One of the most overlooked aspects in roster construction is the idea behind positional scarcity. The premise behind the theory is that an owner should not necessarily draft the player with the best overall stats, but rather, the player with the best stats when compared to others at the same position. The concept is simple in theory but unfortunately much more difficult in practice.
Looking back on 2007, yere are the average stats for each position:
C - .255 AVG, 9 HR, 39 R, 47 RBI, 2 SB
1B- .277 AVG, 19 HR, 63 R, 71 RBI, 2 SB
2B- .274 AVG, 9 HR, 69 R, 54 RBI, 10 SB
3B- .272 AVG, 17 HR, 64 R, 67 RBI, 7 SB
SS- .276 AVG, 12 HR, 72 R, 59 RBI, 15 SB
OF- .276 AVG, 14 HR, 66 R, 62 RBI, 11 SB
Last season, FIO and the Baseball Lab created an in depth Player Rater tool that enables us to rank every player in the game based upon the 5 basic fantasy scoring categories. Plugging these stats into the tool, we can determine the position with the most depth, or said another way, the best average stats:
C - 14%
The percentages listed next to each position are the percentile values when compared with the leader, the shortstops. As an example, read the third basemen line as follows: In 2007 third basemen were, on average, 92% as valuable as shortstops. First Basemen were 79% as valuable, and so on.
What can we do with this information? A sound strategy next spring will be to wait on shortstops as there are many solid to great ones available. Letâ€™s say you are targeting one of the big three â€“ Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, and Jimmy Rollins â€“ and all three are off the board earlier than you wanted to take them, or before you had a chance too. Do not panic, the position is deep, and even if Troy Tulowitzki (finished 4th) is taken, realize that Carlos Guillen, Khalil Green, and Derek Jeter are of almost the same value and still available.
The opposite holds true as well. The outfielders have been on the decline for several years now, and 2007 was no different. Yes there were stars at the position (Matt Holliday, Magglio Ordonez, Eric Byrnes) but once you go into middle ranks of the position the talent level drops precipitously.
Another way to look at is this. The average fantasy league (12 teams, 14 batters) drafts 18 shortstops and 64 outfielders. The shortstop in the 25th percentile is the 13th or 14th best, and correspondingly the 25th percentile outfielder is ranked around 48th. Comparing the players with these rankings from 2007:
SS-Edgar Renteria: .332 AVG, 12 HR, 87 R, 57 RBI, 11 SB
SS-Miguel Tejada: .296 AVG, 18 HR, 72 R, 81 RBI, 2 SB
OF-Austin Kearns: .266 AVG, 16 HR, 84 R, 74 RBI, 2 SB
Would you rather have Renteria or Tejada at short, or Kearns as one of your outfielders? Obviously, the shortstops are more valuable and if your goal is to obtain a decent shortstop (as opposed to an elite one) it make sense to wait on the pick. Further, use the draft picks on outfielders because the lower ranked shortstops outperform similarly lower ranked outfielders.
A picture is worth a thousand words. First, a graph of SS vs. OF in terms of the score the player rater gives for each. Since there are more outfielders than shortstops, we need to adjust to give the two positions an identical scale. To do this, weâ€™ll go back or percentile idea and compare the players of similar percentiles (i.e., the 9th ranked SS vs. the 32nd ranked OF, both of the 50th percentile).
It doesnâ€™t look like much at a glance, but there is a discernable difference between the two positions. First and very obvious is the fact that the top SS are much better than the Top OF (1). This is followed by a fast drop in SS rank where the OFâ€™s perform better between percentiles 22-50% (2). Then, the two positions are roughly even through percentile 78% (3) before SS takes the lead through the last ranked player. To show the tail more clearly, hereâ€™s a blow up of percentiles 61 - 100
In summary, the shortstop position is strong at the very top and the very end â€“ either grab an elite one (Ramirez, Reyes, or Rollins) or wait till the end when you will get more value out of a lower round pick.
PS. Knox had requested something, well, a little less in depth and I had every intention of doing so. But, when I come across something I hadnâ€™t thought of before, I have a tendency to get a bit carried away. In this case, it was comparing the progressive scores of the positions as they go from the best to worst. It is something I will most assuredly look into in more detail this winter as I think the application on draft day could be tremendous once we adjust the rating curve for 2008 projections.