Fantasy 101 - Statistical and Positional Scarcity
RotoWire Staff Writer
The following is part of our Fantasy 101 series, a collection of articles that aim to give you a basic understanding of fantasy baseball and advice on many basic subjects we've learned during our history.
When drafting and bidding for players, you should always remember how supply and demand affects strategy. Traditionally, the weakest positions are second base, catcher and shortstop. The natures of these positions require speed, agility, and defensive prowess. While there are plenty of great major league second basemen and shortstops, they are not rewarded as handsomely for their speed and defense, when compared to power hitters.
Scoring for fantasy baseball favors middle of the lineup power hitters. While the steals category attempts to make amends for the power favoritism, a power hitter will contribute in more categories (HR, RBI, R, AVG) than a top of the lineup speedster who cannot hit for power. Not having the ability to steal bases only hurts a player in one category, but not having power limits a player's ability to hit homers and decreases their opportunities for RBI. While some believe that the runs category favors top of the lineup hitters, the numbers disagree. In 2004, the top five leaders in runs scored were an even mix of power hitters and speed hitters alike. The list looks like this: Albert Pujols (133), Barry Bonds (129), Vlad Guerrero (124), Johnny Damon (123), and Carlos Beltran (121). As these statistics show, batting in the middle of a lineup does not affect the runs category.
While we would all love to have a five-tool player at second base, the reality is there are only two available (and Marcus Giles is coming off a down year). Alfonso Soriano is in a class by himself because he gets you HR, RBI, R, SB, and every other year he hits for average (.300 in '02 and .290 in '03). While Jeff Kent and Bret Boone used to follow closely behind Soriano, they are now on the downsides of their respective careers. With Kent moving to the unfriendly confines of Dodger Stadium, he is a risky prospect for the 2005 season and beyond. The next best option behind Soriano is Marcus Giles, who you would be drafting on his potential from a breakout 2003 season. Considering he only had eight home runs and 61 runs last season, his value is largely inflated by positional scarcity.
Marcus Giles is the perfect case study for a discussion on positional scarcity because we can easily compare him to his brother, Brian, who plays in the outfield and produces similar if not superior numbers. While Brian is the former All-Star with a much more impressive resume, including a 38 HR and 15 SB season, Marcus still has more value because of his position. Brian Giles hit .284 with 23 HR and 10 SB last season, yet you could get him between rounds 9-11 in any given draft despite every roster's need for at least three outfielders. Marcus doesn't have close to the numbers Brian has, but your next best option after Giles, Kent, and Boone is probably Brian Roberts or Luis Castillo, who hit six home runs COMBINED last season. By getting Marcus Giles, you aren't just getting his stats, but also the stats that your competitors are not.
Although catchers are usually built solid and strong, they are not the greatest hitters. Most promising young players who come up as catchers will make a switch to first base, third base, or the outfield. This is due to the wear and tear of catching. Many catchers understand that they can extend their careers by playing in the field and few stick behind the plate. Victor Martinez, Ivan Rodriguez, and Mike Piazza were the only catchers who got a substantial number of at-bats in the cherished three and four holes of their respective lineups. As for Piazza, the Mets have already experimented with a move to first base. The bottom line is that catchers are usually stuck in "no man's land." They don't have the power hitting to occupy corner infield or outfield positions, but they have the defense to make the squad. Your problem is finding one that can produce offensively because catchers are not rewarded in fantasy sports for their defense.
This philosophy of positional scarcity can be applied to shortstops, closers, and outfielders as well. While third base used to be a scarce position, the rise of Aramis Ramirez, Adrian Beltre, and Hank Blalock has greatly improved that positions depth. One last note about position scarcity applies to players such as Aubrey Huff, who qualify at multiple positions. Last year, Alex Rodriguez was the hands down best player in baseball because of his ability to qualify at shortstop and third base. By drafting someone of their ilk, you gain great flexibility to take the best available player at either position later in the draft. While you'd be lucky to get one shortstop, some teams who drafted A-Rod in the first round still had the luxury of drafting a Miguel Tejada in the second round because they could just move A-Rod to third. This is especially helpful, if you plan on trading a player. Many teams were scrambling for short stops after a draft and dangling Tejada to someone preparing to start Royce Clayton greatly enhanced Tejada's value to your squad.
Team Philosophy and Ballpark Dynamics
Most people refer to the effect of ballparks as ballpark dimensions, but that terminology only encompasses the distance from the plate to the wall and in Boston's case the height of those walls. While the dimensions of parks like Camden Yards and Minute Maid Park cater to power hitters, there are other aspects of ballparks that affect fantasy baseball. The factor that many people forget about is turf. Many teams such as the Devil Rays and Twins take advantage of their home field and employ a running philosophy. This leads to extra steals for players such as Carl Crawford, Torii Hunter, Lew Ford, etc. The field dynamics don't just benefit top of the line players, but it helps some fringe players make your squad as well.
Take a look at Joey Gathright. While Gathright won't begin the season as a starter, you should definitely keep an eye on him through the early weeks of the season. In 12 games at Tropicana Field, Gathright swiped four bases. Now, you're saying, "Big deal, what's four bags mean to me?" Well, projected over a full season, you're looking at roughly 33 steals JUST FROM HOME GAMES! In the other seven games away from home, he had two steals as well. You don't want to draft him necessarily, but keep him on your watch list because he could become this year's Chone Figgins or even Carl Crawford. Rocco Baldelli's injury only helps his chances. Steals are the 3-pointers of fantasy baseball and you take them anyway you can get them.
Another way that the team can affect a player is through philosophy. Lou Piniella's teams run, the Red Sox don't, and the Rangers just hit, baby! When players switch teams, it is essential to understand how the move changes their value. Will they be batting in the same spot? Will they still run? Who will be protecting them in the lineup?
One player that many people misread was Derrek Lee. In 2002 and 2003, Lee averaged 20 steals a season and 28.5 attempts. When he moved to Chicago, many people assumed he would continue to run; it was not so. In 2004, he only had 17 attempts and swiped a total of 12 bags despite getting 66 more at-bats than the previous year. Did Lee lose speed? No, the Cubs do not run because of philosophical reasons and personnel. If Derrek Lee is sandwiched between Moises Alou and Aramis Ramirez, it doesn't make much sense to put him in motion. Also, Dusty Baker's teams do not run often. In 2003 with the Giants, Baker's team had 53 steals, which was 28th in the MLB. In his first year with the Cubs, Chicago went from 77 steals per season to 66. This, despite replacing Hee Seop Choi with Lee.
Teams also agree to disagree on where to place batters in the lineup. In Kansas City, Carlos Beltran bat second. In Houston, he started in the two-hole and moved to the three spot. While Beltran's batting average took a dive, his steals doubled despite the move to the three spot. This could be attributed to team philosophy because Beltran had 28 attempts in 90 games with the Astros and 17 in 69 with the Royals. So, what should we expect with Beltran's move to New York?
Beltran will begin the season in the three-hole behind Kazuo Matsui and Jose Reyes, which should limit his steals opportunities. With Piazza, Hidalgo, Floyd, and Cameron behind him, look for Beltran to run less. The challenge for Beltran will be pitch selection. If Matsui starts slowly or Reyes has injury issues, Beltran will not get many good pitches and he will have to adjust. On the other hand, if Matsui and Reyes fail to get on base, Beltran may be asked to move up in the batting order. These are all things that are difficult to predict, but paramount to keep an eye on throughout the season.
Article first appeared 3/8/05