The Position Scarcity Post To End All Position Scarcity Posts

Ahh, one of the most debated topics in fantasy baseballdom. Does position scarcity exist or is it just a myth? Hell, what the heck do you even mean by position scarcity to begin with? Earlier in the week, RotoGraphs’ Howard Bender published his thoughts on the issue using catchers as the focal point. He concluded that it was unwise to spend an early round pick on a catcher because you could get better production elsewhere. I disagree with this opinion and feel that the top catcher is absolutely worth the price he is paid. Here’s why…

Position Scarcity Defined

In the simplest terms, position scarcity exists when there are not enough positively valued players at a position to fill up every active roster. In a standard 12-team league with 14 hitters, a total of 168 hitters will be drafted as starters and each must be valued and purchased at $1, at the very least. If you projected every hitter and valued their raw stats based on a $260 salary cap per team, there is virtually no chance that 24 catchers will make your top 168. There is also a possibility that there won’t be the required minimum of 36 middle infielders.

Let’s assume for a moment that this is a great year for middle infielders, so only catchers are short in your top 168. We would therefore say that the catcher position is scarce. Since we must pay $1 for the 24th best catcher, every catcher would get a bump in value to force 24 of them into your top 168. This has the side effect of causing a catcher to be valued quite a bit more than a player at a different position with the exact same raw stats. In fact, Joe Mauer loses a whopping $17 of value when I make him a first baseman.

A Mock Draft to Illustrate

Let’s imagine a league with only two teams, two positional requirements, and one category. Our league requires one catcher and one first baseman and we only care about home runs, because I have heard that that’s what chicks dig. Our two drafters are named I Hate Math and I Love Truth.

Here are our choices at each position:

Much to his excitement, I Hate Math has drawn the first overall pick. Scanning over his options, he decides that the 3rd Baseman 1 is the obvious pick since he leads the field with 35 home runs. I Love Truth cheers, which confuses I Hate Math, and he happily selects Catcher 1 with the next pick, followed by Third Baseman 14 (third baseman 14 was used since I took into account the CI slot, and when only counting home runs, 14 third basemen would be drafted as starters according to my projections). I Hate Math then finishes the quick draft with Catcher 24.

The Draft Results

With a bewildered look in his face, I Hate Math adds up the total home runs each team drafted several times in his head and keeps finding that I Love Truth managed to draft 44 home runs to his 43. “How could this be?” he thought, “I had the first pick and drafted the player with the highest home run total!”

In the above table, I included a third column labeled Useful HRs. That simply represents the number of home runs above what you could get from the last positively valued player at the position (in a real draft, we would instead use a replacement player). The home run projection numbers I used were straight from my projections, so they do represent reality. What we could glean from this last column is that although 3rd Baseman 1 projects to hit the most home runs, his useful, or marginal, home run production is lower than that of the top catcher versus the bottom one.

Finally, The Truth

Wouldn’t life be easier if we could fill our teams with 14 players from any position? You want 10 first basemen and 4 outfielders? They are all yours, catchers be damned! Of course, this is not how we actually play this wonderful game of fantasy baseball. We are forced to draft and actually start two catchers (or one if your league hates them that much), so we have no choice but to draft the players that fit into our active roster requirements.

With that being the case, a player’s statistics must be compared relative to his position. You just cannot compare a catcher’s raw projected stat line with a third baseman’s, note that the third baseman bests the catcher in every category, and then conclude that he is the more valuable fantasy player. Besides the utility spot, you cannot play a catcher and a third baseman in the same roster slot. When you look to plug your catcher position, it must be filled by a catcher. Therefore, catchers should be compared to catchers and third baseman to the corner infield pool in order to calculate their useful stats. Once that task is complete, then and only then can you begin comparing players within one positional pool to the rest of the player pool.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

newest oldest most voted