Building a Balanced Team: Conclusion
Over the last several weeks, we have identified catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, shortstops, and outfielders who have the potential to contribute to three or more hitting categories. Today, we’ll compare our evaluations of each position to determine relative values and scarcity. As a reminder on the methodology behind this series, I began this exercise by gathering data for each position over the past decade (plus a bonus year because why not?) to determine the average production for each hitting category. In order to eliminate outliers resulting from limited sample sizes, I used a 400-plate appearance qualifier for all positions with the exception of catcher, for which I set the threshold at 300 plate appearances. I also wanted to control for lost playing time resulting from unforeseeable injuries, so rather than calculate the average counting stat totals for each category, I calculated the ratio of plate appearances to each counting stat (e.g. 30 plate appearances per home run as opposed to an average of 20 home runs).
After calculating the baseline for each category and year, I tallied the number of players who met three or more category thresholds as a measure of positional scarcity. I then calculated the average for each category and position over the 11-year period to reduce the noise and determine the baselines we will use to identify multi-category contributors in our draft. Once the 11-year baselines were calculated, I converted the ratios back to counting stats based on 600 plate appearances (450 for catchers) so that we could easily compare each position. Finally, since not all positions will produce the same value, I calculated the composite z-score for each, which reflects the sum of standard deviations each position falls above or below each of the categorical averages over the 11-year period. Since most five-category players are properly valued in drafts and dynasty leagues, this value will help us prioritize the positions we should target when attempting to build a balanced roster.
Now that we have reviewed all of the positions, let’s take a look at how they stack up against one another for overall value and measures of scarcity:
There are some interesting take-aways from this exercise. First, the lack of outfielders qualifying for our five-category benchmarks was the biggest surprise. Historically, the outfield has been the most difficult position to secure a five-category contributor based on our measures of scarcity. This is likely due to the fact that the outfield pool is composed of a group of players with diverse skill sets, which in turn buoy each of the categorical averages. Additionally, our positional z-score values indicate that the average production provided by outfielders is the most valuable relative to the other positional averages. Based on these results, dynasty league owners should put extra emphasis on acquiring five-category outfielders. AJ Pollock, Starling Marte, and Mookie Betts are all well worth the premium you will likely have to pay to acquire them. For teams that are building for the future, there are a number of unproven major-leaguers and prospects that have demonstrated the potential to become five-category contributors, including Eddie Rosario, Aaron Hicks, Lewis Brinson, David Dahl, and Jordan Patterson. Based on the overall value of the production provided by this position, there is huge profit potential relative to the price you will likely need to pay to acquire them.
Shortstop is the second-scarcest position based on the results, and has returned negative value relative to the overall league average for the last 11 years. With the recent influx of new talent (and more on the way), we may see a reversal in both of these trends in the coming years. Even if you don’t have Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, or Francisco Lindor, there are plenty more prospects in the pipeline with promising offensive skill sets, including JP Crawford, Dansby Swanson, and Trea Turner just to name a few. I wouldn’t be surprised to see significant improvements in production per plate appearance at this position as soon as next season.
Not surprisingly, the average production at the catcher position is the least valuable of all of the hitters. Catcher is also the third-most difficult position to acquire a five-category contributor. Therefore, we not only need to find a catcher who meets our positional thresholds, but ideally we want to find one who meets the average production benchmarks for all positions so that we can separate ourselves from the competition. We identified Nick Hundley as the only potential five-category contributor according to Steamer’s projections, but based on the state of the position, Buster Posey and Kyle Schwarber are also excellent targets, as they will easily exceed the positional benchmarks in multiple categories. Many dynasty league owners are leery to invest in the position due to injury risks and playing time concerns, but I’d rather spend my resources on a stud catcher than a stud first baseman. The production you’ll receive from a combination of Buster Posey and a lower-tier first baseman will likely exceed the combined production you’ll receive from Paul Goldschmidt and a lower tier catcher. For instance, if we pair each of the above with the 12th ranked player at the opposing position based on 2015 standings gained points (in this case, Adam Lind and Wilson Ramos), the Posey-Lind tandem outperforms the Goldschmidt-Ramos tandem in three out of the five categories. By employing this strategy, you’ll gain an edge on your competition in the hitting categories.
Second base is just about average for both production and positional scarcity relative to the field. While we did not identify any potential five-category contributors based on Steamer’s projections, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Jose Altuve was almost a five-category contributor last season, and could accomplish the feat this season with just a slight uptick in pop. Rougned Odor showed a great deal of promise last year after he was recalled from Triple-A, and he owns a diverse skill set that could make him a five-category contributor as early as this year. Anthony Rendon is only a year removed from a five-category season, and while he may project to end up a third base in the long term, anything is possible when Daniel Murphy is playing second base.
First base and third base provide excellent production and are the easiest positions to acquire five-category contributors. While your league-mates are fawning over Paul Goldschmidt, Manny Machado, and Kris Bryant, the savvy dynasty league owner will invest their resources in five-category contributors at more difficult-to-fill positions and compliment them with boring-yet-productive players such as Freddie Freeman and Kyle Seager.
Building a balanced roster allows us to mitigate risk and target value in drafts, on waivers, and in trades, as opposed to using our resources to acquire players that address specific categorical needs. A well-balanced team can weather a storm of injuries, and provides you with a solid foundation from which to build. I hope that you’ll find these benchmarks and measures of scarcity useful as you approach your drafts for the upcoming season.