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Dealing With Positional Scarcity

Today I want to talk about position scarcity again. I previously analyzed the stability of positional scarcity from year to year and found that there was more variation than I, and perhaps you, had expected. At the time, I used a “best guess” as to how many of each position would be used on a typical roster. I generally assumed that most utility and bench spots would be filled proportionally with first basemen, third basemen, and outfielders. I did not account for multiple position eligibility or calculate beyond my own speculation regarding which positions would account for the majority of unassigned slots. Having had a few months to think about how to make this process better, and the time to do so, I came up with the method that I’ll describe below. But first, a short description of the offensive setups in the leagues I studied – leagues that I play in, of course.

The purpose of this study is to evaluate the existence of positional scarcity. I’ve read a decent number of works, from people who seem quite smart, who explain how to calculate scarcity while at the same time telling you that you really don’t have to because it is negligible.

Mixed Points AL Only – 4×4 Mixed Dynasty 7×7 Mixed Auction 6×6
Teams – 12 Teams – 11 Teams – 12 Teams – 20
C – 1 C – 2 C – 1 C – 2
1b – 1 1b – 1 1B – 1 1B – 1
2b – 1 2b – 1 2B – 1 2B – 1
3b – 1 3b – 1 3B – 1 3B – 1
SS – 1 SS – 1 SS – 1 SS – 1
OF – 4 OF – 5 OF – 5 OF – 5
CI -1 CI – 1 CI – 1 CI – 1
MI – 1 MI – 1 MI – 1 MI – 1
UT – 1 UT – 1 UT – 1 UT – 1
B – 3 B – 0 B – 5 B – 0

The mixed dynasty uses the standard five by five categories with strikeouts and OPS as additional categories while the mixed auction uses R, RBI, SB, HR, OBP, and SLG.

I began by assigning the rarest position the player qualified at as their “primary position.” This is the only portion of this exercise that involves an educated guess. It doesn’t worry me much, however, as I designed this process to fill presently unaccounted players into the first available slot, first to CI and MI, then to utility. Unless I am mistaken about MI being more scarce than CI, and OF being more scarce than 1B, this will not affect the outcome. This time, rather than guessing how to assign positions to open slots, I calculated the value of every player without regard to position and assigned the correct amount of players to their primary positions of 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, and OF. Then I assigned the “next” players to their respective compound positions and finished by considering all remaining players for the utility and bench positions.

Here are what I calculated replacement level to be for each league. Generally, an adjustment will be made to make the replacement value worth 0 units of value. The points league values are measured in – wait for it – points while the others are measured in standard deviations from the mean, which is based on the categorical statistics for all players who exceed 300 at-bats.

Points AL-Only Dynasty Auction
C 198 -5.7 -2.8 -6.3
1B 219 -4 -3.1 -4
2B 218 -4.3 -2.8 -4.1
3B 218 -4 -2.7 -4.2
SS 216 -4 -2.6 -4
OF 220 -4 -2.7 -3.8

I had guessed that the leagues with no bench would show at least some positional scarcity while the ones with larger benches would show less, or even none, as whatever scarcity in the primary positions would fill into the bench slots. Perhaps in leagues which have less player pool penetration this would be true, but in my leagues, the ones with no benches are extremely deep.

The exceptions were in the two-catcher leagues. I had Brian McCann valued as a second round pick this preseason due to the lack of value in American League catchers – I will certainly be keeping my midseason addition, Gary Sanchez, as a tenth round keeper. I believe the instance of first base being the most scarce in my dynasty league was simply the result of allowing too many 1B/x players to claim the other position as their primary position, leaving first base a bit artificially devoid of value.

For a contrasting case study, I looked at a hypothetical 12-team mixed league that has very shallow player pool penetration. I set my parameters at one player per position on an actual baseball field plus one utility and three reserves. I figured that if there was a setting that would encourage scarcity it would be this. The results were:

C: -2.5 1B: -0.3  2B: -0.8  3B: -0.4  SS: -0.5  OF: -0.5

Even here, only catcher stood out.

My conclusion is this. Unless you’re in a two-catcher league, do not consider position scarcity unless you are looking for specific roster flexibility. In the really deep leagues, every position is scarce to the point where you are scrambling to fill the last roster spots with actually everyday starters. In the shallow leagues you should be either trying to get the highest raw valued player or trying to find a better league to join. Either way, I have to come to the conclusion that those who deny positional scarcity are largely in the right. This is by no means a consensus position. Many people – a majority even – will value middle infielders over third basemen and outfielders. If you trust in the position I’ve taken, then you will be able to get superior stats in a trade for a player that others assume to be relatively more valuable. It’s by no means an easy thing to do. I would be very hesitant to trade my precious Carlos Correa for a first baseman projected – preseason – to be a little more valuable. A player like Paul Goldschmidt for instance. But it’s something I no longer consider a hard rule.

The Author

Jesse MacPherson

Jesse MacPherson


  1. Alex
    September 12, 2016 at 8:55 am — Reply

    I think this is because of the 4/5 OF + 1UT roster spots in your leagues. The CI spot too too. Having so many OF really brings the value of traditionally rich positions back in line with the MI/C ones. In 3OF leagues the scarcity is real.

    • September 12, 2016 at 11:18 am — Reply

      Yeah, the 30th best outfielder is generally better than the 10th best shortstop, the point is that a bench of any size or flex positions really cut down on the idea of scarcity.

      Anecdotally, I’ve never felt satisfied when picking rare positions over 1B/OF etc while sacrificing a bit of value. I think the difficult thing is predicting which positions will have an overabundance of talent ie SS this year.

      My auction league is a bit interesting as the bench players are drafted while the starters are bid on. Make it difficult to account for as they have stat value but no auction value.

  2. September 14, 2016 at 4:35 pm — Reply

    Good grief. I’d trade Correa in a heartbeat for Goldschmidt. That’s not even a question in my book.

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