualified at only one position, 112 qualified at two, 121 qualified at 2B, etc.

The second row takes the percentages from the start of 2019 and applies them to the scale of start of 2021. So the “445” under “One” is calculated in this way: As of the start of 2019, 72.6% of players qualified at only one position; as of the start of 2021, there were 613 players rostered. If 72.6% of those 613 players qualified at only one position, there would have been 445 players who qualified at only one position. The 119 under 2B is calculated this way: As of the start of 2019, 19.4% of players qualified at 2B; as of the start of 2021, there were 613 players rostered. If 19.4% of those 613 players qualified at 2B, there would have been 119 2B eligible players. And so on. This gives us a sense of how the 2021 player pool would have looked if it followed the same rules as 2019.

2019 Rates Applied to 2021
One Two Three Four Five C 1B 2B SS 3B OF
Actual 2021 Start 430 112 56 12 3 90 124 121 124 125 296
Applying 2019 Rates 445 119 38 10 1 83 122 119 108 130 278
Difference 15 7 -18 -2 -2 -7 -2 -2 -16 5 -18

The “difference” line is how many more players we would have had in that category under typical rules. So if we had typical rules, we would have had 15 more players with only one position, 18 fewer players with three positions. We would have had 7 fewer catchers, 16 fewer shortstops, and 18 fewer OF.

The net impact here is 22 more players with two or fewer positions and 22 fewer players with three or more positions. That shift down took 40-45 positions off of rosters. I say 40-45 because I don’t think we really would have had five more 3B, since the rule change can’t work in that direction.

That 40-45 looks very familiar – it matches the 43 additional positions lost we found from the previous table! That gives us a pretty good sense that we are on the right path. It appears that roughly 40-45 players had “extra eligibility” in 2021 vs. what we would have expected with normal rules.

That, however, overstates the impact on any given league. This data includes all bats rostered in one or more league, which ranges from ~610 at the start of a season to ~735 at the end of a season. But each league rosters only 480 total players and no more than 360 bats (and realistically, most leagues roster closer to 300 bats. So the impact here is on something like 10-15 players and ~20 positions per league – roughly one player and 1.5 positions per team. It’s not huge, but it’s not nothing.

However, not all players are equal, and this analysis doesn’t differentiate between Mike Trout and Mac Williamson 윌리엄슨, one of whom was rostered in every league at the start of 2021 and one of who was rostered in exactly one league.

The next two tables show the same comparison we just did (2021 vs. 2019 rates) but only include players rostered in at least 25% and at least 75% of leagues.

2019 Rates Applied to 2021 – Players Rostered in 25%+ of Leagues
One Two Three Four Five C 1B 2B SS 3B OF
Actual 2021 Start 194 47 30 7 0 33 59 56 60 62 134
Applying 2019 Rates 208 46 19 5 1 30 58 57 51 55 127
Difference 14 -1 -11 -2 1 -3 -1 1 -9 -7 -7

 

2019 Rates Applied to 2021 – Players Rostered in 75%+ of Leagues
One Two Three Four Five C 1B 2B SS 3B OF
Actual 2021 Start 138 34 23 3 0 19 46 37 41 46 96
Applying 2019 Rates 142 38 14 4 1 20 43 43 42 39 88
Difference 4 4 -9 1 1 1 -3 6 1 -7 -8

The first table includes 278 players, so it represents a fairly full league without a lot of outlying players. The second table includes 198 players, so it paints a picture of the top 16-17 players per team – the guys most likely to be in your lineup each day.

This mostly confirms our earlier story – out of a population similar to the number of bats players likely to be rostered (the 25% table), we see about a net of 14 players (1 player per team) with less positional eligibility, and about 27 fewer positions (2.25 per team). Out of a population of likely regular starters (75% table), we see a change of about eight players (.66 per team) and 18 positions (1.5 per team).

The other thing that starts to stand out is the differences by position. On the table that showed the impact on all rostered players, the most impacted positions were SS and C; as we look at more commonly rostered players, the impact at SS drops pretty significantly and the impact at catcher completely goes away. Meanwhile we see a bigger impact at 3B and a stable impact at OF.

What this says to me is that the positional eligibility rules helped out a lot of marginal middle infielders – guys who maybe moved off SS in 2019 or 2020 but kept eligibility, but weren’t widely rostered and probably didn’t play a ton. But the rules also impacted a decent number of valuable 3B and OF – guys who were not only on a lot of rosters, but likely were used a lot.

Looking forward to 2022, here are my main takeaways:

  • In general, I think concerns about a massive shift in positional eligibility are overblown. Yes, there is a change. No, it is not huge. This won’t change player values in any meaningful way and if you treated 2021 like any other year and treat 2022 like any other year, you will be just fine. At the end of the day you are taking about 1-2 fewer multi-position guys per team, and only one of those (or less) is really a player who “matters.”
  • I think Ottoneu Prestige League will have a bigger impact on the availability of multi-position players than the rules will. If your league has a team (let alone multiple teams) playing in OPL, those teams will (rightly) put a premium on multi-position players, making them harder to come by.
  • Building a starting MI won’t be any more challenging than in the past. This is a little surprising given we know SS is losing Machado and Alex Bregman, among others, but most of the players who lost SS eligibility since the start of 2021 aren’t key players. Building MI depth, on the other hand…
  • I am also going to put a slightly higher premium on players with both 2B and SS eligibility. Having a bench guy who can fill all three MI spots when needed will be valuable, as teams will have to dig a little deeper than in 2021 to find this depth.
  • I will put a little added priority on locking down a 3B and getting OF depth. We saw in my last article that 3B is relatively shallow, and based on this data it looks like OF and 3B are going to get more shallow.
  • For OPL, you might have to be a bit more willing to overpay for positional eligibility than you expected. Not by a lot. But if last year the average team had 5-7 multi-position guys, this year they will have 4-6 instead. If you want your OPL team to have 10-12, it will be a bit harder to get that done.

 





A long-time fantasy baseball veteran and one of the creators of ottoneu, Chad Young's writes for RotoGraphs and PitcherList, and can be heard on the ottobot podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.

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Leif

Great article! Ottoneu content rules, just like Ottoneu.