How Predictable is Position Scarcity
Every fantasy owner knows, that if a player – let’s call him Buster Posey – is eligible at catcher and first base, it would behoove you to play him at catcher, the relative weaker position. Intuitively, most owners also have a sense of the general hierarchy with regard to positional value. Depending on the number of players used at each position, the general assumption places decreasing value on the following positions – first base, third base, outfield, middle infield, catcher.
I was interested in putting numbers to these assumptions, so I computed values for every major league player beginning in 2008. I not only wanted to know for sure if a second baseman was worth more than a shortstop, I also wanted to see if these values remained constant over time.
My methodology assumed a standard two-catcher format with five outfielders and one middle/corner infielder. I additionally computed values for one catcher leagues as not everyone uses that setting. In order to determine the player pool to calculate the mean and standard deviation for each statistic, I simply used all players with more than 300 at bats (250 for catchers). A more thorough method would have attempted to better isolate the actual top “n” players and then made calculations based on that, but that’s something I would be willing to do for one season as part of draft preparation, not eight. Either way, the players are evaluated against the same player pool then ranked by position, so any error in assumed value would carry though and not affect the comparisons used here. Lastly, I assumed that the utility position would be filled 50% by first basemen, 25% by outfielders, and 25% by third basemen. The effect of this is that in a 12 team league, I’m really comparing the 23rd ranked first baseman with the 18th ranked second baseman under the assumption that that’s what is available on the waiver wire and thus is defined as “replacement.” And yes, I know that if all owners were acting rationally, the best available players would instead be rostered, driving the replacement levels for each position towards each other. The following table shows the replacement level for each position for 10, 12, and 15 team leagues.
A couple of datapoints, 2013 in particular, looked like they could be in error as catcher appeared to be misplaced as less valuable than every other position. Here are the replacement players in a 15-team, one-catcher league that year. Upon further review, unless owners are rostering an additional catcher in their utility slot, the data makes sense.
For visual learners, the following information is shown below in graphic form.
A couple of observations strike me. First of all, there isn’t really a consistent position that is all that more valuable than another, except for a second catcher in a league that uses two. Another is that shortstop was by far the position with the most variance from year to year. Lastly, the bigger the league, the less the importance of positional scarcity.
My conclusion is that with the exception of catcher in a two-catcher league, there really isn’t a lot of predictable scarcity with respect to positional value from year to year. Even shortstop, generally considered to be the weakest non-catcher position outranked first base a few times. It would appear to be inadvisable to make long term decisions based primarily on position. Just take the best player available.